As “remote learning for a few weeks” turned into “see you next semester” turned into “maybe next fall …” educators like you took the initiative and the hard steps needed to keep your students’ education moving.
Distance, virtual, remote, or hybrid learning, no matter the name, was basically the only way to deliver instruction to students in the time of global lockdowns and isolation. More than 65% of U.S. K-12 parents polled said their children participated in online learning (usafacts.org. Dec. 11, 2020). And while there remains a very real need for increased access to both internet service and technology (computers, tablets, software) worldwide, there is no doubt the situation would have been even more dire without the online learning that was available.
So, you did it, and you did it well… with many of you saying that the digital solutions used by your schools were critical and helpful (Oliver Wyman Market Study, 2021). Now, how do we get our students back on track and address any learning loss they might have experienced? How do we keep them moving with confidence and enthusiasm? How do we incorporate our new tools with our traditional methods?
First things first:
1. Celebrate your students
Your students, every one of them, have gone through an educational experience that no one else has ever gone through. They’ve been stuck inside, away from their friends, missing milestones like sports seasons and spring musicals, battling disruptions and distractions as they try to engage and learn—virtually.
Honor that. Whether it’s personal notes, online shout-outs, letters to parents/guardians… find ways to show how proud you are of them, and celebrate every accomplishment you can think of. They did it!
2. Celebrate your success/survival/ however many days closer to retirement you are now
You did it too! You don’t need to be reminded of what you went through, but as we come out the other side of this incredible challenge, give yourself a mental high-five. Or an actual one. Celebrate your accomplishments, and know that there are kids, parents, and people all over the world who
appreciate and are in awe of you. Take what time you can to take care of yourself.
3. Use the tools that kept your kids engaged then, they’ll keep them engaged now
The best online tools allowed students to work at their own pace, while teachers could easily keep tabs on their progress and intervene when necessary. In addition, the most successful online tools were those that drew students in, engaging them and making them want to do/learn/explore more. Fighting against a whole slew of new distractions, those online games and simulations built students’ confidence and marked and celebrated their progress, however incremental. Gamified learning has been around for some time, but last year encouraged more classrooms than ever to adopt it. Games and simulations that are “gamelike” but have clear outcomes and goals for students and teach required skills helped keep students engaged—and still can.
The tools you used for online teaching can also be used in-classroom, whether as supplements or replacements for the usual instruction or as resources to help students get back on track.
4. Use teaching tools that work for all students
Differentiated instruction was important before the pandemic; it will be even more important as we move forward. Students who were doing well under normal circumstances might now be experiencing issues and learning loss, while students who already experienced challenges now have more. Maybe they need a little extra help, different materials or processes, or just extra time to learn according to their needs. Thankfully, many online learning tools make it easier to deliver individualized instruction and rewards for effort and progress that can help every student’s ability, confidence, and motivation soar. Adaptive and individualized instruction will be even more important as we move forward.
5. Embrace and keep using the new technology (and try more)
The good news is that many products that saw you through remote learning can help your students catch up, keep up, and continue to grow. And your comfort level using tech is likely higher than ever before. Things like virtual conferencing, file sharing, mics, and smart cameras will probably be part of the educational landscape going forward. And it makes sense. Hybrid and remote work look to be the future, so moving beyond “what works now” toward “what will serve students going forward” entails more technology, not less.
6. Expect and accept that there will be bumps—lots of different bumps. Many bumps.
It’s not as easy as “getting kids back in school,” or “getting them learning again…” every facet of everyone’s life has been disrupted and different for more than a year. Part of teaching is helping students grow into happy, healthy adults. Teaching involves developing the whole child, so students not only learn how to solve equations or explain photosynthesis, but also how to build relationships and manage emotions. Those emotions will probably be in full force and unpredictable. Support your students’ growth by incorporating
social-emotional learning competencies into your daily routine to help them manage their emotions, attitudes, social skills, and academic performance.
Products that let kids go at their own pace will serve you well right now. Expecting students to perform the way you hope, or as they “used to,” will only lead to frustration on both ends. With the understanding that things are just harder now for everyone, let students settle in, find their groove, and navigate this strange new world. Online products are available that meet students where they are and allow them to feel more ownership over their own learning, get their confidence back, and help you monitor and guide them as they move forward.
Speaking of moving forward, remember “celebrate your students?” Do that. Celebrate learning successes that in the past didn’t seem like much. Celebrate things like birthdays, attendance, attitude, cooperation. Let your kids know you’ve got their backs.