We are all in this together, although sometimes it may not feel that way. The truth is, this year more than ever before, we are all learning as we go. In so many situations that we are facing, there is no right answer and lots of wrong ones. COVID-19, social distancing, mask or no mask, virtual classrooms – these are all issues that were not issues just a short time ago. As we face challenges this school year that we have never faced before, we must be ready for anything and everything. Here are few tips to help with planning for the unknown:
Evaluate Your Teacher Toolbox Constantly
This year is obviously going to be very different. So as we plan, we must constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the tools, methods, and strategies that we use. We may be teaching online, in-person, or a combination of both. The one thing we do know is that it will not be business as usual. Our online tools will be especially important regardless of the format.
By planning to use a lot of online resources, we can more easily switch from online to in-person learning. For example, by using a virtual Bitmoji classroom in Google Slides or another presentation tool, we are able to create a learning environment that can easily transition from one format to the other. By linking learning websites, online textbook resources, and online games, students can take advantage of individualized lessons and independent practice whether learning from home or at school.
Design a Communication Plan
Now more than ever, effective communication can mean the difference between success and failure. If we are having in-person school, communication regarding steps being taken to ensure the health and safety of students will need to be frequent and consistent. Communicating strict guidelines to students in order to help them adjust to their new normal and stay protected will also be vital.
For those that are participating in online learning, there needs to be a clear communication plan and parents need to know exactly what to expect where communication is concerned. A great way to stay connected with students and parents in a virtual learning environment is with Google Classroom. This gives the teacher a place to make announcements to students and parents. It also allows the teacher to meet with both students and parents through Google Meet.
Of course, there will be some that are not comfortable with those platforms. In that case, more emails and phone calls home will be necessary; perhaps even daily. However, using an online classroom platform can help save time and get the word out quickly and efficiently when needed.
Thoughtfully Design Your Content
As you plan, keep in mind that you should design your activities and lessons so that it can easily transition between online and in-person. Organize the lessons and units into easy chunks. Prioritize standards and objectives, especially when learning online, to get the most critical lessons and skills to students.
Also, as stated earlier, use presentation tools to organize a day’s instruction with slides for each activity and links for educational games and independent practice. For example, create a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation for each week with all the ELA skills that will be covered divided into activities/slides for each day of the week. Include activities for vocabulary, interactive read-alouds, phonics, etc. This works for whole-group instruction, but it also translates well to online learning. It may sound like a lot, but once the first one has been created, it can easily be tweaked and updated for the next week’s skills. In doing this, the teacher is developing his/her own arsenal of digital learning tools that can be used in the future as well.
As teachers, we always begin the year by teaching the classroom routines to our students. That’s one thing that will remain the same, although the routines themselves might be different. These routines should be consistent across all areas and spaces. Do you usually start your day with morning announcements or carpet time? You can still do that although some of the specifics for the routine might change. If you usually have students gather on a rug, for example, the better option may be to have them stay in their seats during that time. Maybe use special lighting or music during that time to create more of a sense of closeness and coziness during that time to make up for the differences that social distancing brings.
Online routines can be established as well. If you are able to meet with students online, there should be a fixed time every day that students are expected to join. Then, begin that day the same way that you would in the classroom. If doing in-person school, be sure to establish routines that will easily translate to online learning, as it will likely be required during some point in the school year.
Focus on Relationship Building
Regardless of where the learning is taking place, building relationships with students is the key to a successful year. If attending school in person, there will so many changes brought about by the worldwide pandemic that students could very easily feel separated from one another. Students could likely feel isolated and alone. Therefore, it is especially important that teachers find ways to build relationships with students while, at the same time, maintaining proper safety measures.
Perhaps look for games, both educational and fun, that can be done effectively while maintaining social distancing. Place students on virtual teams and have them do an online escape room project together on their own devices. If teaching some or all students online, set up meeting times with each student. These can be very brief meetings that can be scheduled so that the teacher can see each student individually once or twice a week to go over work or discuss any issues the child may need to discuss. This would definitely help our students know we are there for them and that they are not alone.
Design Discovery Activities Around Key Tech Tools
One of the most important things that teachers will do at the beginning of this school year is introduce key tech tools to students and help them discover how to navigate these platforms and apps. In doing this, students will be prepared to use variety of tools that can be useful whether learning from home or at school.
These are uncertain times. However, teachers and students are very resilient and can adapt remarkably well when we work together. Let’s strive to think outside the box, get creative, and succeed!