To say COVID-19 disrupted everyone’s schedules would be a laughable understatement. Between canceled extracurricular activities, foundational changes in home life, and the simple inability to socialize, our students’ lives look wildly different than they did before. This pandemic has had crippling effects on so many aspects of life. Not to mention, trying to teach and parent our children under these conditions is no easy job. One thing that we have found to be useful during this time is an openness to greater flexibility in homeschooling. No one expected March 2020 to look quite like it did. Or April. Or May…
Flexibility in Homeschooling
While we might not have been able to anticipate what has happened over these past few months, we can think through what has worked in our response to it. We can consider how adjusted expectations can help to give us all a little more breathing room, and we can embrace a worldwide community that, like us, has had their lives put on hold.
As an academy, we met the news of global shutdowns with many of the same concerns as everyone else. We also were quick to reach out to our academy families. We let them know that, in these unforeseen times, our aim was to work together to ensure a successful end to the school year for us all. This meant that our instructors offered flexibility with previously set deadlines. Additionally, our administrators worked with families experiencing a range of previously unexpected hardships.
At the Well-Trained Mind Academy, we’ve benefited from being an online institution. Our already-solidified expertise and comfortability with online schooling allowed us stability through our class schedules. However, concern for our students’ capacities to complete work and meet deadlines during the pandemic was critical during this spring semester, and continues to be so. Kayla Meyers, one of our writing instructors, shares how a classroom policy of flexibility was helpful this past spring:
A Liberal Extension Policy
In the tumult, my students (and my sanity) benefited from having a liberal extension policy in place that offered students flexibility and control.
Now that our school year is coming to an end, I’ve had time to reflect on just how important flexibility is when schooling a child. In the case of deadlines and extensions, I think about the importance of accountability.
In our day-to-day lives, accountability manifests through one’s ability not only to get a job done, but also to convey their progress or status. Communication skills thus prove essential. When giving an extension, I asked students to clearly articulate why they need an extension, and to create a step-by-step plan to get the work done. Practicing such communication, students in turn take some control over their schedules and learn to communicate effectively with authority figures. Both of these skills will serve them as they mature and grow increasingly independent.
Extensions are never open-ended, and students are held accountable to the deadlines they set. Developing time management skills to meet deadlines is thus imperative to the class. Additionally, students cannot request the extensions at the last minute. This requires them to do the basic planning to check their status and email me in advance. So even as it provides some flexibility, students must engage thoughtfully with their work and the deadlines each week.
While the benefits of my extension policy are clear to me in “normal” times, they have directly contributed to the successful completion of my classes despite the monumental disruptions of COVID-19. And I’ve wondered, how can this policy translate to the larger theme of flexibility in schooling at home? I’m sure many of you will be schooling through the summer, either making up for work that was not complete during the most chaotic period of stay-at-home orders, or replacing summer camps and clubs with enrichment activities and online classes.
Adapting to “Crisis Schooling”
As an academy, we have been asking many of these same questions. How can we encourage families to continue to pursue educational growth for their children, while also acknowledging that many of our families are not just “homeschooling” anymore? Our families are now “crisis schooling” as well. Parents who usually work outside of the home have relocated offices into their spare closets. Many other parents previously employed outside of the home have not had that luxury. They have been out of work for weeks and even months. And then we have parents who have been working throughout this crisis in their usual manner. They must balance parenting, schooling, and worrying about the potential ramifications of being an essential worker during this pandemic.
Fluid Summer Plans
These are just a few of the ways that life has changed for Academy parents. We aren’t even discussing yet how those changes (and many others) have affected Academy students. What do we recommend, then, as parents enter summer? Kayla Meyers shares her ideas about how flexibility could be the best approach to this year’s summer plans, too.
Personalizing summer projects to your student’s passions and schedule will ensure their continued engagement. By normalizing extensions in my class, students felt comfortable requesting them and persevering with their work rather than giving up. My students told me that this policy gave them a sense of independence and peace of mind. When you select enrichment opportunities attuned to your student’s interests and give them the opportunity to determine the pace of their work, students in turn “buy in” to their projects’ progress and completion.
Like all skills, there is a learning curve, and accountability through self-determination won’t immediately translate into success. But my extension policy has helped me instill communication skills and responsibility in my students that I know will benefit them no matter what life hurls their way. Giving them some wiggle room in such a challenging time may save their sanity, and yours, as we navigate the summer.
Summer 2020 Forecast: Sunny with a Chance of Change
We know that summer 2020 might not look the same as summer 2019. There may be fewer playdates, summer vacations, and days spent at the pool. It might be tempting, then, to decide to make the “best use” of this time by tasking your children with making up any and all of the work that might have been “missed” over the spring.
We urge you to work with your kids to decide what their summer, and yours, might look like. Surely there are educational goals that you all can strive towards. But we also encourage moving forward with an openness to flexibility as we continue navigating this international pandemic. Set goals as a family, and then assess them every few weeks to see how everyone is feeling about them.
Don’t forget that your kids, just like you, have been living through unfamiliar times. They need stability and comfort in their worlds, just like you do. And so, as we move into summer, we urge you to consider how you can best provide that to your family, while perhaps saving time for a few lazy days in the backyard or family boardgame tournaments as well.