Key takeaways from remote learning conferences for students, parents, teachers

Posted 11/5/20

RALEIGH — Parents and educators across North Carolina attended a free half-day conference last Wednesday that provided them with remote learning strategies, resources and tutorials.

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Key takeaways from remote learning conferences for students, parents, teachers

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RALEIGH — Parents and educators across North Carolina attended a free half-day conference last Wednesday that provided them with remote learning strategies, resources and tutorials.

The conference, called the REAL 2.0 (Remote Education & Learning) Conference, offered 46 Zoom sessions, some targeting parents while others targeted teachers. Nearly 1,300 parents and teachers from 89 of North Carolina’s 100 counties registered for the conference, including several from Chatham.

Among other topics, educators and experts gave tutorials in virtual learning platforms like Google Classroom, spoke about maintaining mental wellness and offered virtual learning strategies. Wake County Family Academy educators also led three sessions in Spanish for Spanish-speaking parents.

The North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE), an education nonprofit working out of the governor’s office to support workforce development, organized the conference along with Hometown Strong, Community Family Academy and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

“This is an unprecedented time that we’re in right now for education,” Caroline Sullivan, the NCBCE’s executive director, said in an Oct. 14 press release. “We’re pleased to be able to support our teachers and parents by providing a resource that will assist both of these groups in their new roles.”

News + Record reporters Hannah McClellan and Victoria Johnson tuned in to several sessions of the REAL 2.0 Conference. Johnson also attended a separate social and mental wellness webinar hosted by the Chatham Education Foundation (CEF) last Friday. Here are their key takeaways:

Students

20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer screen 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps prevent eye strain and reminds students that taking breaks are important, REAL presenter and educator Chris Beneck said.

Communication with teachers. Your teachers want to help you succeed and are available to help address your remote learning questions or challenges, presenters emphasized.

Be on time. Even though you’re learning from your home and can wake up right before school starts, finding a quiet place to sit with your gathered materials before class starts will help you to get in the mindset of actually going to school.

Build a new routine. Take breaks and eat food, like you would during a normal school day. Set aside time to work on homework and also set aside time for activities unrelated to school. And don’t underestimate the power of sleep — try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day while aiming for eight or more hours of sleep.

Stay engaged. It’s a lot easier to get distracted on your computer than at a desk in school. Stay off of social media while learning, keep your Zoom or video window open and take notes in a Word document or on paper to help you pay attention and remain focused.

Knowing about accommodations available to you. If you or your student need learning accommodations, there are some virtual tools available. “I feel like that is such an important part of our struggling learners,” REAL presenter Vicki Anderson said. “Not all struggling learners are those who need accommodations but those are kind of a subset of what we’re talking about here.” Here are a few tools Anderson has compiled: rb.gy/opxzth.

Set small and attainable goals each day so you don’t feel overwhelmed. “It is so helpful to be able to set a small goal to get two things done today,” said Orlando Dobbin, a school counselor at Pittsboro Elementary who spoke at the CEF’s webinar. “And it can give you motivation to get the next thing done. So instead of saying we’re going to get all our assignments done by next week, you can set a short, really specific, attainable goal of ‘Let’s get one or two pages done.’”

Parents

Help encourage your students to show up on time and prepare for virtual learning. Your students can create a new remote learning routine that includes getting ready, eating breakfast and having their school materials ready before going to class.

Positive reinforcement. Remote learning — and the social isolation it can bring — is really hard. Reminding your students of their achievements and successes can help motivate them during times that feel particularly challenging.

Using resources teachers provide. Many teachers are posting videos and messages for both students and teachers — those resources are there for you to use. When in doubt, email your student’s teachers to see how you can best stay connected to resources they’re posting.

Stay in communication with your student’s teachers — not only to stay up to date on assignments and available resources, but also to check in on how your student is doing.

“Success looks different now.” That’s something Dobbin emphasized, adding that even if your student typically gets all A’s, not holding them to that standard is important as they navigate remote learning.

Acknowledge that remote learning is difficult — for you and your student. Chatham Education Foundation Executive Director Jaime Detzi began Friday’s webinar by emphasizing that reality: “This is a tough time for students and families, and not all kids were built to learn remotely,” Detzi said. “Not all families were built to learn remotely, whether that’s that you are not able to be around due to work obligations. And not all families even have the resources to learn remotely. We know broadband, it’s a big question here in Chatham.”

Listen to your student’s thoughts and feelings. “Validate, validate, validate,” said Danelle Louder, a CEF panelist and clinical mental health counselor. “There is no better way to open a conversation with somebody than say, ‘I hear you.’ An easiest way to connect with a young person is to get on their level. Sit, don’t stand over them. Just get down on their level and say, ‘What I hear you saying is this.’ Young people don’t feel like us old people, as adults, as people in charge, take the time to listen.”

Teachers

Set students up for success. Whether your students are struggling on “the spectrum of laziness or ability,” REAL presenter Anderson said setting clear expectations early on for students is crucial for success in virtual learning. Expectations such as being on time, being in a quiet place and being prepared can be made more fun to students by showcasing expectations in a virtual class poster to display before class starts. (If you’re feeling really creative, you can add a personalized Bitmoji of yourself to the poster to really engage your students.)

Offer a variety of assignments and learning tools. Having asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities will help engage students on all parts of the spectrum, and help students with various remote learning barriers feel as if they can still be engaged in your classroom.

Student temperature check-ins. Anderson recommended checking in with students with “stress checks” (which you can build through Google Chrome extensions), lesson understanding checkpoints and use of emojis.

Keep things moving — use short segments with active transitions. REAL presenter and educator David Futch said keeping students engaged so they don’t feel like you’re wasting their time is crucial in motivating them. “As we work with students, as you work with students, we see just how difficult it is for those students to — some of them — to get motivated,” Futch said. “If they don’t bring intrinsic motivation with them, then it makes it difficult.”

This idea carries over into filming lessons, too, Futch said. Studies show that short two-minute videos attract high engagement, so aiming to keep your videos between two and five is crucial.

Allow students to express themselves and use lots of positive reinforcement.

Encourage meeting in small groups through breakout rooms. Both conferences emphasized the importance of starting class time with class check-ins and allowing students to share with each other how they’re doing.

Get out of your comfort zone. Post videos that are silly and engaging, ask your students how they’re doing and try new ways of teaching lessons you’ve gotten used to teaching in-person. Perhaps have students draw or ask them to use a tool called Blabberize to add audio to pictures. “What does a plant have to say when a hurricane comes?” Futch said, suggesting topics. “How does an animal feel when there’s pollution? So all of these things. So I think that one, we’ve got students that may not want to write or that may not be their strong skill set.”

Know that self care is necessary. The work you are doing is important, and the stress you’ve experienced during the pandemic can be traumatic, REAL presenter Natasha Rachelle said. Having lots of “tools in your toolbox” for when you need them is just as important as having virtual lesson plans and videos for students.

Recordings of all 46 sessions will be released onto the conference’s site, ncstudentconnect.com, in about two weeks at the latest.

The REAL 2.0 Conference follows a previous conference held in early August for North Carolina’s teachers. Both conferences are part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s NC Student Connect initiative, a $40 million program launched in September to help close internet connectivity and digital literacy gaps among teachers, students and parents.

Money from this initiative will also fund two more remote learning NCBCE conferences later this year — including one for STEM teachers on Nov. 17 and another for arts and humanities teachers on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16.

Visit ncstudentconnect.com for more information.

Reporters Hannah McClellan and Victoria Johnson can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com and victoria@chathamnr.com.

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