Virtual Teaching Best Practices

Julie, Head of Content and Curriculum for TeacherVision, draws on her own virtual teaching experience to share the tips and strategies for success.

Updated: April 1, 2019

tips and tools for virtual teaching success

When you first begin teaching virtually, you may realize that it requires new and additional skills. You will learn as you teach, but it can be helpful to know some virtual teaching best practices prior to your first online teaching job. I was a virtual instructional coach for two years. I met with 70 teachers twice a month for 30 minutes, and all of our coaching work was done online through Zoom, a video conferencing platform. Many of the tips and strategies I share below come directly from my own virtual teaching experience.

We partnered with VIPKid to bring you all the virtual teaching best practices that you need so that your online lessons run smoothly, and you begin your classes with a set of virtual teaching best practices in your toolbox. For more resources about online teaching, make sure you check out our online teaching hub.

Test Your Equipment

Technology doesn’t always work. A spotty internet connection or a frozen computer screen can derail the lesson when you are teaching online. When I was a virtual instructional coach, I started each day by testing all of my equipment before I met with teachers. This way, if my microphone wasn’t working or my computer battery was low, I could troubleshoot and fix any challenges before my teaching began.

Bring Self-Awareness To Your Body Language and Expressions

It can feel more challenging to connect with a student across a computer screen. Your body language conveys to your student that you are present and engaged in the lesson or you aren’t. If someone rings your doorbell while you are teaching, and you turn your head away from the screen or get up out of your seat, that will likely distract both you and your student. Make sure that your face is facing your student, and that you are nodding your head, using your hands, and making positive facial expressions to show your student that you are right there with him. Because of the importance of body language to convey meaning, especially when teaching language, VIPKid shares resources with their teachers about incorporating Total Physical Response (TPR).

Say Your Student’s Name

One of my favorite virtual teaching best practices is to say my student’s name throughout the lesson. This can be especially helpful in developing a connection with your student. When you say your student’s name at the end of a sentence, he knows that you are present and engaged in the lesson and that the experience is truly tailored to him.

Turn Off Your Notifications

It can be very distracting when you are listening to a student’s question and just when you are about to respond, a notification pops up on your computer screen or you computer makes a sound signalling that you have received an email. Before you begin your online classes, make sure that you snooze or turn off notifications, which can distract both you and your student.

Eliminate Interruptions

If you are teaching online at home, it is likely that someone else might be there too. Maybe you have children or roommates. Maybe you are expecting a package delivery or your neighbor mentioned she might drop by to return some books she borrowed from you. When you work at home, it can be more challenging to set boundaries that separate working from being at home. If an electrician is coming to your house or you know your children will be playing near your work space, don’t schedule online classes during that time or ask a friend, your partner or your mom to be at home to make sure you aren’t interrupted. Maybe your dishwasher is really loud or your roommates are planning to have friends over. In either case, communicate your schedule ahead of time to avoid unnecessary interruptions. It can help to have a dedicated space for your teaching, and because it’s online, you often don’t need much space.

Always Have a Plan B

A long silence can feel especially uncomfortable in a virtual setting. The screen freezes or the internet connection drops and you’ve lost your student. If your student doesn’t know what to do when this happens, it could derail your lesson. It can be helpful to have a plan B for when issues arise, and let your student know what to do when those issues come up. Be patient and know that sometimes with technology there will be challenges outside of your control. Do your best to have a backup plan and communicate it clearly.

Take A Screen Break

When you are teaching in a classroom you are up on your feet, and you are rarely looking at a computer screen. In order to maintain your health, make sure that you take a break from your computer in between online classes or when your teaching ends. Get up and move around as you will be seated while you are teaching (or some online teachers alternate with a standing desk too). Rest your eyes so you don’t strain them. It can be helpful to set reminders on your computer or phone to pause and take screen breaks. These virtual teaching best practices will set you up for success and make your online teaching run smoothly. For additional resources on online teaching best practices, visit our online teaching hub.

What are your tips and tools for virtual teaching? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Julie Mason is the Head of Curriculum and Content for TeacherVision. She taught middle and high school English for eight years, and then worked as an instructional coach, supporting K-12 teachers to blend and personalize their classrooms. She has a BA in English from Connecticut College, and an MA in English Education from New York University.

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