As you prepare your lesson plans for the coming year, you might need to do twice the work. Many districts have yet to finalize reopening plans, and it pays to prepare for continued virtual learning. If you teach for an online academy, you need to increase engagement by using the best tools, methods and strategies.

What are the ultimate tools and strategies for online learning? As you gear up for the 2020-21 school year, add these gems to your arsenal:

1. Access to Research Databases

Teaching students to perform research has always challenged teachers. Doing so in the virtual world of “fake news” opens a new can of wriggling hurdles.

One way to show students how to locate reliable sources is by providing them access to online databases. While some of these require logins, many local libraries offer access — if students know where to look. Prepare a list to include with your syllabus and include a detailed explanation of how to access these tools.

2. Online Tutoring

Parents don’t always have the requisite know-how to help students with advanced subjects like calculus. However, many organizations offer online tutoring, and you can direct parents to these resources. Many have live help available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Depending on their needs, students can ask the occasional question or partner with a dedicated tutor who will help them achieve their goals — including passing the SAT or ACT.

3. A Secure Online Classroom

Free meeting rooms are among the best online learning tools, but they aren’t bug-free. Hopefully, you didn’t experience any episodes of Zoom bombing during the spring, but either way, you need to protect young learners from hate speech and other inappropriate content.

Learn how to upgrade your online meeting settings to permit only authorized users to enter the classroom, and don’t leave your room open all the time. Investigate chat and text options, so students can contact you when they need to schedule one-on-one assistance.

4. A Planner or App

Even online learners sometimes prefer a paper planner — there’s no character limit on the details you can add. Emphasizing time management and organization is one of the wisest online learning strategies. Spend a class period reviewing how students should stay on pace with their studies and break down lengthier assignments into manageable chunks. Your job is to teach students how to write an essay free of grammatical errors, but also how to get it done on time.

5. Improved Internet Speeds

You can use the best online teaching methods, but your students won’t reap the full benefits if they get frustrated by buffering and slow internet speeds. Devote part of a class to teach how to improve internet speeds and send home an information sheet to parents.

Remain sensitive to inequities. Not all students can afford high-speed internet — you can help by providing a list of charitable resources where they can find help. You can also direct them to call 211, a dedicated line funded through the United Way that connects them to community resources.

6. Contact Trees and Support Logs

If you thought it was frustrating to track down truant students in a traditional classroom, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise in the online environment. Making it one of your first-day practices to update your student contact sheet is a useful online teaching strategy because you can’t help children you can’t reach. Inform students about resources like Google Talk that provide free Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to those who lack phones.

7. A Flexible Syllabus

While districts have preliminary reopening guidance, many remain unsure how the 2020-21 school year will look. When designing your syllabus, leave plenty of wiggle room for last-minute alterations. You might need to switch from a traditional classroom back to virtual learning and vice versa.

Prepare to Use the Best Teaching Methods, Tools and Strategies for Online Learning

To be an effective online teacher, you need the best teaching methods, tools and strategies for this medium. Consult the above list while preparing to make the 2020-21 year phenomenal.