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  • Writer's pictureGail Summerskill

Surviving & Thriving When Teaching Online: 8 Tips for Getting Over Your Fear of Lesson Planning & Be

Do you get a knot in your stomach when you think about creating online lesson plans? Do you cringe when you see yourself on camera, trying to teach students out there somewhere? I experienced these feelings before I developed a survival plan for teaching online. 

Here are 8 tips to survive and thrive when teaching online, developed over my 20 years as an online teacher.

Tip #1: Remember Your Audience

You still have an audience; now it’s online. It’s a group of learners waiting for your lessons, but now you will be using classroom management software and videos. The usual walk around the room to keep students listening, check that they are on the right page or website is no longer available. Make a list of the ground classroom tactics you used to engage your students and think about online substitutes. For example, do a little dance in your videolesson now and then. Use some polling apps to break up the routine.

Tip #2: Give Clear Directions & Walk Through Videos

There is no time for rambling online. You need clear and quick directions for all assignments. Use steps with numbers, headings and subheadings, and read your work out loud to hear how it sounds, making sure it is orderly and understandable. For major assignments, create Walk Through Videos, which describe your assignments clearly. Include clear instructions, due dates, grading rubrics or criteria, and how and where to submit them. 

Tip #3: Keep it Short

This tip is simple: Keep it short. Do not repeat your content or instructions over and over. If possible, show someone else your lesson plans, assignments, and videos to give you suggestions on where you could get rid of repeated or non-essential material. Pretend you are giving the mini TED Talk of your life when you present content. Keep it short!

Tip #4: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

There are incredible resources available to augment your online teaching. Here are a few of my favorites: Writing with Sofie, Edutopia Organization, Teachers Pay Teachers, Public Broadcasting Station for Teachers; National Geographic for Teachers, Read Write ThinkSmithsonian’s History Explorer , and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tip #5: Write Surprising Announcements & Titles

How Facebook Ruined Christmas.” I bet you clicked on that link! Why? Because it’s intriguing! When sending out announcements to your students or giving titles to your lesson plans and videos, make the headings and announcements interesting. Students are more likely to read or watch material that makes them wonder about it. For example, I used to send “Do You Need Any Help?” to individual students who were behind in their work. That question is seemingly benign, but it implies that they need help. I have many students who need help but don’t want to admit it. Now I send out “Thinking About You” emails, texts and videos. This approach gets a better response rate and resultant action. 

Tip #6: Create a Persona for Videos

Making videos is hard, hard work. It took me years making videos to not feel ugly, stupid, irrelevant, and pathetic in them. I starting acting in my videos as if I was with my loving, crazy, energetic 6-year-old grandson. By using my Grandma Persona by thinking about him, I loosened up and started to have fun. The videos got better, and my students became more engaged. I attended a workshop by Marley Jaxx, and she mentioned the persona she uses when she films. I hadn’t thought of Grandma as my video “persona,” but that is what it is. Create one for your own video success.


Tip #7: Be Bold & Authentic

Being bold and authentic online takes time. A changing point for my online teaching came when I received a batch of essays. A good number of them were excellent, and I was excited that the writing and growth mindset strategies that I was teaching them were starting to take hold. I felt a great need to congratulate my students. I took my laptop out to my back deck and did a “Happiness” dance. It was liberating. I have never gone back after that. My students love it when they see Dr S being her bold and authentic self! Go for it! 

Tip #8: Learn to Apologize & Grow

We all make mistakes. We make them when teaching. It’s easy to send out the wrong date, lesson plan, grade in the gradebook, or give a live lesson that is not your best. Apologize to your students when necessary and apologize to yourself always. This is a growth mindsetopportunity of Not There Yet. You will get there. Just as your students will, and being vulnerable in the new online space is helpful for your students to see. They may not be there yet, which is the final point here. Make sending your students growth mindset reminders part of the weekly lesson plans. You can use inspirational videos by someone else or make your own. Possibly give extra credit points for watching the video and leaving a comment about it on your discussion board, or just send it with an interesting heading and a statement in your message, “I thought you might like this.” 

Teaching online is hard, but it gets easier. I have taught writing and communications online, on all levels and in a variety of settings. Constantly, I improve my craft. Asking for help, changing what I do when necessary, and enjoying the experience has helped me and my students. For further resources, check out Very soon, the eBook Yes You Can Write an Essay, Blog, or Article will be available. Subscribe to the website, and you will be notified of the release date. 

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