Jul 14 2020

Here’s What to Know About Moving Classroom Management Online

Promoting student independence is key to creating productive online learning environments.

Back-to-school planning has never been more different than it is now. School districts nationwide are preparing for multiple reopening scenarios — from full-on remote learning to a hybrid approach — amid health and safety concerns connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

But teaching online is hard, especially if educators don’t have the training and support to do it. Many teachers can attest to that, after schools unexpectedly closed and transitioned to remote learning as a stopgap measure last spring. Some struggled to keep students engaged with online activities, while others had students who were unable to participate because they lacked access to devices or an internet connection.

Teachers are also worried about managing a classroom virtually for a longer period of time. While the idea of classroom management, which encompasses the techniques teachers use to ensure lessons run smoothly and encourage student independence, hasn’t changed, facilitating it online is still a huge shift for many people, says Emily Kirsch, an instructional technology coach at Educate, which works with New York City metro-area schools to create equitable learning environments.

“I noticed that a lot of teachers have a hard time realizing that those structures they set up in the classroom to promote student independence can actually be transferred into the virtual world,” Kirsch says.

The Challenges That Come with Virtual Classroom Management

Kirsch says that classroom management can be a difficult topic because the name implies teachers must take on an authoritative role as a manager. While this may seem effective, teachers should actually work to find a balance between setting up structures for the classroom while remaining flexible and acting as a facilitator, which supports the idea of increasing student independence and ownership of learning, she says. It’s crucial for teachers to create boundaries and schedules during remote or blended learning, but they’ll also need to set adjustable expectations centered on students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

Additionally, teachers have become increasingly dependent on the support of families as students learn from home, which means school districts will also need to prioritize fostering parent-teacher collaboration. “The phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ really rings true today,” Kirsch says. “For example, teachers need parents to learn how to establish good workspaces for children at home, which a lot of parents may not know how to do if they’re not around when their children are doing homework.”

And then there’s the technical side of things, which many teachers are still trying to get a handle on. Moving instruction online is a massive undertaking and involves the use of many digital tools, such as videoconferencing platforms and learning management systems. Yet 67 percent of educators said their teacher preparation programs have not adequately equipped them to facilitate online learning, according to a recent survey of 600 teachers conducted by Educators for Excellence.

To create and foster productive classrooms virtually while also encouraging student ownership of learning, take note of these best practices.

DISCOVER: Learn how teachers can better manage classroom computing with content filtering tools.

1. Establish Structure and Expectations Early On

The reality is that schools are planning for an unpredictable fall, which means education will be in constant flux for many students. One way to help them adjust to that new normal is by helping them build routines and setting clear goals. Doing so can give students a sense of safety and familiarity, Kirsch says.

Some teachers have used platforms such as Google Classroom to display daily agendas and class rules, check in with students to see how they are feeling and keep parents updated with any announcements. Teachers can also post information about how they are grading work or providing feedback on these platforms so that students are aware of what’s expected of them.

Kirsch also recommends incorporating visual cues into online materials to better communicate directions to students. For example, a notebook icon on a presentation slide can indicate that it’s time to work on an assignment, and takes the place of a teacher directing students to take out their notebooks in an in-person classroom.

2. Follow the Same Format for Your Lessons

Another way to promote structure is by having lessons that have a similar format, Kirsch explains. “No matter what tool you’re using, whether it’s Zoom or Google Meet, start with setting your goal at the beginning of the lesson, then follow it up with a check-in with everybody,” Kirsch says. “It might feel like it gets boring or dry, but students can actually thrive with that predictability.”

READ MORE: Find tips for teaching students how to be good digital citizens.

3. Consider a Flipped Instructional Model

Adopting a hybrid or blended learning environment also offers teachers an opportunity to try a flipped classroom approach, Kirsch says. This approach essentially involves students going over school lessons in the form of assigned readings, videos or screencasts at home and then doing a follow-up assignment, practice problems or a project at school.

“Doing homework is really when students get their hands dirty, so it’s nice when the teacher is able to be there and really figure out where the misunderstandings and misconceptions are and how they can address those at that moment,” Kirsch says.

4. Make Online Instruction Accessible for All

In addition to ensuring students are connected and have proper devices, Kirsch says it’s important to consider students’ unique instructional needs and home environments to promote equity while teaching online. “For example, is it fair to expect assignments at a certain time of day? What if students only have access to computers at 8 p.m.?” Kirsch says. Some educators have considered assigning weeklong projects rather than daily assignments to account for those gaps.

Another key consideration — particularly for educators teaching in a hybrid environment — is whether students will be able to access the same content and tools they use at school when they’re learning from home. “Are they going to be able to engage in those activities, or will there be a deficit there as well?” Kirsch says.

Watch how K–12 schools can ensure accessibility during remote learning.

5. Have Strong Communication Channels

Compared with an in-person classroom setting, teachers may not have the same level of interaction with students in a remote or blended learning environment. Therefore, finding ways to maintain connections and establishing proper communication etiquette will be crucial to building relationships with students and making sure their voices are heard — even if teachers don’t see them face to face on a regular basis.

For example, educators have held office hours through videoconferencing platforms to check in with students and answer any questions they may have. Kirsch says having teachers or support staff call home and engage with parents can also help support those connections. “Even just calling parents to let them know, ‘Don’t forget that your child has a live lesson at 1 p.m. every day this week,’ will be appreciated,” she says.

Drazen_/Getty Images; Illustration by Amira Martin