Combining in-person and online learning changes more than your teaching style. While teaching remains at the core of an educator’s mission, a significant amount of time is spent managing day-to-day activities and maintaining your rapport with students and co-workers.
Reducing the time you spend together changes the way you manage the classroom and takes away some of your strategies to communicate and build relationships, but also gives you new ones to explore.
Let’s have a look at some useful tips for teachers to manage their online classroom.
1. Change your expectations
Online lessons are different from in-person ones. Creating an online version of a normal school day and expecting students to sit through several daily hours of video conferencing will never work: you must take into account factors such as your students’ age and attention span, the time of the day at which they usually have access to their computers (for example, the device may be shared with other family members who need it in the same timeframe as your planned lesson), and the fact that daily assignments may not be feasible. The biggest mistake you can make in your transition to blended learning is to expect everything to stay the same: you will have to create entirely new strategies and find out what works best for your specific situation.
2. Some things never change
On the flip side, remember that an online classroom is still a classroom. Set routines and rules of conduct right away: from an appropriate dress code to new ways to request permission to speak, and from removing the distractions that are typical of working from home to creating a reward system if your students are motivated by such strategies, it is important to focus on the aspects of learning that can be transferred online more or less as they are. Having a confident and consistent teacher who gives them a sense of structure, direction and normalcy is of vital importance for your students: remember that you are not the only one who feels lost and overwhelmed in the face of these changes.
3. Engagement is everything
Keeping students present and focused in an online setting can be an ordeal. Between connectivity issues, sub-optimal workspaces full of distractions, and a whole new mode of learning to deal with, it is no surprise to find them distracted or even refusing to show up to online appointments. One of the reasons is that it is much harder to enforce discipline at a distance: if teachers have no power to give detention and all it takes to play truant is not to turn on your device, students may feel like they can be neglectful or disruptive without consequences. To some, this may sound like a nightmare, but to others, it is an opportunity: if online teachers cannot be strict disciplinarians, they should take this unique chance to become true leaders. Blended learning is an opportunity to find new ways to keep students engaged with the material and show them that they are in charge of their own education and that neglecting it may feel good in the moment, but will harm them in the long run. If you cannot keep students connected to your online lessons because they have to, make them show up and participate because they want to: it will create a better learning environment for everyone and teach more responsibility than a brick-and-mortar classroom ever could.
4. Create connections
Wherever possible, choose synchronous over asynchronous learning: in other words, students crave a connection with real, live people more than reading materials and pre-recorded videos. Educational videos and tutorials are a dime a dozen: do not invest too much time in creating your own when you can find better ones online. Give them opportunities to connect and cooperate with their classmates, make yourself available for extra help if at all possible, use the opportunities offered by online communication to coordinate with fellow teachers, and strengthen your lines of communication with the students’ families, particularly the ones who are not used to homeschooling, providing them with tips and tricks to create a better workspace at home and support their children in these difficult times.