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How teachers can prepare for successful distance learning this fall

(BPT) – The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most disruptive event in the history of K-12 education, closing 120,000 schools and affecting 55 million students in the U.S.

And educators have been challenged like never before. According to a survey commissioned by University of Phoenix, K-12 teachers often felt overwhelmed and under-supported. Teachers reported spending almost as much time prepping for virtual teaching (3.13 hours) as they spent actively teaching (3.97 hours), and less than half (47%) felt that available training was good or excellent.

Having too much information could be as taxing as not having enough, making it difficult to determine which tools were best. Forty-one percent of teachers felt overwhelmed by the many resources provided to help them navigate virtual learning.

During the next 90 days, schools and teachers will develop their resources for teaching this fall.

“Most schools are beginning their preparation by learning from what they experienced when schools closed — what were they prepared for, and more importantly, where they fell short,” says Pam Roggeman, dean of the college of education at University of Phoenix. “There are a number of learning and communication tools available that provide methods and space for education to happen, but tools are only as good as the teachers who are managing them.”

Roggeman offers tips for educators preparing for the upcoming year.

Conduct a needs assessment of yourself

“Before diving into the sea of free resources, apps, etc., first decide what you already know and then what you need to know to better serve the needs of your students,” advises Roggeman.

Stay positive, she says, and be open to adapting to changing needs and circumstances. Be willing to readjust plans when something isn’t working.

Learn from peers

Talk to colleagues, sharing notes about what worked this past term, and what didn’t. Explore articles and resources from educators who faced similar challenges.

“Tap into one of the best free resources — your peers,” says Roggeman. “Take this time to learn what sound distance learning looks like.”

Collaborate with administrators and school counselors to focus not only on teaching methods, but also supporting the mental wellness of students during this uncertain time.

Use resources designed in response to current circumstances

For example, the Virtual Teaching Academy, taking place June 26–July 1, is a free resource for K-12 educators, leaders and administrators who are seeking expert guidance and tangible insights on best practices for navigating the upcoming school year.

The Academy is hosted by The Alliance for Virtual Learning, a new initiative spearheaded by University of Phoenix and Blackboard — a leading education technology company for teaching, learning and engagement — that unites a network of educators, experts and administrators who are shaping the blueprint for new education models that combine the best of virtual and classroom teaching.

Virtual Teaching Academy attendees will acquire necessary insights to create a blueprint to help their schools and districts prepare for the uncertain school year ahead.

Create a plan to stay connected to parents regardless of technology access level

During this challenging time, parents and teachers rely on each other to educate their kids — the parent-teacher relationship is crucial for success of a child’s virtual education. Make a plan to stay connected with even the least technologically well-equipped homes.

“Technology is a tool for the educational process, not the answer to good distance learning,” says Roggeman. “Many districts are dealing with how to reach all students, which includes solving access issues such as no Wi-Fi in the home or homes whose only ‘screens’ are cell phones.”

Creative thinking is key to helping families bridge the digital divide. Find low-tech ways to deliver curriculum and feedback, using telephone and mail communication, television and books. Help parents find internet access and ways to use a cell phone to access content.

Focus on the needs of each student

Every student has a different home situation and unique learning needs, which requires teachers to approach virtual learning with flexibility and empathy. Despite distance, many of the same best practices apply as in-classroom teaching:

  • Connect with students
  • Give meaningful academic feedback
  • Diagnose learners’ individual needs
  • Address the needs of the “whole” child

Creating a plan for the upcoming school year is crucial in these uncertain times. By utilizing resources like the Virtual Teaching Academy and focusing on individual student needs, teachers can help students be more successful in their education — even at a distance.

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