Written by: April Vargo
When I initially sat down to write this blog I thought about the topic of remote / live, virtual teaching from a Covid pandemic side. I realized that this pandemic has taken up way too much space in people’s lives and has been an easy scapegoat for certain short comings.
The truth is remote teaching was a thing way before Covid even happened. It has been a proven and successful method for both teachers and students. The problem is that it wasn’t the mainstream or common way to learn, and then when it hit the masses it received all types of backlash from the general public because there wasn’t time to train or master the processes and tools. It’s become this messy / half-assed platform that creates irritation for parents, students, and teachers.
However, imagine the narrative changed. Imagine you look at this from a positive light, and genuinely get pumped to reach your students in a new way. How could that impact the way you teach, the way your students learn, and the way you relate to your students’ parents?
Instead of fighting remote teaching, or thinking that it’s just going to go away once Covid goes away, start thinking about how you can embrace it and bring your skills to your students in a different application.
You already completed the heavy lifting that set you up to be a teacher. You learned the technique and pedagogy, you mastered your content, you learned effective and creative ways to deliver information to a wide demographic of students with a variety of learning backgrounds, and you teach regardless of support from parents and administration. Now all you have to do is change the location.
The truth is you’re letting a location hinder your ability to teach. Just because you’re not physically in front of students, doesn’t mean you’re not still in front of students. Just because you can’t move about a classroom, doesn’t mean you can’t engage each student in your class. I’ve actually found that teaching behind a camera opens you up even more. Students are looking directly at you, at your facial expressions, your dynamic personality, and any materials you chose to show in class can be shared on their screens for them to interact with.
Is there a difference from being in front of someone and behind a screen, absolutely! Does it have to feel cold and disconnected, absolutely not! The feeling of your classroom is your choice and directly how you chose to set it up and execute your lessons.
I started teaching remotely in 2016. I took the opportunities to interview teachers who had used this application before me - what worked, what didn’t, what technology they used, and how they became successful and proficient. I then took my first year in business to refine my teaching processes, and learn what I liked and what I didn’t like. I learned how to take lessons I loved in the physical classroom and apply them to the virtual classroom, I learned how to provide my students with learning tools that gave them a better opportunity for success and practice outside of my classroom, I communicated with parents and included them as a part of my team, and I related to my students as an equal instead of a subordinate.
Even though I wasn’t being tracked by a school I documented my own successes, kept my own data, and self reflected. I found that my students were successful both in and out of the classroom, they felt supported and intrinsically motivated, and they reached both their own goals and mine.
If you attend one of my classes, whether it be private lessons or group classes this is what you can expect (anyone trying to implement these into their own teaching environments would scale these ideas based on the number of students in your class):
1. My students are required to have their cameras and microphones on
- I want us all to be able to see each other, make eye contact, and communicate
- Teaching performing arts I need to be able to see everything they’re doing so I can give appropriate and specific feedback
- I want their microphones on, so when group discussions happen they can jump right in - remember this is a group effort, not the teacher as a dictator and the student as a subject
- If I give private practice time or it’s performance day, then the microphones are muted
2. I take a few minutes every class to say hi, how was your week, what was something good that happened this week?
- Students need to feel like they can connect to you, like you genuinely care about them, and that you’re invested in their lives inside and outside of the classroom
- From a teaching perspective, if you know what’s going on with them you can draw connections to other issues or hurdles they may have in your class…..things happening in their own lives will absolutely impact the work they do for you
3. I recap what we did last week and explain what we’ll be doing during this particular class
- If it’s a private lesson, I’ll ask if they had any issues from last week to this week as they practiced, anything I should be listening for, or questions that I can help with off the bat
- If it’s a group class, we’ll present information from last week to this week and discuss any questions or issues that arose from the assignment
- New information will be presented
- We’ll run through the new information / perform the new sections of the piece and then put it together with the older sections
4. Emails or group messages will be sent to parents at the end of class
- I recap everything we talked about during class, all of the positives that happened, and any hurdles the students overcame
- I send a detailed practice or homework list of what should be accomplished between this class and next
- Any links with accompaniments, scripts, PDF’s, etc are sent to parents so that students can practice / complete the homework assignments
- If it’s a group class, the video from that day is sent to parents, so if anyone misses class or has questions they can watch the class from that day
After 15 years as a teacher (8 in person and almost 7 remotely) I have learned a lot and had ample opportunity to refine my processes. I found what I like, what I don’t like, and what works for me.
The biggest advice I can give to any teacher is to go back to the basics, and by this I mean remember why you’re a teacher. It’s simple - it’s to help the students succeed and reach their goals. You don’t have a job without your students, if you learn who your students are and what they truly need, you can take your content and modify it to meet their needs.
You need to truly enjoy what you’re doing, make learning fun, and make the students want to be in your class. When the students are happy the parents are happy, when the parents are happy everyone is happy. Parents will be your biggest advocates or your biggest advisories - you can’t blame them, you are in charge of the things they love most in this world.
In a few short week’s I’ll be holding a one night workshop for teachers that will cover the following using the format I outlined above:
- How to bring your passion to teaching remotely
- Finding your secret sauce
- Building a bond with students and parents
- Answering your questions / Troubleshooting (Anyone who is enrolled will be able to submit a question / issue they’re having and I’ll make sure to address it within the class itself)
If you’re interested in attending please fill out your name and email address here. More information about date, times, and cost will follow.