We may be collaboration consultants at work, but the Talk Social to Me team has many parents of young children within our ranks. Online meetings happen to be what we do every day, which means that we deeply empathize with teachers, students, and fellow parents and caregivers experiencing online school during this unprecedented time. Virtual teaching and learning have forced many adults and children to adopt new technology, like Microsoft Teams. Let us be the first to acknowledge that it’s not easy! As technology and collaboration experts, we seek to be of service to you – teachers and students and caregivers – as you adjust to virtual classrooms and new technology.
Most of the resources on the internet and from Microsoft technical support are focused on using the full Microsoft Teams solution for teaching (creating teams, setting up meetings, making assignments, etc.). But there is not a lot of material designed for teachers that share best practices on how to host virtual classroom meetings nor for parents and caregivers to participate in these virtual classrooms sessions. To help bridge this gap between the technology, educators, students and their families, we have created two free and simple guides – one for teachers and one for students and their caregivers. Save and use these guides as references when hosting and participating in remote learning sessions using Teams. Both guides are available in English and Spanish, with additional resources like short videos and parent help guides on the final page.
Beyond Technology: Microsoft Teams Tips for Teachers
Here are a few other lessons learned when navigating the realm of teaching in virtual classrooms.
- Equipment Matters – We recommend trying to obtain an additional monitor to attach to your computer. Can you borrow one from a neighbor, find a used one on NextDoor, or ask your district for an old one in storage? Having multiple screens allows you to see all of your students while still being able to share applications on your main screen. Set up your teaching space at a comfortable table or desk that has room for your computer, additional monitor, and room to write and draw (when needed). A comfortable and ergonomic chair or seat cushion is important, too. Parents and caregivers – this also applies to students. Finally, if you’re given the budget, purchase or borrow a high-quality webcam with a tripod so that you can move around the room if needed.
- Test Your System – Make sure your computer works correctly before starting remote learning with your students. You may want to shut it down and start up the computer every day. Be sure to have a reliable internet connection. Sometimes using the hard-wired connection (instead of wifi) is better. Download the desktop app for Microsoft Teams on your computer or tablet (do not use your browser). Always have the school or district IT support contact information handy in case you need it.
- Teach Yourself – Participate in some online Teams training. There are many free, short tutorials from Microsoft. Perform a few dry runs. Record your first few virtual learning sessions and watch for ways to improve for future classes. Solicit feedback from reliable sources.
- Set Expectations and Be Consistent – It’s imperative to set expectations with your students and their parents and caregivers about how to act during your virtual class time (bathroom time, snacks, etc.), as well as which features in Teams to use and not use (mute, chat, screen sharing, raising hands, etc.), and how to use them appropriately. We strongly recommend that teachers address student infractions privately when possible, as virtual schooling gives everyone an intimate glimpse of home life that may put student video feeds, food access, family dynamics, and home environment front and center without other options.
- Check-In Frequently – This new way of learning is not easy for everyone involved as it’s a new behavior. We recommend you create a checklist that you can reference frequently throughout the day. Ask yourself – are you on mute; are you sharing your screen; did you stop sharing your screen; is your audio working; have you made yourself a Spotlight presenter; have you checked the chat; and are students raising their hands? You can use the thumbs-up method with your students to help you answer these questions visually and quickly.
- See Everyone – As a teacher, it helps to be able to see all of your students in one view. Be sure to turn the Large Gallery or Together Mode in Microsoft Teams to see everyone (up to 49 students). You can Spotlight yourself so your students will always see you front and center; or you can recommend that they “pin” you on their screen. Encourage your students to turn on their cameras if they have access to one and the bandwidth to use it.
- Maintain Personal Connections – If you are able, try to make time for a brief one-on-one session each week with students to say hello, see how they are doing, and answer their questions. This dedicated attention will speak volumes when it comes to gaining their trust and respect in this new virtual environment. You may not be able to reach every student, so giving them the chance to email you and select a time, or hosting open office hours, could also work.
- Communicate Often – As you know, every child learns differently and their struggles in the classroom may be heightened, or even different, in a virtual setting. Be transparent and communicate with parents and caregivers regularly, especially about their child’s mental status; share your challenges and let them share theirs and their student’s challenges (and successes!).
- Have Fun – Once you get the hang of the technology and feel more comfortable with your classroom schedule and structure, have some fun with your students. Invite parents and other caregivers (grandparents, etc.) to be mystery readers during class, do mini-dance parties to get out some extra energy, mini-yoga breaks to stretch everyone’s bodies, costume days, silly hair days, show-and-share days, etc. These brain breaks are great for everyone and helps you and your students to laugh and bond.
- Have Some Grace – This new way of teaching and learning is challenging, and each challenge will vary by teacher, student, school district, location, equipment, technology proficiency, language abilities, learning aptitude, and so on. Please be kind to yourself, your students, and their parents and caregivers. Be patient, and please know you are not alone. We are here with you in spirit, and we are grateful for everything you do for our students every day. Here are additional resources that you may find helpful!
- Quick tip videos from the Microsoft Education Product Manager Mike Tholfsen
- Written documentation from Microsoft about Teams for Education
- Ideas for families in virtual school from the Aurora, OH school district