Insights from the School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College
Earning an online master’s degree can be challenging to fit into your lifestyle, particularly if you are a teacher, and even more so if you have parenting responsibilities. But when you consider the upside of earning a graduate degree in teaching, you realize it can help you elevate your career and build confidence in your future. Balancing it all requires building a sound plan and then staying true to it.
Below are some tips to help make your online educational journey more successful. These proven strategies have worked for many students, helping them get the full enriching experience of taking an online master’s degree program.
Big Picture Planning
Take some time to plan out the semester ahead, including holiday breaks for both college and the school where you work. By writing down all the major dates when big assignments are due, plus all the important dates on your personal schedule (birthdays, anniversaries, vacations and trips), you have a high-level view of the variety of demands facing you in the coming months.
This big-picture plan allows you to identify the pockets in your schedule where you have the most time to focus on important work, while also setting aside time needed to make sure you can enjoy all the great moments in your personal life.
Procrastination happens for everyone, and it can happen for online students too. Online classes allow for flexibility, but it’s important to schedule for all readings and activities required to complete assignments. Evaluate the coursework for the upcoming week and separate it into items that can be tackled in multiple short amounts of time (like reading an assigned article or book on the train, or watching a video before bed) versus tasks that require thinking and focus (like a research paper). For assignments that require focus and time, start thinking about your ideas, content and outline several days before you will sit down and write. You’ll find that the short amount of time you put into planning and looking ahead creates dividends in how productive you are in your work.
Build Your Support Team
Talk to your friends, family, and coworkers about your plan and how it will place new demands on your life. You’ll find they can provide support when you need it most and they’ll be understanding if you have to postpone a coffee meeting or after-work outing. You’ll also find it easier to ask for and receive practical support, such as rides for the kids or helping with tasks around the house.
The idea of building a team extends to your fellow students and support staff at the college. Connect with a few classmates within the first few weeks with whom you feel comfortable collaborating. In the Merrimack Online M.Ed. program, many classes have synchronous sessions where students can develop stronger connections among classmates.
Create Your Own Space
We’ve all heard the best way to finish anything and do it well is to take it one step at a time. But it’s also critical to have the right environment and space for that work. That means finding the right fit for you – whether you work better in a bustling coffee shop or a quiet spot in your home. It also means identifying days and times where you’ll need this space. Once you accomplish this, you can communicate to everyone in your life exactly when and where you need to have some undisturbed quiet time to do coursework.
Communicate with Faculty and Classmates
Eliminate one of the mental barriers of being in an online class – you’ve joined a community and you have access to a friendly and helpful course instructor who is eager to help you understand the materials, just the same way you’d have access if you were on campus for the day. Online degree programs make it easier than ever to contact professors when you need direction or feedback. Understanding the rules of when and how it’s best to contact a professor is also important for success.
Don’t forget to keep communication open and collaborate with fellow classmates too. In the Merrimack Online M.Ed. program, when students get stuck, they can talk to their professor or teacher education specialist for help. All you have to do is reach out and connect.
The hard work you put in is easier when there’s a tangible reward at the end of it. As part of your initial plan, write down a few things you want to do for pure enjoyment to reward yourself when you hit certain milestones, such as completing an assignment or project. It could be as simple as going to a movie or planning a special night with your family. You will enjoy these moments even more with the feeling of confidence that you’ve accomplished your goals.
“I chose [the Merrimack College Master’s in Education] because I could do it all online,” explains student Rhonda Boudreau on why she chose the online program at Merrimack. “I am a mother of four children, I teach full time. I can still do the program in my pajamas.”
Balancing teaching with life and family while earning your degree is challenging, but far from impossible. The reward is a brand new trajectory in your education career.