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How to Remain Professional Whilst Caring for Children at Home?

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As a parent of the three children, all of which are under 11, the dramatic shift to remote working from home for students and professionals alike has been a sudden and challenging shake up to the daily routine.

The million-dollar question for all parents who now find themselves acting as a full time parent and professional has become ‘how do I juggle my commitments?’. The shift of focus has been from trying to decide whether we are dressed appropriately for a video call to ‘mummy, can you help me with…’.

So, how do you remain professional and working efficiently whilst your responsibilities are pulling you in a number of different directions? I’ve complied a list of some methods that I have found to be useful:

Regardless of how structured you are, some form of timetable will be necessary

Whether this is as detailed as an implementation plan from work, with activity, who, when, resources required and challenges, or whether you find a more relaxed approach works for your family, with simply a range of suggested activities, with breaks and lunch interspersed; some structure will be needed to allow you to prepare for the challenges that each day will bring.

Arrange your calls and their activities accordingly  

Be honest with your boss, explain that you are having to juggle more than normal now; in the main they will understand and if a regular call must be moved back by half an hour, so be it.  Consider how long a call is going to last? To avoid interruption, what activity will take them through this period?

Make a to do list 

I love a list and generally have one on the go to just get by, however in times like this maybe a more sophisticated, prioritised list is required.  What is urgent and what is a nice to do, be realistic about what you can achieve. Are there time robbers cropping up which can be put on hold whilst you get through the next few weeks.  Do not let yourself get distracted with easier things to do like laundry, and although for most of us, there will be a reliance on technology in our work, try to avoid social media during the day, or set yourself some specific time for a social media catch up. 

When preparing for your day, anticipate demands 

If you have suggested colouring as an activity, ensure you provide paper and pens, so you don’t get interrupted with requests for these. Unfortunately, if your children are like mine, no they can’t find them themselves!  If you suggest screen time, make sure batteries are charged.  Don’t beat yourself up about encouraging screen time, you won’t be alone. If you have a longer call and you know there will be demands for food, have something suitable prepared that you can give them.

Balance your time

Accept that you are going to struggle to do six back-to-back calls from 9am til 4pm, you aren’t superhuman, and you do have your parenting role which will also require your attention.  Explain to the children that you are needing to balance your time, however, factor in some time with them so they have something to look forward to.    

Stick to a daily routine

Although this sounds funny, I have found that sticking to the daily non-work routine of getting dressed, ensuring we stick to breakfast/lunch/dinner and also sticking to bedtime routines, as much as possible, has maintained some normality and without this it is easy to fall into the ‘what day is it trap?’.

Define your workspace

Depending on what space you have, try and define yourself a quiet place to work and explain to the children that this is the working or quiet area.  I’ve found myself referring to my office as the staff room, a room they are used to not entering!

Be flexible with your working hours

You may find it easier to flex your working day so starting early or working into the evening if the children are younger and likely to be tucked up in bed by 7pm.  Again, be honest with your company and speak to them about this idea. If you partner is also working from home some sort of rota may work for you if the children are of an age that need supervision. Are you able to organise your important calls at different times?

Remember, you aren’t on your own

You aren’t on your own in this weird time.  Many of your colleagues, student peers, and tutors are also having to change working practices.  Utilise forums/discussion groups/networking groups to retain some level of sanity.  Talking about issues, sharing frustrations often makes it all more manageable.

If nothing else works, try bribery!

Introduce some sort of reward chart if your children are still interested in stickers or for older children, barter in time, if they allow you some quiet time to make that important call, then they can have extra screen time! 

I am sure throughout the coming weeks you will find your own tips and tricks for maintain a balance that suits you and your family.  It’s a culture change for everyone, and just like changing the culture in your organisation, this isn’t going to happen overnight, there will be bumps in the road. Remember one of the main rules about changing a culture is taking everyone with you.  If everyone is still happy, I would say you are winning.

This blog originally appeared at MOL on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jane Hawksworth is Associate Tutor at MOL, her HR career spanned 14 years across a range of industries, and she has worked for MOL since 2009 whilst raising her family, and has tutored on a number of level 7 programmes.


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Our outdated school schedules are hurting working parents

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casey quinlan

School schedules aren’t working for parents, and haven’t caught up to the reality of modern families’ lives.

The vast majority of parents 70 percent, work full-time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the median closing time for a school is 2:30 p.m. On top of that, schools are closed 80 percent longer than the typical worker receives in paid holidays and vacation time, which works out to 13 more days off than parents have, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress.

That presents a problem for parents who work outside the home, especially mothers, single parents, low-income parents, parents of color, and part-time workers. Many of these demographics overlap, of course. Women of color in particular tend to make less money than white men and women and thus are less likely to be able to afford after-school programs and day care. Part-time workers also have far less vacation days and sick days than full-time workers.

This means the most disadvantaged populations in the United States are bearing the brunt of our school schedules-which are filled with extra days off around the holidays, days taken off for teachers’ professional development, snow days not offered by local employers, and policies mandating parents to pick up their sick kids, no matter how minor the illness.

Why a 9-to-5 schedule isn’t working for parents

Right now, schools are designed for families where one parent works outside the home and one parent stays home to care for the children, and is available to be on call to pick up their kids from school whenever necessary.

“Unfortunately the reality of working families has evolved a lot, and we need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives,” said Catherine Brown, the vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress and one of the authors of the new report. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

“We need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives.”

The CAP report emphasizes the change in family work weeks. Between 1979 and 2006, the typical middle class family work week increased by 11 hours.

One might suggest after-school programs as the antidote to this problem, but these programs are not universally available, especially to the parents who need them most. Only 45 percent of all public elementary schools offer parents after-school care, according to CAP’s analysis of federal education data and only 31 percent of Title I schools have after-school programs.

Brown said school policies on picking children up from school also make parents’ lives very difficult. The report explains that schools often require parents to pick children up even when their illness is minor or non-contagious. Duval County Public Schools in Florida has a policy where parents are required to pick up an ill child within 60 minutes of being notified.

‘What will typically happen is your kid has a slight fever and they’ll call you and say you need to immediately pick them up and that’s just not viable,” Brown said. “If you’re working at McDonald’s or even if you’re working at CAP, it’s really hard to instantly abandon what you’re doing and go pick up your child, and this is a really clear way that schools disregard the needs of working parents.”

Brown added that these schedules often mean students go to recess or eat lunch very early in the day because they’re sharing a tight schedule with so many kids. Ideally, children’s schedules would be organized according to the natural ebb and flow of their energy levels throughout the day.

The creative solutions that could help fix this issue

There is no reason why this inconvenient school schedule needs to remain in place, the authors of the report explain. The CAP report puts forth several ideas for reforming the way that school schedules work.

  • States could raise the minimum length of a school day to eight hours, which would push schools toward a typical work schedule.
  • Districts could use the assistance of AmeriCorps members, college students, and community members to help run programs during school closings and to monitor students when parents are at work.
  • Schools could limit days off to major holidays, look to major employers when deciding whether to close schools for inclement weather, and create school health policies that better recognize parents’ busy schedules.
  • Administrators could accommodate parents’ work schedules when deciding when to schedule parent-teacher conferences and consider alternatives to in-person meetings, such as chatting through Skype.
  • Schools could look at more efficient ways to conduct teacher professional development, such as having teacher development run throughout the school day through teacher collaboration and individualized coaching, so the school wouldn’t have to close for the day.
  • Schools could identify alternatives to a tiered busing schedule, such as a dual-route system, so that students can get to school at the same time.

How a new school schedule would affect teachers

One of the most challenging questions facing advocates for a 9-to-5 school schedule is how to ensure teachers aren’t shortchanged in the process. After all, teachers come in early to prepare for classes and often stay later to assist students and grade papers?—?they don’t want to make their days even longer.

Staggered schedules could ensure that teachers don’t work longer hours than they already do. But if they do end up adding more hours to their workday, advocates say teachers should be fairly compensated.

“What we want to be clear about is that we’re not advocating for teachers to work longer hours without getting compensated for that time,” Brown said.

She added that kids can also do independent work an work in peer-to-peer groups that allow teachers time to do planning, give kids more time to learn, and reduce parent stress.

Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow for education policy at CAP, said there is also the possibility of teachers working a 9-to-5 schedule but doing so only four days a week. Teachers who work at Goldie Maple Academy in Queens, for example, have a school day that begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:35 p.m. but they have Fridays off.

How to pay for a longer school day

Keeping schools open longer will cost more money. But there are federal funds available to help school districts pay for lengthening their days.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance explaining that as long as extended school days are “meeting an identified need to improve student achievement,” a federal source called Title I, Part A fund can be used toward paying for it. Other federal funding sources include Promise Neighborhoods competition, Full-Service Community Schools Program, and Community Learning Centers program.

Congress could also include a competitive grant program in the Higher Education Act to encourage graduate schools in social work to partner with neighboring school districts to develop a 9-to-5 schedule.

This new schedule could also be considered a “school theme” in the way technology or bilingualism is considered a theme for many schools. These schools could be funded through competitive grant programs targeted at low-income schools.

Some of these policy proposals are easier to implement than others, but Brown said innovation is necessary to acknowledge the needs of working parents.

“I think requiring longer school days requires an injection of resources and creative thinking about how you set up your schools,” Brown said.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on October 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.


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