Leading Through A Crisis: Former N.C. Superintendent for Public Instruction Michael Ward ’77BS, ’81MS, ’93EDD Shares Tips for Educators Who Have Moved to Online Classroom Instruction Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

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Former North Carolina Superintendent for Public Instruction and current NC State College of Education Board Chair and Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership Michael Ward ’77BS, ’81MS, ’93EDD has served as a leader in the field of education for more than 40 years. During his career, he has dealt with a number of challenges and crises, including leading the state’s K-12 education system during Hurricane Floyd, the Columbine High School shooting and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ward has also been a researcher and has advised educators and policymakers on lessons learned from disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Florence. As a professor of education leadership, he has provided synchronous online courses since 2007.

He shares lessons learned and useful practices for leading during a crisis, including the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

For Educators Who Have Moved to Online Classroom Instruction

Relax. “Learn how to slow down and attend to the basics. You don’t have to have the best of everything and you don’t have to know all there is about online learning to get started.”

Reassure students. “Some students, just like some instructors, are not used to online teaching and learning. It’s a new experience for some students, including college students. Reassure them that there are going to be mistakes along the way. It’s OK.”

Front load key information to students. “Make sure you get your logistics and your tech support stuff in at the outset so that kids know right off the bat the resources that are available to them to reboot when things go wrong. Provide tips about logging in, how to use the resources and which browsers best support the particular online learning platform. Keep meeting access links close at hand in case you need to reconnect quickly.”

Provide online learning etiquette expectations and enforce them. “Make sure students know what is expected of them and the proper etiquette for online learning. You have to set the expectations early and enforce them.”

Make it easy for students to access. “Use electronic calendars with session information and links to the session.”

Send session resources to students well ahead of time. “Send reading, audio and video resources in advance to students so that they can arrive well-prepared for an online session. Sending guiding questions about the most important content to the students ahead of time aids them as they prepare.”

Practice ahead of time. “Decide what visuals, audio and pacing protocols you want to use and try them out before the session. And set up polls in advance. The best time to discover that your content and process won’t work in the time that’s allotted is not during the session itself.”

Student collaboration and interaction is harder … but they want it and need it. “Figure out ways to make student interaction and collaboration happen. Use team projects or virtual breakout rooms, for example, but be clear about the deliverables from such group activities.”

Mute mics unless you’re talking. “Be careful not to allow other voices to be picked up during the session unless you want interaction and conversation. Advise students to mute their mics unless they’re talking so that other noises aren’t distracting … or even worse, embarrassing.”

Pacing is different. “Plan for more frequent transitions and vary instructional and learning strategies.”

Checking for understanding and monitoring need to occur more often. “This is much harder. Do you want faces visible or not? A big monitor helps. Make cold calls. Pre-assign roles for sessions.”

Organize for student input. “Enable digital hand raising or use polls. For older students, take advantage of chat resources. Chat can also be used for private messaging to prompt, correct or assist.”

Record your sessions. “Make sure that your sessions are accessible to students through archives.”

Make use of the resources you are being given. “There are terrific resources to support this transition. Take advantage of what your school district, your college and your university are providing by way of professional development, video and other tools for building your skills. Every district in North Carolina has a set of online professional development resources that are age appropriate, grade appropriate and content specific. And it’s everything from how to master the technology to what the pedagogy should look like. If you’re a leader, make sure you are pushing this stuff out to teachers and if you’re a teacher, make sure you’re using it.”


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