Distance Learning Buy-In: The Charter

How to get your kids to buy-in the concept of school at home.

One of the number one things parents have been struggling with at home is getting their kids to buy-in to distance learning.  

So what do I mean by buy-in? 

Merriam Webster defines buy-in as: Acceptance of and willingness to actively support and participate in something. So buy-in to distance learning means you have a ready, willing and supportive participant. Does this sound like your kiddo?

Maybe not. Yet :)

Last spring, parent after parent told me that they could not get their child to willingly and actively participate in the day-to-day grind of at-home learning. They missed their friends, they were disenchanted with the large group zoom calls, and they would create any excuse to not do their work. Despite parents’ best efforts, this often led to a power struggle that led to their child completely stalling out, unwilling or unable to do anything but stare at their work or out the window for long stretches at a time. 

To be fair, we asked a lot of kids when we transitioned to learning at home. Their sanctuary was invaded by their work. Their place of refuge turned into their learning zone. The difference in place and expectation was so vast, it is no wonder students struggled to adapt.

We have an advantage right now because we know distance learning is coming this fall, which means we have time to create new boundaries and expectations with our kids. After preparing your child’s work environment (see my previous post), creating the new mental environment or boundary of school at home comes next.  

This is how I do this at school. 

Every year on the first day of school we have a community meeting. The rules of the meeting are that everyone gets a chance to share their ideas, and that we listen well to each other.

In this meeting, I ask kids: how do you want to feel at school?

The answers are usually along the lines of: happy, safe, excited, ready, not bored, heard, etc. We generate as many ideas as possible, and I have a 'scribe' keep track of it all on the white board. 

After we fill the board, I ask the next question: What actions can we take to feel this way every day?

The amazing thing about this question is that the kids know EXACTLY what actions to take to feel this way. Answers I’ve received have been along the lines of: get a good night’s sleep, eat breakfast, keep up with my homework, use my time in class to get my work done quickly, be a good friend, be a good listener, be kind, be friendly, smile!

Never be fooled friends, the kids know how to do things. They KNOW how they want to feel, and they UNDERSTAND what actions create those feelings. 

So how does this translate to home?

I’m sure at this point I am only connecting the dots and you’re already envisioning your conversation with your kiddo… But to get you started, I would begin by saying you would like to have a school meeting with your kid, and schedule a time. This might be met with skepticism, but just explain that school meetings are a special time you are going to set aside throughout the year to really focus on school and how it's going to work at home. When you get to the actual meeting, which I highly recommend you hold in your prepared environment (even if it’s not completely set up yet), start the conversation about school. 

Choose which one of you wants to be the ‘scribe,' and ask your child the same questions I ask my students: 

How do you want to feel learning at home this year?

What actions can we take to feel this way every day?

Generate your ideas and make a simple list together.

Now the final step is to make it official. Once the list is created, you can write the actual charter. This charter, or agreement, condenses the list of how we want to feel, and the actions we are going to take to feel this way, into a paragraph or so. This paragraph can be super fun to write, and you may want to play with using legal or even old-fashioned language (“Hear Ye, Hear Ye! The below signed participants…“etc.).  Word the charter to reflect all of the values and actions you think will set everyone up for success. After the charter is drafted, you can print it and all parties can sign it. Sometimes I have the kids decorate it, and then we post it on the wall in a central spot for reference (or for when things go off the rails… more about this later).

This simple meeting and charter sets up the agreement between the teacher and the student, which is you and your child now. It is a starting point, and usually comes with a rush of energy and excitement for what is to come. It also continues to serve as a reference point when challenges arise. 

The Takeaway

Giving kids a voice and setting intentions together is an incredible way to create buy-in. It doesn’t matter what age your child is, you can scale this conversation to their level and create a simple charter about learning together at home. This is a conversation that will set the tone for learning at home, and is a valuable touch point to return to throughout the year.  

Make fair agreements and stick to them.” -- Confucius

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