Distance Learning, Home Schooling and Protecting Family Life through Covid 19. A Guide for Parents.
Background – Distance Learning, Home Schooling and Protecting Family Life Through Coronavirus Covid 19. A Guide for Parents.
“As a parent new to this whole distance learning venture, it’s important to remember that learning is a journey and not a destination for your child.
It’s OK if the work is not perfect. What you encourage for is effort.
Sometimes we project our needs onto our kids and that will hinder the relationship.
Relax and remember that this is your child’s unique journey through learning.
It’s OK to sometimes back away from an assignment or lesson that is frustrating.
Not every child will be great at everything.
Sometimes earning something less than an ‘A’ is just fine.
It’s also key to instil in children that learning is meant to be a bit of a struggle, that’s why it’s learning.
Schools will return to normalcy at some point soon and when they do, whatever has been missing, can be found again.“
Cody Claver. General Manager. iCademy Middle East.
It’s week three of home schooling and, for many of us as parents, the pressure is not yet easing.
While the world is suffering together, it is easy for parents to feel the strain.
Not every child has their own device, not all parents are able to help with each part of the curriculum, and what if the child will now fall behind due to these radical changes to their routine?
There are a million ‘what ifs?’ whirling around the minds of parents globally, all anxious to ensure that their children still have the best education – all of this whilst many of us are trying to work at home and keep our heads above water too.
Distance learning and home schooling was never going to be easy or perfect – and not should we believe other parents are having an easy time.
So …. with all the worry and anxiety, the pressures of new challenges and the ease to fall into the question ‘am I doing enough?’, we ask the experts at UAE schools to help us, as parents, navigate the quagmire.
Key Lesson 1: Timetables are Not Set in Stone
Sarah Weaver, Principal at Al Mamoura Academy (Nursery to Year 13), says the school has been working tirelessly during the first weeks to ensure it has realistic expectations for parents and students.
After a review of the first weeks there are already reduced lesson times, increased teacher interactions with students through Asynchronous and Synchronous methods and a wider range of students’ learning platforms so that they can access immediate feedback as well bespoke personalised feedback throughout the learning process.
The aim, at Al Mamoura Academy, is to ensure that the regular curriculum is uninterrupted. However, they recognize too that there must be a balance, especially when the ages of the children in the household may vary widely and that children will respond to the different demands of distance learning differently. There can be no one size fits all – and schools cannot expect every child to respond in the same way.
At Al Mamoura Academy there is a graduated approach of workload expectations. On a fundamental level, they know that children of different ages have different capacities to concentrate. It is also vital that work from home should not be see children working at a computer.
Their approach recommends that children in Nursery and FS2 should, rather, expect to engage in around two hours of blended tasks – which includes a combination of live interactions (singing or story time), pre-recorded teacher interactions (for example, a subject-led learning task) and, finally, activity time (for example, a practical activity children can undertake at home such as reading a book). In Upper Primary and Secondary school, the time invested in learning increases to around 4 hours, again following the blended approach. For GCSE students, the expectation is around 6 hours of learning.
Al Mamoura Academy believes that, whilst not ideal, this approach will ensure that students stay on track and do not lose out on the academic progress required by the curriculum by having to learn from home rather than school.
Ms Weaver says parents must go easy on themselves:
“We need to be kind, caring and supportive and, as each day passes, we will find new routines and it will become a little easier.”
Sarah Weaver, Principal, Al Mamoura Academy
Suzanne Sumner, Principal at Al Forsan Nursery agrees:
“During this unprecedented situation impacting the whole world, we can all only do our best.
You are, and always have been, your child’s first educator.
Children of all ages primarily learn from what and who surrounds them – and being a positive role model must be the number one priority.
You are loving your children and supporting them through this difficult time.
Look after yourself. Minimising stress is absolutely vital in a time like this for mental health. Don’t let this be something that stresses you. Only you can control that by accepting it is in your circle of control. You are the primary educator and this is your call.
Remember, every child and every family are in the same situation.”
Key Lesson 2: Quality over Quantity
Chris Nourse, Principal at Al Ain Academy (Nursery to Year 13), believes that it is important to remember that “quality of learning is more important than quantity at this new and challenging time.”
Not everyone can stick to the timetables. Families will struggle for many reasons. “Not all children find home schooling easy,” Mr Nourse confirms. There are practical challenges too for many families, including a limited number of devices in the home and broadband issues.
“The priority for us is to keep the core learning moving forward. Children should read every day, do some Mathematics every day, do some writing every day.
However, children also need to sleep well, eat healthy food and exercise every day. Children should be cooking, drawing, painting, and exercising,”
Chris Nourse, Principal at Al Ain Academy
Mr Nourse believes that “parents must enjoy the unique time to learn with the children and be together as a family” – and that means “adjusting learning always to the needs of the family and children.”
At Brighton College Abu Dhabi, Head Master, Simon Corns, agrees and says that the key during this time is variety as opposed to sticking to the usual mix of academia. It is, Mr Corns, argues, especially important to “get children away from the screens and moving.”
In response to parent feedback over the first week, Brighton College shortened lessons to provide necessary breaks. The school day has also been shortened from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, to recognize that e-learning is a more intense and personal experience.
Brighton College is providing its students with a mix of learning that “goes beyond the core subjects to ensure that pupils are inspired and that the “magic” of learning at Brighton is replicated, as far as possible, in the home.”
Lesson 3: Let the Teachers Teach
Mr Corns acknowledges that the new regime of Distance Learning is an additional pressure on parents.
“I would urge all parents not to feel that they have suddenly become responsible for teaching and discipline. Yes, they need to ensure that their children switch on their computers and ‘attend school’ in much the way that they are usually responsible for getting them to the bus or to school. But no one is demanding that they suddenly acquire all the subject knowledge and teaching skills of professional staff.
Parents are not on their own. Just as when they are at school, pupils can ask questions via electronic means. Our teachers can answer them and, where appropriate, give additional advice as to how to deal with a particular challenge.
It is obviously early days but lessons have already been learned and in the light of pupil surveys and parent’s comments, modifications have already been made at Brighton College to ensure home schooling works as well as it possibly can for our families.
At Brighton College we are absolutely committed to ensuring that no child misses out. Our Inclusion Department is fully engaged, and the counselling team are there for al our parents and students for when things do get tough.”
Simon Corns, Headmaster, Brighton College Abu Dhabi
For parents working at home, this time can be challenging. As parents we all inevitably feeling torn between assisting learning while maintaining business and family demands on our time.
Dean A. Pyrah, Executive Principal, Victoria International School in Sharjah, says that parents must let the teachers teach:
“Parents should not lose their primary role as loving, supportive parents for their children, As much as possible, parents should treat the online classroom in much the same as sending their children to school.”
Graeme Scott , Director, Fairgreen International School, agrees:
“Parents and pupils cannot replicate what happens in school. They can only do their best by completing tasks, finding rhythm and routine, and ensuring, most importantly, that the foundations of healthy, happy families – such as sleep, exercise and good diet – are protected. Praising children for their investment is so important.”
Mr Scott belives that it is important to ease gently into the new system and that time must focus on physical, social and emotional well-being more than academics. There are benefits too that will come from Distance Learning:
“Some of the skills and qualities that our children learn during these weeks of eLearning, such as self-management and prioritising, will be so beneficial in the long run.
Our parents are doing an incredible job and we are here to listen, to support and to advise wherever we can.
We have always been in this together.”
Graeme Scott , Director, Fairgreen International School
Zoe Woolley, Headmistress at Foremarke School Dubai, also reminds parents not to feel the pressures that come from believing that they must now play the role of teacher. Instead, parents should see themselves as responsible for setting up the space and routine – including breaks – to best assist the child.
Foremarke School keeps the expectations it makes on children level with a usual school day, even encouraging those, who find it helpful, to still wear the uniform or PE kit. The aim is to help replicate the sense of going to school in the home. By allowing children to then change into home clothes after school, the role of home life and parents is, in this way, protected:
“Your child knows how the school day works, knows the expectations.
The role of your child’s teacher is to ensure that your child progresses. Keep the communication open with the teachers so that you can share the highlights and successes along with the stresses.
You should not worry. Your child won’t get left behind…”
Zoe Woolley, Headmistress, Foremarke School Dubai
Bill Delbrugge, Director of Dunecrest American School, says that parents “should not worry about delays to the curriculum.” The school is starting slowly to ensure everyone is comfortable with the new regime, before stepping things up to keep on track. Face to face meetings as groups and individuals are always encouraged to ensure students stay connected to their teachers, with lessons less time consuming than usually experienced during school time.
“While we of course would prefer that our students return to school as soon as it is safe to do so, we understand that distance learning could be a long-term expectation.
Parents must not worry. We feel confident that we can teach the standards of our curriculum to a level that all students will be promoted to their next grade level as long as we all stay focused and continue to work and complete assignments as directed by teachers.”
Bill Delbrugge, Director, Dunecrest American School
Luke Osborne, Deputy Head, Swiss International Scientific School, explains that expectations on children must always be age-related, and that the school day aimed to reflect normality as much as possible. Mr Oscborne also argues that there is a silver lining:
“With later starts, there are positives to the new way of learning.
I am confident that there will be no risks of children falling far behind in their learning. Distance Learning does provide opportunities that might not have otherwise arisen, such as more student collaboration online.”
Luke Osborne, Deputy Head, Swiss International Scientific School
Michaela Barber, Vice Principal at Repton School Dubai, says “communication is key to making online learning a success, for parents, students and teachers.” Ms Barber reminds us that, for teachers, this is all new too.
Parents at Repton School Dubai are encouraged to feedback about what is working well and what is not. This enables teachers to review their activities and adjust accordingly, helping the learning experience for children and parents to be fun as well as sustainable.
Each day will always be different. Ms Barber says that, as parents, we should try to focus on the day’s successes rather than what hasn’t worked. This is vital to prevent that atmosphere of frustration. Ms Barber says too, that “for many children, this will be a more conducive learning environment. They will be able to learn at their own pace, engage with teachers when necessary, and revise as and when needed.”
She suggests 30 minutes of reading or story sharing, some Mathematics, physical exercise – and something creative away from the screen. The school day, in terms of applied learning, should total no more than two and a half hours, particularly if families are struggling with priorities and demands. For older students, she suggests extending the school day to include Science and Arabic / foreign language practice.
“In these unprecedented times, parents need not beat themselves up. They are absolutely not alone – and schools want to support them.
The pastoral team in schools are focused on supporting students and their families, so do communicate with the school if you are finding things tricky.
Also, continue to do what is working well for you and your children, keep the messages to your children focused on the positive, and feed back to your school what works and what does not.”
Michaela Barber, Vice Principal at Repton School Dubai
Time to be Proud of Parents and All That They are Achieving
Gill Roberts, Principal of Star International School in Mirdif and Dolly Goriawala. Principal. Star International School in Al Twar. capture the praise that we have received from so many schools for the amazing commitment, tenacity and achievements of parents. It is worth quoting the letters we received from Ms Roberts and Ms Goriawala in full:
“With the onset of COVID 19, our school has changed; our walls have been taken away …
Our schooling now is so different.
Gone are our lovely classrooms, these now replaced by learning that takes place in rooms, buildings and countless other areas far away across homes in the UAE.
Our parents, however, have really embraced this change.
They are dedicated, empathetic and really care about the learning of their children.
Of course, with change comes turbulence. But this hasn’t stopped our parents at Star International School from managing to support their children so well.
- attended online training videos to identify how systems work
- been to online school webinars to engage in the delivery of distance learning
- expressed their views and voiced what they are finding difficult or having concerns about
- been pro-active in their research and understanding of systems
Through COVID 19, so many important values are also permeating through into the wider community. Parents across the UAE are becoming empowered.
- taking on the responsibility of learning new skills themselves
- becoming techies who can help solve issues with PCs and learning platforms at home
- supporting peer teaching.
Their knowledge banks are growing out of all proportions.
This COVID 19 is a terrible global pandemic. However, it has also brought the school community much closer together.
It is truly wonderful to see our Star community, and communities of all parents across the UAE, coming together and helping one another.
I am so proud of parents at my school.”
Gill Roberts. Principal. Star International School Mirdif
“Parents, you have been wonderful so far. You all deserve a certificate for Parents of the Year.I know how difficult your task is. You are working from home and have your own work pressures; then, to top it all, you feel guilty if you are not helping your child to continue achieving as they used to do during school days.It is possible that you have seen a rise in behaviour issues with your children; meltdowns, tantrums ….Please don’t feel this is your fault.Our children have never experienced anything like this before. They are probably feeling trapped at home.What children need right now, is to feel loved and comforted.You are doing a great job, especially when you do PE exercises with the children and I loved it when most of you baked something as a family!So, don’t worry too much about their studies.Our teachers are online everyday, and always ready to speak with your child and motivate them.Many of you have written in to say that you are now spending quality time with your child. Bravo! Keep on! Read a book together, paint pictures, watch a movie and discuss it, do a Science experiment together or find virtual trips of the zoo. Go on ‘Google World’ and plan the exotic trips you would like to go as a family.Don’t worry too much about children regressing in school.Every single child is in the same boat.When school re-opens, our teachers will lend all the support and scaffolding that is required to put everything right.I know teachers and schools across the UAE will have a single, united message for our families. You are all doing a great job at home. You are keeping your child’s mental health as your priority and that tells us you are wonderful parents.Sure, there are difficulties and hardships. But when this is over, your child will remember the happy times they spent with you at home and with their teachers online.History will remember all that you have achieved as parents – and as those, who against all the odds, kept a generation of youngsters smiling and learning through a Pandemic.Be proud.Dolly Goriawala. Principal. Star International School Al Twar.
Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared View of Distance Learning Through the Coronavirus Covid 19 Crisis – Family First.
“Remote learning came as a rush for everyone involved – mums, dads, children, and for the teachers.
It is no surprise that everyone is feeling a little bit of pressure around what happened.
In our social media age we can look, see and compare ourselves, with immediacy, against what everyone else is doing. This only increases the pressure on all of us as parents.
The message from the school for mums and dads is, don’t bow to that pressure.
You are in charge of what goes on in your household, as always.
So, if you want to switch off the device, then you switch off the device.
If you want your children to spend time with you doing something other than their online learning, then make sure they do so.
The school’s responsibility, when we get the children back with us finally, will be to have strategies and plans to make sure we can catch up with any gaps. We will make assessments as to where the children have got to, and just make sure we can just continue with that learning process.
Remember for us, in our school, we want to assure our parent that this is not a pass-fail scenario.
This a matter of making sure that the learning is maintained and continued at whatever rate you can manage at your house.
It is right that you make decisions about what you can, and cannot, do with your children.
We don’t expect miracles, we expect you to do the best you can, with the space and time that you have.
What ultimately matters is making sure that you and your children are safe and well. “
Brett Girven. Principal. The Arbor School.
If there is a single lesson that comes from every school we have spoken too, it is that child welfare must come before anything else. No one is expecting miracles from home working – and parents should not feel so much pressure that their natural role and relationships with their children suffer.
Every school we have spoken with argues that the role of a parent should be limited as far as possible to simply setting up a space for learning in the home. After this, the school’s role is to provide the mix of inspiration and learning to ensure that children keep up with their learning and are not left behind.
“During my daily video posted to parent and children I often refer to the parents “with their Octopus arms”.
Parents face so many challenges in balancing all the different demands made on them as well as facilitating the distance learning whilst at home.
We always say work out a schedule to suit your family and, then, let us know where and how we can support you.
Parents at Safa British School have had the opportunity, after just the first two weeks, to speak with their child’s class teacher 1:1 on Zoom to go through how they are finding the distance learning – and from this we listened and implemented as much as we could as a school to ease the pressure and burden our parents are facing.
We have also layered in some Webnairs run by Lighthouse to help our parents in supporting themselves and their children during this unprecedented time. #InthistogetherDubai.”
Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School Dubai.
Every school too is committed to ensuring that, when children can safely return to school, they are given all the help they need to catch-up with whatever learning has been missed or gaps that may have resulted in learning. Parents are absolutely not expected to transform their homes into schools and become teachers. Equally, children cannot be expected to learn in the same ways that they would at school.
“I am extremely proud of our parents at Ambassador International Academy.
The way they are supporting their children and not putting pressure on them is testimony to the importance both parents and school working together place on well-being.
Children need to be supported emotionally to enable them to access their learning.
We are providing all our students and parents with professional guidance from our well-being team. I also believe that the daily live engagement and excellent communication channels that include weekly one to one meetings, have allowed our students, and our parents, not to feel isolated at this time.
This has positively impacted on the way parents are motivating and supporting their children.”
James Lynch. Principal. Ambassador International Academy.
For us, the single most heartening aspect of our many discussions with schools, is the foundation of kindness that lies at their approach to the many challenges we all face with the necessary move to Distance Learning because of Coronavirus Covid 19. At every school here, and across schools in the UAE, there is a recognition that children and parents are not superhuman. We can only do our best in very difficult times.
“Just like in a race, some can sprint, others jog and some can only walk. Distance learning for parents is a little similar. Whatever you can do is enough.
The Term 3 distance learning education race is not something parents had time to prepare for or even want. They are trying their best and, as we say to children, your best is always good enough.
For any children or parents that trip in the term, we as teachers, are here to help pick them up.
Together, we will get to the finish line and nobody will care how, or when, we got there!
Nobody is expecting a parent to have a gold medal in this by the end of the year. Family dynamics, putting children and family well-being first and doing what we can are what really matters. #InThisTogetherDubai ”
Rachael Wilding. Head of Primary. Smart Vision School Dubai
We must manage the expectations that we place on ourselves and our children through the complexity of Distance Learning and home schooling our children. None of us could ever have imagined that we would have found ourselves in this position. At this time, life has never, ever, seemed so precious – and the time we have with our children should be, must be, happy and cherished.
“We have been so impressed with the level of support our parents have shown to South View School and their children’s distance learning. It has not been easy for everyone – parents, children and teachers.
Certainly setting some routines seems to have worked for most, however a few weeks in and real progress has been made. Our teachers have been really encouraged by the high-quality and creative work that is being produced by children. Parents and children should feel so proud.
Once children return to school teachers will use all their talents and experiences to make sure if there are any gaps they can be addressed.
To this end, parents shouldn’t feel pressured to pass any anxiety on to the children. We certainly don’t want the safety and security that children experience at home to be in any sort of jeopardy.
Parents must feel assured that there is absolutely no problem with taking rest days, digital detox breaks – whatever it takes to keep our students and their families healthy, happy and enthusiastic.”
Joanne Wells. Principal. South View School Dubai.
Our schools are there for us and our children now. But, when all this is over, they will be there too to ensure that our children are not left behind. Teachers are amazing. For many of us, as parents, faced with the newly discovered understanding of just how difficult home schooling is, our appreciation of what they do for our children has never been more keenly felt.
Equally too, we must recognise just how special our children are. We are all, including our children, doing the best we can in very difficult circumstances. We can, and should, ask no more of them – or ourselves.
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