Jennifer Richardson is a Florida FuelEd Teacher Ambassador, focusing on 6th-12th grade Social Studies and English.
The decision to embrace virtual school is an exciting one, but it comes with a learning curve. That’s why I’ve assembled a few of my best tips for new learning coaches!
1. Make a schedule and stick to it. I recommend creating a full schedule and strictly following it for two full weeks. You could use a paper planner or calendar, scheduling programs or apps, or whatever works for you. In fact, I’d suggest experimenting to find your best fit. Whatever you choose, stick to it for two full weeks. At the end of the two weeks, once you’ve become comfortable with the schedule and technology, begin to embrace your flexibility. You can adopt a checklist mentality, break up the school day into smaller parts, or do what fits your life best.
2. Verify, Verify, Verify. As you begin working in online school, remember to verify everything. Verify that your k–mails are sent. Verify that assignments were submitted correctly. Verify that your child is comfortable with and completing all work. As a parent, I’m often tempted to take my child’s word for it when they tell me they’ve finished their chores or assignments for the day. The thing is, my kids are smart. They are smart enough to know how to cut corners and do the bare minimum. They are also normal kids. They’d rather play than work (who wouldn’t?). In a traditional classroom, teachers tend to be the ones handling this issue, and it can be heartbreaking and shocking the first time our little angels try to pull the wool over our eyes. Here’s the truth, though – it’s going to happen. Brace yourself for the impact, and better still, head it off by verifying they’ve completed all work every day.
3. Read your k–mail. You’ll do a great job reading k–mail for the first few weeks, and then you’ll settle into your role as a learning coach. You’ll be tempted to gloss over k–mail, but remember that k–mail is the first and best way for teachers to quickly disseminate important information to students and learning coaches. So, always read your k–mail!
4. Communicate, don’t wait! If you have a concern, question, or problem, communicate right away! Call or k–mail your teachers, advisors, or technical help immediately. Do not wait. Trouble can snowball quickly, so don’t hesitate to pick up the phone!
5. Teachers are people, too. The relationship between teachers and learning coaches can be one of the most rewarding aspects of online school. Don’t be intimidated to call us. We are on the phone all day! Don’t be afraid to ask us for help and support when you are frustrated or having trouble motivating your children. We are professionals. We have resources and ideas to offer you. Consider your children’s teachers to be your partners, and enjoy the care and friendships that may come of it. With that said, I’ll also request mercy on our behalf. There may be times when we can’t answer the phone, accidentally send out a k–mail with a typo, or fail to grade an assignment as quickly as you’d like. Please understand that we’re working to give our best to every student, and some days that requires juggling priorities to determine the relative urgency of lots of different issues. Remember that even when we can’t meet your needs immediately, we are working hard to give every family our very best.
6. Take notes. When you purchase school supplies for your students, buy yourself a notebook as well. Keep it handy as you work through tutorials related to the various technologies you’ll be using. Make notes about places to go for extra help or resources. Jot down anything that looks confusing or might be worth keeping nearby as a physical reminder. Write down important names and numbers. As you go through the school year, add to your notebook. You’ll have a wealth of useful information to make life easier in the future. Also, we’d love it if you’d share your best tips with us, so this is an excellent way to keep that information handy.
7. Organize your work space and your desktop. The families that tend to have the most success in online school are organized families – or at least organized with respect to this aspect of their lives. (Don’t worry, I always have a pile of laundry that ought to be put away somewhere in my house! No judgment!) In order to make your life and your children’s lives easier, take some time to organize the physical space where they’ll do the bulk of their work and absolutely organize the computer on which they’ll be working. Help them create folders for each of their different subjects. Make sure you teach them how to save documents to each of these folders, and how to name documents for clear and quick retrieval. Different schools and teachers may have different preferences for the way documents are saved, but it’s a good rule of thumb to always have your last name, class title, and assignment or lesson title in there somewhere. For my class, a typical assignment might be saved as something like “DoeJ_Civics_Lesson1.doc.” If a student saves their work this way, it is much easier for me to identify, and it is much easier for them to find later in case of some sort of technical glitch. They’d just go to their Civics folder on their Desktop and quickly locate the appropriate file. They aren’t digging through hundreds of documents with names that make no sense. This is an excellent long-term skill as well. They’ll be saving and submitting computer-based assignments their entire educational lives. If you can teach them how to keep an organized computer, they’ll reap the benefits of that lesson forever.
8. Connect with other Learning Coaches. Don’t miss out on opportunities for face-to-face meetings or field trips. Put yourself out there and make a new friend or two. No one understands the “Learning Coach Life” better than another learning coach. You can make a new friend, offer support to one another when you’re feeling down, swap babysitting, meet up for coffee, and bounce great ideas off one another. You can also connect your kids and have them work together from time to time. Our learning coaches are some of our best assets. Recognize that they are just like you, and don’t pass up the opportunity for such valuable relationships.
9. Update your cell phone contacts. As you start out the school year, program all of the following numbers into your phone: Teachers, Advisors, Administrators, & Technical Help. This way, you don’t have to hunt through k–mail to find the right number to call, and you’ll know when we’re calling you. Answer if you can. We won’t bite!
10. Finally, give yourself some grace. The shift to virtual learning can be difficult. Most families don’t anticipate the time involved with learning the technology required for online education. Remember the first time you used a new computer program or social media site? You don’t automatically know what to do, where to click, how to find extra resources, and how to communicate with teachers. It will take some time to figure those things out. For the first few weeks of school, everything will take longer. You won’t be an automatic expert, and neither will your child. So, give yourself some grace. You’ll be a master in no time!
I hope these ten tips help you to have a successful and smooth transition to virtual learning! I just know you’re going to do great!