With so much uncertainty about school, we need to flatten the online learning curve now

Originally published in the Lansing State Journal – August 7, 2020

There is so much uncertainty in the world today. And, for many families and teachers, a lingering question remains: What will schools look like in the fall? Across the country, many school districts are slowly making their decisions.

Whether there is a return to a physical classroom or learning continues remotely, one thing is clear: Schools must be prepared to provide an effective online option.

As a literacy coach for the full-time online school Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, I am on the front-lines of online teaching. Several of my brick-and-mortar peers have reached out to me for advice on how to successfully manage a virtual classroom.

At the end of the day, every teacher wants every student to succeed. That’s why I am sharing three tips that were helpful to me, and can be useful for others to help flatten the online learning curve.

1. Be flexible with students and families — and yourself.

In my conversations with teachers at brick-and-mortar schools, I always tell them first and foremost that this is a transition that will take some time to adjust to. You will not simply fall into it because it requires a different approach to thinking and teaching.

One of the most important things to do during these times is to give yourself and the kids grace and be flexible in your approach. At the academy, we tell teachers to make sure that they focus on the important aspects of the curriculum and communicate this openly with students.

They have a lot going on outside of the classroom, and so do you. So, in making your lesson plans, be mindful of the unique situations everyone is facing. Maintaining a balance between school and outside life is key.

2. Modify your lessons for engagement.

Keep in mind that preparing online lessons is more time-consuming than preparing for brick-and-mortar classes. You cannot approach it in the same way you did in-person; you must make changes in advance.

Most importantly, you need to create lessons that are interactive and engaging for students. You will not have the ability to stand in the front of a room and visually monitor students to make sure they are paying attention. That means you need to find new ways to ensure they are interacting with content.

For me, I found that using breakout rooms is a big help. Students are placed in smaller groups and work together on a task. Not only does this encourage critical thinking and team building, it also adds a socialization component to the virtual classes as well.

3. Foster relationships from a distance.

Not only should you be flexible and engaging with your students, you should also be approachable. This starts by fostering relationships with students and their families.

Even though you are not face-to-face, it is important that you are more than just a name on their screen. Reach out and get to know them. Having this human connection lets them know that you are committed to their success and increases their determination to do well in class.

Have an open dialogue with them to ensure students understand the material you are reviewing in class and explain the larger picture of why it is important. Before I plan my lessons, I have to understand the value as a teacher. And as a parent, before I ask my students to do it.

Lindsey Howe is a literacy coach for Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy. 

To learn more about Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, visit https://mglva.k12.com/.

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