Strategies for engaging students in in-person, virtual, and hybrid instruction

Read more about what RTI, PBIS, and MTSS means in our blog post Multi-tiered frameworks: Understanding RTI, PBIS, MTSS

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, many students have experienced varied or inconsistent learning environments. Whether students have been in virtual instruction, a hybrid of virtual and in-person, or are transitioning back to fully in-person, educators recognize the importance of supporting the academic and social-emotional needs of all students using multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). Many states, districts, and schools developed Response to Intervention (RTI), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) frameworks aligned with their pre-pandemic school systems but implementing these frameworks in a virtual, hybrid, or post-pandemic setting is uncharted territory.

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A blog post developed by a team at Regional Education Laboratory– Appalachia (REL AP) provides a list of resources to help educators and state and local education agency leaders to implement MTSS frameworks using diverse delivery methods. Due to the turbulent nature of the 2020-2021 school year, educators should especially consider how to strengthen the social, emotional, and behavioral supports for students as schools begin a post-pandemic transition. The additional multi-tiered focus on emotional and mental health components is sometimes referred to as an interconnected systems framework (ISF), which still falls under the larger MTSS umbrella. Three foundational components of MTSS are important to keep at the forefront of efforts to support students, regardless of the learning environment: creating a safe and welcoming physical environment, teaching and reminding students about expectations, and maintaining a routine and predicable schedule. Examples of how these MTSS components can be integrated into virtual, hybrid, or in-person instruction are highlighted below.

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Creating a safe and welcoming physical environment

Students are more likely to engage with learning activities when they feel safe and comfortable. Teachers using virtual instruction can encourage students to find a dedicated spot to keep their school supplies and “attend” class each day. A great way to involve parents and caregivers in children’s learning is to encourage them to help students set up a welcoming home learning environment.

  • This webpage from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) provides information on how families and caregivers can create a physically and emotionally safe learning environment that helps children actively engage in learning. A series of handouts include tips such as acknowledging and affirming children’s feelings and setting behavioral guidelines among all family members at home.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides a checklist for caregivers to set up and plan virtual or at-home learning, including mental health and social-emotional well-being considerations. Strategies include caregivers creating a daily schedule with their child and working with the school to identify ways to add physical activity to children’s daily routines.

In the classroom, teachers can be thoughtful about the physical layout of their classroom, wall decorations, and curricular materials they include to ensure that the room is clutter-free, inclusive, and easy to navigate. This handout from the Mid-West PBIS network provides additional information and tips for how teachers can organize their classroom space to feel welcoming and safe for all students.

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Teaching and reminding students about expectations

Because students may have experienced varied learning environments over the course of this year, it is important to make sure expectations for each setting are explicitly and clearly taught to students. This means that, depending on their school’s status, teachers need to consider what their expectations are during virtual and/or in-person instruction. This resource from the National TA Center on PBIS provides helpful information for creating a PBIS behavior teaching matrix for remote instruction. Using a matrix, as outlined in the resource, can also be a useful way for teachers to organize their expectations for in-person instruction. As students transition back into the classroom, teachers should take time to re-teach any expectations that were in place before the pandemic rather than expecting students to remember them. We have included a sample PBIS behavior teaching matrix for virtual and in-person instruction at the end of this post to give educators ideas for developing their own!

Providing regular reminders of the expectations, whether it is posting on a wall or taking a few minutes to review before beginning instruction, can also help students understand and adhere to what is expected of them. In addition to reiterating expectations at different points in the day, teachers can call attention to student successes and provide praise for students engaging in appropriate behaviors. This blog post from our Behavior Blog team provides strategies for communicating expectations to students and providing praise appropriately across learning environments.

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Maintaining a routine and predictable schedule

Keeping classroom and instructional routines consistent and predictable also contributes to students feeling safe and secure. This is especially beneficial for students who have experienced trauma as it helps them to feel a sense of control and ultimately safety. Students and families may have experienced a range of potentially traumatic events throughout the school year, so it is important to find intentional ways to support these students during the post-pandemic transition. This blog post from our Behavior Blog team provides additional ways that educators can provide structure and routine and implement other strategies for supporting students who have experienced trauma in virtual and in-person settings.

Routines may need to be tailored to different learning environments. For example, teachers might want to divide virtual instruction into smaller units with more breaks (for example, “mindfulness” breaks, breaks to interact with peers with supervision) to keep students engaged. Teachers transitioning back to in-person instruction can support students emotionally by building time into the daily schedule to allow students to discuss their feelings and fears about being back in school. Regardless of the setting, it is important to make sure students are made aware of the routines and schedules in the same way they need to be aware of the expectations during each component of their day.

While the pandemic has proven an unprecedented challenge for teachers, students, and caregivers alike, attention to these foundational considerations can contribute to successful virtual instruction and transition back to the classroom.

Example PBIS Behavior Teaching Matrix

Entering Class Whole group instruction Small-group activities
Remote learning
  • Video optional, audio off.
  • Start class with equipment charged or plugged in.
  • Choose a distraction free space.
  • Use chat with classmates for first five minutes.
  • Video optional, audio on.
  • Ask questions when you have them (using voice or chat).
  • Answer polls promptly.
  • Video optional, audio on.
  • One speaker at a time, use chat when others are talking.
  • Encourage each other to stay on topic.
In-Person Instruction
  • Hang up coat/put away lunch and walk right to desk.
  • Look at the board for schedule instructions.
  • No talking except for questions about the instructions.
  • Have all materials out on desk at the start of the lesson.
  • Raise hand for questions.
  • Answer questions out loud and on cue.
  • Bring all materials to the correct spot in the classroom.
  • One speaker at a time.
  • Make sure everyone is included in the work.

Adapted from Creating A PBIS Behavior Teaching Matrix for Remote Instruction.

Topics: Classroom-based intervention Multi-tiered systems of support School-based supports and systems Social-emotional learning Trauma

Tags: Classroom Management Multi-tiered Systems of Support Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Social-emotional skills