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Inspired Ideas

Start Strong in the Remote School Year

Five Instructional Shifts Teachers Can Make


… and school is starting, no matter what else is going on around us. Students will come to our virtual classrooms possessing talents and attributes worth celebrating, as well as worries and concerns from the past few months. To nurture our students well, we must first nurture ourselves as teachers and as humans.

  • Be forgiving in the schedule you set for yourself. Take small “chunked” breaks throughout the day to give your eyes that much-needed rest from the computer screen.
  • Celebrate something new you learned or tried for the very first time! It may have not gone perfectly, but that’s okay… you were brave and made the attempt! Find the celebration in the small successes. Consistent, small changes over time can lead to great transformation.

1) Content Will Come

Teachers know that the more time they spend upfront discussing classroom rules, routines, and procedures, the less likely they are to have interruptions during instruction throughout the year. The same is true for a digital classroom; however, due to the recent shifts in the instructional setting, our rules, procedures and expectations should also shift.

In addition to students mastering the digital tools during back-to-school, we must take our time and be extremely intentional when laying the groundwork for our new learning environment.

Expectations regarding digital citizenship, webinar etiquette, establishing the learning setting, and daily structure should be clearly communicated and practiced during the first few weeks of school. Having more specific conversations about completing pre-class assignments, how to handle learning obstacles during asynchronous time, as well as what feedback might look like, are all now appropriate and necessary conversations to have.

2) Explore It, Discover It, Share It

Allowing students the opportunity to explore and discover can transform the learning trajectory, pacing, as well as the class climate and attitudes of our learners. Remember when you received your first smartphone? How did you learn to use it? No doubt it was at your own pace, on your own path, with choice in what you learned, and you discovered things on your own, creating a better “hold” of the information.

  • “What do you notice?”
  • “What did you discover?”
  • “What was your favorite part (or the most difficult part)?”
  • “What do you still wonder about it?”
  • “What could you use this for in your daily learning?”

3) Flip the Script

Decipher all the elements that are a priority (think priority standards) in your first week or two of CONTENT.

Teachers have found that when students come to class, having had their first exposure to a concept via a short video, more class time is freed up for interacting, enrichment activities, projects, intervention, and small groups.

It can be even more beneficial for our striving learners as well as ELLs. If we can send them short, digital tutorials that explain the concept upfront, we are ultimately giving students control and putting them in the driver’s seat. Students can revisit, slow down, pause, and reflect.

4) The Digital Assessment Dynamic

Digital Assessments add an additional demand to this remote learning dynamic. Consider taking anecdotal data during your virtual small groups or conferencing while in your first unit of content. You will need this informal data, because, as explained below, giving a digital test the first several weeks of school can literally undo all the progress you just made with practices 1–3.

5) Model, Model, Model

Model, model, model. We can’t expect our learners to be completely digitally savvy, and not be savvy ourselves.

Sharing your screen should be a regular practice, but make sure to invite students in to “share the mouse” with you, so it doesn’t become a stagnant, one-way, “sit and get” exercise.

Teaching digitally does NOT automatically mean the lesson will be interactive and engaging. Getting their attention and holding it, even for a ten-minute remote lesson, is going to be the most important layer to all of this — and the most challenging! If you can engage them well, they will feel safe, motivated, and accountable, which will be replicated in their retention!

For more on how to start strong this school year, and for detailed examples of each of these five strategies in practice, download the guide below!



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McGraw Hill

McGraw Hill


Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.