This past March, nearly every school across the United States closed down the doors of their brick-and-mortar buildings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Overnight, teachers tackled online instruction while parents plunged into implementing virtual learning plans from home while juggling jobs.

It wasn’t perfect. Far from it, in fact. But collectively, we did it during the most challenging of times, and that in itself is pretty remarkable.

Now, as COVID-19 cases and casualties continue to climb, most schools and families are bracing themselves for online or hybrid models of teaching and learning for the fall. It will be another tall task, but at least we’ll be better prepared for it this time around.

This situation is in no doubt hard for a multitude of reasons, but parents, rest assured that you don’t need to have a degree in education or years of teaching experience to make it work. Your child’s teacher(s) will do the teaching, and will likely be doing everything in their power to make it meaningful. Your job as the parent is to facilitate a healthy learning environment. Think of yourself more as a coach or “guide on the side.”

So, Coach ____ (insert name here), check out these 10 tips derived from “best teaching practices” that will help you think like a teacher to optimize online learning:

  1. Health and Well-Being First, Last, Always: Educators often say, “Students have to Maslow before they can Bloom.” This basically means that we have to ensure we’re prioritizing students’ basic human and social-emotional needs before we can engage them academically. Many children have experienced toxic stress, trauma, and inequity during this pandemic. Above all, be proactive and responsive to assess your child’s physical and emotional safety. See this article SEL in an Unplanned School Setting for ideas. Also, take good care of you, too!
  2. Designate a (Flexible) Work Space: Create an exclusive, little area in your home away from distractions and in close enough proximity to you. Be sure materials/learning tools (such as manipulatives) are readily available. While this work space should serve as their home-base, so to speak, it’s important to also allow opportunities for your child to work elsewhere when appropriate. For example, if your child is assigned independent reading, consider giving them a choice of reading outside on the hammock or in Dad’s special chair. Children should have some say in where and how they work. This creates buy-in and also mirrors how flexible seating classrooms function.
  3. Establish a (Flexible) Schedule: Using your school’s specific guidelines, create a basic schedule to follow so your child grows accustomed to a virtual learning routine. Consistency provides comfort. Be sure your child’s day includes unstructured playtime, outdoor activities, and exercise. Make adjustments as you learn more about what works best for you and your child.
  4. Ask More, Tell Less: During the learning process, your child should be the one working the hardest. To support the teacher’s instruction, ask open-ended questions to elicit your child’s thinking rather than telling them what to think. This deepens the learning.
  5. Brain Breaks: There’s another saying in education that states, “If the bum is numb, the brain is the same.” If your child has been sitting still for a while or is losing focus, allow them a quick brain break to re-energize and refocus. This might look like a walk around the block, a few minutes of freetime in the backyard, or a Just Dance game on the Nintendo Switch. GoNoodle offers a variety of movement, yoga, and mindfulness brain break activities for children as well. These are perfect for rainy days.
  6. Effective Feedback: Effective feedback is timely, targeted, tangible, and tied to goals (Mindsteps). Check out my post 20 Alternatives to Saying “Good Job” and this post to learn more about the Glows and Grows, Two Stars and Wish, and T.A.G feedback strategies for early learners.
  7. Goal-Setting & Reflection Opportunities: Each morning, set a few goals for the day with your child (academic or behavioral). Also, have students self-reflect at the close of each day as well. A quick check-in should do the trick. This promotes student agency. Their input is key as we want them to own their learning.
  8. Build a Learning Network: Keep in touch with a parent or two from your child’s class to compare notes. Have Grandma read a bedtime story over videochat. Or, set up an outdoor study date for your child at a nearby park (while maintaining 6 ft. of distance). It’s good for your child (and you) to connect and socialize with others in responsible ways.
  9. Celebrate Success: Your child will need lots of encouragment. Focus on the positive! Post work on the fridge or your TV’s screen saver. Build in incentives as needed that you both enjoy (such as a field trip to get froyo). Utilize positive behavior supports by pointing out what your child is doing right often. There will be bright spots and frustrating moments. We’re all trying to fly an F/A-18 Super Hornet jet while building it. So, vent out of earshot of your child. Happiness and learning are very much connected!
  10. Organic Learning: Remember, learning is everywhere! Keep an eye out for ways to reinforce whatever standards are being taught throughout regular, everyday activities. See ideas for how to do this here!

You can do this. We will get through this…again.

And maybe, just maybe, teachers, parents, and students will gather some insights about education or simply life itself that will be of value for many, many years to come.

Good luck and stay safe, my friends!

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