“Online schooling will not look like any school that you're used to, but if you allow it some time, it can be even better.” ~ Heidi Higgins
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. Welcome to the beginning of the school year. Yes, there's a lot to experience. And when schooling online at home or wherever you and your student may be, there will be an adjustment time, some adjustments to get used to the curriculum, the routine required, even the teachers. Online schooling will not look like any school that you're used to, but if you allow it some time, it can be even better. So in an effort to provide some support, some comfort really, and help for you, beginning today through October 6th, we will share ideas on how to school more effectively at home.
Interestingly, these ideas may help you become a better parent and understand the relationships in your home a little better as well. So, part one today, we've called whose job is it anyway. Our special guest Deslyn Mecham is a former learning coach and an experienced family advisor with K12 over many years. She'll help us to find what the roles of parent, learning coach and student are when you school at home. In part two, she's going to address motivation, asking you to think about what motivates you and really to concentrate on what motivates that student you're working with.
Part three, she's going to talk about how to deal with arguing and complaining. Not that that ever happens. And part four, she's going to teach us skills that will help develop a game plan for success. And in part five, she will show you how practice will make progress in your relationships and in schooling with your child. Let me introduce you first to Deslyn Mecham. Deslyn Mecham, welcome to the podcast.
Deslynn Mecham: Thank you for having me.
Heidi Higgins: This is an exciting time, because school is starting and families who have decided to bring their children home and school them have a little bit of a task on their hands, and we would like to make it a little easier. You are currently working in a virtual setting, correct?
Deslynn Mecham: I am. Yes. I live here in the great state of Idaho and I am an advisor at the Idaho Virtual Academy. So it's exciting. I'm working with learning coaches and students all year long. It's a very fun job. I really enjoy it.
Heidi Higgins: This is great, because today we're inviting you as an advisor. We're going to be having children home. Sometimes, the most difficult part of having children home and doing school is having children home and doing school.
Deslynn Mecham: Absolutely.
Heidi Higgins: But we have teamed up for a little series and we're going to talk about some ideas of what to do as a parent, as a learning coach, as someone who loves these little people, but wants to see education happen in their home. We're going to team up and see if we can provide some ideas and some advice for families who have undertaken a wonderful assignment. You and I have both been at-home parents with our children learning in a virtual school setting. And it's exciting to be able to see what can be done, because first of all, we know a few of the pitfalls. So we can help give some advice to avoid some of those. But each family, just like each one of us, is different. And so here's some general guidelines.
Deslynn Mecham: We'll go through different ideas to set them up for success for the year and get started strong and be able to pivot as struggles come along. And that's one of the first things that I noticed when I started doing this with my daughter. We did it in the elementary years and the middle school years, and was really defining what my role was as a learning coach and as a parent. I'm now doing two, they're kind of under the same umbrella, but they're very different because now I'm part of her schooling and I have a more active role in that. And so I found early on I really needed to come up with some kind of a job description for myself.
Heidi Higgins: A job description for you and a job description for your daughter. So it defined what your roles were. Let's talk about how that's helpful.
Deslynn Mecham: I noticed when my daughter, as she became a teenager, she got her first fast food job that she went to and she was very nervous about it. She'd never worked before. She'd never worked in that kind of environment before. And so she was nervous about it. She was anxious about it. And I saw her go off to work that first day, and I was nervous, a little nervous for her too. And she came home with increased confidence because she went there and she knew what time she should be there, she knew what station she needed to be at, she knew whether she was going to be working on hamburgers or whether she was going to be at the cash register, she knew what she needed to wear. She knew all these different expectations that she was worried about before she went. She wasn't sure where her place was.
And just again, to see that confidence in her as she came home knowing, "Oh, tomorrow I know exactly what to do and where to be and who to go to if I have questions." So it reminded me of that time when we were here at home where we both had to define our roles as student and as a learning coach, and how to define those. My husband Dave and I were both very active in our schooling. I was at home with her throughout the day, but then he would come home and he was also a part of it. And he's an educator. And we took some of the things that he did at a local brick and mortar school and combined it with what I was doing at home with her and came up with different plans. And so coming up with a job description early on was really important.
And for me as a parent, we decided that my job was to give her the opportunity, the opportunity to learn. And so that looked like I was going to make sure that we had a schooling area set up. I was going to make sure that the internet bill was paid. I was going to make sure that we had electricity, and just you can go down. And when you think of all the things it takes to make online learning available for your student, it's a big, long list. And that was my job. My job was to give her the opportunity. And as I looked at the online schooling portion of it, and specifically as a learning coach, I needed to make sure that I was checking. I was checking my emails. I was answering my phone. I was making myself available, creating time so that I could be there to answer questions.
I didn't have to teach her biology, but I needed to be available and know what was going on when she needed something from me. So again, anything I could come up with that would provide her opportunity to learn was really valuable for me. There were also some things that I decided, because I quickly got into a routine of, "Have you got your work done? Oh, this is due today. What time is your class connect?" And it's really easy as a parent, when we start to school at home to get involved in everything, asking lots of questions and it can become a little bit of a micromanagement. One of my goals was I really wanted to spend this time with my daughter and create a time for her to become an independent learner.
I also had to look at this job description that I was creating for myself as also what wasn't I going to put on my job description? And I quickly found out I wasn't going to nag her, I wasn't going to plead and beg her to get her work done. And I really had to work hard to take reminding off of my job description. Because pretty soon, it can become my job, right? It can become my schoolwork. And that's where we look at this, "Whose schoolwork is it? Is it mine? Is it theirs?" I wanted to make sure that she knew that it was hers. And I definitely had my job and I was going to do it, but she also had her job.
Heidi Higgins: That is a great way to look at things. If we do the nagging and the pleading, it does become our job.
Deslynn Mecham: Absolutely.
Heidi Higgins: And they quickly learn who's in charge.
Deslynn Mecham: Yeah. When those things enter in, it's no longer 50-50, or I start to take over that ownership of the schoolwork when I make it my job to remind her every day and beg her and plead with her. And so that's why I've now got my job description. I can look at it. I can know what I'm supposed to do, what it looks like. And it really is for me. It's important for me. Also, we'll talk about a job description for our students as well. A lot of this stuff is for us as learning coaches. That's what I have control over. I don't have control over what my student is going to remember or how much effort they're going to put into things, but I can make sure that I feel really good at the end of the day that I've done my job and be proud of that job.
Heidi Higgins: I love thinking that when the day ends that you have done some good work because you met your job description. And the job description is not making sure all the work is done actually, but -
Deslynn Mecham: Correct. Correct.
Heidi Higgins: ... but making sure that you provided the opportunity for the work to be done.
Deslynn Mecham: Yes. And that's a big... I work with so many learning coaches who take on their students' grades as personal. It's like, "Ugh, okay, they're failing. I'm terrible. I'm not doing a good job." And I don't see it that way. As long as I'm doing my part, am I holding them accountable for the guidelines in our home, whether that's grades, whether that's chores, completed work? We're all going to do it in a unique way in our home, but I've set myself up for success. And I'm going to have bad days. I'm going to have a lot of bad days where I may lose my cool. I'm going to lose my cool. I may do a lot of reminding. That's one that I have to work really hard on. The reminding.
But I can pull it back. I can reset. I can fix it at six o'clock at night and still know at the end of the day, "Whew. Okay, I've met what I've done. My student has not gotten anything accomplished today. It's been a really hard day. They've had a tough time, but they're a good kid. I love them and I've done my job and tomorrow we're going to reset and we're going to start again." Or maybe we're going to reset at 8:00 PM. That's the beauty of online learning, is we can do it at home and we can really go with the flow and switch things up even on a long day. Or we may say, "Okay, nothing's been done today. I'm taking the evening off." I think it's really important on that job description that we think about what our availability is as a learning coach.
I'm always a mom. That hat doesn't ever come off. But particularly as a learning coach, for me, I needed to have some set hours to begin with in my mind. At the local brick and mortar down the street where my husband works, his teachers, they get off at three 30. I needed that same luxury. I needed to be able to know that I don't have to do this at 8:00 PM at night, even though my student hasn't completed their work and there's a major assignment that's due tonight. I can hold them accountable to it. The school will hold them accountable to it. There will be a grade that will be given depending on their amount of work. I was available during the set amount of time and they didn't fully take advantage of what I could have done or helped. I'm offering. I'm helping.
It's a training session with our student. Isn't it? We're back and forth. I'm making myself available. That's part of something that's really important to me on my job description. It's that I'm here and I'm available, but at such and such a time at 2:00 PM, at 3:30, I have a lot of other hats that I wear and I need to be able to be the neighbor, be the friend. I need to be the wife. I need to be the grandma. I have a lot of other hats and learning coach is one that I sometimes I need to set aside. Just depends. But when I have that description and I know I've done my job today, again, I can feel fairly confident at the end of the night that we're moving forward. My student may be behind me a little ways and struggling. That's okay. That's okay. I've got this under control for me. And if I have a good sense of what I'm doing, I'm modeling something wonderful for my student. This is how we recover. This is how we move forward. This is how we make mistakes and we fix them the next day.
Heidi Higgins: I love that you're modeling the behavior that you hope to teach your children. And that is certainly the best way to do it. You brought up something else that's kind of interesting to me. You brought up that there's going to be bad days. And as a mother of six, I remember with some in the traditional school, three were in traditional brick and mortar school, there were bad days. There just were. And yet the difference was with my three that were home, was that I knew what they knew, I knew what they needed to know, and I knew what I needed to do. And it was that sense of confidence that let me get through those bad days. Working with daughters, it was kind of an up and down relationship with moods and everything else.
Deslynn Mecham: Exactly. That mother daughter relationship. Absolutely. That can be a -
Heidi Higgins: It can be kind of head to head from time to time.
Deslynn Mecham: [inaudible 00:12:53].
Heidi Higgins: Minute to minute, either.
Deslynn Mecham: There may be more tears. It just is the way.
Heidi Higgins: But you bring up the best point and that is that we know what the parameters are. We know what our role is. And if we stick to that, don't cross any lines and get into the pleading and the begging and the threatening, it can take on a light that helps guide the child through the same situation.
Deslynn Mecham: Right. And I think with that model, like have fun with your job. Show that... I love my job. And it's fun now for me to model that for my grandkids and even my adult children, when I go to work every day. It's like, "Well, I love my job. So I'll see you guys at four o'clock and I'm going to work today." And show them what that looks like. Really important as a learning coach, that you are also doing other things throughout the day that you love. You're showing them that you're getting your job description done, find joy in it, even when they're upset, even when they want nothing to do with you. "I'm just over here. I'm doing my job. I love my job." Have we paid the electric bill today? "Oh, I did. I'm so glad we have lights, so glad we have air conditioning." It's a hot summer here. Just find joy in those small things and model for them and talk about your job.
If you have a partner that is also working outside of the home, make sure... When they come home, we talk about, "How was your job today? What did you get done? What does it look like to do your job?" You can involve grandparents in that, you can involve older children in that. Maybe they're still living at home, but they're working. Talk about what it looks like to work, but to have struggles, to have successes, but enjoy your work. I think that's so important that we, as a learning coach, show them that we enjoy our work, which is being their learning coach and the joy that comes from that, even though they may not be happy with us right now, even though they may not be happy with themselves. Usually is what it is. They're not happy with themselves, but show them, "Well, I love my job. Let's see what we can do to help you love your job more." And that's an important thing that we need to talk about, is what is the student's job?
It sounds so easy like, well, just get your work done, but your job sweetheart is to learn. And then what does that look like? What does learning look like in our home? What does learning look like in our online school setting? And so again, I'm going to go back to a list of words that I'm going to use and action words. Learning in our home. And I would have a conversation with my student. I would talk about all the things that I'm going to do, and I would make that list as long as possible because we really are... I mean, I'm making sure that there's food in the refrigerator. I mean, I'm making sure that there is food on the table and that you've got lunch and breakfast and dinner provided. I'm just all about opportunity to learn and their job is to learn.
And so as I'm having a conversation with them, I'd ask them, "What does learning look like to you?" And so we're going to use words like, "What time are you getting up in the morning? When are you going to start your job? When are you going to hand in your assignments? When do these assignments need to be finished? What do we need to see at the end of our school day?" We're going to use words like finishing, and we're going to use words like completing and handing in assignments. That's their job, but I would have reading on there. Their job is to learn. And we're going to be really specific to the online school setting, but you can also use this as well with outside of your home. There's a myriad of things that takes to run a home smoothly. And we can talk about all of that. What my job is in the home, what my job is as a learning coach, what your job is as a student and what your job is as my child in our home.
So job descriptions, again, really give us a sense of what we need to do. They give us confidence that we can do it. And if we end up nagging and complaining, pretty soon we don't like our job very much. And as a learning coach, that's why I try to keep those begging and pleading and really defining whose schoolwork it is. I want to make sure that it's really clear, "This is my job over here. This is your job." And really defining those very clearly for each one of us. So at the end of the day, I can feel good, and on some good days, they're going to feel good about what they've done too.
Heidi Higgins: So when do you have this conversation about defining their job and is it ongoing?
Deslynn Mecham: I would have this conversation as soon as possible. And definitely it's something that you can switch up and change just as in both your job and my job, our job definitions change, the things that we're required to do change. And so I would definitely start this as soon as if you haven't done something like this before, as you're listening to this, I'd have a conversation with them tonight. And I would take a look at what I'm going to do. What does opportunity look like to me in our home? Every home is a unique situation. And so look and feel good about what you feel your job description is.
And I would just kind of go back and forth with my student and say, "Okay, I'm about opportunity to learn. That's what I feel is important. And so this is what it looks like for me. Your job is to learn. What does that look like for you?" And I would write it out. I'd have my whiteboard or poster board and I would put a little line down the middle of it and I'd be like, "Mom's job and John's job." And go through and just come up with a bunch of different verbs that we can use. And honestly, I want to believe that this is going to help them in the long run and it will.
But again, when we're looking at, what do I have control over as a learning coach? This really is for me. I want to be really clear in my mind on those days when I struggle and my students struggling, that I can reflect back on that and say, "Okay, it is not my job to hand in that 10-page paper. That's not my job. My job is to assist, my job is to offer support. Oh, let's see. No, my job isn't to be up till 12:00 PM, sitting at the table with a student who is being rude to me and is not engaged in the process. I've given them the opportunity to learn. They're making the choice not to learn." And then I'm going to hold them accountable in other ways. That description just is something that I constantly go back to. And then yes, we may need to change it and add different words or take different words off as we look at it. It definitely would be an ongoing process, but not something...
I'm so glad you brought that up, Heidi though. I'm not using the job description as punishment. "Oop, you didn't assign... Oop, you didn't..." This is not about punishing at all. This is just about being really clear about what we're doing and defining our roles as student and learning coach, but it's not about... I'm never going to use that job description as a club to say, "Oops, you did... Okay, didn't do this." I'm definitely going to have different consequences in place just because that's what we do as parents. But my job description is just really clear and helping us look at it and say, "Wow, I wonder if you're struggling so much here because you've missed the last three class connects in history. And where does that fall? Is that part of your job? Is going to class connects every day on the job description? Let's take a look at that."
I can just make the job description the way that I can ask questions. Let's see why you're struggling in history right now, or maybe why is math so difficult? My job is to make sure that you're attending these things. And as I've talked to people at the school or I've been checking, I can check your grades every day, I can check assignments every day. That's part of my job, is to make sure that you've completed your work for the day. I didn't have to teach you the math assignment, but I do check at the end of the day to make sure that you've completed it. Those are areas where again, my job description lets me look a little closer and make sure I know what I've been doing. And I can feel good about it, even when my student is struggling. And then we can reset if we need to, but that job description will continue to give us conversation starters when things get hard, when things go a little south. I can always look back to that and say, "Why are you struggling so much?" The schoolwork isn't getting handed in, or grades are falling, let's look at their job description.
And then it's also a good checkup for me because maybe I haven't been checking my emails as a learning coach. Maybe I'm getting some phone calls from the school. I'm avoiding a few phone calls. Maybe I haven't been as available as I said I would. Maybe grandma got sick and I've needed to be with grandma for a while. Those are all okay things to check and then model for them. "Oh, let me reset. You're right. You're right. There isn't any food in the fridge. You are correct. Let me fix it." I mean, it can be lighthearted, but it also can be a good reset point for us. I'm not perfect at this. I never will be, but I'm going to show you how I reset, how I fix, what that looks like, and that I love being your learning coach. I love it.
Heidi Higgins: Many of us take our children so personally and failure of any kind is reflected right back at us. And is it okay to fail?
Deslynn Mecham: Yes, I hope so. If it's not, I'm in big trouble. I have failed a lot as a parent, as a human. I make mistakes, I lose my temper. I think I'm right. That's a problem. I think I'm right about everything, but I do like to show them that I know how to fix things.
I know how to say, "Whoa, I lost my cool about that." Or, "Wow, I did not handle that very well." I'm going to take a few moments. I'm going to step out and I'll be back. I'm going to go pull myself together and I'm going to come back. And that's good for me to reset and rethink how I want to handle things moving forward. And it's also a good model for them. Doesn't mean that they're going to do it, but that's what I can do. And maybe that's something you're going to put on your job description. Model how to fix things. I think that's so important for our children, our students, our spouses, our friends to see that, "Man, I struggle too. I really have bad days, but I know how to fix them. I know how to try again tomorrow."
Heidi Higgins: How can I as a learning coach know when my student's doing their job and what do I do about that?
Deslynn Mecham: I think that can be part of the conversation too, when we're setting up our job descriptions. I'll say to my students, "So how will I know when learning is taking place?" Kind of just have that as a conversation. "How will I know when you're doing your job?" I'm thinking, "Am I going to see him sleeping on the couch?" And you may have those conversations with them. "Will I see you up and ready? Will I see you with your headphones on in class connect." Make them questions as I talk to them. "Will I see your progress in your courses moving forward? Will I see green circles or check marks? Will I see completed items in the coursework at the end of the day? Will I see papers? Will I see handwriting going on?" Depending on the age of your children, "How will I know that you are doing your job, which is learning? Will I see a lot of tears?" We may, and we can learn through our tears. So that's okay. Again, we're just going to have this open conversation like, "How will I know that your work's getting done?"
And your student may say, "Well, I don't know." And that's another thing when we're having this conversation. I'm really into this conversation. This is really important to me. It may not be important to your 10-year-old right now, and that you might get a lot of shoulder shrugging and... I don't know, and eye rolling. They're not into this at all. Again, this is mostly for me. It's really important that I understand whose schoolwork this is and it's not mine, but I need to understand how I assist them, how I help them, even if they're not really engaged with this job description. And you may have a student that is really anti... Like they are not going to have a conversation with you. Then you can do this on your own. Just make it really clear in your mind what you can feel good about doing at the end of the day and understanding what you feel their role is.
Again, they may not have buy-in. Some students will take to this really easily. They'll like this structure. So some students will do really well with it, others won't. But again, it's for me. As a parent, I'm going to control what I can control, and that is me. My voice, what I do, what I do with my school day.
Heidi Higgins: So whose job is it anyway? Defining those roles will help make the days go a little better, will let the conversation between the student and the parent exist and at least begin. Thank you for explaining whose job is it anyway.
Deslynn Mecham: I hope everyone enjoys their new job.
Heidi Higgins: My thanks to Deslynn Mecham. Remember to join us on the podcast next Wednesday, for part two: Motivation, what moves you? Feel free to leave us some feedback in our call and message line. The link to that line will be in our podcast notes today. And who knows? We may even use some of your experiences on the air.
Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools, powered by Stride K12, our Stride Career Prep programs that foster lifelong learning, or any of our private school or individual course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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