I have to share a jaw dropping conversation I had this past weekend with my son and some dear friends.
We had friends over for dinner and shared one of our family traditions of roasting yams in our woodstove. The hour that it takes to cook the foil wrapped yams gave us time to talk and since their daughter is also attending a virtual school, the conversation drifted toward how to motivate students during the school day. Without missing a beat, my son (who graduated last year from a virtual school) chimed in with suggestions, sharing what he felt worked for him and what didn't!
To say I was shocked would be putting it lightly. Had he really noticed all the energy that I had put into keeping him focused and on track? Yes! The real shocker was hearing what I had done worked, even if it didn't seem to help at the time. Later my friend told me she was just as excited to hear my son's input.
What was it my son said that motivated him most in his years of virtual schooling? Always having goals to strive for (both short-term and long-term) and a clearly defined path to reach them. He didn't say that he enjoyed doing his school assignments 100% of the time though. So motivation wasn't about being happy, it was about reaching goals and levels of accomplishment along the way. Did that change from day to day and year to year? Of course. Kids usually have aspirations of some sort that can be used for goal setting. Your job as Learning Coach is to help them set appropriate goals and reach them. These goals can be a big motivator. It was helpful to have friends, family and school contacts supporting him along the way, so be sure to share the goals you've set with them too.
Getting feedback directly from a student is so valuable. I had another opportunity recently to hear straight from the horse's mouth what works and what doesn't. There were two sessions at the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium I attended in November that gave me the opportunity to hear directly from students in virtual schools. The first was a student panel where students attending a variety of virtual schooling programs in the state of Texas were interviewed about their experiences. The second was a session entitled Students, Parents & Teachers "Speak Up" about Online Learning: New Research on Values, Behaviors and Aspirations presented by Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. Students in the second session were from locations around the country who were homeschooling with virtual school courses or supplementing their traditional school schedule.
Students in both sessions felt that they were motivated because they enjoyed the classes they were taking, even though the reasons for taking online classes varied. They had an awareness of their options in subject offerings and flexibility of time and location. Who helped them to see these options? The adults in their lives! Someone helped them to see the personal meaning in what they were doing.
As we concluded our yam-roasting evening, my son reminded our friends' daughter that the reasons why she has to learn certain material in school may not be clear now, but they soon will be. Hearing him say that really encouraged me to stay the course with my daughter who is now in her junior year in a virtual school. I'm that 'someone' my daughter needs to help her see the meaning behind her education.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and it was wonderful having my son share his perspective. This week, set some time aside to interview your student(s). Be sure to share what you learn here, too.