Supporting parent-teachers: five lessons from home schooling

16 Apr 2020, 5:00

Colin Diamond sets out five lessons from home schooling to help schools support parents to be the best teachers they can be during lockdown

Schools responded quickly to the initial implications of lockdown, but as we settle into what is likely to be a protracted period of home learning, new and important questions are coming to the fore. Most important among these are what the right level of expectation of parents is, and how we can best support them to be take on the role of teacher in their homes.

Schools have provided an amazing range of learning materials online, created new ways to keep in contact with pupils and, in most cases, endorsed flexibility and a common sense, ‘go with the flow’ philosophy to steer families through uncertain times. But as the sun has shone and the traditional Easter break arrived, the conventional rhythms of the school day rapidly faded away.

As the beginning of the summer term approaches, and the sector plans for an extended period of closures, we now face the dual challenge of restoring a sense of regularity after weeks of likely declining engagement and of planning for families for whom home teaching raises lots of anxieties.

Teaching in one-to-one or small-group situations is intense. Familial relationships and domestic settings make that dynamic even more challenging, and the age range of siblings entails a level of differentiation most teachers never have to deal with.

Teaching in one-to-one or small-group situations is intense

Thankfully, drawing on the experience of home tutors and the elective home education sector can be helpful across the school sector right now. Here are five key points to remember when planning for a summer term unlike any other before:

  1. Routines and boundaries are really important. Children will need them as the structure of their lives has suddenly been altered. This holds for everyone in the household. Far easier said than done, but critical over the long haul. Establishing start times, breaks and end times will help everyone, and many families will need support to plan for that.
  1. It’s OK not to be OK. It’s crucial that they are rules and boundaries in place, but parents must know that it’s better to bend them than allow them to break. They are in charge, and it’s a bloody difficult job. Exactly as we say to NQTs: It’s OK to not to feel on top of things. Some days will be great – others a complete flop. Fine.
  1. Parents need to know why and how work has been set. For most people most of the time, learning is taken for granted. Right now though, parents are coming to terms with the difference entailed in helping their 9- and 15-year-old navigate maths. On top of that, today’s teaching methods differ hugely to what they experienced themselves, and that can discourage parent-teacher engagement.
  1. Technology can help and hinder both students and parents. For young people, screen time is social gold dust, and every family’s timetable will differ from every other’s so gentle monitoring during study time is likely to work better than an outright ban. For parents, commercial IT packages that claim to turbo-charge learning are likely to be attractive but are unlikely to be better than what school is providing, and could be counterproductive (and costly!).
  1. Teaching is stressful. The importance of self-care and wellbeing for parent-teachers can’t be overstated, especially with no colleagues to sound off to after a bad day. Having a point of contact with the school or a peer network can make all the difference between surviving and thriving. Home tutors have regular check-ins for exactly these reasons.

Above all, parents need to feel confident about being flexible. They and their children will be riding an emotional roller coaster and the coming term could feel like an eternity, especially in the absence of certainty about when it will all end. The government’s approach of a rolling weekly review of lockdown won’t help, but schools that have asked for detailed reporting on a day-by-day basis are piling on unrealistic pressures that will exacerbate tensions.

There will be plenty of time when pupils return to school to get them back to ‘match fitness’. For now, the long view of our situation means lifelong learning must be the principle that guides all of our actions.

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