Even towards the end of the summer of 2020, frequently changing news reports about the 2020-2021 academic year kept everyone edgy. Parents, as well as educators, worried about the safety of their children, but there was also a legitimate worry about the quality of education that would be possible under unprecedented circumstances. Several teachers were able to go with the flow, even as it kept changing after the year began. They have some advice for other teachers on how to survive the new normal.

Many educators worry about how to build a meaningful relationship with a child they haven’t met in person. There is so much that happens face to face that simply cannot be replicated on a screen. Other concerns include cyberbullying, being able to read a student’s mood, and creating a sense of community for their classroom. Many children do not wish to participate using video, which makes it impossible to visually connect with them and engage everyone in lively discourse.

When setting up the guidelines of a new semester or marking period, let the students be part of the decision. Decide as a group how the structure of the class should proceed, and then make sure you repeat the process so there is a dependable schedule to lean on. Especially in uncertain, scary times, children need something stationary to hold on to. 

There are also ways to get students involved from the get-go. Start each class with a game or poll that encourages students to sign in so they don’t miss it. This is also a nice relaxation technique and a good ice breaker. Using emojis and relaxing rules of speech is another way to keep students interested. Being familiar rather than formal is a good way to get kids to open up. 

Give students a choice by making some items mandatory and others optional, as well as different mediums for submitting work. Some students are comfortable taking a photo of a piece of paper, while others are proficient aware of online office tools. In addition to the method of competing assignments, there is also the way each student learns in general. Not everyone is a visual learner. Find out what each of your students’ preferred method is and then lean into it. 

Lastly, some students may have very personal reasons for not wanting their video on. Limited technology might be one reason, but it could just as easily be something family-related. Never push a child to participate in a video chat. Find alternative means of communication.


Dr. Catherine Barnes is a Jacksonville, Florida-based educator with over 25 years of experience. A graduate of the University of Florida, Dr. Barnes forms her educational philosophy around the belief that “kids deserve a fighting chance—even if you have to fight to give it to them.” She understands that, by adapting to modern students’ needs, today’s teachers can change the trajectory of a child’s life, and has allowed her to continuously embody success and vision in her field.