Schools in Palm Beach County (where I live) will, in all likelihood, remain closed for the rest of the school year. Digital lessons extend through April and, according to Palm Beach County School employees, the likelihood of switching back to physical classes with only a few weeks left in the school year is unlikely. Students will begin this switch to online classes starting Monday.
For many, this will be their first foray into online education. Debates over whether online or in-person classes are superior for different students and different age ranges will continue, but no one doubts that they are in fact different. As online classes and in-person classes are different, they require different approaches. But for parents who are worlds away from their school days, the idea of helping students adapt to online classes can be terrifying.
As both a tutor and a student currently enrolled in online classes, I have lived both sides of this reality. I know there are parents struggling to adapt out there, and thought I might lend some reassurance or, at the very least, some helpful guidelines.
Establish an Online School Routine that works for your Student
Some students work best at 8 am, others have their best brainpower at four in the afternoon. What works for one child may not work for another, even in the same household. This gets doubly complicated if more than one child is expected to work on a single household computer at the same time. Staggering study times can make things easier if you have younger students who may need assistance, allowing parents to focus their attention on the littles in the morning and help the teens with any lingering questions or difficulties they might have in the afternoon.
What is most important is finding a routine that works for you and your family and being consistent with it. Talk about what you have coming in the day over breakfast if it helps, or don’t even mention it until after 9 am if it stresses your student out. Do all your schoolwork in one go or spread it out over several chunks. Login in five days a week or take Wednesdays off depending on what your individual online school allows. Take breaks for meals or work through lunch. Honestly, there are no rules (except for what the school says, those definitely count as rules). Whatever works for you and your student is absolutely what you should go with.
What I can suggest are a few things which have worked for me and which schools around the country institute as standard practice. All of these are designed to help improve concentration, focus and make the transition to online classes easier.
- Be Consistent about ‘class time’. For the first week, this will likely require a little trial and error. Start at 9 one day, then at 11 the next day. But find a time that works for you and then stick with it. Having established routines remove decision strain and make our day to day lives easier to manage.
- Put your phone away when you start. Yes, this will be difficult at first. And maybe your student will need their phone at some point. But putting your phone on lockdown for one hour by using a timer or the parental control settings is a great way to get started. The timer goes off and your student knows to take a break for a snack or the bathroom or just to step away from the screen. Determine how long the breaks are going to be beforehand to avoid stalling in getting back to class.
- Don’t fight procrastination (at least at first). Some kids are going to slack. Picking a fight with them over this right off the bat is only going to make this harder. We are all in uncharted waters here. Natural consequences (missing an assignment, getting a zero on a quiz, failing a test) are a better teacher than any lecture.
Learn to Navigate Your New Online ‘Campus’ When Distance Learning
Half of the anxiety of starting online classes comes from unfamiliarity with the format. Knowing what to expect and how to navigate the necessary programs is honestly 75% of the battle. Once you know how to navigate the various subjects and your different course content, the material is usually relatively easy to manage.
Spend at least the first day simply learning about the different components. Take notes. Get used to the tabs, the toggles. Make sure your computer is up to date. Install any drivers or software you might need.
Check that everything is running as it should and familiarize yourself with the layout. Odds are if your students are middle school age or older, they will likely be familiar with most if not all of their online classroom. Most schools use online resources for tracking grades, giving out and submitting assignments, and even online textbooks and supplementary resources. So at least some portion of this should be old news.
A few sections that you definitely need to find and know include:
- Assignments – If your school uses Google classroom, students will already be familiar with this tab. You should be able to look at current, past and even future assignments to be able to plan your studying.
- Announcements – again, likely a familiar tab. Where teachers typically announce upcoming lessons, projects, assignments, and tests.
- “Classroom” – some online schools will have a virtual classroom that students need to login to at a certain time. You should find that out immediately. No one wants to be surprised that they were supposed to log in for the last week and a half.
- Discussion – this is probably a new addition. Some online classes require a minimum number of comments and responses in a designated discussion board to count for ‘attendance’. Others may not include it at all.
- Tests – this may not be its own tab. Often tests are incorporated in the ‘assignments’ but it’s important to find that out in the beginning.
- Grades – if everything else is brand new, this at least should be a familiar tab. Most schools offer online grades for students’ middle school and up and the format is unlikely to have changed in the transition to online classes.
Parents, Do Not Try to ‘Play’ Teacher
Newsflash – you are not their teacher. You are Mom or Dad or Grandma or their favorite Auntie Eve. Even if you do happen to be a teacher you are still not their teacher. I know this can seem frustrating but bear with me.
At the end of the day, teachers walk away. As much as they may care about their students, they still get a chance to turn off, step back, and leave the office (though not for long because teachers are chronically overworked). You, as the parent, do not have that opportunity. Homeschool parents have years of experience cultivating that precarious teacher/parent balance. You have had three days. And at the end of each of those days, your most important role is and always will be as ‘parent’. Try to maintain that line as much as you can. It is always difficult to watch your child struggle, but over inserting yourself in your child’s instruction will only serve to drive a wedge between you. Help when asked, offer guidance when needed, be available if you can. But do not take the singular role of ‘educator’ upon yourself, especially if it is an area you do not excel in.
This brings me to my second point. If you are trying to help your student with a class or assignment, please do not assume you know the answer. Course content and methodology may have changed since you were in school. Pretending you know what is best will only frustrate students when they turn around and get the question wrong. If you are not 100% certain, or even if you are, assume ignorance. Ask questions, read over their shoulder, ask about resources they have within the online class. Show your student that it is okay not to know and how you would go about finding the answer. Learning how to learn is just as important as learning the answer.
Well, there you have it, parents! My greatest hits list for helping your at-home students adjust to online classes.
Know How to Navigate the Classroom.
Don’t Play Teacher.
And most of all, just remember, Amazon delivers wine now.
Just kidding! Kind of…
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