Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many high school students are attending school digitally this year.

If you’re one of those students, performing at your academic best may not be easy, but it is possible with a little guidance and a lot of work. The trick is to approach your online courses just as seriously as you did your in-person courses.

Here, 30-year teaching veteran Debby Schauffler shares her tips for meeting and mastering the challenges of remote learning. And Schauffler knows the topic well. She successfully moved her curriculum online for 12 weeks at the onset of COVID-19, spent the following summer collaborating with colleagues on remote learning techniques and has completed a professional development course in online instruction. 

1. Understand the Set Up

The way your school and teachers approach remote learning will almost certainly be different from in-person classes. At Oregon Episcopal School (OES), where Schauffler teaches, students have a revised schedule of three longer class periods per day, with each class meeting every other day. And Schauffler has opted not to give tests to her students. Instead, she offers assessments through oral quizzes and trivia games. Her department has also determined that course grades will not be a weighted average of the assignment grades throughout the period. Rather, grades will be based on how students demonstrate proficiency, and students will actually be able to provide their own evidence of their learning and growth. Your school will likely be different, so be ready with questions about structure, length of classes and semesters and testing so you understand the basics of what’s expected of you in terms of time, attendance and grades.

“If you’re struggling with one assignment, ask your teacher if you can try another…We might say no, but nothing is lost by asking.”

– Debby Schauffler

2. Be Open and Give Feedback

Bear in mind that the structure may change throughout the year, and that you can be a force behind those changes. Schauffler says students should offer their feedback and ideas — administrators and teachers want this experience to be a positive one for everyone. “The more students can develop their own strategies and communicate their needs clearly, the better. We appreciate suggestions and strategies.” She also says to get specific about your needs on a task-by-task basis. “If you’re struggling with one assignment, ask your teacher if you can try another — maybe making a video instead of writing. We might say no, but nothing is lost by asking.”

Also, be forthcoming with your teachers, even if it’s something you think they don’t want to hear. Schauffler suspects that some students aren’t always entirely honest about why they’re missing online class, and wishes that they felt comfortable telling her the real reasons they aren’t attending. “If you’re feeling terrible or sad or unmotivated, it’s important for teachers and your adviser to know,” she says. Your teacher may be able to offer different assignments that are more motivating or can be done independently at times when you’re more able to focus.  

3. Connect With Other Students

Bonding with people is an important part of your high school experience, so prioritize it as you would schoolwork. At OES, students “will spend at least the first week on everyone getting to know everyone else. We’ll use small group meet-ups and have students interview each other and then introduce partners to the whole class.” But don’t wait for your teacher to invite you to reach out to other students. Schauffler suggests pairing up with a fellow student and texting, calling or video-chatting regularly for casual conversations about schoolwork. Even better, find things you connect on outside of academics, and check in with friends to compare notes on what’s keeping you motivated.

4. Define Your “Class” Space and Time

When it comes time to buckle down, it’s all about setting yourself up for success. “Pick a distraction-free place and turn off and hide your phone before getting to work,” Schauffler recommends. She also suggests trying a few different locations before settling on one — a strategy she’s building into her classwork. “I’m planning an early exercise where I ask students to try reading or writing in three different places and have them report back.” Give yourself that assignment to see where you work best. 

When you’ve figured that out, do the same exercise to determine your preferred time to tackle classwork, and then stick to it. Consistency is key to time management. For personal accountability, make others aware of your schedule. Publicizing your schoolwork schedule can provide the motivation to stick to it. Schauffler asks students to send her a quick email when they’re getting started on their work so they feel accountable. If your teacher isn’t offering that option and you don’t feel comfortable sharing your schedule with others, try setting a timer and working straight through until it goes off, then rewarding yourself with a break before jumping back in.

5. Coordinate With Family Members

For those sharing WiFi or other technologies with members of your household, communication is key. “Make sure parents and kids are working together to look at schedules and figure out a plan,” Schauffler advises. Inform your school or teacher about your specific situation, and see if there’s a way to minimize overlap between worktimes. Ask for classes to be recorded and emailed out, or see if you can get some deadline flexibility. Schauffler says that teachers may surprise you by how flexible they’ll be about working outside of regular school hours, especially when the request comes from older students. 

6. Check In on Yourself

“I’d recommend that students try to look at one or two weeks at a time, and then do a brief self-assessment at the end of that period,” Schauffler says. Ask yourself how you did, what you’re feeling and what progress you’ve made in the past one to two weeks. Also, think about what’s working and what isn’t in terms of learning. “Remember that everything won’t fall on one end or the other of an imaginary continuum,” she says. “It’s OK if things feel just OK.”

Applying these tips can help you succeed in online classes. Still, there will surely be moments of frustration or loneliness. Remote learning can feel uncomfortable or awkward, especially at first, so try to be patient with yourself and others. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, Schauffler says to focus on one key truth: School won’t be this way forever. These challenges are temporary, and one day your classmates and teachers will be more than a collection of tiles on a group chat.