Maybe you started your teaching education with visions of setting up your sunny classroom. However, the reality of COVID-19 made remote teaching a necessity. Perhaps you always imagined working from home.
Online learning offers multiple advantages, but for instructors, it also presents challenges. You need a slightly different skill set than you do in the traditional classroom. Here are eight tips for surviving and thriving during your first year of remote teaching.
1. Get Cozy With Technology
Your first step is to get very cozy with technology. There’s no room for “I don’t really understand computers” when working as a remote teacher.
If your school uses Zoom, study the user guide to learn all the tips and tricks. Likewise, if your district adopts proprietary software or programs like Blackboard or Canvas, take advantage of in-service and professional development to hone your mastery. While you’ll find there’s always more to learn about ever-changing technology, tackling the basics frees you to explore more fun and engaging features.
2. Find Yourself a Mentor
It helps to have a mentor when you are a newbie to any field, and remote teaching is no exception. If it’s your first year, your district may assign you to someone to show you the ropes.
However, if they don’t, seek out others in your department or team with online instruction experience. Ask to view their class recordings or observe a live session so that you can see effective techniques in action. Offer to help with their grading workload in exchange for an hour of coaching time.
3. Make Contact With Parents
Parental involvement may be more vital in online learning than it is with in-person instruction. Reach out not only at the beginning of the semester but periodically as the year progresses.
One way to increase parental involvement is to start a classroom newsletter with updates on what’s happening in class. You can take advantage of the improved schedule flexibility remote learning provides to meet with caregivers who can’t attend during typical times due to work or other obligations. Offer the occasional Saturday or evening office hours for conferences.
4. Start Classes With an Icebreaker
You don’t want your students to think of you as nothing but another computer program they use daily. Celebrate the human connection first and foremost by starting each class with an icebreaker. One suggestion involves asking students to share a boring fact about themselves — this exercise can produce hilarious results and removes the pressure to say something profound.
Every live session will have some downtime at the start as you wait for all participants to enter. Use this time to engage with your learners. Chit-chat about their interests and activities — if your students feel like you care, they’ll be more likely to participate.
5. Encourage Camera Use
Your students want to see your smiling face. Please turn your camera on — yes, even on bad hair days — and encourage them to do the same. Doing so lets you make eye contact and observe their facial expressions, which can offer clues as to whether they “get” the material.
Understand that not all districts let remote teachers require webcam use — some students may legitimately lack access to one. However, you can gently encourage your learners to come out of their shells by sharing your imperfections — and the way you don’t let them stop you from teaching an engaging class.
6. Harness Collaboration Tools
Collaborative learning helps students grow from each other, even in the virtual environment. Today’s tools make working on group projects a snap.
Learn how to use Google Drive and teach it to your students. You can assign students to projects and specify who may view, comment on, or modify documents. You can also create private folders where students can submit assignments, questions, or suggestions.
7. Grow Your Reference Library
You know that students learn better when they ferret out information independently under your guidance instead of looking to you for all the answers. However, you must point them to the best resources to find the insight they seek.
Create a master resource list for your class, consisting of authoritative sources where your students can turn for further information. Consider this your remote teaching library and add to it as you find more useful sites.
8. Be Yourself
If you want to shine as the unique educator you are, be yourself. You don’t have to work nearly as hard to maintain a projected “image” online, and your students can sense insincerity.
Make the occasional dad joke. Let your cat Fluffy make a cameo during a live session. Your students will come to know and trust you as a person, making them more, not less, likely to respect you as an educator. You aren’t a chemistry book with a webcam and a microphone — you’re a responsible adult with a passion for helping them become the best they can be.
Survive and Thrive During Your First Year of Remote Teaching With These Tips
Your first year as a remote teacher presents various challenges. Use the eight tips above to shine in the online classroom.