As all educators know, shifting from in-person instruction to virtual learning has created a moment in time that has required quick learnings and rapid iterations. As a former teacher leader and current Springboard employee, I’ve taken what I learned about constantly tweaking lessons based on student learning and applied this approach to instructional design. Here are four lessons learned about virtual learning that consider both of these lenses as we start the upcoming school year and beyond.

Lesson learned #1: Students’ social emotional well-being comes first and foremost.

The heart of education is relationships, and this traumatic time has further confirmed that students’ social emotional well-being comes first and foremost. As teachers, we must prioritize the well-being of the children and communities we serve. 

One way to do this is by incorporating wellness check-ins in your instruction. 

At Springboard, we start every lesson in our Learning Accelerator with a check-in. Give scholars time to connect with you and connect with one another to “talking out” the things they may be carrying in their head or in their heart. You are there to provide a source of non-judgemental support and to allow an open conversation where the scholars can discuss whatever may be going on in their life or something about them. 

When you check-in with students, consider providing scaffolded sentence starters with visuals. This provides an opportunity for students to pause and reflect on how they are feeling, as well as give teachers information that can help them support their students. After identifying how they are feeling, teachers can ask students to share something new, something they are proud of, or good things about themselves. The check-in could also be quick and simple as having students share an emoji about how they’re feeling! 

By holding space at the beginning of the lesson to check-in, teachers are able to build relationships and get to know students even in a virtual context.

Check out one of Springboard Collaborative’s check-in slides used in our Learning Accelerator program. 

Lesson learned #2: Student voice and choice matters for buy-in.

Student voice and choice are key for engaging children in the classroom and co-constructing knowledge together. By giving students a voice in their decisions, you are empowering them to take ownership of their learning. There are many ways teachers can utilize online platforms to provide opportunities for student choice. 

One strategy is using project and learning menus, especially for independent work time. Learning menus are a form of differentiated learning that allows students to self-select an activity that appeals to their learning style. You can create a choice board using Google Slides or Seesaw.  

Another way to incorporate student voice is by allowing students to determine how they can best represent their learning. For example, they can submit their learning in a written, audio, or video format. These options can be extended virtually by allowing formats such as Google Slides, Flipgrid and emojis for visuals, an audio recording for a podcast, or even TikTok videos! 

How have you provided choice in a digital world? 

Lesson learned #3: Families are our partners. 

Family engagement has always mattered, but distance learning has highlighted the urgency of this engagement. Pre-COVID, schools may have connected with some eager parents. Now more than ever, schools must leverage partnerships with ALL families to ensure they have everything they need for their children to learn.

This is an opportunity to reset the relationships between schools and families. One place to start? Incorporate more effective parent training events focused on explicitly teaching parents to teach their children. Senechal and Young (2008) conclude that training parents to teach their children to read is more than twice as effective as programs which encourage parents to listen to their children to read, and six times more effective than those which encourage parents to read to their children. 

At Springboard, we know  families are experts on their children, and teachers are experts on pedagogy. 

When teachers and families share their knowledge and expertise with each other, real learning becomes possible, even across the internet. 

This spring we utilized Facebook Live to host Family Workshop events. In our family workshops, families are encouraged to practice a bite-sized reading tip that helps their child grow as a reader. In virtual workshops, in addition to learning reading tips, families shared how their child was reading at home, giving the teachers invaluable formative assessment data. More importantly, families and teachers become real partners.

Lesson learned #4: Teacher communities are a source of support and guidance. This network can be expanded through virtual platforms. 

Last, the more socially distant we are the more important it becomes to stay connected. Here at Springboard, teacher communities are at the heart of our capacity-building approach. As part of our programming, we host weekly professional learning communities. In remote learning times, we have built on this collaborative foundation by partnering with “buddies.” “Buddies” are peer partners that learn from each other, but also can be a person to reach out to when you need support. It’s always great to have a peer you can reach out to who has the perfect GIF to send in times of need.

Another source of virtual peer support is our Springboard Collaborative Teacher Facebook Group. In this space, teachers can share resources, ask questions, and even celebrate successes! It’s an online equivalent to hallway conversations – and we’re always welcoming new faces.

These practices are lessons we learned during distance learning, and practices we plan on incorporating as we gear up to start the new school year strong. What lessons or tips have you learned? Share your ideas below, or tweet at us at @SpringboardNTL.