The other day I listened in on my son’s Physics X class, which sets 9th graders up for a full year of physics in one semester and chemistry the next. Taught in a 2-hour block, it’s a rigorous class with A LOT of material to go through. But he loves science, so here we are. 

Through ZOOM’s audio and video, I observed that my son’s teacher is awesome. I mean AWESOME. He is fully invested in the students, navigates the logistics of hybrid learning by reaching out to students both online and in-person, and he’s engaging and funny. He refers to tests as “celebrations of learning” and uses his voice to animate his subject matter. He’s kind and compassionate. The kids roll their eyes, but know he cares. You’re getting the picture, right? AWESOME.

I saw and heard my kid’s teacher doing ALL OF THE RIGHT THINGS to engage his students. Yet my kid sat staring passively at the screen, sometimes writing but often distracted by his phone and well, anything else that moved. Squirrel!! Sound familiar? And I have to be honest, it was hard for me to pay attention after 60+ minutes of lecture. 

Cue sinking feeling in the gut…because this is not going away.. 

Our kids, as evidenced by my well-intended son, currently lack the ability to pay meaningful attention during online classes. And I’ll take it a step further: they don’t even realize that they’re not paying attention. Online, the show must go on. There’s no flashing light, tone, buzzer, or hand that reaches out of the screen to wave,“HEY, you NEED this.” 

In their daily lives, our youth don’t engage in activities that offer regular opportunities to practice sustaining attention – for the sake of it, or just because it’s the right thing to do. They are always entertained and then have that very expectation – to be entertained. 

Think about their device-rich lives. As soon as they get bored, there is a dopamine fix readily available to them in the form of an app on their phone or a TiKTok video. Of course they can’t pay attention, because they don’t even know how to

OK, now that the dust has settled on my panic explosion, I’ll offer hope.

I firmly believe the power of relationships is going to save us. Face-to-face conversation with a human being will move us from passive to active, mindful, purposeful. Relationship in learning is why I started my company, Yellow Parachute Learning Partners, so many years ago. It’s because sometimes you need someone to look you in the eye and tell you “you’re going to be okay.” Or, in this case, you need someone to look you in the eye and say “pay attention! Look at me!” 

And so this next week, I’ll be looking to offer simple ways that we help our kids practice paying attention. And you’d better believe I’m going to whip-up a little note-taking bootcamp for my son — How to Make the Most of Screen Learning — or something super catchy like that. He’s so excited, he doesn’t even know it. I’m sure your kid will be too!

In the meantime, take care, and make ‘em look you in the eye.

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Cara Thorpe
Founder & Visionary
Yellow Parachute Learning Partners