Teaching virtually might make you feel like a first year teacher all over again. My goal with putting this blog post together is to leave you feeling empowered! I want you to know that all of your teaching strategies can still be used, just in a new way. Hopefully these tips and tricks give you a place to focus your efforts and a vision of what is possible.
5 Things I Wish I Knew from the Beginning
If I could go back in time and start over, these are the 5 things I wish I knew from the beginning of my virtual teaching experience.
1. Relationships are the MOST important thing.
Before the school year starts, take the time to call each of your new students and also talk to at least one of their parents. Your relationship with your students’ parents is arguably more important than the relationship with the student when teaching virtually. The teacher and parent are a team! Of course you still want to get to know each student and learn about what motivates them, and a phone call is a great way to get that started.
Use a tool like You Can Book Me to have families sign up for their call time. Use a tool like Google Voice so that you don’t need to give out your actual phone number. Regular contact is really important when teaching virtually.
*Do your best to treat the parent-teacher relationship like a work colleague, not a friend. You need to work together for the good of the student and it can get tricky if professional boundaries are crossed. My first year teaching virtually I had this one parent who wanted to chit chat for upwards of an hour before letting me talk to my student. I did not have time for that but I didn’t know how to cut her off! #introvertproblems
2. Start with Procedures, just like in the classroom.
Take the first few weeks to establish procedures before expecting anything academic to stick. Teach students where to go to find their lessons. Teach students how to complete a lesson virtually. Teach students how to turn in assignments. Teach students how to ask for help (how to send an email). Teach students every procedure they will need in order to be successful and then practice each one until it is mastered.
The academics can be handled asynchronously at first. Take the live lesson time to establish procedures and build relationships.
3. It isn’t about the technology
You’re probably thinking “what?!” right now so hear me out. It doesn’t matter which program or platform you’re using. You can accomplish the same thing with whatever digital tools you are allowed to use. I see people on social media get so hung up on what the “best” digital tools are. It doesn’t matter which tool you use as long as it works on your students’ device type and it accomplishes your academic goals.
Your teaching strategies will always be more important than the technology (tools) you use to accomplish them.
Everything I share in this blog post is based on the digital tools I had access to but I promise you that there are several other tools that can accomplish the same thing. Just find the ones that work for you.
You might also be disappointed to find that this blog post doesn’t have any technology tutorials. My goal is to empower you to use whatever you have available to you. There are zillions of tutorials out there for whatever tech tool(s) you choose to use.
4. Communicating clearly is critical
Write out your directions, emails, etc. and then delete HALF of it. Make all communication as concise as possible. Use bullet points. Consider multiple learning styles. That’s it. That’s the tip.
5. Everyone needs praise, including the parents
Give kudos (praise) early and often. Set the tone that you’re proud of your students and their parents for their efforts even before any academic work is done. You can use digital stickers, video messages, quick phone calls, emails, or a combination of all of these.
1. Consistency and simplicity are more important now than ever. Set consistent routines and procedures and stick to them, even when they get boring and repetitive.
2. Be engaging and interactive. Put on your news anchor voice to make the screencasts and video sessions come to life. Use props, costumes, and backgrounds strategically.
3. Set office hours and stick to them. Teach families early that you’re available during specific times.
4. Create a routine for yourself for your day. Always answer emails at the same time, grade at the same time, eat at the same time. This will help make the overwhelm seem more manageable.
5. When recording videos, sit with the wall behind you. The last thing you want is someone to walk behind you and disrupt your whole flow. You have much more control when you sit up against a wall. I have this blog post about Setting Up Your Virtual Teaching Space for more info.
6. Teach in small chunks and spread a lesson over multiple days. This mostly applies to live sessions. Keep it concise before you lose students’ attention.
7. Make a guide for the entire week on one page or in one place. Always format the guide the same way and always put it in the same place.
8. Be patient and accept the learning curve. You’re basically a first year teacher again!
9. Document everything. Every phone call, every attendee at live video sessions, every email (don’t delete them).
10. Call your homeroom students once a week. Use a tool like You Can Book Me or Sign Up Genius to schedule your calls. It is totally worth it.
11. Make time for yourself to disconnect and unplug. Every day and for longer stretches on the weekends.
12. Teach procedures first before you get into new content. You can use non-academic activities while teaching procedures so that students have practical practice for each step. Review the procedures even after students have mastered them.
13. Lots of coffee helps but also pace yourself. It is overwhelming at first but it does get easier.
14. Good humor is essential. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to say something awkward. Laugh it off.
15. Don’t expect perfection. Expect mistakes! Model to students how to make mistakes and how to react to them when you do. We are all human.
16. Cut way back on the pace of learning. Really take a look at your curriculum map and decide what is essential. Try to use cross-curricular activities to get in as much learning as possible at a much slower pace of learning.
17. Be flexible.
18. Keep things in perspective. You know your population of students and the challenges they face at home. Don’t ask for more than they are capable of giving and praise them for any effort they’re able to give.
19. Don’t compare yourself with other teachers! You’re going to see amazing things happening when you scroll through Instagram. These are highlights of the best content a teacher is sharing. Try to not compare because you don’t know how long they’ve been teaching virtually or what skill set they went into it with.
20. Take your work email off your phone (unless you school pays for your phone). You can check email a few times a day but it is very important to separate yourself from it during your off hours. Especially if this is how families are contacting you for tech support. Only reply during your office hours.
10 Tech Skills to Teach Students RIGHT AWAY
1. How to log in to their device.
2. Where to find their assignments.
3. How to turn in their finished assignments.
4. How to join a live video session.
5. How to do a split-screen during video sessions so they can see you and another window at the same time.
6. How to ask for help. This usually turns into how to write an email.
7. Where to find their grades/feedback for assignments.
8. How to add and edit text boxes in whatever program you’re using. And the undo button.
9. How to bookmark a website and how to find saved sites.
10. How to re-open a closed tab (ctrl+shift+T usually).
If you’re thinking right now “where is the tutorial for each of these?” then I’m probably going to disappoint you. It really should be your voice on a video walking students through how to do these things in your LMS or on your class website. I promise it is worth the time and it will be much more meaningful for your students if it is from you.
That being said, feel free to hop on YouTube and watch tutorials for yourself to get comfortable with the technology. Then use that knowledge to customize it for your students.
What to do the First Day of Virtual School:
If you don’t have a class website yet then it may be hard to visualize how all of this is going to work. You NEED a place to host your assignments. Every assignment can be on its own page that way students can find any assignment at any time quickly and easily. Once the routine is established of how to get to their lessons, all you have to do is put the name of the assignment on your weekly guide and students will know where to look for it. Check out this blog post – Class Website 101 for more information.
Best case scenario is that you’ve already talked to each student on the phone once and they know how to access their assignments, so you’re just tech support that first day.
If that didn’t happen because you weren’t given enough time, make sure to send students a video walkthrough of where to find their assignments and the other 9 things from above. You can review these procedures once you get students into a live video.
It may seem totally counter-intuitive, but the first day isn’t about you (the teacher) when teaching virtually. Students will be so busy at home logging in and checking out their first assignment(s) that you won’t really need to be involved right away. You can use this time to call a few students in your homeroom, answer emails, and prepare more asynchronous assignments. Most of the work when teaching virtually is behind the scenes. I actually find it much less exhausting (after the beginning of the year overwhelm is done).
Your first live video session will be mostly establishing norms for video sessions. Depending on the age of your students you could do a get to know you scavenger hunt or read a picture book to students, or play a game of I spy. Anything that will take about 10-15 minutes and establish a routine for students of how to attend a live lesson. I recommend not making it academic. You can still give them tasks to complete in another tab or a file to work on, but have it all be “fun” stuff that won’t be graded.
Good Teaching is Good Teaching
75% of the job is good teaching. Use best practices for introducing lessons with an engagement piece, support students where they are skill-wise, and track your data to make informed curriculum decisions. You’ve got this! The 25% tech will come with time and practice, but isn’t the most important thing.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Seek out prepared lessons and curriculum so that you can focus your energy on facilitating your students’ learning. This will enable you to spend your time making custom materials for individual student differentiation, calling families, grading assignments, and preparing for video sessions.
Bonus Tip: Find your Professional Learning Community
I have a digital one because I was the only one at my school teaching tech. Learning from and with other teachers will be a huge shortcut for you. Join my Technology Teacher Talk Facebook Group!