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7 Tips for Being a Great Virtual Teacher

Advice for teachers quickly adapting to online teaching while schools are closed during the coronavirus outbreak.

By The TFA Editorial Team

March 24, 2020

Teach For America teacher studies her computer

Today, more than 54 million students across the country who would usually walk through school doors woke up and stayed at home. Teachers from more than 118,000 schools, who would usually be prepared with lesson plans, hands-on activities, and strategies to deepen relationships with their students, didn’t have a classroom to attend—but like every day, they remain committed and are doing their jobs the best they can. As COVID-19 has forced schools to close in the past weeks, our teachers, families, and communities have been tasked with finding new ways to support children, including remote learning systems and home schooling. 

Let’s not forget this is a particularly disruptive time for parents and students in low-income communities. So many of our Teach of America students’ families lack financial security, economic opportunities, health care, and other supports and resources. This inequity can turn extraordinary situations into impossible ones.

To all the teachers and parents navigating this new reality: Hang in there—your love is a strong lesson in itself. We will rise to this challenge if we stand together and offer compassion and support to one another, and share solutions and learn together as we navigate our new circumstances.

Here are some tips to help make the leap to virtual teaching successful, followed by links to more resources for teachers venturing into online learning for the first time.

Let Go of Perfectionism 

Remember, this is a challenge for everyone: teachers, families, and students. You don’t have to design an entire online course from scratch. You are problem-solving to provide access to rigorous learning to students online at the last minute. With that being said, don’t be afraid to dive in and learn alongside your kids. This article offers great advice for teachers like you to “do a bad job of putting your courses online.”

Consider Your Students’ Equity of Access 

Many of your students may not have access to either the internet or a device—or will have inconsistent access. Keep in mind that if devices are available, students may access your online course from phones or tablets. Try your best to ensure the learning platforms you use are mobile-enabled. 

Additionally, it’s also useful to keep in mind your students’ computer literacy and typing skills. Flexible deadlines or longer completion times for typed responses can help address those concerns. And, of course, special education students are on our minds, as teachers navigate what it looks like to provide necessary supports and allow for flexibility in this new virtual environment.

If you know of students who will not be able to engage in virtual learning, consider some of the tips from the Analog Distance Learning resources on this site.

Great Teaching Skills Will Serve You Well Online

While so much about this experience is new, remember that so much of what makes for great teaching in the classroom will transfer to a virtual environment—and is just as needed there. You’ve got this: What makes you a great teacher in the classroom will make you a great teacher online as well. When things feel especially hard, just remember to:

  • Establish a clear set of learning goals. Consider the multiple paths students might take to reach that goal. If it helps, break your content into chunks to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed.  

  • Just as you would in the classroom, be transparent about your expectations—both about online learning and your academic expectations. Provide frequent feedback through online knowledge checks and comments on assignments. Even better, utilize the chat features to keep students on track, motivated, and feeling supported. This is a great way to ensure students have a way to ask you questions as they work on assignments or get stuck.

Now more than ever, students are going to need a little extra push to stay engaged. Promote metacognition to support their own learning by asking reflection questions as a part of each assignment.

Fuel Conversations and Connections in Various Ways

Now more than ever, your students need to be able to connect with each other and with you in whatever way works best. Based on your students’ age, access, and the platform, find creative ways to keep students feeling connected to one another by having them engage with each other online. Comments, text-based chats, and short videos are just a few ways to fuel conversation.

Also, try to structure your learning opportunities to minimize frequent teacher and adult support. This helps boost students’ independence while giving parents, guardians, and older siblings a chance to breathe and focus on other things.

Communicate with Students and Families in Multiple Forms

Post your announcements in various places to make sure students and parents don’t miss vital information. Put it on the platform, email it, text it, set reminders in group chats. In the same breath, ensure students and families have multiple ways to communicate with you. Provide your email and phone number at the end of each communication. 

Create a Social Media Account for Your Class

Reach your students and families where they are. Do you know most of your students are on TikTok? Most of your students’ parents are on Instagram? Consider creating a professional social media handle for yourself and a private social media account for your students and their families where you can post class announcements, assignments, tips, true “mini” lesson videos, reminders, shout-outs, and encouragement.

Find Time For Yourself and Reflect

You are learning how to use online learning platforms as a teacher just as your students are learning how to use them as learners. Schedule time for yourself to reflect on how the experience is going for you and for your students—but remember my first point: You’re not expected to be perfect.  Ask yourself questions like:

  • What trends do I see in student participation and what are the possible causes?

  • What am I learning about my students as participants of my virtual classroom?

  • What could I do to make learning more accessible, inclusive, and meaningful?

  • How are we, as a class, doing physically, mentally, and emotionally?  

For extra support, try Stay The Course. They are offering twice weekly “Power Hours” for teachers to drop into a video conference and stay connected, healthy, energized & resilient

Additional Resources for Virtual Teachers

Teachers are being asked to plan on the fly as never before. Here are just a few of the many virtual teaching resources to help your digital classroom run as smoothly as possible. 

Subject-Specific Resources

Teach For America’s social media team is also compiling running lists on Twitter of free online educational resources in specific content areas:

Teachers, what tips and tricks have worked for you as you’ve taken the first steps toward virtual teaching? What resources have been most useful? Please share your thoughts and suggestions with us, or post them to Twitter using #remotelearning.