What a year it’s been for our kids, having to cope with being in and out of school in 2020. It’s been a massive adjustment for them, as well as for the amazing parents and carers who have added ‘teacher’ to their growing list of roles. We asked former teacher and education expert Andy Parthenopoulos to share his thoughts on what families can take from this experience, and why he feels we are now better placed than ever before to assist with our kids learning – in our homes or at school.
As the threat of COVID-19 became a reality back in March, Australian decision-makers grappled with the complicated decision of whether or not to close schools. One common fear present in the mind of educators and parents at the time was how students could possibly learn without the direct influence of their teachers.
With distance learning becoming a reality, many experts offered tips to worried families that revolved around the idea that as a parent, you are not expected to be a teacher. While it is true that credible teachers have the single largest impact on their students’ learning and development, it’s misleading to hold the belief that teachers possess some magical ability that transcends your impact as a parent.
In reality, you have been educating your child for several years and will continue to do so. By the time your child is halfway through Grade 2, you would have spent just under 10,000 waking hours supporting them to meet the various challenges of childhood. Over this time period, pre-literacy skills such as sharing literature and responding to his or her endless curious questions set your child up to be a successful learner. The majority of this was well before formally trained educators took the reins.
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So being told not to “teach” your children while they are learning full-time from your living room is misleading and disempowering. Schools being closed is not ideal, but while your children are at home, having to think like a teacher at times is necessary for their continued development. In practical terms it is also unavoidable!
The rationale behind such messages to think of yourself as a parent rather than a teacher was threefold. First, it served to reduce any pressure that was quickly building as parents wondered how they would juggle working from home while supporting their children. Second, it offered an easy out for people suddenly faced with the prospect of having to act outside of their comfort zone. But now that there has been time to adjust and build routine, these reasons lose their impact.
The third reason behind such disempowering messaging can be seen as a product of the insecurities that some educators carry – that parents who “go rogue” can negatively impact the learning outcomes of their children. Even though there is logic behind this (e.g. parents who punish learning misconceptions and run surveillance on homework completion), it ignores the well-established fact that a tight home/school connection and high-level of parental engagement in learning can drive up student outcomes.
But as schools and teachers strove to develop workable distance learning environments for their student body, there was a general sense of, “we’ve got this….just leave it to us.” Families were being told not to worry because tasks were being designed so that students could learn independently. Not surprisingly, such messaging could make you as a parent feel uninformed, confused and even underappreciated, especially upon realising that the distance learning setup wasn’t hitting the mark for your child. In other words, “parenting only” is not going to work.
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Rarely are people asked to take on a role in society normally reserved for those with significant training. Medical practitioners develop their practice for several years in order to develop expertise and a degree of confidence in their field. But even if you’re not a trained paramedic, you would want to act like one if your child suddenly collapsed in front of you. A little advance training in meaningful areas can really pay off. You are not a fully qualified and experienced teacher, but you can and should be doing more than teachers are expecting of you.
Here are some tips that will help you work together with (rather than at odds with) your child’s teacher. And just as a paramedic would not want you to intubate a patient yourself, it may be best to start by understanding what teachers would prefer you DON’T do:
- Avoid placing an emphasis on results and in walking your child through to the correct answers. Making mistakes is essential to learning.
- Be mindful not to explicitly teach things that your child is not developmentally ready to learn (e.g. it may feel like a milestone if your toddler can “sing to 10” but if they are unable to connect that to counting physical objects one-by-one, in your child’s mind they have just learned a new song, not how to count).
- Avoid talking at or lecturing your child about new ideas. In this way they can disengage and/or learn to become a passive “receiver of facts”.
Teaching is a specialised field, but as you may have realised upon successfully guiding your child through their first five years of learning, core teaching principles that you can apply now to support your child at home are not as inaccessible as they may seem.
And now is a perfect to time to learn!
Download Andy’s free eBook ‘7 Unfortunate mistakes parents make when supporting their child’s learning’ for more teaching and learning advice tailored to parents of 4-13 year olds.
If you would like to discuss your child’s education and how it fits into your overall financial goals and plan, please talk to one of our Tribeca Tribe here.