Millions of students in the U.S. have once again hunkered down in front of screens and devices for remote learning, continuing an experiment that, last spring, was a pretty big flop. Children weren’t all that engaged. Equity issues grew. Parents felt like their kids didn’t learn much.
Many of those issues are systemic and there isn’t a lot individual parents and caregivers can do. But there are concrete ways parents can help improve the remote learning experience for their child — and, crucially, for their child’s classmates and teachers. A lot of it comes down to plain old etiquette.
“I don’t think it’s intentional. I think everybody’s doing their best and their intentions are good, but I think parents can really get in the way,” said Siri Fiske, founder of Mysa School, which runs micro-schools.
(I have been the parent whose kid accidentally un-muted, forcing his classmates to listen to his younger brother’s epic meltdown from the other room while I changed a diaper, totally unaware. Don’t be me.)
Here are five simple ways to avoid being a jerk during your kid’s remote learning this fall.
1. Don’t micromanage.
In non-COVID times, parents and caregivers drop our kids off at school, leave them there for a stretch, then reconvene without a crystal clear accounting of every minute or activity. With remote learning, of course, it is all going down at your kitchen table or in your living room. It can be easy to hover.
But fight the urge to micromanage. Your child’s teacher is their teacher. Let them do their job. Fiske noted that when parents go into classrooms and volunteer during non-COVID times, their child’s behavior often changes. You have to give them space to be who they are without you around.
“Some parents are definitely sitting there, trying to make their kid pay attention the whole time,” she said. (Instead, here are some tips that can actually help.)
Of course, how hands-on you have to be depends a lot on your child’s age. A kindergartner may need someone there in a way a 5th grader doesn’t. Fiske said it’s helpful to just ask your child’s teacher how hands-on they’d like you to be — so long as that teacher understands it may not happen, because you also have your own work to deal with, other children to watch, etc.
It’s so basic, but so important: Kids need to be muted when they’re supposed to be, and they need to be able to un-mute at the right time, as well. Depending on the platform, teachers have a lot of control in this regard.
But it is also on parents to make sure they’re practicing with their kids so that muting/un-muting becomes as second-nature as raising a hand.
Bigger picture, it is important to make sure your child understands how to use the technology. (Although there have definitely been big problems with glitches, delays, passwords... and so on.)
3. Think before you act.
Fiske told the story of a teacher who was working with a student to do an informal assessment of where his current math skills are, using materials that said “second grade” on them. The student, who is in third grade, got upset and told his mother. She promptly began texting the teacher — in the middle of a lesson.
“She started, like, blowing up the teacher’s phone... then the mom started blowing up my phone,” Fiske said.
“If the kid was in school, he would have been upset for a minute or two, and still made it through,” she added. “Parents need to have perspective on how many people are in the ‘room’ and what is really worth disrupting an entire lesson for.”
So ask yourself: Does this rise to the level of being something I’d actually go in to discuss with my kid’s teacher during non-COVID times? If so, do it — but at the right time. Don’t interrupt teachers while they are busy doing their job.
4. Don’t get in your kids’ way.
“There have been all these articles written about how hard it is for parents to work with their kids at home, and it is. But what I’ve been sensing is that it can be hard for the kids to learn because the parents are in the way,” Fiske said.
Just walking through the frame in the background a lot can be distracting. And not just for your learner, but for their classmates. Be mindful of what’s happening in the frame.
Of course, this is just one reason why giving your child a dedicated learning spot — one that they use consistently — is important, if you can swing it.
5. Be patient with teachers — and respectful of how hard they’re working.
Whether they are hybrid or fully remote, teachers are flat-out right now. They’re putting in extremely long hours and dealing with never-ending changes. We parents need to be mindful of that.
Communication is important this year, but not at all hours. Being hands-on is great, but not so hands-on that we are unintentionally making an already impossible year worse.
“Parents [who are] communicating a lot more about things they would never communicate about if we were learning in-person is eating up a lot of teachers’ time,” Fiske said. “They’re exhausted. They’ve been online all day, then they’ve got 100 emails.”
“Obviously talk to the teacher and communicate,” she added, “but also know: when is it something the kid needs to talk to the teacher about — and navigate — on their own?”