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Classroom Management in an eLearning World

Updated: Apr 17

Editor's Note:

This is the second Edushift article from Education Consultant Sue Neilson - see below



As an elementary principal, I have had experiences that I never anticipated prior to entering administration. I have had every breakable object in my office smashed, held a door while an enraged student attempted to smash his way through the window with a broom, taken injured staff to hospital, followed runners up major highways and over the slippery stones adjacent a quickly moving river. Calling 911 is not unfamiliar to me as my priority has always keeping staff and students safe.


Classroom management was a burning issue in debate about public education prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Canada. Rarely did a day go by without a posting to social media through images and/or text about the problems with today’s classrooms: inclusion gone beyond the realm of possibility, teachers devoting most class time to keep one behavioural student under control while the rest of the students sit idle, the reality of violence in the classroom from evacuations to staff and students being attacked. Then, literally with a twenty-four-hour warning, Ontario schools were closed and on mass the hot topic moved from classroom management to eLearning. So, what does this mean?


Firstly, I think it is important to examine possible reasons for difficulties in classroom management. At the Personalized Learning Southeast Conference 2019 in Atlanta this previous November, Thomas C. Murray reminded delegates to study the ‘hidden stories’ that each student in your classes possesses. Self-regulation within a classroom is predicated on social-emotional stability, not only of students but also of the teacher.


Classrooms which continue to be structured as ‘whole class’ (hopefully with some differentiation) are not the system of organization which supports 21st century students, let alone students who are suffering from social-emotional stressors such as anxiety, depression, poverty and so forth. The by-product of a class that is hard to manage is a teacher who struggles to remain mindful and self-regulated.


In Ontario, classroom management as of March 23, 2020 became virtual. Behaviours that hijack classrooms are gone. Suddenly, what was an overriding concern has now evaporated and others have taken its place. Nevertheless, attending to individual students’ hidden stories remains crucial. The student who was not functioning in the traditional classroom at school will continue not to function if traditional instruction is maintained via the use of technology. Further, students who while not engaged at school but successful in its

traditional format will also struggle. For an at-home example, my grade 11 daughter’s friend, who is a hard-working high achieving student with plans of being an architect, signed up for an eLearning course in World Studies which you think would be fascinating.Unfortunately, it was so dry and full of purposeless busywork that he struggled intensely to even log on, let alone engage in learning.


The problem is that if eLearning is merely an electronic delivery of traditionally written courses that are predicated on hours (bums in seats) rather than competency of ideas and skills, then we can guarantee that our sudden foray into eLearning is doomed to be a disaster. Yet, if we see what has happened, while horrific, as an opportunity, we realize that the traditional whole class system was not working, and we were unable to change its delivery. Circumstances have given us a chance to examine how students learn in a personalized approach, in which we use an assessment tool to determine student readiness and use strengths to backfill needs, to have students self-assess their ability to self-regulate, and access community supports to do so.


We need to provide curriculum that is personalized – based on the curriculum most definitely, but also predicated in authentic inquiry project/problem-based learning and responsive to student voice. Imagine a world in which, beyond the primary grades, children are eager to not only ‘attend’ school but see the value of and are interested in learning. Children are naturally curious, and when engaged (usually outside of school) have a strategic toolbox that enables them to learn the knowledge and skills they seek to master.

Typically, what happens in the schoolhouse is the opposite: students see no purpose in learning, they are not engaged, they struggle to self-regulate, and often have limited ability to utilize a strategic toolbox. By high school, this dissatisfaction with school – for both students who are adept at the game of school and those who are not – is so pervasive such that high school becomes something to get through, having little relevance to interest, engagement and ultimately learning.


More and more society is concerned with the wellness of our children who are increasingly anxious and depressed. One significant cause of adolescent mental health issues is their relationship with the traditional school system. How can eLearning change this? By its very nature, eLearning lends itself to personalization of teaching and learning and relegates ‘classroom management’ to a back seat. Classroom management is a by-product of learning profiles not being addressed in a whole class approach, thus resulting in children whose behaviours seek attention.


Fundamental precepts of eLearning that is the future of education include:


1. Student Readiness


  • Generate data from students, parents/guardians and teachers regarding a student’s mental and technical readiness to eLearn.

  • Give students a personalized program based on our Student Readiness Tool designed to remediate deficits in their ability to be successful in an online learning platform: social-emotional and academic self-regulation, metacognition, motivation and technological confidence.


2. Competency Based Learning/Expectations Based Learning

  • Eliminate busywork designed to generate number of hours of course participation: this is an executioner of eLearning.

  • Design courses that highlight overall expectations and the number of times they are met (you don’t need more than twice – once they are mastered, they are mastered), AND encourage student control over expectations and who they are to be mastered.

  • Develop a system such that students move through school through becoming competent, not by spending time building the traditional ‘years’.


3. Community Based

  • Teaching is overseen by the teacher and guided by the curriculum but delivered through the teacher and community – either physical or online.

  • Expectations are shared knowledge: teacher and others (tech recording/an adult) use pedagogical documentation to record a student’s progress and can post to a platform in their students’ portal.


4. Cross-curricular Design

  • Through student and teacher understanding of cross-curricular expectations, student and teacher design inquiry-based learning or problem/project-based learning. It is important for student voice to be included in the development of the learning topic, and it does not mean that thirty children will be doing thirty different topics.


5. Creativity

  • Established in kindergarten; students’ interests and curiosity are fostered and used as the magnet to wander through their ‘wondering’ (expectations based).

  • Is the cornerstone to developing innovation in students, so necessary as we are discovering as societies deal with the pandemic.


6. Collaboration

  • Students become adept at online collaboration as part of their 21st century skillset

  • Students and teachers break away from pillars of isolation – tests, projects, ‘figure it out yourself’ to a community and global vision of bringing disparate perspectives to a problem/concern to discuss debate act reflect analyse rethink reconfigure

7. Triangulation

  • Instead of seeing eLearning as product driven, see it as lending itself to triangulation - teachers’ ability to have conversations without disruption, observe collaborations of thinking and creating, as well as product. Product can be de-emphasized as in the 21st century working unilaterally is not venerated.


Our sudden venture into eLearning is an opportunity for those who are pursuing a shift from a traditional educational system that is unresponsive to the needs of 21st century students. This is our moment to understand that the process of educational change is ongoing – and that as we are to be teaching our children to have global perspectives of a dynamic world, the educations system must be one that continually responds to ever altering requirements. We cannot allow the traditional system to reinvent itself electronically; we need students who have the 21st century capabilities who think and collaborate globally, not in the schoolhouse down the street.





Sue Neilson is a former teacher, principal and currently works as an education consultant and passionate advocate for educational change.


https://www.linkedin.com/in/sue-neilson-482b2621/




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