“Remember that schooling at home isn't the only time these skills can be put into action. So, if you're not schooling your child at home, or you're worried about any relationship that you have, these skills are things that you can apply in many situations.” ~ 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 final installment, part five of our Schooling Effectively at Home series. In each of the previous episodes, our guest, Deslynn Mecham, introduced you to some ideas on how you can build a strong, supportive relationship, as roles change for you and for your child when schooling at home. Today, we will talk about putting these ideas into practice, to promote progress. Deslynn, thanks for joining us again. Welcome.
Deslynn Mecham: Thanks Heidi, it's so nice to be here with you again today. We're talking about practice makes progress, and we've all heard that saying that practice makes perfect. And in schooling at home, I'm not looking for perfection, I'm looking for progress. So little bit of a mind shift there. Daily progress is what I'm looking for, and the days can be very long and sometimes it feels as if we're not making any progress at all. And as a learning coach, I can spend my day frustrated after explaining myself 12 times what needs to be done. So if this sounds a little bit like your day, I just want to suggest that you take a look at some of your daily procedures and routines. Sometimes when we say the word procedures, it sounds very clinical, and procedures, it sounds like we're going to the doctor's office. But let's think about the last time you were driving, and you came to a stoplight, that was a procedure. You know what to do when you see a red light, you know what to do when you see a yellow light.
Think of the last time you were in an airport, there are definite procedures that we go through when we're in there, to ensure our safety, to ensure that everybody gets on the right plane, that our luggage hopefully gets to where it needs to go to. And back to driving on our streets, there's a lot of procedures with stop signs. That's how we keep people safe on the roads, that's how we keep order, and I think we can take that same idea and implement it into our school days, with just some daily procedures and routines that become second nature to us. So that when I see the red light, I know exactly what to do. There's a very wise educator, Harry Wong. He's been teaching and teaching teachers for years. And he taught the only way you can have responsible students is if you have procedures and routines to which the students can be responsible to. So who would like a responsible student? I'm raising my hand.
My husband is a principal at our local brick-and-mortar school, it's elementary school. And he always talks about that first week of school, and especially the kindergartners, you have all these new kids and school is new to them, they're not sure how to do things. It's their first experience, it's he's walking the halls and he's peeking in the rooms, he doesn't hear ABCs and 123s, he's hearing, "Okay, where do our library books go?" and "What do we do in the lunch bell rings?" and, "Where do we put our finished assignments?" "Where do we put our books?" "Where do we put our backpacks?" And they practice these procedures those first few days, sometimes into the week, they are practicing just those basic fundamentals, so that those don't become problem areas. A lot of times, I see when I don't have my school day set up, I tend to think, "Oh, it's my daughter's behavior." But sometimes when I step back and take a closer look, it's because we haven't set up a procedure and we haven't practiced it.
So that's what I want to look a little closer at today. I remember when Emma would do her math assignments, and I wanted to be able to check him at the end of the day. Well, they would be all over. She couldn't find where the assignment was or sometimes she put her math in this notebook, and sometimes she put it in this notebook. And I never knew what assignment it was because she was writing things out. So we went over and developed a procedure. Now, she came from a traditional setting, so she'd even put her name in the top corner, Emma M, I'm like, "Okay, you don't have to put your name in the corner, I know it's your math paper." But we went over a specific procedure. "I want the lesson number here, the unit number here and then numbering it here. And it goes in this notebook." That was our basic procedure. Just simple, that's our routine.
But then we had to practice it because she was used to just writing on whatever leftover paper was around, and I found that it became a struggle for me when I wanted to check the math. Where is it? I wanted to know where it was. So setting up just a simple procedure and then practicing it is what helped set us up a little bit more for success. It didn't cause any power struggles because I always knew where to find her math assignment, I always knew what it needed to look like. Not many students like to write out their math problems. Well, that was an important part of math, showing your work. So we even had to set up a procedure around that. It's like, "And then you need to show your work and this is how we do it." And so we practice it. Sometimes, for some families, you had talked earlier in one of the podcasts, Heidi, about the bed being made. You may need to have a morning procedure. In some homes, that's half the struggle, is getting our kids to start school.
So let's set up a morning procedure, a morning routine, if you want to call it routines. Let's have a morning routine and then let's practice it. So at our house, it sounded something like this. It was just basic. "When I wake you up, if I decide to wake you up," that's what we did, I just walked in and woke you up. "When I wake you up, you make your bed, you get dressed, visit the bathroom, meet me in the dining room." That was our procedure. We practiced that procedure in the evening so that we would have success because that was new. It was kind of like she was just coming out whenever. And I didn't care if she was in her pajamas, but sometimes making that part of the procedure helped because we had places to go. So I did make that part, "I need you to get dressed in the morning. That is something that's important to me." And you can think of areas where you may be able to share control with them in this.
So what time should we get up? That could go back to their job description, that can go back to sharing control. What time should we start our school day? Okay, our school day is going to start at 8:30 AM. Great. Oh, I love that time. That sounds good. Are you going to be dressed by 8:30 AM or are you going to be dressed by 10:00 AM? Two choices I'm happy with, let's figure out and we're going to write up a procedure. Let's get the bed made. Do you want Mom to help you or are you going to make it on your own? Again, another choice for them. That's our procedure, and then we're going to practice that at night, on just a random evening, and I'm like, "Let's practice getting up in the morning." Because really, these things take practice, you don't just start driving one day and knowing what all the signs and signals mean.
We have to learn them, we go through driver's training, we practice them, we read about them, and then we go out and we drive and we practice a lot. I feel that we need to do the same thing at home. Practice makes progress. It doesn't make perfection, but it makes progress.
Heidi Higgins: One of my friends said that the best gift she ever gave her child was an alarm clock, that gave them the control that they could set the time of when they wanted to get up. So that it eliminated her from the whole procedure. And it gave them enough of that independence that they could get up and start doing things on their own. And it just gave them a little bit of a boost. I think that those kinds of things help in the practice as well.
Deslynn Mecham: Absolutely. It's been a few years since I schooled with my daughter and currently I teach 10 very active little five-year-olds at church. And I found very quickly, as we would enter the room, and I have this nice little lesson I'm ready to teach, they're all over the place. I mean, they're so darling, I do not want to squelch that enthusiasm and that energy at all. But from my days of schooling at home, I knew that I needed to have some procedures in place. It's very much like a classroom, what a kindergarten teacher would do. I had one student, and it's like, "Okay, it's your turn. You put this on the board." "Okay, you do this puzzle." We did the same things, every single week. We had a chart that they marked, we had a puzzle that they put together, we had the chairs that they set out. And just those three little things got us into learning mode.
When you want to look at, "Okay, where might I come up with some procedures for my student?" You might take a look at what distracts your students and work on some procedures there. So maybe you need a procedure for the phone. Where are our phones during our school day? Do they need to be in the kitchen? Do they need to be in the bedroom? Where are the phones? Are they right by them? What kind of procedure? And then you have to practice it. Also practicing these routines will help when you're looking at how much progress that you're making throughout the day. If we're not fighting over when to get out of bed, then we can focus more easily on math. Or if we're not fighting over where the math assignments are, we can focus better, or where they're even sitting. You don't have to do the same thing every day, but you need to have the same procedure.
Heidi Higgins: I think that practicing brings a form of security.
Deslynn Mecham: Mm, yes.
Heidi Higgins: And that's one thing that you did with your little church kids, is that they knew what to expect. And if our expectations are met, it brings some kind of a security that lets us know that we're okay, we're safe here, we can have a good time. And it's when the routines get upset that I see my little grandchildren throwing tantrums. Or when something isn't going the way that they thought it would, it's unsettling. And that's when you get back into the yelling and complaining and whining and all that kind of thing.
Deslynn Mecham: Right, right. And none of this is set so that you never have a bad school day again, they're just to help you reset. So when we have constant reminders of procedures in my house, even with my adult children, I like my toaster in a very specific place in my house. And so when I notice that the toaster isn't put away, we have a little, "Okay, let's go over. Where does the toaster go? How do I like the cord wrapped around it?" Just simple things like that. Then it becomes a procedural thing and not a behavioral thing. I don't look at my children like, "Oh, when are you going to learn? You're never going to figure this out." I look at, "Hmm, this looks like an area that we need to take a closer look at and we need to practice a little bit more." Just a little different change of mindset. One routine that we started in our school day really became quite the game changer for us.
And it's something that I called wake up work. And wake up work is a startup assignment. And it's always posted and it's in the same place. And what it does is it helps the student develop the routine of looking to begin on their own. We practice the procedure that when they're finished with breakfast, they will find what they should be working on first. And it's posted in the same place every day. You may have many options of what to do for wake up work. And depending on the ages of your students, you might fill out a worksheet. And that's what I ended up doing with Emma, in our early years, is I just had a worksheet of things that I wanted her working on. So it might be flashcards, it might be reading a silent assignment, it might be working on spelling words. For little ones, even if they're maybe not in school with you yet, but they tend to be underfoot all the time, I might have them work on some simple math facts, or a coloring page, so that everybody knows when we're finished with breakfast, we move into our school day.
And so for a teenager, theirs might be working on vocabulary, or maybe they're doing a foreign language. So during this first time in, it can be something that they enjoy, it doesn't have to be a heavy thing that they don't enjoy. But something that just gets the brain into learning mode. And we want to do this wake up work independent of the other assignments for the day. So that on the day when maybe I wake up sick, maybe we've had an emergency in the home, maybe grandma needs help, maybe I need to be somewhere with a neighbor. If we've practiced this routine, the principal of it is that they get started on their learning even when I'm not there. That's the beauty of having these procedures and practices, so that they know, "Oh, when my alarm clock goes off, this is what I do, I get going. Oh, and then I have my wake up work. That means I'm reading my library book. I get going on that." And odds are, that they'll start in on their school, they know how to log to their virtual academy, and sign in and get going.
So that on those days, when I'm not over everything, I can have an emergency, I can have a bad day as well, and they're able to pick up and keep learning. That wake up work really gets them learning independent and moving forward. But we have to train them on it first, and we have to move them to that direction by practicing. We're not looking for perfection, we're looking to make progress in our school day. And we're just looking for daily progress. But oftentimes, it becomes a procedural problem, not a behavioral problem in something. Sometimes it's definitely behavioral problems, we've talked about that with the arguing and the complaining, but a procedural problem is when things go south because I can't find the math assignment, or the computer isn't where it was supposed to be. Why is it in the family room? We don't do school in the family room. So I know that I need to pull back and we need to practice that again.
And one last thing on this, again, I'm not punishing them. I'm not in punishing mode ever actually, I'm in consequence mode. But the procedures are not meant to be, "You didn't get up at 8:30 AM, so you're not going to your friends tonight." No, if they're not up at 8:30 AM, it looks like we need to practice that again, or we need to adjust it. We go back to our game plan and we make some adjustments. Everything we're talking about leads into the next area, to give you this big circle of options to move throughout your day.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you. The wake up work is a great idea, and I love having a backup to yourself when things aren't quite up to speed.
Deslynn Mecham: Right.
Heidi Higgins: Teaching a student to be independent and get on their own with a little bit of work from you, but not too much.
Deslynn Mecham: If I'm 10 years old, and I know that when I'm done with breakfast, I'm supposed to check my wake up work on the fridge, because that's where we've decided, we're going to put the wake up work on the fridge, or maybe your wake up work is going to be on a dry erase board, the procedure needs to be the same every day. The work doesn't have to be the same, but the procedure is the same. When I'm done with breakfast, this is where I go and I look. And what we're doing here is we're teaching responsibility for their learning. Depending on the procedures you have in place, students can know what to expect during the day and where to look for their assignments. They can go about doing their work on their own. Some students will need more practice than others, and you may be schooling for three months and things start to not go as well. So we need a practice day, we need to refocus on our procedures. Most students will need those periodic tuneups, where you'll go over the procedure again. But that's okay because practice makes progress.
Heidi Higgins: Deslynn, what do you hope to accomplish with teaching these kinds of principles?
Deslynn Mecham: It really is important to me that a learning coach can lay their head on their pillow at night and know, "I'm trying, I'm working hard at this. I've put some things into place that can be successful," because our children are going to struggle, we know that, I'm going to struggle. And I want learning coaches to know that they can look at what areas they have control over, and they can use this time to build that relationship with their children. And they can mean business, that's really important to me too, they can mean business without being mean, and without becoming overly frustrated and anxious about what they're doing, and enjoy this time more, as they put a few things into place and define what their role is as a learning coach. So that it can be something they look back on is a rewarding and wonderful time with their children, sprinkled with some upsetting days. But to know, "I'm doing the best I can, and so is my child. So is my child. We're learning together, and we're just trying to make some progress along the way."
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for joining us and bringing us your wisdom and experience. Thank you for sharing with our families some ideas that will help them. I love the fact that you reminded us constantly that this was about the learning coach, and somehow it trickles over into affecting the whole family.
Deslynn Mecham: Absolutely. I didn't have all these answers when I started. And even with some of these answers, and some of this practicing, I still have a lot to learn. And that's okay, that's exactly what I want to teach my children, is that we're here to learn. This is a lifelong journey of learning about ourselves and one another.
Heidi Higgins: Appreciate you joining me.
Deslynn Mecham: Thank you, Heidi. It's wonderful. Thank you.
Heidi Higgins: 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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