With schools now closed and parents homeschooling, the question on everyone's mind is when will schools reopen and what will it be like when it does? As an educator, I have been busy navigating the new way of teaching remotely from home. I'm trying to keep my students' learning as much in line with what I would be doing face to face in school as I can. But I'm also thinking ahead to the new school year when the next group of kids comes into my classroom. With so much uncertainty right now, what should I expect? How big will the gap caused by COVID-19 be? Will I start the year as I always do, or will I need to change my approach to teaching?
Beyond “Summer Slide”
Every teacher is aware of the "summer slide." When students return to school in the fall, some of what they had learned before summer break is lost. The beginning of the year is usually a time of reviewing skills and giving assessments to find out where students' skills are. Teachers are very aware that the students in their class learn different things at different times and try their best to individualize instruction to meet their students' needs. However, with the loss of even more of the school year and varying experiences with distance learning, there will likely be even more ground to make up. So, we will do what we do best. We will pick up where a student is and charge forward.
Preparation Needed: More Than Academics
But it's not just academic ground that will need to be made up. The beginning of the year is also a time of introducing expectations and rules. This will likely take a little longer than usual. Face-to-face social interactions will be different when interacting with people outside our family. Skills such as listening, taking turns, staying on task and following directions will need to be reviewed. When back in the classroom, lessons cannot be paused, replayed or started at a later time. Distracting participants cannot be muted. Rules will need to be reestablished.
Catching up academically, socially, and emotionally will take time. Too much, too fast will increase the stress all around. Stressful situations do not lead to high levels of productivity, motivation or learning. Students and teachers have been through an unprecedented event. We will need to take the time to share and to listen to each other. Many students are likely to feel anxious and worried about leaving parents, getting sick or have suffered a personal loss. Teachers and staff will need to give students additional support and the time they need.
Teachers Have New Tools
But I also have some new tools in my toolbox for next year that I didn't have before the pandemic crisis. In fact, if I had not been forced to approach teaching differently, I never would have known about these tools. While I miss the feedback and interaction that a face-to-face lesson has, I have learned to use programs to record my lessons and instructions. I have learned to zoom and loom and other crazy words. I now embed links right into my lesson plans. Technology I was once wary of I now see as resources that can complement my instruction. Won't it be wonderful to merge the best parts of traditional teaching with more modern approaches?
Seven Preparation Tips for Parents
During distance learning, I've also formed a stronger connection with parents. We have become partners in the education of their children at a deeper level than before. So, as the new school year approaches, what can parents do to get their child ready for reentering the school environment and handing the reins back over to teachers full-time?
Start reestablishing a routine. Just being back to a full day schedule will be challenging for some. Set regular bedtimes, wake up at a consistent time and get dressed! I've seen some parents make out daily schedules like we have in class, so students know what their tasks are for the day and how the day will be structured.
Use this time to ingrain good hygiene habits. Teach kids to wash their hands multiple times a day for 20 seconds (sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"). When school resumes, you won't be there at the bathroom door to remind your child to wash his hands. Also, talk to them about the importance of not touching their faces, especially their nose, mouth and eyes.
Talk to your child about their feelings about going back to school. Are they excited, scared, sad to leave mom and dad, or all of those mixed together? Have strategies for coping with those feelings when they are away. Teach them to take deep breaths when feeling anxious. Give them a picture of you or your pet for when they are missing home.
Since social distancing measures may continue into summer, get creative with ways for your child to socialize with their friends. Kids can have virtual lunch dates or tea parties with FaceTime or Zoom. For younger kids who have a harder time knowing how to have an online conversation, make it more interactive by having a virtual scavenger hunt, an art lesson or a Lego-building challenge. Kids and family members can read books and play games together, by using apps like Caribu.
Re-teach and model active listening skills. Play Simon Says or the Telephone Game. Listening in a classroom with all of its distractions is harder than one-on-one. When kids are back with a teacher and classmates, they will need to make eye contact, listen to others and not interrupt.
Start weaning your child from her devices. Many homes have had an increase in television and digital media use while staying at home. Other than for school activities and socialization opportunities, limit the amount of screen time.
And of course, READ, READ, READ! Read to or with your child every day. Reading builds verbal, listening, and creative skills, which are very important at school at any age.
While there are challenges ahead, the return to school is going to be a wonderful time. Parents may have a new appreciation for the chaotic mornings getting kids ready and off to school. To me, the thought of faculty meetings with colleagues after being in the classroom all day sounds great. I'm not sure who will have the biggest smile in those First Day of School pictures - the kids, the teachers or the parents.
Cheryl Phelan is a first grade teacher at The Anthony School in Little Rock, Arkansas. She has taught first grade for 29 years. Cheryl enjoys discovering new and exciting ways to help students excel in the classroom. In her spare time, she enjoys crafting projects (especially involving photos) and spending time with her two adult sons, two dogs, and cat.