ZOOMing in on Teaching

Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Director of Jewish Special Education at Touro, Shares Lessons Learned While Remote Teaching

June 05, 2020
Teachers and students in the new online classroom

When schools first began closing back in March “for disinfecting purposes”, no one imagined that they would still be closed in June, with virtual graduations becoming the new normal. But despite the many obstacles, educators managed to move their classes online with minimal interruption. Teachers and administrators toiled ceaselessly to continue to provide quality instruction to their students, to keep them engaged with the material and with each other, and to nurture and provide a sense of stability in uncertain times.

Sure, there was some trial and error. Different schedules, technologies, models and modes were implemented, tweaked, or discarded. Students – as students always do – figured out ways to “game the system.” And then we figured out how to regame them. But we did more right than wrong. Our students continued to learn – and to learn about themselves in a new light.

As we reflect on the past 12 weeks, here are some of the lessons we can take away from this experience.

  1. Our students are much more capable and resilient than they know. Faced with a totally new learning environment, with new modes of instruction, in an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty – they learned!
  2. We need to acknowledge the extraordinary and be flexible. Any veteran teacher can share stories of “what went wrong” under the best of circumstances. Think about “what went right” – and how you can keep getting it right  in these unusual times.
  3. There is no substitute for interaction. Lecturing – whether in person, over a teleconference, or on Zoom – will not deepen the learning. Interactive discussion must be the default.
  4. Teaching and learning are rooted in relationships. Our classrooms are communities where students and adults develop basic relationships, and we need to create an atmosphere that fosters those relationships if we want children to learn.
  5. Teaching for its own sake, rather than towards a mandated assessment, is much more fun. This is true for both the students and the teachers. But we still need to keep our “big idea” goals in mind.
  6. Technology is wonderful – but it’s only as good as the lesson behind it. Students are educated consumers of technology and can see past the bells and whistles very quickly. At the end of the day, it’s the subject matter that matters most.
  7. Student engagement means student attention and retention of material. The challenge of distance engagement (to coin a phrase) is different than engagement when you can make actual eye contact. But we need to find ways to always reach the minds and hearts of our students.
  8. Different modalities engage different types of students. Technology may help you invoke a variety of modalities, but you need to plan for that engagement.
  9. Structure is important for a sense of security and comfort. Our students – from pre-K and up – are aware that something is different, and that something is not comfortable for all. Providing structure and consistency to our students helps them relate to the new normal.
  10. There’s always a Plan B. Teachers are masters of “the pivot shot.” Whatever the challenge – and the unexpected detours – teachers teach. Because teachers care.