Sir Ken was delighted to speak with school Superintendent Dr Michael Hynes recently. Dr Hynes works in a very high performing school district in Long Island, USA and is also a father of five. Whilst every school and school district differs between US states and further afield, Dr Hynes has offered some incredibly helpful and universal advice to parents during this time.

Reassuringly, Dr Hynes said that parents everywhere are struggling to keep up; everyone is exhausted and we have all had our routines disrupted. The confusion around school work doesn’t help, but the key is to try and be really clear on what your school’s requirements and expectations are. Understandably, a school providing remote instruction can cause a lot of concern amongst families, but teachers are under a lot of pressure on their end to continue with the curriculum.

Additionally, many teachers were not technologically prepared to move their instruction online, and as a result many schools are supporting teachers with professional development. For privacy reasons, some teachers are not using video conferencing. Many students do not have access to the required technology, which has introduced a multitude of issues surrounding learning from home, particularly around equity and ensuring families feel sufficiently equipped to engage in remote learning, beyond working out how to send and receive assignments.

Dr Hynes also stressed that with information changing so quickly, by the time school boards have answers to questions and are able to pass information along to families, it has almost become old news. He is optimistic though, and certain that this will improve with each week that we are learning from home, and that teachers and parents are all doing a fantastic job as we navigate this way of educating.

A big question Dr Hynes has faced is how much communication teachers and students should have with each other. He has tried to take a balanced approach, with teachers checking-in with students a few times a week to review work and cover new material if teachers and students are able. He chose this position as it is a practical and feasible strategy, and can be maintained – teachers cannot sit with students for hours every day, like they can in person, especially as many have their own families. Whilst Dr Hynes has received mixed reviews for this approach, he feels strongly that it is just not possible for students to be formally learning for six hours a day and that there is no need to replicate school at home. This might be particularly comforting for some parents to hear.

"They key is to encourage wellness"

The key, Dr Hynes says, is to encourage wellness, and he believes his checking-in system is really beneficial from a wellbeing and humanistic perspective. He suggests that a small portion of a remote learning plan should be dedicated to instruction and what schools typically do. This frees students up to take advantage of having more time whilst at home, and enables them to try new and different things. Whilst technologies can be incredibly useful for this, Dr Hynes also recommends project and problem-based learning to explore new and playful ways of learning, and to reduce screen time. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to spend longer than 40 minutes diving deep into something they want to find out more about.

A big question Dr Hynes has received surrounds grading, particularly for students planning on attending college or university after the summer. At the time Sir Ken and Dr Hynes spoke, Dr Hynes said school guidance departments were discussing this issue with colleges, and schools were thinking about the best ways to grade students in a way that reflects learning during this time. Dr Hynes also stressed the importance of colleges being more flexible through looking at high school transcripts and activities students have done outside of the classroom, for example, ways in which they may have engaged with their communities and any hobbies or extra-curricular activities. More information is released about this regularly, so keep checking in with your relevant school if this is something which is applicable to you.

In his household, Dr Hynes has had ups and downs, like every family. Both Dr Hynes and his wife work in education and are often on the phone during the day, so they are finding a balance with their work and taking it in turns to support and help their own children. Their children spend a few hours each day on their schoolwork, have time for self-directed play and exploration and have lots of opportunities for creative activities, like art and music. Dr Hynes and his wife are also really trying to take some time each day for themselves, whether that’s a walk or meditation. He says this is integral for parents, to focus on what can be controlled, and to ensure parents are taking care of themselves.

As lockdowns start to ease around the world and schools begin to reopen for some children, Dr Hynes is hopeful that this experience will ignite a systemic change within education. Given high levels of anxiety and depression amongst other mental health difficulties in young people at the moment, he hopes the data to come out of this period will result in an increased focus on wellness. He hopes for more problem and project-based learning in schools, as well as a fuller embrace of the arts and creative subjects, which would do wonders for young people’s wellbeing and the education system.

To watch the full interview between Sir Ken and Dr Hynes, please click here, and to find out more about our project and for some helpful resources, please explore the rest of our Learning from Home Hub, where you can also contribute to the conversation here

Sir Ken Robinson, education and creativity expert, has been speaking with families and education and parenting experts as part of his global call out for stories, questions, concerns and insights around learning from home while schools are closed. This project brings us all together to share what has been working well when supporting and overseeing our children’s learning, and provides a platform for sharing some helpful resources and tips which might make things a little easier. To watch previous episodes, please click here