The COVID-19 virus has educators worldwide navigating through unchartered waters. We have been challenged to give the same quality education to our students in atypical ways. While this is not natural, it is now our normal and it is our responsibility, now more than ever, to our students and community to implement innovative practices and procedures to continue to provide the support that is needed. Holding virtual office hours allows all stakeholders to connect with you to ask questions, gain clarity, and build relationships.

Benefit of Virtual Office Hours

There are several benefits to virtual office hours. Once you establish your platform and availability, it is much faster for students to connect with you than through email, which requires wait time for a response. Often times, students and families need immediate support as they are completing assignments or other requirements.

Face-to-face interaction during virtual office hours is one of the best benefits since many do not have human contact with their class. It permits students to see you in real time. When you are able to see your students, see their expressions, and hear their voices, it fosters relationships. They need to see these things from you as well. We all know that relationships are at the core of teaching. No matter the age or grade of the student, a positive teacher-student relationship makes teaching and learning easier.

Virtual office hours also provide time to simply check in with your students. Every meeting does not necessarily have to be an academic meeting. During this time we must remember the differing environments our students are living in. Some have a quiet space to learn with a desk and supplies. Not all are that fortunate. Some of our students are struggling and not just with virtual school. There are many who cannot focus due to their living arrangement, aren’t eating balanced meals, and do not have adequate support to assist them with assignments and technical issues. Using your office hours to check in with your students will give you insight into their personal situation and allow you to better understand their performance or lack thereof.

How to Make the Most Out of Your Office Hours

When you advertise your office hours, make sure that you are very clear as to exactly what they are for and specifically what you will do during this time. I suggest making an eye-catching flyer that lists your offerings. All students do not understand office hours, especially the younger ones. This is new for all of us so give as many details as possible.

Some examples of this would be giving a time to review an assessment or word problem that your students struggled with or expand on a new theme or skill that was recently taught. Parents will appreciate your organization with office hours so they can block out time to be present for what matters to them most.

It is never a bad idea to offer a time to just chat with no targeted topic. You could have a virtual lunch with your students. Tell them to bring their lunch for a chat and chew. Allow them to drive the conversation with you. This is another relationship-building activity that is needed right now more than ever. Our students’ social-emotional health must be in the forefront of everything we do. It is hard to fully assess when you do not interact with them outside of formal class meetings.

Students are longing to talk with their friends as they would normally do in a face-to-face setting. You can rebrand your office hours at certain times by allowing students to engage in an open chat once a review session or small group has ended. As the teacher, you would monitor this discussion but not interject unless asked. Many students thrive from social interaction. Again, this is not natural but it is now our normal so students are sure to join in for this special time.

If you have a newsletter or some type of weekly communication, continue to include your office hours flyer. Add details about new topics and highlight the benefits of attending. Remind your students during each class that you host office hours and allow a student who has a success story to share with the class how it helped them.

Always remember that student voice and choice is extremely vital. Ask your students what they would like to engage in during office hours. Their feedback will give you an idea of how to manage this time and will result in higher attendance and participation because it is meaningful to their interests and needs.

However you decide to go forward with your virtual office hours, remember that your students need you in the most critical way. Be encouraged and know that all of the hard work you are doing is appreciated and does not go unnoticed.