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A student following in a teacher's lesson through virtual/ distance learning.

Assessing Instruction: Best Practices for Virtual Administrators

Virtual or distance learning is not a new educational option, but as it grows in popularity, we, as administrators, must ensure this growing modality holds the same excellence and innovation as traditional options. In that view, this article provides best practices for the virtual administrator when it comes to evaluating instruction. See More Posts

To start, administrators must monitor the beginning of the curriculum and instruction process through teachers’ weekly lesson plans. Make sure lesson plan expectations are known by teachers. This can be done through a virtual faculty or grade group meeting, but it is also best practice to follow up on lesson plan expectations in writing. Be open with teachers. Give them examples and non-examples, and tell them what effective and/or highly effective virtual lesson plans look like. Finally, give teachers directions regarding due dates and how to turn in plans.

Once plans are turned in, here are common questions that should be answered as one reviews teachers’ virtual lesson plans:

  • Do the plans use the approved district or school curriculum and/or technology?
  • How will the teacher instruct the student on technology pieces needed for that week’s lessons? For example, do students know how to log in and out of groups? Do they know how to raise their hand? Do they know how to type in a question?
  • Are the plans standards based? Are learning targets present and in kid friendly language? How will targets be shared virtually? 
  • Are the lessons new skills or review? If new, what supports are in place for students who need additional scaffolding? How will you reach out to students who are failing or those that need additional support? What enrichment is available if a student already knows the skill?
  • Are questions planned in advance? Are higher order thinking questions present?
  • Are the amount and time of assignments appropriate for students?
  • What are the supports for ESE and ELL students?
  • How are student accommodations being met?

It is also noted that new teachers and/or struggling teachers may need more one-on-one support in the creation of virtual lesson plans. Consider providing follow-up meetings or provide office hours to new teachers so they can call and ask questions. Encourage new teachers to consult their teacher mentors and/or instructional coaches for more help as well.

It is important for all teachers to have at least 14 days of emergency lesson plans. These plans may depend heavily on district-approved technology programs, especially if the instructor or a sub is not able to sign in due to illness or availability. Administrators need to provide examples and non-examples of effective emergency plans and have access or a copy of these plans at all times. 

Once lesson plans are approved, make sure teachers share plans with parents and students in a clear and appropriate way. Many teachers are utilizing a calendar method which has been popular with parents. Help teachers think through traditional protocols, such as how homework is written down or how upcoming test dates are documented, and ensure that teachers still provide these processes for students. Remind teachers to be clear and concise, but at the same time, not overwhelm the receiver.

Once students begin working, administrators need to begin to monitor the actual student response to teachers’ plans and the instruction that is occurring. Here are some common questions to monitor effective virtual instruction:

  • Spot check a virtual session by walking through a teacher’s classroom or scheduling an observation while virtual instruction is taking place. Look for typical instructional priorities, such as questioning and student engagement. Is virtual work meaningful? What evidence shows rigor? Other instructional strategies like learning targets and small group instruction may need to be addressed. In traditional settings, teachers may have learning targets written on the board. How do they share learning targets when students may not see a board? The same idea is applied to small groups. How are we still utilizing best instructional practices but in a virtual setting?
  • Observe a teacher through the actual virtual link, much like a student would! Does everything work like the teacher has planned? Is technology being used with ease by both teacher and students? Is there interaction between virtual students? Is it appropriate? Is it needed? These questions will help you best support teachers who may need help with both technology and classroom management in the virtual environment.
  • Check-in with specific students and/or parents and spot check understanding of their teacher’s instructions and/or plans for the week. What are we doing for those students who don’t understand? How are we reaching them?
  • How are we assessing students virtually? Are tests still rigorous and not just multiple choice? How are students scoring on tests? Do they know about testing in advance? How are they receiving grades and feedback? What are procedures for progress monitoring, such as STAR or iReady testing? Do students need to come in for testing? What should schools/teachers do if test results skew higher or lower than typical for individual students?
  • How many logins have occurred on your district’s single sign-on system?
  • How many logins have occurred to specific technology-based programs, such as Compass, Study Island, Khan Academy, etc.? Log in numbers may indicate where professional development may need to be provided.
  • What is the average number of minutes spent in online programs per day per teacher or subject area? Are some teachers being more successful with minute and/or programs than others? What are those teachers doing to achieve those results?
  • What is the average pass rate on online programs per day per teacher or subject area? Are some teachers more successful with pass rates than others? What are those teachers doing to achieve those results?
  • Look over online reports and troubleshoot issues that may be occurring, such as students not saving work when taking breaks.

 No matter how you monitor lesson plans and instruction, one major key is that you provide teachers with feedback on their work. Feedback is more than “good job” or “great lesson plans.” Feedback can be positive, but it can provide an opportunity to take the teacher to the next level. What is the teacher on the verge of doing next? Is he or she ready to plan additional, higher-order questions? Is he or she ready to build groups into Microsoft TEAMS for virtual group work? 

You are the lead teacher of your school. How can you take that teacher to the next level in order to take education to the next level for your students?


Russell HughesAbout the Author

A. Russell Hughes is the superintendent of the Walton County School District (WCSD).  Walton County school enrollment totals 10,500 students with over 1,000 school district employees.  The WCSD office is located in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, but the county’s boundaries run from the Alabama line (Paxton, Florida) to the Florida coast (Santa Rosa Beach, Florida).  Superintendent Hughes has spent his career in education.  Mr. Hughes has worked at all levels, as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, and principal.  He is currently entering his second term as Superintendent and has recently been named as a top 25 “Superintendents to Watch” by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA).