By Dr. Lisset Bird-Pickens
Faculty Member, School of Education, American Public University
During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand that we are on an unceasing roller coaster of stress. If you feel this stress, keep in mind that there is a great chance that your children also feel it.
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It is important to be mindful of the various ways that stress manifests itself in children. Their actions may include:
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Disruptive behavior
Teaching children during the pandemic is no easy feat, especially for parents who now find themselves assuming the added role of teacher in addition to working part- or full-time. But with a focus on supporting your child’s social and emotional development, there is much that you can accomplish that will essentially be beneficial in keeping your children motivated while they are learning virtually.
Keeping Children Motivated to Learn at Home
If you’re teaching children at home, it’s necessary to understand the concept of the “Whole Child.” According to child education researchers Bo Stjerne Thomson and Edith Ackerman, “Research suggests that ‘whole child development,’ not routine or standardized classroom-based learning, empowers children as creative and engaged citizens who can strengthen the well-being of a whole society. It is crucial, then, to nurture their creative abilities to express themselves, understand others, and navigate complex amounts of information so that they can confidently solve the problems of a world that’s changing faster than ever.”
Keeping the concept of the whole child approach at the forefront during periods of homeschooling results in a shift in perspective, especially during these uncertain times. Seeing through this lens is vital in empowering children to continue their progression along the social and emotional developmental continuum.
This shift in focus allows children to not only experience calm amidst moments of confusion in our world today, but it also allows them to maximize on opportunities to socialize with peers, interact in new ways and formulate reflective thought. It is imperative that parents practice valuable strategies to respond to their children’s needs and to support their connection to the surrounding environment. A few strategies are:
- Utilize the open-door approach and let your children know that you are there to listen and discuss any questions or concerns that they may have. Now is the best time to allow your children to talk openly about what they may be feeling about everything that is happening in the world today.
- Apply the flexible use of time and space. Children need sufficient time to dive into an activity and work at their own pace without pressure, especially when they are learning at home.
- Ensure strong opportunities for peer collaboration. For example, use meaningful group projects to build teamwork skills which can be accomplished virtually.
Thomsen and Ackermann also recommend building a respectful relationship between teachers and learners, where dialogue and inquiries are encouraged.
New technologies and project-based activities greatly enhance online learning opportunities. Today, we can readily and actively utilize a new lens and available resources to support our children during these challenging, often confusing times.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Will Likely Prompt Permanent Changes in Schools
Prior to the start of a new school year, it is not uncommon to see massive efforts taking place to prepare schools for the coming academic year. There is attention placed on cleaning, organizing, planning, and preparing teachers to meet students and their families.
But it is no surprise that the start of the upcoming school year will look and feel very different for students near and far. As we have learned, the coronavirus is highly transmissible, and experts predict that infections will increase during a second wave.
Actions such as the closure of schools nationwide continue to be necessary in preventing further infection. What has been interesting is that schools across the country had proactively outlined procedures and plans in the event of unexpected school closures.
However, not all of these procedures and plans were intricately constructed. And not many people perceived that they would be put into motion in this way.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, approximately:
- 74% of school districts had crisis preparedness plans that included procedures for responding to pandemic outbreaks.
- 65% of districts required schools to include responding to pandemics in their preparedness plans.
- 64% of districts had one or more district-level leadership group(s) that addressed the management of infectious diseases, like in pandemics.
But in 2020, we are now in a major public health crisis. We’re seeing a record number of infections, which means that it is now essential that school districts have well-designed plans to continue student learning during unexpected school closures.
Everyone is asking, “Are schools now changed forever because of the pandemic?” Schools have definitely had to make significant changes in how students are educated.
There have been some challenges as a result of these alterations, and we may continue to see these changes evolve. My prediction is that education will undergo significant changes from what it is today, including:
- A shift to more virtual classrooms: The long-term impact from the coronavirus on schools, whether preschool or higher education, will be felt for some time. As a result, we may see a greater shift from brick-and-mortar campus registrations and enrollments to virtual classrooms.
The flexibility of online classes appeals to adult learners and to the parents of younger students during this time and for the foreseeable future. The convenience of taking online classes is equally popular, since the format allows students to navigate through their studies at their own pace.
The degree of the popularity of online learning is currently being researched. However, the outcome may be fluid for some time while we are at the mercy of this virus, not knowing which way it may evolve or dissipate from day to day.
- More technological advances: We are often resistant to change until an issue stares us in our faces and forces us to make that change. This is what has likely happened to many individuals and families as we’ve had to rely significantly on technology.
Now that the need for technology has commanded our attention, it is highly likely that there will be even more available resources at our fingertips. Tapping into the use of technology will be more frequent, and as a result, educators worldwide will now be forced to rethink their teaching strategies.
Technology now plays a key role in educating children and adults around the world. The momentum that has been built on the back of technology will not stop any time soon.
- A change in the digital divide: Every school system experienced some degree of disparity as inequalities within the education system were widely exposed. We all saw firsthand the impact of the digital divide on opportunities for student success. For example, students without mobile devices, laptop computers or reliable internet connections were significantly impacted by the shift to 100 percent online learning.
Additionally, we learned that a number of students who rely on school for food and a safe environment were cut off from these resources as a result of the school closures. This change left many districts scrambling to arrive at solutions.
Although these factors impacting student education were considered in written plans some time ago, some educators did not give them significant thought or proper planning until the pandemic occurred. This change in the digital divide, in my opinion, will be improved significantly as a result of this pandemic experience. In the defense of schools worldwide, however, many school systems were not prepared to move online overnight.
- A change in socialization: With the importance of ongoing, consistent sanitization of classrooms and school buses, teachers and children will need to wear masks and other protective gear should schools reopen fully in a face-to-face environment.
There will also be continued temperature checks coupled with required hand washing, in addition to an adoption of new procedures and rules that allow for as much social distancing as possible. Some schools have already laid out social distancing plans for the fall, which includes students eating lunch at their desks instead of in a cafeteria, student desks spread six feet apart, and a closure of playgrounds.
- A greater use of the flipped classroom model: As a result of the pandemic, I predict that we will see even more classrooms and schools today take on a more “flipped classroom” approach to instruction. In this model, children will do more learning about basic skills and knowledge at home via videos or online platforms, and then come to school to do work together.
With this instructional approach, teachers can definitely find opportunities to zoom in on higher-level skills such as analysis and evaluation, while working directly with students. This approach allows teachers to maximize on their time spent teaching students critical concepts.
In essence, this pandemic has provided a sandbox for new approaches to children’s education to be practiced and, in many circumstances, adopted. It is important to also be mindful that as a result of this approach, parents should begin asking for different types of support and resources.
About the Author
Lisset Bird-Pickens, Ed.D., is a professor at American Public University. She holds a B.S. in psychology from Georgia Southern University, an M.Ed. in early childhood education from Mercer University, an M.Ed. in school counseling from The University of West Alabama and an Ed.D. in education/instructional leadership from Nova Southeastern University.
Dr. Bird-Pickens has experience in online learning and has taught at the university level since 2006. She has taught elementary students and adult learners.
Her academic background is in early childhood education, educational leadership, psychology, and child and family development. Dr. Bird-Pickens is also a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and nationally certified school counselor. She holds certifications in teaching pre-K through 12th grades, school counseling in K-12 and educational leadership in K-12.
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