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The Changing Face of Education

Subsidiarity is a principle of social organization that holds that issues should be dealt with and managed at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution.  This principal is definitely at work regarding the current state of education; as we have seen, each state, each school district, and in some cases individual schools are creating their own safe and hopefully effective education models.

Now that we are a week or two into the adventure that is education during the Covid chaos, many parents are finding that virtual teaching and learning may be a realistic possibility after all.  Although most would agree that virtual learning still lags behind in-person education (and when done poorly lags dramatically behind in-person education), that gap is closing.  In working with our students spread throughout a number of local school districts, our team at Life Tools is observing teachers becoming much more savvy with technology; instead of creating a virtual lesson plan and an in-person lesson plan, many teachers are simply live-streaming their lectures.  Whether the students are physically in the classroom or observing on-line, they are receiving a traditional amount of material presented in a very familiar and comfortable format.

The technology barrier has also been effectively overcome due to heroic efforts by school administrations, local governments, and local technology providers.  In spite of the fact that many of us parents and teachers needed to be dragged unwillingly down this road, even the ‘old-schoolers’ have found the technology to be useable and effective (if not ideal).  

Now it is true that virtual education is not a panacea for all students.  In fact, the younger the student, the more ineffective virtual learning becomes.  As any first-grade teacher will tell you, a 6 or 7-year old student requires intangibles and relationship-building that only in-person education can provide.  Regardless of how ‘good’ we become at virtual education, effective K-5 education will require in-person learning or a very engaged and available educator within the home.  In addition, the teacher-student interaction is more limited and more difficult for the virtual students; one-on-one attention for those students needing more assistance is challenging when teaching virtually and additional resources will need to be focused on providing that assistance.  We can also agree that some classes like band, choir, and certain tech ed offerings simply do not work virtually.  In spite of these shortcomings, we as a society have been exposed to the possibilities of virtual learning and the choices that lie therein.

What does all of this mean for the future of education?  Beginning at the top of the educational food chain, this new understanding has opened a Pandora’s box that cannot be closed.  As the cost of higher education has become unsustainable and out-of-line with the product being offered, many parents and students were already questioning the wisdom of the ‘college education at all costs’ mentality.  Since March, parents have been presented with a first-hand glimpse of the curriculum their children are paying for, and in some cases are rightfully unimpressed.

Covid has forced parents and students alike to question the ‘given’ that to be successful, a young person must go into debt and purchase a four-year degree.  Virtual post-secondary education will give students and parents the freedom to choose.  If university A requires my child to pay $1000 for ‘international basket weaving’ and another $1000 for ‘competitive table sports’, and college B allows my child to become certified in supply chain logistics in two years without the required ‘general education’ courses, many of us will be choosing option B.  Or if there are several successful marine biology programs across the country offering virtual learning and a student is ok with foregoing ‘the college experience’, he or she can choose the most cost-effective program, live at home, and become a marine biologist for a fraction of today’s costs.  Virtual options will also allow students to choose a course of education with or without the political indoctrination that occurs at many universities and high schools today.

Middle and high school students will have access to similar choices as this trend continues.  If a family’s local school is a failing school, they can choose to opt-out and pursue a quality education with a virtual ‘school’ of their choice, located anywhere across the country (or potentially internationally as well).  On a less dramatic scale, if a student’s local school is good in many categories but lacks a strong science or math department, a parent can find suitable substitutes on-line to keep the student on-track in pursuit of a medical career.

This reality will force us as a community to re-think education and the most effective way to serve our students. 

How will sports / band / clubs / etc. work in this new reality?  Will communities suffer without the ‘home team’ and the unity that a local school provides?  What non-for-profit or government agencies will need to step-up to fill the gaps regarding mental health or child-safety issues?  How do we as educators raise the bar for ourselves and our education teams so that we are able to compete with the rest of the nation and eventually with the rest of the world?

Perhaps it will be some time before the full effects of virtual education are known, but we would be wise to heed the clarion call that has sounded loud and clear.

Students Need “Hope and Joy” Message

It goes without saying that all of us have been negatively impacted by the Covid virus and the media and political firestorm that has ignited as a result of the virus.

Some of us have lost jobs or have had businesses shut down, some of us are isolated and unable to connect with others, some of us have heightened anxiety based on what we have seen on the news, and others of us are simply exhausted and tired of the conflicting data and contradictions.  As adults, we understand that life can be difficult, and we are gifted with various coping mechanisms that allow us to endure and persevere.  We can disconnect ourselves from the news and social media, and we have lived long enough to realize that this too shall pass with time.

Our students, on the other hand, have a more limited perspective and fewer coping skills.  They have been inundated over the past five months with fear-mongering on social media, cancelations of school and sports, confusing and contradictory mandates from all sorts of adults, and anxiety within their own homes.  If we as adults feel as though we have lost some control of our lives through this hysteria, we need to take a moment and step into the shoes of our students to realize how dizzying daily life has become.

With our youngest child going into grade 8, we do not have ‘littles’ in our home anymore.  But my heart goes out to the kindergarten or first grade student who may struggle with the first day of school because it is a big step in a little person’s life.  If we add anxiety and fear related to the Covid virus to this process, some students will be overwhelmed and shut down.

As the new school year approaches, parents, school teachers / administrators and politicians need to be cognitive of the mental and emotional well-being of our students, while at the same time keeping them physically safe.

Most of the local school districts have announced their re-opening plans, and all of those plans include the widest possible array of safety measures.  These measures are important and necessary, but how parents, teachers / school officials, and politicians present these ‘changes’ to the students will make all the difference in whether or not our students make a healthy transition to the new reality.

This messaging certainly begins at home.  In spite of the anxiety or pressures we as parents may be dealing with during this frustrating time, we must shield our students to the extent that we are able.  As every living human on the planet is now intimately familiar with the Covid virus, less information may be better than more information moving forward.  As all students in Wisconsin will be required to wear a mask for the first month of school, try to make it a fun, new experience for your younger students.  Spend the extra money on a personalized mask, or wear masks around the house while playing together.  Let your student know that there is no danger to them if they do contract the virus, but they are wearing the mask to keep older adults like grandma and grandpa safe.  If you are upset that your student is required to wear a mask, do not share that with your child as at this point, Governor Evers’ mandate requires it.

We have noticed on many school district press releases that much discussion will be had with students reviewing the daily safety requirements and impressing upon them the importance of following the new guidelines.  As most students need to hear new information a number of times before it sinks in, this strategy definitely makes sense.  However, the tone with which this message is shared with the students can assist our students to thrive in spite of the chaos, or, on the other hand, can heighten anxiety and cause them to recoil further within themselves.  Apocalyptic death sermons are not an appropriate strategy to cajole students into following the new directives.  Smiling faces (behind the masks), positive reinforcement, and a ‘let’s work together to keep everyone safe’ attitude will keep our students safe physically and healthy emotionally and mentally.

At this point in the lifecycle of the virus drama, our students need joyful hearts and hope that life will get back to normal sooner than later.  We as adults need that as well.

Getting Our Kids Back in School

Over the past 30 plus years, elementary and high schools have evolved into community service organizations that go well beyond academics.  Most neighborhood schools are providing free or reduced-cost meals to students who come from financially disadvantaged families.

As mental health issues are on the rise among our young people, many of our schools have medical professionals on staff and have trained the teaching staff to look for signs of mental distress and then to provide assistance to the identified students and their families.  Most teachers and administrators are also mandatory reporters – always on the lookout for students showing signs of abuse or neglect – and again connecting the student to organizations in the community who work to rectify the situation and keep the student safe.  In addition, students with every type of physical or cognitive challenge are provided academic and social training within the traditional classroom, many of them receiving individualized instruction and support.

There is certainly an argument to be made that the teachers and administrators of our elementary schools and high schools are overwhelmed and spread too thin given the diversity of the services they are required to provide and the immense challenges that accompany many of those offerings.  Perhaps a discussion should be had regarding what other organizations should take on some of these responsibilities from the school systems, which in turn would allow the educators to focus more of their energies on academic and social development.

The reality of today, however, is that our communities and particularly our young people depend on the professionals in our schools to provide all of these services and protections.

The home lives of a significant number of students in our local, state, and national communities are less than ideal in some cases and dangerous and toxic in others.  Escaping that reality to the safety and security of the classroom is a welcome and critical reprieve for many students.  The personal interaction with adults who care about them and who have their best interest in mind is critical to providing a foundation upon which the student can build a stable and prosperous future and escape the cycle of poverty or chemical dependence or abuse.  Although school discipline and behavioral expectations have taken a turn since I was in school, there is still a clear set of right and wrong within the school setting as well as an understanding of the respect and reverence owed to others; this is an understanding that some of these students will not learn at home.

It must also be acknowledged that even the best version of on-line learning has been and will continue to be an abject failure without the full support and engagement of parents in the process.

Effective learning at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels requires in-person, face-to-face learning or a homeschooling parent that is fully engaged in and capable of navigating the digital learning experience.  Many parents simply do not have the time, ability, or in some cases, interest in providing this support.

Some powerful individuals throughout the country are advocating that we not return to school or that we do so within mandates that drain the efficacies from all of the school-provided services (including the academic training that the schools are primarily charged to provide).  Some districts are proposing half-time digital and half-time in-school learning; this split-the-baby solution will ensure very limited learning along with scheduling chaos, both for the school systems and the parents who in many cases need to work outside the home every day of the week.

The truth of the matter is that the Covid-19 virus will not be gone within the next 12 months.  If/when a vaccine is developed, polling has shown that upwards of 25+% of the United States population is not willing to be injected.  And what if a new strain of ‘serious flu’ should break out in the future, which it surely will.  Is reverting to these half-measures the wave of the future?  If it is, we must all seriously reconsider how education is administered in the country and how we can transform it to better serve our students moving forward.

Covid-19 is a serious threat to some individuals, and teachers, administrators, and staff that are high risk may need the option of a temporary furlough or layoff until their health situation improves.  Students who are immuno-compromised will need an alternative to the traditional school setting.  Thorough and regular disinfecting of surfaces should be implemented as the new normal in school buildings.  Parents do need to keep students home who are showing signs of sickness, and schools need to send students home if they arrive at school displaying those symptoms.  Masks could be part of the solution as well.

There is no perfect solution to the threat of contagious illnesses.  Teachers, staff, and administrators will be taking a bit of a health risk as they have been for decades.

Like health care, grocery store, service industry, and manufacturing workers, teachers will need to take their rightful place among the ‘Heroes’.

There is too much at stake if they don’t.

What Did our Kids Really Learn?

Since the schools began shutting down in March and shifting to an on-line format, there has been much discussion and debate regarding how to effectively teach students remotely.

School administrators and teachers had several large hurdles to overcome, including the abruptness of the change, technology challenges, and a huge disparity of support / learning environments within the student homes.  As a result of those factors, and in spite of the best efforts of teachers and parents alike, most would agree that student learning was significantly hampered for the last three months of the school year when compared to in-classroom learning.  Most educators would agree that in-person teaching and learning is the most effective as it utilizes the dynamics of personal relationships and human emotion to develop a student’s true potential.  Let us hope and pray that our leaders allow us to return to this style of education when school begins again in the fall.

If we acknowledge that our students did not gain as much ‘book learning’ this quarter as they should have, we also need to acknowledge that they learned many ‘real world’ lessons that will serve them well.

The first and most important lesson that our students learned is that life is about relationships and being present to one another.  No matter how far technology advances or how simple and easy a Zoom meeting becomes, nothing substitutes for a hand on the shoulder from a teacher, or a pat on the back from a coach, or a poke in the ribs from a friend, or a grandma’s hugs.  People are the most important.  We are at our best when our lives are spent with others and for others.

Students may have also learned that school isn’t so bad after all.  During our remote tutoring sessions here at Life Tools Tutoring, many of our students are sharing with us that they miss their traditional school day; they miss their friends, they miss the structure of the day, they miss the sense of purpose that the school day provides, and they miss the creative teaching techniques that in-person teaching allows.  Academics can become very one-dimensional when all of the learning is done on-line, and a bored student sometimes loses interest.

Life can be hard sometimes, and we are not always in control of what happens next.  For most adults, this message has been learned through many hardships, challenges, and disappointments.  We understand that we are not always in control and that sometimes bad things happen to good people and there is no explaining it.

With parents’ assistance, our young people can learn that even though challenges and difficulties in life will arise, they need to put on courage and continue to move forward.

They may not be able to control every aspect of their lives, but they can control how they react to those events and the attitude they bring to those around them.

And remind your student that they are blessed to live in the United States of America with all of the freedom and responsibilities that come with that privilege.  Let them know that most people throughout all of human history, including most of the current population of the planet had/have no freedom except those bestowed on them by tyrants or oppressive governments.  Our ability to move about as we wish and to make our own choices without the fear of imprisonment or death is very unique in the context of human history.  Sometimes freedom can be best taught when some of those freedoms are taken from us for a time.

Although most young people are high-energy and are usually looking for their next adventure, perhaps our kids now realize that we do not have to be chasing from one activity to another 24 / 7 in order to live a happy, fulfilled life.  Quiet time is ok.  Dinner with the family on a regular basis creates bonds that will last a lifetime.  The simple things in life are often the best, and they can be missed if we are moving too fast.

As the safer-at-home order winds down, talk to your kids about their experience.  Perhaps they learned much more than we realized.

The Bright Side of ‘Remote Learning’

As about a month has passed since the schools were shut down in our area, most parents and students have grudgingly made the transition to digital learning.  That transition has been challenging for some and downright miserable for others.  In some cases, families were not equipped with the proper technology (hardware, software, or internet), or technology know-how, to make on-line learning manageable.  In other cases, parents who are considered ‘essential workers’ were required to continue working outside of the home, leaving little time for them to assist their children with homework.  For other parents who were traditionally ‘hands-off’ regarding their student’s academic journey, they have been forced to engage in a world that is very unfamiliar to them.

As an aside, many teachers and school districts have done an outstanding job in walking parents and students through the technology fog and in providing ‘remote hot-spots’ for internet access, etc.  As our Life Tools Tutoring tutors have transitioned (temporarily at least) to on-line tutoring, we have been awed and gratified by the tireless and very personal approach that teachers and school districts have taken to this change.  Their collective response was quick, professional, and, as important, robust in regard to workload and content.  A shout-out to those teachers – keep up the great work!

Now that most of us have this remote learning thing more or less under control, and our students have fallen into a routine of sorts, is it possible to make this challenging time an opportunity for our students and our families?  The answer is a resounding ‘YES’ if you are open to taking that journey.

At Life Tools Tutoring, we believe that all parents should be involved in their student’s academic journey.  That does not mean that all students (specifically middle school and high school students) need to be micromanaged by their parents.  It does mean, however, that parents be engaged in the details and walk with their student on their academic path.  With the schooling taking place in your home, now is that opportunity.  What, exactly, is my middle-school student learning in math class?  If I see her struggling, can I find additional on-line resources to provide review or repetition of those concepts?  Do I feel that my student’s teacher has gone off the ‘new-math’ deep end?  Maybe take some time and investigate the new math strategies to learn how they work and what the value is to those strategies.  Or, after having investigated those strategies, you feel that a more traditional approach would be more useful, reach out to your teacher or you school administration and share your thoughts.  You do have a voice in your student’s curriculum.  At the very least, learning the new math strategies together could be a bonding opportunity for you and your student.

If your student is asked to read an article for English / Language Arts or Social Studies, read the article along with your student to learn what your student is being exposed to.  Prompt your student to investigate all sides of a particular societal issue or period in history and help him to develop a unique opinion based on facts and historical perspective, versus emotion or knee-jerk.  Bring those discussions to the dinner-table (we can actually eat dinner together as a family!) and see where they go.  Or ask your student what about history intrigues them; if war is the topic, there are countless documentaries available on-line that do an outstanding job of sharing the history while recounting the very personal tales of courage and sacrifice.  Turn off the video games and ‘America’s Got Talent’ and sit with your child.  Learning world history and/or our country’s history is time well-spent and provides our young people with a much-needed perspective.  Or, better yet, find a book on the topic and read it together.  Now is a perfect opportunity for your entire family to discover the joy and wonder of reading.

And your young-person’s curriculum does not need to be limited by what the school sends home.  Teach your kids how to cook or bake; let them experiment with different spices or recipes; ask them to double the batch and have them work out the math on the ‘½ teaspoons’ and ‘¾ cups’.  If fishing is your thing, have your student construct a home-made booklet of ‘Common Fish in Wisconsin’, complete with pictures and a short description.  Prep your fishing gear for the upcoming season with your children and take the time to teach them how to tie a hook or why some baits are more effective than others depending on the time of the year.  As God is no longer included in public school curriculum, maybe now is a chance to rediscover your faith, along with your children, or to pass along the beliefs and traditions that you were taught as a young person.  Utilize the website of your local place of worship or connect with like-minded friends and family as resources on that journey.

Spend some time outside every day if possible.  As planting season is upon us, involve your students in the planning process and let them have a say in what vegetables make the cut.  Plant the seeds in a seed tray in your house so you can watch the growing process day-by-day.  Your student will learn patience as well as an appreciation for the wonder of nature.  Take the family on a bike ride or encourage your middle-schooler to run a mile every day and then increase the distance as they feel comfortable.  Or, simply let your family know that everyone needs to spend at least one hour per day outside and let everyone use their own imagination and creativity to occupy that hour.

Education begins at home.  As parents, we all know this to be true, but often the busyness of life gets in the way of that responsibility.  Now is our opportunity to reclaim the role.  Now is our opportunity to be truly present to our children and intentional in how we are shaping them.  You may even look back at this difficult time with gratitude.

By: Beth Voet

Individualized Tutoring For Your Individual Student

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When parents are searching for a tutor for their student, scrolling through random profiles of anonymous tutors on a national marketing website can be a very frustrating and uncomfortable process. At Life Tools Tutoring, we take the guess-work out of it. By taking the time to learn about the specific needs of your student, we can then match those needs with the gifts and talents of the appropriate tutor from our experienced team of tutors.

As one satisfied parent shared:
“[Life Tools Tutoring] knows the strengths of their staff and work hard to place a student with the best fit for the student’s learning style.”

Beyond providing subject-matter expertise, our tutors will also integrate specific life skills training, including organization, study skills, focus, accountability and independence, into the tutoring sessions. We will match your student with the perfect tutor, and we will walk with you throughout the tutoring process.

Our goals are your goals…Strong Kids.  Proud Parents.

Parenting Tips: Tools to Assist Your Struggling Student

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Seeing your child struggle can be one of the most painful experiences a parent could go through.

Life Tools Tutoring has a few tips for parents and caretakers on how to help a student who may be struggling:
  • If your student is struggling in a particular subject or with school in general, they will more than likely take their frustrations out on you. Have a conversation with your student so that your student knows you are both on the same team. Together you are going to take control of (math/reading/etc.).
  • If your student struggles in math, you are not allowed to say, “I always hated math too,” or “I was never any good at math either”. Education begins at home, so your challenge is to dig in and learn what your student is learning so you can help. If that is not possible, find someone who can.
  • Success in school comes with confidence. Confidence comes with success. Work hard with your student to get the homework correct and study hard for the quizzes/tests. Good grades on the first few assignments and tests can quickly build your student’s confidence.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to require your own ‘homework’ for your student. Practicing math facts 15 minutes each night, 30 minutes of required reading, or extra worksheets from your student’s teacher will also help to build your student’s confidence.
  • Make study time a fun time to be together. If you are grumpy while you are studying with your student, or if homework time is rushed, your student will have a negative attitude toward school work.
  • Require your student to stay organized and hold them accountable. Nothing takes the wind out of a struggling student’s sails like a zero on a missing homework assignment or a test that they forgot was coming.
  • Try to be positive at all times. Even if your student is not making the progress you had hoped, keep your expectations high and speak positively about your student’s abilities and potential.

 

Parenting Tips: Transitioning into the new school year

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The new school year is underway but it’s not too late to assess the transition and to make any needed adjustments.

Life Tools Tutoring has a few tips for parents and caretakers on how to help promote a successful school year:
  • Make sure your student is getting enough sleep. Sleep is critical for success with school work and success socially.  Elementary school students should be getting 10 – 12 hours per night, middle school students 9 – 11 and high school students 8 – 10.
  • If your school does not require that your student fill out an assignment notebook (agenda) every night, buy one for your student and require that it be filled out. Making a written list is a great way to teach your student accountability and responsibility.
  • Set aside consistent study times if possible. For example, the house is quiet and your students are studying or reading from 6:30 to 7:30 pm Monday through Thursday.
  • Get involved in your students’ studies. That does NOT mean do their homework for them, but it does mean familiarizing yourself with their coursework, teachers, and extra-curriculars.
  • Make the school week fun. A special pancake breakfast, cookies at the end of the school day, or ‘movie night’ when the homework is done are a few ideas on how to add excitement to the regular routine!