Preparing for service disruptions or your own absence will help your classes go smoothly even during this year of many challenges.

At the beginning of the school year, just as huge numbers of students and teachers were logging on to their new virtual classrooms for the first time, the popular videoconferencing platform Zoom had an outage. In an article about that crash, one administrator was quoted as saying, “2020 is a year of whatever can go wrong, has.”

This outage was one of many issues that educators had to overcome as a multitude of teachers have been asked to teach virtually or synchronously online for the first time in their careers. Many of these teachers have had little time to prepare and few resources. One item in particular that teachers may not have had time to prepare for would be a backup plan.

What will you as a teacher do when your synchronous class goes down or your learning management system (LMS) is unreachable? Often these outages do not last long, but they can be very disruptive to students without a backup plan.

What happens when you’re unable to be present for a day, or two, or three in your virtual class? Illness can happen to a teacher or family member that would require them to be away from the computer for several days.

Many teachers are required to have a folder with a set of substitute plans detailing students’ names and information, policies, procedures, and classwork. These are often called substitute binders. But what about your new virtual classroom—do you have a set of substitute plans for it?

As with the regular classroom, teachers can construct a virtual substitute binder. Saving these items in a Google doc or another easily accessed file can help make your virtual classroom a success even when you or your virtual classroom are unavailable.

1. A communication plan: In these types of situations, it is vitally important that you be able to reach your students and sometimes their parents to let them know what to do. Services like Remind and Google Voice can help you to quickly send text or phone messages to students and parents without giving out your personal contact number. Consider having a couple of preset template emails ready to send.

Email to students and/or parents: This email lets the students know that you or the class are unavailable and contains links to activities for students.

Email to another teacher: If you have a backup teacher filling in for you, this email would contain a link to your binder and names of other teachers or administrators he or she could reach out to with questions. Also, including a quick checklist of procedures and a class meeting schedule would be helpful.

2. Previously selected activities: Having previously selected content available that you can provide to students so that they can continue learning is vital when your virtual classroom is unavailable. Here are some examples that you can use or modify based on your classroom.

  • Select a HyperDoc that you can use to review a topic or provide extra credit. These easy-to-find HyperDoc activities can be sent to you for quick grading later.
  • Select several videos from Khan Academy that students can watch and for which they can provide a summary or take a screenshot of their progress.
  • Use sites like Mathematics Question of the Day or Critical Reader Question of the Day to assign students a question that they can answer and send to you.
  • Find an interactive lesson or collection from PBS LearningMedia. Assign questions or a post about what they learned with examples.
  • Use a WebQuest or Symbaloo Learning Path. Pick your topic and then have students use the web to answer questions and solve problems about it.
  • Pick a set of vocabulary or other topics from Quizlet. No need to type your vocabulary words. With the app’s billions of terms and definitions, the set of definitions you need is most likely there.
  • Create review sheets and games with Flippity. You can then paste links to these games and review sheets in your LMS or webpage.
  • For younger students, pick a book from Storyline Online and have students answer questions.
  • Create questions about another time period or another culture by visiting the museums and historical archives found on Google Arts & Culture.
  • A Google a Day encourages students to become better online searchers by playing a game to find answers to questions on Google.

While these current times are unequaled in our educational history, it will be the caring teachers who find ways to make any situation and any format a place for learning. Taking time to make a virtual substitute binder can provide consistency and instruction to prevent students and parents from becoming confused and frustrated.