Ten years ago, I began an online writing school when a homeschool parent asked if I would consider teaching online and make my face-to-face workshop a virtual experience.
Sure. Why not?
Well, obviously it wasn’t that easy. There was a proper platform to find. There were students to acquire.
There were lessons to plan and HTML to conquer. But it all got done and I remember the first day a student registered for class.
I was ecstatic!
I also remember the first time a parent found a typo in my assignment.
I was mortified.
There have been ups and downs, slow sessions and busier than ever sessions. But no matter what, teaching online has been more rewarding than I ever thought possible. I love it.
In this time of COVID-19 and the sudden onslaught of distance learning, I sympathize with teachers who are struggling with transitioning online. So, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned along my journey:
Find a Way to Bond with Your Students
Probably the most important thing about teaching online is to find a way to build a relationship with your students. I like to read student introductions and understand what makes them tick. I learn their interests and find commonalities with them. When they write about something I am really interested in, I let them know. When I’m impressed with a service project they write about recently completing, I let them know and I share service I’ve found rewarding. Students will work harder for a teacher that they like and value.
I also reach out to my students and ask how they are doing when I haven’t seen them online, and I welcome them back when they return for a new session after a few months of absence. The best thing is when they reach out to me too! When a student logs in and asks how my day is or wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day, it makes me warm and fuzzy inside. It IS possible to form relationships and bonds online…and it can be incredibly rewarding.
You Cannot Teach in a Vacuum
Learning happens at that pivotal intersection of making a mistake and getting feedback from the instructor. This means that it is essential to provide comprehensive and meaningful feedback to every student on every assignment. And don’t just regurgitate a rule, but provide tips and ways for a student to remember the rule. And then ask the student if it makes sense to them. Invite the student to tell you if they are still confused. You may need to go back to the drawing board until the lightbulb shines, but this added time will help develop that bond as the student finds success.
Develop Assignments that Require Critical Thinking
Not only are these assignments important for growth and development, but your student will enjoy them more too. Think out of the box and make the learning fun. Be creative.
Encourage. Encourage. Encourage.
Begin every encounter with a student by saying something positive. Compliment the effort, the creativity, the timely submission…no matter what, say something positive to get the ball rolling. Then be honest and factual in your criticism of the work as needed. Don’t sugar coat the constructive criticism, but note the positive before getting to the feedback. Students appreciate when you are careful with your words and their feelings.
Don’t Assume the Worst
Students make mistakes. They forget due dates. They misunderstand directions. It’s not always intentional. Ask what’s happening at home before jumping to conclusions. This will go a long way toward forming those important bonds. Online learning is often sought for its flexibility, so try to understand what the student or family needs and be flexible. You can still take off points if that is your policy, but keep the lines of communication open. After all the end goal is for the student to learn.
Invite students to reach out to you directly when they have a question or a problem. Parents can and should be kept in the loop, but when a student interacts directly with their instructor, their confidence will grow and they will get the help they need.
Admit when You are Wrong
You’re only human. You will make a mistake. And they will catch it. Nothing gives a 13 year old boy more satisfaction than letting you know you spelled something wrong or programmed the quiz wrong so that it doesn’t open. Thank him. After all, he was online and paying attention! It’s a win. And being fallible makes you human…and relatable. There’s that bond again.
Teaching online presents many unique challenges from designing creative assignments to learning to program on a new platform. But the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
- For a student who is shy, online learning is a win because I can provide a safe space where they can reveal their work in the own time without the concern of peer judgement.
- For a student who is a perfectionist, online learning is a win because I can challenge them to their full potential without boredom.
- For a student with anxiety, online learning is a win because I can boost confidence and provide one to one reassurance.
- For a student with learning challenges, online learning is a win because assignments can be tweaked to suit their needs and learning style.
- For a student with medical issues or professional engagements, online learning is a win because I can be flexible.
I, for one, believe online learning to be the way of the future for our diverse student needs. It allows me to meet each child where they are in their learning journey and affect positive outcomes in every case. So today – embarking on my 10th year of teaching online – I am so grateful for the wonderfully enthusiastic and generous students and families I have met from around the world.
My life wouldn’t be the same without them.