Distance Learning: What I’ve Learned After I’ve Survived the First Week

I survived the first week of distance learning…did you?

Last week, I was asked to participate in an interview for a local paper about the impact of distance learning on children and working families, and more importantly, the barriers that may interfere with success. To read the article, please click here.

Preparing for this interview encouraged me to reflect on this issue from both lenses: that of a parent and that of a Social Worker. I thought for this week’s blog, I would share my personal experience with distance learning, as well as, my professional advice to families.

My Personal experience with distance learning

Prior to the distance learning curriculum being launched this past week, I was one of those parents who tried to “homeschool” my kids in the mornings in order to give them something to do other than playing on their video games and watching television (yes, I totally added the ” “). I bought the curriculum books online and went through “lessons” with both my sons, who are in grade 7 and grade 3. For the most part, I tried to be flexible: let them pick the subjects they wanted to do, start the day whenever we were finished breakfast, let them take breaks whenever they wanted. “Homeschool” went pretty smoothly and the boys both actually seemed to like it. Last week, when the distance learning curriculum launched, several observations came to light, like a gigantic beacon in the dead of night (yes, I’m aware that rhymed).

First, homeschooling” by my standards is not the same as distance learning. Distance learning consists of designed lessons in a structured order with deadlines and processes to submit or turn in assignments. It does not consist of one worksheet with a short paragraph at the top of the page with directions and then a brief exercise – only to move onto a new concept on the next page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a formalized education setting, and you would think, grade 3 and grade 7 concepts should come naturally. So untrue. I have had to give myself permission to learn (or re-learn, I mean) concepts with my boys and be okay with telling them that I don’t know something. Sometimes, I will ask them to teach it to me. That seems to work.

Second, distance learning is not the same as regular school. As I had to explain to my eldest son during his brief episode of frustration at the beginning, I am not a certified teacher and am going through each lesson the way it is outlined by his real, certified teachers. The workload is significantly less but seems like more to the kids because there are not used to this. They have been out of school for a month. Real school, I mean. But our kids are being given, at most, two hours of work per day, as opposed to 6 hours per day. It should be manageable, user-friendly, and, most importantly, not considered a replacement of their formalized education. That’s too much pressure for any parent.

Third, as technologically capable I believe myself to be, learning the new platform to access their lessons, utilize electronic textbooks, submit work and communicate with teachers is foreign territory. For the most part, I am fascinated by the ease of information being shared and am grateful that there are avenues that are available to make this learning process somewhat easier. But I am learning as I go along and I have had to remind myself to be patient with my process and ask for help from the teachers whenever I need it.

My advice to families from the lens of a social worker

The advice that I gave the reporter last week was really a combination of my personal and professional experiences. In theory, I have to remind parents and families that anxiety, as a basic emotion, tends to show itself in times of uncertainty and unpredictably. We like to know what to expect and we like it even more when we feel like we have some control over what it happening in our lives. This can be helpful to remind us all that the overwhelming feeling that you may be experiencing or your children may be experiencing is understandable – it’s coming from somewhere…more specifically, the unpredictable pandemic that is currently impacting the entire world and restricting our day-to-day civil liberties.

I think I’ve said this in pretty much all of my blogs during this pandemic because it is so important: Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best that you can. You are not a teacher. And if you are a teacher and you’re teaching your children, they may still not see you as a teacher, they see you as a parent. When I think about the lessons and struggles that I experienced last week (and this week) as a parent, I couldn’t help but think of the systemic issues that could serve as barriers for some families. Those include: poor internet connection in rural areas; working parents who still have to work a full shift from home and may not have the time to go through each lesson with their children; single parents and/or parents of multiple children at different grade levels who may or may not have access to more than one electronic device; families who cannot afford strong internet services or electronic devices needed to complete distance learning; families whose first language may not be English and may have difficulty understanding some of the lesson plans; families whose educational training may find it difficult to understand some of the concepts being taught; students who may struggle with learning disabilities or require additional support that may not be able to be provided through this distance learning method; parents or other caregivers who may not be technologically knowledgeable; etc. I know I am missing more, but those are just a few, at the top of my head.

We can only do the best we can. We need to modify our expectations and be okay with not knowing how to do some of this. We need to use our resources and ask for help when we need it. We can still be flexible. The teachers don’t expect you to be teachers either. I commend all educators for the work that they have had to put in to help our children continuing to learn and I understand that some of the teachers may also be facing some systemic barriers too. We are all in unfamiliar territory and we are in survival mode, meaning that our main focus is to get through each day healthy and safe. If something is not finished today because you and your child(ren) are about to throw the laptop out the window out of pure frustration, put the laptop down gently and carefully walk away. It will be there tomorrow. Because unfortunately, this is our reality, our normal, for now. Our children will likely not be as prepared for the next school year as we would want them to be. That’s okay. We have been put in the position to be creative in continuing the education of our children, and I am referring to both families and educators.

So be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job. Be grateful that in the current mode of survival, you have succeeded one more day. Your home is not a school, and it’s not meant to be. Your children will be fine. They are resilient. They will learn to adapt to new environments and unpredictable changes. Everything after this will hopefully be more manageable. Just think, one day in our future, we will be able to say, “You think that’s bad? It’s not a pandemic, remember??”

Online Counselling Sessions: How Technology has Made Support (Somewhat) Accessible to Clients During the Covid-19 Pandemic

This global pandemic has forced many of us to be creative and flexible with the way in which we complete our work. With most of us being asked to work from home, we are experiencing the challenges and conveniences of technology on a full-time basis – teleconferences, online training sessions, and, in my case, telemedicine or telehealth. Don’t get me wrong – this is not the first time that I have done online counselling. I’ve been doing video and telephone sessions for a while now, but it has not been a predominant aspect of my services. I consider myself grateful for being able to still provide support to my clients during this time, even if it is not the most ideal way of connecting with people.

After completing a little over two weeks doing video and telephone sessions, I thought it would be helpful to review the good and the not-so-good aspects of these methods, as well as, strategies that may help make this process less uncomfortable.

Continue reading “Online Counselling Sessions: How Technology has Made Support (Somewhat) Accessible to Clients During the Covid-19 Pandemic”

Today, Be Kind to Yourself.

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Buddha

It is so easy to be hard on ourselves for not coping the way we think we “should” cope with these changes. In many of my sessions this week, the message that I have been consistently delivering is this: Be Kind to Yourself.

There is no formula or protocol that we have been formally or informally trained to practice during a global pandemic. We have no idea what to expect. We are in survival mode at this point. So what do we do now?

Continue reading “Today, Be Kind to Yourself.”

Pandemic Panic: The importance of exercising social responsibility and compassion during the Covid-19 Outbreak

Global Pandemic. Social Distancing. Panic Buying. State of Emergency.

It seems like every time we turn on the television or visit social media and internet sites, we are bombarded with terms like these and daily statistics of cases and fatalities all over the world. How do we not panic, right? There are no subtleties to these terms – intentionally, of course – in order to illustrate the seriousness of the world’s current health crisis. But is it enough?

People still have to work, especially those in essential services (Thank Goodness for Them). There are elderly and other vulnerable people who need to be checked up on. Kids are out of school but still have the same amount of energy that they are not able to expend.

It’s times like this that I have to remind myself that I only have control over what I choose to do for myself and my family during this difficult time. It’s very easy to get angry with “those people” who appear to be disregarding the multitudes of warnings given by the authorities, hoarding essentials that take away from people who have little or nothing, and considering strong urges to self-isolate as gentle suggestions. But how is judging other people’s behaviours helping our own mental health, other than adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation? There will always be someone who is going to do things differently from what we would do.

All we can do is make personal choices to be socially responsible. I agree that socially distancing is not the absolute solution but it’s something that we can do to reduce the spread of the virus. I know this poses a challenge to people who have jobs they have to go to and kids that they have to entertain, but we all have to make sacrifices in order to protect the greater population. You know, the greater population that have the right to use all of the same resources that are available to us – the hospitals that are overcrowded, the grocery stores that are meant to feed everyone and not just a select few, and the freedom to walk down the streets and buildings without fearing the breath of the person standing or walking next to us.

This is not about living in fear or rebelling against the universe by not being allowing ourselves to be held hostage. This is about trying to end a pandemic that can ultimately touch you, your family, your loved ones, and your community at some point in the near future. Stay home if you are sick. Work from home if you can. Isolate or quarantine if you have been out of the country. Wash your hands. Share the supplies with those who also need them. Talk to your kids about covid-19 in a realistic and productive way that does not instill fear or anxiety. Take care of the elderly and immuno-compromised. Screw our conspiracy theories and political views. It doesn’t matter anymore. Don’t worry about the actions of others and exercise your own power and choice. Lead by example and know that you did the right thing during a time of crisis.

Tell people with words and actions that you care about them by doing your part. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that at any given day or hour, our lives and liberties can significantly change. Tables can be turned in an instant. And I don’t know about you, but I would want to be able to trust in others that they would care about me and family and all of our futures.