A guide for international teachers who are providing onsite support to students taking online classes
International schools are reopening. However, many international school teachers and students remain outside of their countries and schools due to travel restrictions and health concerns. In addition to teaching students in the classroom and long distance, teachers who are able to be physically at their school find themselves adapting to a new role of supporting their students in online courses provided by their colleagues who are outside of the country. Some schools are also delegating staff members to be online learning coordinators to provide additional support for students learning online – a step I highly recommend for the upcoming academic year.
VHS Learning, a nonprofit providing world-class online programs to students and schools everywhere, has 25 years of experience helping onsite teachers support students taking online courses. Those best practices can mean the difference between students having positive experiences and students “slipping through the cracks”. Taking a course online requires a certain level of independence and not all students enter their online classroom with this skill set. We believe it is our obligation to help students develop independent learning and time management skills, as these are essential in college and the work force.
For students who might struggle with time management, the role of the onsite online learning coordinator is crucial. Online teachers can be encouraging, knowledgeable, supportive, and as flexible as possible. But if the student is simply not logging in and doing the work, there is nothing the online teacher can do. Teachers online therefore rely heavily on the on-the-ground support of the partner: the onsite teacher or the online learning coordinator.
Below is a partial list of a few sample strategies, behaviors and actions onsite teachers or online learning coordinators can take to ensure they are doing everything in their power to help students.
• If applicable, supply the online teacher with the student’s IEP at or before the start of the course. Knowing the specific modifications that must be made, as well as having a basic understanding of the students’ needs and learning styles, will make a huge difference in terms of outcomes and overall student/teacher experience.
• Reach out to the online teacher to discuss the unique needs of your individual students. Setting up a time to communicate with the online teacher at the start of class is a wonderful way to start the semester off right, and lets the teacher know you are available to support the student should the need arise. Check in with the teacher throughout the semester to make sure the student is on track.
• Be timely in your responsiveness to the online teacher. Online teachers should have a protocol regarding when to reach out to the student’s local online learning coordinator. Examples include if a student is falling behind, not logging in, or otherwise exhibiting behavior for which the teacher has concerns. Please show professional courtesy by responding as soon as possible to the online teacher. Creating strong open lines of communication early with the teacher is so important.
• Check the progress of your students through the Student Information System (SIS) if it is available at your school. Even though online teachers are trained to alert you, we recommend being proactive and checking your students’ current grade averages to see how your students are doing.
• Be in regular touch with your students, especially if they are falling behind. Sooner rather than later is the best policy! Most online courses do not “stop” for a student who is lagging. The farther behind they fall, the more discouraging it can be and harder to catch up.
• Encourage the student to advocate for themselves by having the student communicate directly to their online teacher. This is a wonderful opportunity for the student! Of course, early in the semester, you may need to do this with the student and/or at times advocate for the student but ideally students should be learn to advocate for themselves as this skill is needed for college and beyond.
• Make sure the students take the Student Orientation! If your school does not have a Student Orientation for online courses, now is the time to make one. Ideally, if you have the students all in one class, you can walk through the orientation with them. Your students will save a lot of frustration if they enter their online course with a strong understanding of expectations on how an online course works.
• At the start of each week, review the course homepage and weekly objectives to the entire class. Read the online teacher’s guide for the week out loud together. Depending on the need, you may even want students to quickly go through the lessons themselves so that you and the students know what is ahead.
• If possible, try to sit down weekly with each student. Have them log in to their online course and show you where they are in the activities. See if they have basic questions you can answer. If you cannot answer those questions, while sitting with the student, have him or her formulate a question to the online teacher.
• Make sure students are staying focused and on task. In this age of digital distraction, this may very well be the most important strategy of all! Circulate the room often to make sure students are in their online course and not on social media. Note that it is not uncommon in online courses for students to follow a link to a resource, such as a YouTube video, outside the course. Encourage your students to explain what they are doing so you can be sure they are completing work for their online class.
• As the semester evolves, be aware of the need to “wean” students from your help, so that they do begin to develop the time management and independent work skills they need so much. You are there for support but not to do their work for them. That is their responsibility! You are a helpful guide on the side, encouraging students to think critically and become independent.
Remember, we are all in this together. Teachers, no matter where we are, are trying our best to support our students. Great learning is not constrained by the format or location. Collaboratively, we will make it a memorable learning experience for all.
Xuan You, Director of Global Programs and Services for VHS Learning, a nonprofit provider of online courses for middle and high schools. In this role, she works closely with administrators, teachers, and students from more than 40 countries to provide them collaborative and engaging online learning opportunities.
About VHS Learning
VHS Learning is a nonprofit organization with more than 24 years of experience providing world-class online programs to students and schools everywhere. Offering more than 220 unique online courses, including 24 AP® courses, credit recovery and enrichment courses, and a selection of dual-credit options, VHS Learning is accredited by Middle States Association Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS), Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), and Cognia. Courses are approved for initial eligibility by NCAA. For more information about VHS Learning please visit https://www.vhslearning.org/ and follow on Twitter at @VHSLearning.