As online education continues to evolve, teachers have opportunities for new and creative roles, charged with bringing out the unique brilliance in every student.
It’s a process that has picked up steam as increased numbers of families realize that online education provides the perfect alternative for their children. Online teachers are mastering technology, utilizing resources, and interacting with students like never before.
Responding to the need for additional highly skilled teachers, K12 recently implemented new programs to bolster teacher effectiveness and to improve student achievement evaluation programs with a concentrated focus on Data-Driven Instruction (DDI).
As the numbers indicate, such ongoing refinements are already bringing out the best in online teachers, enabling them to inspire the best from their students. It continues the trends toward better communication and strategy—leading to higher achievement—that teachers have seen take place in the last decade.
“We are seeing better contact with students and learning coaches,” says Jennifer Schultze, who has been teaching for 16 years, the last seven online at Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA). “Online, we are in direct contact with families at least once or twice a month. I never did that in brick-and-mortar situations, and, if I did, it was for negative reasons. K12 really does a good job of reaching out to families and meeting them where they are.
In addition to teaching, Schultze is part of a recently-added program at K12 (which serves the largest network of K–12 online school teachers in the U.S.) to mentor and monitor teachers nationwide, particularly those new to online learning.
“I love that I’ve been sought out to be part of the K12 academic services and teacher training programs,” she says. “I see a lot more quality educators—much more accountability and teachers working their hardest to help students succeed. Being an online teacher is becoming an ‘in-demand’ position, which is really cool.
“I’m completely blown away by how K12 has increased the amount of training for individual teachers. Within the last two years, we’ve seen a lot more training time. The result has led to better engagement and collaboration between students and teachers and between students and students. That’s a really big deal.”
Mentors, who serve as instructional coaches in each state, are assigned a team of teachers. They typically spend about a half-hour every two weeks observing those teachers in their online classroom, then another half-hour discussing methodology, technique, resources, and student-specific matters.
“I see that our students are getting better orientation and guidance at the beginning of their online journey,” Schultze says. “I think teachers are getting much better about onboarding and helping students with their own transition from brick-and-mortar.”
Veteran educators, including those transferring their brick-and-mortar teaching experience to online, are discovering that they can individualize the learning process and engage students in exciting ways like never before. Sometimes those discussions are on-screen, other times in the field.
“When I first started teaching, I realized that inside of a cyber-environment I could actually do more than I could inside a regular brick-and-mortar setting,” says Eric Buffington, who has taught high school and middle school math online the last five years. “So, I pulled out my video camera, and I would record myself doing things like teaching ‘slope’ on the ski slopes or teaching probability with a Rubik’s Cube, (and) teaching surface area by painting a room. I was able to show math in real life before we actually got to those lessons.”
Buffington says teachers are limited only by their creativity when working with students online.
“When you find that way of reaching students, you can expand a little (computer) screen into being the whole world,” he says. “You can bring them to places you could never bring them, otherwise, which is really exciting.”
Watch Buffington in action, and see what the online learning experience looks like, in the video below: