Head of School: The Recipe for Ice

Matt Green
You’ve heard me share in other spaces that about two weeks ago, my family and I moved to a new residence.  With two kids in college, one of whom would be graduating in a few months and the other of whom had already secured an apartment in her college town, we thought it was the right time for some strategic downsizing and gladly reduced our square footage by more than half.  Alas, the global health crisis had other plans for us, as I expect it has for you.  

So instead of a house for three and two occasional visitors, we are currently a family of five sitting around a kitchen table that seats four; our twenty-two-year-old is quite literally “living in his parents’ basement”; and three students, one head of school, and a piano accompanist are fighting over internet bandwidth and office space to stay current with their studies and professional responsibilities. 

So perhaps it won’t surprise you to know that I got a little testy last night when I opened the freezer door and was confronted by an empty ice tray that had been returned to the freezer without having been refilled!  I shared this at our third virtual parent Bring-Your-Own-Coffee (BYOC) later that evening and someone typed into the chatbox: “When this happens in our house, we ask, “Who forgot the recipe for ice?”

In sharing this with you, I am not suggesting that I merit any kind of sympathy.  We are all healthy, happy, and secure. No, I share it as just one scenario in what is undoubtedly an incredibly wide range of circumstances in which Falmouth Academy teachers, students, and families are living these days.  

You remember that last week I sent parents and students a survey about their remote learning experience to date. Over the weekend, we received more than 110 completed surveys from students and almost 90 from parents.I shared the results with my coffee attendees last night.  Among the data collected from parents:

  • 87% rated their child’s level of engagement at 4 (39%) or 5 (48%).
  • 69% thought “the amount of time my child is spending in class is ‘about right.’” (28% reported it was “too little.”)
  • 61% thought that “the amount of time my child spends on schoolwork outside of class meetings was ‘about right.’” (The rest were split between “too little” and “too much.”)

Among the data we learned from students: 
  • 95% of students rated their own level of engagement at 3 (25%), 4 (53%), 0r 5 (17%).
  • 87% thought “the amount of time I am spending in class is ‘about right.’”
  • 55% estimated they were doing between 30-60 minutes of homework between class meetings. (28% estimated they were doing more.)  

I share this here to a) suggest that though we have kinks to work out, the current model is working for most parents and students, and b) to underscore that how each family is experiencing the current crisis and the changes it has wrought, is unique to their circumstances.  A good-sized minority of you are functioning without significant disruption and are hungry for more, and at the same time, a substantial majority of you are, for as many reasons as there are families, reporting that we have correctly calibrated the program to the situation.  

I would count myself, despite the minor and amusing challenges I outlined, as among the lucky ones.  My wife and I are not in health care (or finance!) and we are able to work remotely. (I can even go into the empty school from time to time.) We own the technology we need and it is functioning without incident. None of has been diagnosed Covid-19, nor do we have any friends or family members who have. And my 15-year old is not charged with taking care of younger siblings.  In short, things are pretty good in the Green household.

But we know this is not the case for all members of our community.  Perhaps that is why, on the very same survey, we get comments from parents as disparate as: 
  • “A lot of downtime between classes and having study hall seems like a waste of time considering it could be class time,” and
  • “Full period classes plus office hours with the teacher. This works in some ways even better than school for our student.”

Or from students:
  • Having all 3 classes in a row without "office hours" would be extremely helpful, so such immense quantities of the day would not be wasted,” and
  • “I love office hours! It gives me a chance to work on homework and take a break from classes. Plus, this allows me to do less homework during the night so that I can spend more time with my family, which I usually never get to do!”
  • One thing that’s worked well is that we have time to meet with our teachers immediately after class which is convenient if you didn’t understand the lesson.

And, more broadly and almost comically different:
  • “Honestly it’s really stressful and it doesn’t seem to be working that well,” and,
  • “It’s surprisingly good. I honestly can't think of anything.”

Again, there are as many circumstances and experiences as people out there, and as we head into what we are being told will be the most difficult two weeks to date, that’s a good reminder for us all.  
Some of you may be familiar with the work of Denise Pope, of Stanford University’s “Challenge Success.”   She recently posted “A Message to Our Challenge Success Family During Covid-19.” wherein she coaches us parents to consider the big picture and advocates not for school at home that replicates school at school but for building routines that reinforce good habits: reading for pleasure, personal interest projects, social time, family time, chores, service, exercise and meditation, good sleep and sensible screen time.  “If you set up a routine that includes the suggestions above,” Pope writes, “ your child will be learning important academic and social and emotional skills that will prepare them for returning to the classroom and help them thrive in school and out.”

As for me, when the investigation had finally been completed, it turned out that that empty tray had been placed back in the freezer by yours truly, so it appears that the most pressing “academic and social and emotional” skill that I have to learn…

... is the recipe for ice.