March 20, 2020

Like all of you, we have watched the number of schools closing across the country in response to the COVID-19 crisis with concerns and questions. For many, schools serve as not only a place for learning but also a beacon of stability. 

Despite all the challenges our communities currently face, we have been inspired by stories of parents and educators working hard to provide children with a sense of normalcy and daily learning. Transitioning to virtual schooling essentially overnight is not easy and most teachers are learning in real time. However, there are a wealth of resources to support these changes—beginning with the advice of fellow educators facing the same challenges. 

Many of the educators on the front lines of virtual learning are also the same educators who review instructional materials for EdReports. Over the last week they’ve reached out to us with tips and best practices that have helped them so far. We’d love to share their knowledge and learnings with you as we all navigate and adapt to a new kind of classroom to support students. 

Learn what tools are available

There are so many tools available to facilitate a virtual classroom and many of them are available to educators for free. Many teachers are using Google Classroom and others have found Zoom better for their needs. Not feeling particularly technology savvy? The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) put together a Zoom facilitation playbook that breaks down the offerings of each platform with a particular focus on virtual teaching.

Other platforms that have been recommended include Microsoft Teams, Flipgrid, and Google hangout. Whatever is best for your specific situation, exploring what’s available is a great way to get started. Organizations such as NNSTOY and TNTP have also offered curated lists. 

“I'm an instructional coach...I have made a Google classroom for my teachers with boat loads of resources for all subjects in the building (Even PE!). I am also working with teachers and teaching them virtually on how to use Zoom and Google Meet.”
                                                                                    - Steve Lebel, Math Reviewer, New Hampshire

“We were trained in VoiceThread yesterday and so I have been learning the new platform today and attempting voiceover for powerpoints to start later this week. I may get Zoom going to have weekly check-ins with classes.” 
                                                                                   - Anne Schmidt, ELA Reviewer, Montana


Be flexible (about the length of lessons, your content, the medium you use to reach students, and well...everything!)

No matter how great of a job you do (and you will do a great job!) in your virtual classroom, our reviewers told us again and again that flexibility is key. Many educators have adjusted lesson length, the content they are using, and how they are reaching students. Offering students a variety of choices has proven successful including creating choice boards. Choice boards allow students to adapt a lesson to their specific circumstance. 

Educators also mentioned that seeking feedback from students and parents about what’s working and what isn’t has been helpful in making positive adjustments. No one is expecting perfection—embracing the give and take that so many teachers already do so well will serve your new classroom well. 

“Our schedule is 8:30-12:30. Every class meets for 30 min, same routine as an early dismissal.” 
                                                                                 - Michelle Chambers, ELA Reviewer, Florida

“As a learning coach and tutor I am meeting students how they need me: FaceTime, Zoom, phone, text. I also send home more visuals about strategies we have worked on.” 
                                                                               - Katie Sparn, ELA Reviewer, Colorado


Consider student and family wellbeing (and your own!)

These are unprecedented times—it’s okay to acknowledge that. Educator reviewers have said that keeping in mind that students will be in different places on different days has been an important perspective to have. Encouraging fun and play, along with asking students to share their own stories of what they are doing to stay happy and healthy, have been successful practices when learning virtually. 

Don’t forget about your own well-being, too! We know teachers tend to put the needs of others before themselves, but it’s important to keep moving, get fresh air, and give yourself real breaks throughout the work day. Reviewers who are administrators or instructional coaches have also shared with us that they are working to support teachers’ wellbeing through helping with daily learning schedules and training teachers on virtual tools. Whatever your role, help when you can, how you can.

“I've been working with my admin team to virtually train teachers, develop daily learning schedules for teachers and students, and communicate with parents.” 
                                                                      - Michelle Chambers, ELA Reviewer, Florida
 

“I’m also offering support for parents by creating lessons, schedules, and alternative activities to meet the individual needs of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).” 
                                                                    - Katie Sparn, ELA Reviewer, Colorado


Make a plan for students without access to technology

Thinking about how to reach students who don’t have access to technology is also an important consideration. One reviewer mentioned that she makes PDFs of many of her lessons and activities to share with students.  In some locations PDFs have been delivered by school bus drivers. Others are mailed to the student at their home. Activities include creative writing prompts, suggesting students keep a journal about what they are seeing and experiencing with a note that such journals can be used one days as historical documents. Other teachers call students who don’t have easy access to a computer or the internet. There are still ways to stay connected even without advanced technology, and teachers note that students appreciate when they have stayed in contact and make a plan for their learning. 

“We are having teachers hold google hangout office hours weekly and provide PDF packets of work for those students who do not have access to technology." 
                                                                   - Shari Gates, Math Reviewer, Alabama


Above all, educator reviewers encouraged us all to be kind to each other and ourselves. There’s no need to create complex, difficult to execute lessons or to invest in technology that involves personal costs. Virtual learning will absolutely be different from a traditional classroom with new limitations. However, what matters most is that you are doing what we already know you’re doing: communicating clearly with students, connecting them to content that will engage them, and showing them you care about their learning and what’s happening in their lives.

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