Fire Chief Harry, off to save the world!

In the first days of “the virus” we were up in Beijing on our Chinese New Year holiday. We were expecting to see the sights, climb the Great Wall, ride ice bikes on frozen lakes, and explore the Hutongs. Instead, we spent most of the time running scenarios about what we should do and how best to serve the needs of our family.

We returned home a little earlier than planned and, for a number of reasons, decided to stay put in Nanjing. With that decision (somewhat) solid in our minds, we turned our attention to ‘survival’. Did we have food? Sanitizers? Cleaning products? Face masks? How could we make sure we did more than just ‘exist’ over the next few weeks? Life is for living, right? It took a minute, but we soon (somewhat) figured out our new normal. And then came school. And we weren’t ready.

This new normal wasn’t normal enough yet. We still were not sure about anything and had no idea when we WOULD be sure. The mental load of ‘surviving’ was taking up most of the bandwidth in my brain. Now I had to teach my own classes AND work with my own children. I could do one or the other, but not both.

After a week or so of making sure my Design students were ok, I turned attention back to my own children and their school work. The content of what they were doing – I can save for another post. What I want to share is what I consider “the gold standard” in communicating with parents.

Our son’s PreK teacher is our good friend Tasha Cowdy. All of her communication with us as parents of Harry has been calm, reassuring, caring, and has demonstrated her connection with our son. This is her latest communication with us as an example:

Dear terBorg family, I am just checking in to see how you are all doing. I am wondering how the online learning is working for you and Harry, and how I can help you. Please see the questions below. Your answers will help me think about how to support Harry’s learning. Please remember, there it is not an expectation that Harry is doing the Seesaw activities. He may prefer to do his own things with his family. This is absolutely fine. I also understand your time may be taken up with Lizzy. On-line learning can be challenging for families with several children in different grade levels. Where are you now? Do you have reliable internet? Do you have VPN? Is Harry interested in the Seesaw activities or does he prefer to do his own thing? If Harry is interested in the Seesaw activities, which activities work best for Harry? What would you like to see more of on Seesaw? What would you like to see less of on Seesaw? Other ideas for how I can help you and Harry. Thank you!

Tasha Cowdy

Here’s what I notice:

  • she uses Harry’s name frequently and it reminds us that we are not making decisions for his class or grade level but for HARRY.
  • she mentions Harry’s sister and demonstrates she knows Harry’s family and empathizes with the sibling dynamic adding another layer of complexity
  • she checks on our whereabouts and connectivity as an acknowledgement that everyone’s circumstances are different
  • she asks (when all other bases are covered) about Harry’s learning needs and looks for ways to support our family without unnecessary burdens

Icons made by Freepik from

Child – Family – Environment – Learning. And all done with love and empathy.

Wherever you are in your COVID-19 journey, I encourage you to think about these things as a pathway to learning. And this is nothing new. Educators everywhere acknowledge that students need a secure home and family situation in order to flourish with their learning. This situation is no different.

More than ever before families will remember how you made them feel during this time of uncertainty – not how good your math packet download was*.

*I do not endorse math packet downloads or downloads of any kind TBH – more of that in a future post!

5 thoughts on “Child-Family-Environment-Learning”

  1. Xo LOVE seeing your blogs again. =). I KNOW you Harry and Izzy are thriving in their new learning environment. You got this! Thank you for sharing you and your love with the rest of the world. Be good to YOU. Stay safe and inspire on. =)kim ____________________ Kim Liebich =)

    1. My gorgeous friend! How lovely to hear from you. We are really loving our new normal despite the odd tantrum (me not the kids – haha). Hope your little birds are both snuggled in the home nest! Thanks for the love – I appreciate you! x

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