"Something is...different," states Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
According to Applied Educational System writer Bri Stauffer in her April 2020 article "Online Learning vs. Distance Learning," the three major differences between online learning and distance learning are location, interaction and intention. Online learning, which took place before the closure of schools, included a combination of interacting with a teacher and completing assignments/coursework at a brick-and-mortar school, while distance learning takes place 100% off-site and in a student’s home.
With schools currently closed across the nation due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, teachers needed to make a quick and abrupt change to meet the needs of their students while off-campus. Initially not knowing how long-distance learning will last, teachers have come to realize that it will most likely take place through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Educators are also aware of the resulting stress that school closures, job losses, and staying at home has on families.
I have served as a principal at five different traditional brick-and-mortar public schools for 25 years and am currently the principal of a home/virtual K-8 public school. "Something is...different," states Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. Due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, many of us may feel like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. This classic Bill Murray film is about a TV weatherman who wakes up each morning to relive the same day over and over again. Murray’s situation drives him to do everything from distraction to destruction, until he figures out ways to turn his situation to his advantage, which ultimately changes the focus from himself to others and being non-productive to productive.
Do you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day during the COVID-19 Coronavirus? If you do, let’s look at six distance learning tips that will help students do their very best work at home while schools are closed. These distance learning tips were developed by home/virtual K-8 public school students, teachers and staff members.
Set a Schedule Each Day: "Okay campers, rise and shine," states Murray from Groundhog Day. The first distance learning tip is setting up and sticking to a schedule each day. Waking up each day at a set time in the morning is the first step to distance learning success. Just as teachers set a schedule each day for students in a brick-and-mortar school, students and parents/guardians need to set a schedule at home during the school week. It’s easy to stay in your pajamas and to avoid doing distance learning work if a schedule is not in place. After waking up at a set time each morning, students should eat breakfast and start doing their distance learning assignments.
Have an Organized Workspace: "It just takes an awful lot of work," states Murray in Groundhog Day. But keeping an organized workspace is worth the work. At brick-and-mortar schools, teachers expect students to keep their desks neat and organized. At home, each student needs an organized area to complete distance learning assignments during the school week. This can be at the kitchen table, dining room table, or a card table set up as a makeshift desk.
Put Away Your Cell Phones: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same?" asks Murray in Groundhog Day. Since students are stuck in their houses 24/7, it’s easy for them to play on their smartphones all day and accomplish nothing educational. All brick-and-mortar schools have policies about cell phones, from having them off while at school to not being able to use them during the school day. It’s best to mute or turn off cell phones while doing distance learning work to stay focused and to avoid distractions.
Use a Charged Device/Laptop: "This is pitiful," states Murray in Groundhog Day. It is distressing when a student’s device/laptop is not charged and dies, which prevents a student from doing distance learning assignments. Many brick-and-mortar schools have Chromebook carts that are also charging stations. Students need to get into the habit of charging their device each night, so they are ready to go the following day.
Set a Timer and Take Regular Breaks: "Anything different is good," states Murray in Groundhog Day. Breaks are built-in at brick-and-mortar schools, such as recess and lunch. While doing distance learning at home, families should set a timer to have students take regular breaks. This can be anywhere from every 30 to 60 minutes. Having a timer helps keep students on track and focused. During each break, which can be 10 to 30 minutes, students are encouraged to hydrate with water, eat a healthy snack, and then engage in physical activity, such as walking. Participating in a variety of different activities during each break is suggested.
Complete Assignments Provided by Your Teacher: "I don't see any other way out," states Murray in Groundhog Day. Simply completing assignments provided by your teacher may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget the basics. At brick-and-mortar schools, when teachers provide assignments, the assumption is that students begin their work immediately, and continue until it's completed. During distance learning, students need to make sure to take the initiative to do the work assigned. Every district, school, principal, and teacher have different student expectations for distance learning. It’s easy for families to be distracted about hearing what other teachers or schools are doing for distance learning. Just focus on what your teacher is assigning.
Participate in Online Sessions Offered by Your Teacher: "Thanks for watching," states Murray in Groundhog Day. Every district, school, principal, and teacher approaches distance learning using a variety of formats. These include live and recorded distance learning sessions through programs such as Google Hangouts and Zoom. Families need to make it a point to have their children participate in online sessions offered by the teacher. In turn, teachers will say, “Thanks for watching.” Online sessions help with the student to teacher connection and give students an opportunity to ask their teacher questions.
The message of Groundhog Day is that we have free will and the option to choose goodness. It may take time, but it's the only path to redemption. Our free will as educators is to provide the best distance learning experience for our students and parents/guardians as it ebbs and flows with COVID-19 Coronavirus updates. "Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I'm happy now," states Murray in Groundhog Day. Let’s all remain positive, healthy and happy for our students, colleagues, family, and friends.
The author, Curt Visca, is an Adjunct Professor at Concordia University Irvine and a principal for one of the largest districts in California.