Don’t Miss The Boat

Online education is like a rising tide,it's going to lift all boats.

“Are you crazy?! Have you really thought about this?! People would KILL for your position!”

These are the things my siblings said to me when I told them I was leaving my 3rd grade position at a public school in NJ. I worked there for 16 years. It was a great place to start, I met some awesome lead learners (Hi Brad!), it was fine. As the years progressed, I felt I needed something more. I needed something challenging, something different, something more than fine. I applied and was offered a teaching opportunity at a public cyber charter school in PA. And then things became very interesting.

Most people aren’t familiar with public cyber schools.  I often find myself telling them about our cyber school and all the wonderful learning that happens online and at our family learning center. Then, almost instantaneously the questions begin…

“Do you even teach?” (Yes)

“Do you have a class?” (Yes)

“Do you see them, can they see you?” (Yes, we use webcams)

“Are you giving them links to click on and learn?” (Yes, sometimes)

“Do your learners spend the entire day in front of a computer?” (No)

“How can they learn from the internet?” (Oh, boy…)

A question that a fellow educator and Twitter friend recently asked me has been lingering on my mind. He asked,

“Can you build strong relationships with your students online?” ~ Oskar Cymerman

This stopped me in my tracks. Why would he question this? Don’t we build relationships with individuals online, like I had formed with him and so many others, on Twitter? Can learning relationships only be formed face to face? I continue to learn a tremendous amount from my fabulous #PLN and the numerous chats, blog posts, edu articles, and blabs. Yet, I have only met a few Twitter friends in person. Why was he asking this?

When I began my cyber teacher experience, one of my fears (I had many) was if I would be able to connect with my learners. How would I do that? I have always been an animated teacher. I’m able to capture their attention and incorporate playfulness visually, kinesthetically and vocally into my lessons. I know how to simplify ideas and concepts to reach all learners. Would I be able to do all these things as a cyber, online teacher?  Can I build relationships with my cyber students as I had done with my traditional “brick and mortar” students?

Yes, I can and I have. Yes, we can build strong relationships online. Yes, I am still animated, playful, and fun. Yes, students can connect and learn from a cyber teacher. How can I tell? At our school we receive feedback from parents, students, colleagues and administrators.  My learners and I interact online, and in person. We email, FaceTime, call, we attend various meet and greets, and field trips. I speak not only with my learners on a regular basis but also with their parents who attend lessons with them. YES! Parents sit in on every cyber lesson I have! The trifecta (Student, Parent, Teacher) relationship is so powerful. I am most proud of the relationships I have with my parents and learners. Parents learn together with our class. They support the work we do, add to our discussions, reinforce concepts and ensure deeper learning at home.

I often ask my son Gabe to read my blog, and let me know his viewpoint. This is how he responded…

“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source.  A lot of the time, well recently, its not from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers don’t understand that.”

~Gabe Howard, 15


Today, learners are not waiting for a relationship with their teacher to form, to learn something new. They don’t have to wait to learn. They build relationships and learn concepts online daily. To disregard this fact, is to disregard our times, what is relevant to our learners now. Our generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away.

We as tenured teachers form and maintain relationships by meeting face to face, talking on the phone, and writing notes and letters.  Today’s learners build relationships by texting, Facetiming, emailing and social media. They have access to so much and often times contact the source directly. We need to bridge the gap of old and new. There are more ways to form a learning relationship than face to face. We need to accept and adapt to this modern way. We can’t afford to miss the boat any longer.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Miss The Boat

  1. What a wonderful reflection on the formation of relationships between students and teachers. As you stated…connections are the key to engaging learners in their education. As we have both seen, the power of cyber schools in this day and age leverages our experiences in rapport building from traditional schools along with what we know students need and their families want in this digital age of learning. Students today, as your son so eloquently stated, can learn whenever and wherever and from whomever they want. The challenge before all educators is to make sure we don’t “miss the boat” as you said and not embrace these times and questions about relationship building as opportunities to reflect and grow their skill set to include both parents, along with their students, in the conversation. You’re so right when you said parents learn along with their students- such a true statement and one we have seen first hand.

    I so appreciate your words on behalf of the work all educators do!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. * Can learning relationships only be formed face to face?
    * When meeting someone new, our generation was taught to make eye-contact, shake hands, and present pleasantries. Since the Internet was not as prevalent as it is now, we had no choice but to begin relationships face-to-face. The same became true for our students in our professional careers. They walked into our classrooms for the first time, sometimes with their parents, and we made our pleasantries as only we knew how to do.
    * Today’s world is different. There are more ways than the few our generation grew up with to begin a relationship. And the generation currently of elementary to high school age is embracing every last one of them. We know the few, and they know the many. As educators, and leaders of learning, it is our duty to learn and embrace the realm of all possible roads in order to walk with our students as guides, and not fall behind.
    * Online learning differs from brick-and-mortar, but the most important difference is the relationship between student, parent, & teacher. It is a necessity with cyber education instead of the option we sometimes see in traditional public school environments. The cyber school relationship offers choice and ease also. Sometimes, email and text are an easy way to communicate. In fact, many of us prefer this type of relationship connection because of the flexibility it offers when needing to respond. In the past, a phone call to or from a parent to a teacher would have to be planned. Many times, the dreaded game of phone tag is played with no clear winner. And, don’t even get me started on the headaches we’ve all seen when trying to schedule parent-teacher conferences that fit everyone’s schedule.
    * I love the fact that cyber learning necessitates a parent or guardian becoming part of the learning environment. As a public school teacher, and having experienced multiple grade levels, I have heard the phrase many times from parents, “I don’t know how to do the work my son/daughter is doing. I can’t help them at home.” Everyone benefits from learning everyday. Whether it is revisiting how to complete long division, or learning how to use online chat for the first time.
    * My personal goal has always been Learn Something New Everyday. It feels great, and parents will appreciate it once they learn the workflow of cyber schooling. The tide of eduction is taking us along this current. Teachers and parents sometimes feel the need to fight the current, but ultimately, we all will arrive at the same location; the future. Change is hard. It is against human nature to embrace change, and only the most dedicated seek it out. We call these people the “early adopters”. Everyone else realizes the change and accepts it in hindsight.
    * Gabriel’s comment is an astounding one, but, alas, a sad truth of public education. Our current model of public education, as laid out by the federal government, and trickled down to the state level is one that has existed for decades, and is designed for a post industrial revolution environment. Sit down, listen to information deemed important by someone else, regurgitate said information, and test on said information to prove you (as the student) have learned something. We do not live in this world any longer, nor have we seen it in many, many years. So, why do we still use a teaching model to address it? Connected students have an astounding amount of control over their own learning. They are able to make the choices of what they want to know, and learn more about. They’re hungry for it, and are even opting out of traditional entertainment (sitcoms and television shows) to seek out this learning online. YouTube, Google searches, and social media are only a few examples of how students learn now-a-days. Sure, much of it is the current learners avenue of entertainment, but there are learning opportunities in there as well, many times intertwined together. Just as our generation learned from the after school specials on television, today’s generation learns online. If more students like Gabriel start to think along the same lines (and trust me, they already are), and see public schools as empty buildings, we will have some pretty hefty problems on our hands. Teachers need to embrace the change, and get on board with cyber learning. Make it a personal goal to learn more about the computer, and it’s features. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a PC, a Mac, a tablet or a smartphone. The opportunities for learning are all around us. Be motivated, be courageous, take risks, and Learn Something New today.

    Liked by 1 person

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