Many teachers have been thrown into educating online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The difficulty of jumping to a new system and setup while trying to hold on to some sense of normalcy has become a trending topic. Some now find themselves adjusting to hybrid learning, while others are still homebound. As an online teacher and six-year homeschool veteran, Covid-19 brought about a whole new set of challenges and emotional needs that had to be addressed. In a sense, teachers worldwide have become students as they learn about new online classroom tools and teaching methods. Talking with other education professionals and hearing their stories only deepens my respect for teachers’ perseverance, adaptability, and commitment to lifelong learning. I am in awe at the love and joy that is being shared through a screen, despite the challenges.
As a parent, homeschool teacher, experienced online educator, and lifelong learner, I offer some tips and tricks that can help students learn and succeed during times of transition.
- Assure your learners that they are safe, loved, and heard. If your students see much of the news or watch television at all, they are aware of the dangers and changes this pandemic has introduced. Extra love and affirmation will go far in helping your pupils succeed. This affirmation can come in verbal form; words of praise go far to boost morale and encourage students to give their best effort. Actress and author Sonia Manzano who played Maria on the children’s show Sesame Street said it well: “I hope I can be remembered as a person who created a moment of safety for a child watching.” Your students will remember you and how you shared joy and comfort through education.
- Keep a consistent schedule. Routines and schedules are important to aid in a sense of security for the learner. Even in a teacher’s personal life, scheduling is critical to keep a rhythm and flow while learning new online skills for the classroom. Schedules and routines are not just posters or timelines; they influence the emotional, social, and cognitive development of the child. They help reduce behavior issues and allow for higher participation rates. There are many things to consider when implementing a schedule. For example, attention span, available resources, and environment can all be factors in keeping a schedule.
- Communication is key. Effectively express what you expect out of your class time. Classroom schedules, guidelines, assignments, areas for improvement, and especially student success are all things that need to be shared with parents and caregivers. Communicate often with parents and caregivers to foster a sense of trust. Don’t just share information, ask questions and listen. Find the right method that works for parents and caregivers such as message boards, apps, text, phone calls, or email.
- Use a reward system. Things your students enjoy can be used as a motivating factor in education. The importance of positive reinforcement can not be stressed enough. “You get a star!” Stickers, magnets, and digital certificates can be great rewards in a virtual classroom. There is a wealth of digital resources available to you on the web.
- Plan “brain breaks” into your lesson time. This can be planned into the lesson or spontaneous when you notice your students’ attention starting to drift. These breaks could be some stretches, jumping jacks, or a quick song that goes with the lesson. I like to include a couple of movement songs in each lesson I teach. “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” or “Old MacDonald” are wonderful for younger students. For older students, simple yoga or stretches can get them back on task.
- Connect with an education community. Even if that community is only functioning online at this time, it is important to find a space to ask questions, share ideas, and learn together. Students and teachers alike need a community for learning growth. I am fortunate to be in a city with a strong and vibrant homeschool community. If possible, find a mentor or a peer who will come alongside you in your teaching journey. Through the VIPTeach Global Online Teaching Fellowship, I was paired with a mentor who has shared her classroom knowledge and taught me so much. This group of education professionals challenges me to be a better teacher and continue developing my teaching toolkit. I’m learning daily, right alongside my students.
Let’s journey together. You may not be able to implement all of these tips in your classroom, but even one or two could give you some peace of mind and restore the learning experience. Online education will surprise, stretch, and strengthen you. There will be difficult days, but the light in your students’ eyes as they learn and grow can be just the reward needed at the end of a long day. There may be days with meltdowns and imperfection. Remember, that’s ok. The online classroom does not have to be perfect to be effective. Enjoy the good days. Embrace the tough days. I’m cheering you on as you navigate these unusual circumstances. Teacher, you can do this!