New Theories in Classroom Management in the Age of Distance Learning
pandemic has forced schools to rethink how to deliver instruction. In
the spring, it created an immediate demand for devices and internet
access for all students. Teachers were required to quickly learn how
to deliver instruction in a distance-learning environment. The rapid
changes challenged schools in new ways and in the fall as many
schools re-opened in an online-only environment or a hybrid model,
the question resurfaced — how do teachers effectively deliver
content, engage students, and keep them safe when they aren’t
physically in the classroom with them every day? The answer —
effective classroom management.
Managing classrooms in today’s
distance-learning environment has changed and has taken on new
importance since the pandemic hit. In my work with school districts
throughout the U.S. and the UK I’ve developed theories about how to
provide effective classroom management. Here are my top four.
Digital citizenship creates
a foundation for effective distance learning. The pandemic
prompted schools to provide students with devices and internet
access so they could learn from home. While this was necessary, it
also carries risk. Students can potentially fall victim to
predators, have their identities stolen, become victims of
cyberbullying, or become cyber bullies themselves. The list goes on.
Classroom management in today’s world includes managing those
online risks. This means teaching digital citizenship. This should
be non-negotiable for schools that are doing distance learning.
Students should be taught from Day One the basics of how to be
responsible about using their device and accessing the internet.
Schools should adopt or update their digital citizenship plans and
curriculum to reflect new concerns raised through online or hybrid
learning environments. They should teach students how to avoid
potentially dangerous websites and how to protect their personal
information. Teaching digital citizenship lays a foundation for a
safe and productive distance-learning experience.
online learning identifies safety concerns and keeps students on
task. In a distance learning environment, it can be difficult to
tell if students are distracted from the content, or if they are
struggling with other issues such as social-emotional issues. In an
in-person classroom the teacher can walk around the room to see what
students are doing on their computers and make sure they’re on
task. They would also likely be able to spot some of the signs that
a student is struggling emotionally such as withdrawal from friends
or not eating at lunch. But these things are more difficult to
discern when a teacher doesn’t see the students in person.
Technology, such as online monitoring, helps with these issues. For
example, Impero provides a cloud-based
software suite that allows teachers to view thumbnail
images of students’ screens in real-time. They can do this with
students who are in the classroom, and those who are learning from
home. This allows the teacher, for example, to see what tabs a
student has open. They can tell if a student is playing an online
game instead of listening to the synchronous lesson, and they can
reach out to the student if he or she hasn’t been active in the
online lesson for a while. The suite also includes student safety
software which provides alerts if, for example, a student is doing
web searches in the background that could indicate thoughts of
self-harm or bullying. Teachers can intervene if needed, and can log
any concerns in a central record. These types of online monitoring
tools and wellbeing software are critical for effective classroom
management because they provide information that helps teachers
support students — both from an academic and a social-emotional
Technology is a tool for
engagement and group work. Managing a distance learning
classroom includes making sure students are engaged in the content.
Group projects are often a great way to keep students engaged, but
this can be challenging in a distance-learning environment or even
in a socially-distanced classroom. However, instead of viewing
technology as a barrier, teachers should view it as a tool to
promote engagement and facilitate group activities. Technology has
come a long way and there are many platforms, games, activities and
lessons available that are perfect for distance learning scenarios.
For group work, students can use small-group breakout rooms in Zoom
and can work together on projects simultaneously using programs like
Google docs. Teachers can use gamified content, organize trivia
contests, or find any number of other activities to keep students
engaged and excited about the content while they’re learning
Students must learn to be
autonomous in their learning. Classroom management involves
managing both the content that students are learning and how that
content is being delivered. There is also another angle. Students
must also be taught how to adapt and engage in content in new ways.
Now is the time for school leaders to think though the curriculum
and rethink what’s relevant. Schools should be training students
both for the workforce of today, and also for the workforce 10 years
from now. This year has taught us how quickly everything can change.
The work environment has been turned on its head as people started
working from home, and Main Street is changing. Students need to be
taught how to learn in new environments, whatever those new
environments might be in the future. They need to be able to figure
out how to complete unfamiliar assignments in new platforms and how
to do work in a different way to the meet the needs of the times.
The world needs critical thinkers and those who can adapt with
change. That means training students to be autonomous and to own
their education. This is a bigger-picture goal that goes beyond what
the teachers are doing day-to-day in their lesson planning. It’s a
conversation that should be happening at all levels of education to
ensure our youth are prepared for whatever lies ahead.
This has been a difficult year,
including for teachers, administrators and students, and the ideas
I’ve noted above can help as everyone regroups in the second half
of the school year. Another thing I urge is not to panic. Yes, this
has been difficult, but educators and students are rising to the
challenge. Schools across the country have adapted to continue
educating students and are embracing the opportunities that this
challenging year has presented. I urge them to continue to embrace
these changes and get excited for what’s coming next.
Justin Reilly is CEO of Impero
Software which provides cloud-based solutions
for classroom management, device management and student wellbeing.
Reilly, a former educator, has a wealth of experience in the global
education space and more than 15 years of experience leading ed tech
businesses to success.