What We Learned and What the New School Year May Bring

by Lynette Owens

2020 is certainly continuing to be a year for the history books. As another school year begins, educators, student and parents alike try to wrap their heads around ‘the new normal’ of learning.  However, the reality is there is nothing normal here. The education system across the country is similar to the NFL season reopening – as different states/teams take different approaches to fan re-entry, so too, do schools around the United States.

Currently 41 states are allowing multiple models of learning (remote only, hybrid, in-person only) with another 2 states allowing only hybrid learning or remote learning (no full-time in-person option). That does not leave a lot of room for consistency of experience for our children, and the overall impact of these decisions may not come to light for several years down the road.

While much of this is out of our collective control, we, the Internet Safety for Kids & Families team, want to try to help you during this time.  To do this, we began our Managing Family Life Online webinar series, to share best practices and advice from experts on topics such as for working, learning and doing everything from home – often all at the same time.

As the new school year begins, we’ll continue to host new guests, add additional topics and provide more resources. We are now also providing ASL interpreters for the hearing impaired.

Last week, as most of the country returned to school, we wanted to provide an opportunity to learn and hear from our educators.  Recently we were joined by Michelle Ciccone, Educator and Technology Integration Specialist at Foxborough High School in Massachusetts. As kids begin a new school year, we spoke to her about how technology will continue to play a role in their lives; how we can encourage kids to keep screen time safe, positive and productive; and, how students can balance time online so they can have a successful school year. A few interesting takeaways:

  • We are all learning together. This isn’t just a new experience for you or your kids. Students and teachers alike are making this transition for the first time and in some cases learning the same technologies. Just because your kids may play with the latest apps and gadgets does not mean they instinctively know how to be digitally organized. Students are in need of tips you may be using on a daily basis for work (filing emails, etc.) and teachers are in need of some patience as they try to incorporate much of their school curriculum and experiences into new formats.
  • The screen can sometimes be a reflective surface. Something teachers are seeing from students is that the move to a virtual setting has created a heightened version of each student. Meaning if they were a ‘hungry learner’ you may see their appetite for knowledge grow even more, if they struggled in certain subjects or learning styles, a remote atmosphere may take those challenges to an extreme. Both teachers and parents have to not only watch but listen to students. Ask them how they are doing, what they like, what they don’t – not because it’s a ‘hall pass’ to create something easier, but to quickly identify and resolve issues that may be impacting a child.
  • We stumbled in the transition to distance learning, but students are longing for connection. Michelle did say that students were tempted to “be silly” with online classroom time, using chats in ways that were a bit distracting.  But rather than take a “no more chat rooms” approach, she believes these mild forms of transgression were simply students signaling that they craved the opportunity to socialize with their classmates in other ways.  She believes that both teachers and parents should give kids opportunities to socialize outside the classroom.  The safest way is through an online medium, but this should be done as a supplement to academic purposes.
  • Teachers and students can be “connected” without the camera on. The debate of ‘camera on/camera off’ may feel like a privacy discussion, but in most cases, when a teacher asks for the cameras to be on, they are trying to create a sense of ‘togetherness.’  That said, it is ok for students and teachers to have an open discussion of when it’s ok to take a break from being seen on camera.
  • The “one size fits all” model needs to go. The biggest takeaway from the last year is that communities are now recognizing the true cost of the ‘normal’ education system – in terms of academic, social, emotional and financial impact. Although things may be different and at times frustrating, there is also a lot of hope in what’s to come. This unique time in our history gives us all a chance to reimagine the education system for both students and teachers.

To hear more on these topics, listen to the full conversation with Michelle, please visit: Back to School & Back Online

Next up: Jill McClenahan, Senior Safety Program Manager, Microsoft will join us for a conversation on a topic you may be very familiar with: online gaming. The last few months may have meant a lot of online gaming time for your kids. How can you make sure they strike a healthy balance between screen time for school vs. fun? How can you help kids keep it safe and positive while gaming? We’ll tackle those questions and more. Hope you’ll join us!  More details at in our Webinars page.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.