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A virtual teacher offers 6 tips to help educators move their instruction online as the coronavirus outbreak closes schools

How to be a successful virtual teacher

A virtual teacher offers 6 tips to help educators move their instruction online as the coronavirus outbreak closes schools

With 87,000+ schools closing, the idea of school districts moving to a digital platform has become a reality. As a teacher, you’re probably feeling information overload. Not only has your normal day to day routine of teaching completely changed, the sheer amount of tools and information to go through can be staggering.

As a virtual teacher, I promise you, this can be an opportunity to build relationships, achieve academic objectives, promote a fun learning environment, and I can show you how.

Related content: COVID-19 pushes learning online

1. Schedule out your week

Synchronous vs asynchronous: There’s been a ton of talk about synchronous and asynchronous learning, for good reason. An effective online teacher combines both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities for their students. Virtual Teacher Tip: Have scheduled live lessons “office hours” or collaborations throughout the day at specific times, but allow for plenty of time for students to complete work in a more flexible time frame.

Start with a weekly schedule for yourself. (Here’s a free template from Amanda Bassett on Teachers Pay Teachers.) Virtual Teacher Tip: Time-blocking, or scheduling chunks of time for certain tasks, will net you the most productive use of your time. Do not forget important family activities, lunch or breaks. It is easy to lose track of time in the virtual world.

Post your availability and schedule in an easy to find place. Here is a simple and easy to read calendar template I use with my students:

2. Narrow down your tools

The amount of free resources, tools, lesson plans, etc, being offered has been overwhelming. In a virtual world, you’re going to need to make a few choices right out the gate. That being said, you might want to try other tools as time goes on. Just worry about getting comfortable with a few.

Here is my list of essential tools:

  • A landing page or Learning Management System (LMS) for your students (Google Classroom, IXL, Canvas, ClassTag, Weebly, Nearpod, Flipgrid, Schoology)
  • Video/Web/Phone Conferencing Service (Zoom, Google Hangouts)
  • A directory of student and parent phone numbers. Virtual Teacher Tip: Being in touch with parents is going to become your new normal. Parent engagement is vital in the online learning environment.

3. Build relationships

The virtual classroom might seem impersonal. In actuality this environment lends to building deeper relationships with students, because of the unique opportunity to interact one on one with them, and their families.

Here’s how to make this a learning adventure for the entire family:

  • Use a platform like ClassTag, where you can reach out to parents and let them know what to expect. Here are some great sample letters and Google Forms to get families started.
  • If you have the ability, give each family a call! Have a few ready topics to talk about and collect some information (i.e. updated phone numbers, working digital devices and working emails). Let them know what they can expect their learning to look like in your classroom.

4. Routine and procedures

Online learning can be flexible and enriching for students, but just like a traditional classroom you’ll need to have a set of routines and procedures. You’ll want to be flexible, but still have expectations so students know what to expect.

Use screen recording apps such as Loom, Screencastify and Screencast-O-Matic to get students familiar with your online learning expectations.

Virtual Teacher Tip: Students aren’t the only ones who need routines and procedures. In addition to your schedule, make yourself a checklist of tasks that must be completed each day.

5. Lesson plans

Many teachers and Learning Management Systems (Canva, Flipgrid, Nearpod, etc.) are offering free built in lesson plans. If you are going for a different approach, there are many teachers offering free printables and digital lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Mix up your lessons. Provide a mixture of live lessons and lessons for students to work on collaboratively or independently.

6. Tips and tricks to keep your sanity

Meet with your colleagues, even if it is remotely. Discuss best practices and consider sharing your calendars. Virtual Teacher Tip: Consider sharing calendars and rotate teaching live lessons for entire grade levels or subject area. This gives more flexible learning opportunities for students, and lightens the workload.

If you want to call students, but don’t want them having your phone number, get a free Google Voice Number. It allows students to both text and call you for free and you can connect with them using your computer instead of your personal phone number.

Be flexible. Students come from various backgrounds and might not have access to technology or limited access. Print out lessons beforehand and give them periodic calls to check in.

Don’t forget to give yourself breaks. Working at home seems luxurious (hello, yoga pants!), but can quickly start encroaching on family and relaxation time. Schedule breaks and separate home and work.

Moving to the virtual classroom might seem overwhelming, but take this as a golden chance in forging relationships outside the traditional classroom; the experience might surprise you!

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