“This is too overwhelming.” Those are four words that almost every teacher has said since they have had to start teaching virtually. Any Facebook group for teachers were filled with conversations about their concerns and worries for the last few months of the 2019-2020 school year. Nobody knew what to do. They were facing something they had never had to face before. It was scary, and for a good reason too.
Questions like, “How can we shift to online learning?” “What do we do about kids who don’t have internet access?” and “How do we care for special education students?” swirled around the internet. This panic was very much understandable. But there were also teachers out that had weeks of crisis experience, and several were in Italy, Hong Kong, and Washington state, and others had long-term careers in distance and online learning. In the end, teachers started to offer highly creative strategies for dealing with the obstacles of online learning.
The best way to move from “this is impossible” to “I’ve got this,” is to change your mindset. There are a lot of tactics and strategies that we will look at in this article and others, but the most important thing to discuss right now is the psychological and emotional scaffolds that you will have to climb when it comes to teaching in this new paradigm.
There Will Trials and A Lot of Errors
The important thing is to start out by being reasonable with yourself. It is, in fact, possible to change over to online learning in a matter of hours without a bunch of problems. Expect the problems you could face before they happen, plan for them, and do your best to make peace with your situation.
Stressing over issues that happen is not going to help you out. Just like with in-person teaching, sometimes the video won’t play, you realize you forgot a handout at home, or your students were less than prepared for a test. Things happen, but you adapt and move on.
Start With The Technology
One of the big mindset issues is towards the technology that will be used for distance learning. Learning new technical skills can be challenging and fun at the same time. Think back to the last time that a meeting can be derailed when the internet decided to quit working.
The frustration and challenges associated with learning all of this technology will often felt more by the teacher. This is especially true for the older teachers, who may already struggle with the digital world, and for those trying to balance the demands of working and taking care of their families.
To find success in this, everybody must be ready to be challenged and to get their mindset ready to navigate those waters. Tell your students to let you know if they find something that isn’t working, and you could always ask them for help.
Acknowledge the Exceptional
You will need to reset your baseline. Teachers have to operate in the shadow of a pandemic, and this can be limiting and disorienting. Going about business as usual just isn’t going to happen.
You can’t expect to structure your distance learning plan like you would in your typical learning experience. Trying to do that is only going to cause you more problems. You need to focus on how to provide a rich experience to your students who no longer have a “traditional” teacher standing next to them.
That doesn’t mean you should just let your kids do whatever. On the contrary, they still need to learn. What this is saying is you need to give yourself permission and time to figure out how this is all going to work for you.
Reduce the Workload for All
If your school district allows you to do so, you need to plan on doing less. Students are going to have a much harder time working productively. They have more distractions around them, and you do too. If you don’t scale back on what you send them to do, they won’t be able to get it all done. Plus, you have your own life and family that is going to need your attention as well.
Think about the parents who are trying to work from and the student’s siblings who need to do school work as well. Short live sessions, a reading log, maybe some extensions on certain assignments, and some quizzes using Google Forms. The funny thing about the distance plays a weird effect on the time it would take to teach a lesson. What you would normally be able to teach in a single class will likely take twice as long.
I have a question for you. Have you ever used Google Maps, and if so, who taught you how to use it? For years we have all been using technology that didn’t exist 20 years ago, and for the most part, we didn’t have direct instruction on how to use it. We taught ourselves and maybe asked somebody else for help if we couldn’t figure it out.
Use this online learning experience as your own learning experience. If your student asks you a question about a feature in Google Docs and you don’t know the answer, feel okay with saying, “I don’t know,” and then use some of the class time to figure it out together. When you do this, you are modeling what digital age learning looks like. Who knows, there could be another student who knows the answer, and this could give them the incentive to speak up and participate in class.
We Are Not Islands
Humans are social beings. Working from home with the added effects of quarantine and isolation will often have a depressing effect on the teachers and students. Make an effort to talk to your colleagues and other professionals to provide more psychological and emotional context to your work. This type of teaching can be difficult but add in the uncertainty of the times, and it becomes extraordinarily hard. You are going to need the virtual company of people who are going through the same thing.
You should also make sure that you reach out to your students as much as you can. You can also help facilitate peer-to-peer communication. Giving pen pals to your students could help them feel connected to others, and we will also go over some other ways later on to help with the interaction between students.
We All Feel Like We Can’t Before We Can
There is going to be some degree of self-doubt and pessimism that comes with all of this. It takes some time to get some perspective about your situation and be patient with yourself. You already know how to teach, and teaching online does not change that. All you need is some time to figure this out.
Some teachers also have kids of their own who have to do virtual classes. That can feel very overwhelming, but take it one day at a time. It will become easier the more you do it. You will get into a routine, and it will become second nature.
Do your best to stay calm, but expect those moments where that is merely impossible, and plug away. Be flexible and open-minded. Everybody goes, “I can’t do this!” until they pause, take some deep breaths, and talk it out. Then they realize they can.
Mind the Gap
You’ve got your work cut out for you, but don’t forget about those students who are facing bigger challenges. Students that don’t have a computer or internet access are going to need support, as are those with learning differences or other circumstances that are going to make distance learning harder. Supporting those is what comes to a lot of teachers’ minds. Your students are going to do their best. Have faith in them.
While we are in the midst of a tragedy that touches every corner of the world, this is a time that can be used as a learning opportunity for everybody. While distance learning might not last forever for you, it could, for some simply because they prefer it. Let’s be honest; what job out there today does not require some sort of digital skill?
As you enter the world of distance learning, don’t forget about everybody that is involved. Your student’s parents are involved as well, and they have to learn how to deal with all of this as well; check-in with them.
While we make this transition to online learning, it may not go perfectly in the beginning. Remind yourself that you are building skills and that we can all grow through these challenges and changes. That goes for students and teachers, and these skills are going to serve us now and well into the future.