Academic Expectations vs Emotional Well-Being: A Both/And Approach

Leading up to our first days of remote learning, my thoughts were preoccupied with how to create a flexible, yet clear, structure that would leave my kids feeling safe and supported. I saw friends sharing and feeds full of different schedules that worked for different families. I’m all about clear and reasonable expectations.

As more families all over the world began remote learning, parents everywhere have been settling into new normals, naming struggles, and noticing the different tolls taken on their children. My social media feeds saw schedules and plans replaced with calls for letting go of academic pressures and care-taking our kids’ mental health, reminders that what our kids will remember of this time is about how they felt and not the content of their remote learning. I’m all about that, too.

We are preparing to transition from our spring break back into the thick of remote learning, and I’m thinking there are a few mindsets we could choose from. We could view our academic expectations, plans, structures, and schedules as representing one side of a coin, and imagine the other side of the coin to be all of our playing outside, nature exploration, caretaking, and attention to well-being. It’s easy to fall into binary thinking and feel like our decisions are trade-offs between these two sides of the coin.

We have another mindset to choose from, though. We could also view our approach as in need of BOTH academic expectations AND attention to well-being. They don’t have to come at the expense of each other, and there is space (and need!) for both. 

We are maintaining some of what we started with:

  • reviewing assignments for the next day before dinner each night and posting on our whiteboard, little kids choose order of tasks for next day’s work
  • little kids are starting school at the regular 8am time, and have lots of outside time throughout the day (the trampoline has proven to be the best investment we’ve ever made!)
  • “school” is still happening together in common spaces on the first floor (with an added outdoors breakout space)
  • the whole family enjoys recess outside together after lunch

We are also working in some lessons learned:

  • big kids can start school a little later, but by 9am (they love the extra sleep and the littles get some undivided attention to kick-start their day)
  • little kids will start a task by estimating how long it will take to finish (tasks defined as things that should take 15-20 min, broken down if larger), and set a timer; when the timer finishes they will either keep going if they think they can finish in less than 5 minutes, or take a break if more time is needed
  • little kids stay off their learning platform as much as possible until the end of the day when they upload all completed assignments (to minimize overwhelming flow of information via their feeds)
  • little kids will be on a four-day school week (we are paying attention to how overwhelmed they got in their first week, we think they will benefit from an additional day of separating themselves from this new work of remote learning, and the grown-ups need more time for their own work)

Lastly, we choose to make plans we can commit to for a whole week. Changes don’t feel the same in Day 1 as they do on Day 2 or 3 (or 10 or 20, for that matter), so we will use weekends to reflect and adjust, but help keep expectations clear by not changing them in between.

We think this approach aligns with our values of addressing BOTH academic expectations AND emotional well-being. Our academic goals don’t stem from a fear of falling behind or the need to work for work’s sake, but rather a value of committing to being a family of lifelong learners. Our attention to well-being incorporates ideas from trauma-informed teaching practices. Even in times of distress, high expectations remain important and consistency can be comforting. The work falls on the parents and educators to be flexible and supportive of how those high expectations can be accomplished. Our current situation with remote learning is part of the experience of this school year, but doesn’t have to define it…we choose to create that story ourselves.

Building community in new ways

I’m glad you’re here. Please use the comment section below to share how you’re balancing academic expectations and attention to well-being!  Subscribe to the blog or follow us on Facebook so you never miss a post!

Sarah is a parent and/or educator, depending on what moment of the day you catch her 😉

Read more in the About section and the first blog post.

One thought on “Academic Expectations vs Emotional Well-Being: A Both/And Approach

  1. Hi Sarah, I love this. I feel like I am doing really well balancing the kids’ needs for academics and structure with their needs for play and outside time, but am totally failing to do that for myself. I would love to know how you are working the four day school week for the littles. That sounds like a great idea to me, but I am not at all sure how it would give me more time to work. I feel like I am much more needed to supervise things when they are “off.” I would love to know how you all are pulling that off, because I could DEFINITELY use more time to accomplish my tasks. take care, Alice


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