Teacher to Teacher: Simple Advice for Going Virtual
By Melissa Saphos
Any way you tackle it, teaching is a tricky process that takes serious planning, time, consideration, and knowledge. When you add in a pandemic, even confident teachers face the uneasiness of blazing a path into the digital world of education while still tackling educational goals and meeting the needs of all students.
How do we suddenly transition from everything we’ve ever known (classroom instruction, student rapport, resources) to the vast, yet lesser-known world of online instruction? As teachers work to connect with students while navigating online learning options, communities have learned that educators are determined, resilient professionals who are passionate about student learning and health. After working with educators to ease this transition, I have compiled the following list of tips to help the transition to digital learning feel more comfortable for you and your students.
- Ask for help. Lean on those techy teachers and instructional coaches who were always using fun tech applications in class. Rather than starting from the beginning, they can be a great resource to give you a quick tutorial, tell you the pros/cons, and help you find something to meet your needs.
- Go with what you know. Even if you weren’t a techy teacher, chances are you used some helpful applications or programs from time-to-time. That is an excellent place to start so you won’t become overwhelmed with new sign ins, passwords, and how the technology works. The lesson should not be learning the app, it should be the content you are teaching! When students recognize the app, they will be more comfortable, and you are less likely to have parents stressed because their child/student cannot operate the application to complete the assignment.
- Let your students know you care. By now, most of us have noticed that we need to go heavy on the social emotional portion of learning right now. It is obvious that students who feel cared for and important are more inclined to do their work, despite the hardships they may encounter. This is easily accomplished by being present in class meetings with a smile and upbeat attitude that tells students you are glad to see them. Allow for some small talk and find out how everyone is doing.
- Set the scene. Think about how excited the students get when you add a set of string lights across the whiteboard. This same idea can help engage students online as well. Take time to set your scene before meeting students online… add some lights or a sign. If you can’t do this, use virtual backgrounds that can add to the fun.
- Be flexible. One of the most beautiful things about technology is that it never sleeps. I’ve seen regimented adults on social media bragging because they make their students check in virtually at 8am. When pressed by others as to why, their answer was something like, “My students are staying up all hours, they need a routine. They need to go to bed and wake up at a ‘normal’ time.” While this teacher’s intentions may be good, the reality is that we are in very different times than we ever have been. In some of the districts I serve, students are homeschooling their siblings all day so their parents can work and then they finally get to their work late at night. In addition, many of the high school students are now working part-time essential jobs to help the family’s financial situation. Since technology offers the opportunity for flexibility, I would be flexible. Students who are doing their schoolwork at 10pm must be dedicated to it, so give them a little grace.
- Beware of too much FREE. The outpouring of help from companies has been amazing. It has been a great time of opportunity to learn what is out there, learn about programs, play with applications, and give them a test run to see what works best for you and your students. However, please be careful about limiting yourself to only one or two free applications that will expire before fall unless you know you will be able to finance them. Ask your campus administration, technology coach, or instructional coach about programs and applications being considered for district adoption. If you are completely enamored with one that the district does not plan on purchasing, ask for a meeting and let them know the benefits and successes of purchasing the program you are advocating for.
- Let the technology work for you. We have many different student populations in our classrooms, and it is important that we serve them all. Look for applications that help with differentiation. There are wonderful programs that allow students to take an assessment and then it guides them on a path for their specific learning needs. Whether they need enrichment (high achieving students), more practice (not at mastery), or need remediation (struggling students), many applications can seamlessly do this.
- Learning opportunities in addition to academic levels. Another perk of technology is being able to address our students with English language challenges or cultural differences as well as the social emotional component that we strive to include in our classrooms. Many applications are helpful in supplying resources that you can customize specific to student needs. This may include current topics such as social injustice or the pandemic that students want to discuss and strive to understand.
- Old isn’t wrong. Everything you know how to do is not obsolete! Take some of the things you were really good at and move them to the digital arena. This could include meeting in small groups, having class discussions, and allowing students time to socialize.
- Don’t change YOU. Students love and miss their teacher. Even next fall with the new groups coming in, they have seen you around campus and know who you are. Don’t be afraid to pump your personality into digital learning! Play games, tell silly jokes, show pictures of your dog- be YOU!
About the author
Melissa Saphos is a natural-born teacher and lifelong learner. She began her path in education when she was in elementary school and hosted “school” in her garage for afterschool homework help. Today she is an Academic Specialist at one of Texas’ Regional Education Service Centers, where she collaborates with school districts. In the current coronavirus situation, she has transitioned the entire training schedule and a regional conference into a virtual format so that teachers and districts can meet their training and compliance goals and continue to serve their students’ needs despite this time of challenges. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MelissaSaphos
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.