“Take time to make time.” “Go slow to go fast.” These are common sayings in many classrooms. They speak to the importance of developing routines, building relationships, and learning how to learn before digging into the academic content. While the first days of school are always important for setting students up for success, they become even more critical when you may need to switch to a completely different learning model at a moment’s notice. If you have the opportunity to meet and teach your students in person during the start of school, take advantage of it. Instead of focusing immediately on academics, use this valuable time to prepare your students for success, so if (or when) you need to pivot to a different classroom model, your students are ready.
Relationships are the foundation of any classroom, so take time to intentionally build connections with your students during the first days of school. While you can do this remotely, it is easier in person. With COVID infection rates forcing schools to quickly pivot to remote learning, your face-to-face days may be limited, so take advantage of in-person time to build relationships. Students will be more likely to stay engaged during fully remote learning if they feel connected to their teacher and classmates. Taking this time to build a strong relational foundation with your students will pay big dividends throughout the year.
While the technology is not the end goal, it is the means by which most students will learn remotely. Teach your students how to use the technology that they will need when learning at home. Empower them with the tools and skills to learn independently, and then be intentional about having them practice these skills. In fact, consider simulating a remote-learning day while students are still in your face-to-face classroom. Tell them to pretend that they are at home. Do they know what to do? Can they log in? Can they find their lessons and materials? Do they know how to reach out for help if they have questions? Do they know how to use the software and submit their work? Practice often enough that your students know exactly what to do when they are learning remotely. This will allow them to use their cognitive energy during remote lessons to learn new content rather than to struggle with figuring out the computer or software program.
This is similar to teaching the technology. Make sure that students know what to do when you are not there and make sure that they know what to do in any of the three models: face-to-face, hybrid, or remote. Post directions and resources in a consistent location, and then make sure that students know where to find them. Organize content consistently and use a familiar system for posting your materials. A consistent naming convention is also very helpful. Then, as with teaching the technology, practice these routines in your face-to-face classroom, so you can be there to answer questions and make sure that your students are ready for remote learning. By teaching routines and modeling how to overcome problems along the way, you will also be fostering a growth mindset that will help your students overcome unforeseen challenges that may arise during their learning journey.
Yes, this is worth repeating. If you can make the learning process second nature to your students, you will empower them with the skills they need to succeed remotely. When practicing, weave in relationship-building activities to further develop your classroom community. For example, if you are practicing how to use an online discussion, use a “get to know you” prompt as the topic. If students are learning how to submit an online assignment, have them write a letter to you explaining something about themselves. By using relational topics to learn classroom routines and tools, students can focus their cognitive energy on learning the system and process, and you can get to know them better.
The first days of remote learning are critical. Pay extra attention to which students did not engage in your first remote activities and make a conscious effort to check in with them. You will know very quickly which students may be at risk for disengaging during remote learning days, and this is your best chance to get them reconnected before they develop bad habits or an apathy for learning. One effective practice is to start with a fun, relationship-building remote activity. If students skip this, they will almost certainly skip more rigorous learning activities you will be posting. As you progress into the year, require students to submit something every day, so they build a routine and stamina for remote learning. This can help them develop lasting and positive learning habits. If you move to a fully remote model, try to schedule regular video classes and provide frequent feedback. These strategies show students that you are actively present in their remote-learning experience.
Yes, changing instructional design practices can be challenging for you and your students, but think of this as an opportunity.
- How can you thrive (rather than simply survive)?
- How can you set your students up for success now and in the future?
- What can you do differently that makes the learning experience more engaging and impactful?
- How can you give students ownership in their learning—more voice and choice?
- How can you use this experience to empower students with lifelong study skills?
The investment that you are making to reimagine your classroom, and the best practices that you are developing through this experience, will pay dividends now and in years to come. This period of change is an opportunity for growth.
And remember, your resiliency and modeling are powerful tools. The way that you react can be an inspiration to your students. What you do makes a tremendous difference in the lives of your students!