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Feb 22, 2022

How to Make the Most Out of Your Online Classroom

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Online education is an excellent and highly effective alternative to traditional learning. Just like the conventional method, students can greatly benefit from online classes. 

But there's no one-size-fits-all in education, so it's important to tailor your courses to meet the students' evolving needs. 

In this episode of the EdTech Heroes podcast, host Nef Dukes welcomes Natalie Conway, a teacher and instructional coach at SYS Education. They talk about the benefits and challenges of online education, how to connect with your students, and why instructional coaching is valuable for teachers.


👋 Name: Natalie Conway

🎙 What she does: She's a teacher and instructional coach at SYS Education.

🏫 Company: SYS Education

✍️ Noteworthy: Natalie is also a podcast host and has her own show called Adventures in Online Education.

📱 Where to find Natalie: Twitter | Podcast

Key insights 

There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all in learning. Some students consider online learning better than traditional, but others don't. As long as you take into account the entire classroom, you don't have to go for a universal approach.

Natalie explains, "I think what we've realized over time is that there is no one-size-fits-all. There is no one model that works for all kids — there's nothing sacred about the brick-and-mortar classroom, and there's nothing sacred about the online classroom. They are just different classrooms that exist to serve students and the public. So you can homeschool, you can private school, or you can charter school. There are all these options. "

What are the challenges of online education? Although the latest technologies have transformed online education, there are still some significant challenges within the online classroom.

Natalie shares a few of them, "There are still plenty of them just as there are in a brick-and-mortar setting in any school. There are absolutely challenges and there definitely are those unique to the online setting. First — what I alluded to before — is trying to get your paper-and-pencil activities to go digital.

"That's hard. It’s a challenge for sure. And figuring out, curating your materials, and determining what you're going to use and what isn't going to be used that year or that week. That goes into another challenge, which is paring down your activities and instruction."

Give your students a choice in the classroom. As long as you take your students to the end goal — whatever that is for your classroom and subject — they can have a say in their education.

Natalie explains, "It's not that you need to design your lesson or unit in five different ways. That's really not what it is. It's designing paths and choices. So, the person who's the vegan is gonna dive into your vegan meal, but your meat-eater might take a scoop of that too. And that's okay because it's delicious. 

So, it's thinking of it in terms that everyone's free to make that choice. And of course, kids are going to make some great choices for themselves and, maybe, some not as great successful choices, but that, in and of itself, is a learning experience. If we can walk them through that, it's really valuable for their self-efficacy and their growth."

Episode highlights 

Be more intentional about connecting with your students💡

"It's something you have to be very intentional about in the online setting. You don't get the physical cues that you do when you're in person with students. You really need to work hard to get to know the kids, to get to know their families without feeling like you're intruding on their lives or crossing any lines. But that homeschool connection becomes so much stronger and so much more necessary because you do have fewer touch points.

"So that can be a challenge too. And it’s also a blessing because I've gotten to know my students in a deeper way on certain levels than I would if we were in a brick-and-mortar setting because I am reaching out so often. After all, I am in touch with their parents so frequently that you just become a part of their lives, whether they like it or not."

An instructional coach can guide and lift you 🙋

"Anything you might be uncomfortable with or feel vulnerable or insecure about, go for it, just go for the jugular and tackle that because your instructional coaches are neither there as a judges nor as evaluators — they're just there to lift you. Take those pieces of your teaching that you know deep down 'I need to get better at this.' [...]

"There's always something that all of us can get better at, can improve on, or can just hone. So a skill that we think we've got, but we want to learn more. I think the self-reflection piece is really important."

Online learning in the right circumstances 💻

"I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because, for certain kids, that might not be the best fit because it's the same. We don't throw a brick-and-mortar education out the window either for that reason.

"So it's a really great choice if it's going to meet your needs. And I just encourage parents and families to do that research if they're interested in pursuing fully online education for their children, just to know what that program is going to look like day-to-day or week-to-week and if it's going to do what their child needs."

Highly quotable 

[5:44] "When you're an online educator, you have limited time with your students. They're not in front of you for six or eight hours, five days a week. So you have maybe an hour a day, maybe three hours a day of live instruction on whatever your video conferencing tool is. And you need to make the most of that, and it has to be really robust and really interactive."

[39:36] "I think the more self-reflection you do as an educator, the more you see the positive changes that are taking place, and it becomes sustainable. It's really hard. It's like if you're trying to lose weight or something and you just lose a half a pound or whatever, over the course of a week or two, and you're like, 'I don't want to keep doing this.' It can be hard. So give yourself a little reward, pat yourself on the back, or find an accountability partner in your school."

[33:36] "If you are lucky enough to have an instructional coach in your life, that is awesome. Or if you were brave enough and vulnerable enough to say ‘yes’ to instructional coaching, to volunteer for that, awesome. You are already winning. So kudos to you. Just take a deep breath and know that you're crushing it."

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