The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Parents are powerful role models for teenagers. What you do and say guides your child’s behaviour, attitudes and beliefs, now and in the long term.
The Opportunity of a Lifetime
RepresentationalWim Klerkx (https://www.munkgc.com)

A mentor of mine told me in the beginning of 2020 that this season would be a defining one in many people’s lives. A year into what we can only call the COVID season, I could not agree with him more. For anything to be truly transformational, one has to get to its core to understand what it is really about, and sometimes to get to the core, the usual perspectives, practices, habits and ways of approaching and doing things need to be peeled away to reveal what is really important and valuable. The COVID season has been this great gift to us to really engage with considering what our realistic goals are; why we do what we do, and that begs whether how we do it is really effective. This question has never been more relevant to the domain of education, which I would prefer to refer to as the learning sector, as it is now.

As the expression new normal flies around and people continue to understand what it looks like, I have to admit that there are few magical solutions, and in the chafing against the bit to return to activities and habits that we were used to, the really important questions and their considerations may quickly be overlooked, simply because their considerations may be uncomfortable in their eventual conclusions or implications. However, they are important to consider and at least attempt to give them some place, so that we may not lose this once in a lifetime opportunity to test so deeply what we are doing because at no other time in our nation’s history has the possibility of change and improvement been so great.

Connecting Symptoms and their Implications to Policy

For this reason, to me it is a significant thing that the National Education Policy 2020 would be released during such a time as this. There have been only three National Education Policies that were released – in 1968, 1986 (with an amendment in 1992) and 2020, and as national policies hold the vision for a nation’s future, so in the learning sector these documents are terribly important as they determine where learning is going to go and how. Therefore, they need to be consistently implemented and evaluated so that they can be changed and improved on, and the helplessness in the crisis created by the COVID pandemic has forced the burning question of exactly how and to what end we are preparing and equipping our children for life through our schools and colleges, and at home. The release of the National Education Policy 2020 is key for us to form a prognosis on how realistic, empowering to all sections of people and relevant the projected vision for education is and how parents must see in what way their parenting is being challenged and what adjustments they need to make in the upbringing of their children to raise the people who can thrive educationally, far beyond now forcing our children to learn coding along with the rote A for apple, B for bat…

Self-generated learning

One of my greatest concerns has been the enormous levels of stress experienced by teachers, students, and parents when education was forced in its entirety online. Part of this stress was created because online study and education was so unfamiliar to so many teachers, students and parents, not just due to the lack of familiarity with using technology and online learning, but the lack of independent thinking and habits that allow self-generated learning that goes beyond the exam guides. To me this is what I would like to call an iceberg of indicated change and let me unpack what I mean by this. An iceberg has a small part that shows itself above water and a part that is submerged and hidden, and this is quite a parable. What shows on the surface is often the immediate situation with its attendant feelings that we experience, but it has its roots or implications hidden below as attitudes or habits. An iceberg of change displays the immediate symptoms of any issue, but also shows the harder to see perspectives, attitudes and habits that need to change to resolve the issues. In order to find helpful ways through the complex stresses everyone is experiencing through online schooling, I believe one needs to have a redemptive and a problem-solving mindset so that we can understand the underlying reasons for the difficulties we are facing and find creative ways to at least try to bring some health into them, even if no immediate solutions are possible. This can ensure that our lives remain fruitful both in and out of season.

Stories of the Iceberg of Change at Work

In this article I want to focus on the weakness or lack of self-generated learning habits that make online learning so difficult for so many, and I want to share some stories, including my own as a parent-teacher, related to this that may encourage us to consider what adjustments we need to make in our parenting that will allow our children to gain some of these habits so relevant to where education is projected to head in the next ten years. The names of all people in the stories have been changed.

Kumar remembers from his Grade 1 days the excitement and joy of reading night, when his dad would read a chapter of Anna Sewel’s Black Beauty, a family ritual which along with other classics and books like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and weekly board-game nights, inculcated a love for books and stories, and a sense of following rules. These weekly family rituals were often followed by open chats in which stories and characters were talked about, with Kumar and his siblings being free to express what they thought and felt. It should come as no surprise to know that Kumar followed these rituals of reading and playing games together with his own children later, passing on a love for books, ease with reading and writing English and the ability to form and articulate informed opinions - abilities so valuable especially now, when learner independence is needed. I would also add, knowing Kumar personally, along with inculcating these abilities, he passed on the great gift of being a present dad to his children in spite of often being overworked.

Jagdish and his wife Henna shared several stories of their son Sam, who has been exploring interests different to those of other boys in their neighbourhood. Sam has been interested in baking, and Jagdish and Henna remember his early attempts at making something for them with some humour, but recalling how they applauded his efforts regardless how odd his creations tasted, little realising how this would lead them to support him in his later interest in stitching and knitting. It warmed my heart to hear the pride in Jagdish’s voice when he recounted how Sam could stitch and knit useful items later as his ability grew, regardless of how out of the ‘boy’ stereotype the whole enterprise was. That supportive role that they as parents played later led to Sam finding and wanting to bring home a stray puppy that he wanted to care for. I was fascinated to hear how Jagdish and Henna overcame their own dislike and reluctance to keep a pet and allowed Sam to keep the puppy on condition that he would have to look after it. The stories of how Sam is overcoming his own natural inclination to be lazy (that we all have!) knowing that if he does not look after the little dog, he cannot keep it, and how this causes him to deal with unpleasant jobs like cleaning up after the puppy has messed and giving it potty training, is the perfect example of how the iceberg of change is working to grow and develop a sense of responsibility within Sam.

When my daughter was in middle school, I suddenly had a wake up call that as a father, I was spending more hours teaching others than being involved deeply in my child’s life. This led to a journey starting with many heart to heart conversations to understand what was keeping her from doing well in simple assessments and allowing assignments to fall through that she was quite capable of doing very well. These conversations were difficult because I had to work hard towards shutting up so that I could really listen to her heart, but they were enormously helpful in building trust and a real dialogue between us.

This was followed by us constructing a schedule that would enable her to put her energy into prioritised activities both in school and at home and making these accountable to me every day without asking her, and then the difficult and sometimes painful process of consistently implementing this towards an articulated goal began. The first few months were very difficult, and there were tears but eventually as we stayed with working on new habits and thinking, her language changed from ‘Do I have to do this?’ to ‘I have to finish this by _’, and over the course of the year, her grades dramatically changed. However, as we both walked, and sometimes stumbled through this, trying to stay within boundaries of reasonableness, I didn’t realise how great the transformation would be of her as a person, both in her approach to doing things and her way of looking at processes, simply through the potent combination of new habits with new perspectives, and how reliable she would be with given responsibilities and tasks. Love fueled most of my daughter’s efforts and marked a turning point in our relationship and the unfolding of a new journey of parenting and friendship. As a parent, it involved my changing my outlook towards my child to enable me to enter her world and earn her trust to get her to partner with me towards change.

Intentional Involvement Within Families

Today I cannot underscore how terribly important and life-giving it is for parents to lay the foundations of good habits in their children through personal example and loving, reasoning dialogue in which there is freedom for children to express themselves honestly. Steven B. Sheldon, who is an Associate Professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and Research Scientist with the Center for School, Family and Community Partnerships, states clearly in his article on parental involvement in education:

Research on the effects of parental involvement has shown a consistent, positive relationship between parents’ engagement in their children’s education and student outcomes. Studies have also shown that parental involvement is associated with student outcomes such as lower dropout and truancy rates. Whether parental involvement can improve student outcomes is no longer in question.

However, the impact of parents on their children’s learning and growth is best summed up in an article on parents as role models for teenagers in The Australian Parenting Website www.raisingchildren.net.au which is supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services:

Parents are powerful role models for teenagers. What you do and say guides your child’s behaviour, attitudes and beliefs, now and in the long term.

You can be a role model by including your child in family discussions, living a healthy lifestyle, being positive, taking responsibility for your actions and more.

You have an important influence on your child’s values and long-term choices. The stronger your relationship with your child, the more influence you’ll have.

As teachers, school heads and parents, it is not uncommon for us to be grousing about the lack of motivation in students, however; I am convinced that the habits that motivated people have can only be gained when parents model, encourage and help their children pursue their passions and interests along with their studies, using this vehicle to help lay habits of task completion, following through on responsibilities, being accountable, doing things well, listening to and following instructions, expressing themselves creatively, etc., and it is on this foundation that teachers build further.

Picking Up the Opportunity

I hope that reading this will motivate us to be much more deeply involved with our children, humble enough to hear what they have to say and feel, and that we would all as teachers and parents be able to use this difficult season to really ask what our learners and children mean to us, and what we will do to enable them to really be who they are. It is a good time to peel away the layers and look deeper at what the bottom of the icebergs of our situations with our students and children is showing us.

The COVID season has thrown many of our plans up in the air, but it is bringing us face to face with what really matters. The National Education Policy has many aspects that should give freedom to learners to grow in their own rights with greater freedom of choice. To ensure that we can achieve a vision like this, we need to consider what the stresses and limitations of learning online with its resulting impact on parenting is revealing to us. If we want to see more of our children have the maturity to handle the freedom of learning and choice that the NEP desires to see, it demands a rethinking of the level of our involvement as parents in our children’s lives in such a time as this that goes much beyond pushing our children to get certain grades or do certain activities. Each family needs to find its own revelation to help parents be the catalysts they are for their children in this time, and children to work in partnership with their parents to find a meaningful way through into the future constantly debunking the notion of one-size fits all. May there be great grace in all our regions and families to enable us to make and walk in these changes.

Indi Sundaram is an educational trainer and coach with over 27 years of teaching experience, living a complex, interesting life with his wife Lydia who is a Kindergarten teacher and daughter Hannah who is a home-schooling teen. He is deeply interested in human growth and development in the learning sector, and is currently the main trainer for North East Christian University’s TESOL programmes in Dimapur, Nagaland.

The author can be contacted at dayrise@gmail.com

(The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of TNT-The Northeast Today)

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