It was just a few weeks ago that many of us were settling into the routine of the second semester. With lessons to plan, papers to grade, and statewide testing on the horizon, we were moving along– business as usual. We were following the spread of the novel coronavirus, watched as it spread from China to Italy and before making its way to the United States. We watched as the virus ravaged the Life Care Center in Kirkland Washington. Suddenly, more states across our country began to report cases of the novel coronavirus with seniors seeming to be the most vulnerable. Then universities began to move their classes online stating that they wanted to test out their systems, just in case. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic, thus marking the beginning of the shift in K-12 education in the US. With that declaration came the rumblings of possible school closures and by March 13, one of the largest school districts in the US, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), announced that they would be closing their schools due to the spread of the coronavirus. This created a domino effect of school closures across the country. Suddenly, educators were faced with the task of providing instruction remotely while simultaneously dealing with their own emotions around being in the middle of a pandemic.
Today, it is estimated that 53 million students across the country are experiencing school remotely. With little to no time to plan for this transition, teachers and administrators are asking themselves” how are we going to make this work?” There are concerns regarding access to technology and teacher capacity to deliver instruction remotely. There are concerns for our most vulnerable students populations – students who rely on the school breakfast and lunch to sustain them throughout the day. How do we provide remote instruction to students whose stomachs growl or to students whose only form of shelter is the family car? How can we make remote instruction equitable for our students who receive special education services or our English learners?
With all of this to consider, remote learning can be overwhelming and a bit frightening. Educators around the globe are being asked to rethink teaching and learning in the midst of a global health crisis. Many of us are being called to use resources and tools that are unfamiliar to us. What is the best way to manage all of this without going insane? I have scoured the internet for information on how educators are managing this transition. I have also talked to friends and colleagues about their thoughts and fears. With all of this, I have come up with a few tips below to help you manage your way through this with your sanity intact.
Tips for Educators
Practice self care
We all know that “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, but as educators we are used to running on empty and many of us are quite good at it. In addition to our concerns around providing remote instruction, we are adjusting and managing our families in the midst of this global health crisis. Some of us find ourselves not only preparing lessons for our students but supporting the learning for our own children who are also a part of the 53 million students who find themselves at home. During this time, self care has to be a top priority. One of the ways that we can make sure that we are taking care of ourselves is: take advantage of the reduced commute time. Use the time that you would normally spend in the car to do a few yoga stretches or maybe you can start your morning with brisk walk while maintaining social distance of course. Another way to practice self care during this time is to break for lunch. While this seems obvious to some, we as educators are notorious for working through our lunch. Make a habit of enjoying a nice lunch. This will serve as a recharge and give you the boost that you need to make it through the remainder of the day. Also, make sure that you set clear boundaries. It will be very tempting to respond to student and administrator requests throughout the evening and to continuously grade papers. For many of us, this is how we operate, but these are very special and unique times and we need to make sure that we are prioritizing our own self care.
For many of us, remote learning is new and we find ourselves building the plane as we fly it. School and district leaders are also making their way through this transition as well-being called to make decisions with limited and ever changing information. Flexibility will be a critical component to keeping your sanity. Students will also need flexibility as we work to get them into the routine of remote learning. Some students may be faced with providing childcare for younger siblings. Others may find themselves in homes where they may not have access to the supports that are necessary for successful remote learning to occur. Many students will require personalized learning more than ever. Personalization may come in the form of flexibility with deadlines. Some students may need assignments adjusted to fit their unique home situations. If you are using a video conferencing tool to deliver instruction, consider recording the live sessions so that students who may be swamped with family responsibilities and obligations can catch up at a later time. This may also be a time to scale back on the work being assigned to students. Less is more and a fewer assignments that push students and challenge their thinking will be more beneficial over time than a laundry list of assignments that serve as “busy work.”
Remote learning can open the door to endless possibilities for creative ways to deliver content and assess student learning. You may choose to bring in video to help with the delivery of content. Consider integrating podcasts into your lessons. Many museums and landmarks are offering free virtual tours. This is perfect for hosting virtual field trips to support student learning. As you think about ways to assess student learning, tools like Quizlet, Padlet and Kahoot will be useful. Flipgrid is another tool that can assist with assessing student learning. Older students can submit audio and video clips and even create their own podcast to demonstrate their understanding of the content. When using these tools, make sure that they do not violate the acceptable use policy outlined by your district or organization.
With terms like “social distancing” and “self isolation” becoming a part of our common vernacular it is important to stay connected to our school communities. Many parents and caretakers are concerned and they want to hear from you. If your district uses a learning management system (lms) like PowerSchool or Schoology, consider providing families with an update that outlines your plan for providing remote instruction. Share any changes to assignments or grading scales. Establish office hours so that students and parents know when you will be available in real time to answer questions or provide additional support to students. Another way to stay connected is by providing students with timely and actionable feedback on the assignments that they submit. In absence of face to face interactions, feedback to students will need to be more specific and detailed so that they are able to take your suggestions and make the necessary improvements. Also, build in opportunities for students to connect with each other to process their emotions around this sudden shift. This can be done in the form of journal prompts or discussion boards. Follow up with students who have been unresponsive during this transition- reminding them that they are a valued member of the class and offering assistance to help them reconnect. Stay connected to colleagues as well. While many schools and districts have designated time for virtual professional development sessions it may also be beneficial to maintain connections to colleagues that you collaborate with regularly. Set up a virtual meeting with the colleague who serves as your thought partner. Establish a virtual teacher’s lounge – a space where teachers can share their successes and work through their challenges and frustrations together.
Ask for help
As teachers, it is easy for us to shoulder the weight of this transition. If you are fortunate to work at a school, in a district or CMO, with-out-of-the-classroom support personnel, you have a team of people who are willing and able to support you with this work. Administrators along with instructional coaches, counselors, and coordinators can support you with securing resources, contacting parents, and lesson planning. Enlist the support of your school counselor to help you reach out to those unresponsive students. Share your lesson plan with the special education expert to ensure that you are accounting for all of your students needs. Work with the English Learner Specialist to make sure that your lesson includes support for students who are working to build their English language skills. Invite your school site administrator to join a video class session or to participate in an online discussion with your students. Remember we are all in this together.
If you do not have these resources available to you at your school site; reach out to your network. There are groups on Facebook where teachers from across the globe are coming together to share remote learning resources. Continue to read our blog for updates and resources that are available to you free of charge during this crisis.
As we continue through this paradigm shift, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to experience all of the emotions associated with this transition. Take care of yourself and your families.
Resources to Support Remote Learning
Quizlet A virtual study tool. Search through hundreds of sets of flashcards that students can use for review or create your own. There is also an option for competition quiz bowls.
Padlet A collaborative space where students can share ideas.
Kahoot Create learning games to introduce a topic, review and reinforce knowledge, and run formative assessments.
Flipgrid Allows learners to create and share short, authentic videos on classroom topics.
Additional Instructional and Social Emotional Learning Resources