Author: Andrea Maciejewski
I am a full-time, working mom, in a very demanding position in a very demanding industry with incredibly high expectations on me. I am also the mom of four kids ranging in age from baby to high schooler (ages 1, 4, 11, and 15). Sometimes balancing these two roles feels like running a marathon, at a sprint pace, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes with weights on my feet. Sometimes in the pouring rain. And sometimes, with a global pandemic going on, it feels like I’m running without shoes and blindfolded.
Enter stage left “remote learning.”
My youngest has an immunodeficiency, so my family is still practicing Phase 1 type level of quarantining and physical distancing. Therefore, having three kids at three different schools, with various plans and tiers of exposure, led us to make the difficult decision to choose the full remote learning options for all our children – which we’ll continue even after schools move to hybrid or in-person learning.
While I am not thrilled to add “homeschooler” to my resume, I intend to run this cuss show better than it ran in the spring. I am an accomplished professional with teams of people who routinely look to me for direction and guidance. I’ve run multimillion-dollar budgets and projects, have won awards, and have had publications cover my work. I should be able to translate some of that experience into supplementing preschool, sixth grade, and sophomore curriculum, right? (Someone, please tell me it’s going to be okay.)
I do not pretend to have this all figured out. In fact, if you have any tips for how your family is managing these new juggles and demands, please send me a note.
Still, for what it’s worth, here are some ways I am applying my professional experience to a remote learning environment for the upcoming months.
This fall, everyone gets their own space. Last spring, everyone was working from our dining room table, and you can imagine the bickering, the disorganization, and the distraction that occurred. It’s critical to have a quiet learning/working environment that allows you to focus uninterrupted, especially with the hundreds of zoom calls going on.
This round, each kid picked a section of our home to claim as their own, and over the summer, we have been working hard to make those workstations feel like their own little piece of real estate. For one kid, it’s a section of our now-never-used dining table; for another kid, it’s an old desk in our basement. I gave each kid a small budget to buy desk accessories, bulletin boards, etc. While it’s not an ideal part of my home-design aesthetic, that little autonomy created a little excitement for my kids. Think about the difference between having your own personal office versus rows of cubicles or even taking 1,000 zoom calls from your bed.
What was missing in spring’s version of eLearning, was structure. In our school district, some teachers held zoom sessions while others only checked-in via email. Most subjects provided a checklist of assignments to complete independently during the week. My kids weren’t required to report in at a time, nor were there many scenarios in which they watched a live teaching lesson. This round, I expect the schools to mirror that of a typical school day with the added benefit of homework. And I also believe the hours outside of the school day still need structure. Without it, the days (and now months) all blend into one another and, I have observed, lead to more feelings of depression.
We have worked hard to carve out chunks of time, name them, and calendar everything. There’s homework time, game nights, free time, family time, cleaning up time, taco nights, pizza nights, swim days, “mom’s working time.” Honestly, it feels like a more sophisticated version of a kindergarten schedule. By naming these chunks of time and calendaring them on our family (posted and electronic) calendars, it draws distinctions between days, creates alignment and connections, and frankly helps reinforce expectations.
If I have learned anything about engaging an audience, managing change, and piloting a new approach, it’s that communication is required early and often in a variety of forms – tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. I have tried to apply these same rules at home. I have been very transparent with the information that I share with my kids (even the preschooler) throughout the process of making decisions and why we opted for a particular choice. This is true, especially as decisions relate to their school and social lives. I have found that while my kids might not always agree with me, the regular and transparent dialogues we have about both the big and little things reinforce that I respect them and helps create alignment for us as a team. During this pandemic, we must be united for many reasons.
Lastly, short of sending out a regular SurveyMonkey, regular check-ins have been prioritized in our home. I try all forms of “How are you doing” to “What are you feeling about XYZ” even the sometimes tough to hear, “What can I do better?” All these feelings (and togetherness) can be exhausting, so we implemented a “park it for later” system. If there’s something that a family member observes or wants to talk about, they can write it on the board, and we can openly talk about things at an allocated time (see #2 above.) Sometimes, just writing it down helps relieve tensions and stress, identify opportunities for improvement, and give an alternative way to communicate. And sometimes by the time we revisit, the urgency or discontent has passed.
Plans are seemingly changing daily, as we attempt to navigate decisions we are forced to make in situations that we didn’t choose. Hopefully, some of these tactics will help the days run a bit more smoothly. From my home to your home, good luck, may the force be with you this (remote) school year.