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Hanging by a thread: E-learning while working from home

The morning started with the scheduled conference call. Ginger had grown accustomed to that part of the new routine – wake up, make coffee, read emails, get dressed from the waist-up, hair and makeup … all boxes were checked. But today, something was different. The younger kids were fighting in the background. The older kids were not yet awake. One child was even banging on the closed office door. Did they not know that was FORBIDDEN? Eventually, Ginger had to excuse herself from the conference call. This was the beginning of a very stressful day.

A lot of us can relate to Ginger. We are juggling a work-from-home schedule in the midst of donning new teacher-hats. In the blink of an eye, our juggling skills have been cranked up several notches, and at times it feels like we are dropping the balls!

Over the past few weeks, media attention has centered on COVID-19: symptoms, transmission, prevention, economic fallout, political posturing, and the list goes on. But what about the families sitting at the heart of the crisis? How many are concerned about their day-to-day new realities as they struggle to manage their new work-life dynamics that now include their children’s education? Some have grouped these families in with homeschoolers, but they are not. These are families who woke up one day and learned they were becoming full-time teachers, administering an educational plan designed by someone else. Sure, the home-school community has unique perspective and can offer assistance, which many have, but this situation we are in right now is not homeschooling. We are working and teaching in a state of crisis.

Nonetheless, all is not hopeless. Realizing that we must now actually apply much of what we’ve learned in school, we are in a time when we must revise our plans. As the paradigms are shifting, we must go beyond thinking outside the box and create our own spaces for existence, execution, and achievement.

Getting on the same page

A few years ago, my job as a magazine editor was moved from the office to home. At first, I thought it was the perfect situation – until it was not. A day did not go by that I did not receive a random call from my husband or one of our kids, asking me to run an errand, take them to an appointment, or perform some random task. I felt like they didn’t realize I was still working FULLTIME. The fact of the matter is that they honestly did not see me in that manner; I was at home, and they saw me as mom.

The solution rested with calling a family meeting and having a real heart-to-heart discussion with everyone where I made sure they understood that even though they physically saw me at home, mom was wearing the work hat from 8 am until approximately 5 pm. We had to set rules and establish boundaries. Everyone needed to understand the lay of the land, and they had to commit to the established plan. I crafted consequences for noncompliance, and I enforced them!

It starts with you

As frustrated as I was, nothing changed until I decided life had to function differently, which meant I needed to take control – starting with myself. I needed to get organized. For me, that meant deciding how I needed the day to flow then designing a framework around it.

If you have work-day flexibility, decide if you would rather integrate school with your work throughout the day, or if you want to divide your day into chunks. For example, you might decide to “school” in the morning then work all afternoon. Doing so better allows you to focus your attention on the task at hand. Some prefer to work while their child works. Going this route entails frequent stops to answer questions, address technological concerns, teach concepts, etc. It also tends to draw out the day; however, this is the route many prefer and to which many must adhere. Some prefer to hold school on certain days – Friday-Sunday, for example. Those who choose this method typically have work-load flexibility, and it requires a concrete plan for supervising the kids while working.

In all of the aforementioned scenarios, establishing a schedule is critical. Everyone needs to know exactly what they need to do from the moment their feet touch the floor each morning. If you have an 8 am conference call, your kids should know what they are to do during that time. Build into the schedule time for independent work so that you have blocks of time to take care of business, like conference calls and other meetings. Meet with all family members and design a schedule that meets everyone’s needs. Solicit and incorporate their input. Post the schedule in a highly visible area as gentle reminders of everyone’s time and place, then HOLD EVERYONE TO IT! This is a great time to emphasize boundaries, accountability, and consequences. Everyone needs to buy into the program, and everyone needs to suffer the consequences when they don’t. Think back to the child who banged on Ginger’s door during the conference call. They definitely were in violation, and a penalty should have been assessed!

Be prepared!

Just like anything else, proper preparation is essential to optimal performance. From a workload standpoint, always take time the night before and plan out tomorrow, as much as reasonably possible. By the same token, take time to plan out your students’ tomorrow. For example, most students’ work is uploaded to a portal – for the entire week in many cases. Take some time to review your child’s upcoming assignments. If you can do this on Sunday, you’ll really feel ahead of the game, but if not, review their work the night before and prepare yourself to teach where necessary.

Remember, children are captive audiences. They are now looking to you as the teacher, so they want to feel assured you know what you’re talking about and can teach them the material. Your credibility is on the line here! Reviewing the lesson beforehand gives you time to familiarize yourself with the topic before getting in front of your student(s). It also provides an opportunity to encounter, address, and repair technological difficulties that might arise. Children can be extremely intimidating. Do yourself a favor and don’t give them a chance to second guess you.

Manage screen time … or not

As parents, we are often concerned about the amount of screen time of which we allow our children to partake. We can still maintain limits and boundaries in this area, but this extreme situation allows a little grace and grants permission to ease up a little on the restrictions and maybe embrace screens for their abilities to enhance education.

Right now, there are countless apps and programs that are either offering completely free access or at the very least honoring some type of temporary promotion. Remember earlier when the world came crashing down during Ginger’s conference call? Perhaps she could have established independent reading time for her kids during the same block as her conference call. Companies like epic!, a digital library used by school districts, teachers, and educators all across America, make books highly accessible with its digital library consisting of more than 40,000 books. Or, perhaps this is the time to beef up the math skills, practice a new language, or focus on STEM courses. Now is the time to embrace technology and use it to our children’s advantage.

Managing multiples

If you’re a mom (or any parent) of multiples, you know the joys and challenges that come with the territory. It is not different with e-learning. If you have teens under your roof, now is the time to ramp up the accountability ticker. Encourage them to take ownership for their work. Let me know you are empowering them to take the lead and that you are coaching from the sidelines. Obviously, you will teach and support them where and when necessary, but now is a great time to let them take the lead. Allow your teens to make their schedule and manage their schoolwork. Let them know you will check in periodically but that you expect them to handle their responsibilities. Then, just as I said before, HOLD THEM TO IT!

This is also a great time to enlist the help of your teens. Incorporate areas where they can help you teach the younger children. Doing so will either establish or build on the relationships between the older children and the younger ones. If your teen has a skill, craft, or talent (dancing, art, playing instrument, etc.), you might consider having that older child teach the younger one(s). In all examples, it wouldn’t hurt to offer an incentive. You decide what works for you based on your personal and family values. In Ginger’s case, if the older kids had been out of bed and maybe teaching the younger ones, the fight could have been avoided, and no one would have banged on Ginger’s door. We must use our resources.

By now you realize we are all – at some point – Ginger. She survived that day but vowed to not continue down that path. By incorporating a little organization, discipline, and innovative thinking, we can juggle the new work-school-from-home dynamics like a pro!

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