Crisis Response – Preparing to Teach Online

I’ve been thinking a lot about possible responses to the school closures as a result of COVID-19. Although my expertise is in training K-12 online teachers, I don’t think that expertise is what is needed at this juncture. That will come later, after the dust settles. Teaching online is a paradigmatic shift in thinking that requires reflection, self-evaluation and a rethinking about the teachers role in the classroom. We cannot possibly expect this type of shift during a major crisis that has brought prevailing governments around the world to their knees. Instead, what we need are strategic plans for management of the crisis in a way that provides the least amount of trauma and disruption for our learners. We must also relieve some of the stress on teachers as they transition to a new set of expectations.

The Center for Teaching and Learning at Boise State shared a list of important things to remember in this time of transition (which was posted to Facebook by Amy Young, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication, Chair of the Department of Communication, Pacific Lutheran University). It was thoughtful and realistic, but focused on higher education. Building off of her insight, looking at advice from other sources, and taking into account my own experience in K-12 online teaching and learning, I’ve devised a list that K-12 teachers should remember (not comprehensive by any means)… 

  1. Don’t panic. Prioritize instead. What do students really need to know for the short term. Keep the important stuff and toss the rest.

  2. Don’t expect perfection. We are in crisis mode and need responses that are practical and meet the needs of learners in the most efficient way possible. Structure and rhythm are going to be most important in maintaining stability.

  3. Establishing a communication plan should be your number one task.

  4. Bring parents into the fold as soon as possible. They will be your eyes and ears on the ground during the transition.

  5. Use the tools you and your students are most familiar with. You may have a school or district created class site in Blackboard, but are you comfortable using it? If you are more comfortable using Google docs for lesson delivery, then use that. But leave yourself open to bringing in elements of all tools that make your job more efficient, such as the assignment submission and grading features in Blackboard.

  6. Do what is developmentally appropriate. Live sing-alongs and book readings can lend a sense of familiarity to very young learners in an otherwise stressful situation. Even older learners will need familiar touchstones.

  7. Be prepared to provide students with both digital and printable instructions. They need to build confidence in learning online just as you do with teaching online. Blending the traditional with the new is one way to ease the transition.

  8. Watch out for cognitive overload. Introducing both a new platform for instruction and new content at the same time can be overwhelming for learners. Try to ease into the new delivery method with review materials or content that is already known.

  9. Do not worry about making decisions about whether your class should be asynchronous or synchronous. Do what feels right for now. If it is easiest to carry on your class lectures the same as you would in your face-to-face class, then do that. But record them as you go so that students can retrieve them when needed (as long as you do not display images of students to the public). Eventually, you will have the time to reflect and evaluate – this is not that time. 

  10. If you do record lessons, limit them to small chunks. Students zone out after 5 minutes – and less if they are younger.

  11. Know how your students are accessing the class materials. This is critical because students without equipment and/or low or no bandwidth need the highest levels of support in how and when they access materials.

  12. Try to be cognizant of individual needs, and not think in terms of groups or classes. This applies primarily to students with disabilities or special needs, but can prove useful for most students. Create materials in multiple formats. Text is the least restrictive and can be accessed on multiple devices and platforms with limited bandwidth and data usage. However, it might not be appropriate for all learners. Providing two options, images and text for example, is better.

  13. Become knowledgeable of the assistive features on your computer – the more you know about your computing environment, the easier it will be for you to guide students and parents in locating assistive technologies if needed.

  14. Use online discussion boards judiciously. Be careful not to rely on low level thinking and prompts that result in yes/no types of responses. This is probably the area that takes the greatest amount of practice for teachers new to online. Try to think about the types of questions used in a physical classroom that generate higher order thinking and are interesting to students.

  15. DO NOT resort to “post one, respond to two”  instructions for discussion boards. Seeing the same instructions consistently is mind-numbing for learners. You need purpose to online discussions just as you do in face-to-face counterparts. Try, the best you can, to be creative. Look for online resources on how to conduct online discussions. Or try out some video response tools such as Voicethread and Flipgrid to better imitate face-to-face classroom discussions.

  16. Be kind and compassionate. Students are going through the same trauma as you. Perhaps more so. Which means we should probably worry less about grades and more about meeting student needs at this time.

  17. Use the extensive experience and resources of your state supplemental online program (if you are lucky enough to have one). 

Remember to breathe and not forget the joy and purpose that teaching brings to your life and to those that you support. We will get back to normal, albeit a new normal, but normal none-the-less. And, if we are lucky, we will learn something new in the process. Perhaps how to reach that one child that was unreachable before, or how to better structure our class time so that each learner is given the attention they need, right when they need it. Technology is not a panacea, but it can help bridge gaps that we didn’t even know we had. Here are some resources that may help in the process of establishing the new normal….



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