engaging with online learning


Here’s a secret about educators—most of us are control freaks. 

We love setting up our classrooms, making everything just so. We love our online or paper planners and organizers, we love seeing a room full of students in their assigned seats, doing their assigned tasks. When we don’t have these things, we get teacher anxiety! 

The loss of control brought about by response to the ongoing pandemic has been HARD. Our local school leaders may not have answers, or their answers keep changing, and in turn we don’t have definitive answers for our students and their parents. 

As many districts and families have opted for either full or hybrid online learning this semester, we’ve heard reports of teachers (and school districts) scrambling to deal with that terrifying “I don’t have control” feeling by imposing rules. Rules that can’t possibly be enforced. Rules that don’t accommodate the real-life needs of families and teachers. Rules like no eating on camera, no pets on camera, even no bathroom breaks during class at home!

Embrace New Freedoms with Online Learning

We can deal with our anxiety by embracing the new freedoms that come with online learning. For a teacher working from home that could mean professional attire on top, pajama pants on the bottom. For kids that could mean having their pet dog curled up by their feet giving comfort and support as they work through a hard math problem. The online classroom thankfully doesn’t have to exactly mirror the physical classroom. Some of those necessary tactics used to impose order, like bathroom passes, can be set aside. Virtual classrooms flatten the power dynamic—letting teachers and students see each other as human beings with family interruptions and messy rooms and the need for an occasional snack.

Simplifying Online Lessons

The recommendation to streamline and simplify lessons to keep students engaged online can apply to our virtual classroom management, too. In the teaching of language, an applied grammar task prompts students to create and combine sentences instead of simply  recalling which parts of sentences are modifiers or predicates or objects. An application task is always more engaging than analysis, and the payoff shows up in increased student performance. An applied approach to teaching language boosts both written expression and reading comprehension scores. As we watch students create mature language patterns, it’s easy to see how sharing control gives students more ownership of and engagement with their learning.

Create Rule to Engage Online Learning

You have probably invited students to help come up with a list of classroom rules or agreements to streamline or engage online learning. They often come up with a way longer and more restrictive list  than anything you had in mind, which would  require of you control on steroids! No matter our age, we all share the impulse to impose control and create order, and it’s tough to get it right. Hard as it might be, our task now is to be flexible in our virtual classroom management and learn to live with some level of ambiguity as our country and our world weathers the pandemic together.

As you launch into teaching this fall, remember that you are learning too—to challenge teacher anxiety around control and  recognize new freedoms as we build ways to virtually learn and be together.