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Effective teaching … virtually


March 17, 2021 Chris Gonsalvez and Danny Maas, ATA executive staff officers

So, you have moved to online teaching … what next? How do you connect with your students, deliver meaningful content, establish a classroom atmosphere AND keep your sanity?

For some this transition may seem like an insurmountable task, but the truth is, Alberta teachers have done an outstanding job of this, both throughout the pandemic as well as before they’d even heard the term COVID-19.

The following list, of ideas to try and suggestions to avoid, scratches the surface of what teachers across the province have been doing.


Thought you should know

  • During the 2019/20 school year, with little-to-no formal training, Alberta teachers taught online lessons for more than 35 per cent of the year.
  • In the 2020/21 school year, 100 per cent of Alberta teachers were asked to move from being a traditional classroom teacher to being an online teacher. 
  • The majority of online synchronous instruction in Alberta happens either through Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
  • First online class: 1960 – The University of Illinois created an intranet for its students to access course materials and listen to recorded lectures, nine years before the creation of the internet. 


DO: Make it personal

Personal touch points are invaluable. When students physically attend school, connections happen naturally through class discussions, seating partners, recess and field trips. Develop online connections by

  • Welcoming students by name … every day!
  • Setting aside time during the school day for one-on-one conversations with students
  • Scheduling “virtual recesses” so students can visit or play a game for 15 minutes

DON'T: Overwhelm your students or yourself

Set realistic and achievable expectations.

  • Tasks may take significantly longer than you had originally planned. Acknowledge that this is OK and that learning is happening.
  • Give grace and don’t expect perfection (for your students and yourself).
  • Use and adapt existing resources whenever you can. There’s no need to “reinvent the wheel.”
  • Include “non-screen” activities students can accomplish on their own time with little guidance.
  • Be consistent in organizing and presenting the material for your online lessons.

DO: Develop online norms and practices

In a traditional classroom setting, teachers create routines and norms for their students, like washroom breaks and lining up for gym. Create online norms around things such as

  • A consistent opening activity … would you rather or what do you think about?
  • What to do if you’re finished a learning task early.
  • When you’re allowed to activate and mute your mic.
  • When and how group chat will be used.
  • Acceptable virtual backgrounds.
  • Appropriate dress code.


Recommended resource

Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal
Doug Lemov

Available through the ATA library.


DON'T: Ignore your online environment

Students miss the colourful bulletin boards and informative anchor charts of their classroom. Think through your environment when teaching in a digital space.

  • What will your camera see? What posters, paintings or decorations are behind you?
  • Be aware of what files are open and on your desktop. Consider signing into your web browser as a guest when sharing your screen with students.
  • Adequately illuminate your face so students can see your expressions.
  • Use a good microphone for clear audio with minimal background noise.
  • Join the class as a student from a muted second device (such as a phone). This shows you exactly what the students are seeing.

DO: Collaborate

Teachers need each other. We ask questions, provide advice, share ideas and laugh when things go awry. Connect with one another to share the burden of planning, borrow new ideas and lament about “the good ol‘ days.”

  • Find a community of others who are teaching similar things online. Social media, divisional directories and Association specialist councils are a good starting point.
  • Create a Google or Teams classroom just for teachers.
  • Find times to gather as a staff.
  • Connect with teachers in your local that are teaching in physical schools and brainstorm how their great activities can be adapted for an online environment. ❚


Videos available

Watch short videos from ATA PD staff:

The ATA has a PD YouTube channel with short video tips: 

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