At a virtual forum organized by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, local principals said courtesy and concern are paramount in collaborations with parents during remote education, with plans evolving in response to parents' needs and constraints.
Greg Mason of the Murray Language Academy, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., said scheduling and maintaining a core curriculum have been difficult since the shift to remote learning.
"The real big challenge is trying to think about what is happening in the home and how we support parents and the students as they function," he said. "A lot of research talks about, as you create schedules, as you create activities, keep it fine, keep it real, keep it structured. That is so important, because in schools, students have routines, and they are used to routines, and that is so important. Just trying to get parents to think about what we do in school; if they can transition those things to the home life to keep those structures in place."
Lauren Beitler, who founded and teaches at the Chicago Free School, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd., said that, although parents are their children's first teachers, their rapid involvement in remote learning is nevertheless a hard adjustment.
"Our parents are finding themselves in a position of teaching everything from letters and numbers all the way up through algebra," she said. "One of our challenges has been empowering those parents to be a help for those students and to feel comfortable working with them.
To foster a partnership with parents, Beitler said the Free School is distributing resources, guidance and ample flexibility, cognizant that parents are continuing workdays while helping their children learn from home. "Especially with our younger kids, they do need some help getting on their devices and connecting with us on Zoom or doing some of the lessons and activities we're sharing with them," she said.
Everyone is eager to get back to normal, but Beitler said the school is in no position right now to make definitive plans for the future.
"We have to make many plans," she said, including a plan for continued distance learning, where teachers will have to continue growing their practices in response to students' needs. In the present, that means flexibility. Beitler teaches art and, with the Free School's emphasis on project-based learning, is finding it difficult to plan projects when students may not have all necessary supplies at home.
"We want school to be a place where kids are excited to wake up in the morning and learn, and we're trying to make that continue to be the case, even though we're not together," Beitler said.
There are also plans for resumed in-school instruction with staggered schedules and social distancing in classrooms.
Principal Nicole Spicer of the Bronzeville Classical School, 8 W. Root St., which teaches kindergartners through third-graders, said the two-year-old school is continually communicating with parents, but not solely on academic issues.
"We've definitely told families that we are prioritizing the physical and mental health of our learners," she said. "While we understand that everyone is concerned about grades and academics, we've really been consistently sending the message that we need families to ensure that they are physically well and mentally well."
Teachers are promoting meditation among students and allowing them to take a break mid-lesson if they need it — Spicer called it a lifelong stress-management tool — and self-care tips are included in weekly classroom newsletters.
Recording lessons is also important for families that have interruptions to the school's live teaching, Spicer said: "For us, it is an equity issue. We don't want some students to be experiencing live lessons and instructions, so we really tried to develop a robust and responsive plan that will allow students to engage when and how they can."
Spicer said the Classical School administration additionally knows that teachers are working from home like so many other workers today, "balancing their family needs as teachers as well as what their learners need academically."