The 2020-21 school year brought a lot of new students to online school who otherwise may not have even tried it. Many families were unsure of how their local districts would handle new guidelines brought by COVID-19, and others felt most comfortable going with an existing virtual school with years of experience.
With these sudden changes in their lives, students may feel more anxious and unmotivated to learn. I’ve seen this firsthand as a middle school teacher at an online school in Virginia. Since the start of the pandemic, it’s increasingly important to protect our students’ emotional well-being, so that it is conducive to learning the curriculum we work so hard to provide them.
Below are some ways schools can help ease the stress level and improve the emotional health of students navigating online learning.
1. Ease frustration by supporting students. This probably goes without saying. If students feel like they’re failing all the time, especially if online school is a brand new setting for them, depression and anxiety will spike.
Some students may need a little more time and attention than others, and it may not always be school-related. Advisors should support students with non-curriculum-specific challenges, like time management, and work as a liaison between the family and teacher when the student has specific needs.
2. Get personal–and creative. The pandemic has no doubt made a social impact on students, and it can be isolating. When face-to-face contact is limited, it’s important to think outside the box when getting to know your students and navigating their emotional needs.
For example, one of my fellow teachers implements “brain breaks” for about 60 seconds in the middle of a lesson, where students are selected to share something unrelated to the lesson. This could be talking about their pet or even their hobby with classmates. Some students are not as open about sharing their story, so we also host virtual BINGO, book clubs, and talent shows. Give students projects to pour themselves into, like a student mentor program, literary magazine, esports team, or art club coloring book.
There is a misconception that online learning is impersonal, but it doesn’t have to be if we provide students with the right resources.
3. Caution families to be realistic. Just as a “traditional” brick-and-mortar setting is not for everyone, virtual learning may not be a perfect fit either.
Advise families to be realistic about how independently their student can work, and how much the parent is willing and able to check on student progress. Online learning works best when there is a three-way partnership among teacher, student, and parent. This means that the parent assumes more responsibility than they might be used to if they are coming from a different setting. The parent will act as the “hands and feet” of the teacher, who may be trying to communicate with the student, but who is not always present and able to make the student complete work.
This level of collaboration greatly improves online learning and ensures that students are motivated both inside the (virtual) classroom and out.
A post-pandemic world has forced us all–educators, parents, and students–to deal with growing pains. At the same time, it’s also pushing us to provide more opportunities for students to succeed in any situation. With a strong support system and plenty of non-academic activities to choose from, online school can offer a well-rounded experience while students find their stride again.
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