Three Tips for Transitioning Back to Virtual Learning

by Justin Birckbichler

Within the past year, many schools have transitioned from full in person learning, to emergency virtual learning, to summer break, to planned virtual learning, to hybrid instruction, and possibly to back to full in person learning. Logically speaking, the only pivot left is transitioning from hybrid back to virtual learning. 

Which is exactly what happened to my school district in January. We had a successful move to hybrid learning in October, and were expecting to resume that after winter break. However, on January 1st, we received an email saying that we were moving back to the virtual model on January 4th. Happy New Year!

In this post, I’ll detail three crucial tips that helped my teachers move back to virtual instruction after having been in a different routine for months.

Brush up on old skills you may have forgotten

In September, I shared a number of strategies to physically set up for a virtual classroom. More than likely, if you’ve moved into hybrid instruction, you’ve disassembled many of these structures. Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with these ideas that kept you afloat when you were teaching on the internet. 

Most notably, I found my teachers forgot how to use two monitors. This is understandable, as it’s not a common thing. I helped them set up their monitors and gave a quick crash course on how to use them most effectively. 

Remembering the difference between presenting a screen and presenting a slideshow was another important distinction. Think of these refreshing old skills like riding a bike – if you don’t use them regularly, it’ll seem unfamiliar at first, but then your muscle memory will kick in.

Reinforce online learning routines

Just like we as teachers may have forgotten some of our online teaching skills, students may need some reminders for how to maximize their learning online. Simple things, such as muting and unmuting, camera expectations, understandings about eating or drinking during class, and more, should be reviewed and reinforced whenever the online learning resumes. Once these are well-established, don’t forget to explain academic expectations again, too. 

These kids have been through something that is truly unprecedented in education and there is nothing to compare this to in the past. Rather than getting exasperated with them for forgetting the different routines that were initially set up, take a proactive approach and take a few moments to review these skills at the beginning of each lesson. The time invested upfront will save you a multitude on the back end.

This tip sounds the easiest, but is probably the most crucial. To illustrate how flexible we need to be, allow me to share the amount of calendar changes our school board has given us since that January 1st email:

  • In that email, we were told hybrid would resume on January 18th
  • At the school board meeting on January 11th, we were told that virtual learning was now extended until January 29th
  • At the January 26th school board meeting, they decided to extend it again until March 1st, so we had a full month to plan without making any changes
  • Then on February 3rd, the board changed their minds again and said we would now resume hybrid instruction on February 22nd

A bit maddening to say the least. These decisions were made completely independently from teacher input, but the teachers are the ones who have to implement these changes and bear the brunt of frustrated families. 

I don’t want to sugarcoat it – all this change is hard and not the most fair thing to teachers or students. Teachers, give yourself grace and be flexible with what you can do. Families, give the teachers (and yourselves) grace as we work together to move learning forward. 

These times are certainly challenging for education and we need unity more than ever. I, for one, know I am looking forward to getting back to when times are precedented again, but for now, we need to do all we can to support each other as best as we can. 

In the wise words of the East High Wildcats, we’re all in this together.

Justin Birckbichler

Justin Birckbichler Justin Birckbichler is an Instructional Technology Coach in Spotsylvania, VA and a Google for Education Certified Innovator. In his work, he is very passionate about forming strong relationships with students, purposeful technology integration, and thinking outside the box. Connect with him on Twitter at @MrBITRT and read his blog at blog.justinbirckbichler.com. Outside of the education world, he’s is a testicular cancer survivor and spreads awareness at www.aballsysenseoftumor.com.