Six Steps to Improve Your Online and Blended Instruction

Blog post by Scott Warren, Division Director, Making Schools Work

“I just saw where we will have kids in class only two days a week and the rest will be virtual. I don’t think I can handle it.”

“All students will be online to begin the year… I cannot go through what happened this spring again.”

I saw comments like these in an online teachers’ forum when districts began issuing their school reopening plans. Although reactions like these are common, there’s no need to panic. 

SREB has identified effective strategies that teachers, schools and districts can use as they plan to offer online, blended or hybrid learning this fall. The following six steps are built into our new workshop, Engaging Students in a Blended Instructional World. You’ll find more helpful considerations and planning tools in SREB’s K-12 Education Recovery Task Force Playbook.

Attitudes will be the key to success this fall.

  1. Shift attitudes. Most teachers and students spent the spring in “remote emergency review” mode. Many districts established a “no new learning” policy. Equity and access concerns led some districts to limit their expectations for participation. Grading policies were relaxed. Some students saw this as, “I don’t have to participate.”

    Attitudes will be the key to success this fall. When schools reopen, teaching and learning new content is a must. Districts, schools and teachers need to be extremely clear about expectations for participation and mastery — and to share those expectations in emails, calls, text messages, letters, social media posts, media announcements, newsletters, websites and more.

  2. Teach the technology — intentionally. Many years ago I learned a saying: “Go slow to go fast.” After losing so much instructional time this spring, we may feel pressed to play catch-up. But the opposite is needed. Go slow. Make sure students and parents understand the technology they’ll use. Intentionally plan lessons that focus on using technology. School leaders should bring teacher teams together — by grade level, academy or department — to develop and present instruction. Collaboration ensures we use the same processes and tools in the same way. Create YouTube or TikTok-style videos that introduce technology. Share them on your school website and social media channels!

  3. Use a common platform districtwide. This spring, I heard many parents say they had to juggle too many passwords, programs and websites for each of their children in different grades. Ideally, districts should have a common learning management system for all students. No shared LMS? Ensure that teachers use a common platform like Zoom, Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to reduce the frustrations of students and parents.

  4. Adapt your curriculum to facilitate ongoing learning. This step involves addressing spring learning loss and reorganizing the curriculum to fit online, blended or hybrid settings. Most states and districts have established expectations for identifying and addressing learning loss. Don’t try to start where learning ended — you’ll never catch up. Instead, look for where the curriculum revisits past content or standards and provides opportunities to address lost learning.

    Second, districts and schools need to engage in curriculum adaptation, in which teachers and leaders identify what content needs to be taught face-to-face, online (in real-time or asynchronously), or using either format. SREB offers districts and schools professional learning and coaching for reorganizing course content for any format.

  5. Provide ongoing professional learning and best practices for online, blended and hybrid instruction. This spring was about survival as much as learning. Teachers need to move from survival mode to using online tools and resources that engage students. Professional learning should include a specific focus on supporting students with special needs. District and school leaders, make teachers aware of how they can use tools and resources to transform online learning from a passive event into high-quality instruction that truly engages students in learning new content aligned with standards.

  6. Embrace innovation. Teachers, now is the time to let go of business-as-usual. Beyond the core, lab-based classes, CTE programs and fine arts courses can use innovative resources that facilitate online learning. Take advantage of the open educational resources that are a mainstay for online postsecondary programs. Be intentional in planning real-time and asynchronous learning. Engage teacher teams in sharing the workload by focusing some teachers on developing face-to-face lessons and others on online lessons. Encourage co-teachers to use breakout rooms for one-on-one and small-group instruction. Create a library of extra help and tiered intervention videos.

Each of these steps will require planning and commitment. Everyone at SREB is here to help.

Scott Warren is the division director of Making Schools Work at SREB and a former school administrator and teacher. More details are available on SREB’s Virtual Learning Workshop series and in the SREB K-12 Education Recovery Task Force playbook.