Communication & Collaboration for Educators

Learn what students are saying about collaboration and communication. 

Hear what students have to say about communication and collaboration when learning online

“Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students, and enthusiastic parents with high expectations.”

Bob Beauprez


Online learning can provide flexibility and access to high quality courses. There are some unique features of online learning that require attention in order to be a positive experience for students, families, and teachers.

  • Online learning is a shared commitment between students, families, and teachers.
  • Online learning works best when there are clear expectations, timelines, and opportunities to collaborate.
  • Screen time and independent work time require an intentional focus on building strong social-emotional skills and, especially in the case of full-time online learning, self-care.
  • Each district, school, and teacher will outline local expectations in addition to these guidelines.

The guide below offers some general tips for teachers. It is important to understand that these tips are not intended to address specific accommodations or modifications for individual students or to replace local expectations.

Feedback about online learning was gathered from a broad base of students, families, teachers, and administrators. The topics in each guide were identified as needed during a series of virtual forums and a statewide survey conducted by the Iowa Department of Education. 

Communication and Collaboration Guide

The guide below is organized by the following topics:

  • Communication,
  • Feedback,
  • Connecting/Collaborating, and 
  • Seeking Support.

It may be helpful to use an online success checklist to see what areas each student will need for support. “Readiness” should not be used to exclude participation in online learning; the checklist may be used to enhance areas of support or instruction during the online learning experience.

Tips for Teachers


  • Provide information and access to upcoming content, assignments, due dates, and progress/grades as simply as possible to families and students.
  • Provide multiple ways for families and students to contact you and collect a preferred method of contact from families. If there is a “tech support” number for your district, make sure they have it.
  • Establish the best time for family and student contacts. For example, if you are unavailable during certain times, it’s ok to let them know messages will be returned during specific hours.
  • Be understanding and flexible when there is internet/broadband speed, stability, and outage issues.
  • Full online learning may require more intentional effort to build positive relationships with families and students.
  • Make sure communication is clear with respect to family needs. Include communication in multiple languages when appropriate.


  • Develop multiple pathways for students to provide feedback on coursework, including a variety of formative assessments and direct feedback on the load of online coursework.
  • Have clear guidelines and processes for submitting assignments, demonstration of learning, method for assessments, and grading.
  • Provide opportunities for choice in demonstrating learning.
  • Provide frequent and prompt feedback to the learner and families regarding how the student is doing.


  • Plan purely social activities at the beginning of class to help build relationships (especially when students are fully online and not just taking a single online class).
    • Use a bell ringer or intriguing question/statement, similar to an onsite class.
    • Schedule a poll, play a song, use a chat waterfall to answer a ‘this or that question.’
  • Use instructional routines to create predictable and safe interactions during online classes. Offer a variety of ways to interact such as, live text chat, discussion boards, and verbal participation.
  • Carefully plan and scaffold group work to ensure equity and realistic timelines.
    • Include scaffolds and frames to get perspective from others (for example, build it into the work group structure and provide stems for asking for others perspectives).
    • Model how to handle different perspectives and disagreements in a respectful way. Consider teaching this skill directly and proactively.
    • Intentionally plan and embed quality social-emotional interactions between both teacher-student and student-student.
  • Close online sessions on a positive note using techniques such as optimistic closure and reflection.
  • Incorporate active learning to stand and move regularly, as well as breaks from the screen (one example is the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds).

Seeking Support

  • If learners are fully online and not just in a single class, schedule 1:1 time for check-ins for wellness and academics.
  • Consider that some learners may not want to have their video on due to their surroundings or where they are accessing the internet. 
  • Increase engagement in other ways besides requiring the video to be on. For example, use interactive techniques and apps, build relationships, or allow learners to design their own virtual background. Address concerns with lack of engagement individually.
  • Know what devices each of the learners are using and any challenges or limitations a device may have for learners accessing the material.
  • Identify who your technology supports are for any issues you, your learners, or their families are having.
  • Confer with colleagues to share and learn about strategies and techniques they may be using. 
  • Work with your building team regarding learners who are not attending. Connect with your school counselor or identified strategist if you believe learners (or families) need additional support.