Negotiating your way through homeschooling and virtual learning

As the school year approaches and COVID-19 drags on, many of us find ourselves faced with two potentially challenging options for educating our children: homeschooling or supervising their virtual learning (with the latter potentially resembling the former).

Since neither permits a focal parent to do much else, both are likely to prove difficult. Since renegotiating the parent’s relationships with the other involved parties can considerably ease the burden, however, it’s worth thinking of the situation as a bundle of negotiations and considering how some basic negotiation principles can make it marginally more negotiable.

In particular, when planning for your children’s fall education, you may wish to negotiate with:

  • Your supervisor: Spending hours imparting lessons or overseeing your children’s virtual learning will clearly impact your ability to work normal business hours. Yet, the work still needs doing. A frank conversation with your supervisor about how to accomplish the underlying objectives on a distinctly different timetable, hopefully guided by the two parties’ underlying interests rather than their intractable positions, should help to identify a solution.
  • Your spouse or partner: The fact that you’re in charge of educational oversight does not imply that your spouse or partner is uninvolved. Those chores you won’t have time to do? Hopefully they can chip in. Those nighttime work hours you’ll have to pull? Perhaps they’ll take over bedtime procedures for the freshly educated kiddos. The tradeoffs you’re making to deliver a quality education should not just be personal tradeoffs—they should be tradeoffs with the supportive people around you.
  • Your kiddos: The role of parent does not perfectly correspond to the role of educational overseer. At any particular moment, you as parent might allow your kiddos considerable discretion as to their time management, their intra-house location, and their appetite for intellectual enlargement. As educational overseer, however, you may well need to lay down some laws on topics like these. Here, a focus on making the first offer (and potentially the final offer) as to the rules for learning at home may usefully anchor everyone’s expectations.
  • Your neighbors: Educational oversight does not have to be a solitary endeavor. Many neighbors have already decided to band together and provide home-based learning collectively. Perhaps the kids will co-locate under a rotating cast of neighbors to learn virtually and in parallel, thereby furnishing some social connection. Or maybe the parents will even rotate through the homeschooling duties themselves on a particular schedule. Regardless, the bartering and swapping of educational responsibilities could easily enlarge everyone’s pie.
  • The teacher: If you’re overseeing virtual learning, you’ll probably have many opportunities to negotiate topics like due dates, response formats, and the appropriate amount of guidance with the teacher. Rather than suffering through an insufferable response template, for example, it can’t hurt to ask about an alternative format. Conversely, if you’ve decided to homeschool, the teacher is precisely yourself. Since homeschooling will probably challenge an already fragile work-life balance, you might consider treating your work-life balance as a negotiation with yourself.

If our experience in the spring taught us anything, it’s that home-based learning will be hard to negotiate in the best of circumstances. Still, by recognizing the many opportunities to renegotiate our relationships with the other involved parties, we can probably learn to make home-based learning at least a bit more negotiable.

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