Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Recently I had the opportunity to be a guest on Johnny D's (The Motivational Cowboy) Hey 19 NRM Streamcast show. The show's focus was the paradigm shift regarding education during the coronavirus shutdown. Many parents, as well as some students, sent in questions they've been wondering about during this unique time.
At the beginning of the interview, I thought it important to share some fundamental beliefs of mine:
To endure means to remain in existence; to last. This is the basis of my first book, my role as an educator, parent, coach, and generally . . . my existence.
Life does not have a playbook, per se. Nor does it play fair. When you're forced to pivot, you can either stand still and get throttled, or you can pivot to a new sense of direction and move forward.
In terms of my role as an educator, I can see how this paradigm shift to remote learning has challenged my own children, my students, my wife (also an educator), and the parents I communicate with during this trying time.
Once I shared these beliefs, it was time to answer some of the questions sent in. Below, I've shared a few of them, along with my responses.
Question 1 (Parent): What can we do?
Response: Make the best out of this difficult situation. Look for some silver linings. I bet you can find some. Honestly, if you have health, love, food, clothing and shelter, you're actually doing really, really well!
Question 2 (Parent): How can I help my child stay motivated to learn?
Response: You really cannot unless they're intrinsically motivated to do the work themselves. It's physically and physiologically impossible to give your best efforts for something you have minimal interest in. I would attempt to somehow make their lessons personal to them. For example, if they're learning about the quadratic formula (and your child loves space exploration); show them how math concepts and space exploration go hand in hand. Meet the kids where they are; not where you perceive they should be.
Question 3 (Student): Why should I continue to work hard while not "technically" in school?
Response: Why? Because life does not stop. The routine may be different, but you must continue to progress, to grow, to keep moving forward. Your brain is just like any other muscle; what you don't use, you're gonna' lose. It's called neural pruning. Your brain will allow the neural pathways that are not being utilized to dry up. It's your job to keep your brain active, challenged and healthy. This is why you need to continue to work hard.
Question 4 (Parent): This isn't so much a question, but I don't know if I can take this anymore.
Response: Oh dear . . . be wary of entering what I call The Dark Place. This concept actually has its own chapter in my book. The Dark Place (to me) is a vast feeling of hopelessness. I feel empty and lost; and if I don't get out of that funk quickly, it can get ugly. One thing that works for me is to create an emotional bank account. I actually have a list of things I'm thankful for; and I add to this list when new positives arise. I also have a withdrawal section, where I place negatives. Up to this point, my balance spreadsheet (if you will) is always in the red, meaning I have a healthy emotional balance in my life. This being the case, I know I am more than capable of moving forward with any challenge life throws my way.
Question 5 (Parent): How long should my child be spending on his or her classwork?
Response: In this current situation (coronavirus shutdown), it's all really subjective and depends on a variety of things: age, ability, class type, motivation level, emotional health, etc. Every child is different. So, in short for our current situation, there is no set rule. Think about it: If you're thrown from a boat into the vast ocean, your main goal is safety and well-being. Your first thought IS NOT "Gee, I should learn how to swim now." When your safety and well-being are covered, then you can move forward. So, if you're looking for hard numbers, you can go with the 10 minute rule. For example, if your child is a 1st grader, they should not have more than 10 minutes of work per night. If your child is in 6th grade, they should not exceed 60 minutes of work per night. However, remember that this notion is based off a traditional school schedule.
Question 6 (Parent): I'm really nervous and anxious that I'm not really helping my child at all with their academic growth.
Response: Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease; typically about a perceived imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. The keys are what you perceive to be "imminent" or an "uncertain future." Basically, just as "guilts" are concerns over the past (dead and gone; let it go), anxiety is worrying about things that may or may not happen; therefore, what's the use in worrying about it? Either one of these (guilt/anxiety) take away from the present and your current joy. They accomplish nothing. In short, you're doing the best you can do with the hand you've been dealt. That's all you can do.
Question 7 (Parent): Are there any rules I should be following when I'm trying to teach my child, or help them with their work?
Response: For this question, I'll refer to Walt Whitman: "Do anything, but let it produce joy."
Question 8 (Parent): As a teacher, what lessons have you learned about teaching your students remotely?
Response: Less is more. Be very concise about expectations and be willing to let go of the endless amount of learning strands (objectives) you're expected to teach during a typical academic year. Get to the heart of the matter (with whatever subject you're teaching). In my opinion, the social/emotional component is far more important than academics, at this point.
Question 9 (Parent): How do I respond to my child when they struggle in class and I can't help?
Response: Reiterate that struggle is a large part of the human experience. Perfection is an illusion. It's okay to admit that you don't know everything. I remind myself of this notion constantly. Does that make me unintelligent? No. In fact, I'd argue that it makes me more intelligent, since I have the honesty and integrity to admit it. Everyone is struggling in some capacity each day of their life. And whatever the issue is that is causing difficulty, in the grand scheme, is often not life-altering. Remember, there are epic difficulties and there are annoyances; make sure to remember the difference. So, having a child who struggles with a class can be annoying, but it's certainly not the end of the world.
Question 10 (Parent): Will teaching ever get back to way it was in the beginning of 2019?
Response: I really wish I could tell the future, because that would be a pretty cool power to have! However, I can give you some educated guesses at some possibilities. So, until there is a viable, healthy and proven vaccine and/or we have reached herd immunity (70% population infected), then probably not. There will definitely be some changes. What they will be is anyone's guess at this point, but here are some distinct possibilities:
a. staggered start times
b. fewer children per class allowing for more distancing
c. a combo platter of remote learning and face to face
d. the mega lunchroom gatherings will be a thing of the past; at least for some time
e. four day physical school week with Wednesdays remote for a deep-clean day of school facilities
Honestly, this is all conjecture, but I believe those are some possibilities.
In the end, I truly enjoyed my time with the Motivational Cowboy and the Hey 19 Streamcast. Hopefully, I was able to put some folks minds and thoughts in a better space. It's just helpful to remember that we are all going through this epic challenge together. And not being alone put us in a place of strength!