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Distance Learning: It's Hard. For Everyone. 

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If you are among the legion of parents that have taken on the role of teacher during distance learning, you have undoubtedly experienced the challenging merge of parent and educator. Seems natural, right? Heck, we are the parent, we understand our kids better than anyone — we got this. But if you are fortunate to have technology during this time to access distance learning, you've likely tried not to curse at the computer as you hurried to get your child on Google Classroom, Zoom, Khan Academy or Flip Grid (yes that's a thing). What's more, your child may be more adept at navigating these programs than you! We are trying with all our might, yet something has shifted. Big time. So much so that any of us are acknowledging a freshly fortified appreciation for teachers right about now. The absence of physical, real-life school is profound and we ask ourselves, "How do they do it?"

Roles are fascinating when change occurs. When applied to group dynamics, terms like "storming" and "norming" are used to describe the process of role establishment. As we move into the last month of this surreal academic year, it seems, for many, that distance learning may be a tad bit heavier on the storming side. We recognize that it is enormously helpful to practice positive, supportive parenting — to remain calm, be kind, reinforce, keep to a schedule and encourage effort. Additionally, we strive to make allowances. This is not an easy time, so we open our hearts and minds to modified schedules. On Humboldt days like these, the clouds dictate our schedules as much as clocks. The sun is out — time for PE! We are adaptable and that is a gift during these times, across all domains of life. But there's an ever lingering, universal question: "How do we do it right?"

Have you ever had a really hard interaction with a family member, a child or a partner? Did all the hands go up? Challenge is part of intimacy. When trust and vulnerability exist, so does the likelihood that we get all aspects of someone, warts and all. This is especially true with our children. Part of the deal of parenting is that we witness and interact with some of the most difficult behaviors our children can muster. "They can be so hard on you because they love you so much and feel safe with you" is a truism that we hear sometimes when another adult supports us after we have an unsavory interaction with a loved one. There is truth to that.

Enter the parent-distance-learning-teacher-mentor-working-at-home-cook-dishwasher — you. Yes, some parents successfully home school their children, and there are even parents who in their job as classroom teachers have had their own children as students. These are unique roles that are established, intentional, planned and expected. However, there was no preparation for this current dynamic and, even if going reasonably well, it is not without its twists. Certainly many of us have questioned our ability to simultaneously parent/teach and think it may not be up to snuff. You are not alone.

Shared Experience

I recently participated in my weekly staff meeting (on the computer) with special education specialists, mental health clinicians, behavior specialists, support staff and a couple other administrators. During the much appreciated check-in, I said something about the occasional hardships that come with teaching our own children. The chat box was suddenly charged with reactions.

Here are some of the comments that appeared:

• "My daughter cried for an hour before she had to Zoom."

• "My son cried yesterday too!"

• "You are not alone, my kids are having moments too."

• "My son can't sit still during his zoom meeting, he's all over the place. You see everything but him on the video chat!"

• "My kid begs me every day not to have a 'school day.'"

• "Same here! Thanks for sharing guys, I often feel like it's just me or I am doing something wrong!"

These comments are from a crew of special educators, behavior specialists and clinicians — professionals trained to work with children in need of specialized support. They illustrate and confirm this shared experience. My daughter doesn't cry during math instruction at school nor does she overtly challenge her teacher in class. But at home it's a different story. When I witness and experience her sadness and frustration, I remind myself to take pause and consider two primary things: One, the sudden role of parent/teacher is unique and not typical and two, that the tears are not just about math. There is a lot at play and it's hard.

In light of it all, it is vital that we hold up what is good and what is sacred. What is good is that the tears subside, the sun comes out and we move forward. What is sacred is witnessing raw vulnerability and finding the strength to navigate the challenge and explore next steps. Of course, one only need be present in this time to recognize reflections of these dynamics in their own experiences. Roles are shifting all around us — whether a parent implored to teach, whether living with others or alone. For such a still time there is much movement around us.

The state of California is beginning to loosen restrictions as Stage 2 of re-opening progresses. While our children will not be returning to school this academic year, a shifting is coming. A resonating phrase of the time is the "new normal" — but given the ever changing environment we are living in, it's hard to truly know what normal is right now. We will continue to adapt to what is necessary to ensure healthy growth — in learning, in safety, in economy and in community.

Take care and be well.

Dr. Peter Stoll is a credentialed school psychologist and administrator and prefers he/him pronouns. He is a program director for the Humboldt County Office of Education and the Humboldt-Del Norte SELPA.

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Peter Stoll

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