Before her grandson’s school district announced its final plan for this fall, Kecia Burton had already decided that there was no way he was going to attend school in person.
“I don’t really trust [health officials] to tell the truth about what’s going on with covid-19, and I’m not taking any chances,” she said.
She completed the district’s survey asking parents to choose whether they prefer in-person or virtual instruction, selecting virtual instruction, and ultimately the district decided to recommend to the school board that all schools implement virtual instruction for at least the first semester.
No one wants to take chances with the safety and health of our children, parents least of all. But uncertainty, misinformation and changing health guidelines have made it difficult for parents and school administrators to envision what this fall will, or should, look like.
As of July 26, about half of school districts had chosen to conduct at least some instruction virtually; and even those schools that are doing a full reopen will have to do so under unprecedented restrictions and with the possibility of having to return to virtual teaching or shut down altogether, depending on how virus cases surge or subside. Whichever reopening scenario parents face, they will all have to adjust expectations and eventually accept our new realities to position themselves and their kids for the best possible success.
Burton tackled her misgivings and is talking with the other adults in her household – her grandson’s father and her other adult son – about how they will divide up responsibilities for monitoring schoolwork and helping her grandson learn fifth-grade math and language arts; they each have jobs, and no one person will be able to take full oversight of schooling. She’s also already started working on getting reduced hours so she can do her share. Reduced hours, of course, mean less money, but she’s willing to make that sacrifice.
Whether she realizes it, her ability to lock in on a positive mind-set, move forward with planning and find solutions involves a technique experts refer to as radical acceptance. This type of inward-focused tool can help any parent move from complaining and resisting the inevitable school changes to actively finding answers to their questions and solutions to their new challenges.
Psychologists have for years guided their clients through radical acceptance to overcome negative mind-sets and break through to problem solving.
“There are no optimal learning conditions we can provide for students this fall. We need to accept that reality, and use it to help us scale down and simplify,” says Angela Watson, an educational consultant specializing in productivity and mind-set who runs the website the Cornerstone for Teachers.
Conversely, she also understands the temptation to focus on resisting what we don’t like about reopening scenarios and the options being offered. “Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you believe the circumstance is right or just or OK,” she said. “It simply means you accept that it is happening, for the purpose of being able to address it in the healthiest, most productive way possible.”
With school restarting in some places in a matter of weeks, she says, it’s time to ask ourselves, “What thoughts, words and actions can I choose to create a better outcome? I can’t do everything I wish I could, but where can I focus my time and energy to make the biggest positive impact for kids?”
In the same vein, Kelisa Wing, professional development specialist and educational consultant, and a 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity State Teacher of the Year, advises parents to ready themselves for a challenging year and let go of the impulse to blame and shame, and instead leverage teachable moments. Parents can accept that children will not have the same interactions with their friends or that they will not get the same level of educational precision as if they were at school. They can also accept that sacrifices will need to be made, some that might cost the entire family time and money.
For parents who want to know what they should be doing now to prepare themselves and their kids to start the year, Wing and Megan Allen, 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year and owner of Tailored Learning Supports (for Families), offer these suggestions:
– Make sure you are practicing self-care and taking moments to rest. This may seem impossible to do, but moms especially should be ruthlessly committed to finding ways to guard their own mental and emotional strength.
– Remember that every choice is likely to be a hard choice. Focus on giving empathy, support and understanding to yourself and others, and reject drama and finger-pointing.
– Set up a space for your child to learn. Just as kids have separate spaces for their learning supplies at school, they need something similar at home that can signal to them a transition from home time to learning time. An organized space helps parents avoid having to spend so much time redirecting children to different locations in the house, leaving more time to focus on their own work and other responsibilities.
– Think carefully about and take the time now to establish schedules and routines. This creates an environment conducive to learning.
– Gather and take advantage of all the free resources you can.
– Continue to have open conversations with your kids. Be honest with them. Admit that anything other than returning full time to in-person school will feel strange, that it’s OK to feel that way, and to miss all the routines and familiarity that go along with being in school. Also, model vulnerability by saying up front that you will not get everything right and will need everyone’s help to make any school option work.
– Don’t forget to sign up for the school’s online grading records system. This allows you to stay on top of schoolwork without having to constantly ask your child how they’re doing in class.
– Find a community and don’t resist asking for help. Listen and ask questions. Tap into the many available parent resources out there. Your school district’s website is the best first go-to site, because the information pertains to your child’s school, eliminating the need for guesswork or adapting guidelines or suggested strategies. There are also national organizations with robust online resources for parents: Try the National Head Start Association (nhsa.org), National Parent Teacher Association (pta.org) and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ parenting site (healthychildren.org). Also, don’t forget to regularly check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site for updates on federal guidelines.