How to Set Expectations for Virtual Class Meetings

Discussions about appropriate student norms for class meetings are taking Twitter by storm. It is one of the most controversial conversations related to remote learning. Many teachers require students to be in front of their cameras during class meetings. These teachers feel that they can better monitor student engagement when they can see every face in attendance. However, requiring students to show themselves on their camera presents challenges. Teachers ask:

  • Should we allow kids to show up to class in pajamas?
  • Can we allow students to participate while eating a snack in bed and cuddling with Fido?
  • How will we enforce rules?
  • What can we do to help all your students and their families feel emotionally safe on camera?

Students and families have many valid reasons for not wanting to appear on camera. If you allow students to stay off camera, that brings up other questions. Teachers ask:

  • How will we encourage students to be prepared for class?
  • How will we monitor engagement?


Methods Change but Your Goal Stays the Same

It is tempting to re-create the same expectations that work best for face-to-face learning in remote situations. However, experts caution that the vast differences between face-to-face class meetings and virtual ones mean that you cannot apply the same rules across different environments. While your general approach still applies, the methods must match the platform.

Think of this analogy. Across the US, teachers want students to get outside and play at recess. Being safe outside requires students to dress appropriately for the weather. However, students dressed appropriately in Arizona will look completely different than students dressed appropriately in Alaska.

In virtual and face-to-face environments, you want evidence that your students are present, prepared, and participating. In both situations, your expectations set students up for success and give you feedback about their engagement. However, the method for observing your virtual participants looks different than it does for your face-to-face participants. The way you help your remote students feel safe also looks different.


Monitoring Engagement

You cannot rely on body language to monitor the engagement of students who choose not to be on camera. Instead, you will need to teach your remote students to show involvement with other cues. As Mr. Rogers said, We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears.”

Technology offers many tools to assist in monitoring engagement virtually. Here are two simple ideas.

  1. Ask students to use the chat feature for quick responses, such as a thumbs-up emoji.
  2. Students can put colored pieces of paper in front of the camera. Each color can indicate something different. Perhaps use green for “I am here and learning,” yellow for “I have a question or comment,” red for “I’m stuck,” and so on.


Frame Expectations as Guidelines Rather than Rules

Many teachers say that students are most prepared for learning when sitting in a quiet location, dressed, and not distracted by food. If so, consider phrasing your expectations as guidelines rather than rules. Guidelines put you in the role of a helpful guide rather than as a controlling dictator. Giving students a choice about being in front of the camera reduces the feeling of violating privacy or emotional safety. Consider how you would feel if your boss sent you the following rules.

Rules for Virtual Meetings

  1. Log in a few minutes early and wait for the class meeting to begin.
  2. Dress according to the school dress code.
  3. Sit upright at a desk or table.
  4. Stay in full view of the camera at all times.

Would you feel trusted and respected? Now consider how you would feel if your boss sent these guidelines.

Guidelines for a Successful Virtual Meeting

People learn best when they feel ready to focus. Please use these guidelines when joining a meeting.

  1. We want to start the meeting with full attendance. Please log in a few minutes before the session begins to allow time for remote troubleshooting any technical issues.
  2. Turn your video on if you feel comfortable. We enjoy seeing you. If your camera is on, please dress as you would in public.
  3. Use a place with limited distractions so you can listen and participate.
  4. Please take care of your personal needs before the meeting, such as using the bathroom and getting a snack. If you need a snack or drink, please remember to mute your microphone first.
  5. If you need to leave for a moment, please indicate when you leave and when you return.


Everyone is Still Learning

Many educators and families report that the instruction in the spring of 2020 occurred in crisis mode. Educators made enormous efforts to teach with limited resources, planning, or knowledge. Fisher, Frey, and Hattie, authors of The Distance Learning Playbook, say, “Now we have time to be more purposeful and intentional with distance learning.”

As you approach distance learning with more purpose and understanding, you may find that some of your previous expectations do not serve your remote learners. Luckily, expectations are easy to change. Start by asking your distance learners and their families about their experiences. As Maya Angelou famously said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

We commend your efforts to set class meeting expectations that help your students grow and learn. We continue to support educators in improving their craft, whether in person or virtually.

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