The Stenhouse Blog

Teacher's Corner: A conversation with Whitney La Rocca

Posted by admin on Mar 30, 2020 1:57:56 PM

In this episode of Teacher’s Corner we talk to educator, author, and parent, Whitney La Rocca about how she is adjusting to remote learning, social distancing, and homeschooling—all while trying to stay positive and connected, but also giving herself permission to lament her pre-COVID routine. Here she is talking to Faye LaCasse, Vice President of Marketing at Stenhouse.

 

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

Faye:

So let's talk about just how you're adjusting. How's your family adjusting to the fact that you're one of those people that's always out and about, talking with teachers, working with teachers, and now you're not. You're at home.

Whitney:

Right.

Faye:

How are you adjusting?

Whitney:

This is week two, and then we had spring break prior to that, so we're really going on three weeks right now, without seeing our friends. It's hard. It's hard. It's really hard. Just because I work from home, for me, the adjustment for that part is not difficult. But the fact that I can't just go into schools and see people, and talk with kids all the time, has been difficult. And then of course, having my daughter and my two neighbor children here, I think the most important thing for them in my opinion is just setting routines. They just need to have some kind of normalcy, and so I can't say that I'm truly teaching them. I'm working with them a little bit here and there, but it's more just routines, and keeping it engaging. We have a choice board that we plan out each day, and they're just in 15- or 30-minute increments. That way, we just at least have a routine of something that we can do.

Whitney:

Then during those times, I'm able to get something done, whether I do some reading or some working, because I am also working on a book in the meantime. So that for me has been an adjustment, too, just having kids here, at home. I think all parents that are trying to work from home, that's probably their biggest adjustment, is trying to continue with their work that they need to do, but also making sure the kids are doing something, whether ... you know, every district is in a different place right now. Some have school, where their kids are actually teaching them something. Ours are not there yet. They will be. I think they're starting next week. But right now, they're just getting used to their new platforms, and teaching the kids how to use Zoom, and how to use these different platforms that our district is using.

Whitney:

So I think it's really hard on the parents, too. And then the teachers as well, because they are also at home with their own kids. And so we're all in this together. I think that's one saving grace, is that we are all in it together, we are all dealing with it, so I think we are more understanding of one another because of it. It's difficult. Now, my husband is considered an essential worker at the moment, so he is not home. Actually, that has been, I don't want to say "nice", but it is kind of. Like, at least there's some kind of normalcy there. He still goes away during the day. I think when both parents are at home, and the kids, I think it can be even more difficult, just because everyone's trying to do something. But it is a lot noisier here, I will say. My house is not quiet. It is difficult to work, when it's not quiet.

Whitney:

But I'm adjusting. I am very happy that we have the technology we have, so we can actually make face-to-face contact with people, virtually through FaceTime and through Zoom. I know that my daughter's teacher FaceTimed her the other night. She hadn't talked to her since before spring break, and honestly, she was close to a meltdown. So the teacher FaceTimed with her, and it changed her entire demeanor. She has been so happy since just that two-minute FaceTime conversation that she had with her teacher. I think that's one thing. If the teachers haven't reached out to their kids yet, it's amazing how much these kids miss their teachers. It's just changed her completely since that. And now that she knows she gets to do Zoom with her teacher, every day coming up, she's really excited about that.

Faye:

I saw this great little mini video on Facebook the other day. It was the teachers actually got in their cars, and they drove all over the neighborhoods-

Whitney:

Yes. Yes, I saw that too. It was so-

Faye:

They miss their kids.

Whitney:

They do. The teachers miss their kids. The kids miss their teachers, and the kids miss each other. I know we have spring break, so we have a time away from each other, because by this time of year it's like a family, so you start to get on each other's nerves in your classroom. Like the kids, you know, they all become like brothers and sisters, and they start to get on each other's nerves, but they do really miss each other when they're not together, just like a family. It's the exact same thing. So it's been really hard.

Whitney:

Kids are used to being out, and going out and playing, and touching things, and touching one another. They just don't get to do that right now, and it's really hard on them.

Faye:

Whitney, let me ask you about that concept of routines. It sounds like you're trying to incorporate a routine in your home, but the routine's going to change again, because your district-

Whitney:

Absolutely.

Faye:

... will start sending some curricular materials, soon.

Whitney:

Right. Right.

Faye:

Do you feel like this is helping your daughter adapt to change? Or do you think this is making it harder, because she can't settle into a routine? I'm just wondering how the routine is actually going.

Whitney:

That's a great question. Well, if it were up to my daughter, she would spend the entire day on YouTube. I mean, she would be completely fine. She has this little corner between like her bed and her wall, that she crawls into. She would be completely fine being there, and not being bothered at all, 24/7, being on YouTube. For me, it's a way for me to still isolate her, and keep her at home, but get her off YouTube.

Whitney:

Our routine starts at 9:00. We basically do school until 11:30. We have lunch at 11:30. At noon, we do the Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. We love that part of our day, every day at noon. Then at 12:30, they have recess. So they go out, they ride their bikes. They throw a ball around. They're not allowed to play on the playground, which is hard because we have one right down the street from us, but they can't touch anything. So they go out for 30 minutes, and then we come back and we do school again, until 3:00.

Whitney:

I think just having those set times, depending on what we do in between those times could change, but at least having a set starting time, a set lunchtime, those things are predictable. And I think even when we do have curriculum sent to us, or time with their teacher, I still think there'll be some kind of schedule, some kind of set routines. So if I were to give advice, I think that just setting a start time, and a finish time, and a lunchtime, are the most important things. Just so they know kind of how their day will run, every day. Then what changes in between there, that can be adaptable. But I think it's just so important to have some kind of routine. Just to have that sense of normalcy and structure. It's definitely not the quality of learning that happens at school.

Whitney:

But you know, today, they went on a little nature walk, and just did a little thing in their notebook of what they saw, what they noticed, what they wondered, for 30 minutes. It just allowed them to get out. But again, that was their science for the day. So it's very different, but there's still the routine.

Faye:

Now, are you finding very much material online that other teachers are sharing, as well? You mentioned the Lunchtime Doodles, which I love.

Whitney:

Yeah, I love. Love. It's so overwhelming right now, honestly, how much is being shared online. I think it's awesome, but it is extremely overwhelming. As an educator myself, I'm able to kind of pick and choose, and I have a plan, so I definitely have an advantage. Parents that are not educators, I think that they are extremely overwhelmed. Some have mentioned they feel ashamed, because they're not doing true homeschool. I said, "You should never feel ashamed. That is not, the teachers will take care of them once they figure out what's going on. If you need them just to go out and play, or just have playtime, it's okay. That's okay." Because honestly, the most important thing for our kids right now, in my opinion, is their social and emotional being. The academics will come, but we are all adjusting to this right now, and what we need is connections, and to know that we're okay.

Whitney:

I saw something on, I think it was Facebook last night that said, or maybe it was Twitter, but something. You know, "Out of everything that the teachers are putting out there, how many of them are just asking their kids, 'Are you okay?'" That just really struck me. I felt like, "Yeah. That's what our kids need right now. They need to be asked, are they okay?" Because it's really hard, and it's getting harder, the more they're isolated.

Faye:

Let's talk about how it is that you actually establish some kind of community. I think it's hard for the kids.

Whitney:

It's so hard.

Faye:

But I think it's hard for the parents and the teachers, too.

 

Whitney:

It's hard for everybody. I think that's where teachers are getting on-the-spot training. Some of them are self-training. You know, teachers are just turning on a dime right now. That's what teachers do. You know, I hope that they are appreciated even more through all of this, because it's not easy for them. They're used to their structures and routines as well, and now they have to try to figure out everything. A lot of them don't have materials at home. They weren't allowed to go back and get materials. Thankfully, in my district they were able. They had a couple minutes to go in and grab what they needed. But it just, it's really hard, and so when it comes to making that connection, I think they just have to find a way to build the community, whether it's hand-written letters, even.

Whitney:

I think there are some districts and schools that are just making sure those kids are fed. That's the most important thing, and that is the most important thing. Again, are you okay? You know, we need to make sure that they're okay. So when we are making sure that they're being fed, if there's another way to connect with them as well, giving them a hand-written note, just something to let them know that we're thinking about them. I had the kids do that. Last week, well earlier this week I guess it was, it was on their board. For writing, they wrote their teacher or someone that worked at their school a note, and then we took pictures and sent those, emailed those to them. And they were so excited to do that. That was just something super-little that they could do, to connect with their teachers on their side as well.

Faye:

So Whitney, with all of this, I think everybody's learning to adapt to different ways of coping, and different routines, and different ways of staying connected. Are there things that we're doing now, that you hope will actually carry over, once all of the dust has settled?

Whitney:

I hope the connections do. I think one thing that we are learning more than anything through here, is that importance of connecting and building those relationships. We say it over and over again as educators. We say it. We begin every single year with, "The most important thing is to build those relationships, build those relationships," and I think now, we're realizing how important that truly is. That we know kids will work for us, if we have a relationship with them. But this is even more important, to know that they have someone that cares about them. They need that now. I think that is something that will carry over, is that importance of making connections, and letting kids know that we care.

Whitney:

And letting parents know. The parents need help, too. I'll be honest. The parents need to know it will be okay. You know, some parents are going way to one extreme, where they think they need to teach their kids everything, and prepare them, and prepare them for all these tests and everything. Thank goodness, we don't have the test this year. But they just, the parents need to know it's going to be okay. It'll be okay. We'll all take care of each other. So those connections with parents, too.

Faye:

Yeah. I think that part of it too, as parents, nobody feels like they're doing anything well, now.

Whitney:

Right. Right.

Faye:

Especially folks that are still working, but their kids are home. So you don't feel like you're a great parent. You don't feel like, you're certainly not a great teacher. And then, you don't feel like you're giving 100% to work, so everybody feels like less. Not great.

Whitney:

Right, and it's just being pulled in so many different ways. You know, parents that have multiple children at home, where teachers are, they're in multiple teachers' classrooms. So this teacher wants to do this with them, and this teacher wants to do this with them. Which is fantastic, but when you have multiple children, that also is like a scheduling thing, and, "Okay, I've got to help you get on here, and I've got to help you get on here. Oh wait, now it's your turn." That part, and if there's only one computer, or if there's no technology, I know that a lot of districts are helping out with that, of finding ways to help people that don't have that technology. But again, it's just people working together, to try to solve all of these issues.

Whitney:

I know I had one parent the other day just post. You know, parents post things on Facebook all the time. And one posted she has a child in high school, and that child in high school has double-booked, their teachers have double-booked their meetings. They're not communicating, so this child was supposed to have a Zoom meeting with the math teacher, but also a Zoom meeting with the English teacher at the same time. So I think that's hard too, when you get into where you have multiple teachers. I think that's something that has to be looked at too, is how do you schedule that? Do you have a certain schedule that you follow as a district, as to what your office hours are, or what your times are? Or do you follow the same schedule you had at school?

Whitney:

I hadn't thought about that. Just being elementary, it's not something that's on my radar. But when the parent posted that, I went, "Oh, yeah. I never even thought. That's a whole nother thing to think about." So I think that's just, things come up as they come up, and we just have to figure it all out, and be patient as we do.

Faye:

You know, part of it for me is just the expectations. Right?

Whitney:

Right.

Faye:

I mean, I feel like we have to have different expectations, in terms of what we think is appropriate, or doable, now, because the example you just said, the idea of having this assumption that you still need your 60-minute math class every day. Like maybe no. Maybe you don't need that.

Whitney:

Right. I could tell you, as an elementary, no. We are doing our things in 15-minute and 30-minute chunks, and that's pushing it, on some things. You know, these kids that I have, they are used to an hour reading workshop, every day at school. It's just not happening here. Right now, that's not happening. Maybe we can work up to that, being my knowledge that I have with reading workshop. But a parent that doesn't have that knowledge, it shouldn't be an expectation.

Whitney:

It's just different at home. The kids are not with their teachers, and I tell teachers that all the time. They are very different with their parents, than they are with their teachers. Even me, my daughter, she tells me all the time, "You don't know anything, Mom," when we're talking about reading and writing. And I'm just like, "Well, I do. Emery, I actually do know some things about reading and writing." And she says, "But you're not," you know, her teacher. "You're not my teacher. You don't do it the same way." It's hard, because even though I do know a couple things about reading and writing, she doesn't see it that way, because I'm not her teacher. It's that way for all parents. So, I think we just have to give each other grace, and we have to give our kids grace, too.

Faye:

Yeah. I think you're absolutely right. Not only do we not all have the expertise, but that idea that not everybody has access to the technology, you know, this one gets to me.

Whitney:

Yes.

Faye:

This concept that ... You and I are very lucky because we both have internet access, and a lot of schools and districts do. But I was looking at a statistic just the other day, that 41% of school administrators don't think that their districts can provide online learning for their students. 41%.

Whitney:

Wow.

Faye:

So what happens to those kids that are not going to be able to access their teacher, or access the curriculum? What happens to those kids?

Whitney:

Exactly. Exactly. That's where my heart is the heaviest, is for those kids, and those kids that are in homes that are not safe, where school is their safe place. You know, I just think about those kids constantly. What can we do for them, to connect with them, to keep them safe, to make them feel safer? How can we do it, if we don't have the technology? I don't have an answer to that. I know there are people out there, that are doing anything they can to try to work that out. But it is, 41% is huge.

Whitney:

And then there's also districts that do have the technology, but they block a lot of things. Like YouTube. Well, right now, everything is on YouTube. I understand when you're in school, where YouTube might be blocked because you want to keep your kids from not seeing certain things. But right now, so much of this online learning is through YouTube. So what are we doing there, when we're blocking sites as a district? I see you're trying to keep your kids safe from all of that. But at the same time, you're also blocking them from a lot of learning that's happening out there, so it's hard. It's hard. It's hard.

Faye:

It's hard, but it's ever-changing, too, right?

Whitney:

Yes.

Faye:

Like last week, everybody was in a different place.

Whitney:

Oh, for sure.

Faye:

This week, different again. And next week will bring something different, again.

Whitney:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And it's every minute, it's every hour. Something's always changing. You know, I went to Italy. I was in Italy in February. And when I got home from Italy two days later, they closed all the northern towns that I was in, and they went to virtual learning online. So I've been watching this, knowing that it was coming our way. I've been watching in South Korea, I've been watching in China, and I've been watching in Italy, prior to this. My mom happens to be a consultant, and she travels all around, and she's been to South Korea. So all her schools, like she's the one that got me kind of paying attention to it, because it was like, all the schools that she has worked were now into online learning, and this was way ahead of where we are now. And so I had been paying attention, going, "Yeah. It's coming our way. It's definitely ... it's coming."

Whitney:

No one believed it. Everyone would say, "It's just a virus. It's just a virus." But just watching other countries, and kind of where they are in their journey as well, I just, I've been paying attention to that, and kind of trying to figure out what is going to happen here. Everyone's handling it differently, every country is trying to do what they can, as well. So I don't know. There's no answers. Everything's changing, minute by minute, day by day, and we just have to adapt and change with it. That's just the way it is, right now.

Faye:

Whitney, how are you just giving yourself some time to adjust to all of this? It sounds like you've got quite a quarantine you've set up at home, for your daughter. It sounds like it's a great idea to build that structure into it, but are you also building in some time for yourself?

Whitney:

My work that I'm doing, I stop it at 3:00 when the kids stop. I become Mom at 3:00. I do laundry then, I do anything a mom does. That's when I stop, at 3:00. I don't usually answer emails after 3:00. We're working on a puzzle right now, so we'll do that in the evenings, or watch TV. I try to go to bed at a decent time. Still, I've always gotten up early and worked out. That's just been my thing. I will say, right now, my workouts, because they're virtual, or not at 4:00 a.m. like normal. They're a little later now. But I still make that time for me. I did that anyway, so I'm trying to keep kind of my own routines, as well, my me-time, and my mom-time things as well.

Whitney:

I mean, I think that parents need to set their times where they are not working. A friend of mine texted this morning. She wasn't answering text messages last night, and she answered them this morning. She said, "Sorry I didn't answer the messages. I'm turning my phone off at 8:00 every night. No text messages, no email after 6:00." So she's setting her own things too, and I think it's important that we do that. We need to turn it off. And that goes for saying, even when we're all at work. We need to turn it off at a certain time, because I think we can all turn into working 24/7, if we allow ourselves to.

Faye:

That's such a great point. It's this concept of setting boundaries.

Whitney:

Yeah.

Faye:

I think [inaudible] of us were falling into this trap, because we were on the computer all day. It just is easy, and we're at home.

Whitney:

Right. Right.

Faye:

So the environment's exactly the same. That possibility of work bleeding into your personal life is super, super high in.

Whitney:

Oh, yes. So easy.

Faye:

One of the things one my colleagues mentioned was something similar to what you said. She just turns off her computer, and her messages at a certain point. She says, "I make a point to pick up a physical book." A physical book, because she is so much in the online world during the day, that she just needs to be doing something that is more physical, whether it's walking outside, or just actually picking up a book.

Whitney:

Yeah. I always, even before all of this, I have an hour in my day. Sometimes, I do get that full hour. Not usually. But I do block out an hour in my day for reading. And I try to give it the full hour but that doesn't always happen. Lately, it's been like 15 minutes honestly, because I have so many other things going on. But it is in my schedule. Again, it's that making the time to do it.

Faye:

I like the idea that you have a schedule, but you're giving yourself some leeway, in terms of what happens in those pockets of time. I think when people think about routines, they assume you've got to do the same thing, every day.

Whitney:

Right. No, it shouldn't be. You won't stick to it. Most people won't stick to it. If you have your start times, your finish times, those things we can stick to. But what we do in between might change.

Faye:

That is such a great tip. Whitney, first of all, I haven't heard your daughter at all in the background. Is she okay?

Whitney:

Yeah, she's in the other room. They all are doing their school thing right now. They have a menu from school that they need to be working on, so I've put them all on that while we're talking, right now. So they're in the room with the door closed, I'm in the office with the door closed. They know that I'm on this call, so they're leaving me alone. One of them was on a Zoom meeting with her class just a minute ago. I don't know if you could hear that in the background, because I thought it was kind of loud. But now that's over, because I don't hear it anymore. So they're all in the room now, doing who knows what. They should be working, but I don't know. They could be doing other things in there. I don't hear them, so I'm assuming they're working.

Faye:

Whitney, I wondered. You're spending a lot of time with your daughter these days. How has your relationship with her changed, with all of this extra time?

Whitney:

For me, I don't think it's really changed that much. One, she's an only child for the most part, because our son is grown and out of the house. She's basically an only child, so she gets a lot of attention anyway. She actually loves alone time. She will tell me sometimes when she needs alone time. She's just one of those that, she's a very social person, but she also knows when she just needs some time to herself, and she'll go and isolate herself for that alone time. So in my household that hasn't changed a whole lot, just because she's used to getting a lot of attention, so it's fine.

Whitney:

She doesn't like it when I try to teach her anything, that part. But it was like that anyway, whenever we would try to do some homework or anything. Yeah, she and I have never been good in that relationship. She loves it when I read to her, which is awesome. But when it comes to anything else, she doesn't want my help. I have to be honest. I'm not a math teacher, so she's not getting a strong math education right now. I'm leaving it up to whatever the school's sending for that. I know what parents that are not educators feel like, because that's kind of how I feel with math.

Faye:

Now, has your relationship with other teachers changed at all, or evolved at all, with all of this?

Whitney:

I don't think so. I've always been in close contact with teachers, so I still talk with them, text with them. I don't think that's changed a whole lot. I've reached out to some of them saying, "Hey, I miss you," the ones that are not my daughter's teacher, that I'm friends with. "Hey, I miss you. How's it going? Just checking in on you." You know, they're all so positive. They're like, "Hey, trying to figure all of this out, but we've gotten it."

Whitney:

So I can't say, for me, those things have changed a whole lot. I've offered them wine. But other than that, nothing. Yeah, I can't really say anything has changed a whole lot there, just because ... I just don't get to see them all the time, and that part's hard, because I miss seeing them. I miss talking with them. I miss being in their classrooms, and talking with their kids. I miss all that, and I know they do, too.

Faye:

Yeah. I think what's funny, how all of this is playing out, and finding that I rely less on text messages. Now, I actually want to video chat people-

Whitney:

Right.

Faye:

... and see people. All of these things you took for granted, just walking down the hall, right?

Whitney:

Yes.

Faye:

 people now, it's like, "No, I want to FaceTime you, because I want to see your face."

Whitney:

I know. I have a group of educators, that we are ... we're a book club, but we're all in the field of education. We did our first Zoom meeting the other morning, because we have our group text, which we text all the time. But it was like, no, we need to see each other. It was so fun, because they were all new to Zoom. So that was fun, to get on, and have us all talk, and we all had our mugs, because we did like a coffee morning so we all had our mugs. And we just talked. We talked for about an hour. Just talked. Face-to-face, and laughed, and we said, "We need to do this more often, just because we need to see each other."

Faye:

Yeah. I think in some ways, people are connecting in different ways now. We're being forced to.

Whitney:

Right.

Faye:

My mother. My mother set up a Facebook page! She set up a Facebook page, and was messaging me the other day. And I just thought, I think you have to count your blessings for the good things that happen.

Whitney:

For sure.

Faye:

So now I have to connect with my mother.

Whitney:

Yes. That's awesome. That's awesome.