Distance Learning: 5 Tips for Educators Adjusting to School Closures

Teacher engaging with students online during distance learning lesson
Young woman having video call via laptop in the office

Who could have guessed that an institution as old as school could just…shut down? And yet, here we are. Schools across the nation have closed their doors due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. Officials in many states are predicting that school closures will continue through the remainder of the school year. Some might call it a crisis. And in usual superhero fashion, educators everywhere have responded to the challenge- becoming distance learning professionals practically overnight.

In the past two weeks, educators have tackled the issues around school closures and disrupted (in a good way) the education system as we know it to provide distance learning opportunities for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meeting the challenge has not been easy. If you find yourself having a hard time adjusting or are just looking for some tips and tools to add to your arsenal, you are not alone. Check out our top 5 tips for keeping cool and supporting students during COVID-19 school closures.  

Tip #1: Check-In

Check-in with students and colleagues on professional and personal levels

This first tip almost goes without saying…but we’ll say it anyway. In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, part of the silver lining of COVD-19 is that people all over the country are remembering what it means to check-in on each other. Social media is buzzing with all of the neighborly activity and we are loving it.

As we check-in with our families and friends, let’s also remember to check-in on our colleagues and students. All of us respond differently to the pressures of social isolation, taking on a new task like distance learning, and protecting the health of our loved ones. Check-in with your colleagues to be a support to them both professionally and personally.

Similarly, we need to check-in with students on personal and academic levels. Students may not always know how to express it, but the adults at their school are an important part of their lives. Social distancing may feel like a loss to them, so remind them that you are there (virtually). Additionally, the concept of homeschooling is new to many students. They may require assistance with pacing their activities and assignments, learning where they can access support and resources, time management, and more. Now is a great time to work with students to help them build or strengthen their independent learning skills!

Tip #2: Build Community

Build Community with parents and colleagues by building rapport and being a resource for distance learning

It may sound strange, but distance learning gives us a unique opportunity to build community with some of our student’s families and colleagues that we haven’t been able to connect with as much or as well as we would have liked to in the past.

For example, calling or emailing parents simply to ask how they are doing during this time can go a very long way in building rapport and trust in you and the school. Share resources for academic and social wellbeing during this difficult time. You can also poll families on what types of supports they could use as your partner in homeschooling and distance learning. This type of parent input can be an important data point in your school’s ongoing planning and service efforts.

Additionally, if there are particularly vulnerable students or families you work with, checking-in on them is that much more important. Do your best to connect them to resources that can help them satisfy some of their more basic needs, like food, during this time when financial instability is rising. Doing so can help relieve some of the mounting pressures that families are facing as unemployment rises and other uncertainties loom.

Also, if you find yourself with some spare time on your hands, check in with some colleagues that you haven’t connected with in a while. Taking the steps to rebuild or strengthen relationships now will likely lead to a more cohesive staff when schools reopen.

Tip #3: Collaborate

Collaborate with colleagues across grades and departments to improve student supports

Educators are pretty stellar at this! Keep up the good work, virtually. With the increased flexibility in our days because of distance learning, this is the perfect time for more collaboration across the grades and collaboration between general education and special education teams. While the immediate focus of collaboration will undoubtedly be about how to serve students now, when the dust settles, turn your attention to issues that you may not have as much time focus on under usual circumstances. For instance, collaborate on how to improve inclusion or your co-teaching model. Consider cross-grade collaboration to strengthen your team’s ability to differentiate instruction. Make space for teacher-counselor/school psychologist collaboration to discuss how to strengthen RtI, MTSS, or SEL programs.

Tip #4: Engage

Support students social and emotional wellbeing

We all recognize how important it is to keep our kids learning during this time. But it’s equally important to engage them socially. Our students are not just feeling boredom during school closures. Many are also feeling anxiety and sadness. Missing out on seeing friends or attending much-anticipated events like field trips and dances can feel devastating. In addition to providing academic guidance and resources, try to dedicate some of your online time with your students to support their social needs.

For example, have a class meeting to see how everyone is doing and how they are passing the time. Have a class “party” to celebrate getting through each week of social distancing and distance learning. Host an optional book club. Create a fun challenge. Lead a P.E. class. Have a spirit week (crazy hair day, anyone?). Go crazy! Your students will appreciate it and their parents will be grateful that you brought a bit of joy to their child during these crazy times.

Tip #5: Reflect

Take care of yourself

Educators are really good at taking care of the needs of others. But during this time, don’t forget to take care of you. For a few minutes each day, take time to reflect on your experience during this time and determine what needs you have and how you can meet them. Feeling anxious or worried? Try talking to a friend or engaging in mindfulness practices. Feeling isolated? Connect with friends for a virtual “happy hour”. Feeling overwhelmed with home and work literally being in the same place? Go for a drive or a long walk.

Above all else… keep up the good fight! We don’t know how long the school closures will last and with so much outside of our control, let’s focus on the things we do have control over.  Check-in with those important to you and build new social connections with parents and colleagues. Strengthen your collaboration efforts and take the time to take care of you! All of this will help us come out stronger, together, at the end of this.

Next week we will be sharing tips specifically on how to strengthen distance learning instructional practices and we would love to hear from you. Take this short survey to share what you are doing that is working well so we can get the word out to others. Sharing is caring!

Have other thoughts for how to build a solid distance learning foundation? Share them in the comments section and engage with us on social media!