So, it’s safe to say that we are in pretty uncharted waters. I can’t think of anything that has had the impact on day-to-day life the way this virus has. All the advice coming out of government and all the film coming out of other countries should tell us that what we are being asked to do is necessary.
And that takes us to tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, the vast amount of school pupils up, down and across this great country of ours are going to be staying home. And not on holiday, as a safety measure. And because it’s not a holiday, parents and carers up, down and across the country are going to become involved in home schooling.
Now, many schools and teachers were pulling things together last week to try and help with this. There’s been packs printed, links collated, classrooms digified – loads of prepping going on. Plus, many educational firms have decided to allow access to lots of resources for free – nobody is likely to be short of stuff to teach with. But none of that’s going to help people tonight, as they sit stressing about what exactly they are letting themselves in for.
I hope that this might, at least a wee bit.
The first thing to remember is that I always say the first job of a teacher isn’t actually to teach, it’s to keep everyone safe, and that is what you are already doing by home schooling. Keep that in mind – safety first, which you’re already making sure of, learning a distant second.
You should also take a minute to acknowledge is that home schooling your own child/the child you care for is going to be hard. I don’t know that I’d fancy trying it with my own son, and these days I’d be considered an experienced practitioner. Being a teacher and being a parent/carer are totally different dynamics, and trying to do both is going to be difficult. You shouldn’t forget that your primary role is that of parent/carer, and you’re only covering the teacher role. you don’t want your relationship with the child to suffer – that relationship is far more important that any piece of work you may think needs to be done.
Now, school has probably changed since you were there yourself. It’s probably more interactive, more inclusive and definitely louder and more digital. You are not going to be able to replicate school, nor should you be trying to. Would you want to live in a school? Or turn your home into one? Didn’t think so, unless you’re a Potter fan and we’re talking about Hogwarts. Your child/the child you care for won’t want this either – and remember, they’re probably already confused and scared and upset about not going to school. Either that or they’re expecting this to be a bonus holiday where they get to go and see their pals and do whatever they want to. Either way, their behaviour is likely to suffer as a result of this upheaval when the reality of the situation kicks in, and no plan, no resource or no expert is going to be able to avoid this. It’s going to be about managing it (hmmm – where have I heard that sentence recently?)
So, how might you go about doing that?
Firstly, don’t overplan. As a student, I was often told that failing to plan was planning to fail – and there is some truth in those words. On the other hand, a mega-fantastic, minute-by-minute plan of creative, exciting and holistic learning would take ages to make. Plus, the pupil wouldn’t have read it, and wouldn’t be interested even if they had. Whilst establishing a routine is important, you want one that isn’t too prescriptive and has a certain amount of flexibility built in.
Instead, build the routine together. Ask how the school would do it and lean on that by all means, but harness interests to get started – some quick wins are important. Letting the learner lead or co-create the learning is good practice, so don’t fight it. Plus, CfE (the Curriculum for Excellence) is massive – there’s no way you’re going to cover it all, so don’t try to. Pick the bits they enjoy to start with, you can always fit some literacy & numeracy into them if you need to.
If something works, go with it. If something doesn’t work, don’t keep doing it. Find an alternative. Building perseverance can wait for a while. Don’t be afraid to give up on something that isn’t working and do something else instead. That’s something that can happen to any teacher in any classroom for a million different reasons.
What else can I tell you? Games are stealth learning, stories are your friend. Don’t be shy about using both. There’s screen time and there’s screen time – don’t dismiss the power of multimedia to help support learning. Young children in particular like to do the same/very similar things over and over – use that desire. Get them to set and beat targets. Measure improvements in times/scores/errors.
The last thing I would say is to take photos. This will help you remember highlights and provide a record of the learning journey that your child/the child you care for is about to go on, but they can also be used for reflection at the end of a morning/afternoon, day or week. As well as self-reflection being very useful, this also provides you with another activity!
Two final points. Firstly, try and have fun. Your forward planning doesn’t need handed in, you’re not going to have to do an observed lesson and HMIe aren’t going to turn up at your door, so you are getting left with the good bits. It can be difficult, but it can be such fun and so rewarding too.
Finally, remember to ask for help. There are teachers up, down and across our country offering it, so take them up on their offer. There are so many resources, challenges and activities going on you will be hard pressed to keep up – let the teachers be your researchers and your advisers – they are still working remember, and they haven’t stopped caring about the pupils just because they’ve left the building. This is new for all of us too remember, so we’ll be delighted to feel like we’re helping someone out. You are not doing this on your own, and we’re going to get through it together.