Great teaching happens when everyone learns from each other and shares knowledge--here are valuable tips for online district leaders.

A supe’s 6 back-to-school tips for virtual district leaders

Great teaching happens when everyone works together, learns from each other, and shares knowledge and resources

Over 30 years ago, I took my first job in public education as a biology high school teacher, and instantly knew this was the career path for me. What solidified my passion for education were the “ah-ha” moments, or those moments when at first a student struggled, and then, after teaching them in a way they could relate to, seeing their eyes light up from the excitement of learning.

I worked in a variety of roles in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, from dean of students to principal to now overseeing the strategy and vision of one of the largest online public school districts in the nation. No matter my position, my priority has and will always be making sure we are doing what is best for students.

I have prepared for the first day of school in many roles throughout my career, and while the planning may seem overwhelming at times, I found that if you have a list of tasks to check off, the entire process runs smoother.

If you are a school administrator or education leader who oversees the vision, strategy and implementation of an online school, I have put together six steps that will help you start the year off strong and ensure that you are always doing what is best for your students and staff.

1. Establish and share online learning guidelines
First, I recommend asking yourself these key questions: Do you have safeguards in
place to ensure academic integrity? How will your staff communicate with students who aren’t submitting assignments? What is your grading policy?

If you don’t have answers to these questions yet, then it is critical that you set and
establish guidelines to ensure that you and your staff are on the same page when it
comes to these topics.

Other questions you should consider are: What is the ideal teacher response time? Do you want to mix synchronous and asynchronous lessons throughout the week? How often and when will students take exams? Do you want to create a website or resource center that helps families find counselor office hours, pace charts, and more?

Once you have the answers to all these questions, create written guidelines and
communicate them to your staff. Then, be available to answer any questions that may

2. Discuss communication guidelines
One of the great benefits of online learning is that engaging digital curriculum and tools allow for teachers to have more one-on-one interaction with students, providing teachers with better insights on how their students are doing. As such, the connection and rapport your teachers create with students and families can go a long way toward their success, which is why my second step includes developing and discussing communication guidelines.

For example, would you like for your teachers to communicate via video chat, text, call, or email? Then, would you like for your teachers to have set hours so that they can still communicate with students and parents while also allowing them to create boundaries to help with their work-life balance?

3. Discuss training schedules
Something I learned early on as the President and CEO of Florida Virtual School is that if your staff is set up for success and feels confident and prepared to
teach online, the results will show. Not only in terms of building a culture of care within
your school or district, but also when it comes to student success.

Which is why my third step should be one of your top priorities–ensuring your staff has the time to train, learn new systems, and develop their skills. Whether it’s professional development that helps teachers learn how to build strong connections with students in the online learning environment, or how to use the learning management system to their advantage, there are so many great resources for you to utilize.

4. Send a survey
As a school administrator, I know how important it is to create a supportive community of students, teachers, non-instructional staff, parents, and more. One way to build up that community and keep it strong is by sending out a survey at the beginning of the school year.

The survey can ask everyone what their greatest priorities are, what concerns they may have, and if any help is needed. By doing this, not only are you opening the door for transparent communication, but it also gives you a glimpse into what your priorities
should be and what you will need to address moving forward.

5. Meet with your staff
Then, once you send the survey, it’s important to meet with your staff to discuss their
concerns and any help that they may need. You can do this many ways, whether you
prefer a town hall with a Q&A session or individual team meetings.

Make sure you can address their concerns or priorities, and if you don’t know the answer to some of their questions yet, be transparent and let them know you will work to find them an answer.

I also recommend providing your staff with a way to communicate when they need help, such as a digital forum, chat, or recurring meetings. Make yourself available and actively listen.

6. Host regular check-in meetings
Your staff’s insight, knowledge, and feedback can help shape your online learning
program for the better, so it’s important to keep meeting with your team regularly
throughout the year.

Build a communication cadence with your direct reports to provide updates and foster
open dialogue and collaboration. I am a firm believer that good teaching and learning
happens when everyone works together, learns from each other, and shares knowledge and resources.

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