Supporting Parents Supporting Learners | Gift of Time | Steve Barkley

Supporting Parents Supporting Learners

As many educators are, I am currently engaged in deep reflection concerning what we have practiced, implemented, discovered, and created during the closure of our school buildings that shouldn’t be dropped when the school doors open back up. One area that I’ve witnessed is the increase in communication and partnerships that educators are building with parents. I began a distance learning podcast series for parents early on as I was hearing people discussing that the parents now needed to be teachers. I wanted to pose that instead, the role for parents was really one of supporting learning. In order to do that, parents need to know what the “learning production behaviors” are that cause the student to learn. The learner behaviors differ for particular learning outcomes that are being sought.

We can support parents in this role of “learning supporter” by identifying the learning behaviors and providing some strategies that they can use. As an example, I was recently asked to spend five minutes in Horizon Middle School’s (Bismarck, ND) “Parent University” weekly zoom call to explore how parents can support students developing time management skills. By asking students during this learning at home time to map out a schedule, try it out, assess its effectiveness and modify it, parents can support a learning production behavior. As opposed to parents creating the schedule. This podcast and blog provide parents with the questions to guide the planning and debriefing process.

My colleague, Jen Jordan, triggered me to explore another area of how parents can support learners when she asked me, “What can we do with this gift of time?”

Emma's artwork

Emma’s instagram post with her artwork

Jen explained, “I have two daughters. Lola is 13 years old in 8th grade and Emma is 10 years old in 4th grade. I started receiving a lot of work from the teachers and I thought this is great, we have a lot of have to do’s right now. But what I really wanted my kids to do during this time is to take a step back and appreciate this gift of time that we have. A lot of times we’re running from school, to activity, to activity, sometimes it’s hard to even sit down and have dinner as a family. So now, being that we’re all together every single day, I really wanted my kids to enjoy this time. I told them, this is a gift to work on things that you might not have the time to do in ‘normal life,’ that is more scheduled.”

Jen continued, “I said, today we are going to have mandatory creative hour. I was met with groans and grumbles but pushed ahead. Today, from three to four, you’re going to work on something that you want to work on. Not that the teachers want you to work on. Pick something that interests you and that you want to do. They kind of hummed and hawed for a little while. Emma decided to use her iPad with drawing tutorials. She got immersed in drawing and the teaching tutorial. She was proud of her pictures and sent them to our family and posted on her Instagram.  Before, you know, time went by and it was over an hour that she was doing it.”

I labeled for Jen that the experience her daughter had is called FLOW. When we engage in something at that deep level, we lose track of time, it flies by. It’s great that she experienced that.

Lolas mask

Lola and her dad

Jen’s 13 -year-old daughter Lola decide to make a mask for her father who is a doctor and for the nurses that work with him. “She went downstairs, pulled up a YouTube video, learned how to thread a bobbin, basically taught herself how to use the sewing machine. In a couple of hours, she came upstairs with several masks that were pretty darn good. She found something that she has passion for, and she loves to do.”

Jen: “The girls definitely embraced it and are learning to love that time to themselves.  I think creative time was probably one of my best ideas as a Mom.”  I agree heartily.

Jen’s example led me to present genius hour in a podcast for parents as a strategy to support important learner production behaviors.

I found this short history.

The 3M company started the process back in the fifties with their 15% project. The results of that project were post-its and masking tape. Google is credited for making the 20% project what it’s known as today. Google asked their employees to spend 20% of their time working on a pet project, a project that didn’t necessarily fit into a person’s job description. As a result of 20% time, we have G-mail, AdSense, Google News, and Google Teacher Academy. Using 20% time in the workplace allows for innovative ideas and projects to flourish and or to fail without the bureaucracy of committees and budgets. Catch that statement, flourish and or fail. It seems like the right time, without the concerns of a grade or a project due date, for students to explore a passion or interest in depth.

Some reasons for parents to explore genius hour.

First, it can be fun. Hard work can be fun when it’s driven by passion. Genius time will likely be different from many of the assignments that students are receiving from school. We learn most by doing. Especially when it’s something we want to learn. Learning how to learn is one of the most critical life skills for students to develop today.  A side benefit, as learners engage deeply, parents may find that it creates some independent learning and or working time for them.

Check this student’s passion project that ended up featured in a documentary. Caine’s Arcade.


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