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The Positive Side of Virtual Learning

Learning to lean into inconvenience

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Poor distance learning. I truly don’t think that it started out looking to be the bad guy. The menace. The villain in the tragic story of student-meets-COVID. And yet, here it is. Staring you and I in the eye and begging us to love it.

Yes, it has been defined by inconvenience and shrouded in concern around too much screen time. It has been labelled as ineffective, annoying, and isolating. And, it has, most of all, forced us to alter our daily lives and everything we know about education.

Believe me, as an educator and administrator, I am clamoring to be back in the routine of at-school learning. Dying to supervise our cafeteria, observe a science lab, and meet with a student, face-to-face. I miss the roaring laughter at morning recess and the light-hearted banter of a social studies debate. I especially crave the high fives and handshakes as I greet kids in the morning or pass them in the hallways.

None of these things translate very well from behind a screen.

But, here we are. This is our reality. So, dislike it as we may, this is our chance to harness optimism. This is our moment to dig deep and discover the silver lining. Distance learning is not all bad. It has its moments, qualities, and characteristics that highlight its value in the educational landscape.

Take, for instance, the instilment of autonomy. Students of all ages are being tasked with exercising independence—for joining Zoom classes on their own (maybe after practicing with parents first); for fixing themselves a mid-morning snack or making their lunch at night in preparation for the next day. Their teachers have given them all of the links and log-ins for their online learning platforms, and they are required to manage their time during the day to make sure that they complete their daily to-do lists. Giving our students the chance to stretch the limits of their self-resilience during remote learning is the perfect opportunity to begin nudging them to the edge of the nest, knowing that you are literally right there—in the next room—to catch them if they stumble.

I also appreciate the creativity that remote learning has enlivened in educators everywhere. We all know how easy it is to become tethered to our routines. We thrive in the comfort of relying upon the tried and true, and while there is nothing wrong with finding an equation that works, it is important to shake things up a bit, too. We encourage our students to step outside of their comfort zones and test the boundaries of their ingenuity, so we should absolutely practice what we preach and try something new, as well. I have watched colleagues really embrace their own digital literacy, learning new platforms to utilize for virtual morning meetings and homework submission. New ways to assess student comprehension and to target the individualization of learning pathways. Navigating breakout rooms for small group work, schedules that take into account one-on-one meetings, and large group social-emotional learning activities– these are the growing pains of remote learning for teachers everywhere, and those who welcome these opportunities for change are thriving.

While both of these areas of educational evolution give me hope for what’s to come, the thing that I have appreciated the most about virtual learning is the teamwork that has abounded between teachers and parents. The last six months have been such a tremendous catalyst for growth in the healthy, collaborative dialogue among educators and the guardians of their students. The emerald curtain has been pulled back and a glimpse into the innerworkings of the classroom environment has been put on display for parents to witness, first-hand. Families now understand the necessity of a designated workspace for their students, equipped with the supplies they need to complete lessons successfully. They realize how important it is to routinely check-in on their kiddos, making sure they are remaining on-task and dedicated to their assignments (it’s not easy, believe me!). Teachers and parents now have conversations around educational terminology and a mutual appreciation for what it takes to target the individual needs of each child within their care.  

See? Not all bad.

One day soon, we’ll break-up with virtual learning. Our relationship will have run its course, and we’ll be back to our former love—in-person instruction. But, my hope is that we take all that we have learned during this time and apply it to our next adventure—knowing that, at the end of the day, we can enable kids to learn in any environment. We just have to be willing to work together.

I’ve put together a schedule template to help parents and kids manage their virtual school day. It’s free to download here. I hope this adds a bit of positivity to your distance learning experience!

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