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Alief School District is Starting School Virtually. But Virtual School is not “School-at-Home”

Mom: Son, you’re grounded.

Son: What?! I’m virtual schooled! What are you going to ground me from?!

Mom: You’re grounded from… cereal.

Virtual School

The State of Texas is pressuring schools to reopen — regardless of the COVID spread it seems. What our leaders don’t realize is that parents make the final call. It’s their child and no one will pressure them to put their child at risk. No one!

As a result, a great many parents (and some schools) are seriously considering alternative models of education this fall. Despite schools’ strenuous efforts to make the school safe, the continuing risks are high enough for many administrators, parents, and teachers to consider pulling the ripcord.

Parents from every social stratum are asking a single question: “If my school opens this fall as normal, for safety’s sake, should I keep them home instead?”

The politics of the moment are fueling this question. And the spread of COVID is forcing some school districts to start school in an all-virtual environment.

Regardless of what happens, home-learning has never been more important.

Hey, mom? Does taking a bath count as science class?

Ben Barnes, age 10

Problem #1

When most parents think about home or virtual schooling, this is what goes on in their minds. First, they think about their child’s age. Next, they try to remember what school was like when they were that age. Finally, they imagine replicating that environment at home. They picture their teacher who tirelessly and fearlessly led 30 rowdy kids for 7.5 hours every day. Many parents then conclude — rightly — that “I could never do that.” True. It takes a unique warrior to be a teacher.

But “Homeschool” and “Virtual School” is not “School-at-Home.” In many ways, they are the exact opposite. (This is one reason I substitute the term “Home-Learning” for “Homeschool.” Homeschool has too much baggage and unrealistic expectations.) 

The two most significant differences between home-learning and school-based learning are that, in home-learning, 1) the instructional time is reorganized and significantly reduced, and 2) students become more independent in their learning (an essential feature for the 21st-century adult). 

Mom: Kids! Why are you still in your pajamas?! It’s 11 o’clock!

Kids: Dad calls these our school clothes.

Words spoken by every virtual school family eventually

1-Reorganization of Instructional Time

In a home-learning environment, students typically spend far less time on academic material. Learning can be integrated into the day, or education can be condensed. 

Math can be done in 15 or 30-min increments depending on the child, one session in the morning, one before lunch, and one in the afternoon, for example. Spreading out the work can increase retention and lessen anxieties (for parent and child.) Reading can occur at the first 20-minute of each hour on the hour, allowing for far more time reading than in any traditional school environment. 

Some parents condense learning into the morning hours. This leaves the afternoon free for socialization, sports, museums, chores, the pursuit of the child’s personal interests, or, more often than not, all of the above. This freedom to explore is impossible in a traditional model. 

NOTE: Reorganizing instructional time does not mean that home-learning students lose academic ground to their full-time student peers. In education, more is not always better. Who could argue that more subjects, more assignments, more tests, more homework, and more pressure lead to a more prepared or curious child? It doesn’t. It leads to student disengagement and disgust of learning. Instead, home-learning has a mantra of “less but better.” Mastery of the 3R’s (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic) is usually the focus, particularly in the early years. 

2-Independent Learners

Because home-learners are not as tightly managed, they are more frequently required to learn content on their own. This is a good thing because over time, these students develop the “Skill of Learning Independence.” This means that they know how to learn without an adult spoon-feeding or pressuring them to learn. Adopting this skill is one of the essential separators between successful and unsuccessful college students and, increasingly, workers in the knowledge economy. But this skill can be nurtured and grown much earlier than college. It requires an environment that consistently empowers the child to build the skills of learning independence.  

How to Virtual School in 5 Easy Steps: 

Step 1. Spend 5-straight-hours researching “homeschooling” on the internet. 

Step 2. Cry yourself to sleep. 

Step 3. Complete two reps of Steps 1 and 2. 

Step 4. Start Virtual School with trembling knees. 

Step 5. Clear your dinner table because, within a few moments, it will be covered with paper, books, paint, and glitter… lots and lots of glitter. 

A Plea to Teachers

I am not a professional educator, but I have hybrid-homeschooled my kids for 13 years and regularly interact with hundreds of parents from every social stratum. If your school adopts a virtual or hybrid of education this fall, please, please, consider the following as you assign work for your students this fall:

1) Start with Assigning Lessons that Teach the Habits of Home-Learning

Students unfamiliar with learning at home, and parents who are unfamiliar with instructing at home, must develop the habits of learning at home first. These habits start with a consistent bedtime and wake time. Then it expands to include clear expectations as to when home-learning must begin. The habits also include behaviors that assist the parent in managing the home. Consider assigning a specific bedtime. Consider assignments like sweeping the floor, washing breakfast dishes, separating clothes for the wash, making lunch, or folding clothes. These would be excellent assignments for kids. They simultaneously teach habits that facilitate learning at home, and they remove workload from parents, which generates additional space for learning. 

2) Prune Lesson Plans

Especially in the early months, please consider pruning lesson plans to the essential content. I’d recommend the 3R’s but, whatever you choose, please make everything else optional. Why? Because focus is what most home-learning environments lack. There is often so much activity that there is little forward progress on the essential learning. Additionally, parental frustration is our greatest enemy. If the first weeks are overwhelming to the parent, they will quit. I’ve seen it dozens of times. And, once a parent quits, it’s very hard to get them to restart. 

3) Respect the Parent Voice… More now Than Ever

In a virtual setting, parents are now “Co-Teachers.” That means their voice should now carry more weight. Last spring, many parents resisted the volume of work assigned. Some resisted because they had multiple children, and it was difficult for them to balance all the assignments. Others resisted because their children were working for 7 straight hours. Whatever the reason, parent feedback must be encouraged and respected. Most parents did not voice their concerns to their child’s teachers. They either fumed in private or quietly quit trying. Your Co-Teacher’s voices must be encouraged, heard, and considered. Now more than ever. 


As always, I stand ready to support parents along their journey. Whether they decide to homeschool, hybrid school, virtual school, or traditional school, they will STILL need to lead learning in the home to assure a successful education. If I can be of help as you build your home-learning skills, feel free to reach out for a phone conference. It’s free.

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