Last spring as many schools closed due to the emerging pandemic, a decade or more of educational change occurred overnight. Education is a slowly evolving field as educators have refined skills over years of experience and new teachers progress through the system and emulate their best teachers. These thoughts are logical, as change is difficult, and most educators would likely agree that in-person instruction is best for most students.
On the contrary, many colleges and universities have embraced online learning for some time. While many pieces distinguish post-secondary learning from the PK-12 public sector, increased studies and moving some instruction online prior to the pandemic would have been ideal. Adults who are motivated by career advancement are certainly different, but PK-12 teachers need to work to increase confidence in online instruction and find ways to refine this instruction so as to engage students to the maximum potential.
Most colleges research and build coursework over at least a year prior to moving a program online. Unfortunately, school districts did not have this luxury, as the change was overnight. While online instruction was not available in many districts prior to the pandemic, this mode of instruction is certainly here to stay for at least a portion of the student population. In recent years, online PK-12 instruction had been largely the focus of a few online providers, both public and private.
Some students are excelling in the online model and will likely want to continue in this mode of instruction. As membership correlates directly to funding, districts will either need to continue to serve this segment or could find themselves with drastic budget shortfalls. The districts in the best place with online instruction likely have experimented with the mode prior to the pandemic’s school closures. While degree of preparedness may vary, one thing is certain: teachers will be more confident as they begin online classes with a new group of learners next fall.
Why is Some Teachers’ Confidence Decreasing?
Change is difficult and can affect confidence even if the change is planned strategically with an implementation timeline. School closures happened overnight, and schools were forced to be reactive regarding the implementation of online learning. Many teachers would have still questioned their ability if courses were built in a proactive manner with quality feedback and professional development, but the “sink-or-swim” approach caused by the immediate response to the emerging pandemic would make almost anyone question his or her abilities.
Another potential reason for the decrease in teaching confidence in the online environment may be directly related to a lack of student engagement. Schools are finding that some students do not engage in the online environment and complete work. As teacher confidence and perception of self-worth often correlates to student engagement and learning, a lack of engagement could lower teacher confidence. While engaging online instruction will help with this issue, teachers need to realize it is a team effort. It takes a village to educate a child, and heightened engagement takes a team working together. The blame does not rest on one individual.
Educators are professionals with the highest regard for student learning who desire to meet the social and emotional needs of students. As such, teachers need to experience successes in the online environment, attend quality professional development regarding design and implementation of online instruction, and receive quality feedback from colleagues, coaches, administrators, parents, and students.
Ways to Build Confidence Outside of the Classroom
When districts give teachers quality professional development experiences with research-based online instructional best practices and offer quality feedback measures, teacher confidence regarding online instruction will increase. Furthermore, supervisors must spend time in the trenches working with teachers as online content is built and modes of delivery are explored. When practices meet or exceed expectations, supervisors must ensure successes are celebrated. Furthermore, when things do not go as planned, the effort must be considered a learning experience with feedback being constructive.
These suggested strategies to boost teacher confidence aim to increase teacher self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s self to perform at exemplary levels. When teachers believe in themselves, they will work harder and instruction will be higher quality and more engaging. Research has shown a relationship between self-efficacy and student learning outcomes. Furthermore, belief in one’s abilities will lead to greater job satisfaction, which will impact the classroom culture and the learning environment.
Given the pandemic and associated limited opportunities for in-person conferences, it is important that educators note that there are other high-quality forms of professional development. Often times, the best and most relevant professional development is found within the school or district. Having teachers share with one another what is working within their course is very valuable. Further, some districts employ technology coaches and curriculum specialists who can offer a wealth of knowledge. Teachers will often value this feedback from colleagues in similar situations who are facing the same challenges.
Finally, confidence does not flourish in survival mode. Teachers should view building classes along the journey as an opportunity. These educators will have more opportunities to differentiate and change modes of delivery according to what works. To avoid getting overwhelmed, teachers can build classes in small chunks. Further, teachers should get outside, exercise, and step away from online classes for a while each day. By prioritizing wellness and supporting one another, teachers can move from survival to confidence.
Online Instructional Strategies for Teachers to Try
Synchronous learning opportunities give teachers the opportunity to heighten student engagement and more closely assimilate the traditional classroom environment. Further, an audience with feedback opportunities makes instruction more natural, which can build confidence. These sessions also provide a wonderful opportunity for colleagues to observe and reflect.
Fostering productive class discussions is another strategy. Traditional discussion forums can easily become a mundane checklist task, but programs offer the possibility for video discussion posts and videoed replies. This strategy also adds authenticity.
Finally, consider embedding short videos of yourself explaining or reading items within an assignment. Successful online teachers are clear and precise. This strategy adds clarity but also makes the class more personal and real.