Keeping the Classroom from Becoming a Cubicle: Adapting to Distance Learning


“I don’t think the teachers are enjoying this either”, my son says, slumped over the dining room table, resting his head and rubbing his eyes.

It’s that look of midday crash, being exhausted from blue light, stiff-necked from sitting in Zoom meetings, and post-lunch malaise. I know it because I worked in too many offices and had too many days like this in a storied clerical career. My son is 11.

As Portland Public Schools vacillates on the best path forward in opening safely for students, kids are starting to wane (if they had not already). Teachers were given very little time to determine a cohesive digital learning plan, and unfortunately, a lot of students are now plopped in front of the computer with a series of back-to-back Zoom classes that would incur Zoom fatigue in the most peppy of webinar presenters.

Understandably, a global pandemic was not something people tend to plan for, and systems in place were underprepared to handle the repercussions. Thirty-eight percent of students on average are failing, compare to 8% in pre-pandemic times. It’s stressing us out, stressing out the teachers, and stressing out the kids.

The future can look bleak the longer this goes on, and my own son has mentioned that if another year of distance learning is required, he may request that we “homeschool” in whatever manner available to be able to move and be more engaged, because let’s face it: kids are not built to sit in front of a screen for 7+ hours a day. While we don’t know what the future holds, we have devised some ways to mitigate the stress that long hours of distance learning and the fact that screens are our only way to “get” outside:

1. Require Movement Breaks

Even if he has to step away from the class meeting, I encourage him to get up and shake his feet or walk in a circle. Sometimes the body needs to kick up so the brain can kick back in.

2. Consider Blue Light Glasses

People have mixed opinions on these, but we find that they can reduce headaches and eye strain, and several brands have created blue light blocking glasses for kids.

3. Provide a Long Break After Class Time is Done

Close the computer, step outside, have a snack, and do some self-care before returning to the computer to dive into homework.

4. Limit Homework Time

I can sympathize with teachers who cannot assign books and worksheets and are left only to assign Google doc essays. Unfortunately, it is creating an obstacle for some learners who can feel bogged down with homework on top of class time. Set a timer – what gets done in that time frame is what gets done for the day.

5. Find Ways to Keep Learning Engaging

Remind kids that this isn’t going to be forever, and soon science projects and stopping by a friend’s locker to say hi will come back. It’s hard to keep kids caring about learning when it’s wearing them down and wondering if normal life will return. If you can, make a science lesson out of dinner, and an art project out of downtime so kids are using their brains in different ways.

6. Get Old-Timey

Kids miss their friends right now and are missing the social engagement that school provided. Try (yeah this one is hard!) to encourage kids to connect with their buddies with an old fashioned phone call over yet another text and another screen.

Children are social creatures and lifelong learners, and while they can return to school and pick lost grades back up, it’s important that they don’t become apprehensive about being students in the process. The most key takeaway I’ve had from this is that it’s important to remind each other that during this strange moment in history, we are all still learning how to get through this together.

My son and I do it with funky blue light glasses and a little dance.



About Danielle

Danielle is the operations manager of a local nonprofit that does policy work to improve the lives of Oregon families. She is a single mom of a tween and two teen boys. She is passionate about moms navigating life post-divorce (she’s had two with no regrets). Collector of Alice in Wonderland editions, devoted witch who believes in magic, and newly diagnosed ADHD mom. She is slightly obsessed with David Bowie and hot sauce, and sings Shoop to her goldendoodle when things get tough.