Last spring I made a video of remote or online learning tips that I had gleaned from my years as an online school director. As the remainder of the school year progressed and I watched the news, I saw that as many as 40% or more of students were not participating in the remote learning that their schools had created for them. It made me realize that I needed to add another tip to the five I had provided in the video. And it needs to come first.
1. Create strong collaborative relationships with the adults in your students’ lives.
All of the tips and strategies about providing effective and engaging online lessons in the world don’t mean a thing if students don’t engage in the virtual classroom. I saw this as an online school director. Students of all ages in K-12 are still developing self-regulation skills that they need when faced with deciding between going online to do their schoolwork and playing video games. Video games win, hands-down, the majority of time.
The adults in your students’ lives need to create and reinforce daily structure so that students meet their educational responsibilities. They need to provide emotional support when students get frustrated. And those adults need you, your fellow teachers, and administrators.
The social media posts were very clear last spring. Parents were completely overwhelmed with becoming the primary facilitator of education for their children. This was completely new territory for them, and it became even more difficult when they have multiple children of different ages—often while working their own full-time job from home. It’s critical to take these parents under our wings as educators and make them partners in the educational success of our students.
When I worked with students in the online school, I met as many of the parents as I could and visited almost every home at one time or another. Admittedly, home visits are a bit tricky when we are social distancing. But those visits and conversations helped me to create the type of relationships I needed to be able to help students when they weren’t with me in a school building. And some of the most powerful conversations weren’t about school. They were about the student’s baseball team, the mother’s job, or the baby’s colic. The emails and newsletters that often are counted as a home-school connection just won’t cut it when remote learning is at play.
Creating relationships with the parents and guardians of all of your students may sound natural if you are an elementary teacher. If you are a middle school or high school teacher it may sound overwhelming. I agree that it is not possible to make home visits for 150 students you teach in all of your sections this fall. Work with your principal to institute a school-wide effort, instead. If every teacher reaches out to the students in their 1st period class, then every student and their parents will have the support that they need to succeed in remote learning, whether online, blended, or some other method.
You will see that the original 5 tips that I put forth are still valid, and with strong relationships with students’ parents, they become much more achievable.
2. Support your students.
Support both the student and the parents by helping them make a schoolwork schedule. Offer sample schedules, but if those don’t work for them, collaborate with the family to figure out what will be a good schedule for them.
3. Keep it simple.
In your classroom you create simple systems to make the business of your room go smoothly. Late work goes in the basket, lunch orders are recorded on the bulletin board, and students know to raise their hand to ask for the bathroom pass. Make your online environment a parallel to your classroom systems. Create simple procedures that are consistent and provide handouts with pictures and video tours to help both the students and the parents to navigate the virtual classroom.
4. Simple lessons work best.
In a classroom, tasks are meted out one at a time. In an online environment, students are faced with a large amount of material all at once. It can be overwhelming. Make sure that lessons are bite-sized and then string multiple lessons together to address topics over multiple days.
5. Communicate clearly and often.
The isolation of working on schoolwork at home means that students often have questions and nobody to address them. You can help this by being very clear and complete in your lesson instructions. A quick video to explain the assignment would be very helpful. Students will still have questions, though, so be explicit about how students should contact you and how quickly you will respond.