From Our Faculty

Remote learning – How to make it a success 
Colin Schafer

 A short and non-definitive guide for students (and parents)


Teaching remotely is tough. Learning remotely is harder still. At least that's my observation from teaching remotely in the spring and having observed my own Grade 8 into Grade 9 student at home.

There are some students who absolutely thrive on remote learning. I believe these are a very rare breed who possess high self-motivation, are highly organized and would likely thrive in any educational environment. So where does this leave everybody else?

I believe there are some things every student can do to smooth the path to successful remote learning. And parents can help.  Not all of these will be applicable to every family. Not all of them will be achievable in every family as everyone's circumstances are different. I simply offer these as ideas which you might consider putting into operation.... as a student or a parent

Home is not the same as school but you can create a positive learning environment. Make a space centered around learning. This might be the dining room table. It might be a favorite chair in the living room. I believe it is unlikely to be a bed. Maybe not even a bedroom. It needs somewhere to rest a laptop, flat space for textbooks or notepads, somewhere for the coffee cup/water bottle to sit. Decent, light, preferably natural light. I shudder when one of my remote learners pops up wrapped in a blanket (maybe even over their head) in a darkened room with their laptop clearly on the bed in front of them as the background is mostly ceiling. This is not conducive to good learning. 

Posture and attitude
Be alert. Sit up. Pay attention. Actively listen. Make eye contact (with the camera! I realise this can feel weird but it's for the benefit of those seeing you onscreen). Imagine you are in a professional meeting. Be dressed (ties optional but being in pajamas suggests you are not taking this seriously – to yourself and others).

Bathroom breaks? Sure. Of course. Refilling water bottle? Please do. Snacking? Snacking is fine. But if you run off to the fridge three times in one lesson, I am going to judge your motivation! If you are never there when I return from sharing my screen with the class, I am going to doubt how much you have taken in though.

Be organised. Keep everything in your school bag beside you if necessary. Make sure your laptop is charged. (You're learning from home and your laptop battery died? Really? You can't find a socket? I am unimpressed and, frankly, if it happens a second time, unconvinced). Make sure your pencil is sharp before the lesson starts. Have a spare pen handy. Have your calculator ready for math and science. Small stuff that makes a difference to you being able to concentrate on the learning.

Lessons have a schedule, sure, but developing your own schedule around your school timetable will give structure to your day and let your mind and body know when it is time to learn. Get up at a regular time. Have breakfast. Take some exercise – this doesn't have to be vigorous, just do some stretching, go for a walk, run with your dog, do some pushups, get the blood flowing. Then start the sitting-at-a-laptop part of the day. Go to bed at a regular time.

Nothing says that you are interested in your education more than actually taking part in it. Wave your hand. Use the chat box. Unmute yourself and make a comment or ask a question. I know it all seems harder when everyone else is a screen away but, believe me, your teacher and classmates will welcome it.

Social aspects
In person schooling helps to fulfill many of the varied social needs of teenagers; remote learning, not so much. So you are going to have to put extra effort into making those social connections. If you are new to the school, reach out to someone who you think might be on your wavelength. If you've been here a while, reach out to someone new, who might be feeling especially isolated..... could be in a new home, in a new city (or even country) and need a helping hand to make some friends.

Probably the single most important quality to develop when learning remotely is resilience. Don't make excuses, keep on keeping on, even when you really don't want to. Make sure you self-advocate: ask for help, use all the resources available (and that includes parents, siblings, other students as well as teachers). Perseverance in the face of adversity is the hallmark of a winner, whether in the class room, on the athletic field or on the chessboard.

Please, please don't hover over your student. Lessons are for them, not for you. Sure, ask them what they are doing and how they are getting on but let them get on with it as you would if they were in school in person. We'll contact you if we feel there is anything you need to know or we need to discuss. Developing adolescents need their space to grow and making them feel constricted because they can't get into school is not going to help! On the other hand, be supportive. Don't ignore your student! Like houseplants, students need light and food and a supportive structure on which to grow..... but let them come to you if they need help rather than criticising, however well-meaning you are. Even simply offering help can come across as criticism if you aren't careful. We get that you want your student to succeed but we all want THEM to succeed. 

Ultimately it boils down to respect: respect for yourself, respect for your education, respect for your peers and respect for your teachers. If you filter everything through respect, you're not going to go too far wrong.