How to Survive Distance Learning as a Teacher
Mark my words teachers–we will not be bested by distance learning. Know this : you survived your first year of teaching, learning how to drive, and figuring out how to work from home during coronavirus. So I know for a fact that you can make virtual lessons for students doable.
This is also my permission for your journey to be messy. We are all working through strange times and handling it in different ways. Know that you are stronger than you believe, and this is a time for educators to practice what we preach and believe in positivity and a growth mindset.
That being said, this new world of virtual learning was literally sprung on you overnight and can be alot to handle. Let’s get to the 10 things I learned from my first week of Virtual Learning:
1: Stick to 2 online tools and master them.
The number one complaint of the online teacher community right now is OVERWHELM with all of the options and tech tools for virtual learning during school closures. You’re never going to master them all, and they’re not all going to be what you need. Do some research, pick 2, and master them in and out.
Don’t be afraid to learn along with your students, as long as you at least know the basics. My recommendation? Zoom for conferencing/tech troubleshooting with students, and Flipgrid for recording video and posting lessons that students can interact with.
2. Assign work with clear instructions and clear due dates
This is the time to be concise over wordy–take the time to reread your instructions, because your students are reading all directions and don’t have you with them to clarify things. Post directions that are clear, concise, and straight to the point about what to do and where to go.
I also learned the hard way that assignments shouldn’t be too open-ended. Make sure students and parents know exactly when they’ve completed the task you assigned. For example, instead of something like study for open-notes quiz, assign them a set of online flashcards and request a screenshot of their progress, or 3 videos on Brainpop, whatever your jam is.
3. Stay grateful and seek out opportunities
Instead of dwelling on how different things are now and how it’s going to affect the school year –which is not something you can control and won’t serve you–focus on the new opportunities available in Distance Learning for students.
Many introverts and self-starters are coming out of the woodworks and blowing us away with how well they are doing in this new virtual environment! It also allows me as the teacher to provide highly individualized feedback, which I never could do before distance learning for all my students. There are so many other hidden opportunities in virtual learning for us and our students to learn from.
Also, gratitude is of the utmost importance. If your number one stress right now is lesson planning and mastering the juggle act of babies at home and teaching online, you’re doing pretty good right now. Gratitude will serve you more than negative thoughts, and help to beat anxiety about the uncertainty we’re facing.
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel or try to recreate your old curriculum.
It’s perfectly OK to use all of the free things available for teachers right now in light of Coronavirus school shutdowns, and it’s even more ok to post some lessons to hold you over until you have more time to plan and get things together.
There’s also no use in trying to recreate what you did in person with your class. Instead of trying to transfer your in-person strategy to digital, accept that digital teaching has a different flow. It’s very student-driven and self-directed, and highly individual. Let it be that way rather than trying to recreate your classroom. It will be there for you next year. Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy all the digital resources out there and explore!
5. Grade and Set Due Dates as Normal(ish)
Our students are already in an unfamiliar routine. Sending the message that their assignments have no due dates, time limits, or accountability might feel like an act of kindness. It’s actually not. Your students have multiple classes, responsibilities, and subjects. It makes things hard to prioritize when there’s no due dates.
Without some very flexible idea of when they should complete things and the security of knowing you’ll grade the work, it makes the new routine even harder to deal with. Remember, kids thrive in structure + choice. High expectations helps to remind them that you’re staying strong through the changes too. If you completely change your policy, it would actually set in more anxiety.
6. Assign realistic due dates and shorter assignments
The across-the-board mistake that teachers are making during this transition is assigning either too much work, or work that takes too much time to complete. I’m guilty as charged–in the panic to make sure I had enough, I gave students waaaay more work than I would ever give in class, and didn’t realize it until students only completed half the assignments.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the state department in my state of South Carolina released a memo to ask teachers to assign less work, which makes me think that plenty of other teachers thought the same way as me. Your work should only occupy 4-5 hours of their day.
Please remember that students are home with siblings, helping out with chores, and picking up extra side jobs to help balance out the crisis. And yes, a ton of them are just chilling on Xbox live. But they were going to do that anyway! Don’t punish the students trying to keep up with work by assigning too much.
But what if you already did?
There’s nothing more valuable to students than witnessing an educator make a mistake, apologize, and gracefully fix it.
We want out students to be comfortable with failure and trying new things, right? Model what mature people do when learning a new platform and gracefully fail. I had to change the due dates and scope of 10 assignments and apologize to students—it’s ok. They already know you love them, and that this is a stressful learning experience for everyone. I would just also make sure you extra love up on them and make the new due dates crystal clear.
7. Be Hopeful, but be prepared.
Get out of the mindset that this is temporary. It’s much more likely that this is our new normal for 2020. The sooner we accept what is, the sooner we can serve our students better. That doesn’t mean that we lose hope, it just means that we realistically prepare for the scale of a nationwide school closure. Doesn’t it feel better to accept it and move through it than dance around it fearfully?
8. Create a Routine
Routines take the mental fatigue and decision fatigue out of the tasks we need to repeatedly complete. Even though it’s really tempting to sleep in and chill in pajamas while you teach virtually (I mean, for real-do it for a day! Enjoy at least the small things that we can, right?) doing that every day will make it really hard for your brain to get into work mode.
Having either a morning routine, work startup routine, a routine with your kids/ roommates/whatever, helps to put you in the frame of mind for productivity and free up mental space to get things done. In an environment where you share space and worktime with so many other demands like kids, chores, quarantine prep, and cleaning, you need to take advantage of every productive moment you get.
Don’t waste time trying to decide when you’re going to work, what you’re going to do during your worktime, or any of that timewasting and energy-sapping behavior. Organize and map out your day so you still have time to take care of yourself and those around you–and still get all your schoolwork done.
Not sure how to organize your day and take care of yourself?
It’s never been more important to prioritize self-care for teachers and organize your day. Grab this free Daily Priority and Self-Care Planner for Teachers here to help guide your routine and keep you in a positive mindset for the challenges of Distance Learning.
9. Batch Tasks & Content to better blend home and work life
If you’re like me, you’re all the sudden homeschooling, virtually teaching, and managing household chores from home. A system that has always worked for me is batch-tasking: doing multiples of the same task together to make your time more productive.
For example, I spent one day organizing my workspace, one day last week planning all my lessons for the next three weeks (while still answering student emails), and two days grading while intermittently doing housechores and cooking.
In an environment like this where you’re expected to still complete work but work in a space full of distractions, and ESPECIALLY if you have kids that need you, you can’t guarantee you’ll have certain blocks of time like the typical 7-3 of school. If you have tasks batched out like your lessons, you won’t feel like a hot mess when the baby wakes up early and you can’t run to your computer right away.
10. Have a Designated Workspace
Your brain is already spinning with change. Don’t make it harder for your brain to process by doing your work all over the house. For example, I have a designated corner of a specific table, and even a specific chair! That way my brain associates that area with work. I don’t sit in it anytime else, and I don’t do schoolwork on the couch or other places where I relax later. This will be the #1 thing that preserves your mental sanity. I know it seems small, but it works wonders for separating out relax time from work time.
These are the 10 things that I learned from my first week of distance learning. I hope that they helped inspire you to not make the same mistakes as me. I said it at the beginning, and I’ll say it again–teachers will not be bested by distance learning.
This is something we can handle, and we’ll do it better together! What did you learn from your first week of virtual teaching? Leave a comment below!
In the meantime, I’ll catch you in the trenches.