Making Online School Work Better

The school year is beginning, but it’s never looked so different. Many schools across the world are turning to online learning as a way to continue our youth’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are very fortunate to have the technology to continue learning online, this format of education creates several challenges. Here is advice from experts on how your teenager can get the most out of their online learning experience:

Create consistency and structure.  Experts agree that one of the most important factors of success in online learning is establishing a schedule. Studies show that establishing a daily schedule reduces stress, allows us to be more efficient and productive, and improves our overall sense of well-being. Here are some ideas for creating a good schedule to suggest to your student:

  • Wake up at roughly the same time every weekday and treat it like a day at school. Be sure to go to sleep early enough to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Create a regular workplace that is not your bed and is free of distractions.
  • Get dressed before schools begins. Even if you’re just wearing sweats and a t-shirt, make it a priority to get out of your pajamas.
  • Plan short breaks to stretch and move between classes or working sessions. A good rule of thumb is to take a 5 minute break for every hour you work.
  • Plan an online lunch break with friends… like your own Zoom lunch table!
  • Minimize distractions by:
    • using noise cancelling headphones if they are available to you.
    • avoiding your cellphone, tablet, or TV.
    • making family members aware of when you are in class or taking a test to ensure you are not interrupted.
  • Figure out what time of day you work best and build your schedule around completing your most challenging task in this time window.


Get Organized. Teens will need to organize files, name documents clearly, and have a way to keep track of dates for assignments, quizzes, tests, and project due dates. Here are some ideas for your teen:

  • Use a planner (paper or digital) or a white board to keep track of schedules, assignments, teacher office hours, due dates and study sessions.
  • Use this same planner to develop a work schedule to complete your tasks, for example breaking down large projects into smaller deadlines.
  • Ensure your designated workspace has all the supplies you need for the school day.
  • Consider creating study groups or accountability partners with other classmates.
  • Check email more than once a day and develop a system for keeping copies of teacher emails and submission of assignments.
  • Develop a system for naming documents and organizing files so that you can easily find your work by class.


Get Help. If your teen is struggling, don’t wait until the problem is overwhelming.

  • If your student struggles with keeping on track and doing homework in a timely manner, consider hiring a college student to act as a coach and keep the stress off of family relationships.
  • If your student is confused about a specific assignment or topic, have them email their teacher immediately. They should be as specific as possible about what help they need. Teachers want to hear from students and will be able to direct your teen to resources or schedule a video or phone call to provide help if necessary.
  • If your teen’s school allows it, ask your teen to use the camera when attending an online class. A frequent problem of online classes is that students turn the camera off so that they can use their computer or other devices for other purposes such as scrolling through social media. Your student will get more out of a class if they interact with their instructor and peers.
  • Let your teen know that they should show up for every session. Teachers are taking the time to make sure the students know the material. Staying on top of the assignments will keep them from falling behind.


Tips for Parents

  • Hold your students accountable the same way you would during the regular school year. If this means regular check-ins or asking about grades, continue to do what you would have done if they were in the classroom.
  • Check that your student is actually attending Zoom classes and that the camera is on and they are participating.
  • Role model. You are your teen’s most important role model during this time. If you want your teen to follow a consistent schedule, get organized, and stay off social media during work periods, then you need to do the same.
  • Be patient. The many closures, uncertainties, and canceled events have made all of us feel anxious, angry and/or sad. Your teen may need help in processing these intense emotions, and they are unlikely to perform their best schoolwork feeling this way. Validate your teens’ feelings, help them label their emotions, and role model healthy coping skills. Now is a time to practice patience and compassion with your children.


Final Thoughts…

While there are many drawbacks to online learning, there are some positives that this season creates. First, learning the skills above to manage online school will prepare teenagers for the freedom that college brings. Their transition to post-secondary education will likely be smoother if they can master these skills now. These skills will also help them be more successful in the workplace. Second, if you can stay patient with your teen during this time, this is a real opportunity to grow closer as a family before they move out of the house.

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