As states and districts decide whether to continue with remote learning, switch to a “hybrid” learning model, or reopen school buildings for the new school year—parents across the country are bracing themselves to serve as in-house teachers and learning supervisors at least in some capacity.
To help parents learn how to prepare their students to be masters of fundamental literacies even without in-person academic support, we reached out to a number of parents to gain advice on how to teach our students the skills to live in the 21st century.
From our conversations, we’ve pulled out the most salient advice to help guide your child’s learning experience this academic year. As you read these tips, please feel free to share your own in conversations happening on the Rethink Together Forum.
Before We Get Started
It’s important to remember the relational nature of learning. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, the author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, relationships are at the core of how we share energy and information with each other. In a sense, relationships are at the core of how we teach and how we learn. Siegel says, “As (young people) develop their brains, they ‘mirror’ their parent’s brains.” In other words, the parent’s own focus on learning, growth, and development, impacts the young person’s brain and their own perspective on education too. As parents become more engaged in their own learning and development, young people will too—“integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children.”
What does this mean for educators and parents who are working with young people? It means that we are wise to promote strong relationships in the learning process. How we support our kids’ learning can help their social, emotional, and academic development. (For more on that, see and the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development).
Remember, being emotionally connected is just one way to support learning. Here are some more specific tips from parents in the XQ network.
Learning From Each Other: Tips From Parents For Parents On Remote Learning
1. Build on strengths.
Tabitha Johnson, parent from XQ’s Washington Leadership Academy, advised that parents build on each student’s strengths. She said, “I tell my son that he won’t be good at everything—so they shouldn’t put pressure on themselves to be great across the board.”
2. Be chill, positive, and nonchalant vs. overbearing, negative, and controlling.
Superintendent (and mom) Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed gets at what it means to be a collaborator in her students’ learning as she explains with this advice:“Teens dislike working with adults who over apply the latter qualities and may dig their heels in even more about not completing assignments just to get under your skin.”
3. Ask learners what they want.
In our survey of parents, several people offered this tip: engage your learner in their education. Ask them questions like—what do you want your daily learning schedule to look like? When do you want to schedule your snack and brain breaks? How can I help motivate you? Then, trust your learner but hold them accountable. Once you have a schedule, create touch points during the day, ask them, and actually see it for yourself in the learning platform.
4. Go in with open eyes, recognize that teachers are learning too, and help with coherence.
Nora Whalen of Avalon School in Saint Paul, Minnesota, said she was never so aware of the actual work that went into educating her children. When speaking of the education of her twin sons, she said “They are in the same grade level. At the same school. And yet, what is being asked of them is very different. I need to remember that schools and teachers are building things as fast as they can. I need to help be the bridge of coherence for our kids.” It is important to remember that the process is new to everyone and teachers may not be as coordinated with each other as they may otherwise be; trust the process and extend grace, because we are all learning how to learn from a distance.
5. Be vulnerable and admit when you might not know what’s best.
Remember to allow yourself to be vulnerable and admit that remote learning is hard and that you might not have all the answers. Regardless of how equipped—or ill-equipped—we may feel, navigating a new type of relationship with our kids is difficult. I found that sometimes I check in too often; other times, not often enough. It’s hard to have a clear sense of how engaged you should be in your students’ education. However, I’ve found that one of the best things to do was to connect with other parents and also to reach out to involve other students. When I was arranging for extra help from the teacher, it was just as easy to arrange it for a few kids. Let’s all look for how we can help each other and give it our best.
6. Offer reassurance and responsibility.
Recognize that your child has worked on “the school path” for years. They know best about making sure they are doing all of the right things to be academically successful. Molly Mauer, a long-time education leader who serves as the General Manager of XQ says, “When everything has changed, young people might need extra reassurance that they are on the right path and that it is their own path and a more flexible path than ever before.” She also encourages her children by assigning them with the responsibility of helping siblings, peers, and the community. For example, her high school daughter played the primary role in creating and monitoring learning experiences for her 4th grade son last spring. The family turned this responsibility into an internship and have encouraged their daughter to share it with her guidance counselor and include it in her portfolio of high school achievements.
7. Stick with a schedule.
This is another piece of advice offered up by several of the parents we interviewed. For instance, one mom said, “I would say that parents should try to help their students set up a schedule. This helps bring structure to their day. Keep the normal school start up time. Try to avoid the trap of sleeping in and letting one unproductive day lead into another. Keep the daily routine and recognize that while it may be easy enough to set a schedule, work and life and everything else can get in the way.”
8. Reinforce that learning is what is important.
Remember that high school students can feel like they are under a lot of academic pressure, so be sure to remind them that learning is a process. High school principal and father Rob Bach offers some words of advice for parents during these uncertain times: “I am so glad my kids are more independent. They are good students. However, while this means we trust them a lot, we constantly have to remind them that their learning is far more important than their grade. If all they are concerned with is their grade, then they will get less and less out of distance learning. If they genuinely care about their own learning then they are more engaged with the work assigned.”
9. Offer flexibility, choice, and empathy.
Teacher Kathy Lutes reminds us that though this is a challenging time for all of us. Flexibility and choice during remote learning are key. Ask your teen what time of the day they want to work on their homework. While adults may function better early in the morning, many teenagers work better in the evenings. Have your child set their schedules for homework, exercise, chat with friends, etc. They can share that information with you so that you know how to support them. She says, “Remember, they are missing their friends and grieving their independence. Please love them and give them space. Please ask them to tell you about their assignments. And don’t forget to ask them if they would like to play a game, go on a bike ride, or watch a movie together. Do this a day or two in advance. That way they are making the decision.”
10. Be resourceful and open to new ideas and new ways of learning.
Tony Simmons of Minneapolis-based High School for Recording Arts (HSRA) says, “You hear of parents quitting from the frustration of remote learning. A lot of the frustration centers around instruction being so flat—parents are throwing out a lot of content without a real sense of engagement. Parents are seeing these problems and they are open to other ideas. There are ways to engage with them virtually and to provide them greater support going forward.”
Before We Go
Remember, your teens are going through this crisis as well. They are learning to exist in a world that is just as new to them as it is new to you. Remember to love them and give them space to continue to build out their independence and interests. (Check out our post on social-emotional learning and how to support students through COVID-19.) When you ask them about their assignments, make it clear that they are leaders of their own education and that you are just there for support.
Maybe a conversation about what is the most interesting school subject to them could lead to larger discussions about career paths and college majors. Be there for them and realize that you are an amazing parent.