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7 Techniques To Engage Virtual Teaching Staff

June 18, 2024

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Amid staffing challenges and shrinking budgets, many teachers are burnt out. K-12 teachers have the highest burnout rate of any industry in the U.S., according to a Gallup Panel Workforce Study. 

Behind a screen, teachers are even more likely to feel overwhelmed and disengaged. Virtual teachers have to overcome unique hurdles like maintaining student engagement, assessing student understanding remotely, and troubleshooting technology tools, all while combating feelings of isolation. The remote classroom can leave many educators feeling disconnected from their students and peers. 

Educational leaders have a monumental responsibility to uplift staff morale and promote collaboration. But in a remote setting, ensuring clear and consistent communication is a challenge. Virtual teachers may lack a sense of community, which exacerbates their feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction. 

Why Engaging Virtual Teaching Staff Members Matters

Being part of an engaged virtual teaching community can boost motivation and job satisfaction. When virtual teachers feel a sense of belonging, they’re more likely to remain committed to their work, despite the challenges of virtual teaching. As a result, they provide better instruction to their students and create a classroom environment that’s inclusive of students’ needs. 

However, the same strategies for engaging your traditional, in-person teaching staff don’t always apply to virtual teachers. While your in-person teachers may walk away from a collaborative meeting feeling energized, virtual teachers often feel more alone. Plus, those friendly, rapport-building conversations you have with your in-person teachers between classes can’t happen as organically with your virtual teachers. 

The good news: Educational leaders have found ways to successfully engage their virtual teaching staff. 

7 Techniques for Promoting Virtual Teaching Staff Engagement 

Making your virtual teachers feel like part of a collective endeavor doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Here are some techniques school leaders can explore to create rewarding virtual learning environments for teachers. 

1. Building a Virtual Community

Virtual teachers need a space to connect and collaborate, both with fellow virtual teachers and in-person teaching staff. It’s much easier to navigate a challenging day when you have the support of a team behind you. 

As they share stories and commiserate over their experiences, educators build trust and camaraderie. This companionship helps teachers feel a greater sense of purpose and build the resilience to tackle future challenges. It also boosts teacher retention.

Virtual coworking sessions allow teachers to work together and address challenges in the online learning environment. A virtual session could include video conferencing tools like Zoom for face-to-face interaction or collaborative workspaces for sharing resources and feedback. Create breakout rooms to facilitate smaller group discussions, or plan social activities so educators can virtually mingle and make connections. Virtual team lunches and games can be great icebreakers. 

You’ll also want to ensure your school or district has the right tools in place for virtual collaboration. Virtual whiteboards are useful for brainstorming and visual collaboration during meetings. Leveraging project management platforms like Asana and Monday can also help virtual teams communicate and coordinate efforts.

2. Encouraging Participation and Interaction 

Getting in-person teaching staff to actively participate during meetings, workshops, and training sessions can sometimes be a challenge. But getting virtual staff to engage in discussions can be an even bigger struggle. Virtual teachers may not feel comfortable contributing their ideas or speaking up when they have a question. 

While face-to-face interactions between teaching staff may flow seamlessly, virtual teachers may not know how to best contribute or purposely avoid interrupting discussions between in-person participants. If there are audio issues or if the video lags, they’re even less likely to participate. 

School leaders should take targeted and intentional steps to encourage participation. It’s always a good idea to start by setting expectations. Leaders should make sure everyone understands the purpose of the meeting or workshop and how participants are expected to contribute. While most people don’t like to be called on in a meeting, it can sometimes be helpful to invite individuals to chime in. 

You’ll also want to use different techniques to engage participants. This might include open-ended questions, polls, quizzes, digital whiteboards, or team-building exercises. Not everyone learns and retains information in the same way, and in a hybrid environment, a mix of techniques is always welcome.

3. Recognizing and Celebrating Achievements

You should recognize and celebrate accomplishments and achievements differently in the virtual teaching environment. Unlike in the brick-and-mortar setting, where teachers get a pat on the back or their name and picture displayed in the office, the virtual setting often feels less personal. 

Leaders need both formal and informal ways to praise staff for a job well done. According to Pew Research, nearly one in five teachers want the public to know they feel undervalued and disrespected. Though praise from school administrators can’t solve this problem completely, it can help teachers feel more appreciated. 

Consider hosting virtual awards ceremonies to celebrate your teaching staff’s accomplishments. These awards ceremonies can celebrate major accomplishments like completing a continuing education course or degree, or everyday achievements like creatively designing a lesson plan. Some schools create a peer-to-peer recognition fund, designating a set amount per year for teachers to recognize one another for their accomplishments. 

If you have the resources to collect student testimonials, this can also be a great way to show virtual teachers how their work has made a difference.

4. Providing Professional Development Opportunities 

Virtual professional development opportunities and resources are abundant. Regularly share these opportunities with virtual teaching staff to support their ongoing learning and growth. All teaching staff, not only your virtual teachers, can benefit from online professional development (PD) and mentoring. 

PD enhances their skills, knowledge, and confidence so they can excel in their roles and adapt to changing educational environments. For virtual teachers, online PD can help them overcome some of the challenges unique to online teaching, like using technology in the classroom and assessing student performance. 

Coordinate opportunities for virtual teachers to prioritize their professional development. Make sure they have access to online classes, webinars, and workshops on topics and teaching strategies for remote learning

You can also offer asynchronous online courses and self-paced modules so teachers can learn at their own pace and choose content tailored to their needs, grade levels, and experience. Be sure to follow up after training sessions to help them apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios.

5. Fostering Open Communication Channels

Clear communication and feedback are critical for engaging your virtual teaching staff. Staff should feel comfortable sharing their feedback, ideas, and concerns with other teaching staff and school leaders. Similarly, administrators should aim to continuously share feedback that helps virtual teachers refine and improve their teaching skills. Research indicates that teachers prefer feedback they can use quickly to revise instruction or plan remediation activities, rather than delayed feedback from large-scale assessments.

Open communication facilitates trust. It helps virtual teachers become more comfortable actively participating in collaborative exercises and problem-solving activities. But open communication begins at the top. When school leaders embrace an environment where all staff can voice opinions, seek support, and contribute to the decision-making process, virtual teachers feel more involved and engaged.

Establish a respectful and inclusive virtual environment where teachers feel comfortable expressing themselves. Following professional development sessions, solicit teacher feedback to better understand their needs for coaching and support. 

Whenever possible, start conversations with emotional check-ins and allow teachers to interact. School leaders can play a role in promoting low-stakes interactions during sessions so teachers feel more comfortable communicating.

6. Promoting Work-Life Balance 

Virtual teachers may have a harder time disconnecting than their in-person peers. It can be tempting to respond to emails after hours or work on administrative tasks that pop up during the workday. 

However, after-hours work negatively impacts a teacher’s mental health and job satisfaction. They may begin to feel emotionally and physically exhausted, detached from their jobs, and unable to perform their duties. This buildup of stress drives many educators out of the teaching field. 

School leaders play a pivotal role in helping virtual teaching staff achieve a healthy balance between their work responsibilities and personal well-being. Set clear boundaries and expectations around staff work hours, and discourage staff from working outside of these hours. 

You should also encourage your virtual teachers to have a dedicated workspace that’s separate from their living areas so they can create a physical boundary between their work and home life. Make regular breaks, walks, and exercise the norm for all staff.  

7. Encouraging Collaborative Problem-Solving 

The most effective school leaders push their teaching staff to collaborate. Whether they’re working together to brainstorm solutions to a problem or exchanging best practices, virtual teachers need time to come together and problem-solve. 

Many leaders coordinate virtual coworking sessions focused on solving a sticky issue or brainstorming a novel solution. Cloud-based document-sharing apps and virtual whiteboards can help get everyone on the same page. You’ll also want to set clear goals. If the problem or challenge you’re addressing is multi-faceted, consider breaking it into smaller parts and assigning roles so everyone can stay on track. When possible, problem-solving sessions should take place over video so participants can communicate face to face.

Engage Your Virtual Teaching Staff To Create Better Virtual Classrooms 

Engaged teachers create more engaging and meaningful learning experiences for their students. When you give them a supportive community, a forum to share and receive feedback, and special shoutouts for going above and beyond, they’re better able to tap into the passion that originally attracted them to teaching.  

Elevate K-12 is here to help you overcome the challenges of virtual teaching. We offer innovative solutions and services to bring remarkable educators into LIVE classrooms and improve student learning outcomes.

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