Online teaching can be stressful! Believe me, I get it. When I transitioned to working strictly in a virtual setting, I didn't know what I was doing. Like how on earth was I supposed to teach online when all the experience and education I had was in a brick and mortar setting? One of my fears was that I didn't think I had it in me to create an effective and engaging virtual learning environment for my students. It took a lot of trial and error, but over time I got the hang of it. I hope I can help you too. Below you will find a few things that helped me navigate my virtual classroom successfully.
1. Know your teaching style and strengths
I first had to figure out my teaching style and my strengths. I am a direct instruction teacher and tutor and I am really good in this area. I've had extensive training in direct instruction and years of experience. Direct instruction is an effective teaching strategy and I felt comfortable continuing this teaching method across different settings. So this is the first step I would encourage teachers and/or parents to think about when planning a successful virtual experience. Figure out how and what you want to teach based on your areas of strength and expertise.
2. Structure and routine
Creating an outline or framework of how and what I wanted to teach, was the next thing I had to do when transitioning to teaching online. I thrive in a structured environment, and so do my students. I had to get myself organized if I wanted a shot at being successful as a virtual teacher. I had already figured out my strengths and teaching style and it was time for me to figure out how to organize everything. I jotted down all the things I needed to teach in a lesson and practiced teaching that lesson with a timer. From my experience, virtual lessons are not as long as brick and mortar lessons. Where my ELA/Reading time would be at least 90 minutes in a brick and mortar setting, it was much shorter in a virtual setting. So it was important for me to write down everything I needed to cover in a lesson and practice, practice, practice. For example, I knew in every Reading DI lesson I would need to cover: phonological awareness or phonics review (phonological awareness activities, flashcards, daily phonics warm up's, phonics review games, etc.; which typically lasts about 10 minutes), the main direct instruction lesson (this typically takes about 30-40 minutes) and independent practice and reflection, (most direct instruction content have independent practice activities already built in as a form of a worksheet; this typically takes about 10-15 minutes to complete). Now of course this is based on me being in an Elementary virtual setting as a Special Education Teacher. The times for each of these areas may differ for you and you should adjust accordingly. So the next step I would encourage you to take is create an outline and stick to it to help you with pacing and execution.
3. Built in reward system
No matter what grade a student is in, they are motivated by something. I've honestly found that rewarding students is so much easier in a virtual setting. I can create tickets or tokens based on student engagement and allow students to trade in those tokens for something they enjoy. Go noodle (www.gonoodle.com) is an excellent reward system program for Elementary aged students. You as a teacher can set up a system where students will gain free time depending on the tasks they complete. Go noodle is a fun way for students to take "brain breaks" after doing work for a period of time. Class Dojo (https://www.classdojo.com/) is another great reward system to keep younger students motivated to do work. It's also a way for teachers to keep in contact with parents about the behavior of students. Older students may enjoy choosing their own preferred activities as their reward. It's so important to have some type of reward system to encourage students to follow through with classroom expectations.
4. Work life balance
This is probably the most important! Having an appropriate work-life balance is vital for your emotional and physical well-being. I learned this the hard way back in 2017 when I resigned from my brick and mortar job. I was over stressed, over worked, and didn't prioritize myself. Remember, you can't be your best self until you start practicing self-care. This means that you will have to start advocating for yourself and be willing to step away from tasks. I struggled with this, partly because I had such a strong work ethic and wanted to get things done, but the other part of me didn't want anyone talking bad about me for not "always being on top of things." I had to get to a place where I was confident in my work ethic and not overly value the opinions of others. As a virtual teacher, your work is constantly calling you! There is no physical distance between where you work and where you sleep. It can get really challenging to unplug. However, I can't stress the importance of how necessary it is for you to create boundaries (and the sooner you create them the better). If you are not getting enough sleep, not spending quality time with your family, not enjoying your life, not having enough time to cook meals, and not having the energy to exercise, then you have stretched yourself too thin. As I transitioned to being strictly a virtual teacher, I needed to first create my working hours and my off hours. My working hours are my contracted times for work (a typical 9-5). I would do all of my lesson planning, instructing, meetings, phone calls, etc. during this time. After 5pm, I would sign off and transition my mind to being off. This means closing the door to my office, shutting off my computer, not answering my work phone, and not checking my emails. Oh boy was this hard at first, but so worth it! After getting off work, I take my dog for a walk, cook dinner, go shopping if need be, and spend the evening enjoying my family. I wouldn't have it any other way! Try not to feel guilty for doing this. Remember that teaching is not a charity. You are not paid to work over time and you shouldn't be made to feel guilty for prioritizing your life.
Well friends, that's it! These are the things that I did to help me with virtual teaching. I love teaching online. It has it's own set of challenges, but my desire to teach has helped me manage to get through the tough parts. I wish you well as you navigate virtual teaching and tutoring.