Classroom Strategies, Tools and Resources

How to Keep Virtual Live Lessons Running Smoothly? It Takes Two

A two-person model can improve the flow and engagement in virtual lessons

It’s April 2020. It was the end of the first 60-minute 4th grade online math block.  In those 60 minutes, I launched the Zoom meeting, texted families last minute reminders class was starting, admitted students from the waiting room, renamed student display names, troubleshot families with technical difficulties, muted and unmuted students, monitored and responded to comments in the chat, shared my screen, and got through about half of my planned activity. Although multi-tasking during a lesson is nothing new for us teachers, I knew that the franticness I felt and the stop-and-go nature of class would not be sustainable or provide a positive learning environment for students.

After class, I met with Eric, the other 4th grade science and math teacher at my school. We agreed that solo teaching online was not feasible. We mapped out a plan that created two clear adult roles in online learning: the lesson facilitator and the behind-the-scenes manager.

The lesson facilitator’s responsibilities included:

  • Plan and execute the delivery of the lesson
  • Facilitate student conversation and engagement
  • Respond and adjust instruction to real time student data

The behind-the-scenes manager’s responsibilities included:

  • Manage the online platform (waiting room, mute button, renaming users, breakout rooms, etc.)
  • Respond to private student messages
  • Troubleshoot student tech issues
  • Monitor and follow up with any non-responsive students
  • Communicate with families during the lesson

Although a simple division of labor, the results of splitting responsibilities in this manner allowed the facilitator to focus more deeply on excellent online instructional delivery by removing many of the technological tasks and individual student supports off his plate during the lesson. Depending on the lesson, Eric and I would each take a role, sometimes even trading them within the same lesson.

Steps to establishing a strong online partnership:

  • Find a co-teaching partner: This step is simple if you already have somebody that you share your classroom with, or you may have to ask a grade-level team member or another staff member to partner with you.
  • Co-create norms for each responsibility: These roles are probably new to both of you so it’s important to meet and establish what each responsibility entails. This conversation will be especially meaningful if you don’t typically share a classroom with this person. Below are some examples of questions to get your meeting started:
    1. How will we communicate during the online lesson? Private chat within the video conference? Text message?
    2. How do we expect students to show up online? Will students be able to have video on/off? Virtual backgrounds? What do we want their display name to include?
    3. How do you bring joy into your online classes?
    4. What does the entry procedure look like for students? What about late students?
    5. How will we respond to students who are non-responsive during class?
  • Host a class!
  • Debrief and Reflect- Take time after the lesson to check in with each other about the class. What went well? What needs to be adjusted?

As the weeks passed in the spring, Eric and I became more comfortable in our team dynamic and our lessons became more coherent, cohesive, and engaging. Although this co-teaching model didn’t suddenly make our class experience perfect, it allowed us to move beyond the question of “how will we manage technology during our lessons?” to “how can we use technology to our advantage to deepen student engagement?”

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About the Author: Matt Kerrigan is a 4th grade math teacher in Philadelphia, PA at Mastery Charter Schools. In the past, he has taught at both charter and public elementary schools in Washington, DC! When he is not teaching, Matt enjoys solving crosswords, time at the beach, and playing ultimate Frisbee.