Build Capacity, Not Dependency
Many parents and teachers have noticed that some kids are missing an important skillset to be successful with online or distance learning. In our last blog post we talked about this category of skills being broadly labeled as "soft skills," but including a specific set of skills called Executive Functioning. This includes time management, goal setting, planning, organization, and emotional control, among others.
While working with teachers and parents in supporting these skills in order to help students be successful, we've noticed that supporting students with those skills does not always mean developing those skills with students. Sometimes as adults we jump right to the outcome of the skill in order to help kids access their schooling. The problem with this is that it doesn't help students develop the skill for themselves and can actually build more dependency on adults to do it for them. Here's an example:
We notice that our student(s) are frequently missing assignments. We diagnose that they need an organizational structure that helps them keep track of their assignments, materials, and resources. To support them, we create a system for them and have them use it.
The problem is that when students leave that class, they are not any better at organizing their assignments, materials, and resources than they were before. In our efforts to support their needs, we have actually prevented them from developing this critical skill.
We are also not advocating that parents and teachers do nothing to support kids with their needs, just so they will then have the opportunity to build the skillset themselves. Some students do, but many do not. What we are advocating is that we do both. We can support them with their needs and develop that skillset at the same time.
For example, students need a way to organize their materials and space at home in order to be successful with virtual or distance learning. Based on their home situation, this can range from a specific area in the home to an organized backpack that the student gets out for "school time." We want to support students to be organized and we want to build their organizational skillset. To do this, we might start brainstorming with the student about what they need to be organized at home. "What resources do you need for school? How do you think we could organize them so that they are easy for you to use?" Next, we help them reflect on how those supports are going and what changes might be made. Asking reflective questions and offering small ideas builds student's ability to be organized and also gives them the supports they need to be successful. Over time, the need for us to offer suggestions or even ask questions goes away as students internalize the skillset for themselves.
We know how busy and overwhelmed both parents and teachers are with distance learning. It is unbelievably challenging! It can seem like we don't have time to develop these skills when we have so much else to do. What we have seen is that some extra time developing those skills saves us a lot of time managing students not having the skill later. Think about how much time we spend as teachers tracking down missing assignments. If we spend some time building that skillset now, we will save time later. Plus, it develops the skills we know are most valuable in helping students be successful in the future. If we keep the idea of both supporting needs and developing skills at the same time, we can help students be more successful now and also into the future.