Meet Stephen. Stephen is in 7th grade. Under normal circumstances, he has six subjects to study during his traditional six period day schedule. Like most students, Stephen spent the spring of 2020 learning from home due to the pandemic.

Stephen is lucky. He has internet access, a device of his own, and at least one caregiver who has been able to be home with him since his school went virtual.

Stephen’s caregiver helps him adjust to online learning. Through a series of messages and calls, Stephen’s caregiver finds the following:

  • From Stephen’s math teacher: 
    • “Students can find their assignments on Google Classroom.”
  • From Stephen’s science teacher: 
    • “I emailed students the assignment details.”
  • From Stephen’s social studies teacher: 
    • “Students’ assignments are posted on the class Facebook page.”
  • From Stephen’s language arts teacher:  
    • “Students are to visit my class website for their assignments.”
  • From Stephen’s art teacher:  
    • “I’ve uploaded students’ assignments to our class folder on the school’s SharePoint.”
  • From Stephen’s physical education teacher:  
    • “I send student assignments out via the Remind app.”

Stephen has an older sister, Lauryn, who is a junior in high school. Lauryn is on an eight period A/B block schedule. A wave of nausea comes over the caregiver. Mustering a moment of composure, the caregiver sternly tells Lauryn, “You’re old enough to figure this out on your own. Call the school or your friends. Show some responsibility!”

What the caregiver really means is, “I am overwhelmed figuring all this out for Stephen. I can’t do this every day for both of you. Where is my tutor in all of this?!”

Stephen’s anxiety is just as high. Keep in mind that in a traditional school day, teachers pace student learning experiences for them across seven hours. In a virtual environment, a student begins each day with an avalanche of work as all assignments appear at once, assuming students can find them via the teacher scavenger hunt demonstrated in the quotes above.

Districts, schools, and teachers have made heroic efforts to create virtual learning “on-the-fly.” Families have been incredibly understanding and forgiving as they too have had to make life-altering adjustments in preservation of work, home, and health.

Come the fall of 2020, it is all but promised that students will engage in virtual learning again at some point. Over the summer, educators will have much needed time to make things simpler and more predictable for students like Stephen and the many others whose conditions may not be as manageable. Here are a few ways to get started.


A school, district, or network must reach consensus on:

  1. The method of communication to be used by teachers, students, and families. Understandably, there may be more than one, but the same set (i.e. app, email, and phone) must be common to all teachers.
  2. The single source at which all assignments can be located. Will students go to Google Classroom? A website? A SharePoint site? The location of assignments must be common, though the tools called for within each assignment may allow for variation.
  3. The workload amount. How much time per day and per week should a student be engaged in any one discipline? With much of the student work being done asynchronously, teachers know the feedback process will be slow, and so smaller chunks may be better to keep students on track when absorbing new content.
  4. Rules of forwarding. If the school principal posts a message to caregivers via a blog, each teacher should not re-send it to students’ caregivers via their channels of communication. Messages are drowned in a flood.


Just as a school day is predictable in its order of classes, so should the virtual learning experience. Students should know:

  1. The schedule for which assignments will be posted
  2. Approximately how much time s/he should plan to spend on the assignment
  3. When and how feedback will be provided
  4. When and how the teacher is available for questions


For virtual learning to work, fluency in the systems must exist at the student, family, classroom, school, and district or system levels. Training for everyone, especially for the caregivers and teachers, must be accessible, ongoing, and compassionate. Options for training conducted at a safe social distance, online via shared screens, or through other means must meet the needs of the learner. Training needs to be available throughout a school year as new students enroll, staffing changes occur, or new systems are introduced.


Follow this link to a companion blog post that demonstrates how Simplify.Pattern.Train functions in real-world (or real-school) application.


– Keith Look, Ed.D. / Senior Program Director for District Services /