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[Educator Network] Questions Asked of Mentor Teachers

[Educator Network] Questions Asked of Mentor Teachers

 A large piece to teaching is in making connections and supporting our students. Mentor teachers find these same connections and supports with our teachers. We model the tools for success.

As Diane McRandal, a mentor teacher with Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy, points out, in a virtual classroom, “All students have the opportunity to sit in the front row, middle seat.” This is unique. As teachers this is the ideal seat for our student, as mentors, how do we support teachers leveraging this unique opportunity? How do we help build their confidence to get each student into that seat?

Mentoring adults includes working with a wide range of skills and struggles. Every teacher wants to support students whether in a hybrid, blended or virtual model. Supporting teachers means addressing new questions. How does virtual education work? What does it mean for my lessons? What does my day look like? How do I connect with my students? How do I help my students understand this new classroom? And, of course, will I be on video?

Edmentum has a Mentor Teacher program that works with educators moving and continuing in online learning. When teachers were told they had to go virtual, many struggled with this idea. Our Mentor Teachers connect with educators and work toward building comfort and foundational knowledge of various tools and programs. As mentors, it is important to build the same connections and supports with our teachers as they strive to do with their students. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions educators asked of Diane McRandal, Kerry Kelly and Christina Trujillo, Edmentum’s Instructional Coaches and Mentor teachers, and a compilation of their responses to them:

What does a Mentor Model Program Focus on?

Mentoring teachers provides a wide array of training and professional development opportunities to help partner teachers build virtual teaching expertise. It involves the sharing of strategies, tools, and best practices to build their craft, to create success and confidence which translates to student success. It is important to understand that it is not a one size fits all. As you would do with students in your program, being a mentor means offering on-going support through 1:1 session, small group cohorts, large group PLC, and even daily Q&A sessions.

What does the typical day for a virtual teacher look like?

This is a universal question for educators moving to the unfamiliar classroom structure, there is a need to understand expectations and boundaries. There is no cookie cutter response for this question. Each teacher will find a “schedule” that works for them. Mentors can provide suggestions and support for the combination of both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, however, it can vary dramatically and is informed by students’ needs, community and district expectation. Every day involves connecting with students, providing feedback, and providing instructional opportunities.

To begin, it is important to identify the tasks that need to be accomplished during the day but also considering what works for our students/families. For example, scheduling student phone calls at 8:00 in the morning isn’t going to be highly successful for high school students.

Planning for lessons, grading, identifying student needs for support/intervention, communication/connections with students and families, collaboration with fellow teachers, and strengthening your tools are all aspects of the day. These element needs to be a focus of each day at some point. What works best for each teacher will depend on the activity of their students. 

Boundaries are also important to understand. Teaching in the virtual world offers flexibility to our students and families. Teaching them our availability is key. Having a personal and professional balance is important to longevity and motivation.

What can we do to get our students working?

Communicate, communicate, communicate, connect, connect, connect! Many times, when students are not working, they or their parents are unsure about expectations communication is the solution. Just like the brick and mortar classroom, setting those expectations and goals early on will take time but will also pay dividends later. 

One of the best ways to communicate these expectations is in a video conference. It allows for relationship building and for students to see that there is a real person to connect with that cares about them and is willing to provide support and instruction. Be sensitive to this, whereas it is a good rule of thumb, some students may not have an environment they feel comfortable sharing, be patient and supportive. Virtual education might be new to the students and, like most new things, it requires the teacher to teach, encourage, and support. The online classroom for a student leads to many familiar questions: What does their day look like? How do they ask a question? How do they get help? How do you turn in assignments? Am I on pace? What are live lessons? Be proactive in teaching your expectation and supporting their process.

Communication may be the key, but keep it consistent. Don’t overwhelm parents with frivolous emails; be clear and precise. Think bullet points. Keep to a schedule, send updates at the same time every day/week. This way parents will know when to expect updates.

The stronger the connections, the stronger the learning. Teachers in all environments need to create relationships with their students. Being real, sharing stories, and supporting needs all show the student we care and want them to do well socially, emotionally, and academically. 

How do I structure/present a live lesson?           

Live lessons are best when presented similarly to lessons in a physical classroom. Starting the live lesson with an attention getter, using a video, puzzle, thought question. Kicked off with enthusiasm so students want to keep coming back. Move the class toward the instruction and teaching of the skills, concept, or information keep it to a short 10 to 15 minutes. Then allow an opportunity for students to practice and collaborate with their peers. Be creative in the opportunity, use discussions boards or the chat feature, let them show their work on the video, allow them to share a doc in Google, or provide them an opportunity to interact with the whiteboard application. The additional lesson is a great opportunity to support students. Think of it as the time after teaching in the classroom that you walk around the room observing individual student application during seat/group work, a way of checking for understanding.

Remember, too, that lessons can be chunked. By breaking the lessons down into pieces, it allows students to focus on one aspect at a time. It also gives students the opportunity to breathe during a long day.

How do you make modifications/adaptations to online curriculum? 

The online classroom has the same need for modification as the brick and mortar classroom. There are many supports in digital content that are “built in” for the virtual student: font size can be adjusted, screen view adjustment, the ability for students to step away for a break while online are less intrusive than in the classroom and something the student has control of, preferential seating is a given isn’t obvious and there are more options for extended time that will not be highlighted as they are in the brick and mortar classroom.

With digital content, it is easy to break assignments into smaller pieces to allow the student to focus on these smaller pieces rather than a whole project. In addition, the virtual classroom allows for flexibility and time. Some students work best in the evening and night. Using the elasticity of time, teaching teachers that material can be handed in when completed, on this date, whether 2 AM or PM uses the day for students rather than the schedule. How to do this is might be new, but not to be missed.

Having a virtual teacher allows the student the confidence to express their thoughts in private rather than in front of a class. Students who struggle with social skills or social interaction often thrive in the virtual environment. Teachers have a different kind of flexibility in the virtual environment to focus on the student’s strengths to build their skills and to personalize instruction. Leveraging the chat features, break out groups, office hours and small group instruction create levels of interaction that support students in unique and discrete ways.

Each of these questions is important and bring a sense of relief to teachers when they work through the different parts. Providing the tweaks needed to their current practices to adjust for the new world opens the doors to practices that enhance instruction. Ideas that can be influence all aspects of instruction. Mentoring teachers as they move from brick and mortar to virtual can open doors to new and successful instructional strategies. Adult learners are different, they to be hard on themselves which can cause walls to go up more quickly, they lose patience. The biggest challenge is understanding the tools. What made you a successful classroom teacher is probably going to be the same for your virtual classroom. It is a matter of considering the new environment. Passion doesn’t disappear because the platform changes.

Educators should give themselves grace in learning new skills and behaviors, There are new tools – digital curriculum, video interaction, communication needs, visual tools for creating lessons, learning feedback rather than grading to support learners, and how to include engagement each takes time and practice. You tell your students it’s okay to make mistakes, remember to tell yourself that as well. Our mistakes often allow our students to realize that mistakes happen to everyone, and it is okay.

This blog was authored by Diane McRandal, Kerry Kelly, and Christina Trujillo, Edmentum’s Instructional Coaches and Mentor teachers.