Virtual Learning Tips for Parents from Former National Teacher of the Year

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JOHNSTON, Iowa — With many of us faced with the prospect of online learning or dealing with it right now, former National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling has advice for parents.

“One of the things that I think is really important for parents to understand is that they don’t have to be the teacher at home. If we can engage with our children, if we can talk to them, if we can ask them what they’re learning. If they’re getting stuck, rather than feeling insecure about not knowing the answers or knowing how to help them, teach them how to find the answers instead. How to advocate for themselves, learn how to email their teachers, those things become really important,” Brown Wessling said.

Brown Wessling was National Teacher of the Year back in 2010. She is also a teacher in the Johnston school district and a parent herself. She said being able to learn alongside your child is key and reorient from being the expert to being a role model.

“I think some of the most powerful work that we can do as parents is just to model what it looks like to not know the answer. What it looks like to try to find the answer. What it looks like to ask a question, you know, to kind of sit with some of that frustration,” Wessling said. “I think we’re so used to asking questions and getting immediate responses. We’re so used to instant gratification and a lot of times we really want to complete tasks quickly so we can move on. I get that as a busy parent as well, but you know when it comes time to doing that learning, learning takes the time that it’s going to take.”

The relationship between the teacher and home must be top priority in order to make this happen, according to Brown Wessling. Another big tip is to create a routine. This doesn’t always mean learn in the same area of the house or at a certain time. Instead, do something familiar to show it’s time to start learning.

“Schedules can sometimes feel fixed and if you don’t start at the right time then you know the rest of the day is kind of messed up, but instead think about creating routines. So what that means is actually something that we do in the classroom all the time, which is like something familiar that students can experience to know it’s time to start learning,” Brown Wessling said. “So for younger students, it might be a song. It might be a dance they might come together in a certain way. For older students, my high school students need to put their technology away. That’s like rule number one, but whatever it is that signals it’s time to start learning becomes really important.”

Along with that routine, Brown Wessling said making an agreement with your children about what that learning looks like when you’re doing it helps them stay on task.

“We don’t have to try to recreate school at home. We need to rethink it,” Wessling said. “This is some of the same things that I’ve been talking to teachers about as I’ve been working with them throughout the summer all around the country. We need to focus on the learning. There is a difference between doing ‘school’ and making sure our students are learning. That’s the part that we certainly really want to focus on.”

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