teaching online

Taking mainstream learning online

Katie Crombach

Teaching online is foreign to many educators and unfortunately, due to Covid-19, it’s a reality faced across the globe. There are a lot of questions raised when moving the classroom experience onto a digital platform. Fortunately, there are some schools with decades of experience doing just that.

We caught up with Katie Crombach, a school leader with experience delivering online curriculum to students from reception to year 7, who live in remote areas of Australia. Read on for Katie’s tips and insights on how to ease the transition from mainstream to online learning, and click here to watch her webinar.

Getting to know your students in an online learning environment

"Online learning does not necessarily make it harder to get to know your students. However, you do have to be more strategic in an online setting. 

Compiling student learning profiles is a helpful tactic, with information including previous assessment data, program accommodations and modifications, areas of strength, opportunities for growth, student interests, and so on.

Daily relationship building activities help students to get to know you and their fellow students. Invite students to log on before lessons and for a free chat time, providing an opportunity to socialise. Simply sharing what they had for morning tea or what they plan to do in the evening helps students feel a sense of connection. 

Getting to know your students and building relationships in an online learning environment is possible but it does take time and trust. If the expectations are set carefully and clearly, students gradually become more comfortable and an online learning environment becomes a safe virtual classroom setting."

How as an online teacher do you manage student wellbeing?

"Building concrete relationships with your students fosters positive student wellbeing. “Ready to Learn” scale (1=No 5=Yes) for a pulse check on how they are feeling and get immediate feedback. 

Helping students develop strategies to manage frustration and improve focus by modelling behaviour and problem solving processes helps generate the forming of good habits.

Ultimately, a consistent, predictable routine helps settle students and creates a sense of safety. For example, structuring your lessons with a daily timetable allows students to know focusing on is helpful and helps to reduce the anxiety of the unknown.

50 Minute Lesson Structure Example:

5 mins – Check in and sharing

5 mins – review concepts from previous day

5 mins – walk through learning intentions – What, Why, How?

20 mins – explicit teaching – I do, we do

10 mins – learning activity – you do with teacher feedback

5 mins – Recap and post lesson learning"

Identifying student engagement levels in an online learning environment

"Student engagement levels vary and can look different for each student. Providing choices for students empowers them and naturally creates engagement just as you would in a classroom.

For a given task, allow your students to decide whether to create a video, write about the topic, or perhaps orally record themselves. Giving students as much flexibility as possible provides a sense of freedom and ability to choose and is more likely to increase levels of engagement.

Whenever possible, depending on the learning platform, have your camera on and require that your students have theirs on. This way you can quickly pick up on levels of engagement, and create a greater sense of connection.

To help keep students motivated, encourage them to take regular breaks. A quick stretch or walk around the house for a minute or so before returning to a lesson can help tremendously.

Overall, having a sense of connection with your students is really what drives engagement in learning."

How involved should parents be in on online lessons?

"It is absolutely beneficial and imperative for parents to listen in on lessons to support students, with greater support required for younger students.

There are challenges with opening up your classroom to parents as it makes teachers feel more vulnerable. This vulnerability is uncomfortable and takes some time to overcome.

Think of the days of the closed door classroom, where everything was privatised, and now we encourage open doors and collaborative teaching.  I remember how uncomfortable that step was for teachers, and now we are asking them to open their doors to parents as well.

Most of the challenges come down to communication. To help give a clear idea of your lesson plan, I recommend creating lesson overviews for each week to share with parents on Fridays. The goal is to help build the teacher-parent relationship.

Often, overcoming challenges with parents relies on involving them in the learning as much as possible. As a result, they can take on more ownership and it becomes more of a team effort, in which the teachers act more a facilitators of the learning, guiding the students and parents."

How to create a school community, culture, and a sense of belonging for students learning online?

"Creating a school community in an online environment relies on making opportunities for students to connect with themed activities each day. This helps support a routine and creates reasons for getting together. Some examples of the school community activities are:

Monday General School Assembly: Used to provide general updates, and celebrations (student birthdays, gratefulness practices, sharing, etc.), followed by a health hustle to get students up and moving.

Tuesday Talk: Teachers raise interesting topics for students to discuss and sometimes debate. This gives students an opportunity to share their thoughts, and personal experiences.

Wicked Wednesday Quiz: Students prepare various quiz topics on a rotating basis and teachers facilitate an online quiz through Kahoot. The general competition takes place in teams as they collect points throughout each term.

Thursday Library Session: Librarians run a story session with lower primary and upper primary based on various themes related to integrated units of study in each term.

Friday Star of the Week: A teacher facilitates a celebration on Friday selecting one student each week who went above and beyond. The awarded student shares their weekly work.

Daily assemblies allow students to connect across the classroom and school. The time to connect in more of an extracurricular setting created interest for students."


We hope Katie Crombach’s experience teaching online offers reassurance to you as you navigate developing structure, parental relationships, and a classroom environment in an online learning environment.

It’s important to acknowledge the transition to online learning takes time and is uncomfortable. It is another learning curve and does not need to be perfected, especially in these changing times.