As always, I hope you are all doing well and staying healthy. It remains eerily quiet on campus, but our grounds crew is hard at work turning winter into spring. Green grass is poking through the thatch, and the day lilies are blossoming, providing a bit of hope during difficult days.
We are well into our fourth week of remote learning, and fatigue is showing. In my daily class meetings with students, I can tell many of them are lacking motivation. Who can blame them? This is tough. It is hard on all of us. Even without after school activities, I am working more hours while also feeling more disconnected from my colleagues, students, and families. The teachers report the same. Parents too. This new normal is not much fun, so let’s make the best of it. Spirit Week is coming, and a new school-wide Team has launched on Microsoft 365 (Team SRS). There is an “SRS Bear Hunt” on our website. We can share pictures and videos, perhaps a Tik-Tok too? Pay attention to social media, Student Government misses you. We love to see your chalk drawings and fairy houses, and more challenges are in the pipeline. In the meantime, there is a lot to learn “in” school each week.
Our quick transition to remote learning was about as smooth as possible, and we have learned a lot in four weeks. If we must proceed with this model for several more weeks, we can learn from some of our students who are having tremendous success. I reached out to several of them for input. These students have different learning styles, study habits, and interests but share the following tips.
1) Embrace the work – with nothing else to do (e.g., softball, dance, drama, soccer), they find themselves spending more time and effort to truly understand the academic material and produce high quality work. Instead of quick responses to questions that are sometimes necessary due to lack of time, they are producing thoughtful responses, making connections, and drawing conclusions. Some of their work is of an incredibly high level for their ages. Some younger students are spending a bit more time practicing math facts, learning Spanish, reading non-fiction texts (including cooking recipes for reading and math), and extending what teachers are doing in class. Parents feel free to reach out to teachers if you would like additional suggestions.
2) Stick to a schedule and routine – though it can be a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, students of all ages find that maintaining a routine is helpful for focus, completing work, and making the days pass more quickly. Some have even commented they can’t believe how fast the days go by. Just like in school, younger students will need more breaks during the day to maintain focus and avoid emotional outbursts. Unlike other schools that are scaling back the time they require students to do work, we are finding that students are benefiting greatly from a full school day, with breaks and plenty of time for downtime after school and on weekends.
3) Establish a dedicated workspace – I have seen pictures of many student “offices” in kitchens, bedrooms, and lofts for students of all ages. Primary age students love feeling “grown up” with their own offices. Just like adults, students are benefiting from separate work and leisure spaces. This helps students separate work from play and rest, allowing them to be more focused and productive. If students are working from a couch, strongly consider a dedicated workspace.
4) Synchronous class meetings – we continue to find that the more consistent contact students have with their classmates and teachers, the better they perform. Even middle school students are still young enough to need face time with their teachers to remain on track and motivated. An asynchronous model seems more appropriate for high school and college students. Please check in with your students frequently to ensure they are indeed on track.
5) Maintain “in school” etiquette – the most successful students are attending classes with cameras on, without extra devices, with their work done, dressed for school, and not snacking (or eating breakfast). Again, this helps separate break time from work time. These are essentially the same expectations we have in school, so we request the same for remote learning.
6) Mental and physical breaks – as we have encouraged from the beginning, students are finding stepping away from their screens and getting fresh air and exercise are keys to keeping healthy mentally and physically. I love hearing about bike rides, walks in the woods, shooting hoops, hopscotch, and other easy and fun activities students are making part of their daily routines.
7) Asynchronous Fridays – YES, FRIDAY IS A SCHOOL DAY. Sorry to “yell” here, but Friday may be the most important day of the week. Our highly successful remote learning students are using Fridays as an opportunity to meet with classmates for group work, receive extra academic help, connect with advisors – maybe even have a class or advisory lunch, read a choice book, practice musical instruments, focus on art projects, take up a new hobby or focus on an existing one, and have a break from a busy scheduled school week. (Did you know that Shaker’s Monday through Thursday remote schedule has more dedicated class time than most schools have in five days of “normal school”?) Friday is not a day off. We reserve those for weekends.
These tips from several of our most successful remote learning students make sense to me, as I try to practice them myself. In some ways these days are like any school day. Wake up, attend classes, take a break, finish school, get some exercise, do homework, get ready for dinner, spend time with family, (hopefully no more homework), and go to bed. The routine provides a necessary structure even if maddening at times.
As I process this experience with my high school daughters, we discuss our many backpacking experiences. Regardless of the length or location of the hikes, all trips start with nervous excitement and anticipation. After some adjustment, we settle into a routine of embracing the forest and trails and finding new ways to have fun and pass time. We don’t think about the trailhead or the finish line, for if we did every step would be grueling. We know that we will eventually reach our destination with tired feet and a desire for normal life. In our current quarantine situation, the end is unknown and our normal lives unclear, but we can focus on the present and dig a bit deeper into mental reserves that endurance athletes know so well. When we do emerge from the forest, I know we will be stronger than ever.
Take care and be well,