As the clock starts to click down on summer vacation, many educators are still left wondering exactly what the 2020-21 school year will bring as a result of the pandemic.

Will things finally settle down and allow schools to return to normal? Will we see a spike in COVID-19 cases, thus leading to significant changes to school operations? Can teachers ever get “comfortable” with their situation, their schedule, and their routines?

The pandemic of 2020 has taught all of us in education that even our most time-honored traditions and practices in schools could be taken away at any time, and the true mark of an effective educator is the ability to innovate, to adjust, and to be flexible in the wake of sudden changes that may come our way. If we truly believe in providing our students all that they need to learn and grow, then we have to look in the mirror at our own instructional practices.

Whether we agree with it or not, the reality is that some level of remote learning will stay with us long past the pandemic. It is time for teachers to up their instructional game, learn from the mistakes made this past spring, and leverage their situations and their school’s fall operational plans to ensure that all students have access to quality, rigorous instruction designed to meet their individual needs moving forward. The question is: how can educators start this process?

This past spring, many educators turned to online content providers such as Khan Academy to provide students with rich, dynamic instruction of key concepts and content. The folks at Khan know that their tools are more valuable to students when they are not just a stand-alone activity, but rather when they are blended by a classroom teacher with their own instructional practices and lessons.

In this article, Khan Academy offers teachers seven tips to do this successfully. Teachers are asked to reflect on how they can adapt their communication to students, select appropriate digital tools for students to use, maintain a schedule, support independent learning, motivate students, recognize the emotional impact that remote learning can have on students, and be realistic with expectations that teachers set for both themselves and their students.

Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, in this recent article, discusses several points that teachers should consider when reflecting on their remote learning instructional practices. Although designed for their own higher-education staff, the tips can also apply to many secondary classrooms.

First, it is recommended that teachers look for opportunities for interactivity with students, using polls and breakout room features. Next, consider teacher expectations that are set and include norms for the online classroom, curriculum priorities, and appropriate pacing. Lastly, consider accessibility needs of students, being mindful of processing time, text size (and type), and making use of accessible resources and tools that can offer students readers, text enlargers, and other similar functions.

In this recent Edutopia article, blogger and world language teacher Lindsay Mitchell offers “six strategies for successful distance learning” that can allow teachers to “create an environment in which both they and their students feel empowered for remote teaching and learning.”

  1. Be authentic: Know what your students’ interests and passions are, and turn those into learning opportunities.
  2. Be familiar: Use surveys and polls to find out what your students are comfortable with already, and use that knowledge when presenting new materials, ideas, or activities.
  3. Be simple: Even simple tasks can promote both rigor and deeper learning.
  4. Be flexible: Let students choose how they will demonstrate their learning to you.
  5. Be organized: Make sure your lessons follow a clear and logical path, both for students and those who may be assisting them from home.
  6. Be concise: Remember that less is more, particularly when giving directions or instruction on how to complete an activity or task.

If remote learning is in your future as an educator (and it will be at some point for all of us), take time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t for your students this past spring, when many of us were thrown into the model for the first time. There is always room for improvement.