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How to Head Back to School, Virtually

For many teachers and students, that first day of school may look quite a bit different this year as our nation continues to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Many schools and districts will remain online, and teachers whose classrooms are traditionally brick and mortar now find themselves faced with the challenge of starting the school year in a virtual setting.

While the thought of a virtual first day of class may have your grey hairs gleaming, there’s good news! Setting up your classroom, whether virtually or in a traditional setting, addresses many of the same issues: classroom organization, classroom environment, clear expectations for your students and yourself, and establishing good communication from the start.

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Organization & Environment

First and foremost, you must create a specific schedule and daily routine for yourself. That routine was important when teaching in a physical classroom, and it is crucial to your success in a virtual setting.

  • Set specific work hours when you will be online and available to students, parents, and colleagues.
  • Create a defined workspace that has the technology and tools you will use while teaching. This will allow you to focus and differentiate between work and home.
  • Personalize this space just as you do with your desk and classroom in school.

Expectations

Remember that your students will probably be somewhat anxious about starting the school year in a virtual classroom as well. Your actions on day one will set the tone for the year ahead.

  • Have clear expectations for your students on assignments, due dates, and attendance.
  • Establish regular virtual office hours at the same day and times each week.
  • Have a late work policy for assignments submitted after due dates that includes how they will be graded.

Let students know what they can expect from you. Timely grading of assignments, detailed feedback on those assignments, and open, frequent communication are reasonable expectations.

Communication

As educators, we understand that making personal connections with our students from the beginning of the school year is the foundation of success in the classroom. Students need to know they are valued, and that, when they come into your classroom, it is a safe place to be and to learn. That is as true in the virtual setting as it is in the brick and mortar classroom. Not sure how do go about making those connections virtually?

Share your story.
The best place to start is at the beginning. Let your students know who you are by sharing your story. Just as many of your students share their lives on social media, start by sharing both personal and professional facts about yourself. Do you have pets? Share that! Did you volunteer over the summer? Share that! Include photos and make it fun!

You can send an email to share your story, but video is even better. It lets your students see you and hear your voice. It reinforces the fact that you are, indeed, a real person and it gives you the chance to tell them you’re glad to have them in class.

Use discussion boards.
Setting up an initial discussion board is a great way to help your class connect with each other and with you. Ask each student to introduce themselves and write a prompt that lays out expectations for the board. Provide some questions for students to answer that will help them make those introductions. Consider the following: 

  • Do you have any pets?
  • What hobbies do you enjoy?
  • Where is your favorite place to vacation?
  • Do you play sports?
  • What would you like to learn about in this class?

You should model an appropriate post by introducing yourself in the discussion board. Students love this type of interaction and it will help you get to know your students.

Make parent connections.
While it’s extremely important to connect with your students right away, it is also important to connect with parents. A good way to further those connections is by hosting a virtual Open House using a tool like Blackboard Collaborate or Zoom.

This live event provides a time for parents and students to meet you, ask questions, and for you to share the expectations and policies of your class. It also gives you an opportunity to set a positive tone as school begins.

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Be you!
Above all else, remember that while your classroom may have moved to an online setting, you, the teacher, will have the greatest impact on your students and their success. It is your influence, knowledge, expertise, and care that will provide them with the opportunities to learn and grow. So, as you begin this school year, be confident and keep the fun in learning!

Tuttle_bioPhyllis Tuttle is a Health Teacher Facilitator for Lincoln Learning Solutions. She has more than 35 years of experience in education with a focus in Science and Health. Phyllis has 10 years of experience teaching online and writing science and health courses for online education.

Topics: online learning, online teaching, social distancing, distance learning

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