Coronavirus Resources for Teachers:
A Crash Course in Online Teaching
This how-to article is designed to deliver coronavirus resources for teachers. Specifically, this article is a crash course to give you specific step-by-step help to initiate online teaching. If you are like most school districts around the United States, you are going to have very little time to become an engaging, effective online teacher for your K-12 students. This article will be the first of several coronavirus resource articles for teachers. All are designed to help smooth your transition from the physical to virtual classroom.
Hello from Ruth Herman Wells, MS, Director of Youth Change. That’s me in the picture on the right. It shows me filming an online workshop long before anyone had heard the words coronavirus or Covid 19. I’ve taught a lot of recorded and streaming classes over the years, but I had time to learn the ropes. I’ve also been fortunate enough to get to work with several online academies who routinely conduct their schools solely online. I hope to bring what I’ve learned from these online instruction experiences to you in these how-to articles. The relatively fast shut-down of your school due to the coronavirus may be leaving you very little time to prepare to be an online teaching star. This article is going to help with that.
I have to be honest. If you’ve never done it before, online teaching is tough. I always describe it as the difference between being in Times Square in New York City to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve versus watching the ball drop on your TV. If you’re really standing there with the lively crowd in the cold on New Year’s Eve, it’s pretty easy to stay engaged and focused on the action. If you’re sitting on your couch with your dog scratching and your husband telling jokes, it can quickly get very hard to stay focused on the action. This is why online teaching can be so hard. Not to worry. This article is going to give you all the coronavirus resources a teacher will need to quickly become an online teaching success.
Coronavirus Resources for Teachers:
A Crash Course in Online Teaching
Leap off the Screen
Without a doubt one of the hardest things about providing online instruction is being able to keep things lively and interesting enough that your class is “sticky.” K-12 teachers are the ones who need be the most sticky since their audience of students can easily drift away– especially if unsupervised by a parent during class time. The term “sticky,” means that your online content helps students stick around. Sticky content means that your students are more likely to stay present and focused for your entire online class. If you thought it was tough to keep students focused and involved in a physical classroom, I’m sorry to say that task is infinitely harder in the virtual world. Here’s help.
Pictured on the right is a Portland, Oregon icon named Tom Peterson. Tom owned an electronics store and ran most of his TV ads late at night. For many years, Tom would appear to be knocking on viewers’ TV screens hollering “Wake up, wake up.” That silly device worked really well for many years. He also had watches and alarm clocks that featured his face, all hollering “Wake up, wake up.” Be like Tom. Be sticky. You must be more interesting than students’ video games, their whining dog, and that cartoon that’s on right now. You need to leap off the screen like Tom.
I strongly recommend that you come up with some kind of on-going gimmick just like Tom did. I also suggest that if you are going to be effective leading virtual classrooms of K-12 students, that you become unpredictable and compelling. So, maybe you wear a silly hat, or offer a prize to students who make it to the end of the online class period, or perhaps you show up with a goofy cat video to start the class. It doesn’t have to always be you providing the sticky content. Students can contribute content too, from sharing jokes to images to videos to stories that you have carefully vetted for inappropriate content. You can also set up standardized sticky routines. For example, if your school rules permit it, perhaps instead of having casual Friday, you could have PJ Friday when pajamas are the attire for the day. Anything that engages students without breaking school rules can work, but if you think you can just show up and teach content in the same way you did prior to Covid 19, that is not going to be an effective option for most virtual K-12 classrooms.
Attendance is Job One
Getting students to attend online classes is likely going to be a bumpy road to travel unless parents get involved or consequences are instituted for absenteeism and tardiness. Students who have had attendance problems at your physical school, are likely to be some of the youngsters who have difficulty being present for online instruction. Students who have not previously had attendance problems, might begin to have some depending on the conditions at their home. Students who lack internet access, students who lack a computer or tablet, and students who have other responsibilities or interests, are all at risk of missing online instruction.
Any time you can anticipate a problem, you have the potential to head it off, or at least reduce its severity. To head off or reduce attendance problems affecting your virtual K-12 classroom, consider the following steps:
1) Prior to initiating your online classroom, contact every parent and provide them the new virtual school schedule for their children, and your expectations. You probably will need to have standardized sanctions in place and to relay those to parents.
2) Provide reminders and prompts to parents and students to help them learn the new schedule. Initially, if you can send texts or email reminders prior to the start of virtual class periods, you will help shape positive attendance routines and habits from the start.
3) For young elementary students, parents are likely to be the gateway to students attending on time for the full class period. Providing reminders and prompts to parents via text, phone calls, email or mail, may become paramount to engage very young students who may not have independent access to clocks and internet devices.
4) Most students have well-established habits of coming to your school building at the same time and place everyday, and for the most part, most students show up regularly. Unlike attendance at your physical school, online attendance is completely new and different. That’s why facilitating and compelling on-time attendance may be Job One at the start of the virtual school experience. You must start off strong. It is always harder to fix what failed than to get it right from the start.
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Involve, Involve, Involve
The biggest obstacle to K-12 online teaching is that it is easy for the teacher to just talk to teach– and quickly lose the virtual students. Even with adults, this is such a big obstacle. People can only stare at a talking head so long, whether they be big people or littler people. Successful online teaching has to be interactive, captivating, and involve students every step of the way. When you consider how quickly some students zone out in a physical classroom, it is clear that youngsters are likely to zone out far faster when they are just staring at a person talking on a screen. The bottom line is that your normal mode of teaching in a physical environment is unlikely to work well in the virtual classroom. Viewers– especially young ones– can only benefit from limited time periods of talking heads. That means that regardless of the age of your K-12 students, you are going to have to not only spice things up, avoid lectures and limit extended talking, but you have to actively involve the students.
Methods that encourage involvement include delegating responsibilities for managing, teaching and engaging. For example, one student could be responsible for notifying the teacher when it’s time for a break, or that she hasn’t stopped to take any questions in a while. If your virtual classroom platform allows for interaction, it will be critical to maximize that aspect. Otherwise, sleepy students may doze off, distracted kids may wrestle the dog and others may switch the screen to cartoons. You’ve had years to become a pro at in-person instruction. You’re going to have just hours before you need to be a competent online instructor. One way that you can maximize your success as a newbie virtual teacher is to ask your students to help guide you. It gives them roles, a job to do, and might even ease some of that us-against-the-teacher mindset that some students feel. Students are far less likely to miss your virtual class when they have real responsibilities and are actually helping to shape and build their classroom.
Hopefully, most students view your physical school as a warm, comfortable, welcoming place where they have friends, mentors and familiar adults who care about them. To make your virtual classroom work well, your virtual setting has to become so much more than a cold, hard tablet screen or a computer monitor. It is critical that you find ways to bring that warmth, belonging, caring and camaraderie to your virtual classroom.
One simple method is to devote some time at the start or end of the virtual class to getting updates from students on their experiences during this worldwide pandemic. Another option is to give assignments that underscore the bonds between students and teachers. For example, for a handwriting assignment, older elementary students could write about the hardest things they’ve faces in quarantine. Older students could be assigned to work in pairs or small groups on tasks that encouraging bonding and a sense of belonging. For example, high school seniors could work on their grammar, presentation, public speaking or organizational skills by making a daily news broadcast for the class or school. That broadcast would be intended to re-create the warmth and community feeling that your physical school had.
One Oregon school district doing a lot right to set up their online school. The teachers from one of their elementary schools staged a loud parade (pictured above) through town to call attention to the upcoming start of their online school and posted the parade on social media. They used their cars for the parade so that no social distancing rules were violated. It’s actually very moving to watch but be sure to play the sound for the full effect.
The district’s high school posted the picture (right) on their Facebook page and it was shared throughout the region. The high school appears to be turning their existing social media accounts into highly effective, hard-to-miss outreach tools. Notice how compelling and interesting the picture is. It shows the school’s teachers at home preparing to become online instructors. Some teachers are shown with their pets and offspring, a sure way to attract students’ attention. Some teachers are dressed for online success by donning silly costumes or by wearing shades while making animated faces. The image is actually a little bit like an ad or commercial for getting involved in their fun, friendly, welcoming virtual high school. This district is actually re-branding from brick and mortar to virtual while making their content sticky and widely disseminated. That visibility, warmth and stickiness is going to be key, making it more likely that more students might actually tune in and stay tuned in.
Expert Help When You Need It
If you have a question about this article or need help making the leap from brick and mortar to the screen, Youth Change is here to help. We have a free Expert Help button at the bottom of every page on our website, http://www.youthchg.com. During these difficult times whenever you need coronavirus teacher resources, please feel free to contact us if we can assist you to make doing the impossible more possible. We can’t help stop the coronavirus, but we can help you minimize the disruption the worldwide pandemic has caused you and your students. Watch for future articles to focus on the other new issues that you will encounter in the virtual world.