Let's start by stating the obvious. We are all being asked to rise up to the challenge of successfully implementing distance and hybrid learning models. Very few educators and families across the nation were comfortably prepared for this model of education. However, the fact of the matter is that it's here and a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Yet the good news, nay – the great news is that there are innumerable resources to show you the way through our ever-evolving educational landscape.
We begin by examining the environment and consulting those who have successfully navigated it. The following article found at the Education Week - Teacher blog serves as a think piece to examine real-life situations while providing commentary in retrospect.
Education Week - Teacher: What We've Learned From 30 Days of Distance Learning
Now let's take a look at the same subject as tackled by a different perspective. This article in the New York times provides anecdotes as well as research to provide another retrospective on the trials and tribulations of online learning.
Publication - New York Times: What We're Learning About Online Learning
Everyone's story is different, each situation is unique, but by sharing our experiences we can begin to generate some insight on how we can better navigate this landscape. But reading articles and putting their suggestions into practice isn't the only step in building a better learning environment. It's also important for teachers and parents to engage with and receive feedback from their students whether it's regarding their education or their individual situation. The following 10-minute podcast can help you understand this feedback cycle and present different ways to open the communication channels more clearly.
Podcast - The Cool Cat Teacher: Feedback Tips for Blended and Online Learning
Now that we've reflected on our experiences let's look to the future and discover what steps we can take in our own lives to find little wins. It's tremendously important at this time for all of us to remember to take care of our physical and mental health. Remember that self-care is not a luxury, it should be a small commitment to maintain and respect one's wellbeing. Times are tough, this is the reality of our situation, but we can all make 5-10 minutes in our day to ensure that we are taking steps to remember that our mental and emotional health are as valuable as our physical health. The following article featured in USA Today gives a bit more insight into the realities of managing our students' and our own mental health during this time.
Publication - USA Today: Kids' mental health can struggle during online school. Here's how teachers are planning ahead.
We've recruited our very own Product Manager, Lynn Heatherly, a veteran in education and mother, to provide some tips and advice to lead us into our next topic: care. How can we better treat ourselves through optimized practices, ergonomics, and applied practical experience?
Families are focused on creating successful remote learning environments. One of the most important steps is to ensure good communication between parents and teachers. Students are often evaluated based on their engagement in their remote classes. Parents need to understand what constitutes "engagement" for the student: do they need to email the teacher, join an online meeting, turn in an assignment, etc.? Parents also need to consider what the expectations are for both attendance and grades for their students; in other words, what is meant by attendance and how are grades awarded? For schools using the Aeries SIS, parents and students using the portal can have access to the teachers' virtual classroom, student attendance and grade marks, and easy access to email to promote good communication.
Two buzzwords that have sprung up around remote learning are synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous refers to those activities and engagements that take place at a set time and usually in some sort of webinar platform, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. If a student is expected to participate in synchronous activities, then timing is important. Help the student connect a few minutes early, if possible, to allow time to resolve any technical issues that might arise. Asynchronous refers to those activities that the student can do at a self-directed (or parent-directed) pace. The specific time of day is not as important, but there are generally still deadlines and due dates. Even with asynchronous learning, many schools have the expectation that the student is working and interacting in some way every day. Students who have not had to practice time-management much in the past may struggle with procrastination, so parents can help by setting schedules and milestones. Star charts, check lists or other measures of progress can help to keep students on track and avoid rushing at the end of a day or week to get everything accomplished.
Although it may seem obvious to adults, students often need guidance in how to conduct themselves in a remote setting. Students might benefit from some assistance with their digital interactions. Many students may not have sent an email before, so a bit of coaching, such as showing them how to construct an email. One possible template would include a greeting, a statement of the purpose of the email, a description of any problem or question, a "thank you" and an appropriate signature. This can help make sure their email is understood and well-received. In addition to sending emails, students may need help understanding appropriate interaction in an online meeting. For example, allowing your students to be dressed comfortably (but not in pajamas) can reduce fidgeting and help the student feel relaxed on camera. It is a good idea to consider the background that will be visible and remove items that might be distracting or inappropriate for a class setting or even show their student how to use a virtual background if they prefer more privacy. Virtual backgrounds have the added appeal of being able to be customized to something the student will enjoy and may allow them to express themselves. While phones and games can be a good option during breaks, students probably should not be playing games or on their phones while engaged in an online meeting unless it is a part of the lesson being presented. It is important to know if the school has requirements regarding camera use and then make sure those rules are followed. If there is a reason why a student cannot have their camera turned on, then the student should be careful to engage in other ways, such as the chat box or verbally answering questions. Otherwise, the teacher has no way to measure student participation and understanding. Similarly, the student should understand the use of the microphone and how to mute and unmute so as to avoid unnecessary sounds in the online meeting.
As self-care is an important part of remote learning, we should be sensitive to student anxiety. If the parent has the ability to influence the amount of time that a student is in an online meeting, it should probably be limited to 30 minutes in one sitting. Younger students, particularly, will tend to lose focus after that. Frequent breaks, especially with physical activity like playing outside can help to work out frustrations that children may experience trying to learn in such a new way. Keeping to a predictable schedule and maintaining healthy meals and snacks will also go a long way toward easing anxieties students may have. Children aren't just mini-adults, so they can't be expected to pivot to an 8-hour work day in a home-office as many of their parents have been forced to do. Parents and educators both should be sensitive to the developmental needs of school-age children ensure that the expectations set out for them are reasonably achievable.
Remote learning is new for most families and can be a challenge, but hopefully some of these suggestions will help to create a rich learning environment for students.
You can also read about what resources that Aeries has prepared for districts, educators and families to prepare our community for these topics:
There is a world of topics regarding care and many little ways that you can improve your quality of life. We'll end with a few more recommendations to help you find what works for you, your students and your family.
Publication - Recess: Using recess as a positive physical and mental wellness period
Instagram - Ergonomics, activities, and wellness advice from a Certified Occupational Therapist: Occupational Therapy ABC
Article - Ergonomics: Simple adjustments to improve quality-of-life and posture.
YouTube - Protecting Your Eyesight: Screen fatigue is real, finding ways to fight eye fatigue.
When we look around we can begin to identify what's in and what is out of our control, where we can spend our energy wisely to improve our quality-of-life, or we can end up misusing our energy and moving in circles. Hopefully, this article's media suggestions and insights give you, whether you're an educator, administrator, parents, guardian, or student a little bit more agency over your life and the choices you can make to improve it. If we listen to the lessons of those who have come before us and commit to taking care of our mental and physical wellbeing we'll all come out of this better than we started. Just keep paddling.