May 12, 2021


Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and
learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.


Year-End Tips for Maximizing Online Learning


When I overheard my son talking with his (remote) classmates about some of their challenges with online school, they spoke about where to find the hyperdoc for history; whether or not the science project was to be emailed or posted; and how different each teacher is in his/her expectation for office hours and advisory period. I now teach adult learners who can face the same challenges as these middle schoolers. We should all continue to try to build our skillfulness with online teaching and learning. Given that, I synthesized a few big ideas that can make the remote learning environment run more smoothly and more productively for you and your learners big and small, child and adult. 


3 Big Ideas

  1. Continue to Plan Engaging Learning Experiences.
    Paula Rutherford has always said, “The best classroom management plan is a strong instructional program.” No kidding! This has never been truer then in today’s remote and hybrid learning environments. For years, I have planned learning for young students, faculty meetings, and university students using the backward-planning model or Understanding by Design (UBD) made popular by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. In a nutshell, the method has three inter-related and important and sequential steps. Step 1: Identify what is important for students to know and be able to do. These are your state standards, district guides, faculty meeting objectives, or university course outlines. Step 2: Determine how you and the students will know if the desired learning has occurred. Assessments should be formative and summative, varied and rigorous. Step 3: Identify the learning experiences will you use to guide the learners to successful understanding. Like you, I have discovered that I am much more deliberate about planning in this remote setting and my clarity is critical to learner success. I do have some old favorites I use in Steps 2 and 3 that adapt well for remote instruction: text rendering, jigsaw, problem of practice, Think-Pair-Share, clock buddies, fishbowl conversations, Numbered Heads Together, and exit tickets work really well. If you need a primer on UBD, check out “Understanding by Design,” from Vanderbilt Center for Teaching by Ryan Bowen for a refresh, tips, templates, and tools.

  2. Review Procedures and Processes to Ensure That They Minimize Distractions and Keep Everyone Organized.
    I have been looking for ways to greet my students by name as they enter the (Zoom) room, as I would do in-person at the door. A colleague suggested a start of (synchronous) class activity that gave time to greet my students. He finds an image or a quote that relates to the asynchronous work already completed and ties it the current class content/conversation and posts it on his shared screen. After he personally greets his students at the door, they enter and find the image or quote to respond to. For the image, he has them write a caption. For the quote, he asks why it is meaningful to this class. I have another friend who asks students to include in their virtual background, some part of the assignment due. For example, they may take a photo of a thinking map and install is as their background. Routines and procedures should be agreed upon in teams so that students are not learning each teacher’s preference. This can maximize learning time and reduce frustration. Have a clear schedule that starts and ends on time–always. Create and teach your signal to get students’ attention. Zineb Djoub offers some great tips in this article titled “4 Tips to Get Students’ Attention in Online Learning.” Summary: To get your students’ attention online, try to move, use non-verbal communication or signals, help them experience different interactions and learn through, and think about them when they need a rest or break. I’m going to try playing a piece of music to get attention.

  3. Confirm That Expectations Are Clear and Consistent. 
    If you are not sure, ask the students. As with in-person teaching, you must set expectations for your students (and teachers). My biggest aha these few months has been my need to create clearly labeled folders for distributing work and then clearly labeled folders and procedures for turning work in and then showing students how to access the folders. Doing this as a team with agreement is really like us all asking students to head papers the same way or to organize binders in a same specific manner. If we look at our quirks from a student’s perspective (and now in full view of parents) it’s rather selfish and silly for each teacher to want something different and expect the child, teenage, or overwhelmed parent brain to remember.  Another big learning for me is to make better use of my office hours. I now use them for small group meetings, conferences, and a monthly team building event. I answer questions related to assignments via email if possible. I am able to schedule my small groups and conferences using Catlin Tucker’s idea of a playlist “Blended Learning: Building a Playlist or choice boards as described by third grade teacher Kristin Yann in “Using Choice Boards During Remote Learning.”   


Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results… in short, the best designs derive backward from the learnings sought.” 
― Grant Wiggins


If you do decide to inform someone of a mistake, point it out politely, and preferably by private email rather
than in public

– Virginia Shea, Author of Netiquette


1 Question

Watch John Spencer’s brief video “Feedback and Trust Grid.” How do we continue to build rapport, earn student trust, and maintain a productive learning environment?




About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Marymount University. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.










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