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  • Writer's pictureDr. Pamela Davis

Monitoring Virtual Classroom Best Practices During a Pandemic.

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

School leaders are juggling quite a few tasks. Temperature checks. Social distancing. Plexi-glass partitions for students' desks. Teacher vacancies. Positive Covid-19 results and the list goes on and on. Sometimes it seems as though, instruction takes a backseat to this list of priorities.

But, instruction must go on. What leaders and teachers are facing is unlike anything they've experienced on the education front, ever! As principals have struggled with filling vacancies, they have also struggled to ramp up their current staff to be able to deliver quality instruction in this new normal. The reality is, at the end of the school year, students need to demonstrate their mastery of the standards for the grade level they're in. In order to accomplish this, they must be taught. So, who is monitoring the teaching?

Any leader worth their weight in gold is finding a way to monitoring instruction and develop quality instructional teams for the advancement of student achievement. Here's what I know.

There are two types of students doing online learning. Those that are doing it well and those that are struggling. Parents had to make some tough choices at the onset of the pandemic. In some instances, they had to choose safety over the best delivery format for their student. With this, our leaders need to provide the appropriate instructional support to teachers so that our students can get the academic support they need.

Virtual online learning needs some form of live instruction each class meeting. Period. A greeting and a writing prompt; a greeting and a world event; a greeting and a math problem. Each class meeting needs live contact with the teacher. (I'll explain exceptions later).

The next element that every virtual classroom needs is a daily agenda or class flow. Now, you might say, this would be needed in a face-to-face classroom. You're right. But it is definitely needed in the virtual space. So much gets lost in translation. As I have interacted with teachers and leaders in various districts across the country, some teachers are communicating with students on one platform and posting/collecting assignments on a different platform. A daily agenda provides consistency and routine for students. It helps them with organization and establishes a ritual for what to expect and where to go to access the tools for class.

Another key element of the virtual classroom is engagement. Online learning takes engagement to a whole new level. I have to start with should students have their camera on or camera off. In my opinion, students who have their camera off can be shy, completely goofing off or anything in-between. I do not believe in forcing students to turn on their cameras. I do believe that developing a virtual classroom culture frees up the space where students are more likely to want to turn their cameras on.

Engaging students virtually requires teachers to work a little bit harder. Much like in pre-Covid days when we would meet a new group of students, it would take a few weeks for the students to warm up to the teacher. Rituals and routines had to be established. Teachers and students made connections as they go to know each other. Built trust. And before you know it, students are working hard for you - meeting your demands. Rising to the occasion. This virtual space requires that as well. Here is where meeting with the class whole group for a segment of the class period comes in to play. Once you meet with the whole group to present the lesson or give instructions on the assignment, you can use the remainder of the class period to schedule 1:1 meetings with each of your students. This may take several days, but scheduling 1:1 meetings and then small group meetings to work with students helps you connect with them and ultimately gain their allegiance. Engagement is all about planning a lesson with your audience in mind. You are creating an experience for the students whereby at the end of the lesson, they are going to without a doubt grasp the learning objective. If you are going to assign a grade for engagement (or participation), I recommend using a grading rubric that is valid and reliable.

Virtual assignments. I have seen teachers use Google Forms to create assessments; download worksheets that students can type into, then upload to be graded; and I have seen digital tools where students complete an assignment on a different platform altogether that grades the assignment for them. Whichever assignment type is chosen, the key reminder here that teachers must include clear directions. Without directions, the student is lost, gets frustrated or completely shuts down. As students advance through the school year and work gets harder, virtual office hours or tutoring can be helpful to assist students. This time can be used for re-teaching, tutoring, or completing make-up work.

Even though leaders and teachers are distracted by non-academic challenges throughout the day, learning must go on. Monitoring and supporting instruction is a win-win. It helps teachers meet expectations to then help students.

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