5 Tips You Need to Manage Back to School With Distance Learning

It’s that time of year again.

Summer’s coming to a close…

The school year is right around the corner…

And normally we’d be returning to our “back to school” schedule.

But this year is quite different.

Needless to say, 2020 has thrown us a few curve balls…

And we’re all still figuring it out.

So this week on the podcast we’re diving into navigating the uncertainty of “back to school” during a pandemic.

And whether you’re working from home while homeschooling your kids, figuring out a hybrid option, or trying to prepare for whatever changing circumstances unfold this fall, this podcast is for you.

Listen to episode 55 below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE!

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL DISCOVER…

  • Different ways to think about “back to school” in 2020
  • Actionable strategies you can take to ease the transition back to school
  • How to implement these strategies in your own life today

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

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5 Tips You Need to Homeschool While Working Full Time – Back to School in 2020 (Transcript)

Well, hello hello everybody. How are things going with you? Has school started up where you are yet? 

We still have a couple of weeks left of Summer here in Boston, but let me tell you — the topic of back-to-school is much more on people’s minds this year than ever before. My guess is it’s the same where you are. 

In fact, back to school is just about all I’ve been talking about with my clients over the last few weeks. We’ve been working together to figure out individual plans to navigate back-to-school despite the uncertainty of our current situation with COVID. And since it’s such a prominent topic right now for everyone, I thought I’d take some time on the podcast this week to talk about how to navigate this time.

Now I want to make a quick note here. If you are not listening to this in real-time. Maybe it’s 2022 and you’re not dealing with COVID anymore, or it’s not back to school time, or maybe you don’t have kids, I encourage you to stick with this episode anyway.

Because even though we are focusing on strategies to navigate back to school, the concept of handling unpredictable situations and circumstances that are out of our control will apply anywhere. Okay? So stick with me. I think you will find strategies and concepts in your area of life as well, even if you’re not dealing with COVID or back to school.

Thoughts, Feelings, and Back to School

Back to school… This phrase always causes a huge range of reactions depending on who you’re talking to. Kids who can’t wait to see their friends, teachers lamenting the end of their summer vacations. You have parents who can’t wait for a return to normalcy. And of course, there is the exact opposite of that, too. Kids who don’t want to go back to school. Teachers who can’t wait to return. And parents who long for a few more days of break.

This year, we have even more perspectives, opinions, things to consider, etc. And of course, top-of-mind for most of us is COVID. From what I’ve heard from a lot of you listeners is the uncertainty is especially challenging right now.

We somehow managed the crazy transition to working from home while homeschooling in the spring. We adapted to a new summer schedule that brought with it a bit more flexibility since most people weren’t focused on homeschooling for the last few months. And now we are gearing up to head back to school. There seems to be quite a bit of stress involved. We have a lot of thoughts about this.

Uncertainty and Unpredictability 

We are dealing with the uncertainty of schedules. Some states still don’t know whether the kids will be in school full time, whether it will be hybrid learning, or entirely online. And depending on whether you have young children or older kids, whether you’re working from home or not, it can leave a lot of questions to be answered.

So what can we do? How can we navigate what seems to be an unpredictable fall? What can we do to make the most out of this situation and create an environment where we can get our work done and our kids can learn?

Well, the first thing I want to do before we dive into tactical strategy, is to take a step back. And I want to remind us all that working from home, or homeschooling, or doing hybrid learning is our circumstance. 

If we think back to the model that I’ve talked about in previous podcasts, the circumstance are the facts. These are the things we can’t control. And what’s more, working from home, homeschooling, hybrid learning – these are all neutral as well. Now, you might not believe me here. You might be arguing with me on the other side of this podcast. But it’s true. They are neutral. They’re not good or bad.

How do I know this? Just look at the different opinions on it. Scroll through your social media feed, and you will get 56 different opinions from 56 different people, each with their own perspective and reasons on what they believe and should be done. And what’s more, before COVID, there were plenty of people working from home and homeschooling and choosing to do that.

So again, whether you are working from home and homeschooling order your kids are doing hybrid learning, this is our circumstance. It is the one thing in our self-coaching model that is out of our control.

You Get to Determine Your Experience

But the good news is that everything else is in our control. In other words, you get to decide how you think about the situation. You get to decide how you feel about it. You get to decide how you show up in each situation. And you get to determine how you experience the situation as a whole.

And I don’t know about you, but I find that fact incredibly empowering.

Now with that being said, it’s really important to continue reminding yourself that you get to decide how you think about it. So for example, if you’re thinking to yourself, “this is an impossible situation.” You’re probably feeling pretty frustrated and possibly even helpless. And when you’re feeling helpless, ear probably looking for more evidence about how this is an impossible situation. You’re spinning out in frustration and finding one thing after another to further prove your point.

Because as we’ve talked about in other episodes, your brain looks for evidence of what it’s thinking, right? What you focus on grows. And what’s more, you’re probably not looking for potential solutions to this obstacle because you’ve convinced yourself that the situation is impossible.

Examine Your Thoughts

So what can we do? Well, I first recommend trying on some different thoughts that feel true to you. What can you think it feels a little bit better than frustration and hopelessness that helps you open up to possibility. What can you think that makes you feel open, or curious, or willing to try something new?

Perhaps you think to yourself, “it’s possible we could make this work.” Or “I’m figuring out how to make our schedule work.” Or “there are others who have made this work, so I can too.”

Even just that slight shift in thinking opens us up to a bit more possibility that we might otherwise overlook when we’re thinking, “this is an impossible situation.”

So as we go through these more tactical suggestions next, keep this open perspective in mind. Since everybody’s situation is slightly different, the suggestions might not connect with your unique scenario exactly. But rather than telling yourself, this won’t work. Instead, ask yourself “how can I make a version of this work for my situation? How can I make this work for me?”

And taking this idea further, as I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, perhaps you don’t have kids. Maybe you’re just working with an unpredictable work schedule. Or maybe you’re listening to this episode several years from now and we’re not dealing with covid-19 anymore. Keep these questions in mind. How can I make this concept work for me today? How can I apply this to my situation?

There is No “Right” Decision

So the first tactic I want to offer is a bigger picture concept, which is letting go of the need to make the “right” decision. Because here’s the truth. There is no “right decision” right now. And in fact, there is never a “right” decision. How do I know this? Because there is no definitive “right” or “wrong.” Because being “right” is simply a thought. It is simply a belief that you have. It is a sentence in your mind. It’s you thinking, “this decision was right.”

In other words, you get to decide if it’s right. You get to decide what is right for you, what is right for your family, what is right for your kids. You get to choose. 

So if you find yourself spinning out and unable to make a decision or move forward because you are focused entirely on making the “right” decision; you’re off the hook. You simply make a decision and then decide to believe it is right. 

Simply make a list of the reasons why you would do option A and the reasons why you would do option B. Then make your decision based on the reasons you like the most. And move forward. You can always reassess the situation later when you have more information. But for now, have your own back and move forward.

Create A Designated Workspace

All right, number two. We’re moving into the more tactical now. If you are navigating working from home and homeschooling, set yourself up for success by getting yourself the tools you need. As I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, when we suddenly moved to working and learning from home in the spring, it was basically a free-for-all as we scrambled to make things work. But during these last few months of Summer as we transition back into school, take a little bit of time and really think about what you need.

I am going to offer some suggestions, but definitely think about your own unique situation as well and add to this list as needed.

So first of all, as much as possible, create a distinct space for both work and home life. For many of us who made this transition to working from home at some point over the last several months, life began to feel quite a bit like living at work rather than working from home. When the kids start going back to school, whether it’s entirely online or partially online, they will benefit from having this separation as well.

Small work spaces – temporary or permanent 

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to have separate offices for everybody. But if you can designate small spaces – even just be a corner of the family room, or using a card table that you set up when it’s work time, or a space in the basement or the garage, Etc. Create a space for work so that when you’re done with work, you can leave that area behind. If possible, equip that space with a desk and a decent office chair. Make it a comfortable space for both working and learning.

If there are several people in the same area, you might consider using a noise machine or noise-canceling headphones to help everybody concentrate. Maybe you let your kids who’s to decorate their space. So create a work area that you want to be in. Make it your own. And Find a way to separate your work time from your play time.

Create Daily Routines for Work and School

Number three is to create daily routines for yourself and your kids. As humans, we thrive on routine. Some of us like more strict routines than others, but overall, we do well when we have structure to help keep us on track.

Set Work and School Hours

So first of all, create set work and school hours. They may not be your typical 9-5, but keeping Some kind of consistency in your schedule will help you turn off work and transition into home and rest. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to slip into work-all-the-time mode. And that is exactly what we want to avoid.

Now, depending on your job, your kids school situation, the age of your children, etcetera you may have more or less flexibility in your day. But remember what I said earlier. Don’t go into this thinking that there is no flexibility. Don’t tell yourself there is no wiggle room. Cuz you might be surprised at what you can figure out.

Teaching Schedule Example

So for example, I was working with one of my clients who is a school teacher. And she is also a parent of young, school-age children. When we talked a few weeks ago, we began by exploring what – on the surface – seems like an impossible situation. How was she supposed to teach her kids while simultaneously teaching her students on Zoom?

And as we worked through possibilities, we realized that she could structure her lesson plans and her kid’s school schedule to work together. She could be live on Zoom for 45 or 50 minutes with her students, and then she could assign either group work or independent writing prompts for 10 minutes while she checks on her own kid’s schoolwork. After that, she could go back and finish up her lessons. Then everyone has a break for lunch. Then they resume the same 90-100 minute block of time in the afternoon. And then when her partner comes home from work, he can take care of the children while she preps her lesson plans for the next day. So while it might not look like a traditional 8-4 Monday through Friday, she found a way to make it work.

So what about your schedule? Do you have any wiggle room? Where can you carve out pockets of time or tag team with a partner to cover your bases?

Morning and End of Day Routines

Additionally, don’t forget about the value of both morning and end of day routines. Having these daily routines or rituals is such a great way to signal to the brain that you are either beginning your day or wrapping up your workday. You’re amping up or you’re winding down. And this is incredibly valuable for both you and your kids as you transition into and out of work time.

Create a Clear Daily Schedule

Similarly, have a plan for each day so you know what needs to get done when the day begins. And this is important both for you and your work and your kids so they know what they need to do for school. In fact, I recommend making this part of your end of day routine. Make a list the night before of what you’re going to focus on the next day.

If it’s applicable, break these tasks up into your time blocking schedule. You can do longer stretches of time for yourself and or for older kids. If you have younger kids, or you need to check in on them more often, maybe you do the Pomodoro Technique. This is 25 minutes of work, and a five-minute check-in break.

Sync Work Schedules

Plus, as you look at both your kid’s schedule and your schedule, you can shift things around so that you’re working on thought intensive or time-intensive projects when your kids are occupied on a call or doing their own focused work.

And if something needs to get done around the house, or if everybody is a little bit antsy, you could create some kind of ritual in the middle of the day or during the afternoon slump where you divide and conquer with a power hour. Turn on some music, do some cleaning, going to have some fun in the process.

Plans for Interruptions

All right, number 4. This is probably one of the biggest concerns I’ve heard from people, and that is navigating interruptions. Maybe your kids constantly come in and out of the office. Maybe they have lots of questions for you. So what can we do? How can we navigate interruptions?

Well, this is a situation where the solution will vary depending on the age of your children, their level of independence, the projects they’re working on, etc. Because again, there is no right or wrong. It is simply how you decide to navigate the situation.

Set Clear Expectations 

However you decide to handle it, I encourage you to first have a clear conversation with everybody in the house about how everyone will handle interruptions during work time. When is it okay to interrupt work? When is it not okay to interrupt work? In other words, when is it an emergency, and when can wait?

And again, this is going to depend on a lot of different things. I have one client who has very clear guidelines for her kids which is simply, “Is there blood, broken bones, or fire? If the answer is no, I’ll see you at lunch.” Of course, this is said with a smile makes a pretty clear set of boundaries.

So what about you? What warrants an interruption for you? Can they interrupt if they can’t log on to zoom? Can they interrupt if they need a snack? What about if they can’t find their sweatshirt? Can they interrupt if you’re on a phone call?

Create Protocols 

Alternatively, are there certain protocols or procedures they should follow? Perhaps they need to knock before coming in. Maybe if you have your headset on it means that you’re on a call and you can’t be interrupted. Maybe you put a schedule on your door of the times when people can come in and the times when they can’t unless it’s an emergency. 

Again, you get to decide what your guidelines are. And you’ll decide them with those in your family so it’s clear for everyone.

Notebooks for Stories and Questions

One strategy that I like a lot is giving each kid a special notebook. In it, they get to write down all of the fun stories and questions and ideas that they would otherwise come running in and tell you at all hours of the day. That way they can keep them all safe, they won’t forget them, and everyone can share their stories at lunch, or after the workday is over, or during dinner, etc.

Now again, this is up to you to reinforce your guidelines. We can’t control others, but we can control ourselves. So it’s up to you to stick to it. 

Make it a Game

And you might even make a game out of it. If everybody sticks to the guidelines for two days in a row, then they get to pick the movie night. it goes back to one of my favorite questions, how can I make this fun?

Give Yourself Grace

All right and my fifth and final strategy for navigating back to school in this crazy year of COVID-19, is to give yourself grace. And extend it to others as well.

Remember, friends. We are all figuring it out. Nobody knows what the heck they’re doing. There are no right answers. We are all navigating and doing the best we can.

So ask for help when you need it. Let some things go. Don’t try and take it all on yourself. Let B- work be good enough. Some days will be great. Some days won’t. And that’s totally okay. In fact, it’s expected. 

So make sure you’re taking care of what you need, too. Let the hard days be hard; they make the good days all the better. And pause to recognize everything you’re doing each day. Because you’re doing incredible things. We just sometimes forget to notice them.

Recap

And there you have it, friends. Those are my tips to help you navigate the uncertainty of and transition back to school, back to routine, and back to work in 2020.

Remind yourself that your unique situation is a circumstance. And you get to decide how you think about it. You get to create your own experience of that situation based on how you think and feel and act.

As you explore different approaches to navigating your situation, let go of the need to make the “right” decision. Because you get to decide what is right for you.

Take some time to set you and your kids up for success. If possible, create separate workspaces that divide your home / living space. Even if that distinction is temporary like a card table. Try using a noise machine or noise-canceling headphones to help prevent distraction and increase focus for everyone.

Establish routines; daily routines, morning routines, and end-of-day routines. Be open to creating work schedules that don’t look like the traditional nine-to-five workday or 8 to 3 school day. Ask yourself, how can I make it work for my family? How can we figure this out?

Create protocols for when it’s okay to interrupt work time. Make sure that everybody is clear on them, and then stick to them so that they are reinforced. If interruptions are constant, try giving everyone a special notebook. They can record their thoughts and questions and stories to share when everybody comes together during break times.

And finally, give yourself grace. We are all figuring it out. And we’re all doing the best we can. And that’s enough. You got this my friends. I am absolutely cheering you on. 

And if anybody has additional tips to add, I would love to hear them. If you go to Instagram, you can either send me a DM, or comment on the post for this podcast episode. We can build on our strategies and resources together as we keep helping one another move forward. I can’t wait to hear what you got.

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