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Behavior Strategies for Distance Learning

Classroom management during in-person instruction is challenging; with distance learning, the management of student online behavior and emotions is even tougher.  Certainly, there are school rules and disciplinary procedures that must be followed; more than that, what we consider “classroom management” is actually a carefully choreographed dance, in which the teacher builds relationships with students and learns about their strengths, interests, and learning preferences.  It takes time and conscious effort. Undoubtedly, the process is less difficult face-to-face, but still not impossible in distance learning.  Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) represent the slow and steady process of building school-wide positive relationships and incentives for good behavior.  These principles are the first to consider in building a constructive virtual climate during distance learning.  The following are some ideas for building positive supports as well as other ideas for managing students virtually.

Classroom PBIS for Online Learning

Use a similar lesson format for each session.

Students thrive on consistency and predictability. Use a similar lesson format for each session in order to allow students to focus on your instruction rather than putting cognitive energy into transitioning to unexpected activities or delivery methods. A simple lesson format such as the example below makes it easier for lesson planning as well.

  • 10 Minutes: Introduction and expectations review
  • 15 Minutes: Whole group instruction
  • 20 Minutes: Break-Out Room
  • 10 Minutes: Whole group share
  • 5 Minutes: Wrap Up

Use engagement strategies throughout the session.

Use engagement strategies throughout the session to encourage on-task behavior. Students that are engaged in learning are more likely to demonstrate the expected behavior. Providing students with opportunities to respond is an easy and effective method for encouraging engagement. Here are some ideas for using opportunities to respond in the virtual classroom.

  • Ask students to respond to a multiple-choice question in the chat box
  • Have students make their own response card that they can hold up in front of their camera
  • Prepare a Google survey to assess learning of a concept
  • Students can display a thumbs up or thumbs down
  • Polling on a question or reaction to a comment

Consider additional strategies that promote positive student behavior.

  • Greet each student as they enter the virtual classroom by name.
  • Provide behavior-specific praise during the session (i.e., “Wonderful job using the chat box when you had a question! This allowed me to answer when I was done explaining the concept” or “You demonstrated good effort on completing all of the pre-learning work when I know that you are helping care for a younger sibling as well”).
  • Choose five students to individually acknowledge after each session, either in the virtual classroom or with an individual email. Rotate the students who receive acknowledgments (McKale, 2020).

Strategy: 2×10

The 2×10 strategy easily adapts to online learning. Target a hard-to-reach student to stay online a few extra minutes with you. More than anything, listen. Find more strategies in our publication, 50 Instructional Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Participation.

Additional Resources

Check In Check Out: Positive Behavior Intervention

Check In Check Out: Guidance for Adapting for Distance Learning

Breaks Are Better: Adaptation of Check In Check Out as Tier 2 Intervention

National Center for Systemic Improvement

Redefining Classroom Management for Distance Learning

COVID-19 Virtual Learning and Education: Behavior Management

School Discipline Enters a New Realm with Online Learning