School from Home Prep: Dealing with the Unknowns by Doing Teacher Recon

Hey Tribe!

Man, ya’ll got to me this week with your emails. Thank you so much for reaching out with your positive experiences using the strategies! It absolutely fills my heart and makes all of the efforts so very worthwhile when I know they are empowering kids and the people who love them!

This week we’re continuing our Prep for School (whatever school may be) theme with some action!! We’re going to talk about the questions to ask your child’s teacher or teachers, so you can start personalizing your executive function strategies and get any training you might want on the technology side of things. Shout out and thank you to Sharla Higgins and Sara Bee, both of whom helped inspire this episode! I’m thankful you shared the struggles of last semester with me…and I’m truly hopeful these strategies help avoid the annoyances and frustrations you mentioned.

*Flashback sounds* Remember, way, way back in March of this year, when the school buildings closed and we all had to pivot to school-from-home? I know, it’s a bit of a nightmare thinking back, and I don’t know about you, but for me, it feels like it was at least three, or maybe twelve, years ago! In March, when schools went virtual, so much of the structure of school fell away. Most teachers did their best to emulate in-person learning, and some even discovered new ways to teach better! I know for me personally, I learned how to add captioning to my presentations (which is a great support for the most common type of learning disability—auditory processing). I also learned that if I video record my lessons and make them available to kids, it becomes an experience of using resources, like re-watching the videos, rather than a frustrating experience of trying to locate a memory or google something I might have taught.

Things changed rapidly on the teacher end, and we did our best not to drown. But, while we were treading water, many teachers forgot to consider the student end of things. We changed the rules, the expectations, the way to play the school game, and sometimes we assumed the kids and their families would just “get it.”

Sara Bee explained that the timing of due dates seemed family-unfriendly; she didn’t want her children to be considered late turning in work, but she often struggled to juggle her own work schedule in order to help her kids finish on time. Sure, having work due at 3 pm on a Friday is just fine during normal school hours; the kids are at school with the very people who would remind them to finish the work and collect it from them. The structures of physical school, the being there in person, helps facilitate that line of thinking. But, distance learning turns that on its head, and the school system needs to flex in the same way. Sara suggested midnight deadlines instead, and that’s a great idea. It accommodates families with some flexibility, and let’s be real—ain’t no teacher grading anything on a Friday after 3. If you do Sunday at midnight, that’s just the same to me.

Sharla Higgins also shared that locating work online was like a stressful treasure hunt that took about six too many clicks. I think teachers forgot that because we interact with online learning systems all the time, they seem easier than they really are. We’ve got to keep user experience in mind when we redesign the coming year. More on this in a future episode! But, for now, what can we do to offset some of our uncertainty and expected frustration? Teacher Recon!

Here’s what I mean: you and your child can each dump your questions and worries onto paper. Then, form questions for the teachers and reach out! If, like for Sara, deadline times are a concern, reach out to ask the teacher their policy on work return. It’s okay to share your concern and reasoning, too. Teachers have a general idea of how things will roll out, but we’re very open to feedback in making this a more successful experience for every student and family.

If, like Sharla, you’re concerned about how and where to access lessons and resources, you can ask the teacher about that too. It may prompt the teacher to consider test-running the student experience before launching next year. And I’ll share a secret with you right now, too: Teachers are planners. We like to know what’s coming up, what we’ll do for the next, say, 6 months. The uncertainty and lack of direction is absolutely killing most of us, so your questions will be welcomed as food for thought and something to do.

I’m going to give you other ideas to ask your child’s teacher, but these come with two advisements: First, if your child is older than 7th grade, consider writing the email together but having your child send it. That practice of self-advocacy, even if you as the parent are in the CC of the email, is so crucial and a great way to start the year! Second, please, for the love of the education system and the dear humans we call teachers, do NOT ask all of these questions. Not at once. If, after some back-to-school info sessions, you don’t totally understand the system, then please ask. But, if you come out of the gate with 25 queries, you’ll look like a weirdo. Let’s let the teachers work with you a bit before they assess your weirdness state.

Questions you may want to ask the teacher before the school year begins

(again, prioritize based on your need and the experience last semester. Don’t ask them all at once)

  • What Learning Management System will you use? (Google Classroom, Canvas…)
  • Where can I check grades? How often do you update so I can see what’s missing?
  • What’s the best way to reach you if my child or I need help?
  • When will assignments be due? How are they turned in?
  • How many hours per day do you expect students to work? Can I reach out to you to help make adjustments if my child is spending too much time?
  • Do you have alternatives for my child if our Internet or technology is acting up?
  • What websites will you have students use regularly? Will they require sign ins? Can we familiarize ourselves with them now?
  • Who do I contact for tech support?
  • Do you have any tutorials for technology, like how to access the school-provided internet or how to use Google Classroom as a parent?
  • My child does better on paper. Can he/she print and complete the work? Can he/she send you a photo of the work when completed?
  • What is the scheduled time(s) that students are expected to interact live?
  • When are your office hours?
  • Can you connect us with other families so we can support one another?
  • Do you have any community resources (for food banks, housing, pets, counseling) to share?
  • If my child is sick or has to be “absent,” who do I contact? How does she make this up?
  • Are there any fact lists or activities we can do to get our brains ready for school?
  • In what ways can families help support you as a teacher? Or help the school?

Whew! That list was part inspiration for me to start thinking and part drowning mechanism for my brain. Clearly, there’s lots to consider. The good news is two-fold here, though: first, your asking is going to help the teacher solidify plans and potentially share the answers with everyone. Second, this uncertainly provides schools with a cool opportunity to rethink and revamp. Look, we all know the school system wasn’t working well for OUR kids, kids who might learn or process differently. And we know the school system was leaving several groups of students behind. Now is the time to challenge old policies and archaic ways of thinking, and asking questions, challenging the status quo is an excellent way to start!

My questions in no way represent everything you may be wondering, so don’t feel like you can only ask what I’ve thought of here. Again, the purpose is to help you turn your fears and dreads into productive action by asking questions related to previous negative experiences. Please try not to ask the teacher about Covid predictions or timelines. She just doesn’t know (because none of us do). It’s most powerful to focus on what we can impact and actions we can take to prepare!

Speaking of prepare…I’m planning to create “cheat sheets” for my students’ distance learning experience. Other than passwords and log-ins, what else should we plan to include? Let me know your thoughts! And, if you want me to email the passwords and logins cheat sheet to you, join our mailing list (where I share resources and ideas with our tribe) at sarahkesty.com/toptips. You’ll get a cheat sheet with strategies for signing up, too!

Today you learned how to turn anxiety into action by dumping your worries, turning them into questions, prioritizing the questions, then asking what you’re wondering! It’s a great way to help you have something to do with your worries, other than spin them around in your head. If these strategies resonate with you or you would like more personalized support for you and your child, reach out! Sarah at sarahkesty dot com is my email, and I’d be happy to talk with you to set up a coaching plan for success! My clients report positive, lasting changes, and I truly want that for you, too!

Here’s this week’s pep talk:

Hey Kid!

So, school starts soon, but where? And when? And how? You might be going back to the school building all week, a few days, or not at all right now. School is going to look different this year. Different isn’t always bad, but it usually makes us feel uncomfortable. Our brains pay extra attention to new things and changes because our brains are wired to keep us alive. In terms of school, this means you might be thinking a lot about what school might be like and maybe even thinking too much or worrying about it. It’s ok to have all kinds of feelings about school this year. I know I do!

Your grown up learned how to take anxiety, like those swimming thoughts in your brain and heart, and put it to action. Here’s what you can do with your grown up this week: dump your worries onto a paper. Big worries, small worries, things that don’t make sense but you feel them anyway? Write them all down. Then, see which ones you can turn into questions. After that, pick maybe 3-5 questions you’d like to send your teacher or school—things that you need to know and think the teacher would know. Don’t use your time asking when Coronavirus will go away; your teacher won’t know this. But, do ask things that will help you get ready, like the school hours, expectations, materials you will need. Your teacher will not mind you asking for information because he or she probably needed to know these things too. And be understanding if your teacher doesn’t know yet. I start teaching in 3 days, and I still don’t know what the first day will totally look like. It’s new and kind of scary to be involved in schools right now. But, we will stick together because we are stronger together.

Sending you all my love this week and always,

Sarah

photo credit: feliphe-schiarolli