The Global COVID-19 Pandemic has led the world to change rapidly and make adaptations quickly. Protective and cautious measures have been instituted, causing life as we knew it to come to a staggering halt. Out of an abundance of care, schools across the United States remain close and are modifying instruction on a dime. Many, however, are not as prepared as they would like to be to transition into uncharted waters with large scale distance learning and online classrooms. Today’s blog will discuss 10 tips to help educators be effective and prepared for teaching online or teaching from a distance to combat necessary extended school closures.
Why is this Important?
Most people thought initially that school closures would be short-lived for one or two weeks, but schools and educators are now beginning to plan for extended periods of nontraditional school methods. While distance learning is not a new concept, it hasn't been implemented by traditional school districts on this level. Not only do educators need to focus on standards while teaching remotely, but educators will also need to focus on teaching more problem solving, adaptation, innovation and also how to evaluate information.
Here are 10 tips that can help educators be effective with distance learning. These tips will help educators to meet this new challenge and continue to lead their classrooms effectively whether online or in the classroom.
- Establish and maintain your presence right away- Welcome each of your students to their learning community. Your online virtual (online) classroom, or even if you are working from packets being sent home for those students who do not have the necessary means to participate in your online classroom. Make sure to establish your norms and expectations along with the natural consequence for not following the expectation. Establishing your presence from the very beginning will help your students to feel welcome. If you have already started but have not set these expectations and norms, pause and do this as soon as possible.
- Use Online Resources to your advantage - Don’t create a false belief about technology being used because your classroom is online. Ensure that you are providing meaningful ways for students to engage with other students virtually, vs. written correspondence back and forth with the teacher. Be sure to use technology as part of your online classroom community that will engage and entertain students. When you are creating your lesson plan for the week, be intentional with your planning for use of technology. Make sure that the technology you select to teach your lesson will allow students to be in charge of their learning and allow them to collaborate with others because when you do this there will be a greater opportunity for student achievement. Here are a few examples of technology you can use to engage your students in the learning community you establish online: Google Docs or web conferencing programs such as Google Hangouts, Skype, and other tools such as Adobe Connect, toontastic, blogs, YouTube, App Inventor, Blackboard, Canvas, Class Dojo, Moodle.
- Make yourself available to serve your students, parents, etc - Make sure that you set your schedule and allow for some flexibility when needed. It’s important to communicate with your students and parents to let them know when you will be available for them to call you with questions, or set up a virtual meeting. Tell your students when you will be visible but make sure that they have some way to contact you outside of your designated hours such as an email address. Use online platforms to stay connected such as a Private Facebook Group for parents and teachers to stay connected and support each other, Google Hangout, online posts, forums, and other social media resources. Communication is key, effective and consistent communication will help your students to feel important and lets them know that you value their interaction and engagement.
- Provide ongoing feedback - Continuing with communication is a key theme. Provide frequent feedback to students and parents including constructive feedback. Although providing feedback has always been important with education establishing a new personal connection with your students online will help students to identify behaviors or skills that they will need to improve or continue to be successful with their distance studies. It will also help them feel like they are included and are an important part of their online learning community. It might also be helpful to set up a way for students to support and mentor each other in a constructive and organized way. Also, look for ways to provide an assessment of student progress. Tools like Quizlet, Google Forms, FlipGrid, and Kahoot will help you to provide and seek, specific, timely and ongoing feedback with students.
- Make all assignments and directions clear - Clarity for students during this time is crucial for their success. It may be very challenging for many students, at least initially, to make the adjustment to finding their assignments, and notes online or having to read all instructions, notes, and assignments from a packet without the added clarity from a teacher’s spoken word. Make assignments, lessons, and instructions as easy for them to understand as possible. Make their work as easy for them to understand what your expectations are when their work is due and how much it will count toward their overall grade.
- Avoid lecturing your students - As you become more comfortable and experienced teaching online or from a distance look toward being creative and mixing things up. Use a story, picture, and even some humor to help you liven up your lesson so that students do not become bored. When students are not able to predict how your class or your assignments will be each day they will be more likely to stay engaged.
- Keep students engaged - Now that your classroom will be online or via other means it's important to remember to make content that is engaging and entertaining. It might be tempting to focus only on content and overlook the engagement part when teachers can not look at student’s faces or see their body language. Also, remember that not all of your student’s work has to be completed in front of a screen.
- Keep the focus on the overall learning goal vs. daily work - This is a stressful time for everyone. Children today have never known a world turn upside down as it is right now. It’s okay to be reasonable with expectations and maintain a level of flexibility with deadlines.
- Learn how to compress your files- With so many people now having to record lessons and upload them you will want to find a way to compress your audio into the lowest resolution possible. Otherwise, you may be eating up a lot of space. By compressing your files you will be able to make the uploading process much quicker. There are many free online tools to assist you with this such as HandBrake.
- Take care of yourself- It is important that you follow all of the social distancing recommendations to safeguard yourself from becoming ill and that you manage your stress in a healthy way. It’s also very important to remember that COVID-19 does not differentiate between borders, ethnicities, disability status, gender or age. As an educator, you will want to continue to be welcoming, respectful, inclusive, and provide a supportive environment to all but if you are worn down, stressed, worried, and unwell it will make this more difficult to maintain. Remember to take breaks often. This also includes taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news. Take a break from social media once in a while. Be sure to take care of your body by eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting plenty of rest and also exercise. Engage in deep breathing, meditating and stretching often. Make sure you take the time needed to unwind and to partake in safe activities that you enjoy and also remember that you can talk to others you trust about your concerns and try not to keep everything you may be going through bottled up. Your students and your family need you and the more you take care of yourself the better you will be able to be a support to others.