There is no secret that the beginning of any school year can be a bit rocky. In the beginning of the school year – especially if you are new or are transitioning to a new school level – being an online student can feel a bit like being out on a deserted island by yourself trying to find a way to build a raft with whatever materials you have around you. It can feel a bit overwhelming, daunting and scary! Well, I have a secret to tell you – teachers can feel a bit like that too! Even after being an online teacher for Wyoming Virtual Academy for the past eight years, I still can sense the “panic” rising from time to time myself!
As a teacher for both middle school and high school, I get the awesome job of helping with our on-boarding assemblies and one-on-ones with our families to help give them a smooth start. I also serve as the Freshman Advisor for our brand new high school students. In the time I have been honored to assist so many families, I have learned a few important things that really help families, students and teachers alike. In case you are already starting to feel a bit nervous about the impending school year, I hope that these tips and tricks can help reassure you, give you some things to focus on and most importantly, help you know that you are NOT alone!
Below are 10 simple tips that will hopefully help you get a great start. This is by no means all of the great ways I have seen students succeed starting their year, so if you have a tip or trick that YOU have used, be sure to comment on this blog – I LOVE learning from all of you as well!
- If there is one thing I have learned being an online teacher, it is that your teachers truly care about you! They are so happy that you are with them on your educational journey for this school year. More than that, they absolutely love when you ask questions and reach out for help. Finding a teacher you trust and can communicate easily and openly with will be such a huge thing your first few weeks – and trust me, it will be easy to do! One of my most favorite things in the world is opening up my inbox the first week and seeing a student that has sent an email to me introducing themselves. Feel free to let your teachers know a bit about you, send them a picture or two of yourself, your pets, and your hobbies – we LOVE seeing your life, and it gives us great insight into how to be a good teacher to you!
- Take the time to go through your email at least once a day. In the first few weeks, this will be how teachers introduce themselves and distribute important course information. It will also be how you know what tasks your school needs you to wrap up the first week, and when the opening live sessions are to help you start strong. Checking daily also ensures that email doesn’t “pile up on you and become overwhelming!
- Pay attention to any “to-do” items the first week that you can get out of the way fairly quickly. The Introduction to Online Learning Courses is a prime example of this. This course will not only help you feel more comfortable with how things will work this year, but it will also help you feel more confident in exploring your courses the first few weeks.
- Plan to Succeed! Use a daily planner to ensure that you don’t miss any of the important live sessions that are taking place the first few weeks. These sessions are your ticket to getting all your questions answered, meeting and building relationships with teachers, and meeting your peers. A great place to start is looking at your Class Connect schedule and your Daily Plan. The next go-to place I recommend is any announcements from your teachers. If you need to, have a notebook close at hand where you can put important details you don’t want to forget. I find having one place you can refer back to from time to time is super helpful in case you don’t remember “where you read it” online.
- Once you know the times you have blocked out for live Class Connect sessions, you can then plan around that to do your school work. A good rule of thumb is to try to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour daily for each of your courses. Also remember, there is a lot of flexibility and give-and-take because you are an online student, so make sure you plan to work at the peak times you can focus and spend quality time on your schoolwork.
- If there was one tip I would say is most important, it will be this one – don’t let your work pile up on you starting with Week 1! I always tell my students, “Start each week with a clean slate.” In other words, if you end the week with work that didn’t get finished, be disciplined about making it weekend homework. That way on Monday all that you have to focus on is the upcoming week’s work. As an online student, when you get behind, work can pile up pretty quickly. Avoiding this by being proactive with your work is truly essential.
- Have an “I got this” attitude! No matter if you are a first-time online student or an expert at online learning by now, we will all hit a “wall” at some point, whether it’s a hard assignment, a bad day, a frustrating computer issue, etc. In that moment – take a deep breath! Reach out for support and encouragement when you need it and know who those people are in your life who can help get you through the “stuck” moments.
- Find ways to connect with new friends! Look into your school’s clubs, live sessions and other ways that you can get to know your peers. Most of the students that are super successful in our program have a sense of belonging. They have friends in their online classes and they have made an effort to build those relationships by coming to live classes and getting to know one another. My favorite thing as a teacher is knowing which students are “besties” with other students online. It makes my heart happy, and it will make yours happy too!
- OK, this one may be tough to hear, especially if you are at that teenage place where your mom and dad are ‘not very cool.’ Here goes: Communicate with your mom and dad (or learning coach). Remember that they really want to see you succeed. Reach out to them and let them know how they can best support and help you. Let them ask you about your schoolwork. Even adults need accountability! Having someone in your corner at home that is helping you stay on track is a huge way our students succeed!
- Have fun! Believe it or not, being a virtual student is pretty cool. I have laughed so hard with my students, and I find that having a sense of humor will carry you through almost anything that comes your way. No matter what challenges you are faced with each day, find a reason to smile. Your attitude will be a huge part of your success as an online student. So get creative and silly, play and explore! Find ways to be a leader to your friends and peers as you gain confidence! Let your friends and teachers see your personality shine through! The more ownership you take in your school community the more positive you will feel.
Just remember that you are never alone, and most important – this is going to be an awesome year!