Can we make this work?

Can we make this work? 

These are tough times for sure. But we’ve had tough times before, and we always make it through—always. Will doing schoolwork from the kitchen table replace being with friends at school or in the same room with the teacher? Of course not. Will working remotely allow you to create and maintain relationships with colleagues at the level required for long-term success? Not likely.  All of us miss the daily conversations and interactions that make our days more alive.  Still, our job is to make it work.

Success in any field rarely turns on talent alone. Yes, the women doing math for NASA in the movie Hidden Figures were freaky good at math. But for most of us, talent is overrated. Even Tiger Woods says that he wasn’t the strongest, most talented, youngster to pick up golf—but he did put in more hours of learning and practice than anyone else in his generation.  Being successful is more about having the right attitude, practice, and persistence.

This is even truer with working remotely or doing virtual learning.  There are far more distractions at home than at school or work. Plus, there are teachers and schedules and classrooms and rules that provide much needed routine and structure at work.

So, what seems to make a difference?

A daily routine. This is a wonderful opportunity to involve the entire family in deciding the best routine for everyone with some compromising on both sides. It’s probably useful to let the kids get first choice on most days. 

Freedom from distraction. We are so wired up with technology these days that this is a major obstacle to overcome. Most people think they can multitask or that music helps studying—you can’t and it doesn’t. Sure, you may be able to do some math problems with music on, but reading? No way. Perhaps the answer lies in exploring what one to two hours a day would be most enhanced by complete quiet. We also must be responsible for the impact of others in the house. Expecting them to ignore or overcome distractions we create doesn’t make any sense.

Forty on—twenty off. No one can work or study effectively for extended periods of time. If we are fascinated by a subject or a key project we can go longer, but most of us perform better if we can devote ourselves to something and then take a break. Use a timer.

Discuss what you are learning often. Transferring knowledge to another person is one of the hallmarks of learning and helps solidify it in memory. This can easily go both ways. What did you learn during your remote meetings today? What did each of your kids learn from their video conferences?

It's called work for a reason. Of course, life is easier when our job is our passion or we have only the classes we want to take. But much of life requires applying ourselves to subjects or meetings that we are not passionate about. This is where grit, intention, and paying attention become more important.  One thing that sets successful kids apart is that they consider school to be their job, and they are responsible for getting it done even if they don’t get their favorite teacher or their friends aren’t in the same class. 

Ask for what you need to be successful. What do you need to be effective in your remote meetings? Ask for it. For example, clarity and understanding are core elements of both effective meetings and effective classrooms, and it only occurs when people ask questions. If you have a question, someone else in your class does also. It’s actually a gift to speak up. Focus on your own understanding, and others will benefit also.

Virtual learning and working remotely both demand us to learn skills that will pay off for us for the rest of our lives. It’s also a chance to set ourselves apart from colleagues and classmates who will settle for being less than their best until things get back to normal. Don’t give in—ever.


- By Paul Axtell and Jacob Mnookin, author of Make Virtual Learning Matter

December 7, 2020
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