While Schools Go Online, Here's How Teachers Can Turn Uncertainty Into Opportunity
- By Megan O’Reilly Palevich
Schools across the country have kicked
off what you could call an unconventional school year, and
administrators and faculty are under immense pressure to make it
work. However, despite the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19
pandemic and its potential academic consequences, what we really need
is a change of perspective: this could be an opportunity for
educators to innovate and explore within the classroom.
As Head of School at Laurel
Springs School, a leader in online K-12 education for
nearly 30 years, I was committed to helping brick-and-mortar teachers
transition to online instruction when the coronavirus crisis first
swept the nation in March. That commitment took the shape of a guide,
Practices for Teaching Online, an aggregate of
insights from more than 100 online educators that covered topics
including maximizing valuable synchronous class time; effectively
incorporating online tools and resources; and taking good care of
students, families and ourselves.
While some schools have introduced a
hybrid approach and others have decided to remain fully remote this
year, teachers have a real opportunity to expand in ways that may not
be possible within the confines of the physical classroom and
seven-hour school day. This opportunity may look different depending
on subject area, grade level and class size, but remains universally
compelling in that educators can completely reimagine the teaching
experience. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:
Kids Can Learn
brick-and-mortar classroom, certain aspects of the learning
experience can be taken for granted: for example, if a student wants
to contribute during a discussion, they can raise their hand. If they
have a question about the material or a grade, they can approach the
teacher at the end of class. In an online environment, these
seemingly ordinary interactions must be completely reinvented.
However, this presents an opportunity for students to become
advocates for themselves.
students to proactively and independently communicate with their
teachers or set up appointments during virtual office hours, they
learn critical self-advocacy skills, build confidence and experience
ownership of their learning that typically does not occur until
college. The earlier a student learns the value of academic
engagement and develops these skills, the more active they may become
in academic goal setting, exploring their interests and influencing
You Can Provide
In a typical school
setting, teachers may find themselves providing written feedback on
assignments or simply handing back tests with a numeric grade and
hand-drawn smiley face. Throughout the school day, teachers may also
perform formative checks to ensure that students are following along
and grasping lesson content. When we consider how to provide feedback
in an online environment, the focus changes: how do we check up on
kids and monitor their progress when we aren’t directly interacting
with them every day?
are plenty of online platforms such as Vocaroo
that teachers can use to record audio or video clips of
themselves delivering thoughtful, one-on-one feedback for students.
Instead of scoring an assignment with a 90 percent grade, a teacher
can explain the student’s areas of proficiency, as well as make
detailed recommendations for improvement on future assignments.
Additionally, the student will be able to see the teacher’s face,
hear their voice and feel a sense of connection, which strengthens
relational learning as teachers continue to build personal
connections with students.
Classroom Can Work
With so many
schools going fully online for the upcoming school year, there is a
heavy debate about the efficacy of synchronous versus asynchronous
instruction. However, the reality might surprise you: neither model
is superior to the other. Synchronous and asynchronous instruction
actually work best together in a flipped classroom approach.
This hybrid model
provides a great opportunity for teachers in the online environment.
By combining synchronous and asynchronous learning activities,
teachers have the freedom to explore new methods that may not be
possible during a typical, brick-and-mortar school day, as well as
afford their students the flexibility to create a schedule that works
for them and their families.
In the flipped
classroom, teachers can schedule synchronous sessions or seminars via
that encourage collaboration and discussion among students, as well
as host social activities—such as a “lunch bunch”—that let
students feel connected to classmates despite the physical distance
between them. When incorporating asynchronous instruction, teachers
can utilize project-based learning: for example, a middle school
science teacher might create a video while completing labs in the
classroom, share it with students virtually and assign a lab report
that will be presented to the class during a synchronous session.
This allows each student to individually absorb, digest and
demonstrate mastery of the material, while also providing an
opportunity for collaboration as classmates discuss the student’s
hypothesis, potential problems and solutions.
In addition to the
tips for self-care provided in the Best
Practices for Teaching Online guide, teachers can help
students and families balance and more effectively incorporate
education into their lives through remote learning. By setting aside
the rigidity of the seven-hour school day in the brick-and-mortar
building and instead adopting a flexible, self-paced model, students
and their families can now have the freedom to complete school
activities when it makes the most sense for them.
To achieve this, it
is critical that teachers think about time differently in the online
environment: they should assure families that schooling does not have
to be done in seven hours per day, five days per week. They should
also encourage families to allot time specifically for breaks during
the day. Students and families alike do not need to become prisoners
to their desks.
That said, students
require structure, and there are a few ways that teachers can help to
build that framework. For example, teachers can provide a few sample
schedules for families and set expectations about when work is due,
which synchronous sessions are required and how student progress
will be monitored and evaluated by the teacher. Parents are closely
watching what happens in the online environment and relating this
information and maintaining contact with families can help ease their
worries and keep students on track.
As students continue to adjust to this
unprecedented and still somewhat unexpected way of learning this
fall, I implore educators to take this opportunity to step outside of
their comfort zones and approach the unfamiliar with confidence—and
armed with tools and resources to help them do so, such as the Best
Practices for Teaching Online guide from Laurel
Springs. While students will eventually return to the physical
classroom, I hope these lessons create an opportunity to reimagine
education as we move forward.