Best Practices for Planning Virtual School Programs

April 11, 2017

Virtual learning can provide all students the opportunity to access high-quality curriculum and enable districts to expand learning options. Download this infographic to learn more about the benefits of virtual schools.

The following best practices can get your district started with implementing a successful virtual learning program.

Effective digital curriculum allows for a wide variety of implementations. Consider these factors when planning your virtual learning program:

Enrollment Type

Create a part-time program, where students take one or more courses in addition to traditional course enrollment, or a full-time virtual school, where students are enrolled in all courses required to earn a high school diploma.

Multiple Programs

Virtual schools may support multiple programs such as Advanced Placement, homebound, long-term suspension, evening school, summer courses, and scheduling conflicts.

Credit Type

Offer courses for credit recovery, original credit, or no-credit courses for skills remediation.


Best Practices: Planning

1. Clearly Define Staff Roles and Responsibilities
Support your program with qualified staff members who hold the appropriate certifications. Staffing allocations may be full-or part-time depending on enrollment.

  • Administrator/site coordinator: Oversees the program and provides direction and support to staff.
  • Guidance counselor: Provides individual graduation planning, progress monitoring, and outreach.
  • Teachers: Provide instruction and feedback to students.
  • Support staff: Work under the direction of the administrator to perform operational tasks.


2. Provide Scheduling Options
Students work at their own pace from any computer with internet access. Successful programs also require students to periodically meet either face-to-face or virtually with staff for instruction and to review coursework and progress toward completion.

  • Students taking supplemental courses should enroll in one course at a time.
  • Full-time students should complete five to eight courses each year. Enrolling full-time students in up to three courses at one time will allow students to better focus on course work and optimize staffing resources.


3. Conduct Enrollment Interviews
Screen applicants and meet with a parent or guardian in an enrollment interview to ensure appropriate placement. Set expectations for student work, attendance, communication, and review school policies.

4. Required On-Site Attendance
Determine the numbers of days and hours students are required to attend on-site. Determine when students will have access to teachers for progress checks, instruction, and assessment proctoring. Offer multiple sessions to meet student needs (day/evening).

5. Provide Opportunities for Professional Development
Offer teachers opportunities to develop skills and competencies in the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching.


Best Practices: Instruction

1. Complete Functionality Training
Ensure that staff members are familiar with the features and functionality of the digital learning environment.

2. Lead a Student Orientation
Establish clear expectations to set students up for success during the first day.

  • Explain procedures, attendance requirements, expectations for student work, and your communication and support system.


3. Motivate Students for On-Time Course Completion

  • Assign due dates to pace work for timely completion and meaningful progress reports.
  • Require portfolios with notes, study sheets, and other written work.
  • Conduct weekly progress meetings framed around student work samples and progress toward completion.
  • Congratulate students who meet deadlines and discuss strategies to help students who are behind get back on track.


4. Monitor & Respond to Student Progress
Develop instructional intervention strategies to assist students who are struggling. These interventions can be applied in person at a student success center or via phone/video conferencing.

  • Small-group instruction: Use assessment data to identify and group struggling students by learning objective
  • Individual instruction: Provide direct instruction of concepts and skills to individual students.
  • Consider additional support from resources, teachers, peer mentors, and tutors.


5. Proctor Summative Assessments
Summative assessments — such as unit and semester-level tests and exams — should be completed in a proctored environment after students finish all corresponding lessons and activities.

To ensure academic integrity, lock summative assessments until they can be proctored by a teacher, mentor, or parent.

6. Communicate Student Progress
Communicate frequently throughout the course with students and parents.

  • Hold office hours: Set times when students and parents can communicate directly with teachers. Consider face-to-face, web conference, and phone meetings.
  • Reach out to students during the first week to welcome them and begin developing the student-teacher relationship. Call students as needed to promote timely course completion.
  • Add a coach: Add a parent email address so parents receive weekly progress reports.
  • Contact parents if a student is behind schedule, has not recently signed in, or has a course average below 70%. Outline the steps students can take to get back on track.



Learn more about implementing a virtual school program:




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