Adapting to Distance Learning

by Jim Bishop

After a few weeks in my new position as “Head of Distance Learning” here at the Bishop household, I’ve learned a few things and thought I’d share.

First, a disclaimer. I’m not a teacher. Nor am I an expert in child psychology (in fact I “earned” a ‘D’ in that class in college). I’m just an entrepreneurial, geek dad of two, mostly-good boys – ages 8 and 11. Despite our sons’ typical B+ rated behavior, distance learning is stirring the pot. It’s a change. And we’ve had to figure out how to adapt to this new environment in a way that works well for all of us. Here is what is working for us:

House Rules

The house always has an advantage so, award yourself the advantage and set it up for success from the beginning. I laid down 4 rules (on the fly) starting day 1. Luckily, they have worked well (so far)! Here they are:

  1. I am your guide, not your teacher
  2. You are in charge of your assignments and schedule
  3. While griping/whining is banned (can I get an amen?), “requests” are welcomed
  4. Help is available, batch your questions

Here’s the gist of the House Rules. The kids have just been granted a unique opportunity to showcase their well-defined school habits. They know what is required of them based on their assignments (they’ve been doing it every school day for years). It is vital they complete those with a good attitude. If I show up at the office and say, “I don’t want to do your TPS reports”, nobody has time for that (queue “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That” meme). However, if you “request” help with your TPS reports, we are more inclined to help you. Find out if I’m available and if not, you’ll need to wait until I am. Try to aggregate your questions by circling a math problem or writing on a sticky note (thank you 3M – we’ve architected entire Minecraft worlds on yellow Post-Its).

How We Structure the Day

Breakfast by 8, stand-up meeting no later than 8:30. If you don’t know what a stand-up meeting is, you’re probably not in the technology field. There are differing opinions on stand-up meetings, but generally, if not overused, they can be super effective. Basically, this is a first-thing in the AM, 10 minute meeting, (5 min. per child) in a group setting where you tell your guide what your plan is for today.

This invites a ton of responsibility on the kiddo’s part. After all, most adults don’t even do well with this style of meeting. It requires them to not only prepare for the meeting and for the day, but to also have vision for the week. In addition to the obvious, the meeting creates an environment of accountability, allows us to build trust as a “class”, and it shows them you care about their assignments without being annoying.

I finish the brief meeting with each student, and here’s the important part, by asking them “Where do you want to begin”. This is a little trick I learned from my wife and her dad in their book, The Best Seller. It’s actually Step 4 – Create an agenda and put the customer in control. Why? Because it feels good to be in control! I don’t want the kids kissing the ring, I want them to be their own people – self-motivated, in the driver’s seat, GSD kinda people. And kids are different, and want to learn differently. Some save the M&M’s in the GORP for last, some devour them first – “different strokes for different folks” as they say. Let them choose how to begin.

Anyway, it’s shocking how disarming this is when you position them in the perceived leadership position. They love it, and they own it!

Gimme a Break…

For us, regular breaks are vital. Virtual learning requires more screen time, the exact opposite of what many parents have been striving for, so that creates a challenge. As a software developer, I spend a ton of time on the computer and have for years. It feels so hypocritical to say, tisk tisk tisk, “you need to take a computer break”, or “not too much screen time or… your brain will explode”. So rather than harping on that, we just take 20 minute breaks about every 45 to 60 minutes. Generally, we weave snacks in between some sort of adrenaline-pumping basement activity. The boys are pretty creative so here are some things that worked for them/us:

  • Team dodgeball (adults vs kids)
  • Relays with random obstacles (just look around in the basement)
  • Driveway basketball (Big shout out to our neighbors Evan and Mike for pushing the hoop uphill 100 yards)
  • Wally-ball (wall/ball game which can be played as a group or indiv)
  • 4-Square (T-Rex version)

Early Finishers

Most days, the boys are done around 3:30 (Mondays are still long). I think that is a by-product of everything we’re doing to make the environment different (but fun) and mutually acceptable. If you’re done early, you earn the privilege of filling your time with how you wish until dinner. That bonus time might include playing board games, lego building, dance party, music production, or a few other activities from a pre-approved, kid-directed list. Isn’t that how the game of life works? When you’re diligent and plan your time well, you allow yourself time for hobbies and doing what you want to do (remember those times?).

Far from Perfect

All that said, we’re far from perfect operationally at the house. In the midst of learning, we still have meltdowns, long sighs, moments of anxiety, arguments, and harsh words (by parents and kids). Those times are met with discussion (yes, even I say ‘I’m sorry’) and sometimes even reprimands and most importantly, with forgiveness and grace. School is difficult, even at home. Learning new things can be quite frustrating, even maddening at times – sometimes that’s just how the process works. 

We have to stay flexible. It’s not going to be perfect, in fact most days, far from it. But after all, we’re not looking to raise picture perfect, unemotional, completely level-headed kids – that’s just not reality.

When you get down to it, we’re trying to coach little humans into becoming self-sufficient adults, which is incredibly difficult work. I recognize they’re not going to be perfect students under my less than perfect teaching/oversight. I also know they aren’t going to be perfect children under our less than perfect parenting style. So, each of us in the family strives to do the best we can. When we fail, we hope to find a little grace and mercy from one another, so we can learn and muster the courage to try again.

Wishing you well in this new adventure!

Balance is important and can be challenging at times. Are you building relationships (at home or in your career) or pushing (the little) people away?

Katie Bishop and her dad, Doug Reichardt worked together over 5 years to finish a novel to help guide others in business, sales, and life. Their novel, now available on Amazon, follows a persistent young woman struggling in her career who finds inspiration and wisdom in her journey. You need this content! Stay in the loop.