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8 principles of outstanding online classroom management

26 February 2021

It’s hard enough to manage a large group of easily distracted students with different skills and temperaments when they’re in the same room. So how can you maintain order and create a supportive learning environment when you can’t even see them? Set your online classes up for success with these 8 classroom management strategies!

How do you create a classroom culture optimized for learning when your lessons, in part or in full, take place online? And what can you do to build respectful communication, focus, and motivation during hybrid or distance learning? Online classroom management requires a different approach than traditional classroom management. Teaching online, you need to:

  • Build community and create an engaging environment
  • Provide structure and routine for students to be at ease
  • Get to know each student and respond to their needs and interests
  • Remain flexible and act as a facilitator rather than a manager

Read on to discover the 8 principles that will help you create productive, engaging and empowering digital classrooms. 

1. Create an environment with optimal conditions for learning

In traditional in-person classrooms, teachers have the presence and authority to design the environment to be as conducive to learning as possible for all students. In distance learning, on the other hand, each student’s space is different.

Instruct your students to set up their study space in an area with as few distractions as possible. If they have their own room, ask them to close the door and clean up their desk at the end of the day, and give students tips to deal with digital distractions.


2. Establish rules and expectations

Students don’t thrive amid chaos. They need some basic structure and consistency to feel safe and to focus. The most common way to do this is by setting classroom rules that both you and your students follow. 

Don’t present a long list of do’s and don’ts. Rather, engage students in the process. Discuss with your class what is important and why. Ask them what they think is and isn’t acceptable online behavior, and encourage them to suggest guidelines. When your students have a say in creating the rules, they have ownership over them and will be more likely to follow them.

Of course, you may want to give them guiding questions: What is an appropriate dress for online meetings? Who speaks when during a Meet session? Will we use hand signals? In addition to meeting norms, set rules for collaborative documents. For example, agree to only comment on each other’s writing, unless someone has given you permission to edit or erase.

Send students into breakout groups to make their own list of norms, then return to the whole group meeting to compare lists. Pick 5 or fewer elements to form the base for your shared code of conduct, and post the list to your online learning environment. Make sure everyone – including you – makes an effort to stay true to it. 

Stick to one all-in-one learning platform as your main hub, the one place your students can go to find:

  1. Daily or weekly learning schedules
  2. Announcements
  3. Assignments
  4. Assessments
  5. Most frequent Q&As
  6. Ways to contact you

Next to establishing rules, don’t forget to set clear expectations: 

  • How and where to submit assignments
  • How work is expected to look (share examples to model good work)


3. Create a clear structure

Clear rules should go hand in hand with a clear structure. Especially during distance learning, the structure of your remote classes will determine the success of the overall learning experience for your students:

  • Organize daily class meetings via Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom to start and end the day together. These video calls offer an opportunity for your students to ask questions, for you to explain things, and to talk about how everyone is doing.
  • For those who might need extra time with you, set aside 10- or 15-minute Meet blocks at a fixed time of day for your students to reserve. 
  • Set up an after-hours ‘hotline’ via Google Chat or another service where students can contact you with quick, simple questions. 
  • Consider providing fixed weekly office hours, where students and parents can drop in to ask questions and voice concerns. 


4. Invest time in building relationships and class community

Students need encouragement and human connection – especially during distance learning. Group meetings can help create a sense of normalcy. But it’s hard to have meaningful online conversations with 30 kids. Besides whole group lessons, you need to build relationships and create connections with small-group and one-on-one sessions as well:

  • Make sure to schedule some time with small groups of students. They don’t need to be lessons. Get to know your students and listen to their needs. Ask about their favorite type of online lessons and learning activities, and what helps them focus.
  • Schedule a 1-on-1 session with each student on a regular basis. Have them write down their own online learning goals, and let them reflect on their progress throughout the process. Personal goal-setting is crucial for your students to stay motivated.
  • Let students help each other. Pair them up to discuss an assignment or have them work together on group projects. Peer teaching activities offer an excellent opportunity for students to work on their interpersonal skills and socialize.

Building healthy student-teacher relationships and class community is essential to online learning success, a thriving classroom culture and classroom management. Being there for your students and creating connections means they will be more motivated, which in turn reduces disruptive behavior during online group instruction. They’ll also feel supported and engage more easily, leading to focused, manageable classes.


5. Keep your students engaged

In a traditional classroom, engagement is “nice to have”. But keeping your online classes interactive and engaging is key! Avoid lengthy explanations during daily class meetings. Instead, keep whole-group sessions short, no longer than 10 or 20 minutes. Make a few announcements, encourage students to voice their thoughts and questions, and send them off to complete their activities. 

Students learn more through activities and problem-solving than by absorbing information. This is true even in an in-person classroom. But it’s especially true in online learning. 

Instead of demanding a specific end product, allow your students to demonstrate knowledge in ways that appeal to them. They find what they need to know with online resources. Finally, they demonstrate their understanding by creating artifacts (videos, essays, infographics) or presentations. By both enticing and challenging students, you should notice they’ll:

  • Work and learn at their own pace
  • Engage actively with appropriate content
  • Demonstrate knowledge effectively 

Ultimately, every student wants to succeed. So take a strengths-based approach and appreciate students’ efforts. Let the class know when someone has done a great job, or even let them praise each other with emojis during a group call. Offering praise where it’s due improves academic performance and behavior. If it’s sincere and references specific examples of effort or accomplishment, praise can:

  • Inspire the class
  • Improve a student’s self-esteem
  • Reinforce rules and values you want to see
  • Encourage students to repeat positive behavior

Another way to continually engage and incentivize your students to learn is through gamification.  


6. Save time, track progress and personalize learning with EdTech

As a teacher, you know that no resource is more precious than time. A tool like Google Classroom can streamline the entire process of creating, distributing and collecting assignments. It can also help you organize resources, announcements and discussions. This way, it‘ll save significant time with the nuts and bolts of managing your classroom!

In addition to saving you time, online teaching tools can have a positive impact on the learning process:

  • Google Classroom and the COOL Platform, but also educational apps like Kahoot! enable a much more interactive and adaptive teaching style. 
  • Creating engaging presentations with the Pear Deck add-on for Google Slides combined with monitored self-study keeps students engaged from a distance. 
  • When posting assignments, include a Meet-link and a collaboration Doc as well, so students can discuss and work together wherever they learn!


7. Keep parents and guardians in the loop

A positive connection with home can often help in the classroom. Send home reports of both positive and negative behavior and communicate student progress. It’s important that parents are involved and know what’s going on so they can support and reinforce at home.

When the opportunity arises to show academic effort or behavioral progress, letting parents know has a trickle-down effect. They’ll generally congratulate their child and the child will likely join class eager to earn more positive feedback. 


8. Remember that learning and teaching is fun!

Focus on making sure the online learning experience is fun and easy for everyone. Make jokes and encourage laughter. Foster creativity and stay positive. Be supportive and listen to what your students need. Let them have fun. Let them make mistakes. Make them feel okay, no matter how much work they’re getting done. 

And don’t forget that to take the best care of your students, you need to take care of your own needs too! Adequate self-care can prevent burnout, increase empathy and resilience and help you make better decisions when confronted with challenging (online) classroom situations.


To sum up…

While the majority of teachers and students will return to an in-person classroom at some point, educational technology is here to stay. Mastering online classroom management will help you enhance your students’ learning – now and in the future. 

So work to find a balance between setting up structures for the classroom while remaining flexible and mindful of your students’ needs as well as your own. Reap the benefits of digital classroom tools. Keep lessons interactive and engaging, and celebrate students’ successes together. 

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