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To Make Remote Learning Work, Teachers Need More Training

A child gives a thumbs up to his teacher through an online video call.

Teachers, we can educate them. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's best remote classroom.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in spring 2020, teachers quickly switched to remote learning so that students could continue their education. It wasn't easy, and teachers often described the experience as flying the plane while building it.

Teachers and students had difficulties with remote learning technologies, and teachers had little time to modify curricula or adjust strategies to reach kids on the other side of the screen. Schools did their best, hoping that everyone would be back in the classroom when they reopened. And if they couldn't be back in the classroom, at least teachers would have the summer for more training.

Further Reading: Remote Teaching Resource Center

While some schools reopened with new protective procedures come fall 2020, many remained in online mode or alternated between in-school and at-home teaching with no end in sight. And though some teachers were offered additional training over the summer, many say it was simply not enough.

How Schools Spent Their Summers

During the summer, many schools were unable to focus on improving remote learning because they were faced with figuring out how they could reopen safely in the fall, The New York Timesreported in August 2020. In addition, some schools spent time working with teachers' unions to renegotiate agreements on who would be assigned to teach remotely and how many hours of instruction would be required if school were to be conducted online.

Fewer than half of the school districts across America offered professional development programs for online teaching this summer, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Schools. Only 15 states, the think tank reported, required schools to plan for an online option, and only 11 states expect districts to put in place specific practices to support students in remote or blended learning models. As a result, many teachers were left without plans for how to help kids academically and socially when remote education resumed.

And even when a district had a plan, it didn't always work out.

Finding Common Challenges

Crystal B., an English teacher at a high school in Tucson, Arizona, helped her colleagues and school administrators create remote learning coursework.

"We created two pacing calendars," she said. "The first was the calendar for a regular school year. The second was a calendar created for online learning, with half the curriculum identifying the essential skills and standards kids needed."

Despite their careful planning, however, unrolling those calendars was chaotic, Crystal said. The major problem was that teachers couldn't predict or control how students would respond.

"Students are just shutting down," Crystal said. "Half the kids don't show up, or they turn their microphones and cameras off. There's very little participation."

"Teachers had only a week to work together and to practice," she added. "A week just isn't enough, and teachers need more ongoing support."

On the other side of the country, schools in Gloucester, Virginia, designed a 20-hour online course to train teachers over the summer.

"Teachers worked hard," said Jennifer Sipe, acting director of special education for Gloucester County Public Schools. "But they had to learn everything independently instead of learning it together."

The district equipped buses with Wi-Fi to park in various neighborhoods and opened school cafeterias, with social distancing measures in effect, so that kids could access the internet. But the teachers in Gloucester encountered the same problems that the Tucson teachers did: many kids weren't signing in or doing any of their work.

"Teachers needed more practice with online teaching and connecting with kids," Sipe said. "But there just wasn't time. And I don't think we're done with this by any means."

Moving Forward

Teacher morale was already low after a challenging spring semester, according to a study conducted by researchers from Brown University and the City University of New York (CUNY). Fifty-three percent of teachers reported a decline in their sense of success—and one-quarter of them considered the decline to be significant.

"I think we need to really value teachers' own perceptions of their self-efficacy, because ultimately if a teacher doesn't feel successful, it's really unlikely they're going to be helping students meet the academic standards and achieve the type of success we're looking for on a day-to-day basis in classrooms," Matthew Kraft, an associate professor of education at Brown University and one of the study's authors, told Education Week.

Though nothing takes the place of teachers talking with one another and working together, the Brown-CUNY survey did find that teachers with supportive administrators were less likely to experience declines in how they perceived their work. Administrators who help teachers set goals and identify the training they need to succeed made a difference in teacher confidence.

To make remote learning work, the entire school needs to embrace it, Eileen Belastock writes in EdTech. Belastock, the director of technology and information at Nauset Public Schools in Massachusetts, says that figuring out how to engage kids online is a challenge, but with time, training, and support, teachers can meet it—and beat it.

Further Reading: How to Prepare for a Post-Pandemic Job Interview

Teachers spend years in college studying curriculum development, classroom management, and instructional strategies. They know how to connect with kids. A few scant weeks of training in an entirely new mode of instruction isn't enough. Everyone wants to be back in school as soon as possible—if they're not there already. In the meantime, teachers need the skills and confidence to know that they are reaching kids and doing a good job.