Guest Columnist

A teacher shares strategies for learning at home

By , Guest Columnist Updated: March 30, 2020 11:29 AM CT | Published: March 30, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Lauren Boccia


Lauren Boccia is a program associate for Facing History and Ourselves, where she facilitates seminars for teachers and schools and coordinates the Memphis Facing History Student Leadership Group. She was a teacher at St. Agnes Academy for 15 years.


Sixteen years ago, I was a new teacher. Before the school year began, I felt prepared, but I was naive about the unpredictability students bring into the space.

Memphis kindness blog, March 26: Kids are encouraged, folks get food baskets and popcorn

I realized that I needed teaching strategies to help me adapt. The following summer, my principal introduced me to Facing History and Ourselves, where I found the tools to construct a classroom that left space for me and my students to grow with one another while maintaining an infrastructure for deep learning to occur. 

<strong>Lauren Boccia</strong>

Lauren Boccia

The daily operations of our city continue to be interrupted and reshaped by COVID-19. As schools began making the hard choice to close the doors in response to the virus, I got a phone call from my best friend. My friend is very organized and went right into “what do I need to do” mode. I love this about her, especially when it is time to plan a vacation, but this conversation moved quickly to the emotional aspect of realizing her son was going to have a very different few months of schooling.

She mentioned the word fear. She said, “I’m afraid he will get behind because I’m not a teacher.” Her words brought me back to those first years of teaching, and the training I received from Facing History and Ourselves.

Facing History and Ourselves uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. It not only designs impactful lessons, but also provides teachers with tools to build a foundation upon which academic lessons are taught.

As I thought about what to say to my friend, I thought of the tools that helped me create an open, supportive and reflective learning community and how they could be used to help parents and children adapt to the “new normal.”

This time together will be an exercise in partnership with your children. Establish your home as a community where norms are constructed that acknowledge everyone’s voice. This will help to define the home as a supportive place for each family member.

Facing History teachers contract with every class so the needs and expectations of everyone in the room are heard. These contracts hold everyone accountable because they are created together. The contract becomes a daily reminder to be intentional about the ways in which we interact with one another, such as suspend judgement, listen to understand, and think with our head and heart.

This teaching strategy can be adapted to outline the needs of each family member as your home becomes the hub for learning, working and fellowship. Add your signatures and post it in a prominent place.

Secondly, take this opportunity to connect. Spend time discussing what makes each of you who you are. In Facing History classes, students create bio-poems where they share adjectives that describe them, relationships in their life (friend, brother, daughter), things they love, important memories, fears, accomplishments, hopes and wishes, heroes, and favorite quotes. When students share their bio-poems it fosters a cohesive classroom community. Time devoted to getting to know one another can do the same for the family unit, and open the door to many follow-up conversations.

Here’s an example:


Friendly, Athletic, and Funny.

Son of John and Brenda.

Who feels tired, happy and lucky.

I am now a program associate for Facing History and Ourselves. I share with teachers what I learned 16 years ago, and as my work shifts to helping teachers adapt to remote learning, the conversation with my friend remains in the back of my mind.

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While there is an element of fear that comes with all of the changes, when we lean into more intentional conversations around community building and identity, we teach our children how to express their needs, stand up when norms that define a community are being ignored or disregarded, and identify when other voices are being silenced. These are crucial life skills to develop in our children as we begin to see more than ever how intertwined our humanity truly is. We need to include more groups of people than before in our circle of responsibility.

If you are looking for ways to engage in critical conversations with your children, you can access Facing History’s page for parent resources. Consider viewing our lesson “Coronavirus: Protect Yourself and Stand Against Racism,” designed to give children the facts about the virus and how to confront coronavirus-inspired racism.


COVID-19 Facing History and Ourselves


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