UCLA Connections: Center X Experts Share Tips and Triumphs for Parents Navigating School at Home

Annamarie Francois, Erin Powers, and Daniel Diaz share experiences with diverse learning styles, children’s socialization and self-regulation, and self-care for parents.

The collective knowledge and empathy of UCLA Center X scholars was featured in a UCLA Connections conversation focused on, “How can parents successfully cope with remote learning?” that was presented online on Sept. 16. Annamarie Francois, executive director of UCLA Center X, spoke with Erin Powers, project director of the UCLA National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Daniel Diaz, director of the UCLA History-Geography Project. 

The teacher educators, who are also currently overseeing the education of their offspring at home, shared tips on what has proven successful in their respective households as well as ways to provide more understanding toward their housebound schoolchildren – and themselves – during an unprecedented and challenging pandemic.

Powers recalled that when schools were closed this past spring, that her daughter, “… grieved for a long time over the loss of her learning community, her schedule, her independence, being able to go to school and interact with her friends and her teacher, who she loved so much.”  Powers says that the opportunity to meet over Zoom with her daughter’s teacher the first week of classes, went a long way in cementing the human connection that is missing from remote schooling. 

“In the first five minutes of the conversation, it was my husband and I and the teacher talking,” said Powers. “My daughter didn’t want to be on camera. But then, she gradually got the courage to join, and then she took over the meeting. She talked to the teacher for 25 minutes. 

“Afterwards, she said, ‘I just needed to know my place in the class, and that my teacher likes me.’ It was those things that she was so concerned about.”

Diaz spoke about addressing the different learning and socializing styles of his two daughters, one in the third grade, and her younger sister in the first grade. He said that in the spring when the pandemic hit, his eldest daughter missed the structure of “normal” school, while his youngest seemed to thrive on the less rigid routine. This fall, he said, the tables were turned.

“Eva is in third grade, she’s self-sufficient,” said Diaz. “She enjoys the structure of having to be in a Zoom meeting, of doing breakout rooms. Her teacher … allows a 15 minute socializing session at the beginning of class. That has been really helpful for her. She has made connections with other students, they exchange gaming handles.

“And Lucia is crying every morning. She does not like school, she doesn’t like that she can’t see her friends in person. She just turned six, so she’s the youngest in her class. She really struggles with Zoom, and I think we can all empathize with that. She likes to fidget and get up, so it’s really challenging for her.”

Diaz said that despite these challenges with his youngest daughter, the ability to make friends via Zoom has been a saving grace.

“We recently had a breakthrough, “ he said. “Teachers get five or ten minute breaks, so when her teacher is on a break, she’s been sticking around and talking to some other girls and they formed a girls club. They talk about … all these plans of what they’re going to do after the pandemic: sleepovers and parties and games and playing with their toys. So, we’ve seen her improve in terms of her capacity to sit through Zoom. She’s really looking forward to the breaks so she can talk to the girls.”

Powers and Diaz shared their strategies for coping with what seems like an around-the-clock existence, where the lines are blurred between their career responsibilities and managing their children’s schooling. 

“One thing that’s worked for us is that I get up very, very early in the morning, and that is my time, before anyone else wakes up, to do my focused work,” Powers shared. “I print out the schedule for my daughter’s school and constantly revisit it throughout the day to make sure that I have a sense of where she’s supposed to be [and] when. 

“She does pretty well during the synchronous time. I don’t need to do a lot of monitoring but I do need to be in the room in case I need to troubleshoot a tech issue. And honestly, every once in a while, she’ll hide her video so she can come give me a hug in the middle of the day, just a little reconnection. During the break time, she does want me to get up with her, and do whatever the active break is.”

Diaz said that an early start helps him as well, including a walk or workout for self-care. He delineated the challenge of managing two children, each with different learning needs. In particular, he spoke about having to monitor his first grader’s attention span to her Zoom lessons while at the same time, participating in meetings for work.

“My third grader is self-sufficient,” he said. “I will check in on her, ‘How’s it going? What are you learning about?’ I do formative assessments: ‘What did you learn about division?’ But I’ll sit in the kitchen next to Lucia, and I’ll try to help her refocus, because she is very fidgety. 

“And so, one of the things I do with folks I am meeting with… I just let them know, ‘I’m going to be on this meeting, I’m going to be muted and stay as present and focused as possible, but keep in mind that I have my first grader.’ And I tell my first grader, ‘I’m going to do my best to stay and help you, but I’m in a meeting and I really have to pay attending to what’s being said in this meeting.’ So, both parties know that [my] capacity is limited. Everybody seems to understand. My daughter understands, all of my colleagues understand. I think that is one of the benefits of being in this moment in time, is that people understand.” 

Powers said that one of her greatest challenges is navigating, “… how hard do I push my daughter in her schooling. She has great stamina for an hour or an hour and a half. Then she starts to lose steam, and that’s usually when the asynchronous work starts.

“If you think about a traditional classroom, the social aspects of learning are so intertwined with academics,” said Powers. “Usually, they are sitting with other children, they work on tasks and teachers can keep an eye on how how they are moving through the tasks and see how much time it’s taking them. 

When the Zoom goes off, suddenly, there she is – on her own again, in her room where she’d much rather play with her dolls and take a break from work. I want to live in a happy harmonious home as much as possible, especially during these stressful times. I’m constantly negotiating with her on when she can do the work [and] remindng myself that [with] asynchronous work, the intention is for it to be independent. I’m not going to go through and correct everything, I’m not going to go through and make sure that every ‘i’ is dotted, every ‘t’ is crossed. It is what it is right now.”

Francois, who is the Ex-Officio UC representative to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, noted that the necessity to bring school into homes has created more empathy between families and educators.

“This moment that we’re in right now is such that we’ve become much more human to one another, and with one another,” said Francois. “I think that is one of the silver linings to all of this. We have, in some ways, closed the gap in the relationship between teachers and parents. We’re identifying with one another in ways that we have never done in the past.”

To view the recording of, “How can parents successfully cope with remote learning?” presented by UCLA Connections, visit this link.