Dr. Kathryn Kennedy has over 15 years of experience in online, blended, and digital learning in PreK-12, higher education, and beyond. Her work is focused at the intersection of research, practice, and policy. She owns and operates her own consulting firm that is currently helping inform PLTW’s current and future teaching and learning experiences.
State and local reopening and continuity-of-learning plans continue to change based on CDC guidelines. PLTW stands ready to help schools, educators, students, and caregivers feel supported wherever learning takes place, providing one constant in your preparation for the 2020-21 school year. Here are 10 tips to help you get ready for school.
1. Gather Your Resources on Distance Learning – PLTW has you covered. Check out our distance learning library and upcoming events.
2. Create a Physical Space – At some point throughout the year, you may find yourself teaching online. If that’s the case, start now to create a physical space that is conducive to you being a healthy and efficient teacher. The more efficient your physical space allows you to be, the easier it can be for you to balance your work and personal life. If possible, try to find a place that allows for quiet and privacy. Make sure your space is clean and organized, so you can focus on your students and their learning.
3. Create an Online Space – Make sure you have high speed internet service and antivirus and malware protection software to protect your system(s). Clear your virtual desktop. Get all those icons off the startup menu that make your system run slower. Scan paper documents, when possible, and place them in folders. Use clear file names so you can easily retrieve them later. Alphabetize file names and be consistent in your filing system. Get the folders for all the classes you teach set up and organized as soon as possible. Create bookmarks for frequently visited websites. Archive emails in folders. Create shortcuts on your desktop for programs, folders, and websites you use frequently. Use a calendar with deadlines and note priorities. Set up a solid organizational and workflow email management strategy so you can stay engaged with students and other stakeholders on a daily basis. If you use the same email accounts for work and non-work, consider opening a separate account to maintain boundaries on your time.
4. Cultivate Health and Wellbeing – Set up your space to be ergonomically sound. Make sure to take breaks to rest your eyes, wrists, and back. Get up and move your body and stretch periodically. Set a timer as a reminder. Make sure you have good light in your workspace. Maintain an upright posture. Drink lots of water and eat healthily. Establish healthy boundaries by using a calendar to block work and non-work time. Establish professional connections with fellow teachers online to ask questions, share best practices, and check in on wellbeing.
5. Establish a Schedule, Rules, and Procedures – When you are learning online, you do not want to recreate what is done in school and classroom schedule-wise. Instead, in online and blended learning environments, transition your interaction with students from whole group instruction to a combination of one-on-one meetings with students as well as small group meetings. This allows you more targeted time for differentiating and meeting the needs of each student based on where they are. Divide content into smaller pieces (15-30 minutes) when possible. Make your expectations clear for the online learning environment from the start to save you time and energy down the road. Remember that many of your students are new to the online learning environment, so you will have to guide them in terms of appropriate behavior, your expectations, and protocols. Create a safe learning environment that is conducive to learning and respectful of everyone in it. Keep your learning environment rules positive, short, and to the point. If possible, co-create them with your students. Provide orientation for students and caregivers for how the learning environment will be set up for school year 2020-21.
6. Communicate with Your Students and Caregivers Early – Communicating is one of the most important (as well as most frequent) activities teachers engage in. Communication can make or break your students’ experience, especially when learning online. Draft a welcome letter to students and caregivers that provides them with your contact info, office hours, expectations, and any other important information for starting the school year off. Keep in mind that your students and others involved in their support will see you as a real individual if you share information about yourself, including your interests and outside activities. This helps your students see you as a real person, especially if you’re starting the year off online instead of in school. In addition to a welcome letter, video announcements are an opportune way to personalize your online learning environment.
7. Set Up a Plan to Continuously Learn – Because our learning environments, technology, pedagogy, and best practices are changing very rapidly, ongoing professional learning is critical. It is imperative for educators to participate in professional learning in order to provide the optimum learning environments for the students, teachers, other educators, caregivers, and the community that they serve.
8. Advocate for Access and Equity in Your Learning Environment Before Learning Starts – Advocate for students who need accommodations and support for and equitable access to technology and connectivity. Become familiar with and share contacts for technological support for students, caregivers, and educators. Support the instructional needs of English language learners in online and blended learning. Make sure students have what they need for accommodations to access online and blended learning. Support students with Individualized Education Programs, Section 504 Plans, and Individual Learning Plans to make sure their needs are met in online and blended learning environments. Monitor and take action related to student supports needed for students with identified (or unidentified) disabilities and for those who are in traditionally underserved populations. Use Universal Design for Learning in designing and developing online and blended learning.
9. Collaborate with Other Educators to Support Yourself and Others – Emphasize the importance of building relationships and community in online and blended learning. Work together with other educators to understand how best to serve them and their work with students in online and blended learning. Work with all stakeholders (caregivers, teachers, other educators, and school leaders) to ensure program success. Set up regular communication with other educators. Provide resources for online and blended teaching and learning. Establish and communicate clear expectations, guidelines, boundaries, and roles with the other educators and caregivers in supporting student learning.
10. Humanize the Online Learning Experience – The most critical components of online learning are interaction, relationships, community building, communication, collaboration, teacher presence, supports, wellbeing, and meaningful learning.
We’re looking forward to supporting you as you start this new school year. Stay tuned for more ways to learn with us!
· Christensen Institute - Blended Learning https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blended-learning/
· Digital Learning Collaborative - Continuity of Learning Resources https://www.digitallearningcollab.com/covid19-overview
· Digital Learning Collaborative - Students with Disabilities https://www.digitallearningcollab.com/students-with-disabilities
· Edutopia - How to Improve Distance Learning for Students with IEPs https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-improve-distance-learning-students-ieps?fbclid=IwAR0I5RnjthDOoCRdYBPnravTsvYclmarepU4aotO-y9mugqQSP8SVf9LrYo
· Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning https://figshare.com/articles/Handbook_of_Research_on_K-12_Online_and_Blended_Learning_Second_Edition_/6686813
· K-12 Blended Teaching: A Guide to Personalized Learning and Online Integration https://edtechbooks.org/k12blended
· Universal Design for Learning
PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.