The truth about virtual learning

Amidst challenges, struggles and wins, teachers emerge as ‘true superheroes’


It would be unlikely to find a parent in Ottawa who could have envisioned the current world we live in – one where we are not only living through a public health crisis, but also juggling our own professional and unique family needs with our child’s virtual school schedule. And yet, here we are. 


For some, virtual schooling has been a challenge

Shuchi Kiran of Kanata, has a child in Grade 3 who has been doing remote learning since September and shares that the biggest challenge has been a lack of socialization. Kiran is also concerned the level of instruction is lower, however, lays no blame on the teachers. “Our teachers are beyond amazing and I can’t fathom their source of positivity and patience with kids learning to navigate technology and trying to be focused…If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that teachers are true superheroes.”

Gareth Reid is director of Turnbull School, a local private school, and the parent of older children – two in high school and one first-year university student, all remote learners. Reid empathises with young families adapting to virtual school, saying of his own, “If this was 10 years ago…there would be a lot more handholding and involvement than now.”

Gareth Reid_Photo Courtesy Gareth Reid

For younger students whose parents are working during the school day, the availability of another adult to help supervise and support the child’s learning is invaluable. 

“Both me and my spouse are fortunate to be able to work from home,” says Kiran. “But with our busy work schedules, it is hard for us to be able to actively engage with our kid during the regular work day…All this has taken a huge toll on all of us mentally.”

Parents have also noted the challenges of technical glitches, work interruptions, schedule conflicts, and excessive homework at times.


For others, virtual schooling is their only safe option

Kristin and Tracy Ireland’s child Maclean, is in Grade 4 French Immersion at Ottawa Carleton Virtual South East Campus. 

Says Kristin: “Having a child with an autoimmune disorder has made living through a pandemic particularly scary…we are incredibly grateful for everything that allows us to keep him home and safe. Virtual learning has absolutely helped.”

Tracy, Maclean and Kristin Ireland_Photo Credit Brian Walters Photography

She has been impressed with his progress, particularly with new technology skills. “It’s really incredible to see how much he has learned…Virtual learning is not ideal for everyone. There are a lot of factors at play that can make it very difficult for kids and their families. I think it’s important to recognize that while also saying that it has worked well for us.” 

Kristin has been most surprised by how well run the remote learning is. “We have been very lucky to have really engaged and engaging teachers,” she says. “They have recognized that these are difficult times and have done their best to alleviate stress from the students…They have taught lessons on mindfulness and placed emphasis on mental health. They have also done everything they can to make this experience fun. They make great use of online platforms to make assignments engaging and work to create a feeling of community amongst the students.” 


A community approach to virtual learning 

While parents are busy adapting to virtual school, teachers, schools, and school boards are too. A child’s remote learning experience is enhanced by collaboration and community building.

Grandparent assistance is a key strategy that Juliana Ramsay, parent to three children (SK, Grade 1 and Grade 3) has undertaken, allowing her children to have greater access to adult support for virtual school while their parents work from home. 

Ramsay and her family have also benefited from their virtual learning option being The Virtual Learning Academy of the Conseil des écoles catholiques du centre-est (CECCE). Ramsay is president of the Virtual Academy’s parent council and has had a positive experience with virtual learning, which they started in September. 

The Virtual Learning Academy is unique because it was already in development before the pandemic happened.

“It was on our radar for a few years now, with respect to the strategic vision of 21st century learning,” says Eugénie Congi, CECCE superintendent of education. A great deal of effort went into making sure it was ready to launch in September. 

Eugenie Congi_Photo Courtesy CECCE

As Congi describes, “Our academy is well thought-out and well planned in advance.” Parents are surveyed monthly for feedback and there is a high rate of satisfaction. 

Says Ramsay of remote learning, “It’s been an adjustment, but provides us with stability and security” adding that she is grateful “We’ve been doing it since Day 1…it’s just part of our lives now.”

She’s been pleasantly surprised by the new friendships formed via virtual school. And Ramsay, as with other parents, has only compliments for the teachers – remarking on their ability to forge bonds with the students virtually as well as their professional dedication and work ethic.

Of the Virtual Academy, Congi says she is “Proud that we delivered an excellent service. But what I am the most proud of is seeing the faces of the students and how happy and engaged they are.” 

A focus on students, their families, and teachers is also evident at Turnbull School. Reid is proud of all the hard work they’ve done to make sure the virtual experience is “as positive as possible,” for everyone involved. Reid says they are constantly evaluating, adjusting and pivoting as required to ensure high quality education and support, despite being outside the classroom. 

“Being there for people and listening to their own individual concerns and helping where we can are important,” says Reid. 

In adjusting to this new reality, Colleen Long, principal of the St-Laurent Academy Elementary School, emphasized, “Our resilience and flexibility as humans always puts me in awe.” 

Colleen Long_Photo Courtesy St-Laurent Academy

Long says, “That is the positive – to be able to come together and make things work with our community in a way that every person is taken into account. We shift, we grow and we do this together.”

Of the parents who shared, not all had a perfect experience –but all agreed that the teachers are superheroes. As Long says, “COVID has made us and our families more aware of how important a teacher is in our children’s life and that the amazing work that they do takes time, planning, care and a true passion.”