Online adoption education is the way of the future. Here’s how to get the most out of it.
Last year, my husband and I explored the possibility of adopting a teenager. It was something we’d been discussing for years, and we thought we were finally ready to move forward. AFABC’s Adopting Teens and Tweens course was the obvious next step. My husband took it in person several years ago, when our life was much less demanding. Now, with two young daughters and both parents working, our family schedule simply couldn’t accommodate an in-person course.
That’s why I was thrilled to participate in the pilot session of the online version of the Teens and Tweens Adoption Education Program (AEP). The benefits were obvious: I could do the coursework in my pyjamas, on my own schedule, while drinking my own coffee and listening to my own music. I was sold.
Online adoption education is clearly the way of the future. AFABC’s webinars and online courses have been hugely popular, and the demand continues to increase. Chances are good you’ll find yourself learning this way sometime soon, if you haven’t already.
Based on what I learned, here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of your online education experience.
Expect to work hard
Online courses aren’t shortcuts. The time you’d spend listening to an instructor, asking questions, and talking with other participants in a face to face class is replaced with readings, videos, interactive exercises, journaling, writing assignments, participation in discussion forums, online group exercises, and real-time live discussions. You’ll also have to meet deadlines for each module, and plan for a few time-sensitive events like live discussions conducted via conference call.
Check your dates
Go through the course overview on the first day and enter everything into your calendar, double-checking as you go. Ask for clarification from your instructor if something seems unclear or contradictory. I missed a couple of deadlines because I misinterpreted instructions and entered a date incorrectly into my calendar. Set reminders, especially for the live discussions, and if you’re like me, set reminders for the reminders.
Make a schedule
Each time you sit down to work on the course you’ll need to log in to the online environment, situate yourself, check the announcements, and remember what you’re working on before you can start your work. In order to do all of that and also accomplish any coursework, I suggest you plan to work for at least 30 minutes at a time.
I also recommend scheduling specific times in the day or week when you’ll focus on the course. When I started blocking specific times off in my Google calendar for coursework, rather than telling myself “I’ll work on this after the kids are in bed” (only to fall asleep in my preschooler’s bunk bed at 7:00 PM), things went more smoothly. It’s also smart to build some margin time into your schedule so that when you inevitably get derailed by a late night at work or a family emergency, you’ll still be on track.
I estimate I spent a minimum of five hours on each module of the course, and that’s as a fast reader and professional writer. Each module was open for approximately two weeks, and I used and needed all of that time to finish the work.
Preview the work
Review the contents of the entire module on the day it opens. Are there videos to watch? Assignments to write? Once I’d planned to review a portion of the course on my phone while waiting at the doctor’s office. It turned out the assignment required me to stream video content but I didn’t have access to WiFi, so I had to wait until I was at home, which meant I had to shuffle my schedule in order to finish the module in time. Other times, a particular exercise required more time than I’d anticipated. If I’d scanned through the module in advance, I could have avoided those problems.
This is especially important for the live conference call discussions that are one of the most valuable elements of longer courses like Adopting Teens and Tweens. Read through the instructions ahead of time so you’re sure you understand how to dial into the conference call. If you have kids at home who are small and/or rowdy, make sure you’ve got another adult (or at least an especially captivating Netflix queue) lined to occupy them. You know how dogs can sense fear? Well, kids can sense their parents’ plans and they will kick off a wild rumpus right when you’re about to join the call.
Engage with other participants
Some of the most useful learning takes place in the forum threads and the live discussions. Take full advantage of the opportunity to learn from your cohort’s variety of perspectives and experiences. I suggest reading all of the posts and responses, even the ones that don’t seem immediately relevant to you. They’re where nitty-gritty, rubber-meets-the-road thoughts and questions get shared and answered.
I especially appreciated the concrete advice and suggestions from Anne Melcombe, the facilitator for the Teens and Tweens AEP, whose advice and feedback drew on her decades of experience as both an adoption social worker and a foster parent to teens. (I’ve said for years that I wish we could somehow download her brain and make it available in the AFABC resource library. She keeps threatening to leave us for Costa Rica, so catch her while you still can.)
Expect to feel
There’s a good chance something you’ll read or watch during an in-depth course like this will upset or trigger you. I was surprised that a video I’d seen several times before left me sobbing and feeling devastated. I needed to take several breaks before I could complete that portion of the course. During other modules I felt hopeful, inspired, and strong, and was able to move through the material easily.
The course is set up so that participants reflect on and rate their emotional state (by filling out a very short questionnaire) at the end of each module. Those responses go to the course instructor, who can check in with participants and even give them extra time to complete the material if needed.
Expect to learn—a lot
I’ve been learning about adopting teens and tweens for years, but I still came away with a huge list of new-to-me resources, real-life connections, and fresh parenting strategies. But the most important thing I learned was also the most unexpected. The course assignments require intense reflection and self-examination of your strengths, weaknesses, capacity, and limitations. Through that process, I realized that my family and I don’t have what it takes to adopt and parent a teen, at least not right now.
Although that realization was humbling and difficult in a way that I can’t effectively express in this limited space, it was a successful outcome. Consider the first line of the course description: “The Adopting Teens & Tweens Course will enable prospective adoptive parents to make realistic, well-informed decisions about their capacity and readiness to parent a teen or tween by adoption.”
I’m certain many of the other participants felt more empowered, prepared, and excited to move forward in adopting a teen or tween after completing the course. I look forward to supporting them and cheering them on as they build their families.