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Tips for Effective Virtual Facilitating

By Dana Watts, ISS Director of Research and Development

Our society has never asked more of our teachers and school leaders. They have answered this ambiguous time with agility and resilience while being stretched thin as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of education. COVID-19 has shown a light on new ways of learning, as well as the inequity of professional learning that has been offered to our teachers.

Dana Watts facilitating the World Language & EAL/ESL Educators Deep Dive

ISS has hosted a number of online professional learning sessions, including Deep Dive sessions that concentrated on five main components of online learning: online pedagogy, online assessment, online engagement, online grading and reporting, and online resources. We learned so much by diving into the world of virtual facilitation and collaboration. As online teaching will undoubtedly still play a critical role in school life ahead, we hope the following takeaways and tips from our experience will support your classroom’s learning needs, even in a virtual environment.

  1. Adhere to norms: Establish rules for engagement and illustrate ways students or participants can connect and interact throughout the session (for example: chats, Q&A, parking lot, breakout groups).

  2. Provide one-stop shopping: Create one location to find the links to anything you plan to reference throughout your class time together.

  3. Be flexible and honest: If you are nervous when you are trying something new or complicated, don’t be afraid to name it. For example, when we broke folks into 45 breakout-group rooms according to division level within a school, we told participants that we were trying something new and weren’t sure if it would work smoothly. This helped participants understand our intentions and problem-solve when a few people were kicked out.

  4. Prototype and iterate: Each time we ran a new Deep Dive session, we made changes and improvements based upon the feedback of our participants. No model is perfect. Learn as you go and iterate.

  5. Provide Structures: In the words of Adaptive Schools, “processes given, processes received.” Make sure if you are sending participants to breakout groups, there are clearly written directions for everyone to follow. Ask for a thumbs up if the directions are clear.

  6. Be authentic and build trust: Let students know if you are trying something new and let them help you find solutions when things do not work as planned.

  7. Build knowledge for all: Realize that not all of your students will have the same background knowledge and skills. Take a few moments to ground everyone in the terminology and skills that will be utilized throughout your time together. Do not assume they all are coming from the same place. Build knowledge for all so everyone has an equal seat at the table.

  8. Provide brain breaks: Create short brain breaks into your session as you switch between activities. This might include a quick game of Simon Says or eye yoga. If you are running a long session, provide bathroom/snack breaks for participants.

  9. Interact: Make your virtual classroom engaging with breakout groups and polling features to allow time to interact with the material. When breakout groups are happening, pop in and check for understanding with your students.

  10. Support those presenting: When other participants are presenting, it can be difficult to navigate time, slide decks, and the conversation. Provide a visual cue for presenters if they happen to go over their time limit and are infringing on the time of others. We utilized a visual gesture to signal to facilitators that their time was up.

  11. Share: Make slide decks distributable so your participants with limited connectivity can follow along and refer back to resources at a later date.

  12. Be patient with yourself and others: If something doesn’t work the first time, such as a link, let someone know and do your best to help move forward, such as continuing a conversation in a breakout room, or recording for others. Remind yourself and your students that empathy will go a long way for everyone!

Let’s continue to reach out and support one another, so we can continuously share our passion for learning throughout the world and navigate this new learning landscape together.

Josh Bishop, ISS Director of School Development, facilitating the Early Years Educators Deep Dive



About the Author:

Dana Watts, ISS Director of Research and Development

Twitter: @teachwatts


Dana has a broad school background in curriculum, technology, innovation, and educational leadership. She joined ISS from Hong Kong International School, where she was the Schoolwide Curriculum Leader. In addition to working in Hong Kong, India and Thailand, she has also served as Executive Director of WLead, and as the Director of Innovation at 21st Century Learning International. Dana is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, a Google Certified Teacher, and ISTE Certified Trainer.

About International Schools Services

Twitter: @ISScommunity Email:

As a nonprofit organization, International Schools Services (ISS) works with more than 800 international schools and thousands of educators each year across its suite of services, creating the largest global footprint in international education support. Whether it’s developing and managing world-class international schools, staffing schools, ordering equipment and supplies, performing accounting functions, or supporting best-in-class teaching and learning approaches, ISS provides the full range of services necessary for your school to thrive and deliver an outstanding global education to your students.

This article is adapted from Dana’s piece in the October 2020 ISS NewsLinks publication. You can learn more about ISS Online Professional development opportunities at


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