What the Virtual F2F?
written by Alexis Hyde-Washmon, MS, LPC, LMFT, BCBA, LBA
I walked into a classroom last week. A teacher and two para-professionals (paras) sat six feet apart from one another staring at their computers. A shadow of sunlight disturbed the solemn mood through the windows at the top of the outer gray classroom wall. Desks sat in order, in rows, as usual. I wondered, “It is lunchtime.? Is there a fire drill?” Silence lingered as noise. Emptiness defined the soul of a living organism once filled with light, sound, and blessed, organized, frenetic chaos. A tear went to the corner of my right eye and sat trying to decide if it wanted to make an issue with my mask. I swallowed before I moved and spoke an inch. It was business as usual.
Having worked as a counselor for school districts, clinics, and other venues for many years, I’ve become accustomed to faces, voices, raucous, rowdy, and calm thoughts. Where did they go?
I finished my assignment at the school that day, signed out, and walked to my car. As I sat, sort of catatonic with my hands on the steering wheel, I pondered, “What just happened?” I found myself wondering, “What the Virtual F2F?” In simple words…what the virtual face-to-face? I questioned, “If I’m feeling this way, out of sorts, then how and what are the parents, the children, and the teachers feeling?”
As a counselor, behavior analyst, and human being, in this blog I am presenting compiled feedback from an interview with several parents since the “re-opening” of schools and the virtual and tangible impact on their family system from a parental perspective. I provide a summary of the parents’ responses to this monumental change, as well as possible tips in managing stress related to the upheaval. In this, I hope to present a view of how parents are feeling and adjusting with a humble interpretation. The following areas were explored in questioning and tips that may help in the various areas: balancing work and school, basic struggles in transitioning to a virtual learning platform, challenges with scheduling, and accommodation in the home environment.
Parental challenges in a virtual versus face-to-face world (an interview):
How have things been going for you and your children at home together (all day) when balancing their education and your personal work?
It’s been stressful because we’ve had to work; we’ve had to be parent and teacher. There have been things that we’ve had to do to maintain the house after balancing work and school for our kids. As a parent, things pile up too…laundry, cleaning, cooking, taking care of daily hygiene for all of us, just living in a healthy way. We are on the computer with one child from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with the other child. They get a break at noon, but there’s no break for us as parents, because we must make sure that not only schoolwork is done, but we are working and trying to maintain an income at the same time.
What are the basic struggles you have endured transitioning from a face-to-face platform to a virtual platform?
When you have multiple children of different ages with varied skills, they have different subjects in school. They have different “apps” on the computer that they use and we, as parents, must be the ones who figure it all out. We must learn and then teach them how to sign on and they forget…so it’s a repeated process. The biggest fear is that they are not learning. It doesn’t seem as if they are receiving a “real” grade. We receive packets to complete and some of us do not have the skill. We are not teachers. The children are not socializing as they normally would. They are not engaging in outdoor activity, exercise, or group activity with their peers. We have become their peers. Exercise is a struggle as the basics have taken up most of EVERYONE’s time and exhausted the rest of it.
What are the struggles that you have had to face with scheduling?
Preparing for school has been different based on whether parents maintain a regular schedule (e.g., require children to wake up, get ready, be fully dressed, eat breakfast, and follow the same routine as if they were going to school), schedule with modifications (e.g., be awake, partially dressed, and sign in on time but having slept later), or just get it done (e.g., wear pajamas, wait to eat breakfast if any is eaten, and if a class is missed, it’s made up later, even if at night). Our kids ask why their friends are wearing pajamas? Our children are distracted being on their computer or phone. They want to play games and engage in social media during class and we parents are the constant mediators for redirection and maintenance of attention to the lesson. Sometimes there’s make-up work for the kids which can vary from working five hours per day to eight hours per day. This does not seem ‘fair’ under the current conditions or based on age or ability of our children.
Have you made environmental changes in your home environment to assist in making life easier during this change?
We are sharing space with our children (e.g., kitchen dining table) all the time. They interrupt our work schedules with their schoolwork or breaks. We can’t really trust them to be in their own rooms because they want to do anything but class on the computer. They play with toys, run off, cut in and out, etc.
Tips for balancing work and school in a virtual world:
Keep a structured routine AS A FAMILY
Wake up together at the same time Monday through Friday.
Eat breakfast together at the same time Monday through Friday.
Be ready to engage the day in peace.
Establish a special moment acknowledging joy and strength (e.g., prayer, dance, blessing the animals, etc.).
Logging on (place passwords where they are readily accessible with step by step instructions).
Breaking for lunch (make it a family decision, decide the night before, take time to be playful).
Prepare snacks and lunches ahead of time enlisting family input
Working on offline work (establish specific times, not willy nilly).
Resting, relaxing or playtime (establish specific times).
Completing homework (establish specific times).
Make sure your child knows what they need to be doing and what you need to be doing at specific times throughout the day.
Utilize visual supports for scheduling your and your child’s time (e.g., calendars, whiteboards, timers, sticky notes, text message reminders).
Set up a dedicated learning space with all the supplies and equipment you and your child needs and make it comfortable (e.g., lighting, comfortable chair, table, water, light snacks).
Check in on your child during your scheduled work breaks (you should be taking breaks anyway!).
Establish rules for interruption and what circumstances warrant interruption.
Touch base periodically about what is working and is not during virtual learning; problem-solve ways to improve if needed.
Make your home a place where work is defined as a contribution to a happy state of being.
THE NEXT STEP:
What are parents feeling about their children returning to a face-to-face setting based on this interview?
In conclusion, when parents were asked how they felt about their children returning to school, there was an overwhelming response of “YES!” The primary reason for this voluntary movement has been attributed to families and children having been “stuck at home” since March. Many parents and children are ready to return to school and life, even in the face of a pandemic. There has been an enormous financial and emotional burden on the family system that has not yet been moderated or nor has found a new homeostasis. Parents admit to being afraid to send their children back to school due to possible viral infection; however, they are committed to being “careful,” meaning taking safety precautions as required by the schools, society, and the CDC.