The first day of school is a momentous occasion regardless of the student's age—new beginnings, new opportunities, new teachers, new schedules, what clothes to wear, and more. As a classroom teacher, I viewed the start of each school year the same as my students did, excited for the start of another adventure and expectant of great experiences that may lie ahead for both myself and my students!
That first day doesn't just 'happen,' however, without a considerable amount of planning and preparation. Prior to classes starting, teachers have taken the time to review course scope and sequence, complete preliminary unit lesson planning for the first few weeks, and perhaps create bulletin board content. It's likely that teachers have even posted expectations for the submission of work as well. Not to mention fitting in time for some self-study of student seating charts!
Just as with in-person instruction, preparing to teach in a successful virtual learning environment necessitates the completion of similar organizational tasks. Fischer, Frey, Hattie (2020) have developed a preparation checklist designed to help ensure successful instruction and student engagement in the virtual or distance learning classroom.
Think about your classroom and how you might use the following tips to prepare for your virtual learning environment:
Develop a classroom management plan for distance learning
In addition to explicit expectations related to routines and procedures, write a few sentences to share your teaching philosophy, your views and beliefs about how learning should take place in your virtual classroom. When done, post it on your LMS in parent/student-friendly format.
More frequent negative student-teacher interactions take place within classrooms without a class-wide approach to learning (Conroy et al., 2008). Creating your classroom management plan for distance learning own could go a long way to ensuring success in your virtual classroom.
What would your 3-4 sentence Virtual Classroom Management Plan look like?
Create classroom norms
Classroom norms come down to differentiating between rules and agreements. Rules tend to be more compliance-based ('Raise your hand if you want to speak'). In contrast, agreements typically convey higher expectations and emphasize a collaborative classroom spirit ('Respectfully listen and respond to classmates' comments, even if you disagree.').
It's a misnomer that creating classroom norms is an effective classroom strategy strictly for younger students. Well-crafted classroom agreements have also been found to positively impact teacher-student relationships and student engagement in the adolescent classroom. (Matsumara et al., (2008). Even young students can discern the difference between right and wrong, so including students in the creation of the classroom agreement provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your collaborative spirit as an instructor - while providing students with a sense of shared ownership over their own learning experience.
Here are some tips to help you get started in developing your virtual classroom agreements:
Keep the number lower, ideally 3-6 total
These are agreements, not rules – engage your students to collaborate on creating your agreement list
Be positive, avoid 'Don't do' type of statements
State expected behaviors explicitly, be specific
Post them in your virtual classroom environment
Recognize the need to model the rules so students begin to learn what they should look and sound like when put into practice
Identify expectations for virtual learning
In preparation for virtual learning, address specific questions with students and share a similar checklist as below to ensure students are aware of the learning intentions, goals and expectations for each virtual learning session:
Develop and teach organizational and procedural routines
To mirror the in-class environment, teachers should place specific organizational and procedural elements in the virtual classroom to help ensure that learning can occur.
Some districts may already have protocols in place, but be sure to make weekly and monthly schedules available and make sure both students and parents know where to locate them on your LMS.
At the start of class, provide students with a schedule for that particular period. This schedule is a great tool for students who may struggle with task transitioning or students with disabilities who may require additional structure.
Educate your students on the signals you'll be using to gain their attention, when they can engage with classmates or when you're transitioning to another activity. For example, consider using a visible online timer so that students are aware of the allotted time for tasks, transitions or independent work.
Make sure digital folders are labeled by date/topic and that steps to obtaining class materials are explicit – this will alleviate potential frustration once classes are underway. Also, indicate which materials need to be printed in advance of an activity.
Set up the process for handing in assignments – making it clear to name the file with the student's last name, name of the course and a brief description.
Design an accessible website
Most districts are aware, but in the event your district isn't, Section 8 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998 mandates federal agencies to make websites accessible to those with disabilities. Typical LMS programs used in K12 address this issue, but consult your district for nuances or requirements within your district.
Create four distinct sections for the school website:
Landing Page – including your full contact info, course description, and a direct link to your school email address allowing students and parents to contact you with one click
Student Page – this is where you can house your course syllabus, the classroom management plan, project and assignment details. Possibly consider housing handouts and other related materials out here as well. The goal should be clarity, easy navigability and accessibility. We want to avoid 'I went out there, but I couldn't find it on the website' discussions from taking place.
Parent Page – conference information, details about grading and report cards, as well as helpful links and content sites providing parents with easy access to support resources they can utilize to help their child. You may also want to consider additional information detailing your professional training and teaching experiences.
FAQ Page – This section may be helpful to answer common questions that may come up.
The Distance Learning Playbook for K12 provides a wealth of tips and guidance should you want to learn more about setting up a successful virtual classroom.
Deledao can help with student engagement in a hybrid or remote classroom environment. Automatically detect if students are on YouTube or Spotify with Deledao's Live Classroom Management software so teachers can focus on teaching instead of policing students.