By Stacey Sargent and Robert Kahn
Mid-March of 2020 thrust all of us into a brave new world, and Landmark parents, students, educators, and administrators worked hard to bring as much “Landmark” as possible along for the ride. Landmark’s personnel deftly pivoted, adapting curriculum and teaching strategies for remote learning. The result? A new routine that was both positive and successful for students and their teachers.
While Landmark educators came at this task from a perspective of “How does Landmark's philosophy, methodology, and curriculum translate?,” families often had to confront broader and more challenging perspectives, involving multiple students in different schools, utilizing differing models, and competing for shared resources. Heading into the 2020–2021 school year, we have been forewarned of the uncertainty ahead. There are factors we cannot control, and learning may take several different forms, including remote or hybrid phases, before we return to the world we knew in early 2020. Here are some tips from our experience specifically for parents on how to make remote learning most effective.
Create a Successful Learning Environment
Just like in a classroom, it is important for students to feel comfortable and productive in their learning environment. Talk to your child about where in your home would be a good place to attend remote classes and complete school work. Ideally, the spot you choose will be a quiet, well-lit area with a desk or table and a comfortable chair. Remove items that could be a distraction and add needed supplies, such as writing utensils and paper. We’ve published a school supplies list for the hybrid model, focused on the home learning center.
Landmark recommends avoiding bedrooms as a learning venue, but space may be an issue, especially when multiple family members are going to school online. Teachers understand the drawbacks and constraints of remote learning. However, as parents, you can help students focus and stay on task by being aware of the distractions posed by siblings or even adults passing through the learning area or lingering just off screen. In general, recreate the "class experience" by not being a presence when your student is going to school. It’s an issue to talk about as a family if necessary.
Establish Consistent Routines
Your child’s school day is filled with routines at different parts of the day. Establishing routines at home can provide structure and consistency conducive to learning. Talk to your child about what routines they think would be important. Some routines to consider are meal and snack times, organization of school work and supplies, getting ready for classes, and break times. One consistent observation of Landmark faculty and advisors was the need for supplemental executive functioning support in an all-remote mode.
Time management, preparation, memory aids, planning organizers, focus, and motivation are different depending on the level of monitoring available to your student. Several Landmark instructors noted that they were impressed at how students responded to the executive functioning challenges of remote learning. It was a “learning to swim by being tossed in the deep end” experience: overwhelming for some but a trigger for independent growth in others. As a parent, the more you can be a supportive observer and coach, while keeping it positive and collegial, the better. One tried and true method to avoid mixing the roles of parent and executive function coach is to consult with your student’s academic advisor about any observations before directly intervening with a strategy. The advisors will be happy to listen, connect with other faculty, and meet with your student directly. In the case of an all-remote mode of learning, they will also have the opportunity to reach out to the person designated as your student’s executive functioning coach.
Make the Most of Breaks
Help your child make the most of their down time between classes. This is the time to use the restroom, grab water or a snack, and engage in movement activities. After class, encourage your child to step away from all screens, including phones and televisions. Take a family walk or engage in physical activities outside. Landmark educators learned the value of alternating activities on screen with other parts of the lesson that explicitly send students away for a task or a reflection. Screen fatigue is real; many working parents need no convincing of this. If the remote-learning mode results in some post-pandemic aversion to screen time, we may agree it’s a silver lining.
Keep in Touch
When your child is learning at home, it is important for them to maintain a connection with the school. Check emails on a consistent basis for important school-wide updates. Maintain communication with teachers and advisors and reach out to counselors if needed. Even when your child is at home, they are still a supported and valued member of the Landmark community. Our deans, advisors, and counselors all conduct meetings virtually, similar to the drop-ins or scheduled visits they would normally have on campus. Take advantage of these extra opportunities to connect with faculty and team members.
Landmark’s Elementary•Middle School and High School hub pages are great places to browse for community-building opportunities. In a remote mode, be alert for options to connect with school faculty and peers in non-class settings built into the school day, such as meetings, clubs, office hours, designated breaks, while continuing to encourage time away from the screen once the school day is done.
As we navigate through the pandemic, remote learning has taught us a great deal; not only about the strategies and techniques that do and do not adapt to a digital interface, but also about the emotional and psychological demands of being a student and a teacher in circumstances where you often cannot control the interaction in expected ways. As an overall tip, patience and flexibility are even more essential to remote teaching, where despite the best efforts of both teachers and students, communication can take some unexpected turns. We will all benefit from absorbing the lessons that make us better, and making peace with the factors that are simply beyond our control.
Stacey Sargent is a teacher at Landmark Elementary•Middle School. She has over three years of remote teaching experience as a reading tutor and an English language instructor. She has taught students all over the world through virtual learning platforms.
Rob Kahn was head of Landmark's Elementary•Middle School from 1985 to 2020, and before that was a tutor, teacher, academic advisor, department head, and dean of students at the school. He began teaching at Landmark in 1972 while at Harvard, and has his Master's Degree from Simmons University. He continues to stay involved at Landmark in a variety of roles.