The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education in ways that educators could not have fathomed just one year ago. School districts all over the country have made the decision to implement remote learning, many having to pivot into this decision seemingly overnight. For many teachers, taking things day by day is the best that we can do in this moment. Know that this has been a learning curve for every educator, and your best effort is the only standard you must strive to meet in these unprecedented times.
As educational and political leaders toil with the decision of reopening schools, teachers are faced with a duality that can be just as arduous as the sudden onset of virtual learning. Many of us must prepare remote classrooms while also preparing for the eventual return to traditional learning. On the contrary, some teachers are preparing to return to the classroom now. No matter which category your leaders have bestowed upon you, below are some tips that can make your transition back to traditional learning as seamless as possible.
Don’t Ditch the Technology
During remote learning, many teachers and students have been more immersed in educational technology than ever before. Though this change was born from necessity, that does not mean that returning to the traditional classroom will negate the need for a technology-rich classroom. In order to facilitate this transition, use the technology that students have become familiar with to your advantage. Naturally, student screen time will decrease, but technology provides a wealth of resources that are useful instructional tools. Furthermore, having some consistency between remote and face-to-face learning through technology will ease the contrast between the two for students.
Assess Student Abilities
When students return to school after remote learning, performance data from before remote learning will be invalid in most cases. Students have participated in learning to varying degrees, and some students had more academic support at home than others. When traditional learning resumes, it will be necessary to assess students’ academic ability and allow that data to drive your instruction. Be intentional about taking time to get to know your students first – assessment should never happen on the first day. Also, target the data you need to make the assessment as quick as possible.
Be Prepared to Differentiate
Once you assess students, you will find that students are at different levels academically. Differentiation is always in a teacher’s repertoire, but it is even more crucial as we exit a season where students have been learning at home. Plan lessons that can be differentiated in content, process, or product. Understand that the data may reveal that every student will not be ready to master certain standards and will need remediation.
Alter Activities to Accommodate Social Distancing
As much as many of us are longing to return to the days when students could offer hugs and handshakes as they skip off to their strategically grouped desks, the reality is that when traditional school returns social distancing will likely be required to a degree. Come up with innovative ways for students to collaborate while social distancing – this is a great time to implement technology. If students have to stay in their own space in the classroom, give them an opportunity to make the space their own. Also, community supplies may not be feasible, so have supplies organized by student ahead of time.
Be Mindful of Student Triggers
Effective teachers strive to make content relevant to students’ lives. Assigning culturally relevant texts, writing prompts, and activities is best practice. With this being said, we must remember that we are on the heels of a pandemic that has caused trauma and loss for many students. Be mindful of students who may be triggered by certain topics due to adverse experiences stemming from the pandemic. Instructional activities that cover COVID-19, grief, or a number of other topics may be triggers for some students. Prepare your students for these activities in advance and be ready to connect students with resources like counseling as needed.
Prepare for a Return to Remote Learning
As painful as it is to acknowledge this, a return to traditional learning will not be permanent for all schools. As COVID-19 persists, outbreaks within districts and schools are an unfortunate possibility that could force some schools to return to remote learning, even if just for a short time. For this reason, it is important to plan lessons that can be converted to a remote environment easily. Spend time familiarizing students with your online expectations and resources from the beginning and teach them how to reach out for instructional support remotely.
During this uncertain time in education, teachers have to practice flexibility to the highest degree. Returning to face-to-face instruction will have challenges, but the adaptability we have all learned in this process will be one of our many advantages. Being prepared to the extent you can is also a huge advantage. The most important tip is to know that your presence is valuable to your students, and you will have to create a transition plan that fits the unique needs of your classroom.