For so many of us, this upcoming school year is full of unknowns and new teaching requirements. It’s also very likely that it is already bringing about a lot of stress and anxiety for you. As teachers, we plan and prepare. We spend our summer reflecting on the previous year and brainstorming and preparing to make the next year even better. And while it’s hard to feel like we can fully prepare with so many unknowns, one thing I know is that this year will require virtual teaching in some way or another, whether we like it or not. For that reason, I have some suggestions that can make your virtual teaching a lot more successful. Here are nine digital teaching tips/strategies I’ll be implementing to be the rockstar my students need me to be. I’m suggesting these digital teaching tips for every situation or school reopening plan, whether you are teaching fully digital, using a hybrid plan with some in-class days and some virtual learning days, or if you are reopening fully in class. As you read and begin thinking about how you’ll implement these tips and strategies, please know that I am of the mindset that I want to be prepared for whatever changes and learning possibilities arise this coming school year. While I am preparing for a hybrid opening, I also want to make sure that whatever I put in place at the beginning of the year can be used if we end up with a change in that plan as the year progresses.
1. Organize ALL the things. I’ll be using Classroom Lesson Slides to manage and organize my daily in-class and digital lessons. This is where I’ll display and/or link all of my instructional materials and assignments for each day. Why is this so necessary? Using one presentation method for your lessons, whether you are in-class, digital, or both, allows your students to navigate your lessons more easily. With it all in one place, students who miss a lesson or are absent can use the lesson slides for that day to access the material. If you are teaching digitally, your recorded virtual meetings could be linked to that day’s slides for students who missed. If you are teaching in class, you may want to consider recording the important (new material) lessons or the modeled part of your lessons to link to your slides for students who miss. They are easily sharable to your Google Classroom and/or to your website, or student’s emails and Drives. I’ll also be using my Student Data Trackers to keep all of my students’ assessment data, conference information, goals, parent communication, and all other important data in one place.
2. Be flexible. Have a back-up plan. Be prepared for possible problems. Thinking ahead about what possible problems could occur when teaching digitally is important. You can’t be prepared for everything, but having an idea of what you may do to adjust your lesson, if necessary, is a good idea. Technology doesn’t always work. One thing that I’ve started working on is creating short screencasts of myself working through the lesson or activity to give directions and guidance and finding other instructional videos (like on YouTube) to share for flipped instruction. These screencasts and videos can be linked to my lesson slides, which will be shared with the students each day, and can be used to help with digital instruction just in case there are problems that don’t allow the group or single students to participate in a digital lesson that day (not ideal, but at least it’s not an entire day of instruction lost due to technology issues).
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! This is SO IMPORTANT! Parents are doing so much more with the students with remote learning, so communicating progress and concerns with your parents is key. If you’re starting your year in-class, you should also consider frequent communication updates to keep them in the loop. As we learned last year when school were closed for COVID, we can’t take for granted that we will remain in the classroom just because we are currently in the classroom. (Like I said, I’m preparing for whatever the possibilities are and I want any transitions we must make to be smooth and seamless.). If they don’t know, they can’t help you with it. Along with frequent communication, be sure to respond to any emails, phone calls, etc. quickly. You may want to set up a schedule just for “office hours” each week and/or day. Giving your students and parents frequent progress updates and establishing a routine for when you will be available to respond to questions and be available to help with daily “things” will allow for more progress and help you build positive relationships with your families. Make sure you begin by sharing positive updates. Be kind, share love, and give respect. This will make it so much easier if and when you have to have the more difficult conversations. I use Class Dojo and Google Classroom comments for most of my communication, but for parents who require other methods, I also give my personal cell number and use email. Sending home weekly newsletters is a great way to keep up communication for remote learning. You can also get a Google number if you don’t feel comfortable giving out your personal number for text messaging.
4. The best virtual lessons are fast-paced and interactive. Games are a great idea. You can supply your students with manipulatives like dice, bingo chips, print/cut materials or use virtual manipulatives, like what you can find on toytheater.com. You can find ways to gamify almost any lesson, like adding a connect four board or any other game board to your lesson to increase engagement. If games aren’t possible, remember to keep your lessons quick, stop to give time for questions and participation. Nearpod lessons are great for interactive lessons that can’t be gamified. Edpuzzle is a great resource for interactive videos that are self-paced for independent assignments.
5. Keep set hours. When students are working online at home, their work hours may not be the same as the set school hours they would have in an in-class situation. Just because they are doing school work at 6pm does not mean that you must be available. Keep set hours where you are available for questions and to help, and stick to them. For your sanity and your family’s, it’s important to not be working all the time. And you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Establish set hours, add it to the schedule you give to your students and families at the beginning of the year, and stick to it.
6. Social Emotional Check-ins. When we’re not with our students every day, it’s not always easy to know how they’re doing. We all know that matters. If you’re working on building a relationship with your students, they need to know you care. One strategy that you may want to implement is having them fill in a daily check-in form. This is a great routine to start at the beginning of the day, whether it’s arrival time in-class, or a form they fill in at home. These are really easy to create in Google Forms. It gives the students a chance to document their emotional “space” for the day and ask for a time to talk with you individually. In the classroom, you can quickly make adjustments for your students when they need it. Online, it’s harder to make that judgment call without some kind of check in. Having them submit this form first thing in the day before your lessons can give you the opportunity to check in with them before your class meeting if you need to, or be ready to make that adjustment (like schedule a smaller group meeting with them) if necessary.
7. Self-care. My favorite self-care practice is my Mindfulness of Gratitude practice. It’s crazy the difference ten minutes of peace, balance, and thoughts of gratitude can do for your teaching mindset. My favorite time to practice is in the morning, right after my first hot cup of coffee, but really any time is perfect. I also do a shorter 2-5 minute practice before transitioning to home and mom life after my day of teaching (online or in class) or whenever I notice I need to reset and refocus. If mindfulness isn’t your thing, do whatever works for you. Just be sure you are taking time for yourself to reset each day.
8. Practice Gratitude. It’s really easy to get into a negative space. We’re not doing what we love the way we want to be doing it, or at the caliber we want to be doing it. Being intentional about taking note of all the small moments throughout your day that you are grateful for and that bring you joy can help strengthen your positive vibes to keep you going and to help keep your students going. Savor that hot sip of coffee, or sweet/smooth taste of chocolate, the birds chirping, etc. You’ll notice a huge difference in your mindset if you make this a constant practice.
9. Model everything. Obviously, you are not there to help guide each step of the work process when your students are at home. What is simple to you may not be simple to your students or their parents. Creating quick modeled “how-to” videos of your expectations can save you a lot of time in the long run. Imagine, if your parents and students can watch the video, they will not need to send you questions about how to complete the work, meaning you will not spend as much time responding to questions you thought you already answered in the written instructions.