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Why You’re Cut Out to Be a Virtual School Learning Coach

By: Beth Werrell
male virtual school Learning Coach giving his daughter a high five

As revealed in a recent survey, greater parent involvement in a child's education is one of the main reasons parents choose virtual school for their child. A parent’s (or other trusted adult’s) daily participation in learning activities shows children that education is a top priority and helps ensure their success. At Connections Academy, the person who supports the child’s education in the home is called a Learning Coach. The Learning Coach works closely with the student to help facilitate learning and also plays a vital role by keeping students on track and regularly communicating with their teachers.

If you are new to virtual school, you might wonder whether you can be an effective online Learning Coach for your child. But you might be surprised to find that you already have many of the skills you need to be a successful Learning Coach. You just need to know how to use them!

Starting your journey as a Learning Coach means changing your attitude from “Can I do this?” to “How do I do this?” To prepare for success, start by reviewing the three R’s:

As you transition into your new role, take a look at this list of abilities and at how you can apply them as a virtual school Learning Coach.


Discipline can help you form the foundation of ...

A Quick Guide to Parent, Student, and Teacher Roles in a Virtual School

By: Beth Werrell

“Who sets my student’s daily schedule?” “Do I have to plan lessons or teach class?” “How much time will my student spend on the computer?” These are great questions to ask as you begin to explore the possibility of online schooling for your child. At Connections Academy, the answers lie in understanding the roles that parents, students, and teachers each play in our virtual schools and how those roles evolve over the school years.

To explain these roles and answer some of the most common questions, we’ve put together a quick overview describing these roles at each stage of your virtual school journey together—from elementary school to high school. While the roles and activities described here are specific to Connections Academy, we think that you’ll find it useful to understand how parents, students, and teachers work together to ensure students’ success in an online school.

roles in a virtual school

Online Elementary School—Starting Out Together

In grades K–5, students require a lot of support from caring adults at home and in the online classroom. So, roles and activities are carefully structured to ensure students develop a love of learning and gain the reading, writing, and mathematics skills essential to their future success in school.

Students have a flexible schedule and …

  • Devote a minimum of thirty hours per week to learning.
  • Perform most of their schoolwork offline—reading books, writing, and completing assignments.
  • Spend 15–30% of each school day working on the computer.

Parents (or other responsible adults at home) act as Learning Coaches...

Thank You, Connections Academy Moms!

By: Kim McConnell
Mother's Day Quote

A mother can touch a whole generation just by loving her own child well.
— Unknown

When I read the quote above, I immediately thought of when my adult children were young and how invested I was in their lives as their mom, Learning Coach, taxi driver, cook, cleaning lady, etc. Now that my children are grown, I can say that I have such pride in who they have become and how they are so responsible and independent. Currently, I am expecting my first grandbaby. I am amazed that this will begin a whole new generation of children influenced by our love and support.

I also thought of Connections Academy parents, including you, and how blessed your children are to have such dedicated moms and dads. As an online elementary teacher at Commonwealth Connections Academy, I see how you sacrifice time and energy each day to make life interesting, fun, and—most of all—productive. On behalf of all the teachers at Connections Academy, I’d like to say thank you for your hard work and daily faithfulness to your student’s learning and growing.

Mother’s Day is almost here, so it’s time to give Connections Academy moms a special thanks. You, Mom, are a role model and a great example to your family. You may never hear, “Wow, Mom—thank you for making sacrifices so I could attend school from home,” but you know that the daily experiences of family life, responsibility, generosity, and love are all part of watching your student ...

Create a School Stress Management Kit

By: Beth Werrell
school stress relief kit ideas

It’s the end of the year and you and your child are ready for summer break. It’s normal for kids to get burnt out after a year of hard work, especially if your child is busy or overscheduled.

But you and your child don’t have to wait for summer to escape the stress. You just need to have the right tools in your Learning Coach Toolbox to address the issue. In this case, you can create your own Stress Management Kit.

A Stress Management Kit contains the supplies you need to combat school stress when it starts to take hold. You know some strategies for fighting stress, but it’s easier to execute them when you and your child can take out the kit and find the items you need.

Your “kit” can be held in a decorated shoebox, a basket, an old pillowcase, or any other container that works for you. Below are some of the things you can put in your kit.

  • A notepad. If your child feels overwhelmed, have him or her make a list of things he or she is worried about. Then you can discuss how to handle those worries and create a to-do list. Knowing exactly what has to be done can help set your child’s mind at ease.

  • A list of healthy snacks. Chocolate or other types of candy might taste especially good when you or your child is under pressure, but you don’t want to indulge harmful sugar cravings. Instead, choose ...

Are We There Yet? Answering Those End-of-School-Year Cries

By: Beth Werrell
End of School Year Motivation Tips

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” We’re all familiar with those plaintive cries from the kids in the backseat. The end of the school year is a lot like those long car trips. Your student is ready for school to be over and for the summer to begin. But, as a Learning Coach, you have to encourage your students to stay engaged and “on the road” to their destination—a successful end to the school year.

So, just how do help your student “slay the slump in the road”? At Connections Academy, our school counselors say that it helps to keep the end-of-year in a broader perspective—to focus on helping your students develop the traits that will see them through many long projects, school years, and car rides ahead.

Think of it as ending the year WISEly.

Here’s what we mean:

“W” stands for Willpower: At the end of any long project or school year, there’s a natural tendency to slack off. (For high school seniors, there’s even a name for it—“senioritis”.) At such times, it takes sheer Willpower to see things through to the end.

But your student doesn’t necessarily know that yet. To help your students understand their emotions and develop the willpower they need, you can:

  • Listen respectfully to their feelings about the end of the school year. 
  • Explain that the “slump” is a normal problem and willpower is a viable solution.
  • Celebrate past accomplishments that demonstrate your student’s willpower (e.g., persisting with a difficult ...

How Parents Use Student Reward Systems in Virtual School

By: Dan Reiner
Parents Share Student Reward Ideas

It takes time for young students to become self-motivated learners with independent study skills. If your goal is to teach your child to perform well in virtual school and work toward his or her goals, then it helps to implement a student reward system. Reward systems improve behavior and spur motivation. Plus, they can be a lot of fun for students, parents, and Learning Coaches!

Start by reviewing the helpful guidelines we shared in a previous blog post, “10 Ways to Make Effective Reward Systems for Kids in Virtual School.” Next, you can move on to the most creative part of the process: choosing the rewards.

Below is a list of ways Connections Academy parents and Learning Coaches reward their students for good behavior, success in school, and more.

  • Give recognition. Recognizing your child is a simple reward that you should use often, especially in combination with other types of rewards. Our parents hang their students’ work on the refrigerator or give out “Way to Go” certificates for their students to display on the wall.

  • Create a treat jar. Fill a jar or bucket with small toys or treats from which your child can draw when he or she does well on a test or assignment. You can let your child choose the treat or draw without looking, which adds an extra sense of mystery and anticipation! This technique works well for younger students who are motivated by immediate rewards.
    One family from Ohio lets their ...

Taking Control of Test Anxiety

By: Tisha Rinker
Young male student in front of chalkboard with test anxiety.

When your child gets nervous about taking a test, it's usually a good sign because it means that he or she wants to do well! But if your child feels sick, starts to panic, or shows any other signs of distress before taking a test, then he or she might have test anxiety.

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, or stage fright. Besides triggering physical and emotional symptoms, test anxiety can impair one’s cognitive abilities, often lowering one’s performance. Since testing is a significant part of your child’s education, test anxiety is an important issue to tackle so your child can reach his or her full potential.

What Test Anxiety Really Means

Why is your child afraid of taking tests? Maybe he or she lacks confidence, feels unprepared, or struggles under pressure. But, anxiety isn’t always rational. In fact, its roots extend to one of our most basic instincts—fear.

When an event triggers the fight-or-flight response, one’s body prepares to face a threat by releasing adrenaline and boosting alertness. By the time a person realizes that the threat isn’t dangerous, the body has already reacted, so the person feels the stress response anyway. Because the body influences a person’s thoughts and vice versa, one has to relax both body and mind to calm down. To do this, find some techniques that help your child change his or her thought and behavior patterns.

Tips for Overcoming Test Anxiety

Reducing test anxiety takes practice. Try some of the following ...

Learning Coach Toolbox: Simple Student Motivation Techniques to Remember

By: Beth Werrell
student motivation techniques for parents and online Learning Coaches

With the joyful holiday celebrations over, the bluster and gloom of winter weather often begins to get old for adults and children alike. When people are cooped up inside, it’s human nature to become bored with the “same old” faces, books, and board games. And for kids, who get antsy to run and play outside, this frustration sometimes spills over into schoolwork, causing students to lose their focus and their ability to concentrate. For parents of virtual school students, this is the perfect opportunity to flex Learning Coach superpowers and apply some of the motivation techniques discussed previously. Here’s a handy “refresher course” to keep these approaches top of mind.

  1. Put the student first. Take a deep, cleansing breath and set your personal agenda or deadlines aside. Talk to your student about any motivation issues, and be sure to:
    • Be an active listener.
    • Keep an open mind.
    • Let your student speak as long as necessary.
    • Don’t interrupt.
  2. Show you understand. Be responsive to what your student says during your discussion. Keep focused on the present moment. Also:
    • Make sure your student feels heard.
    • Ask follow-up questions to show your understanding.
    • Try to remain neutral.
    • Keep opinions to yourself to avoid influencing/invalidating your student.
  3. Stay positive. Be careful of “knee-jerk” responses to your emotional hot-button issues. Take an imaginary step back and a deep breath, and then:
    • Try to maintain a positive demeanor.
    • Ensure your student doesn’t focus solely on the perceived issue.
    • Be mindful of your body language (smile often)....

When to Give Your Student More Responsibility

By: Kim McConnell
give your student more responsibility

The secret to teaching can be summarized by an old Chinese proverb:

Tell me and I will forget.
Show me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will understand.
Step back and I will act.

Part of teaching is instilling responsibility, and parents and Learning Coaches need to know when their student is ready for more responsibility.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility

Before students can become independent learners, they need to know how to read directions, follow instructions, check their work, consult sources, use classroom materials, and more. Until students have mastered these skills and can apply them to their schoolwork, they need frequent guidance from Learning Coaches and teachers. Learning Coaches who are specifically observing their student for such skills have a better opportunity to address any issues that arise and thereby lead the student toward that independence.

The rate at which students gain independence can depend on age, but it also depends on how quickly Learning Coaches grant students new responsibilities. Often, we have trouble determining how much responsibility students can handle, either overestimating what students understand or underestimating their capabilities.

So, how do we know when students are ready for more responsibility?

Test Your Student’s Capabilities

It’s not always easy to determine when your student is ready to take on a new challenge. You can judge his or her preparedness based on age, experience, and personal needs, but you can’t know for sure until you give your student the opportunity.

In fact, letting students take ...

Strengthening Your Child’s Resolve: How to Achieve New Year’s Resolutions

By: Dan Reiner
Achieving New Year's Resolutions for Online School Students

Nothing inspires motivation and change like the New Year. For virtual school students, it’s a great time to set a new goal or work on a skill.

But sticking to a New Year’s resolution isn’t easy, especially when we choose a goal that feels overwhelming. Even if the resolution seems achievable, many people have trouble following it for more than a couple of months. In other words, we struggle with our resolutions because we lack resolve.

What a “Resolution” Really Is

A New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to be a goal. A “resolution” can be the:

  • Answer to a problem
  • End of a conflict
  • Simplification of a complex idea
  • Determination to act a certain way
  • Ability to maintain a positive attitude

Reaching a resolution isn’t easy, so your child needs strong conviction to do it successfully. Instead of reminding your child how to achieve New Year’s resolutions this year, focus on strengthening his or her resolve to help him or her achieve resolutions all year long.

Here are some of the ways your child can lack resolve, along with some tips for addressing the issue.

  1. I can’t find the answer to a problem. If your child doesn’t have the perseverance to find answers to difficult questions, then it’s too early to set big goals for the New Year. Problem solving is one of the fundamental skills your child needs to succeed in school, and it’s something he or she needs to work on every year.

    Before your child makes ...

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