How to Set Virtual Learning Behavior Expectations


A large number of states and districts are beginning the 2020-2021 school year virtually or using a hybrid model where some students are in person. Some schools started the year in person at traditional brick and mortar schools, but if their district has a spike in COVID-19 positive numbers they will have to switch to virtual as well. Whether your school is virtual or in-person, teachers should think through which learning behavior expectations need to be established in a virtual classroom.

Teachers must set very clear virtual learning behavior expectations at the beginning of this school year to help students understand how to learn from home and to ensure engagement in academic learning takes place. Some of the important behaviors needed for successful virtual learning will need to be specifically taught since students may not have used them in traditional classroom settings before. 

Read our guide for best practices schools are using in virtual classrooms

Here is a list of some virtual learning behavior expectations and why they are important to set:

 Be on Time 

It is important, especially if you have a normal class size in your virtual setting, that everyone logs into the class on time. Many teachers are using the first few minutes of class to do SEL instruction, student check-in activities to gauge student emotions, and team builders. This is an important time that should not be missed because these few minutes also provide a buffer for students to solve any technology issues they might have before academic content begins. If students log on 5 minutes late and then struggle with technology, they will be taking up instructional minutes to problem solve. 

 Mute Microphone 

Most teachers mute their students as soon as the classroom begins to avoid everyone speaking all at once. Students need to learn how to unmute and mute their microphone immediately when directed. This virtual behavior expectation helps remove background noise and allow for quick student sharing and the smooth continuation of the lesson.

 Turn on the Camera

Some students, and adults, turn off the camera feature during classes or meetings to hide some off-task behaviors. If a student experiences wifi connection issues, sometimes their computer will automatically turn their camera off. It is important to set the expectation that cameras are turned on during the entire lesson and practice how to do so. 

Be aware that asking students to have cameras on means asking them to show the class their home environment. Make sure to create a safe space where students can request to leave their camera off if they don’t want to show their homes, or provide a background image for students to use instead. 

Eye Contact on Speaker 

Just like eye contact is expected during in-person conversations, eye contact on the speaker during virtual lessons should be expected. Students can look away from their computer or tablet screen and immediately become enthralled with a plethora of distractions within their home. If multiple students are not making eye contact during the lesson, this should be a cue to the teacher to up his or her engagement techniques during the lesson. 

Raise Hand Feature

Engagement techniques are very different in virtual classrooms versus brick and mortar instruction. Teachers should set and teach their raise hand feature expectations for students so they know when to use the feature, how to unmute themselves, and then how to mute when they are finished. Add in some other engagement techniques like using the chat, polls, word clouds and hand gestures in the camera.

Turn on the Gallery View

There should be an expectation for students to turn on the gallery view on their computers or ipads. Students should be able to see all of their classmates to build community and help them use eye contact to actively listen to the speaker and respond. Teachers will still be able to screen share and but the gallery view will help students experience a group dynamic.

Dress Appropriately

Just like the saying “Dress the part” suggests, students should dress in appropriate clothing to set the tone for learning. Pajamas and lounging clothes will give the air of casualty so educators should set the expectation that virtual learning is important and dressing professionally will put students in that mindset. 

Clean Workspace

Students should have a clean workspace so that they are not distracted by toys, pets, family members, or other technology. The simplest of distractions could make a student disengage from an entire virtual lesson, missing essential academic content. Similar to the eye contact listed above, teachers will be able to easily assess if a students’ work space is clean and clear of distractions by checking their eye contact and background. 

No Eating or Drinking 

Similarly to dressing appropriately, avoiding snacking and continual drinking during a lesson gives a more formal and important tone to the lesson. Allowing drinks and snacks creates a more relaxed environment which is already compromised due to the nature of it being a virtual classroom in children’s homes. Teachers should also follow this rule and avoid drinking coffee, tea, or soda when teaching unless it is necessary. Gum should also apply since the action of chewing will be very noticeable in the camera and potentially inhibit correct pronunciation of words and sounds. 

Virtual Class Focus Only

Even though this is listed as number 10 on this list, it could be the easiest behavioral expectation for students, especially older students, to break. Students could be looking towards the screen and camera, dressed appropriately, not eating or drinking, have a clean work space, have themselves muted, but could actually be playing a game or surfing the internet on another tab on their screen. Teachers should stress this rule and create a routine or daily reminder at the beginning of class to proactively combat this from happening. Engagement strategies will also help ensure that students have to focus on class so that they’re prepared to participate at any moment. 

Additional Thoughts 

  • When teaching virtual learning behavior expectations, engage students in a conversation about why each one is important to follow especially for virtual learning.
  • Spend time the first few weeks of class practicing the explicit skills necessary for a successful virtual lesson like muting, unmuting, the raising hand button, turning on the camera, and switching to gallery view.
  • Think through the nonverbal and verbal reminders you will use as their teacher during the lesson to help them adhere to the behavior expectations. Some traditional reminders will not translate well on a computer or tablet screen. 
  • Teach students your verbal and nonverbal reminders so they know what you are doing on their screen and can adjust accordingly if they are off task. If you do a hand gesture repeatedly but never taught your students what that meant, it won’t work!
  • Check out our Free Student Behavior Point Tracking Template to help encourage your students throughout virtual class.