5 Tips for Teachers and Counselors Getting Started With Online Learning

April 25, 2020

Imagine last spring, sitting in your classroom or your office with your students. The idea of teaching your entire day online or helping a student who was on the other end of a webcam probably seemed like an April Fools’ Day meme you saw on Facebook. But virtual school is a reality right now. And teachers and school counselors not only have had to move their curriculums into digital platforms, but also help students and parents manage the new reality of online learning.

Staff from the McLean School Consultation Service has created these tips to help teachers and counselors develop strategies for successful virtual learning sessions.

Start With Mindfulness

Start with a 3-minute mindfulness exercise to ground the student in the present moment. Try one of the mindfulness exercises below.

Set the Agenda

Specify the length of the session (e.g., 15 minutes, 30 minutes) and the goals for the session, consistent with your school’s policies. Be sure to check on students’ moods and identify any concerns the students wish to discuss.

Create Self-Care Goals

Goals should address three areas. Instruct students to practice each of these goals daily.

  • Good Hygiene: take a shower, do your hair, exercise
  • Accumulate Positive Experiences: video chat with a friend, play a game with a sibling
  • Build Mastery: do homework, clean or reorganize your room
Boy watches teacher on tablet
Try these tips for smooth virtual sessions with your students

Create Academic Mini-Goals

Identify the student’s current assignments. Then create a schedule for when the student will complete each assignment before the next session. Help the student troubleshoot obstacles to completing assignments to avoid any barriers to reaching these academic goals prior to the next session.

Wrap-Up With an Action Plan

At the end of each session, review self-care goals and academic mini-goals with the student. Consider asking the student to track progress between sessions on a weekly assignment sheet, a diary card tracker, or their phone. Be sure to tell the student that you will check in about these goals at your next session.

Practicing Virtual Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a useful tactic for online sessions as it can calm and center both the students and the adult. Be sure to do these mindfulness exercise with your students. After each mindfulness practice, discuss your observations together.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Instruct the student to make five boxes on a sheet of paper. Label each box:

  • 5 things I see
  • 4 things I hear
  • 3 things I touch
  • 2 things I smell
  • 1 thing I taste

Set timer for 2 minutes and ask the student to record their answers.

Noticing Physical Sensations

Instruct the student to take their fingernail and lightly apply pressure across their upper lip for 3 seconds. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Instruct them to focus on the physical sensations on their upper lip.

A-Z List

Identify a category (such as Boston or Spring). Instruct the student to write the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper. Set a timer for 3 minutes and have the student find as many words as they can that relate to the category. You can also do this verbally with the student by swapping responses back and forth.

Follow the Letter

Set a timer for 3 minutes. One person says a word, such as “spring.” The next person says a word using the last letter of the word that was just said, such as “green.” Then take turns until the timer rings.

Describe the Environment

Ask the student to nonjudgmentally describe their environment. If they use a judgment (like “the wallpaper is ugly”), ask them, “what makes you say that?” to prompt for a more descriptive, nonjudgmental response. Switch roles and describe your environment to the student.

Helping the Student and the Teacher

Virtual sessions, especially those we’ve been asked to adjust to quickly and with little preparation can be stressful for all involved. To maintain consistency, use the same session structure each time and stay on track with the agenda. It’s helpful for both the student and the teacher or counselor.

Remember to validate student’s tough emotions and where appropriate, coach the student to use coping skills.

Be a cheerleader! Provide positive reinforcement for willingness and goal completion. A little positivity goes along way for everyone involved.