Expressing Distance Expectations For Our Families

As we begin a distanced year, it’s important to gear up for another whacky experience behind our webcams. We have to take into account what went well last year, and what really, really didn’t.

My 5th grade team put together a quick presentation about expectations for students and parents. I’m hoping to share what we designed in case it’s helpful information for any other teachers out there! Maybe this will give you language when communicating with families at the beginning of this long road!

Student Expectations

Advocate

We want our kids in 5th grade to advocate for themselves. Too often, we have students who struggle with this, so my team wanted to encourage our students to self-advocate.

Whether that’s communicating with teachers or parents about help they require, talking with classmates about their thoughts and ideas, or simply accessing online materials independently, our students will be supported in their journey to independence.

To be clear, this isn’t a way for us teachers to “pass the buck” to the students; quite contrary, we want our students to persevere in difficulties, but feel confident and invited to speak for themselves. Just like teaching a child how to walk, once they learn to take steps on their own, real progress can be made.

We don’t want to create a sense of learned helplessness; we hope to encourage our 5th graders to be critical thinkers, resilient, and capable of advocating for themselves.

Attend

Last year, I had a certain student who would attend almost all of the online meetings. The funny thing about her though was she would literally leave the meeting any time I asked her a question. Even if I gave her a softball question, like what her favorite color was, she would just throw up the proverbial deuces and leave. (Which I found hilarious, especially if you knew her).

That put me in a bind: do I mark her present or absent for attendance? She was there, but if there was any participation required, she wasn’t.

This year, our expectations are clearer. Students are to attend on camera, in mind, and in their work. We encourage our kids to be present, and we celebrate their participation. Attendance is so much more than just having your face on a screen; in order to help, make your virtual classroom an experience your students don’t want to miss (@Mr.Graham).

Accomplish

Once our students realized there was “no point” to online learning last April, participation and production declined significantly. It was hard as a teacher to “sell” a task that was impossible to accurately measure. If my students knew I could do nothing about them “forgetting” to turn in an Opinion Paper, why would they do it? YouTube is way more fun than typing about PE.

We 5th grade teachers want to be clear that we expect our students to do their work. This is school! It may be less enjoyable, but it’s school nonetheless. We hope that our kids can be encouraged to complete their work and own their learning.

If I can get my 10 year-olds to understand that they can own their learning and that they are in control of what they personally accomplish, I’ve done my job for the year.

Parent Expectations

The funny thing about parent expectations is that I feel this population typically listens less. You might expect the children to be the more challenging audience, but my experience tells me otherwise. The reason? Parents have way more responsibilities to balance; and isn’t the teacher’s job to handle kids while they’re at school?

We want to be clear and concise with our parents. We also want to express how we are on the same team. If you, fellow Teacher, approach your parents as your teammates and not your adversaries, you’ll have a much more enjoyable adventure.

Review

The first thing we ask of our parents is to simply stay up-to-date with what is going on in their children’s classroom(s) and school(s). Having a relevant understanding of the information that teachers, principals, and districts communicate is vital is preventing confusion, frustration, and wasted time.

To be clear, we understand that this might be asking more from parents than what they’re used to. This COVID challenge affects all who are involved in the learning sphere. If parents can be aware of what’s happening during the distance learning, everyone benefits.

If there’s any miscommunication or misunderstandings, then the second expectation falls neatly into place.

Communicate

We are asking our parents to actively communicate with their child’s teacher/school if there is ever a need for clarification. A parent is more than welcome to express something to a teacher on behalf of their student (if it falls outside of Advocate for our student expectations).

In addition, we want our families to provide feedback when the time comes. Last year, parent surveys went out frequently in order to properly gauge how our families were doing or what they needed help with. But for some reason, it seemed that more and more surveys were getting lost in the ether as the year wore on. Without giving feedback when prompted, it’s hard for people in leadership positions to make decisions that are equitable for all voices.

Support

Probably the hardest task is to support students when/if possible at home. I can’t imagine doing a full day of work, only to come home to see that my son/daughter/cat didn’t do their work because they “didn’t get it” and instead opted to skip the task. “Now I have to be a teacher too? Forget it.

That’s hard. What we ask is that our parents encourage students to complete their work. Ask them if they’ve finished their task. Check to see if they’ve finished their task. We’re on a team, remember? If they’re getting cheered on from both sides, they might just Accomplish what they need to.

From one glorified day-care worker to the other, allowing productive struggle, modeling responsibility, and supporting our students to strive for excellence is a lot of work, but that doesn’t make it less vital.

Suggestions for Success

Having “Suggestions for Success” allows us to give strong recommendations without the pressure of being expectations.

We listed 5 Suggestions in hopes that our families would read them and then nod in agreement. Although I wish I could tell my students to stop showing off their cat during a Live lesson, I can encourage them to keep their learning space pet-free.

“Why not make these “Suggestions” part of your expectations, though? Wouldn’t that solve the problem..?”

Simply put: no. There’s a good chance that a lot of my families don’t have access to a quiet learning space; a family of six sharing a 2-bedroom apartment would have a hard time meeting that expectation. Maybe the laundromat wasn’t available over the weekend, so PJs are going to have to do when Monday’s first Live session rolls around.

If kids can’t meet physical expectations, they might have a discouraged outlook when prompted to be competent with virtual expectations.

Closure

Expectations are like a river bed: they hold the river without domineering; they guide the river without prodding. Every good teacher knows that clear expectations are the gateway to common ground. And common ground is the base of eventual learning, productive discussion, and interpersonal growth.

It’s the great teacher who can communicate their expectations clearly, and then navigate the eventual challenges and conversations downstream. Do your best to have precise, yet realistic expectations for your families. A lack of clarity might put you up a digital creek without a virtual paddle.


What about you? What are some expectations or suggestions that you have for your students moving into this year? Let me know!

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