What does it mean to be an “expert” teacher? It isn’t the same as being experienced, nor does it mean you must be perfect.
It describes someone who’s passionate about learning, the topics you teach, and the growth of your students. These values are what motivate you and other top-notch educators to find ways to best support the learning of all those in your class.
The ACE Teaching Framework describes it this way: “Educators on Outschool inspire learners to strive toward expertise in all of their endeavors and model this value by seeking out opportunities to refine their online teaching skills.”
What are some of those skills that educators employ to effectively support learning for all kinds of learners? We’ll dive into those as we explore the “expertise” pillar of Outschool’s new ACE framework. It works in harmony with the two other pillars, agency and community, to build a foundation for effective teaching.
1. Support learners at all stages of mastering a concept
Learners come into your class with different skill levels, whether you teach piano or math or how to build a campfire. To use your teaching expertise to support each learner at their current ability, start with these steps:
- Notice each person’s skill level
- Teach what learners are ready for and interested in (if possible)
- Observe each learner’s progress
- Provide just enough help or new challenges
- Give learners options to apply what they have learned
When you provide “just enough support” as students learn new skills, they remain in an optimal learning zone. Here they have the right amount of challenge — not too much so they get discouraged or too little so that they’re bored.
For example, if you teach sign language, find out what kinds of signs that learners want to know. Perhaps they would like to have a simple conversation and need phrases like “Hello” and “How are you?”
As they learn these phrases in class, observe who is picking up the signs quickly and those who may need more practice. To support learners at both stages, you might ask for volunteers to demonstrate the signs, while everyone else follows along. Another approach might be to give each learner a choice of joining a group to practice the signs or drawing them independently to refer to later.
2. Utilize differentiation strategies that enhance and improve learning experiences
To make sure everyone in the class has the opportunity to participate and learn, it’s important to present information in multiple ways, to provide different ways to communicate, and to offer more than one way for learners to show knowledge and skills.
These all represent differentiated instruction, which allows learners to use their strengths to have more equal access to learning.
Some examples of differentiation strategies include:
- In your Irish dance class, show a video of someone doing a jig, present the moves yourself with learners following along, and provide step-by-step instructions with photos
- Allow learners time to develop responses — for example, in a discussion during an ethics class — perhaps even giving them a chance to jot down their thoughts first before sharing them
- In your literature class, ask learners to give a thumbs up or down to see who liked the book and invite them to share their ideas about the story’s conflict either in chat or verbally
3. Normalize mistakes, work toward mastery, and extend learning beyond the lesson
Learners who understand that people and their brains grow and change will work harder and make more progress in learning new skills than those who don’t. Educators who promote a growth mindset teach learners that challenges are opportunities to learn, and that practice is critical for learning new skills. From this vantage point, mistakes also become a regular part of the learning process.
Extending learning opportunities beyond class gives learners the chance for continued practice and, depending on the activities, the opportunity to learn more about a topic that interests them.
For instance, if you teach an ongoing French class, you might provide a video each week where you review vocabulary or read a short story that uses the words. For learners who want to learn more, you could share a few websites that explore French landmarks (making sure they are approved technology tools) or a video where learners can explore the Louvre museum. Note that Outschool allows educators to share relevant YouTube videos with learners by embedding them in their virtual classroom.
4. Implement inclusive classroom management techniques and strategies
Educators who are skilled at classroom management techniques create lots of space for learning. In such a classroom, you’re able to present concepts and balance providing extra help (as needed) with enrichment. That’s all because the class runs smoothly.
The first tool in your toolbox of class management strategies is to discuss class norms. If possible, involving the class in developing these can help learners to really own them. If you center your class agreement on the value of respect, you’ll find that many rules will flow naturally. Another way to discuss this is to ask learners what they need to learn well and what they need from others. These conversations can lead to the understandings like “one person should speak at a time” or “people should mute when they’re not talking.”
Learners may only attend your class once a week, so a brief review of these expectations in each session puts everyone at the same level. You set the tone for respect at the start of class by actions like learning students’ names and pronouns (if offered by the learner) and greeting each person as they enter the online classroom.
As you think about classroom management strategies, go over potential situations that could arise, from learners who want cameras off to parents who appear on camera, and create a plan as to how you’ll respond. Also, consider ways to best support learners with different learning and participation needs. Letting parents know, either in your class description or before class starts, that you want to know how to support their child’s learning needs can allow you to prepare some strategies ahead.
These recommendations for further developing teaching expertise are just a start, so take a look at the ACE framework professional learning opportunities curated for educators on Outschool.
Once you have completed at least one activity for each of the ACE pillars, you can earn a frame to display on your Outschool profile photo. This frame lets families know you’re an ACE educator — a champion of learner agency, a community-builder, and someone with the expertise to coach learners effectively in your virtual classroom.