Over the past 3.5 months, I have spent almost every spare moment working on a capstone project toward completion of a post-graduate certificate in strengths and positive education. What was meant to be a 15 or so page document highlighting how we could begin integrating a strengths-based culture into our work and promote well-being, turned into a full integrated learning framework, grounded in the principles of curriculum development, assessment, career and purpose exploration, and strengths-based education. At this point in the journey, I need to collect feedback from experts, colleagues and friends in the field to help me get this framework, which includes two distinct yet complementary educational plans, to the finish line. Rather than sharing the 75+ page document, which I am still working on refining with copy edits and learning guide development, I put together a high level overview of the framework and aspects of each of the individual plans.
The video discusses the theories I selected as the underpinnings of the framework, the critical reflection I engaged in to unlearn and relearn what I thought I knew, a new approach to digital pedagogy and assessment, and the educational priority, learning goals and outcomes, and strategies designed to help educators and students flourish.If you're able to watch it in its entirety (or even if you skip through it quickly... I won't mind!), I would value your thoughts, insights and feedback. What does the framework do well? What is is it missing? Are there theories, frameworks and research that are not currently included but should be? Where do I go from here?
Furthermore, this framework has been designed to be delivered virtually and in a broader way to make it easily transferable to campus contexts, should institutions wish to use it in their own work. It is my hope that anyone who adapts or transforms this framework will do so while asking critical questions of their own practices as educators and administrators, and invest in deconstructing and reconstructing the theories and documents that guide their work with students.
As gratitude is a key element of wellbeing, I want to take a quick moment to acknowledge all of the people who have supported this journey - you know who you are: the folks who have cheered me on, asked questions, engaged in dialogue with me about strengths, career and life design, curriculum and assessment, and the 128 people who completed the survey during a difficult transition in their personal and professional life with the outbreak of COVID. In particular, I want to thank Natalie Allan, Erin Huner and Kate Schieman for their incredible support, leadership and belief in me. Thank you Shari Walsh for being such a great friend and business partner with Pathways Educational & Career Consulting, and for allowing me to integrate so much of our collective work and curricular design into this framework. Most importantly, I want to thank my husband, Jordon, for taking on all the responsibilities around our house for the past 3.5 months and for always being my biggest #nerdfan in whatever projects I undertake.
Thank you, finally, to you! Thank you for investing your time in learning more about my work, the research on strengths and positive education particularly as it relates to creating flourishing campuses, and for sharing any feedback or thoughts you may have in the comment section, via twitter or Facebook, in email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through text. Your expertise and love for our work will only help make this framework more impactful to educators and students across post-secondary campuses, particularly at a time when well-being, digital learning and engagement, and brave conversations have never been more important.
I am finding myself leaning into my strengths a lot lately, more so than usual, because in uneasy times like these it is important to remember that our own talents, which I like to think of as personal super-powers, can help ourselves and others lead our world through this crisis.
As schools, daycares and non-essential services close, the stock market plummets and a pandemic changes the lives of people all around the world, we are trying to stay connected and be hopeful. Many people are learning how to connect virtually instead of physically, whether that be for school, work or with friends and family who we are used to spending time with. Truthfully, I think it is safe to assume that collectively our minds aren’t really thinking about spring; rather, we are focused on the concerns we are facing and those we anticipate are still ahead.
While I stood there, I also thought a lot about my strengths, asking myself: How can I leverage my strengths in challenging times? What talents best help me be successful in my job remotely? How can I contribute to my communities through my strengths? In part, these questions arose from seeing my husband’s strengths in action and leveraged during such times of crisis and uncertainty – Adaptability, Ideation, Competition, Consistency, Command. He’s been using these to manage chaos for over a decade, and finessed these talents at the beginning of his career when he was on-call 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, for 730 straight days (seriously, I’m not exaggerating). He was made for times like this when ambiguity, complexity and emotionally charged situations come to the forefront. Most importantly, he knows when and how to use them to make positive change and difficult decisions.
What I realized was maybe one of the best things I could do is help other people think about how they are or can be utilizing their own strengths during these turbulent times. My Context (#1) has thought deeply about how communities have come together to support each other in past pandemics and crises, and my Learner (#2) has done everything possible to find accurate information and share it broadly, hoping to contribute to preventative education, and research ways strengths can best be applied in times of chaos. Truthfully, the strength that I have seen the most (and didn’t expect to!) is my Competition (#5). For those who know me or have been in a strengths session with me, I always comment on how uncertain I was about this talent at first; in fact, I was actually ashamed it was a Signature Theme because of the connotation. However, this one has really begun to shine in my life lately, as I am constantly looking for programs, services, supports, communities and countries who are managing this crisis well and hoping we can exceed that here in Canada. It has also helped me, in combination with the other two, find the best resources and information to share, in hopes of helping Canada and my local community best manage and overcome this challenging pandemic.
I am finding myself leaning into my strengths a lot lately, more so than usual, because in uneasy times like these it is important to remember that our own talents, which I like to think of as personal super-powers, can help ourselves and others lead our world through this crisis. They can help us come together and collaborate by contributing our own unique perspectives and talents, to build a community from a place of strength. Afterall, if a strengths-based approach is about focusing on the talents and good things in people, why aren’t we trying to take a strengths-based approach to situations like these?
Thanks to research and discussion with other coaches in the CliftonStrengths community, here are a few ways that your talents are contributing to overcoming these challenging times:
Achiever – You are leading your family or team to success, as you set daily goals and create to do lists that help ensure tasks are managed effectively. You may be enjoying the new responsibilities and challenges that these uncertain times are affording, primarily because you have the stamina to follow through in difficult situations and people trust you will deliver. Projects, planning and responsibilities are in good hands because they will be done and done well.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Discipline or Focus theme to help you use your energy as efficiently as possible, particularly as complex situations quickly change.
Activator – You provide energy to ensure new measures are put in motion and you follow through on your word. Especially in times of uncertainty, you are keenly aware of the tasks that need to be actioned and are essential to ensuring strategic plans and ever-changing situations do not fall through the cracks. If uncertainty is clouding judgement, you help ensure programs, plans and initiatives are launched to improve supports and alleviate ambiguity for others. To you, actions speak much louder than words.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Strategic or Analytical theme to help you take informed, well-thought out action.
Adaptability – The brilliance of this talent lies in the way you manage and respond to chaos. You are able to pivot and navigate the ever-changing demands that appear during challenging times and remain productive. Often being able to provide direction to others who may be uncertain or emotional at times, you easily take the lead and thrive in situations that cause others to shut down. When the punches come, you roll with them in stride.
Consider partnering with people with a strong themes such as Focus, Strategic or Belief theme, as they can help you shape goals, allowing you to focus on adapting to ever-changing situation.
Analytical – You are able to see the details in situations that others cannot, which helps you understand cause and effect, particularly in complex situations. Driven by truth-seeking, you can help dispel rumours with facts and calm the hysteria in difficult situations. Your belief that the truth is objective, not subjective, helps ensure that decisions are made with facts rather than feelings.
Consider partnering with someone who has a strong Activator theme, as they will help you move quickly through the analytical phase to avoid getting caught in the weeds and into the action phase.
Arranger – The flexible mindset you have helps juggle ambiguity during chao and adjust as needed to ensure things get done in the best way possible. You are able to take changing information, needs and tasks, and create clarity by reorganizing priorities and delegating appropriately until you find the path that will produce the most successful outcome. When variables constantly change, your talent provides effective, adaptable solutions.
Consider partnering with people who have a strong Communication theme to help you effectively verbalize your new way of doing things to others, and Context theme to ensure you are not reinventing the wheel, especially if an approach hasn’t been successful in similar situations previously.
Belief – Your response in difficult times is largely guided by your core values, which allow you to support your family, friends and colleagues in a meaningful manner. Your beliefs help keep you focused and on-track during times of difficulty, and inspire you to authentically support others navigating their own struggles. When chaos comes, your talent keeps you grounded and mindful of what matters most.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Futuristic theme, as this person can help you better understand how your values can help inform future impacts and decisions.
Command – You are able to step in, take charge and lead in times of chaos and crisis. Cutting emotional tensions that may cloud others’ judgements, you share your opinions and engage in confrontation as needed to move toward resolution and clarity. Your confidence and calmness during difficult times often draws others in and your ability to make difficult decisions or take risks to move forward motivates others. When emotions are running high, you are the voice of reason.
Consider partnering with someone who has a strong Woo or Empathy theme, as these people can help you overcome obstacles through relationship building.
Communication – Keeping others informed during difficult times is a priority of yours, and helps others be more inspired and prepared to act in a crisis. Your ability to craft messages and stories that motivate and resonate with others help them understand their role and remember what is most important in trying times.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Analytical theme to ensure the stories you are communicating are not only empathetic, but also accurate and objective.
Competition – Your ability to raise the performance of others during difficult times is commendable. The ‘come on team, we can beat this together’ aura you share can catalyze individuals and communities to come together for a common cause. Your commitment to success at the highest level helps you consider how others are managing similar situations and improve your own performance accordingly. Whether it is better care, more health resources, or increased policies, you strive to ensure your family, colleagues and communities are getting the very best tools and supports possible to effectively manage the chaos.
Consider partnering with people who have a strong Significance or Developer theme so that your measure of achievement can contribute to making positive change and motivate others.
Connectedness – Your ‘we’re all in it together’ attitude in difficult situations is inspirational. The ability you have to see the bigger picture and help others find their place in it helps ensure communities can best support each other. Acting as a bridge-builder, you help others overcome uncertainty and ambiguity by having confidence in the unity of others. Particularly during times of isolation, it is important to you that you help ensure people stay emotionally connected.
Consider partnering with someone who has a strong Communication theme, as they can help you share and advocate for the importance of social and emotional connection during difficult times.
Consistency – During times of crisis, you see the importance of clear policies and procedures that help people function in a consistent environment. As people often need direction and predictability during chaos, your ability to put measures in place that help people find stability during a time of uncertainty offers reassurance and comfort.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Maximizer or Individualization theme, as these people can help remind you when it is important and appropriate to accommodate individual differences.
Context – Instead of looking ahead, you provide a unique perspective that offers insight on what has been done well in the past. You look to previous historical events that have brought chaos and disruption to the world to offer effective solutions that can be applied in the moment. Understanding the various and complex aspects of past crises can help you apply best practices and make informed decisions.
Consider partnering with people who have strong Futuristic or Strategic themes, as their fascination with what ‘could be’ can help you stay focused on the task at hand, while your deep understanding of Context can ensure they do not move forward without first considering the lessons of the past.
Deliberative – You probably thought the world was unpredictable before the chaos began and because of that are prepared for the worst. Drawing on your ability to see the risks involved in situations, often before anyone else can, you can assess them and make appropriate plans to manage or eliminate them. Your deliberative nature is necessary during trying times in the caution that you exercise to others, particularly when it comes to being diligent about following through on implemented policies or guidelines, such as health recommendations.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Command, Self-Assurance or Activator theme, as together you will make many sound decisions, especially when action needs to be taken quickly.
Developer – You see the ultimate goal as helping others experience success, and often during times of trouble, that is evident in your dedication to support your communities. Because you see small wins, simple gestures that you know help others grow or succeed in chaos are rewarding. Whether it is seeing a colleague grow from managing a difficult situation or a small smile of appreciation from a person you did a good deed for, providing tools that help others succeed motivates your commitment to supporting your communities especially during a time of need.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Individualization theme, as they can help you see where each individual’s strengths lie and allow you to invest in using their talents wisely.
Discipline – Predictability, structure and routine are essential to your success, and in times of chaos, this talent allows you to take action and create effective contingency plans for yourself and others. Emphasizing the importance of details, timelines, actionable steps and deadlines, you help create micro-routines in times of trouble that provide structure to friends, family and the community. Your attention to detail helps ensure situations are managed appropriately and based on clear plans of action.
Consider partnering with people who have strong a strong Adaptability or Empathy theme, as they will help you manage the uncertainty and instability as you develop and implement new structures.
Empathy – Your authentic concern for those who are struggling and need additional support is so important during trying times. The ease in which you can connect with others and sense their feelings helps you share their perspective and give voice to their feelings. People are often drawn to you because you provide the appropriate support they need in a moment of panic and uncertainty.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Command or Activator theme, as this person will help you take needed action during difficult times, particularly when people’s feelings might be hurt as a result.
Focus – This talent allows you to prioritize a clear destination and identify what is most important. During troubling times you are able to drown out the noise and distractions to keep people on track and stay focused on the task at hand. Particularly in moments of uncertainty, you are able to set goals, evaluate the effectiveness of actions, and help move others toward that objective.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Strategic or Futuristic theme, as they can help you set and action meaningful goals for future achievement.
Futuristic – The future is what motivates you, and during troubling times, you have visions of what could be for our communities and our world. You are able to see what can be gained once the chaos has subsided – stronger connection with family, eliminating the unnecessary, clearer priorities – and use that to help others feel a sense of calmness and hope.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Activator theme, as this person can help you realize that in order to help foster a future that 'could be', there are actions you need to take today that will directly impact that vision.
Harmony -- You have an innate ability to feel everyone else’s anxiousness and find a way to connect people together in order to share peace of mind. During difficult times, you bring people together to find practical solutions and help people move forward. Your calmness and ability to find commonalities helps reduce conflict, particularly when emotions flair. In trying situations, you prioritize interdependence over independence.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Command theme as they can help you confront conflicts head-on, particularly when there isn’t time to resolve a decision with group consensus.
Ideation – A new perspective inspires you to explore creative ways to cope with challenges and find innovative, and often unconventional, solutions. Risk and ambiguity roll off you, as they provide an opportunity to think about complex situations in a new way. Particularly during times of uncertainty, while you may sound like the black sheep at times, you offer ideas that balance clarity, practicality, flexibility and innovation.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Analytical theme, as they will question and challenge you, allowing you to strengthen your ideas. Parting with someone with a strong Achiever theme will help you determine how to make your ideas happen.
Includer – Making sure people feel a part of the group and involved in decision making is important to you. Particularly in chaos, you recognize that everyone is valued and although people and communities have unique needs, everyone’s needs are equally important. When planning teams are coming together to discuss ways to proceed and develop action plans, you ensure that the right people are at the table and that representation from a variety of perspectives is included.
Consider partnering with a strong Command theme, as this person can help you make decisions or share news that must be made in the absence of all parties involved.
Individualization – Because you are so interested in the unique qualities of a person and you are familiar with each person’s motivation, interests and strengths, you are the perfect candidate to build a specialized team of individuals to address the crisis at hand. Your intimate understanding of the uniqueness of each person is essential to the team’s success, and your ability to make each person feel individually valued keeps the team motivated, even in times of concern or frustration.
Consider partnering with someone with strong Consistency, as they can help you determine when policies and procedures need to be prioritized and in place for all, and allow for individualized care to those who need it most.
Input – You love to collect things – books, articles, tangible items or information – so in times of uncertainty, you can quickly identify and navigate contextual information, resources and research to help make informed decisions. Drawing on collected artefacts or information related to current events, you quickly become the information curator for the team. Consider yourself the information intake and disseminator to make informed decisions with the most relevant and up-to-date facts.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Focus or Discipline theme, as this person will help you stay on track when you become distracted with intrigue.
Intellection – As someone who sees thinking as doing, you are at your best when you can use reflective practice to solve problems. During chaos, you are able to find alternative approaches and discuss solutions after a few minutes of deep thought. While some decisions during trying times must be made quickly, for those that allow more time to engage in thought and discussion, you can best contribute by quietly, intentionally find solutions through reflection.
Consider partnering with someone who has a strong Communication theme, as they can help you clearly articulate and integrate your thoughts.
Learner – With your love of learning as a process, you often find chaos exciting. As new curve-balls are thrown at you, it means that you get to learn new ways to manage them. You are at your best when you can absorb and use information to act and advise others accordingly. Spreading accurate information is also very important to you, and the team should know that if you are bringing it forward as a recommendation, you have done thorough homework to ensure it is appropriate.
Consider partnering with someone who has a strong Achiever or Maximizer theme, as they will help you expand the many ways you can put the content and information you learn to use.
Maximizer – Keenly focused on getting the best out of the situation, you are energized by the opportunity to transform chaos into something great. As measuring against excellence is important to you, your family or team will benefit from your review and design of action plans because they will be elevated with your talents. While some people may struggle with the new normal a difficult situation provides (time with family, working from home, working as part of an essential service, etc.), you are focused on getting the very best out of it and that motivates you to give it your all.
Consider partnering with people with Woo or Positivity, as they can help you consider how to best share your plans with others, especially as things regularly change and pivot.
Positivity – We need your positivity during difficult times because you often lighten the mood and bring hope to others. As you are often naturally enthusiastic about anything you do, people get excited by your energy and vision, particularly in chaos. Your ‘glass-half-full’ approach to the situation will relieve pressure and anxiety among family members, colleagues, and the community, and with your help, people will be able to find a silver lining to the situation at hand.
Consider partnering with those with a strong Achiever theme, as they will help you infuse hope and enthusiasm into projects and tasks that need to get done..
Relator – In times of crisis, particularly as we socially distance, it can become easy to focus on our own needs. You know the importance of checking in with friends regularly and ensuring those closest to you are okay. Because your talent for developing deep relationships allows you to understand friends’ and families’ fear, dreams and goals, you are keenly aware of how on-going situations and the complexities of chaos may impact them. You are an excellent sounding board for friends, family, colleagues and the community to share their concerns and emotions during difficult times.
Consider partnering with a strong Learner or Developer theme, as they can help you learn about those outside of your close circle to develop deeper, more trusting relationships that you can rely on during times of difficulty.
Responsibility – Because you feel emotionally bound to commitments you make, you have an unwavering conscientiousness to do the right thing for the sake of your family, friends, colleagues and community. When you agree to manage a task or take the lead on a situation, people know that it will get done because they believe in you. During times of struggle, you are often one of the first people thought of by those around you because they know that, regardless of the complexity of the situation, you offer immediate help and they are confident that you will complete the objective.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Discipline or Focus theme, as they can help you stay on track and set boundaries to avoid burnout or over-commitment.
Restorative – During a crisis, one of your biggest assets is your ability to help others find a solution for them, their families, their colleagues, and people in need. Because you love to solve problems, chaos offers a unique opportunity for you to analyze the situation at hand and find appropriate solutions. Your natural courage and innovative spirit is very valuable in managing ever-changing situations and complexities, which is why you are a very important part of a crisis response team.
Consider partnering with a strong Deliberative theme, as they can help you quickly identify problems and analyze causes, which will lead you to finding an appropriate solution much faster.
Self-Assurance – Your ability to confidently take risks, step up to new challenges, and take action, particularly in times of ambiguity, is invaluable during times of struggle. In a moment, you can make fast decisions, know that it was the right decision, and keep your team on track. Your ability to form a conclusion and then act is appreciated by those who may be uncertain of the appropriate course of action.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Strategic, Deliberative or Futuristic theme, as they can help you assess goals you want to commit to and stay with it until it is achieved.
Significance – You appreciate feeling like you’re making a difference in the world, so in times of chaos you are centred and ready for action. Your talent encourages you to stand up as a leader and take action to make a difference for those you love and your community. The dedication, excellence and confidence that you show when you take the lead in difficult situations becomes a guiding light for others.
Consider partnering with a strong Self-Assurance theme, as they will help you overcome any fear of failure or uncertainty you might experience to ensure you perform at the high level you know you are capable of.
Strategic – You are very good at seeing how different things can connect to create solutions and see all the possible pathways a course of action could take. Before others can identify the appropriate steps to achieve the desired outcome, you have already determined the best route and ironed out the complexities along the way. Your constant ‘what if?’ questioning helps you find clarity and simplicity in chaos, and select a course with the highest likelihood of success.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Activator theme, as this person’s need for action and your need for anticipation can create a powerful partnership.
Woo – Connecting people in your networks to those who need them brings you immense joy, particularly during times of struggle. You care for everyone, not just those close to you, and encourage people to stay connected as much as possible. As someone who often struggles with physically distancing themselves from others, you find creative solutions to ensure that people feel stability and a sense of belonging.
Consider partnering with someone with a strong Relator or Empathy theme, as this person can help solidify relationships that you begin and draw on them during difficult times.
Note: Special thanks to many CliftonStrengths coaches from around the world that helped research and brainstorm the various ways individuals can leverage their talents in a time of chaos. The coaching community is an example of the importance of supporting each other and our communities to stay connected and remain hopeful.
I remember my first online class: Research Methods in Education. I stared at the computer screen like a deer in the headlights trying to figure out what I should be looking for, how to use this online tool, and wondering how I was going to keep myself motivated with so much freedom and little structure. While online learning sounded like a great idea because it was flexible and I could work at my own pace, or so I thought, I quickly realized that it was far more than sitting on my couch in my pajamas and choosing when I would prioritize my online classes over social media and all the other things in my life. As institutions like mine, Western, move to an online learning approach for the remainder of the semester, educators are having a lot of conversations about how we can best support students in successfully completing the term, particularly those who may not have been enrolled in an online course previously. These conversations have made me think a lot about my own experience having to navigate the online learning curve myself, and some of the things I wish I had of known as I eased into it.
While it is important to acknowledge that every student's experience is unique, including mine, if there is one thing I learned from my own experience with online learning – as a student, TA, researcher, student affairs and quality assurance professional – it is that we don’t often talk enough about how the online approach can drastically change how you learn, organize your notes, and prioritize your time. It can also change how you interact with peers and social connection, and ultimately succeed in a course. With that in mind, I wanted to draw upon my various perspectives and personal experiences with online learning to share a few things I would encourage students consider as they become an online student for the next several weeks. Truthfully, I wish someone could have shared these insights with me at the beginning as well, as it likely would have changed how I approached my own online learning journey.
Become familiar right away with the learning platform. My first challenge as an online learner was that I had never had to use an online learning tool before, and wow, was it ever different than showing up for a lecture or tutorial. If you aren’t already using OWL or another learning management tool, the earlier you can open and look around the tool, the easier it will for you to find things when you need them. Review the syllabi, modules and resources that are provided. Start to learn how to navigate the site and make notes if you need to so that for the next few weeks you can use it as efficiently as possible.
Review the learning outcomes, assignments and requirements for the remainder of the term. I quickly learned that online courses are often structured very differently than in-class courses because of the nature in which the content can be taught. It is very possible as institutions move to an online approach that your original course syllabi, outcomes or assignments may be modified. It is important right away to become familiar with any changes so you know exactly how to focus your time and attention. This is particularly true for online tests, projects, or culminating assignments that may be replacing a formal exam. If you have questions, reach out to your professor, TA or peers for support right away.
Levering your strengths is important. We all have unique talents that help us be successful, and using them as an online learner can really help you find what works best for you. In my case, I do best with a checklist, because I get satisfaction from crossing something off it, so making a daily to-do list to help me stay focused and on-track for deadlines worked well. However, if you are not someone who generally finds checking things off a list productive, that is probably not a great way to try to manage your time as an online learner. Maybe instead of a checklist, you prefer structure so you block your existing in-class schedule into your calendar to maintain dedicated times to focus on your courses. The same goes for studying – if you study best with music or the TV on, go ahead and use those mediums to be productive; however, if you know you are more engaged with limited distractions, do your best to seclude yourself in a quiet place for a designated amount of time and then reward yourself with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Build a study plan to manage your time. I learned the hard way that losing the regular structure of classes can make it easy to procrastinate or put course work on the backburner, especially when you can binge your favourite show on Netflix. A study plan is critical to the success of a lot of online learners, and might be helpful for your own success as well. Here are a few things to consider:
Assignments and tests will come quickly over the next few weeks, especially while you are settling into the online learning format. Don’t wait until the assignment is due to start looking at it and working on it. Additionally, the new online format may need you to engage in online discussions with peers, which may require you post frequently to share what you are learning. Be proactive in completing work and discussions so that you can effectively manage your time and eliminate stress, particularly as you get to the end of the term.
Find an organizational system that works for you.
As I mentioned, maybe using a to-do list or a calendar system isn’t aligned with your strengths, but the sooner you can identify what the best way to organize your time is, the more successful you will be. Perhaps it’s using the ‘notes’ feature in your phone, having an accountability buddy in your course that you can text or email to keep each other on track, or colour coding sticky notes on your wall to stay focused and organized.
Set time limits and take breaks.
When you take online learning really seriously, it can become easy to find yourself immersed in reading articles, watching videos, completing assignments and studying for online tests. I quickly learned that it is important to set boundaries for yourself to help develop self-discipline. There reaches a point where the work becomes unproductive, so set some time limits to ensure that you stand up, stretch, take a few moments to practice mindfulness, do something for you, and come back at a time when you know you can more effectively focus on the task at hand. It could even be as simple as switching up courses to change the topic.
Practicing self-discipline, setting boundaries and planning ahead can be difficult, particularly when you’re new to online learning, so take care of yourself and practice an abundance of grace. After you’ve finished a reading, module, assignment or reached your allotted time limit, reward yourself with a healthy snack, FaceTime with a loved one or friend, or play a game of NBA 20. An important piece of this process is recognizing that it is new and takes some adjusting to, so find something that rewards the time and effort you’re putting in. I know for me personally, it was as simple as snuggling up with my cat on the couch and watching an episode or two of my favourite show while enjoying a bag of microwave popcorn. For my friend in the program with me, it was exercising or shooting hoops.
Ask for help when you need it. When I was an online TA, I realized that students don’t always reach out as naturally as in a face-to-face class. There is something about being physically disconnected that can make it feel like it is difficult to find support. Be proactive and reach out to your professors, TAs, peers and resources when you need them. It is a difficult time for everyone, especially as we quickly adapt to online learning, so know that you are not alone and there are plenty of people and resources out there to help you. Many institutions have put together websites with remote resources for students, including Western Student Experience, which has launched a website intentionally designed to help online learners and offers tools to help you be successful. Visit https://studentexperience.uwo.ca/remote/ for more information and supports.
Think of online learning as a job. Think about finishing your courses as your job for the next few weeks. If you can start to think about your study as your work – consciously showing up, absorbing content and knowledge, scheduling “meetings” (ie. assignments, tasks, etc.), and setting appropriate boundaries – you can begin to develop a growth mindset that helps you get through it. I always tried to remind myself that if I could set daily goals, demonstrate my ability to work independently, and stay motivated, I could make it to the end. If that doesn’t help, remember that these are great skills you are developing and resume examples you can share with future employers who one day ask you, ‘Tell us about a time that you successfully managed change?’ or ‘Tell us about a time when you demonstrated effective time management?’.
Stay connected with others. I remember feeling oddly isolated when I started online learning because I was used to seeing my classmates and really enjoyed group learning conversations in tutorials and labs. You might be experiencing some of those feelings too and that is absolutely okay. Connectedness is another adjustment that we have to make as we move to online learning environments, but don’t forget that there are plenty of ways to stay connected with peers and friends – social media, online discussions, texting, FaceTime, calling, email, the list goes on. Reward yourself with connection when you can, and check-in with your classmates and friends. Chances are they are going through their own unique transition too and experiences like these can bring community together, even if it is digitally. Consider using your technological tools to create e-study groups, say a quick ‘hello’ at the end of every day, share insights that you’ve learned from the online content, or just be there to support and listen as you all navigate this new experience together.
Find what keeps you motivated. Whether you are in your first year or your fourth year; your undergraduate degree or your graduate degree like I was, find something that helps you stay motivated throughout the next few weeks. Perhaps it is motivating yourself with rewards, pinning up or sharing inspirational quotes, listening to podcasts that excite you, participating in workouts at home, practicing yoga, or changing out of your pajamas into class-appropriate clothes to feel more productive. Whatever that motivation is for you, try to stay positive and find things that push you to make it through. The light is at the end of the tunnel – only a few weeks left. You can do this!
The next few weeks might be a learning curve, and that’s okay. Part of my choice to share my own experience and the resources that Western has put together is because it is important to acknowledge that students are not alone in this journey, and I wish someone would have shared that with me. This change might be new and exciting for some; it might be frustrating and saddening for others. Just like many of you will have your own unique reactions to finishing out the term online, many students will also face their own successes and challenges in becoming an online learner. Remember that this transition is a process, and you can help yourself be the best online learner you can be by identifying your strengths and which strategies will maximize your success, asking for help when you need it, and utilizing the resources that are available. It took me almost 3 years to learn these things, and I’m still learning, but knowing that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to online learning would have helped me be a lot more prepared at the beginning. Hopefully, this can help prepare you for success too; after all, you are a bright post-secondary student, and you’ve got this.
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal strengths and fulfillment.