Virtual learning has been a fact of life for many since the beginning of the pandemic. As school districts transition physically back to school, a new method is on the horizon: hybrid learning.
Hybrid learning balances face-to-face and online teaching in roughly equal measure with the goal of combining these two formats into a cohesive experience.
Every district will approach the hybrid model differently. Here are some best practices to consider, keeping the wellbeing of teachers and students top of mind.
How Schools Are Adjusting
Nicole Champion, an instructor of nearly 19 years who teaches in a Georgia school, has always used research and experimentation to inform her style. During this period, she says, the only change is that now, education is virtual - and includes online instructional tools such as iCEV online and Canva.
Champion has been teaching virtually from home every day since the start of the school year 2020, but her school transitioned to a hybrid model in February 2021. For her district, this means face-to-face learning four days a week with some children still joining in virtually, with Wednesday as an “asynchronous” day: All students will be given activities to do from home and the chance to make up what they’ve missed.
Meanwhile, a Chicago-area school Champion is familiar with will switch in-person student cohorts every other day with Friday as their asynchronous, virtual-only day. This means students will come to school two days a week and learn virtually for three days.
Just as the success of the virtual model relied on teachers transitioning in-person learning to virtual, the hybrid model relies on teachers being able to rebalance virtual education with in-person.
Championing the World of Virtual Education
As a Hospitality, Recreation, and Tourism instructor to 11th and 12th graders, Champion says, “They may not be able to go to the places we talk about, but they still have to learn.”
She uses a variety of platforms, including Google Classroom, Nearpod, and Flipgrid, to help students feel at home in the virtual classroom.
In particular, she’s aware of the need to vary methods to her students’ strengths. She aims to stimulate them with engaging questions and creative projects like a 5-day vacation itinerary to a location of their choice, including how to get there, their sightseeing plans, and the anticipated costs. With Flipgrid, they can answer questions in a video format, like, “If all of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World still existed, which would you visit?”
Nearpod has made a learning experience on Frieda Kahlo for Hispanic Heritage Month and a virtual field trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (“It’s that old?” “I wouldn’t go inside”) possible. Soon, students will go on a virtual college tour.
But in addition to the class material, Champion must care for her students’ social and emotional wellbeing.
She starts all classes asking students to rate how they’re doing on a scale of one to five. Whether they’re dealing with health or home issues, she’s found that being transparent with them about her own wellbeing helps them feel safe to share. And if students need a more personal touchpoint, she’ll open a breakout room to speak with them.
Her philosophy for this challenging period? “Pivot and persevere.” That works for hybrid too!
How Teachers Can Navigate the Hybrid Model
Although Champion has mastered the virtual model, she’ll now have to teach face-to-face and virtual simultaneously from her classroom. Thankfully, she can easily integrate her many virtual methods for in-person learners.
She plans to rely heavily on her SMART board. There are two possibilities, she says:
- She can teach from her laptop that feeds into the SMART board so virtual and face-to-face students can see her and each other,
- She can teach directly from the SMART board. Initial tests show that students, whether present physically or virtually, can hear her from anywhere in the room.
“The key is to project,” she laughs.
In the meantime, since most student work is online (including textbooks), in-classroom students will work from school-issued laptops or school desktops (students at home can use their Internet-connected device of choice).
She’ll also continue to vary assessments. “Kids just don’t want to type their answers all the time,” she says. They benefit from her interactive quizzes, video short answers, and more.
Hiring Teachers for a Hybrid Model
Champion also works for Teachers On Demand as a recruiter for schools in need of educators. During her screenings, she makes sure teachers are a good cultural fit for schools and vice versa.
She’s noticed that many candidates’ biggest concern is class size. Champion’s own district allows 13 children or fewer per classroom, but others haven’t set standards.
Champion recommends you have a plan ready to help teachers manage students across the hybrid formats as well as effectively space them in the classroom based on safety protocols.
- How many students will be allowed in one classroom at a time?
- What tools and infrastructure can you provide teachers to help them space their students safely?
Managing Sick and Substitute Teachers in a Hybrid Model
Some counties currently have virtual subs on hand to take over for sick teachers, and these will also adapt to the simultaneous teaching method.
Champion’s school has prepared a “virtual sub plan” where kids can log into a portal and find instructions on what to do when their regular teachers are absent.
Teachers might also prepare for a small “work from home” revolution of their own: Some districts allow teachers to teach from home when they may not be well enough to come to school but can still provide instruction virtually.
How can you adapt this to a hybrid model? You could:
- Move in-person learners to another classroom while they work with their teacher or virtual sub plan via PC,
- If possible, allow the main teacher to work from home (while on camera with virtual and in-person students alike) with a sub in the classroom to monitor in-person learners,
- Train subs to teach simultaneously so they can take over for sick teachers at a moment’s notice.
Best Practices for Schools Adopting a Hybrid Model
Double down on tech accessibility.
Many have found lack of structure during the pandemic challenging, but the interactive nature of technology has helped Champion’s students succeed. Her school’s support was crucial.
- How can you simulate a real classroom environment where teachers, in-person learners and virtual learners can see each other? (This can especially benefit those dealing with the unfamiliarity of being back in school.)
- Whether in-person or virtual, students who are expected to just sit and listen will likely become distracted. How can you help teachers facilitate dynamic learning? Ask about the methods that are working for them or new ones they’d like to explore.
- Acknowledging real-world milestones can be a boon to student learning and structure. How can you help teachers engage relevant cultural opportunities, whether Halloween or Hispanic Heritage Month?
Test beforehand, get feedback.
When you’re adaptable and open-minded, as with the initial switch to virtual learning, it will help your teachers adjust too.
Just as virtual learning exposed Internet connection issues, this will continue with the hybrid model. Be sure to take it in stride, with a Plan B to anticipate and deal with minor setbacks.
Be flexible and understanding.
Like students, teachers may be facing challenges at home, so it’s important for administrators to be measured rather than immediately disciplinary. If possible, make district-wide financial and emotional support resources, like mental health services, available for families as well as teachers.
Support your teachers consistently.
Champion hopes more districts will adopt initiatives to support teachers struggling with the virtual/hybrid experience; for example, weekly team meetings where teachers can share their concerns and receive advice and constructive feedback in a positive environment.
For this to work, Champions says, administrators must put their heart in it. After all, “Teachers have to succeed in order for students to succeed.”