We’re all overwhelmed. Last spring, many educators were thrown into distance learning without much training. Add to that worries related to Covid-19, and it’s easy to see why many educators are approaching this year with some apprehension. I’m no exception, so I went to Twitter, a powerful professional learning network, and asked: “If you could give a piece of advice to educators moving into an online classroom for the first time, what would it be?”
While I have personal experience teaching in both blended and fully virtual settings, I’m always seeking continuous improvement of my craft. Online teaching can feel isolating, but the responses from educators across the nation proved the opposite: Community—even virtual—is powerful. I’m grateful for the educators who took a moment to share their pearls of wisdom with me, and I hope the gently curated information below can help you, too, as we navigate our new reality.
To help our students, we must plan ahead as much as possible. Part of that is making sure that all apps and links work properly and directions are clearly written. Creating multimodal tutorial videos with captions may assist with that. The fewer clicks it takes to get to a task, the better.
Our learning management system (LMS) design should have consistent layouts and provide clear communication, especially covering how students are to format and submit assignments. Coordinating with other educators and administrators in your building can help to create a streamlined LMS and maintain consistency when it comes to student communication and expectations. Synchronous live sessions work exceptionally well for workshopping and advising, but it’s important to always have a plan for those who may not be able to attend a live session.
During distance learning in the spring, maintaining contact with all students often proved difficult. Creating a robust spreadsheet with contact information for all of your students, including their caregivers’ email addresses and phone numbers, allows you to easily track communications and tell if someone has dropped off the radar.
Be aware that young people sleep in, care for siblings, or work late hours—just because they do not show up for your daytime Zoom doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.
Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t expect everything to go perfectly. Allow students to see your learning process.
“Don’t forget that there is a student behind the screen. There’s a reason why they may not be engaged or not want to be on video. Strike a balance between having compassion while keeping them accountable.” (@katiewuedu)
A FOCUS ON BELONGING
Distance learning can be challenging when it comes to building relationships. You can counter that by spending the first few weeks getting to know your students as you would in the classroom. Nurture face-to-face interactions via engaging activities that are student centered.
Caregivers also have an important role to play. Seek their feedback—it’s gold. You also want to extend grace to your students and the adults in their lives. Living through a pandemic isn’t a picnic for anyone. Give your students space and time to communicate openly.
Build fun into your online meetings at least once a week. This helps to provide a sense of community. Also, let students have a glimpse of your life outside the classroom. Small, simple things like weekly teacher-update videos allow students to get to know you as a person.