Silver Linings: Opportunities for Growth in K-12 Distance Learning
School is now in full swing across most of the U.S. and for many students, that means spending a significant chunk of the week parked in front of a computer screen. During “normal times” parents and educators generally try to steer kids away from screens as much as possible. But they are a necessary, even vital, part of life right now, and distance learning is the model through which scores of students will receive the bulk of their education this year.
Along with increased screen time, there are other challenges that come with not attending school every day in-person. Connection, trust, and engagement, for example, can be difficult to foster within a virtual classroom, as can accountability and a sense of community.
How, then, can we embrace our “new normal?”
Opportunities for Students
One way to do so is to find benefits within this current landscape. Many of the challenges of distance learning actually go hand-in-hand with opportunities. Educators, like the ones featured in this recent webinar, are developing strategies and best practices for how to use this time of remote learning to teach students new skills and continue to prepare them for their futures. It’s important to adapt, they say — and to teach adaptability — in order to increase student engagement. By doing so, teachers can create opportunities for students to learn and grow new skills.
One major opportunity that virtual learning presents centers on preparation for postsecondary education, says Trevor Maggied, the guidance counselor at the Innovation Campus of Hilliard City Schools in Ohio. “In many ways, this is as college as it gets,” he says. Students increasingly have to rely on the internet for communication as well as for monitoring and submitting work, and some may go to class but only once or twice a week. “What you are doing is something that you will be, or could be doing, two, three, four, five years down the line.” In other words, this could be a unique opportunity for high school students to practice being college students.
Opportunities for Educators
Educators are also finding opportunities for themselves amid the challenges of distance learning. Megan Bledsoe, a counselor at Discovery Middle School in Vancouver, Washington, has harnessed the power of YouTube to reach her students. Our white paper, Five Ways to Ease Transitions for Students During Covid-19, highlights the value in reaching out to students via social media, as Bledsoe has. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are also popular with students, especially as they strive to remain connected to peers while socially distanced. School counselors like Bledsoe are finding ways to connect with students through social media using informative, and sometimes funny interactions.
That freedom to connect in unexpected, imaginative ways also appeals to Deadra Faulkner, Director of Guidance at Westbury High School in New York’s Nassau County. Distance learning is an excellent platform for “outside the box, creative thinking,” she says. And though the circumstances of the current moment may not be what most students and educators prefer, there is clearly potential within it. “We now have an opportunity to thrust ourselves into the new 21st century learning mindset that we were moving toward,” says Faulkner. “I believe we should look at that as an opportunity to support our families, our students, and build resolve.”
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Nancy Bullard is leveraging TikTok to reach her students at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary School. A science lab teacher, Bullard uses the platform to post funny, educational videos that cover a range of topics, from the human skeletal system to strawberry DNA.
In addition to professional growth, teachers have an opportunity right now for personal growth. As we noted in our blog post, Four Things School Counselors Have in Common with Superheroes, educators often possess incredible amounts of patience and compassion. But in order to be able to give endlessly, they must replenish their own reserves. A variety of online mental health resources for educators — including gratitude journals and self-help apps — make this easy to do without leaving home.
And with good mental health comes a greater capacity for empathy, adaptability, and resilience. Now more than ever, teachers have an opportunity every day to check in with their students about how they are feeling and relate to them on the difficulty of life in a pandemic. Ultimately, this will instill the valuable life lesson of learning to roll with the punches.
As the new school year starts, Naviance is committed to helping K-12 students and educators navigate this distance learning environment. Download our guide, Using Naviance to Support Distance Learning with Students, for practical ways Naviance clients can address this year’s challenges. And to find out how one school system in rural Maryland is using Naviance to meet the current moment, read our article, How Wicomico County Public Schools Has Responded to the Challenges of COVID-19.
In the on-demand webinar below, Transitioning to Back-to-School: Supporting Students’ Needs for College, Career and Life Readiness Planning, educators from across the country share their own college and career readiness strategies to support their students’ future planning needs.