Removing our Masks: Engaging 2e Students During Pandemic Learning

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During the best of times it can be challenging to engage gifted and 2e learners, particularly if they are not in an environment that lends itself to their learning styles and needs. Often times gifted and 2e learners make quicker connections than their peers and if they are waiting for others to catch up, boredom affects their ability to focus or behave according to expectations. Learning gaps and learning differences can cause frustration, self-doubt and resistance to support. If those are the consequences during “the best of times” how are we to engage learners during distance learning or in person while wearing masks? The key is to ‘remove our masks’ make ourselves vulnerable by infusing our every day with empathy and kindness and to prioritize connections and community before addressing academics.

Many parent clients share with me their concern about “lost academics” due to distance learning. Their child was unable to focus or engage in online learning and they fear a ‘Pandemic Push Back.” Other parents share that they pivoted from summer camp to online enrichment in their child’s areas of interest and that their child took to this strength-based learning like gulping fresh air. Now they worry that their child will be bored this fall in virtual school and will fail to engage. Even if their student is slated for hybrid or in-person learning, the uneven accomplishments, experiences and challenges make our educators’ jobs many times more complicated. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. How do we make learning – online or in-person – work?

How are educators going to differentiate for bigger gaps? How will educators determine gaps in the first place? How will students engage? The answer for me is to back up, to start from a different vantage point. Instead of wondering how to move forward, I want parents and educators to focus on moving back and forming connections and community for learners. The priority right now should be figuring out how to make our learners of all ages, feel safe. We simply cannot forge ahead as though business is as usual. We are collectively as a human race, suffering from trauma in the face of what we ARE STILL going through. Pandemic. Protests. Politics. We cannot ignore P3. Yes, we want our students to engage. Yes, we want them to move forward in the curriculum, learn, and love learning. In order to achieve these goals, the first step is to foster connections and community – we are all, children and adults alike, starving for it.

Parents, if your child is learning online, consider setting up a “learning pod” where one or two other students join your child, safely and socially distant, to “go to school together.” Having someone there in person to laugh with, ask questions and just go through the day, will make a big difference.

Teachers, consider reaching out to each student one on one – in person or online – and ask questions about the student’s likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, family, friends, passions, etc. Create a spreadsheet so you can look at who in your class has overlapping interests. Organize groupings for breakout rooms and projects that incorporate these interests so you facilitate connections and community building.

Parents, remember, you are not the teacher. Resist the temptation to micromanage your child’s learning. Stay in touch with teachers, ask for help or let them know when and where your child is struggling. But please, keep your role as parent sacrosanct. This is hard. You may be used to the role as frontal lobe for your child. But if learning was in person, you wouldn’t be able to intervene during the day. Give space. Ask questions. Let your child be in command. This is an excellent time for individuation and empowerment for your child. The evening before school ask your child, “What’s the plan for tomorrow?” “How do you intend to learn?” “Where will you learn?” “Do you need anything from me to help you stay organized and on top of things?” Always end with a ‘door is always open’ phrase like, “If you need anything, let me know. Otherwise, I know you’ve got this learning thing under control.”

Teachers, if your student isn’t engaging, spend time one on one finding out why. Ask what they need to relate to the curriculum. Ask them what they would change and what would make them curious about what you are teaching. Above all, give loads of leeway on how they can show what they know. Give opportunities for them to share what they’ve done this summer or any new skills they’ve learned. Applaud them when they get up and move around or ask to take a break or grab a snack. View these tactics as trying to remain engaged. If you are learning in person, role model how to use words to describe facial expressions. This is an excellent lesson in perspective-taking and anticipating needs. Allow for bumps in transitions. You may need to allow your students to move around more, get snacks or take breaks. It’s been a long hard road between when school abruptly closed and now.

Parents and teachers – respect one another. Give each other the benefit of the doubt and remain honest with one another so you can support your 2e learner together. Engagement in learning begins with engagement via connection and community.

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Julie Skolnick

Julie Skolnick

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-esteem in their students and clients.

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