This post is adapted from the first webinar in our series on distance education for teachers affected by COVID-19. Join our lead educators each week to discuss strategies for delivering quality teaching during this challenging time.
Teachers are used to dealing with the unpredictable, but the transition to distance teaching marks the beginning of a new and daunting stage in our careers.
Here are our first, key pieces of advice for those who are just beginning to embark on this unprecedented journey.
Start small and take it slow
You don’t have to get everything right within the first week.
Fail fast, fail early, and fail often.
Only by experimenting with different instructional strategies will you find the one that works for you and your students.
Keep sustainability in mind when you’re figuring out what works. No one knows how long school closures will last, so don’t overcommit to instructional strategies that require unrealistic investments of time and resources.
Model the adjustment process for your students
Remind your students that you are on a learning journey together. It’s as new for you as it is for them, which is why you are the best model for your students. If you remain calm and experiment without fear, they will do the same.
Be sensitive to parents’ needs
a simple parent support package that contains:
- Tips on accessing and using online resources
- Goals and expectations for student home learning
- Suggested activities that parents can use to support home learning.
You can find a full list of parent-directed projects for home learning here, as well as household learning activities here.
Remember that stressed and busy parents will not be able to deliver fully fledged lessons, so keep your expectations for their involvement achievable and sustainable.
Make sure that you are as aware as you can be of individual family circumstances too. You’ll need to know if students don’t have reliable access to the internet or an adult who can offer regular supervision.
Provide regular feedback
Feedback should remain as integral in the distance education space as it is in a face-to-face context. Without it, students have nothing to inform their future progress.
Team your own feedback with peer feedback and shared self-reflection activities. It will give your students another opportunity to check in and maintain the social relationships they need during this potentially isolating time. Parents can also provide valuable feedback to their child when supervising home-learning activities.
Encourage your students to work with technology themselves
Everyone can get involved with posting content online. Your students can video self-reflections or home activities, create podcasts, or maintain a class blog. Doing so empowers them to own the learning journey, and it also takes the pressure off you.
Find a communication strategy that works for everyone
The two communicative options you have are:
- Synchronous: live communications that take place in real time (e.g. a video call using Skype, Zoom, or Teams).
- Asynchronous: communications that take place across different times (e.g. email, discussion boards, messages)
Both have their pros and cons.
Synchronous methods allow you to replicate the live atmosphere of a normal classroom, but all students need to be available at the same time and with reliable technological access.
Asynchronous methods don’t have the live factor, but they allow students to revisit material at their own pace.
Trial a variety of different strategies to see what works.
Maintain connections with your students
In a time of high anxiety and uncertainty, your relationship with your students must to come above all else. Don’t disappear behind impersonal instructions and messages.
Here are some things you can do:
- Record a short video of yourself each day to post online. You might read a chapter of a book, set a question for the day that students can post answers to, or just say hello.
- Set lessons via Skype or Zoom. It doesn’t have to be regular, but you could find a common time once a week that suits most of your class and record it for those who can’t attend.
- Include personal anecdotes and self-disclosure in your messages and feedback.
Don’t forget about your colleagues
Maintain relationships with your colleagues too. Schedule a virtual coffee break to share advice, struggles and success stories together —
Go easy on yourself
Our new normal probably feels like chaos at this point. And that’s OK. Take it slowly, explore what works and make mistakes like the best learners do. Remember — doing our best is enough.