Mar 15 2021

Hybrid Hangups: What Teachers Struggle with Most in Hybrid Instruction

Juggling in-person and virtual learning comes with a unique set of challenges. Here’s how three educators are dealing with their circumstances.

K–12 education in the U.S. is all over the board: Some districts are fully online, some are fully in-person, and many have implemented a hybrid model. To learn about the struggles teachers are experiencing, I reached out to educators across the country and compiled a list of the biggest challenges when it comes to the hybrid model, and how teachers are meeting those challenges.

Hopefully, the following insights will encourage teachers who may be feeling anxious about moving to a hybrid model and reassure others that they’re not alone in some of the challenges they’re facing.

Classroom Management

Hybrid Hangup Challenge #1: Classroom Management

WHO: Allison Haley, high school language arts teacher

LOCATION: Noblesville Schools, Indiana

ENROLLMENT: 10,000 students

The Model:

The high school has a hybrid-synchronous schedule for the majority of students. Half of the students attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half are at home learning virtually. This flips for Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays, all students stay home and do remote learning without direct instruction. There is also a group of students learning virtually 100 percent of the time. On remote learning days, teachers provide additional support (virtually) for students who need it, engage in professional development, participate in professional learning community (PLC) meetings, and plan lessons.

Why Classroom Management?

One of Haley’s greatest challenges in a hybrid learning environment is classroom management. “Nothing is routine or predictable,” she says. “Students are in and out [of the classroom] because of quarantines, [and] technology can have hiccups.” Managing students at home on Zoom is also tricky, especially if a camera is off or a student is not engaged or responding. “I have to always be conscious about what other things might be going on at home for students other than school,” Haley says.

Solutions:

Haley believes routines are vital to good classroom management, which is why she builds as much routine into her lessons as possible. For example, she starts class with a warmup activity for everyone. “This gives me time to take attendance and get the kids logged on to Zoom,” she says. Haley also leverages a variety of virtual resources, such as Nearpod and Pear Deck, but she cautions teachers not to introduce too many. “I found when I started using too many different platforms, it was overwhelming for the kids and they were logging off Zoom or not turning in work.” Haley recommends teachers find a few that work and stick to those.

Final Thoughts:

Haley’s advice to teachers is simple: “Do not do the most. Slow down when you need to, listen to the kids, be real with the kids, and do the best you can to get to know your kids. That's what they need right now.”

DIVE DEEPER: What does it take to get hybrid instruction right?

Student Engagement

Hybrid Hangup Challenge #2: Student Engagement

WHO: Rebecca Thal, fifth-grade math and science teacher

LOCATION: Hazlet Township Public School District, New Jersey

ENROLLMENT: 2,900 students

The Model:

The district has been open for in-person instruction five half-days per week since September 2020. Students have the option to attend virtually, although the majority have chosen to learn in person. Many teachers have some students who are fully virtual, and they teach them at the same time as their in-person students. If students are quarantining, not feeling well, or for other reasons decide to go virtual, they can choose to go remote at any point, on any given day. The afternoons are reserved for “extended learning time,” during which teachers can meet virtually with students in flexible small groups or in a one-on-one setting.

Why Student Engagement?

Due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, the district transitioned for a few weeks to a fully remote instructional model. Thal found student engagement during those weeks to be a big challenge, particularly as the days progressed. “This was mostly due to so many distractions when students are home,” she says. “As a teacher, you cannot control their space.”

Solutions:

Thal raises the level of student engagement by incorporating engaging activities, such as gamification and digital escape rooms, and she uses apps like Booklet and Quizizz. She also uses collaborative boards, such as Jamboard, where she poses open-ended questions, such as “Would you rather …?” to generate discussions and invite student participation in a nonthreatening way. “I use platforms such as Nearpod, whiteboard.chat, and whiteboard.fi, which allow students to participate in real time and give me the opportunity to join in and highlight their boards,” she says.

Final Thoughts:

“Give yourself grace, and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone,” Thal says. Also, she makes it a priority to learn with students. “If something doesn't work, I admit it, we all laugh and move forward. Always keep in mind, even on the challenging days, that you are doing the very best you can — and that is enough.”

MORE ON EDTECH: Support students with special needs in virtual learning.

Family Communication

Hybrid Hangup Challenge #3: Family Communication

WHO: Kyle Erlenbeck, high school science teacher

LOCATION: Douglas County School District, Colorado

ENROLLMENT: 67,000 students

The Model:

At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, students were separated into two distinct cohorts, and were at school for in-person learning two days a week and at home three days a week. All students are home on Fridays. In the subsequent months, the school moved to full remote learning twice, primarily because some teachers had to be quarantined and there was a limited number of substitute teachers available to fill the vacancies. Students resumed their hybrid model the week of Feb. 8, 2021.

Why Family Communication?

For Erlenbeck, the greatest challenge is family communication. “It’s always great to talk with engaged and supportive parents; however, I need to be speaking with parents of the kids who are struggling so I can diagnose a problem and come up with solutions.” Erlenbeck thinks hybrid learning is making a known problem in education worse. “For so many reasons,” he says, “we have a really hard time getting in contact with families of kids who need the most support. This is something we must figure out how to do better.”

Solutions:

To improve communication with families, Erlenbeck relies on YouTube videos and old-fashioned phone calls. “I try to make videos that I send out to parents in the hopes that they will watch something from their kid’s teacher rather than read yet another email,” he says. “I’ve heard from some parents that they’re helpful. Old-fashioned phone calls are also helpful.”

Final Thoughts:

“Our school’s best professional development runs on productive collisions that happen in hallways and shared offices. I miss that, and I know many others do as well. I’d like to explore ways we can improve PD during this hybrid environment,” Erlenbeck says. As for his students, he is one proud teacher. “I’m impressed with how resilient and wonderful the kids are. This generation has been asked to deal with so much. Watching my kids rise to the challenge and succeed despite the obstacles they face keeps me hopeful. They truly are wonderful and have some very bright futures ahead of them.”

READ MORE: Learn how to answer to the most-asked hybrid-learning questions.

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