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  • Stacey Benz

What is Distance Learning? And, How to Navigate It Successfully

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

What is Distance Learning?

Distance Learning is an education term that has become quite familiar since the spring of 2020. While there was hope from many that K-12 distance learning would be short-lived and get us through the end of the 2020 school year, we continue to access online distance learning as a full-time option and in emergency situations during the 2021-22 school year.

Over the past eighteen months, school-aged students, teachers and families have quickly learned that online distance learning is physically learning away from the school, classroom, teacher and classmates. Students are often completing their learning at home, day care or within small learning pods. Teachers and students connect synchronously via web platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet and Webex, and utilize online learning platforms to submit assignments.

What is distance learning to students, and family? Distance learning has required teachers, students and families to pivot almost everything they know about school to ensure that students’ needs are met, academically and social-emotionally. This has come with great challenges and difficulties for some, and has required flexibility and creativity to engage students in remote learning.

Teaching Tips for Distance Learning

Continue to do what you do best! As a teacher, you know the importance of connecting with your students. This hasn’t changed! As a matter of fact, building positive relationships has become more critical to ensuring your students will engage in their academic virtual learning. Building relationships with your students can be done in several ways:

  • Create a consistent schedule that includes morning (or afternoon) meetings that provide students with the opportunity to greet each other, share important news, play games together, and give a sneak peek into the learning activities for the day.

  • Offer students opportunities to check-in with you individually or with small groups.

  • Consider “lunch groups” that give students the chance to virtually eat lunch with you and with peers.

  • Send meaningful feedback to students on assignments and reach out to parents/guardians with positive messages.

  • Offer opportunities for students and families to reach out with concerns and also to share successes – creating an experience that builds strong home/school connections.

How Can Teachers Continue to Engage Students in a Distance Learning Environment?

Again, creating positive relationships with students increases the likelihood students will attend synchronous lessons. As you begin your day, create a “hook” that encourages students to return later in the day to find the prize/learning. Provide opportunities for students to be active in their learning – use breakout rooms and tools like Flipgrid. Remember that synchronous learning is not the same as being in the classroom, which means creating shorter sessions of focusing on the teacher and screen, and more opportunities for students to collaborate or work independently. Ask your students – what is distance learning to you? Or what ideas do you have for us as we learn together? Capitalize on student voice and experience by creating exit tickets that will give you insight into your students’ learning but also their ideas into impacting learning experiences for future lessons.

How to Create the Optimal Distance Learning Classroom Environment

You know your style and what has worked for you in your classroom in the past, so creating an optimal online distance learning workspace is important, too. Some teachers have the ability to continue to teach from their physical classroom during distance learning, while others are unable to do so, or opt to work from home. Finding a space in your home that offers you the ability to teach in a quiet area, be able to stay organized, and to post a few “school” related items that are visible to students might be helpful. Be creative – some teachers work out of a large walk-in closet, a home office, the laundry room, the basement or the kitchen table. But, wait!! Now your work is there 24/7 and that can be both a positive and a negative. Find a way to walk away from your teaching day to take care of yourself, too. Set a schedule to connect with a friend, family member or neighbor to take a walk, go for a bike ride, or connect virtually. Consider adding yoga or mindfulness throughout your day – a ten to fifteen minute break is not only good for your mind, but also your health.

Understandably, learning has been interrupted for students in the past year and a half. This can be difficult for teachers that are concerned about the content gaps in student exposure, learning and mastery. Recently, it has been suggested that ensuring student access to grade level content is critical. Resist the temptation to spend great amounts of time on standards and skills from previous years, and instead support students with mini-lessons to fill learning gaps that will allow them to access and complete grade level skills and standards.

Twin Cities Education Consultants (TCEC) is here to help – no matter the learning environment this year. We have impactful distance learning programs just for your school.

Our staff members are able to design, support and collaborate with your school or district to ensure students, staff and parents have what they need for a successful year with our distance learning programs:

  • Virtual Counseling/telehealth

  • Academic/Behavioral/Social Emotional student supports

  • Social Emotional Learning Curriculum

  • Instructional Coaching supports for teachers and staff

  • Modeling for teachers, students, parents/guardians

  • Online parent sessions on topics determined by your site

  • Have an idea? Reach out – we would be happy to partner with you!

No doubt, the work of teachers and school staff this year will continue to require creative thinking, flexibility, determination, and an ongoing belief that students will succeed despite the challenges presented during the pandemic. TCEC is committed to ensuring your scholars are given every opportunity to succeed and grow and our expert educators and providers are ready to support your school community, whether in-person, hybrid or distance learning. TCEC will go the “distance” to ensure your students and staff have the tips and support they need to provide the best learning experience for your school community.

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