[Ask an Educator] Back-to-School Tips from Virtual Teaching Pros

Jun 21, 2024
Shutterstock 1701920383 1

As the new school year approaches, the challenges of virtual learning days can seem daunting for those who are new to it. To help ease nerves, we reached out to some of our EdOptions Academy virtual teachers to gather their best practices for back-to-school success.

Their insights on setting classroom expectations, building relationships with new students, and general advice are invaluable. Check out their responses below to discover how these experienced educators set the stage for productive and engaging remote learning days.

Setting Expectations With Students and Parents

“I do it from the start. I send a welcome email with tips and expectations. Then, I follow up with a phone call. That verbal communication is important to back my words up with a real human. I let them know what I am looking for in the work, communication, and in the live Zoom sessions. Just like in the brick-and-mortar classroom, defining the expectations from the start will help the rest of the school year.”

Maggie Champlin, middle and high school virtual social science teacher, 10 years of virtual teaching experience

“At the beginning of a new school year, hosting virtual orientations is my go-to method for setting expectations. I use the gathering as a time to showcase tips for navigating the platform. Most importantly, the event is an opportunity to promote open communication by establishing a teacher presence.”

Natasha Sumner, secondary English teacher, 4 years of virtual teaching experience

“It’s really no different than it is in brick and mortar. I set rules and expectations just like any teacher would and send out the same communication that I would typically send home to my students and their parents, but in email form. That goes for when and how to submit assignments, how to reach me if they need help, and how to participate in live lessons. I even model many of my expectations by recording videos, like a screencast of how to submit an assignment. I have all of this information available on my website so that they can reference it at any time.”

Jennifer Parnell, CTE and social studies teacher, 6 years of virtual teaching experience

“I lay out expectations (for virtual learning) in clear language for students and parents. My go-to for this communication is bullet points versus paragraphs. This way, everyone knows exactly what they need to do to be successful on remote learning days.

When students do not meet expectations, I kindly and gently correct them. Remember, you are training them on how to use technology—not punishing them for doing something wrong. Teach them email etiquette and remind them to be timely in submitting assignments online.

It also helps to use language that reminds the students that I am on their team. It’s possible that some students will feel overwhelmed in a virtual learning environment. Let them know you have their back.”

Ashleigh O’Neill, math teacher, 11 years of virtual teaching experience

Activities That Encourage Online Engagement

“I opt for low-risk, community-building activities such as getting-to-know-you bingo, virtual scavenger hunts, and student-interest inventories. By hosting a variety of activities, I can institute a trusting community that bolsters student participation and engagement.”

Natasha Sumner

“I play games like bingo [or] go on virtual field trips to interesting places like the Louvre. I want to make a connection between the curriculum, emotional, and social development as that helps maintain engagement.”

Maggie Champlin

“There are lots of activities that I used in my brick-and-mortar days that can be modified and used in Zoom or Google [Meet video conferences]. One of my favorites is a scavenger hunt. You can always learn a little about a kid by what they choose when I tell them to go find and put on a hat—trust me. It’s a lot of fun; plus, it gives me a chance to learn a little about my students and them about their classmates.”

Jennifer Parnell

“I have a set time (think office hours) where I will be in an online classroom (a Zoom room) each day so that students and parents can pop in without needing to schedule an appointment. The key for this is to make sure you are using consistency in these schedules.”

Ashleigh O’Neill

Back-to-School Virtual Teaching Tips

“Do the icebreakers during the first session just like the traditional classroom during the first week of school. The students like this.! It creates a familiar space for them and helps them connect with you online. Use virtual games, virtual field trips—anything that creates an interactive live lesson—so you learn what your students like and dislike. The more you know about them outside of the classroom, the better your connection will be online with the students.””

Maggie Champlin

“Before the start of a school year, I typically revamp vital communications, such as my welcoming remote learning instructions and website. I scout resources to enhance ideas around rapport with students, instructional strategies, and content. Additionally, incorporating tools from summer professional development is a staple for my remote learning routine.”

Natasha Sumner

"Do as many of the same things that you do in person with your students virtually. Setting expectations, reviewing rules, and understanding how your students work is just as important in the virtual setting.”

Jennifer Parnell

“Give your students, your families, and yourself grace. Remember that you are in the trenches together. That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard and there won’t be frustrations, but you are all on the same team.”

Ashleigh O’Neill

“Remember that you know your content and are an exceptional teacher. Embrace learning new ways of delivery—I know it’s hard, but you can do it. Don’t forget to schedule breaks and wellness activities for yourself and your students. Just like you need brain breaks in the classroom, you will need them online. If you don’t know what to do in a situation, there are tons of people that want to help you. Google is your friend. Most importantly, breathe.”

Deanna Wright, special education teacher, 3 years of virtual teaching experience

Looking for more back-to-school tips? Get everything you need for back-to-school success with our Planning & Success Toolkit.

Get the latest education insights sent directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our Knowledge Articles