I have been an online teacher in a small, 9-12 online charter school for the past four years. I have grown immensely as a professional and learned new strategies and techniques throughout my transition to fully online. This list compiles the top 10 things that I have learned thus far as an online teacher that have resulted in successful terms.
1. Building intentional relationships with your students from the beginning is essential.
Online students need to feel a connection to their teacher and peers in order to be successful. When building a relationship online, your approach will be different as you do not see your students in front of you in a classroom. Share a photo of yourself or a video to help establish your presence as their teacher. Give some background about your hobbies and interests. Encourage your students to also share and introduce themselves early in the term to each other.
2. Students need a thorough orientation to the class, structure, and expectations.
An online course is very different from a traditional course. To help prepare students to be successful, they will need an orientation that includes how to navigate the learning management system, how to communicate with the teacher and peers, how to determine daily work load and expectations, and how to use any online tools needed.
3. Just because a student was born in a digital culture, does not mean they have the problem solving skills to adapt and learn new technologies on their own.
Students need scaffolding in learning how to use various technologies and online tools. Prepare training and lessons that have step by step directions for use early on in the term.
4. Be prepared to update your curriculum on a regular basis.
Links break, websites change, resources become outdated, and programs crash throughout the term. It is important to be flexible and aware that you will have to update these areas continually. In addition, you may find new tools or resources that would better cover your content.
5. Involve the parents of your students as much as possible.
In a K-12 online school, a partnership with parents, students, and teachers is key. Parents need to be present in the home where the student is completing the majority of their work. Parents need to help the student stay on task and monitor weekly submissions. Help cultivate this relationship from the beginning and show parents how their involvement will make a difference.
6. Provide your students with timelines or checklists.
It is easy to fall behind in an online class or to procrastinate. Timelines, deadlines, and checklists are an early intervention that can help prevent this. Give weekly checklists and deadlines, along with tips for organizing a day as an online student.
7. Give clear and specific feedback in a timely manner.
Feedback is your mode for encouraging and teaching a student one-on-one. Feedback should be specific and provide areas of strength, as well as, areas for improvement.
8. Incorporate digital citizenship lessons through out the year.
Spread digital citizenship and netiquette lessons throughout your curriculum. Do not limit it to one unit or one time. Students need regular guidance and reminding, as it is easy to make mistakes online that can’t be reversed.
9. Be open to texting.
When communicating with students, be open to sharing a texting number with your students and contacting them via text. I recommend using Google Voice, as this can be designated primarily for work related calls and texts. Students are more likely to reply to a text than a voice call.
10. Be prepared for communication on any day of the week, at any time of the week.
Online students do not necessarily understand boundaries, and may contact you during weekends or in the middle of the night. Establish boundaries right away and provide students with best contact numbers and emails, along with times of the day to be reached. Even with these boundaries, be prepared for the late night call or an assignment “emergency” on the weekend.