There is so much uncertainty about what school will look like in the Fall. Will we wear masks or no masks? Will students attend school in alternating in-person days, via online learning, or will we create some kind of hybrid of the two? Teachers are doing their best to be prepared for any back to school scenario, but with so many unknowns, summer planning can be a challenge! Instead of spending time planning units, building curriculum, and organizing materials for Plan A (which may or may not happen), we encourage you to focus on tasks that can serve your students’ needs no matter which plan your district opts for– Plan A, B or even G!
The actions we’ve laid out below will help guide your summer planning so that it feels productive and useful. You’ll have plans in place to ensure that your classroom runs smoothly and students feel connected in their new online or in-person classroom. So take a deep breath, do yourself a favor, and focus on what you CAN DO in the midst of the uncertainty.
1. Evaluate the lessons learned from distance learning in the Spring.
So now that you have a few months of distance learning under your belt, what did you learn? What big takeaways do you want to carry over into next year should “distance learning 2.0” come into play? Sit down and make a list of your top 5 “ahas.” Then, begin thinking about what you’ll need to make each “aha” a reality. For example, if you learned that recorded lessons worked really well with students, think about ways you can head into next year with added enhancements like using a virtual whiteboard or embedding questions through EdPuzzle.
2. Try out some new teacher tools you want to implement.
Build your digital toolkit over the summer by exploring those tools your techie colleagues were using. Pick 2-3 tools that are:
- Versatile (can be used for multiple purposes and/or subjects)
- Simple (basic enough for students to use with little support from teacher or parent)
- Scalable (can be used in increasingly complex ways as students grow more comfortable)
Check out this list of our favorite Digital Tools for Online Learning and start exploring!
3. Plan for online and offline relationship-building activities.
Whether online or in-person, relationships are the key to building and sustaining a positive learning environment. One way that you can prepare for back to school is by looking at your first 20 days with a new lens. Which community building activities can be tweaked to work in either scenario? What actions can you put in place to get to know students and families from a distance? What digital tools are available to facilitate positive peer-to-peer and student-teacher interactions? Here are a few great ideas we’ve gathered to get you thinking:
- Using Morning Messages to Start the Day in Distance Learning
- 3 Strategies to Build a Positive Classroom Culture
- Supporting Students’ Social-Emotional Needs
4. Adjust your classroom management for the virtual space.
For many, the online learning environment has been so different that we feel like first-year teachers again! Success in your online classroom means taking a new approach to management. While you wait for more information on what kind of schooling your district will offer in the fall, take some time to outline some of the management lessons you learned (some of us learned the hard way) and consider your solutions for addressing them. The article, Extending Classroom Management Online, offers nine great tips for proactive classroom management strategies.
5. Determine essential student skills to nurture.
As you look back on distance learning, who were the students that thrived, and what skills did they exhibit that helped them succeed? Make a list of student skills that you believe are necessary for making it in the blended or online environment. Once you’ve finished your list, think about how you can scaffold these skills for students beginning Day 1. What lessons can you develop or resources can you provide, and how might you build these crucial skills to minimize struggle? Here’s our shortlist of foundational online skills:
- Time management
- Organizing assignment due dates
- Understanding directions
- Asking for help
- Composing an email to a teacher
- Managing technical difficulties
With these 5 tips for back-to-school planning, you’ll be well prepared for whatever form classrooms take in the Fall. Now give yourself some grace and make the best of what’s left of summer vacation!
If you just can’t stay away from the classroom and need some additional support to feel prepared, take a look at 3 great courses offered through Teaching Channel to build your online teaching skills: