Wednesday / May 22

4 Stages of the Shift to Online Teaching 


Schools around the world are currently making the unprecedented and overwhelming shift from traditional classrooms to online teaching and learning. They have been addressing student equity, accessibility, safety, and wellness, and teachers’ and leaders’ personal and family needs as top priorities. Teachers have found themselves in immediate need of tools through which they can design accessible learning experiences for their students, and the outpouring of resources from community members has been nothing short of amazing. 

Our Corwin editor, Ariel Curry, likened the outpouring to that of a firehose (a tool known to be a much-needed and powerful remedy that can ensure immediate mitigation in a crisis). However, we all agree, at some point, we should turn from the use of a firehose to that of a garden hose, watering with the purpose, offering more targeted support for teachers.  

Finding Possibility 

Over the past three weeks, we have been working to identify resources we could offer and how we could best serve schools to this end. We examined research and existing national standards for online learning to best align our current work in observation, feedback, and effective teaching and learning, reimagining strategies from our books,  and  

But, like many of you, in our first week of school closures, we struggled to remain optimistic. We dug in personally as we wrote our blog “Watch for Falling Apples,” to remember that opportunities arise amid chaos.  

Everyone has “already stretched so far out of your comfort zones out of necessity…You are growing and will emerge from this completely changed in positive ways, as will your students. You have already strengthened your ability and theirs to adapt, problem solve, collaborate, create solutions, and think about others.” 

Teachers are already seeing the freedom and benefit of providing feedback to students online (without grades, in most cases). They have shared how quickly and notably student engagement has improved because of it, even though their students are experiencing significant change and stress. We expect this is happening because the feedback is formative, personalized, builds connections between students and teachers, and students can more readily answer the key questions:  

  • Where am I going? 
  • How am I going? 
  • What’s next?  (Hattie & Timperley, 2007) 

When we remove grades, feedback can be focused on improvement and growth. Can’t we apply this same thinking to feedback that can be provided to teachers in this time of need? With states waiving teacher evaluations, new forms of “observation” and feedback become anytime, anywhere opportunities for support and growth, just as the learning has become for our students.  

What Online Teaching Requires 

To best support teachers, it is important to identify current and familiar strategies that will remain critical to success. Vince Bustamante and John Almarode remind us to “maintain best practices” in their recent blog, “Teaching and Learning in the New Normal.” But we all recognize that we also must adapt/apply new instructional strategies. These will be based on what we understand about learner needs related to trauma-informed practice in addition to those unique to online learning.  

For guidance, we can look to our higher education partners, but also organizations like Florida Virtual School and agencies like Aurora InstituteQuality Matters, and the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, who remain focused on standards for high quality virtual teaching and learning. It is clear that successful online learning requires a broad tool box that many students may not possess yet–namely the understanding, skills, dispositions, and tools for self-direction and ownership of their learning. And our teachers face challenges in areas such as  

  • uncertainty about students’ environments and wellbeing,  
  • their own learning curve with new tools and systems/time management  
  • not seeing or hearing cues from learners as students work in real time/students working offline asynchronously  
  • reimagining “assessment”  

Seeing the Shift as a Progression 

Generally, with change of any magnitude we move through a cycle, sometimes forward into feeling hopeful, then backwards into fear or anxiety, and then forward again into productive. As we shift to virtual environments during this historical event, everyone is moving through personal stages of a change cycle, while also moving through a progression of teaching and learning–and each learner and teacher will require varying levels of support because of this.  

Based on our ongoing surveys of teachers and leaders, our research, writing, and experience, and Boettcher & Conrad’s (2016) “Four Phases of a Course,” we identified a progression of   

4 Stages of a Shift from Traditional to Online Teaching and Learning:  

Stage 1: Meeting Basic Needs 

Stage 2: Adapting the Learning 

Stage 3: Gauging the Learning 

Stage 4: Analyzing the Impact 

These are not meant to become labels or boxes into which learners or teachers definitively fit. Change is fluid and, in such an unprecedented time, unpredictable. There is no timeline or number of days/weeks that learners or teachers might remain in each stage. It is also important to know that a learner’s or teacher’s situation could change at any moment as they move through the progression, meaning we would need to shift priorities. The key is to focus on meeting learners and teachers where they are. Starting points should always be based on the questions:  

“Are students okay?” Then, “Are they cognitively engaged and learning?” “Why or why not?”  

“Are teachers okay?” Then, “Are they able to successfully teach?” “Why or why not?” 

In our full table of the stages, we identify potential learner and teacher actions along with several applicable standards that align to aspirational online teaching and learning. Please note, our lists are not meant to be exhaustive or evaluative. You will see we have referenced selected standards from the following:  

  • NSQ Standards for Quality Online Teaching 
  • Checklist for Online Interactive Learning (COIL)  
  • CCT (Connecticut Common Core of Teaching, 2017 as we are based in CT) 
  • Danielson’s Framework (2013),  
  • EdAdvance’s 6 Six Critical Skills (a crosswalk of ISTE/NETS, NcREL/EnGauge standards, & P21 21st c. skills (Costa, 2012) 

We also provide suggested actions for a leader, coach, or peer in support of learners and teachers in each stage in alignment with those standards.  

Our tool should be a guide versus a script, and we envision that it can be utilized in four ways. For…  

  • a big picture view of an aspirational progression/common vision for learning (Where am I going?) 
  • self-reflection on existing practice and to identify strategies to bridge or progress through each of the stages (How am I going?) 
  • a common framework for aligning and providing support, feedback, and ongoing professional learning and to identify entry points or high leverage focus areas to move learning forward (What’s next?) 
  • development of systems for routine examination of student achievement (What’s next 2.0?) 

Tending Gardens and Feeding Forward 

To maximize the use of our progression and resources, transparency, reflection, and collaboration should be present regardless of the stage. As you move forward, it is important to ensure all teachers understand: 

  • the goals of feedback being provided and 
  • if someone offers feedback, it does not mean: 
  1. Teachers are not working hard. 
  2. Administrators want to spy on teachers or don’t trust them. 
  3. The provider doesn’t have good intentions or is judging performance. 

Then it is important for all of those who support teachers to demonstrate these to be true. 

Just remember, no one can do this alone.  

In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers. ~ Fred Rogers 

We must celebrate successes and praise triumphs, build on strengths, and provide opportunities for new blooms to grow. We must also remain vigilant to ensure equity is at the forefront of all of our actions. We must remember that our greatest tool in the fight against inequality is the assurance that learning is occurring for all our students. And we will best support teachers in this challenging work through feedback that feeds forward. 


Amy and Patrick are building a 4-part series “Supporting Online Teaching and Learning Through Feedback that Feeds Forward”Please visit their resource page to access this and other resources to support during school closures.

Written by

Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn are the authors of Feedback to Feed Forward, which is a comprehensive step-by-step guide that builds an observer’s capacity to ensure high quality and impactful feedback as the result of every observation. The book focuses on the capture, organization, and processing of evidence and the crafting of written reports – the skills and steps necessary to engage in highly impactful conversations. Their latest book, Learner-Focused Feedback covers strategies for leaders, coaches, administrators, and teachers that foster a culture of learning in their schools.

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