One of the most common struggles teachers faced in the last half of the 2019 – 2020 school year was effectively engaging their students through remote learning. This challenge can be attributed to several reasons given the rush to emergency distance learning schools were forced to implement, without a contingency plan in place. Teachers and students were ill equipped for the online learning environment, resulting in poor teacher-student engagement, and thereby causing a drop in student buy-in. With back-to-school planning underway, school-wide initiatives should not only include professional development designed to support teachers in building their teaching arsenal for online teaching, but it should also include the cultivation of a school community for teachers, students and families within the realm of virtual to ensure connectivity beyond plugging into technology.
As the new school year encroaches upon us, many teachers are still not prepared to face the challenge of effectively engaging their students online. After celebrating wins and reflecting on the process of the previous year, our team created some effective strategies that can help to encourage student attendance within a virtual learning environment.
Students will now need to choose school over all the other distractions and situations happening at home, and actively make the decision to attend and focus on their virtual classes. The question teachers will need to ask themselves during lesson planning is, “Why will students want to attend this lesson?”
Student choice is the first and most productive model as it is built upon finding the conduits that will encourage students to participate in classroom learning. The objective of the lesson and skill being taught must then be put into practice in a way that is engaging and seems worthwhile so that students will want to partake. Providing student choice provides students with a sense of ownership in their learning. They made the choice to log into class that day and now they have the choice on how to use their newly found knowledge.
Teachers from Two Rivers school in Washington, D.C shared with Next Generation Learning Standards that the pandemic stripped the opportunity of choice for students, and by adjusting instructional practices their teachers were instrumental in helping students harness their voice again. Whether it is how students learn or how they model their understanding, students must be provided with opportunities of choice to build a sense of value within the community.
Studies show that when students feel that they have a member of their school community that is invested in their future it contributes to an increase in student attendance. Making time for community-building while students are remote from the classroom environment is an essential part of supporting student academic success.
Advisory groups are a great way for students to connect with their peers and teachers in a structured environment, and an opportunity for schools to embed initiatives for social-emotional learning in addition to other student supports. Advisory groups can meet once a week for an extended period or for shortened periods throughout the week–either scenario creates a pathway for relationships to grow over time.
If possible, having advisory groups across grade levels is encouraged. Pairing students up with fellow students in a mentor relationship provides them with purpose; and as a mentor it will boost self-esteem when someone looks up to or depends on them. The commitment to someone else can help students’ internal drive to attend school.
This structure also allows teachers to gather data on student needs. Cultivating structured time to share what is going well and the challenges they are enduring with remote learning can help schools develop initiatives to better support students. This also provides an opportunity for peers to contribute ideas to tackle hurdles, and when the school reviews the data, they can act on trends to increase student performance and engagement.
When parents and guardians are overwhelmed, their children feel it. The pressure that families face in assisting with homeschooling has contributed to students’ disengagement. Teachers and schools need to spend as much time engaging families as they do their students.
Mineola High School, located on Long Island, New York, sent weekly mailers to families that covered a variety of topics. The mailer was designed to remind families they were not alone and inspired a sense of community that everyone was doing their best together. One of the most admirable parts about their letters was the dedicated online activities families could participate in across the district. Padlet boards on best movies to recommend by age group, creative ways to celebrate student achievements in their yards, providing opportunities for students to still run for class offices through virtual platforms and statements. These are all great practices schools can put together in an effort to engage families and keep them connected to their district community.
Whether students are fully remote in the fall, or completing a hybrid learning model, providing student choice, advisory groups, and family involvement will help to drive student attendance within the virtual learning environment.
Please be sure to join Clerisy’s team of Virtual Educators in September for a series of Live Professional Development Workshops centered around engaging students remotely. Plus, you can earn CEU/CTLE credits, along with additional benefits!