‘Reflections’ from IVS Director, Kip Pygman, for National Distance Learning Week.

“Continue Expanding Empathy”

In recognition of our online students and our long history in distance education, Illinois Virtual School (IVS) joins our colleagues in celebrating the 2018 National Distance Learning Week. This morning, as I sipped my daily coffee, I found myself reflecting over the following:

Driving home a few weeks prior, I came to the corner of Manheim and Roosevelt in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. I was in the right-hand turning lane, one car back and the light was red. While waiting for the light to turn green or the car in front of me to turn right, the gentleman in the car opened his door and exited his tan vehicle.

The man proceeded to walk about ten feet to his right. I noticed him bend over and grab an object. He walked back to his car and had what appeared to be a giant one-foot metal spike in his hand. (The kind that is used for heavy construction work).

The man wasn’t dressed in construction clothes and his car displayed an out-of-state plate. Therefore, I assume the man was simply “paying it forward.” At first, I was a bit impatient because he was not turning right but chose to use the right hand turning lane. However, after learning why this man exited his vehicle, I began to wander in thought. What thoughts were running through my head?

He reminded me of the critical importance of being cognizant to those around you even if they are complete strangers…Why? That spike very well may have punctured a hole in one of my tires or another car passing by. The empathy of the man to think of others and model proactive action was simply exceptional.

While finishing my drive home, I couldn’t help but continue to reflect toward this man’s actions and connecting them to the state of education. How may we better practice empathy with our students? How may we be more in tune toward our student needs ensuring we meet them with where he/she exist on his/her academic journey?

One profound action we may begin and continue to model is providing our students with the instructional approach, which maximizes each student’s learning preference.

  • Student A might learn best in a traditional face to face environment
  • Student B might learn best in a blended instructional environment
  • Student C might learn best in an online learning environment
  • Student D might not know which learning environment he/she learns best but wants to experience all three

Nonetheless, is it not our responsibility to ensure each student has ownership of how they learn? It would have been very easy for the man to remain in his car and not take the time to pick up that spike. To that point, it is convenient for us to teach the same way to students in one singular learning environment. However, we know each student encompasses a range of diversities, carries with them a set of external circumstances that are unlike the student next to them, and exists at a different point within their academic journey unique to that learner.

Similar to students, perhaps some teachers thrive more in an online environment compared to a face to face environment. We need to be empathetic to the needs of our teachers similar to the needs of our students. Teachers should have opportunities to maximize his/her skill sets in their preferred instructional environment–whether face-face, blended, or online.

In closing, IVS exists to help all our partners take steps to be empathetic to the needs of their students. Whether to propel ahead in credits earned, experience a course the local school does not offer, to make up a missing academic credit, to gain the flexibility to balance external responsibilities, or to experience an online course prior to attending college, we are here to expand empathy and support the dozens of reasons which trigger a need or want for an online enrollment.

There is no time to rest and plenty of work to do. We must reflect continually and provide our students with more opportunities to learn based on their future life or academic goals and which support the concise point with which students exist presently. We must work together hand-in-hand to ensure we aren’t putting unnecessary layers of obstacles, such as these spikes, in the way of our student learning. If an online or “distance” course may help you better serve your student, we are ready and willing to welcome that student, challenge them, and help them continue to move from their Point “A” to their Point “B”. Onward and upward we all go together! And today we thank all the pioneers of online learning that have allowed us to transform the educational environment and expand learning opportunities for more.

For additional information about the Illinois Virtual School (IVS), please visit our website. www.ilvirtual.org.

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