Managing the e-Learning Curve: Mothers' P.O.V.

With their sons thrust into online learning for an indefinite period as a result of the global pandemic --- many St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) parents find themselves staring down a whole new world of learning themselves. 

Here are some perspectives from current parents on their new learning journey, alongside their sons.

SMCS student on his computer for e-learning at home during COVID-19.

PHYSICIAN AND MOTHER OF THREE, including twin boys.

What did you do to prepare your sons to suddenly enter an 'online classroom'?

A few things were discussed to prepare for an ‘online classroom’.  We informed our sons as soon as we heard the news about SMCS doing e-learning. We felt this early communication was important, so they were mentally prepared for the different classroom. 

Interestingly, they seemed relieved to know that the school and their teachers were thinking about them. With so much out of their control right now, this put them back in control of their classwork and schedule. 

With twins and two classrooms, we made sure a few days before starting online school, that their desks in their rooms were clean and clear. They checked their computers and did an IT check to be sure they would be ready for their first class. I asked them to check their school bags to see what books they brought home and between the two of them, they had most textbooks. 

We discussed setting their alarm for 7:50 a.m., getting a quick shower, eating breakfast, and getting to their school work station at 8:25 a.m. We tried to re-create ‘going to school’. 

What has struck you most about how they are adapting?

They are adapting very well. Thankfully, this generation of kids is not afraid of technology and adapt easily to new IT. 

The shorter class time is a must for online learning and the break helps a lot for my boys' attention spans. 

When I get home from clinical work, I ask them as I always do: "How was your day at school?"  They really miss seeing their friends in person, but they seem to be coping. 

The weekends are for relaxing, but they will still be responsible for homework over the weekend, just like ‘normal school’.

SMCS students switched to e-learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any tips you have learned that you are open to sharing?

One tip is to try to have some fun with the e-learning too. The teachers have been great. My son’s teacher introduced his cat to the class. The kids all had a laugh about that. We need to try to have some fun. We can't be too serious all of the time.

Try to have an online classroom, that includes a bright room, desk space, and they can leave their stuff there for the duration of learning. They should clean their space at the end of the day though. Organize their books and no snack wrappers left in their space...just like their desk at school is to be clean and organized when they leave for the day.

With twins, an older sister, and a husband all doing work from home, we have four work spaces set up. The kids are in their rooms at their desks, not laying in bed doing learning, and my husband is set up at the dining table. My twins have each other to take breaks with...which is nice.

Other advice: This is a learning curve for parents and students, mistakes will be made, the computers will crash from time to time, kids will get disconnected, but the mistakes will get sorted out and everything will be okay.

What have you learned as a parent about navigating online learning, during an uncertain time?

I have learned that children are very adaptable during this uncertain time. My boys are actually enjoying their new classroom (even though they will never admit it!). They seem to like the schedule in their day and it provides them with some control over their day, during a time that they have very little control over their environment (cannot see friends, cannot do team sports, cannot see grandparents, cannot go to SMCS). 

Our focus right now is getting through a global pandemic, not ‘emergency school’ but I think a stress-free, easy-to-use/navigate online school program can help children cope through this. They have security and control over this aspect of their life, so they can try to keep their lives as ‘normal’ as possible.

SMCS students switched to e-learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MOTHER OF TWO, including a Grade 7 student.

What did you do to prepare your son for online learning at SMCS?

We actually set up a little nook with his desk and learning materials in a quiet area of basement. He usually works in the dining room for school work and we thought that this special nook might get him motivated and also with us all being home it might be quieter and less of a distraction. 

What has struck you most about how he is adapting?

He got right into it. I think it helped that we reviewed Edsby messages the night before it started so there was clarity in the morning. No problems at all with any of the Zoom technology. He seemed keen and interested in the new way of learning. 

If you have other children, how has your son's learning experience been impacted, if at all, by the other children's current school schedule?

My other son is two years younger and in the TDSB and he has not started any online official schoolwork. So far, this has not been an issue as my SMCS son is downstairs working, and my younger son stays away from him. 

They have outdoor time together during the break and play basketball. 

What have you learned as a parent, navigating remote learning, during an uncertain time?

I think it is incredible what the school and teachers have put together in such a short time. It has been totally seamless. The remote learning has not been an issue at all. Obviously, it is new and a novel experience and I am not sure we will all be feeling this way in a few weeks. So far so good and a big thanks to all at St. Michael’s for everything they are doing. 

SMCS students switched to e-learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MOTHER OF THREE, including a Grade 9 student.

How did you prepare your son for a new online learning environment?

We were well-prepared thanks to Edsby and the detailed and timely information provided by the school. Communications detailing the school’s plans and expectations of the students provided clarity and a strong sense of comfort. 

We actually did a dry run through it on Monday, March 23, the day before classes started, to ensure the technology was working and our son was set up to hit the ground running. 

As per the school’s recommendations, he made up a daily schedule and organized his desk/workspace to eliminate distractions and ensure he had materials handy.

What has struck you most about how he is adapting?

We were pleasantly surprised by his willingness to get back to learning and settle into a new daily routine. At 14, and after two weeks off for March Break, he welcomed structure and re-engagement in school. So far, he wakes up excited to start the school day which is a real gift and reinforces that SMCS is a great fit for him and our family.  

Any tips you have learned that you are open to sharing?

Try to embrace the new normal and look for unique opportunities to connect with your son.  

On the first morning, he casually asked me if I wanted to watch the morning announcements and prayers with him and it has become our daily routine. Having different members of administration making announcements is engaging.

If you have other children, how has their current school experience, impacted your son at SMCS? 

Our son in Grade 9 is fully engaged and committed to continuing his studies, which is a testament to belonging to the SMCS Community. 

Our two other children attend different schools which has been a challenge to manage at times from a (household) routine standpoint, but it has also provided an opportunity to compare approaches and tactics with what the other schools are doing to see what’s working well. 

One sibling currently has a longer day (8:30-4 p.m.!), but there are indications the schedule will be adjusted. On the other end of the spectrum, his sister does not yet have any formal classes and is feeling left out. She can keep busy with various online resources but is missing connecting with her teachers and peers.

While our three children have very different learning profiles, they all benefit from structure and clarity around expectations, particularly during uncertain or stressful times. 

We have been particularly impressed with SMCS in this regard (FAQs and Online Code of Conduct) as well as their proactive, holistic approach in ensuring the boys are supported by Student Affairs and Guidance Counsellors.

SMCS students switched to e-learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What have you learned as a parent about navigating online learning, during an uncertain time?

SMCS’ messaging set the tone saying we are all in this together, navigating uncharted territory. In uncertain times we all look for strong guidance and leadership and by encouraging dialogue and feedback, the school is modelling openness, adaptability, and growth mindsets.

While technology can’t replace lived experiences and the sense of belonging, that comes from our boys’ daily interaction with their teachers and peers, this experience has demonstrated a solid place for e-learning. 

It took this current crisis to provide the impetus to test out various strategies and tools in the education toolbox. This will ultimately open up future possibilities where e-learning can take on an important complementary, supportive role in education and continuous learning.

Check out our photo gallery of what online learning looks like at SMCS.