Perspectacles – A Critical Lens for Distance Learning

Earlier this week I went to the grocery store near my home. The isles had shifted to one-way traffic patterns and the floor was marked with red arrows and landing pads indicating where I could and could not stand. At the cashier, the woman standing in front of me was complaining openly about the situation, her inconvenience and general dissatisfaction. As I listened, I realized that I was feeling similar emotions… Why were the Cheerios I wanted not in stock??

Reflecting back at home, I realized I needed “perspectacles.” The Urban Dictionary defines perspectacles as a magical glass that somehow gives you the power of perspective. It is also a movement that has been used in schools and other organizations around the country to talk about empathy, perspective, leadership, and compassion.

A few years ago, I tuned in to the writing of Glennon Doyle and her often viral blogposts. In 2014, Glennon wrote a post about her gratitude for everyday things in her home. With COVID-19 as a reality check, Glennon as my inspiration, and perspectacles on, I share with you some of the things for which I am grateful.

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I have pantry shelves that are stocked with food. It’s like a mini-market – in my house.

I have toilet paper. Think about that… Paper that we – flush – down toilets. Granted, my household supply is limited, and we are rationing squares, but I live in a place where soft, two-ply tissue with ripples for cleaning one’s backside is a norm. It’s a luxury that until recently I allowed to freely flow off my wall-mounted dispenser.

I have CLEAN water that I can drink straight from the tap without fear of getting sick. Not only can I get water from my sinks, but I also have a couple of show and two outdoor spickets. In addition, I have electricity. There are switches all over the inside of my house that I can turn on any time I want – day or night.

This one deserves a moment of silence…

I have a COFFEE POT. I put a little capsule into this magic machine, push a button and, shazam, a hot cup of liquid energy pours out on demand. I can do this as many times as I want – every day.

Thank the lord for coffee.

I have internet and my son’s teachers are delivering his BCD education right to our kitchen table. His middle school teachers, just like your child’s preschool teachers, are pouring their hearts and souls into making sure that he feels supported while also navigating the challenge of teaching children on giant conference calls.

With my perspectacles on, I see that by connecting on Zoom and checking in via phone and email, his teachers are emphasizing the parts of education that I consider most important:

  • He’s learning to be flexible and adapt to new things.
  • He’s learning to show up for people – even when it’s not easy.
  • He’s learning that his teachers care and are there with him – even at our kitchen table.
  • He’s learning how people at school and in communities around the world can work together and support each other in new and innovative ways.

I hope that you will wear your perspectacles as you consider the heartfelt energy our preschool teachers are putting into supporting your child and family. They are working tirelessly to think of creative ways to bring the magic of our classrooms into your homes.

Parents need to know that distance learning does not define their worth as a parent.

Take heart…and then take these few simple actions that can smooth the journey.

Distance learning programs designed to bring school curriculums online and into households have been launched by schools all over the globe these past few weeks. For some parents, this may be exciting – a dream come true! For others, it might feel like a challenge from an episode of Fear Factor, or perhaps as though you are being forced to take the stage in a performance for which you did not audition. Gulp!

But, here’s what I want to say to parents – take a deep breath and know that nobody is going to judge you by how well you do – or don’t do – distance learning.

This past weekend I read an article by Dr. Laura Markham, on her website Aha! Parenting.com, about the uncomfortable feeling that some parents may have as they prepare to support their child’s education from home. Several key ideas in her blog resonated with me. However, one point really stood out to me: The situation we are in right now is NOT homeschooling…

Homeschooling is something parents intentionally choose to do. Rather, this is taking on schoolwork in our homes because of mandated shelter-in-place orders and parents should know – they are not in this alone – we are all in this together. As parents and teachers, we are going to find ourselves partnering in new and innovative ways as we transition our teaching and student learning into your home environments – hopefully as seamlessly as possible. At BCD, we believe that the experience of preschool is a valuable tool in the development of children and as such schools should be committed to providing this crucial component of learning and socialization during these tough times to the best of their abilities.

We believe parents need to know that distance learning does not determine their value as a parent. We need to let parents know that we are here for them and that we will support them along the way to ensure they don’t feel overwhelmed. And to that end, we need to offer them tools. Ways that they can set themselves and their children up for success. Below is a list of action items that parents can use to make this period of ‘distance learning’ run smoother. Note, I share some key points here from Dr. Markham’s article as well as some of my own advice.

  • Make the school’s schedule your new best friend. If the schedule they sent doesn’t work for you, make one that does and use it. A schedule will save your sanity and will help prevent every minute of the day from becoming an invitation to a power struggle with your child.
  • Preview any learning activities you can and decide what you can reasonably accomplish. The good news is, if your school is being mindful of children’s needs, as well as the time and energy required of parents, then the schoolwork your school created for your child probably won’t take long. Let your school know what is working and what is not through whatever feedback forum they provided.
  • For Preschoolers, reassure your child that nobody is at school. Your child may not understand what is happening and why they’re not at school. I created a short YouTube video for the families at my school in which I take them on a tour around our preschool building and show them that, really, no one is at school. Ask your student’s teacher if they might be able to provide a message similar to this and I bet they will happily oblige.
  • If you can only do one thing with your preschool child, READ. Research shows that absolute number one thing we can do for our children is to read and model reading. Doing so helps to nurture their love of reading and helps to ensure that they grow up to be a reader – not just someone who knows how to read.
  • Expect emotional development to be on the agenda. We’re all struggling in our own ways right now, and your child is no exception. According to Dr. Markham, some children show this by misbehaving. Others are surly or torment their siblings. You probably have less patience than usual, but your child needs your help to work through emotions they may not be able to articulate. Remind yourself that your child is trying to cope with this unprecedented time, just like you are. Schools understand this and should be making it a high priority within their lesson programming.
  • Give yourself a break and remember to practice self-care. Think of the safety instructions flight attendants give before take-off and put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Be sure to take care of your own needs so that you can better attend to your child’s.
  • You don’t have to be Mary Poppins and you don’t have to suddenly be a model teacher. Resist the urge to compare yourself (or your child) to others. This is new for all of us. It’s not going to be perfect. Focus on keeping things simple and fun as you settle into your new distance learning routines and platforms.

Finally, I cannot resist sharing this Seuss-inspired distance learning poem I found on the internet (source unknown.) I think it really sums up the message the teachers of the world want parents to know right now:

“I will teach you in a room, I will teach you using Zoom, I will teach you while I’m in my house, I will teach you with my mouse, I will teach you here or there, I will teach you because I care…”

With gratitude and support,

Kath Courter, Head of Preschool at BCD

More on BCD’s Distance Learning program

More on BCD’s Preschool program

More on BCD’s Elementary program

More on BCD’s Middle School program