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From Parent To Teacher – Making Education Really Work

Lisa Taylor is President and CEO of the National WASP WII Museum.  She is an expert in home schooling, having home schooled her children who have gone on to graduate from major universities and are established professionals in three fields.  Lisa also has a master’s degree in education.  The principles of home schooling are invaluable to parents working from home who are suddenly in charge of children’s education.

In 2018, Harvard Business Review contributor Daisy Wademan Dowling penned, How Working Parents Can Manage the Dem parents have a third and critical role:  stewardship of their child’s education.  Stewarding is stressful under the best of circumstances with homework, drop-offs, and teacher-parent conferences. 

What Dowling could not have been foreseen in 2018 was the Spring 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic that would upend parental responsibilities and move educational stewardship from a role to the role.   What is a parent to do? 

Sheryl Sandberg says “lean in,” Ali Wong says “Lie Down,” Leaning in is More Effective

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says one must sit at the table and “lean in” if she is to be successful in life’s endeavors.  Stand-up comedian Ali Wong disagrees.   She encourages women to disregard Sandberg by “lying down” in her hilarious, irreverent, and very non-pc monologue from her tour, Baby Cobra.  Listen to it here.

While we must all lie down occasionally, leaning in has served me well as an educator, first as a homeschooling mother and later as a public-school teacher.  I was introduced to leaning in as a 13-year-old kid on a mountaintop in Vail, CO, where my ski instructor explained that if I started to fall, I needed to lean into the fall rather than arch backward to maintain balance.  It was counterintuitive, but when I wasn’t gripped with fear and could think clearly, that move allowed me to keep skiing down the mountainside.  Thanks to the fact that I have the coordination of a buffalo on Olympic parallel bars, I never did master skiing.  However, the lesson of leaning in stuck and I used it successfully to educate my children. 

How Principles of Home Schooling Help Parents Sheltering in Place

In 1990-something, a new craze called Homeschooling was gaining momentum.  My husband and I had no plans to join the movement, but when it came time for our son to go to preschool, I decided to tackle it myself.  It went so well, I just kept going and I homeschooled he and his two sisters through elementary school before sending them to public school.  While we were successful at home, it was never easy and in the early days I did find myself arching backward and falling firmly on my behind creating frustrating and wasted days.  In better moments, however, I remembered my one-time ski instructor’s advice, “lean into the fall to keep your balance.”

When I first realized students would not be going back to school this year and maybe not next year, I was dismayed for working parents.  In my one-room schoolhouse, it was my full-time job.  Homeschooling required hours of planning and then instruction time.  How are today’s parents supposed to meet this demand? 

Guiding Principles for Managing Education at Home

The good news is your child’s teacher does not expect you to homeschool your children.  What she or he does need is for parents to lean in and provide support for online, teacher-led instruction. 

Set aside consistent blocks of time for learning.If a child perceives home as solely a place to relax and play, it can be difficult to help him see it as place of learning.  Set aside a time and space where daily learning will occur and communicate this information in advance, so your child does not make his own plans and resent you for interrupting them. 

Communicate your school schedule with your employer.  Instead of trying to hide your role as Homeschool Steward from your employer, communicate your plans.  Explain you will need to log off for an hour in the afternoon to ensure Jenny understands her teacher’s instruction and is set up to complete her project, but you will “be back online by 6pm and available the next day to go over the new product launch.”  This statement helps your colleagues sympathize and understand your situation while communicating your commitment to the job. 

Planning provides maximum results and saves instruction time. Many parents are not cognizant of what their student is expected to master by the end of a week, grading period, and academic year.  With this greater role of stewardship, parents should communicate with teachers to understand the educational objectives.  This knowledge will help families stay on track to be successful in the current year and ready for the upcoming year. 

Choose a time over the weekend to read through the school website to view upcoming material.  What are the weekly objectives?  Are additional materials needed?  Gather supplies before Monday so lessons go smoothly.  Decide what your child can complete with minimal supervision and what you will need to be fully present for, then plan accordingly.  If your child’s teacher isn’t clear or getting information out in a timely manner, contact her with your concerns.  Go over the next day’s school agenda nightly to ensure you understand the content and can help your student as necessary. 

“Tricking Them Into Learning”–School isn’t the only place your child gets an education.  During our homeschool years, we practiced some organic learning, or what I fondly called it, “tricking them into learning.”  I read to my kids constantly – a chapter or two every night – of wonderful children’s classics that taught history, science, and geography in fictional settings.   The stories captured their imaginations and they found themselves unwittingly displaying knowledge of pond ecosystems, bird migration patterns, and the conflicts of early colonists and Native Americans.  Furthermore, reading to my children expanded their vocabularies, which boosted their comprehension and decoding skills when reading to themselves. 

When we baked, the kids converted fractions for flour, sugar, and water.  At the grocery store, three children had $10 and 10 minutes to make their weekly snack selections.  This ritual taught them several things:  cost comparisons by converting product prices into unit prices, time management, how far a buck goes, and conflict resolution and negotiation skills with siblings.  At home, we used simple construction projects as an opportunity to measure, convert to metrics, and understand linear versus square footage. 

Education Children is Not Easy, but Rewarding.

Educating students at home is rewarding with moments of true joy, but it should never be confused with easy.   Lean into planning and maintain consistent learning while keeping the end game in mind and, on most days, resist laying down.  Unless it’s a pretty day and you’re teaching your kids about cumulus clouds. 

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