This year has been unlike anything else, and educators and students alike have been forced to adapt some of the most fundamental pieces of learning to stay safe during the pandemic. Today, TLC Presenter Jane Kise explores several strategies for students to stay engaged in the new virtual learning environment.

Jane Kise, TLC 2020 presenter
Jane Kise is the founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates. For the past 20 years she has worked as a consultant, specializing in team building, coaching, and professional development. She is also the author or coauthor of over 25 books, including Holistic Leadership, Thriving Schools (2019)Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Teachers Change, 2nd ed.; and Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking for Our Schools. She holds an MBA in finance from the Carlson School of Management and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of St. Thomas.

Dr. Kise is a frequent workshop speaker and has presented at Learning Forward, ASCD, NCTM, NCSM, World Futures, and Association for Psychological Type International (APTi) conferences, including keynoting in Miami, London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney and Auckland. Kise’s research on coaching teachers for change received several awards. Her research on patterns in Jungian type and how students approach mathematics became a TEDx talk.


One Differentiation Imperative for Distance Learning

Last spring, just like most educators around the world, all of my work moved online, including professional development sessions and the doctoral courses I usually teach during on-campus week-long immersion experiences. As I planned, and scratched plans, and planned again, I worried most about engaging my adult students.

But I soon discovered that whether in person or virtual, one key truth can guide differentiation: Students have different needs for action and interaction.

  • Not all students thrive with a quiet study spot.
  • Not all students benefit when they’re expected to learn at a table or desk.
  • Not all students do well with rigid schedules for learning and breaks.
  • Students of all ages struggle to sit still for a full hour, as do most adults; think about professional development sessions you’ve attended. If we ignore this very real truth about human nature, students of all ages will move and interact when we least want them to!

This is especially crucial when students are learning at home since most caregivers have enough to handle without helping with content. What many parents/guardians want to know is, “How do I reduce the battles? How do I help my children learn without feeling like an enforcer? How do I keep them staring at a screen when their bodies want to move?”

The term “zoning out” aptly applies to all of us if we spend too much time in front of screens for any purpose. Certainly “Zoomed Out” has recently entered the vocabulary of many educators and students!

Action and interaction is a key differentiation strategy. Yes all students need to sit and listen, but they have different capacities to do so. And, it actually de-energizes about half of all students for the learning. The “norms” suggested for distance learning such as having a full routine or a quiet place to study may increase those battles and demotivate students.

Take a look at some of the things my doctoral students did to stay engaged during classes. I’ve included ways to adapt their strategies for K-12 students. Note how contrary their strategies may be to advice to parents such as “Create a quiet place for study.” What else might you add?

  • Using standing or walking desks

    What level surfaces are available that would let a student stand up while engaging in online learning? I frequently work at a chest-high bookcase—in fact, that’s where I’m writing this article—that holds my computer and lets me move side to side or stretch a bit while working. A desk or piano or kitchen counter? In-class teachers have found that some students may produce more when leaning against a wall than sitting in a chair. Have parents experiment with ways to allow movement. What about stability balls as a chair? Or search the web for inexpensive kick bands for chairs. Differentiate for active children by helping them channel that activity and stay engaged?

  • Connecting outdoors on a balcony or deck

    Not everyone has the luxury of a signal that goes beyond their walls, but a change of scenery actually helps many of us engage. Adding a headset might limit distractions while still providing the benefit of fresh air.

  • Standing while taking notes on a whiteboard that they later used in a class presentation

    Not everything needs to be created in digital documents. Encourage parents to have students work on whiteboards or with wet-erase markers on windows. Or, is there a way to distribute chalk and pieces of “blackboard wallpaper” that might be pinned up? Students can still send a picture. Working on larger spaces has a different feel than working on screens.

  • Creating notes and visuals on their sidewalks and submitting pictures

    Remember, these were doctoral students. If they needed to get outside and do things differently, might K-12 students as well? In one case, a student had her teenager take a video of her describing her diagram. The whole class enjoyed this change-up from a slide deck presentation.

  • Taking advantage of asynchronous portions of class

    Many watched the recorded lecture at the crack of dawn, went for a walk or run, and returned in time for the live portion of class. Others followed the same schedule every day. Encourage parents to talk with their children and give them some autonomy if at all possible. This could be as simple as “Would you like to walk the dog first or watch the math class video first?” “Once you’ve attended your online live class today, do you want to get your homework done right away? Or do you want to take a break and do the homework right before lunch?” Autonomy is a major human motivator.

  • Forming study buddy groups

    My students craved interaction. They wanted any lectures recorded so they could view them outside of live class times. They wanted whole-group discussions and time in break-out sessions. Those small group discussions continued outside of class. Help parents do the same for their children; some caregivers have the idea that homework is always a solo endeavor. Can children read to each other—or to you? Can they talk through writing ideas? Can they do a few math problems and then phone a friend? Technology does not lessen the need for relationships and friendships. Adults in the home may need encouragement to provide these chances. Some schools are placing students in consistent small groups to facilitate these interactions.

How might you encourage your students to move and interact with their environment in productive ways while online? Technology is only a tool, not a solution. Students still need hands-on activities, chances to talk things through, opportunities to do things their own way, and that crucial feeling of belonging—even at the doctoral level.



Don’t miss Dr. Kise’s session at this year’s TLC:

Breakout Session: Holistic Leadership: Moving Learning Communities from Either/Or to Both/And

Leadership—whether you are a teacher leader, an instructional coach, a building administrator, or a district leader–involves ongoing dilemmas. Unfortunately, too often in education we act as if we can solve them once and for all. Think of the reading wars, teacher accountability without adequate support, ongoing struggles with standardizing what is taught—think of the pendulum swings in what educators are asked to do because we over-focus on what seems like a solution only to create more problems! In this session, you’ll:

  • Learn to spot “polarities” — interdependent sets of values that require both/and thinking
  • Work with the “Clarity AND Flexibility” polarity in the context of implementing school initiatives. How do we implement what is best for students and ensure that educators have the autonomy they need to stay motivated?
  • Identify one personal priority for working with the Clarity AND Flexibility polarity



 Also Presenting at TLC

This year’s lineup of presenters is one of the most exciting the conference has ever had. Don’t miss these presenters and more at TLC!



The Instructional Playbook

Michelle Harris, Senior Consultant at ICG, began teaching in El Cajon, California. She taught middle school English and social studies before serving as an instructional coach, Title I coordinator, student manager, and assistant principal at three middle schools, a K-8 school, and a 6-12 IBO school, all in Beaverton, Oregon.

A seasoned staff developer, Michelle has presented and keynoted all over the United States and in Europe and Africa.

Michelle is a co-author on Jim Knight’s most recent publication, The Instructional Playbook.

Michelle’s TLC keynote is titled:

Leading Others and Leaving a Legacy

She will also be presenting a pre-conference session and a breakout session titled:

What Principals Need to Know About Coaching

The Impact Cycle

Rachel Lofthouse is a UK-based Professor of Teacher Education. She is the director of CollectivED; the Centre for Coaching, Mentoring and Professional Learning at Leeds Beckett University.  Rachel’s recent research includes a year-long evaluation study of coaching for school leaders. She also leads a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring for Education Practitioners and regularly works directly with teachers and leadership teams to develop a range of professional learning practices in school settings.

Rachel’s TLC session is titled:

Re-writing Professional Leadership Narratives; Learning from Coaching Research for Better Practice

She will also be participating in:

Panel 3: Coaching Models

Rachel Lofthouse, TLC 2020 presenter


Rebecca Frazier, PhD, has centered her professional career around learning and sharing how to become an effective coach. Rebecca’s doctoral research included a qualitative and quantitative study dedicated to answering the question, “What makes an effective instructional coach?” which became the foundation for her book, The Joy of Coaching: Characteristics of Effective Instructional Coaches.

Her years as a classroom teacher, an instructional coach, trainer of instructional coaches, district facilitator for coaching program development, and a K–8 principal have provided her with a multi-tiered perspective of the coaching process.

Dr. Frazier’s TLC session is titled:

Coach Happy!

Ann Hoffman,

Senior Consultant at ICG, and a Professional Development Leader for the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL) with more than 30 years of experience. As one of the first professional developers for KU-CRL as well as one of the first consultants with ICG, Ann has worked with thousands of teachers, coaches, and administrators in the United States and internationally. Ann is a recipient of the Gordon R. Alley Partnership Award and the Strategic Instruction Model Leadership Award, both from KU-CRL. She is also the 2017 recipient of the Don Deshler Leadership Award from the Instructional Coaching Group. In addition, Ann serves as a founding member of the advisory board for the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted and Talented Education at the University of Iowa.

Ann is a co-author on Jim Knight’s most recently publication, The Instructional Playbook.

Ann’s 4 TLC sessions are titled:

The Instructional Playbook

Better Conversations

Video & Professional Learning

Gathering Data

Ann Hoffman, TLC 2020 presenter

The Instructional Playbook


Check out our conference schedule to see the complete lineup of presenters! Hope to see you THIS SUNDAY!