Jana Coombs, of Coweta County Georgia, reported in her viral Facebook post that her heart was breaking for her 5-year-old boy who works so hard to adapt to a virtual learning format. She posted a picture of her son so frustrated that he put his head down on the table and started crying in his virtual Kindergarten. Coombs said she was just as frustrated with virtual learning as her son. She said that she took the picture because she wanted people to see the reality of what many parents and their children are facing.
What Mrs. Coombs describes is not an isolated instance. There are children and parents all over the country feeling the same frustrations. These frustrations are compounded by widespread social conflict, political posturing, and the global pandemic; multiple wounds that cannot heal with a simple Band-Aid. To bring healing solutions we all need to act together with mindfulness, unity and peace. The approach to these solutions begins with a change of clothes.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Colossians 3: 12-14 NLT) he tells us what kinds of garments we need to put on as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Think of these as visible ways we are identified as Christ’s apprentices much like fans who wear the jerseys of their favorite teams. Because we have been chosen and set apart as one body to do the work of Christ, Paul writes that we “must clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…Above all, clothe [our]selves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Being mindful to put on these garments leads us to take certain actions that will begin to heal these cultural wounds.
By clothing ourselves in these garments we as parents, teachers, and Indiana Wesleyan University Alumni, can help children cope with the struggles of online learning within the context of these uncertain times. The following are the types of actions we can take to make these unusual circumstances beneficial. Therefore, clothe yourself with:
Tenderhearted Mercy – This garment demonstrates a sympathetic understanding for the current situation of the child. Children may not be able to describe their feelings accurately but they are definitely affected by the isolation and unusual procedures of online learning and the restrictions of social distancing and mask wearing. Acknowledging this feeling will go a long way to help the child feel heard. Make a flexible study schedule with planned fun breaks to play a game, move around, read a good book, or have a nutritious snack.
Kindness – Increasingly our culture seems to lack this garment. This is especially seen on social media sites. Children need to feel they are safe and appreciated. Remove any barriers to learning, give them the attention they need, but give them the space to work independently. Create a learning place or “office” set aside exclusively for their home learning. Make a desk set together to keep all of their needed supplies. Give this space dignity but keep it from distractions and clutter.
Humility – This is not the time for hubris. No one has all the knowledge and expertise to function under these circumstances. If you are a parent, talk to the teacher and get help in supporting your child. If you are a teacher, don’t try to transplant the exact model you do in your face-to-face classroom to an online delivery system. They are not the same. There is significant research to be found on online learning. Take the time to discover what is successful and then tweak it to make the method your own.
Gentleness – The strong are the ones who can authentically demonstrate gentleness. Use your strength to express sensitivity and not allow your frustration to spill over on to your child or student. A genuine smile and an encouraging word can soothe a tense situation. Your tone of voice, even more than the words you say, bring calm. If tensions rise, take a break and do something different until calm returns.
Patience – Our natural response to stress is to react by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. Children may add to this by acting out or zoning out. You may think they are defying you or are becoming argumentative, but this is their way of survival. You may be surprised at their uncharacteristic behavior but be patient. Use your creativity and wisdom to find a smoother path to completion.
Above all Love – Experiencing your steady support, even though there are setbacks and arguments, will sustain your children or students through the challenges of today and beyond. With the garment of sacrificial love, your patience, and respect, they will learn even in these scary times. Because of your loving actions they will grow stronger and develop greater resilience and then, when future challenges come, they will have the grit to meet those challenges and succeed.
Written by Dr. John McCracken
Professor in the School of Teacher Education