7 leadership strategies to help teachers improve online learning

A new study offers advice on how instruction leaders can make remote learning more impactful and effective.
By: | January 1, 2021
Photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash

COVID-19 has created an additional set of challenges for instruction leaders as many districts transition to and attempt to maintain part- or full-time remote learning environments.

More than 75 math education leaders have shared ways that school systems can improve online learning in a study by Knowledgehook, an Instructional Guidance System that uses rapid formative assessment cycles to support math teachers.

While written for math leaders, the advice presented in the study can help administrators with any background or specialty. The report also includes solutions for transitioning from the classroom to the district office, implementing instructional change, and providing impactful PD.

Here are 7 ways instruction leaders can help teachers improve online learning during and after COVID-19.

Challenge #1: I am now expected to provide support and training for teachers going to remote learning and I’m not a tech expert.

Strategy: Not only are instruction leaders working on the traditional content-based professional development for teachers, but they also have to provide training and workshops on remote learning. This feeling of being overwhelmed by the technology can lead some to lose their way. Take it slow and realize it’s okay if you are not an expert. Find support from those who are tech-savvy.

Challenge #2: I find it challenging to help teachers improve student engagement on Zoom or Google Meetings.

Strategy: Students have a hard time showing up to and participating in class from home. There are also more physical and mental distractions at home. Students may also be struggling with emotional constraints, anxiety, or depression because of the toll the pandemic is taking on their personal lives, which affects their learning. In fact, teachers may be facing similar issues. It’s important for leaders to keep these considerations in mind when identifying ways to support both students and teachers in making the most out of this challenging situation.

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Challenge #3: I know that simply reproducing what is on paper to a device is a waste of creativity, but my teachers are having a hard time finding and using virtual learning tools as opposed to the hand-held learning tools. There are so many to choose from! Which tools work most effectively?

Strategy: Virtual representations of concrete objects offer exciting possibilities, but teachers who introduce the virtual representations of physical tools to students who have never used the physical tool before need to realize that these students may not fully comprehend the concepts that its virtual representation can demonstrate. Leaders and education researchers should continue searching for effective ways to use technological tools in support of students’ learning.

Challenge #4: My teachers are having a difficult time getting to know their students for the first time through a digital platform. They are also struggling with interacting with their students as well as fostering small- and large-group classroom discussions.

Strategy: Encourage teachers to share strategies with each other that they have seen increase personal contact and interactions in what might otherwise be a sterile, isolated environment.

Challenge #5: How do I mitigate skills gaps created from the initial school closures last March? Where did students leave off in their learning, and how much learning, if any, occurred at home afterwards?

Strategy: Many districts whittled down their curriculums to what they thought was the most vital content when they closed, while others sent home assignments hoping students would not lose everything typically done later in the year. Students are transitioning to a new style of learning, and some will pick it up quickly while others may struggle. Effective leaders continue working with teachers and each other to identify what students are lacking and how to best address those gaps, either individually or in whole classrooms.

More from DA: Hundreds of free K-12 resources during the pandemic

Challenge #6: My teachers want to get creative but don’t know what options their kids have at home. How much can my teachers ask of their parents? Can a teacher assign a listening activity? What if one child doesn’t have an adult at home to read to them? Can a teacher ask students to do certain things from home, such as go outside? What if it is not safe for a student to leave their home where they live?

Strategy: All of these questions reinforce the need for leaders to help teachers learn how to moderate their expectations, adjust assignments, and support students’ social-emotional learning in the face of this situation.

Challenge #7: I am working towards removing barriers in equity that dependence on technology creates, but I don’t know if the students in my district have access to the internet, a web-enabled device, or a printer.

Strategy: Some homes are low-tech, and leaders need to help teachers adjust their plans accordingly. But districts also have a responsibility to advocate for equitable learning conditions for all students, regardless of their socio-economic status. Reliance on technology for access to education during this pandemic has shined a spotlight on the immense digital divide between students with advanced devices and students with outdated technology or none at all. Access to technology is access to learning now, and schools, districts, stakeholders, parents, businesses and the community have a responsibility to create that access for every student.

You can view the full report, here.

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