I spoke with a teacher friend yesterday, who shared a letter she received from a parent. It read, “My son won’t even sit still for an hour! How the f*@k do you expect me to teach him all of this?!”
My Diagnosis: The parent is suffering from “Acute Homeschool Shock Syndrome.” It is not often fatal, but it can feel like it.
I can relate. Twelve years ago, my family was thrust into homeschooling due to circumstances beyond our control. For the first month(s), we suffered from the same syndrome.
For the last 10+ years, I have been a Parent Engagement Coach and have worked with many hundreds of parents in their efforts to secure a brighter future for their children. Over the last weeks, I have spoken with many of these parents about their recent experiences at home. It is through this perspective that I write this blog.
“Educational Withdrawal” is a term I coined to describe the behavior I confronted in the families with whom I coached. The term represents the reduction of parental leadership in the educational life of their children.
Ask any long-time teacher and, although she may not have a name for it, she has seen this phenomenon steadily increase in frequency in American education over the last 30 years.
Now, because of Coronavirus, withdrawn parents are being expected to reengage suddenly, and under less than ideal conditions.
Waking Up is Hard to Do
We must remember that for decades, parents have been gradually anesthetized from the process of education. Most parents have never been expected – or required – to play any meaningful role in the education of their children.
Now, to expect a parent to suddenly wake from their educational slumber and immediately transition into a central educational role is not only unrealistic, but it is also unfair. I’ll even add that it is dangerous to the long-term education of their children.
We Must Not Miss this Opportunity
The danger is that, if we’re not careful, we will miss the opportunity embedded within this crisis. The opening is this: now that parents are back in the driver’s seat, if they are supported in their work at home, they will feel equipped to continue – and possibly even accelerate – their educational leadership once the pandemic has passed. The result would be the Holy Grail of education reform — that both teachers AND parents participate in driving academic progress.
This opportunity is real. I’ve seen it happen many times before and often with parents whom you would not expect. But this transition will not emerge unless there is an adjustment to what is happening now.
Eighty Percent of Parents are at Risk
In my conversations with parents, I estimate that eighty-percent are reacting in ways that put them and their children at more risk long-term. These parents feel that they cannot handle the workload as assigned by teachers. They are feeling defeated and inadequate, and the risk is that, once this pandemic has faded and schools reopen, that parents will be even LESS likely to lead than before the crisis. We will see MORE parental abdication and MORE educational withdrawal. One parent recently told me, “When this is over, I am NEVER going to do this [teach my child at home] again.”
This would be the very worst outcome and teachers will be expected to shoulder even MORE of the educational burden. Increased Educational Withdrawal will be “proof” to many in the education world that parents are unable or unwilling to play a more significant role in the education of their kids.
We have a moment — I estimate it to be four weeks — where we can help parents learn the skills of educating their kids at home. But it will require parental support (I offer my assistance below) and three things from teachers:
- Reduce the Academic Workload: Parents — particularly those with multiple children at home — who feel overwhelmed are the most likely to give up, never to try again. Instead, please only assign the minimum workload that you find acceptable. Offer optional lessons for parents who want to go beyond the minimum. More than anything, parents need to feel the encouragement of knowing that they CAN support their child’s learning at home. This encouragement will keep them progressing forward.
- Focus on Helping Parents Establish Homeschooling Habits: Many parents and students do not see their home as a “Learning Hub.” As a result, there is constant friction between child and parent until new habits and mindsets are established. The essential practices include setting a reasonable bedtime, homeschool start time, and developing a workable schedule of how the day will run. This schedule should be a combination of academics and chores, with free play, snacks, and structured games serving as rewards throughout the day.
- Take the Long View: If home learning habits and mindsets become normalized now, then whenever the school is closed (summer, weekends, holidays), teachers can reasonably expect kids to continue learning at the parent’s direction. This is the Holy Grail of education reform: parents AND teachers supporting learning in their respective environments.
A Parable as a Guide
“Once, there was a man who delivered supplies between two towns. Because the road was rocky, the man asked his friend to help by walking alongside the animal, guiding it by holding onto the reins. Each day, they walked back and forth between the towns always in the same manner, the friend walking and the man riding.
One day, the man’s friend got sick and could not make the trip. The man tried to lead the horse himself, but within minutes, his feet were hurting, he got lost, and the horse didn’t behave.
The man thought to himself, “I will NEVER lead this horse again! It’s just too difficult!”
The man asked his friend for advice. His friend gave the man a plan.
He told the man to walk only 1-minute for the first day, then each day, to double the time walked. The friend also said, “at the end of each day’s walk, give the animal a piece of fruit, but reduce the amount by half each day.”
So, with the encouragement of his friend, the man walked only 1-minute the first day. The animal was unruly, but once completed, he gave the animal an apple. The next day, they walked 2-minutes and gave the animal ½ an apple. This continued until, on the sixth day, they walked for 32-minutes with little objection. The horse had learned how to follow the man’s leadership. Every day after, the animal performed almost as well as usual.
When the man’s friend recovered from his illness, the two men were able to share the walking and, as a result, they were able to go twice as fast, more than making up for lost time.”
This is the opportunity in front of us. If we don’t focus on covering school material and, instead, focus on teaching parents how to lead their children at home, the transition to a new learning model is possible. One where many more parents feel comfortable sharing the educational burden that, for too long, has been shouldered only by teachers.
My Offer to Help
Free Personalized Coaching
If you read this far, then you are perhaps a believer in my approach. If so, then I offer you — or any parent you know — to contact me for a free 45-minute Zoom (or phone) conversation about their situation. Click HERE to schedule. I will provide personalized coaching and suggestions on how to improve the home learning environment and to resolve the conflicts that are likely happening in the home.
We Can Get This Right
As someone who has worked with parents outside of school for over a decade, I believe that this is our best chance to transition to an educational model that is fairer to teachers and gives kids the best opportunity to achieve in this 21st century.
We can get this right.