Throughout this pandemic we have seen the impact on our families range from parents who are fully available to their children and eager to assist in their learning to those who feel that they are not teachers and may be wary of Zoom, screen time and using technology in general. This learning story is about the latter and our team’s desire to meet a family where they are at in hopes of helping them to know that they are a meaningful part of our school community. Our team connected to the Framework for Continuity of Educational Opportunities in the section on Making Learning Manageable and Working Alongside Families.
Covid-19 has brought unprecedented change to the lives of our students, their families and our staff. Change (in general) is inevitable, and when it presents itself in our lives, we often react adversely out of fear for the unknown. This might look like fight, flight or freeze and that’s precisely what we saw with one of our families; a strong reaction of resistance to any form of online learning and a vocal push-back from a parent stating that they were not going to be doing any teaching for their children.
The family is one that we had been striving to connect with prior to the break and slowly building a relationship with over a long period of time. We were continuously looking for ways to get them to connect them more deeply with our school community and with the learning of their three children. The family has very diverse needs and we quickly realized that there were many staff who needed to communicate and support them and that it was best if we did this as a team rather than individually.
Our administrative team organized a school based resource team meeting over Zoom to brainstorm ways in which we could support the family. The team consisted of Gurp Hayher, Principal, Jennifer Adamson, Vice Principal, Brad Low, Classroom Teacher, Tyler Pentland, Classroom Teacher, Nathanial Kirkeegard, Classroom Teacher, Valerie Jameson, Resource Teacher, Dante Wetherow, LAT, Cara Lee, Indigenous Advocate and Andrea Strang, Classroom Support.
As the team listened to the concerns of the classroom teachers and the Indigenous Advocate, we began to brainstorm ways in which we could eliminate barriers to their situation and create a bridge to slowly diffuse the situation and help all members of the family to feel supported. We heard the concerns that Zoom and technology in general was not welcome in the home, and that there was no desire on the behalf of the parents to teach students. A request was made to the teacher of the oldest child for a package of printed work that the student could do on their own. It required differentiation on the part of the teacher as this student was well below grade level in literacy and math and often required extra support at school. This differentiation was highlighting work the class had been assigned and coding it as "must/please do" and "could do", and "can do" for extensions. It had been received well the previous week but we were still trying to figure out what to do for the two younger students.
The team began to brainstorm ways they could meet the family where they were at:
Reading was a concern for all three students so we began with the suggestion of sending home a copy of our PM books at the student’s levels and having a teacher phone home during a scheduled support time with a copy of the same book to listen to the student read and guide them through the process. The phone would eliminate the reliance on technology and still help to support our vulnerable learners.
Another suggestion was to print out Raz Kids books in black and white so the children could colour on them and keep them. *If you are using the free trial in Raz Kids, it is not possible to print books. However, if you go to Raz Plus you can sign up for a free 14 day trial and print books as well as save them as PDFs.
For math, basic games such as snakes and ladders, dice, card games (i.e. war) were suggested where the children could play on their own and the emphasis would be on fun rather than something like a math sheet.
Our Indigenous Advocate recommended finding ways to get the children outside.
As a member of our team delivers food hampers near their home each week, our admin suggested creating and dropping off a non-intrusive basket filled with fun games such as sidewalk chalk where they could practice writing their names, word find, snakes and ladders, more board games, and other reasonable dollar store type things that the kids could have fun with and then including the books in it. The idea was that if we received buy-in, each week we might add slightly more academic tasks that the children can still do on their own.
The team helped to develop goals with the basket and the gradual addition of academic work that met the student’s individual needs which included having the work be meaningful, but not overwhelming (and avoiding busywork at all costs). We wanted to make it accessible for the family and include interesting learning resources to keep them engaged in the learning process and for the children to learn to have fun together as siblings.
Based on what we knew about the family, our team decided that our primary contacts would be the Indigenous Advocate and the Resource Teacher.
Our admin asked our Indigenous Advocate to reach out to ask if that was something that the family might be open to receiving and the family agreed. The food hamper was also offered to the family.
One key aspect of this meeting was once the team received the input and feedback from the classroom teachers, including what they thought should go in the academic piece of the basket as well as what they felt would be manageable for the family, the team took over and removed this from the classroom teacher’s plates. Our Vice Principal kindly put together the basket with PM Readers, a bingo board, and math and reading games (see the end of this document for photos and links). The hope was that we could laminate what the students had coloured, thinking that if that was a success it might be an incentive to continue with the basket and create a bridge between home and school and give the students an active role in creating their learning. The eggs were learning objects that one of the students and our Vice Principal had made together before Spring Break to link prior learning at school with home. Our Resource Teacher purchased the items from the dollar store and our Indigenous Advocate delivered it on the Friday. By Tuesday, we received news that the family would like to have access to technology (school iPads loaded with apps that the tier 3 students were using with our LAT). While they are not yet open to Zoom, it is loaded on the iPads in hopes of continuing to bridge that gap with the family in the future (perhaps by eliminating the video component to begin with).
By differentiating for this family and meeting them where they were at, our team was able to wrap around, support, and lift the family from a place of heartfelt understanding. No one on the team communicated feeling threatened or offended by the initial reaction of the parents and we simply saw it as a family feeling overwhelmed. By adopting the attitude of seeking first to understand before expecting to be understood as modelled through our Leader in Me curriculum, we were able to begin with the end in mind and think win-win to find a solution that bridged not only the unprecedented times of Covid-19, but also helped us to reach a family that we had been striving to include as a part of our community at Davidson Road Elementary. Perhaps the pandemic has had some lessons to share with us by breaking down barriers and exposing the underlying fear of the many unknowns in life that so many of our families wrestled with even before Covid-19 reached Canada. We will hold this example in our hearts as we move forward in the future, continuing to bridge the gaps between school and home, especially as they relate to our most vulnerable families.
See below for examples of what was in the kits and links to some of the learning activities that were included.
Free resources available in the basket: