COVID-19 changed the world profoundly this year, forcing entire countries into lockdown and altering everyday life for Canadians. Schools were no exception, and students of all ages were suddenly sent home from March until summer’s end. The daily grind of arriving at school, opening your locker, and going to class was completely upended, replaced by unending screen time and live sessions on Google Classroom and Zoom. 

As September loomed closer, many students and parents anxiously awaited for updates foretelling what the upcoming school year would hold. So much of school life revolves around activities that would seem unthinkable in a pandemic - how could a class of 30 children physically distance themselves in a classroom? What would happen to lunch and recess? Group work? Assemblies?


pandemic covid-19
Going back-to-school in a pandemic is a challenge. Source: Pexels


Learn more about going Back-to-School in 2020.

School boards across Canada responded by providing online, hybrid, and in-person options, bringing students, parents, and school staff into unfamiliar territory. Going to school in a pandemic would be no easy feat, with new expectations, rules, technologies, and health and safety concerns at every turn. 

With so much going on, we decided to create a list for students attending school - online, in-person, or hybrid - in 2020. Let’s take a look at the top learning models available for students during the COVID-19 pandemic and some teacher-approved advice for those going back to school.

Learning Options: In-Person, Hybrid, and Virtual Models

Public boards, institutions, and private schools typically offer learning with in-person, hybrid and virtual formats. What’s the difference?


In-person or face-to-face schooling attempts to approximate the “normal” school experience with safety protocols that help curb the spread of COVID-19. Just as before the pandemic, students go to the school building, join their class, eat lunch, and in elementary schools, go out for recess. Clubs and sports may also be offered, as long as they follow COVID-19 safety protocols. Unlike school pre-pandemic, students typically stay in cohorted groups throughout the day to minimize exposure. Masks must be worn at all times in the building, and group work is done through digital means or in outdoor classrooms. However, students can benefit from leaving their home environment for meaningful, live social interactions.

in-person learning
In-person learning is back. Source: Pexels

Virtual Learning

Virtual school is a popular choice for families that have members who are vulnerable to COVID-19 or prefer to avoid the challenges of attending in-person school altogether. It is fully online, and typically involves students and teachers meeting for live or ‘synchronous’ sessions using apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. A virtual classroom is set up on platforms like Google or D2L, where teachers can post assignments, resources, and host discussions. Students and teachers get to learn from the comfort of home, but must contend with the challenges of extended screen time and minimal social contact.

Hybrid Learning 

Hybrid learning is a blend of virtual and in-person schooling, where students typically complete a significant portion of their learning online and attend class in-person. The advantage to his model is that students can reap the benefits of being out of their homes all day while attending school in smaller cohorts. If you can take this option, you can enjoy both being at home and having much needed live social interactions with your classmates.

Parents: read our 10 tips for getting your kids ready for back to school!

Tips for School Success

Now that we understand the three main models for schooling, let’s take a look at some tips that will enable students to have success in whatever model they choose.

Wear a Mask and Distance

It can be easy to fall out of the habit of maintaining distance and wearing a mask around your friends, but it’s so critical to follow the health and safety rules, especially in the school building. Make sure your mask is clean and that you have an extra mask on hand in case you drop your mask or it gets dirty. Do your best to avoid close contact with others, and remember that being outdoors is not a guarantee that you are safe. 

If you are learning at home, you will be fortunate not to have to worry about this - but be sure to mask and distance when you leave the house.

Be Prepared with the Right Technology

Whether you are virtual, online, or hybrid, having a laptop or a smart mobile device is key. Virtual and hybrid learners will rely heavily on having a laptop or desktop computer to attend class, and having a working microphone and camera will be essential to participation. So make sure you test your device to make sure all the pieces are running smoothly!

Having a device for learning will also be important for in-class students, as many teachers will set up a digital class to post assignments and announcements. You’ll also want to have the tech in place should another school shut down take place, and face-to-face classes have to suddenly transition to virtual.

Have the Supplies You Need at Hand

school supplies
Make sure you are prepared with the supplies you need. Source: Pexels

Being prepared is an essential part of your day: if you are in school, you will need to want to have your own supplies to minimize sharing objects with others; if you are online, you will most certainly need to have your own supplies ready. In either scenario, you will likely want to have a notebook and pen on hand to jot notes during discussions and presentations, coloured pencils and art supplies, a reusable water bottle to have on hand at your desk, and a book in the event that you have extra time or silent reading. 

Students going into school may want to consider getting a fanny pack to hold their masks at recess, a personal bottle of hand sanitizer, and possibly even a desk shield if it’s not provided by the school. 

Find out more about going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relax and Take Care of Yourself

Let’s face it. This year will be different as we learn in ways that have never been done before, and experience stressors like no other year. Being anxious and nervous will be normal as news reports share the reality of outbreaks in and outside of school. Being in front of a computer screen for hours on end can be even more exhausting than sitting in a classroom, and sitting in a classroom with a mask on all day can be irritating. Cold and flu season will also cause considerable anxiety, with parents and kids wondering and worrying and the sound of every cough.

With so much going on, it’s important to take the time to relax and remember that this year will be like no other. Take walks and bike rides outdoors, step away from the screen and read a book or create something, find someone to talk to virtually or through a socially distanced conversation. If you’re a parent with a little one in school, make sure your kids get time for physically distanced playdates, frequent trips to the park, and a change of scenery.

go outdoors during cover-19
Take breaks and enjoy the outdoors. Source: Pexels

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help in your school work. With physical distancing protocols in place, teachers may find it challenging to give students one-on-one attention, and kids may find it hard to follow along in virtual classes. Most schools will have extra support staff to help students that need individual attention, though access to those resources will depend on staffing availability and scheduling.

Another option parents and students might consider is finding a private tutor. Having a private tutor, online or safely distanced, can make a huge difference. A tutor can provide enrichment for those students who may feel like the pace of learning is too slow, or target areas for students who are struggling in a particular subject or strand. Check out sites like Superprof to check out a roster of options that can cater to your or your child’s needs.

Check out Superprof for tutoring options near you!

Check out our back-to-school supplies shopping list!

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Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.