How we can work together to help kids recover their learning

Kirstin Toth \
May 20, 2020

I remember vividly when I first sent my sons off to school in their early years. They’d return home after school, ready for a hug and a snack. One day my then-8 year old came home from the start of second grade with several “worksheets” for him to complete. After my review of the work in front of him – that included instructions for parents – I recall thinking that I was being asked to be a teacher, for which I was ill-equipped! I also admit now with guilt, that I felt somewhat resentful for having to spend what I thought would be hours on this work with my child. Of course, it wasn’t hours; I’m sure the sum total was about 10 minutes. Still, the anxiety of my own teaching shortcomings collided with my unwavering commitment to my child’s development.   

Fast forward about 20 years to today’s global pandemic, which has upended almost every routine of our lives and most assuredly the roles parents are playing in their children’s schooling. I see daily posts in social media and pictures on the evening news about the role of “Teacher” that parents are assuming as they work with their kids’ lessons, they seek out materials that keep the kids engaged while they struggle with the daily challenges of unemployment or, if they’re lucky enough, they juggle working from home. 

While the greatest teachers have always been in the  position of being a role model and mentor, parents now take on an added burden in an already stressful time of being both parent and educational coach. To actually say that Parents are now Teachers, too, is probably a stretch that parents acknowledge. After all, teachers are professionals with multiple credentials and degrees, highly trained to deliver instruction and elicit learning. Most parents I know are just getting by trying to keep a schedule and some organization for their kids.

So, besides the stress on parents, what does this all mean for kids’ learning? What kind of learning can we actually expect for them in this Age of COVID? 

It is a daunting reality that the pandemic will adversely affect most kids’ learning. In one recent projection from NWEA, younger students might only gain half of their typical math learning for this past year, and perhaps only up to 70% of their typical reading achievement as this academic year comes to an official close.

Right now our schools are planning for an uncertain future – for their families, students and themselves. Budgets have been cut, in some cases dramatically; schools will reopen in a new scenario requiring physical distancing; and most schools are planning to deliver instruction as a hybrid online and in-school.

Whatever it looks like in the coming year, we will all need to help kids recover their learning and forge ahead. Parents will indeed have to become better at understanding the critical roles teachers play and what they can do to be more engaged in their students’ active learning. And teachers will have to become even more adept at pivoting when a student needs a little more parenting and coaching than directing only their academic achievement.

As a community, we are responsible for helping to support our families and teaching professionals in order to advance our society. It’s not just an economic necessity, it’s a moral imperative that we practice a mind-shift now for a new future. Not only will we need to help students recover their lost learning; we need to change our own thinking about roles of teachers and parents and all become catalysts for new learning.  What can we do? Here’s a few of my thoughts and I’d love to hear your ideas.

  • Dig deep into our reserves of patience and grace– with our students, our parents, our teachers and ourselves. We’ve never been here before so we’re creating a new map for how to go forward.
  • Ask for help from your schools. Whether you’re a teacher or parent, there are many resources available and schools are ready and willing to help.
  • Try activities with your student that includes doing things differently and trying new small adventures. Walk outside and notice things you’ve never observed closely until now, and talk about what you see. Nature walks, scavenger hunts, a new recipe – great for all learners!
  • Don’t forget to check in and give praise- with your student, friend, colleague. We’re all just trying to get through it right now. Checking in with a friendly “how are you?” or “you’re doing amazing” goes a lot farther than it did before. It could really make someone’s difficult day go a little easier.

Header photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash / two children riding bicycle painting