Samantha du Preez

We are experiencing unprecedented times. Classroom teachers are being asked to rapidly evolve their professional skillset to address student needs in a now fully remote learning world. There’s much to learn from our colleagues who have experience teaching in an online environment.

5 Remote Teaching Tips from an Online Teacher:

1. Engagement is (Still) Everything

Whether you’re assigning non-digital work, teaching live, or sending recordings to accommodate asynchronous learning, student engagement remains of the highest priority for online teachers. Engagement is learning, after all, which is why it tops the list of remote teaching tips. “If your students aren’t engaged, they will literally walk away,” Kimberly Palocsay, a virtual teacher in Ohio, says. “You can’t stand closer to distracted students. You can’t get their attention with the same techniques you use in the classroom.”

Some schools might have their own learning management system (LMS), but if yours doesn’t, try adding your students to a Google Chat room, communicating via the Remind app, sending out an email chain, or creating a Facebook group! There are also newer tools, such as Class for Zoom, that integrate into your existing tools that make remote learning easier. Use these communication tools to engage with students and get them talking to you and each other. This will help students socialize at the outset, and will eventually increase their comfort and ease with communicating digitally.

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2. Share the Load When Remote Teaching

Many hands make light work, even when those hands are practicing social distancing and excessive hand-washing! Mendy Hayes, an elementary educator in Texas, partnered up with at least six other educators in her district to provide daily content for her students. Each teacher provides an hour of live, online instruction during the day via Facebook Live. Content is loosely aligned to standards, but mainly geared at keeping students actively engaged in learning.

If you don’t have online teacher collaborators in mind, use the vast arsenal of online teaching resources to help fill in the gaps. Know that these resources can’t replace the direct instruction you do daily, but at least aiming at normalcy and beginning to develop a new structure will help some students cope with their anxieties and stay engaged while lessening the impact this out-of-school time will have on their overall learning.

3. Know Your Audience

Your remote teaching routine is naturally going to be a bit different from your normal day-to-day for many reasons. Some students may not have access to the internet or a computer at home. If households do have access to these tools, they could also have multiple students who need to share the access, increasing the likelihood of each student only being able to get an hour or two online. And if they are babysitting younger siblings, that time might become even more finite. Even in best-case scenarios, your learning audience may expand to include siblings or parents. Try to feel out your students’ learning situations and environments – it will undoubtedly inform how students interact with you online.

As states continue expanding these cancellations, encourage your learners to think about their learning environment as well. Kimberly recommends a quiet location with adequate lighting, preferably with a door students can close. A clean, dedicated workspace is ideal but not more important than the true message: Learning can happen anywhere.

4. Online Teachers Get Collaborative

As educators, we use peer collaboration as a framework for positive socialization, interpersonal communication, and conflict resolution. Besides, when they move onto their eventual careers, the probability is high that they will need to work with others to get things done. In an online environment, collaboration remains a necessity, even if you are puzzling over how to get it done.

For online teachers struggling to find a communal place to collaborate, Google Chat is a great place to start because students can log on in real time to a single place together. In addition, you are able to record the video and chat for students to view later. Kimberly is a huge proponent of using these features to create online breakout rooms – “They are the online equivalent of centers,” Kimberly says. “I begin with direct instruction in the main chat room, and then direct students to one of several breakout rooms – depending on whether they’re working through an assignment, looking to challenge themselves, or needing additional instruction and support.”

5. Flex Your Instruction, Not Your Expectations

If our students are dealing with diverse circumstances throughout the shutdown, we ought to be understanding and solutions-oriented, looking for ways to make virtual learning work for their situation. But that doesn’t mean we should do away with our expectations entirely. Kimberly says that in the online education world, students are just as prone to making excuses, shirking their work, and getting distracted as they are within the walls of the classroom (and sometimes more so!) – but she works to provide students with clear information and instruction, communicated regularly, with ample and regular support.

Remote Teaching Tips for Managing Expectations:

  1. Collaborate with colleagues to develop a weekly schedule of assignments due.
  2. Review the schedule at the start of every lesson or webcast you do so that students are reminded regularly of what they need to do, when it should be done, and how they should submit the work.
  3. Allow students to revise previously turned in assignments beyond the original deadline, but still, assign deadlines for those revisions.
  4. Remain flexible, compassionate, and understanding. Home lives are different for students and can change from day to day. Offer your students time on the calendar just to voice concerns, socialize, and check in.

Lastly, if you’re feeling ill-prepared to adapt to the fast-changing educational landscape brought on by statewide closures and remote teaching, remember: you likely have more experience with online learning than you give yourself credit for. Most educators have taken online classes – whether in pursuit of their degree or continuing learning for license renewals. Keep these remote teaching tips and your own online learning experiences in mind as you make plans to educate online.

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Samantha du Preez is a Senior Schools Manager in Detroit, MI. She is passionate about education, good food, and the arts. She is a connoisseur of fine hobbies and can usually be found creating or playing with her dog, Mr. Darcy.