Experienced Online Teachers Share Top Tips for Success
In this piece, you’ll hear from three experienced online teachers from EdisonLearning, a K-12 digital learning provider that works with more than 350 schools and 150,000 students to support a variety of virtual, blended, and alternative learning programs with proven success. The teachers have been supporting online learning for years, working remotely with students to close gaps and increase equity.
Through their experience, they’ve developed a number of successful strategies that can work for any teacher, and with most teachers across the US teaching online in some form this fall, the timing is perfect to hear these perspectives. Here are insights for teachers who are new to online instruction:
What are your top two tips for teachers who are new to online teaching and learning?
Colleen Gonzales, Math Teacher
My first piece of advice is to brush up on your typing, grammar, and spelling skills. Typing is a major part of the job as you communicate online to your students, parents, and other teachers and stakeholders. Communicating clearly, concisely, and compassionately is imperative in order to convey subject material and necessary procedures, provide encouragement and support, and to keep all stakeholders apprised of the progress made. Deep subject knowledge and strong vocabulary skills are also a must since these are the topics focused upon continuously when communicating with the student.
Secondly, I would encourage teachers to be teachable, technologically! You have surely used many online resources and applications and while that experience will definitely give you a head start, technology changes so quickly, you need to adapt and learn new stuff all the time. Be patient, open-minded, and willing to learn.
Sheila Parker, English Teacher
My number one tip for teachers is to be patient with yourself and your students. Be willing to try anything. Secondly, I encourage teachers to reach out to colleagues and search for ways to engage your students. Some students flourish in an online environment where some don’t feel as connected.
Brittany Conway, English Teacher
My first tip would be to treat every task as if you were standing in a classroom, no matter what your actual setting is. Even behind a computer screen, it is possible to create strong bonds with your students and engage them throughout the day. My second tip would be to accept that some things are not in your control. Online learning brings new obstacles that sometimes you cannot fix. Things might break, connections might be bad, or everything could run slowly. That’s okay! Feeling frustrated from time to time is normal. Take a deep breath, ask for help, and know that you are not expected to be the expert of all things online!
Specifically considering the subject you teach, what are a couple of ways digital learning is especially valuable for teachers and/or students?
With digital learning, the connection between teacher and student can be even stronger than what’s typical in a more traditional setting. Students can reach their teacher all day, not just for a 40 minute class period, for example, and tutoring can be scheduled at any time. Feedback is continuous, personalized and tracked, there are no “lost papers,” and students can learn at their own pace. When taken as a whole, digital learning offers benefits that make it worth exploring for all schools.
Teaching English in a virtual setting removes the fear of being “called out” to share thoughts on the reading, in person and in the moment, and gives the students the freedom to truly read at their own pace. They have the opportunity to learn new writing skills and analyze literature through self-learning with me, their teacher, there to guide and enhance that learning. This route allows more personalized learning with each student and gives the opportunity for in-depth analysis one-on-one.
Individualized pacing and progression make digital learning especially valuable for students learning math. Students proceed at their own pace, taking more time on some topics and skills and less on others. Having enough time to process subject information and to practice each skill along the way of a scaffolded course is imperative in order to build strong foundations. The stronger the foundation, the more apt that student is to be successful moving forward in the subject.
Math needs to be practiced just like any skill and there are many amazing places online to do so. The more students practice, the more proficient they become. A motivated student may be resourceful enough to seek out, find, and use the interactive practice sites available, matching it to their lesson objectives while other students need to be instructed to do so. Online teachers help motivate and focus each student individually and guide each to strategies and resources that work. Individualized progression then follows as some students finish year-long courses in a shorter amount of time and progress quicker through the math course paths. Other students take more time but often finish within a year while still others may take longer. In any case, the student progresses according to their own efforts and accomplishments rather than by time.
All-in-all, online instruction provides the time and flexibility necessary for each math learner to master topics and skills before progressing in the subject.
Can you briefly describe how you collaborate with other stakeholders in a child’s education?
There are many stakeholders in a student’s life. Sometimes it is an advisor who reaches out with a student concern. Other times it is an administrator at the school district. Often, it is a parent. Ideally, it is the student themselves.
Every choice and every conversation has to have the best outcome for the student in mind. Everything we do is to encourage student success:
• Following and giving input for IEPs
• Modifying a student’s classes as needed
• Altering lesson parameters while still meeting objectives
• Offering non-stop support and encouragement through email, feedback and Zoom conferences
We interact with stakeholders in these ways, and many others, in a never ending effort to raise students to success. It is a team effort. Communication is key to every relationship and we maintain open lines.
I communicate with other teachers and advisors as frequently as possible. If an advisor needs help, makes a request, or has a generic question, I make sure they have my full attention and assistance. I have joined in IEP meetings and meetings with parents and advisors via Zoom or phone.
As a teacher, the amount of collaboration varies drastically depending on the school, the advisor, the parent, and the student.
Let’s work backwards.
First, collaborating with the student is the keystone here. If a student proactively communicates with a teacher through messaging, assessment responses, and tutoring, and stays on schedule, that student doesn’t need that much more in terms of collaboration. All I need to do then is to establish a respectful teacher/student relationship and maximize learning for that student in the course.
Second, collaborating with parents/caretakers can be an important link in motivating the student and helping to keep them on track. I have collaborated with parents (and grandparents and aunts) in the realms of motivation and consistency to encourage effective study habits and self-advocacy (such as seeking tutoring) in the student. I have also had to collaborate with the students in a reverse way, to help their parents/caregivers understand the online processes and give the students some room to grow.
Third, collaborating with advisors can also be a huge factor in the success of a student. Effective advisors know the students along with their situations, goals, school rules, deadlines, and processes, and keep in consistent communication with the students. They encourage the students to communicate with their teachers and check in regularly for progress. They contact a teacher with regard to helping a specific student or to share updates on personal situations or with questions the student and parent may have. They are available to us teachers and partner with us to give the students the best chance to succeed. It is more likely that an advisor has spoken to students and families on the phone rather than a teacher so they can provide invaluable information to us that affects how we communicate with them.