Parental involvement- How much is too much in hybrid/online schooling?

Educators and students have been vigorously involved in the reasonably new schooling system followed worldwide- the hybrid/online model. As cases surge, many schools are reverting from an on-campus model to the lesser preferred, albeit safer, education style of learning in the comfort of your own home. While learners and teachers navigate online learning platforms, a stakeholder that is lesser spoken about is the parent group.

Parental struggles

Teachers sometimes speak with scorn about parents who demand the unimaginable just because classes have moved into living rooms. Adults have an innate tendency to criticize others, and this is true for both teachers and students. Parental hearts audibly break when their children are admonished online. I have also been at the receiving end of heartbreak when my son was reprimanded for keeping his camera off or taking too long to fetch his materials to his desk. My heart aches when my son calls out to the teacher, eager to share, only to be told to wait his turn and raise his hand rather than interrupt. There may be root to the bitterness that some parents may harbor towards school.

Fight or flight response in parents

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The struggles we encountered as teachers with complex students have now been passed promptly to the parents. The onus of teaching and learning was once shared between school and home, and the responsibility now rests solely on the parent’s shoulders despite work constraints. The stress of seeing your child struggle is real, and over time this develops into resentment and fear. Fight or flight instinct manifests, and a parent may retreat into denial or elect to fight with those within their line of sight.

The manifestation of fight or flight

The debate on parental involvement

As parents face this internal strife, most educators still advocate students undergo classes entirely independently. In theory, this practice is sound and urges children to build up critical thinking and self-management skills. However, if I think back to the days when I taught on-campus, my best and brightest often got confused with instructions or missed guidelines provided during the lesson. 

It’s an ongoing joke amongst teachers that we repeat a single instruction up to ten times during a lesson. This number can be higher in online classes, if students air their doubts rather than retreat behind switched-off cameras.

Instead of requesting the teacher for information for fear of sounding silly, learners turn to their safety nets-their parents. Whether they need help with an assignment or a recap of a number operation, children would rather put forth a brave face in front of the class, opting to show their weaknesses to family members rather than friends and teachers.

Some educators, however, would favor children to work independently, which adds an air of anxiety to the classroom for those children who require assistance. If the child’s camera goes off, the teacher could criticize them. If they display their lack of understanding in front of everyone, their self-esteem diminishes. It becomes a lose-lose situation for vulnerable young ones. 

Drawing the line

When we were in the physical classroom, we gave additional time and consideration to children who needed it. Now, we’re incapable of doing so because of the restrictions of timetables and distances. If a parent supports a child with work in our stead, is it an encroachment into our domain as teachers? We know when sheets are completed with aid. However, if a parent sits with the child and helps him finish it, is that awful? Why do we condemn children who reach out to their parents to sit with them for an hour to comprehend what the homework entails?

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Why would a parent tolerate a child’s anxiety rather than stepping in with a quick explanation? As teachers, we deal with at least fifteen students in a class, even online. The constraints on communication are incredible and unnatural. I have always wondered why we disparage children for switching off their cameras for a quick check-in with parents. 

At the same time, we have also witnessed overbearing parents who won’t let their children speak for themselves during classes. Ever prompting and controlling, the child loses his own identity during lessons. Hence, the need for a line to be drawn along the boundary of parental involvement that actively benefits the child rather than hampering them.

Shades of grey

Parental involvement needs to become a norm when it comes to new-age schooling. They should be viewed as a support system rather than a minefield. Educators need to find a way to win their trust, and perhaps the simplest way to do so is to let go of the reigns a little. 

Allow parents to feel part of the online learning journey. Let them be heard, and genuinely so, for they can be your biggest allies when you need them most.

Reconsider your viewpoint of the rules and question where they are coming from. Are they in the best interest of your students? What kind of relationships are you building? Is SEL and making students comfortable a component of your classroom ethos? If so, parents need to be a welcome part of an online classroom. As educators, we need to reflect on the practices we follow routinely. It is time to reassess the relationship we share with parents in a post-pandemic era. Remember, it’s in the child’s best interest if you and the parent see eye to eye, and that should always be our endeavour.

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