Tips for Teachers: Braving the World of Online Education in the Wake of a Pandemic - by Nicole O'Connor

Teachers are used to having to adapt. New modes of learning, new technologies, new students, new schedules, new policies; these are all par for the course. However, no one could have predicted teachers would be asked to adapt to a completely different educational structure (in one day) due to a global pandemic. As many teachers find themselves transitioning, quite abruptly, to this new style of learning, the teachers at Kolbe Academy Online have pulled together some of their best tips for success.

  1. How do you do it? Asynchronous or Synchronous?

A blended approach tends to be best. It fosters community, but also allows families to work at their own pace. (At Kolbe Academy, we use Adobe Connect for synchronous learning and Schoology for asynchronous). Consider having a live meeting once a week to touch base, work through difficult concepts, give weekly assignments, and show your beautiful face. Your students miss you! Some free tools for this include:

  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Classroom
  • Google Meet
  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • Scribblar

Then, use your asynchronous tool to post assignments, feedback, videos, and other activities that can be completed at a time convenient for the student. Less live sessions can help families that have multiple kids sharing one computer participate fully in your program. Some free tools for this include:

  • Google Drive
  • Google Classroom
  • SeeSaw
  • DropBox
  • Blackboard (free edition)
  • Schoology (free edition)

*See end of article for specific tips from Kolbe Academy Online teachers on a blended approach to online learning.

  1. How much is too much?

  • In the wake of a pandemic, less is more. Seeing a flood of assignments is overwhelming for anyone. You add parents working at home, students adjusting to a new routine, and varying levels of access, and you get one stressed out group of humans.
  • Stick to the basics and limit your number of assignments to a set amount per week, posted at a set time, and “due” on a specific and consistent day.
  • Consider archiving a week’s worth of work. Hiding completed work can limit the clutter on your LMS and clarify the focus of the week.
  • When recording videos remember to keep the videos short. Internet speeds vary and longer videos can cause problems.

  1. Organization

  • “Weekly Work” folders are great! Date the folder Monday to Friday (i.e. 3/16-3/20) and include all assignments and reading for the week.
  • While many schools cannot have things be “due” for equity reasons, a suggested deadline will help parents and students prioritize their time and feel a sense of completion.

  • Another way to keep your asynchronous platform clean and streamlined is to separate essential assignments from enrichment and resources. You will have parents and students with FOMO who will get caught up thinking they need to try to do everything, and they will get overwhelmed. Ease their mind with simplicity and clarity as to what is essential and what is extra.

  1. Stress management

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

  • Give yourself grace. As my friend Lisa (veteran teacher in Colorado) put it: “Teachers who did not sign up for online teaching have had to become online teachers, and students who did not sign up for online learning are forced into it. Grace, flexibility, and communication are going to be huge during this transition.”
  • The first week online always comes with elevated stress. Everyone is getting used to a new system, new learning tools—tech problems WILL arise, that much is certain. It all flattens out and people find their way. Be patient with the parents as they adjust, and with yourself as you navigate your new mode.
  • A significant stressful element in online teaching is the amount of notifications you will receive. If you are a teacher, you have probably had to navigate notifications to some degree. As cell phone carriers, we all have. However, in online education you have to have a system of tracking the emails and notifications because there will be a lot, and you will want to see most, if not all, of them.
  • I like to push all of my emails from our LMS into a folder, and that way I can check the 1,098,234 notifications on my own time. Also, this assures that my phone and laptop don’t buzz every second.
  • This brings me to my next, possibly most important, point. Boundaries! Have a set time you check email and communicate that time with your students and parents.
  • Online teaching does not mean 24/7 teaching. Organizing the content online and answering emails can become a black hole. Don’t let it. It will not make you a better teacher.
  • I deleted my LMS app from my phone so that I could be intentional about when and how often check notifications and respond to emails.
  • That being said prompt response is important with remote students, so don’t build those boundary walls too high. Try to be on when your students are on, if you can.

  1. Communication

  • Your students need to hear from you—some more than others. This mode of learning comes with an elevated level of stress and anxiety for students who need feedback and reassurance to know they are on the right track. Check in with your parents and students as often as you feel is necessary to remain connected.

  • Many teachers at Kolbe send surveys or polls to make sure the content is being received as intended. I love polling my students at the end of each quarter for activities they loved, or didn’t love, what they would improve in my class and what they would like to see more of. With this new mode of learning there are blind spots that you have not had to navigate until now. Ask for feedback!

  1. Safety

  • Digital citizenship is part of everyone’s curriculum today, but in online education it is more essential than ever: Protect your students’ privacy and abide by all standard safe environment rules. They still apply online. If you are meeting a student alone in Zoom, or other live video services, for tutoring or office hours, record the session.
  • At this point, you have probably welcomed your students into new learning platforms without time to properly communicate rules, regulations, and routines. Maybe you tried Zoom for the first time, and voila, the webcams clicked on with pets, kids working out, random masks and hats, a student’s knife collection, or a close up of a nostril. It can get really weird, really fast. Under normal circumstances you would have had time to set realistic guidelines, but here you are. If you already had your first meeting, and it was a hilarious circus, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, it is a great idea to set some suggestions for appropriate places in the home to attend class and appropriate demeanor in an online classroom.
  • Chat boxes are an area of concern for student safety. Save the transcripts. Have rules. Explain that it is no different than speaking out in class.
  • Remind your students that they should not share personal information online.
  • Check your notifications, especially when a discussion forum is first up and running. You will want to make sure students are using it appropriately and abiding by standard digital citizenship rules. At Kolbe, we remind the students to THINK (Is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind?).
  • Communicate with the parents about online safety and make sure they know it is their responsibility to be monitoring new devices and platforms.
  • Record your live sessions!

Adapting is hard. It is even harder when there are added pressures and factors that change minute to minute. The specifics of the online classroom will vary exponentially grade to grade, and class to class. The tips provided here scratch the surface of many aspects of online teaching; however, how you use them will heavily depend on your school’s needs, your level of comfortability with technology, your time, and your personality. Give yourself grace! You are forming young minds and doing an amazing job! Showing up for your students, reminding them that you are still with them, and carrying on the best you can is more than anyone could ask for! Teachers, Kolbe Academy Online sees you and supports you! Welcome to our online world!

Nicole O’Connor received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Composition and a Master of Science degree in Online Education through Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has worked both in the classroom and online with students ranging from 6th-12th grade. Writing has always been her passion; however, she is even more passionate about helping her students learn to read, write, and love grammar!

The O’Connor family is abundantly blessed with three young daughters–Teagan, Brigit, & Cambria. When Mrs. O’Connor isn’t teaching, she enjoys painting, praying, and philosophizing with her husband (Ian), working at the local Preschool Co-op, re-reading Flannery O’Connor, and spending time at the beach in Orange County, California.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint Brigid, Ora Pro Nobis!

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