We Are In This Together

Bonnie Nishihara, Assistant Head & Director of Educational Design + Innovation

What extraordinary times we are living in. The idea that "we are in this together" resonates. For me, the phrase serves as a reminder that the choices I am making right now are not for me as much as they are for others: my family, my community, and the world. I try to begin each day with the "three good things" gratitude practice that I learned years ago from Christine Carter, former executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. The practice is intended to surface the small gratitudes in life. In the current climate, my three good things are big ones: I am grateful for my family, our health, and the work of the first responders and healthcare workers who are sacrificing so much right now.

There are so many ways in which we are in this together. For the faculty and staff at Mark Day School, none of us were planning to be distance learning educators and yet all of us are committed to keeping our students safe, happy, and learning. As a school we would not choose to teach first graders online or encourage fifth graders to video chat or expect any of our students to spend this much time in front of a screen, and yet that is what we find ourselves doing in order to continue the work of our mission while sheltering-in-place. In a recent column on EdSurge titled, "A Letter to Educators Teaching Online for the First Time," the authors wrote, "The job of an online teacher is the job of an offline teacher is the job of a teacher. Connect to people and help them to feel connected to you and to the dimension of the world you are leading them to experience...It's that simple ... and it's that complex." This has been our challenge the last two weeks, and our practice as online educators improves every day.

For families at Mark Day School, we know none of you were planning to become homeschooling parents or guardians. Many of you did not expect to end up working from home or even, possibly, expect to be out of work, and yet all of you are also committed to keeping your students safe, happy, and learning. Through whole-school surveys, homeroom-specific surveys, parent/guardian "coffees" hosted on Zoom, and email, we have heard from many parents and guardians about the joys and the challenges of being home around the clock with your children. Below are some parenting tips for sheltering in place, both some that we bring to you and some that we have crowdsourced from our community.

  1. Be okay with the idea that these rules are not the rules to live by. There is a lot we know about striking a balance for healthy technology use in our lives and in the lives of our children. While it is perhaps more important than ever that we make thoughtful and intentional choices about the technology boundaries we set, we must also recognize that in these unusual circumstances we will be making choices that are not reflective of the rules we would choose to live by in any other time. That is okay for now. There will be a time to go back to the old rules.
  2. Get moving. Go outside. Find every opportunity that you can to get outside and to get moving while still observing the shelter-in-place order and the principles of social distancing. At school we have standing desks, stools that wobble and rubber bands at students' feet for foot fidgeting, all to promote greater concentration. If your child is having a hard time sitting still during distance learning activities, consider how you can create a workspace that allows for more movement. Give your child a ball to roll under their feet while sitting or consider using a yoga ball as a chair or simply allow your child to stand while working.
  3. Provide more structure for students who are struggling to focus on asynchronous school work. A clear daily schedule of tasks and activities will help guide students who struggle to stay on track. One parent reported that she includes outside time explicitly on the schedule and enforces it vigorously. Parents can also try the 360 Thinking Time Tracker app to structure task completion. This app is based on the work of Sarah Ward, an expert on executive brain function who was a popular parent education speaker at Mark Day School several years ago. Parents of younger students can also try another Sarah Ward technique: job talk. Talk with your child about what being an online learner "looks like." (An online learner separates time for school work and time for play, etc.) Frequently refer to your child as an "online learner" when offering praise and guidance.
  4. Be a guide, but let your child's work be their own. In distance learning, parents play a critical role in setting up the conditions for student learning and offering on-the-spot guidance that teachers cannot from a distance. The younger the student, the more guidance they will need. It is important to remember, however, that the school work itself belongs to your child. As a parent you don't need to worry if it is not perfect. We heard from many parents who were feeling like they were being too nagging and overbearing. As we enter phase three of our distance learning rollout and teachers incorporate more feedback for students on their work, you can rely more heavily on teachers to guide your child's learning through feedback.
  5. Make sure everyone in your household has the opportunity for social time with people outside the household. This includes parents! Use Zoom to connect with friends and fellow parents. Arrange Zoom or Facetime playdates for your children. Treat online playdates a lot like in-person ones. Plan them. Supervise them. Online gatherings of 2-3 kids are better than those that are larger. Consider ways that younger students can parallel play with physical objects while being connected online, such as building LEGOs, playing with play dough, or drawing together. Consider online board games or Netflix Party for older students. Check out this online article for ideas.

For more tech tips, click here to download a one-page set of technology tips for home use. Stay safe out there and be good to each other.