No one knows exactly what this school year is going to look like, but we can all be certain it will be different than any year before. We can also be sure there is going to be distance learning.
Locally, schools have announced that at least the first month of school will be all distance learning, so let’s get prepared. Here are a list of items that will make your distance learning experience that much better!
- Make a Schedule
This tip is two-fold.
First, make a schedule for yourself whether you school is requiring you to maintain a daily schedule or not. As humans, we thrive when we know what to expect and a schedule is a great way to achieve this. Sit down and write it out. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but can be a lifesaver on those days that you just don’t know what to do. Additionally, if you are managing teaching your students while also having kids of your own at home, a schedule that gives you time to be a parent in addition to a teacher is a must.
Second, students like predictability and to know what is coming next. Whether your schedule is a different subject each day or blocks of time dedicated to certain tasks it will help your students and their families make and maintain a plan for learning.
- Embrace Asynchronous Learning
Even with a schedule, everyone’s life is looking a little different these days. Some families are able to dedicate time to a school day, but many are juggling about a million other things including other family member and jobs. This isn’t easy for anyone.
Instead of requiring students to be logged in at a specific time, embrace asynchronous learning. One way to do this is to record your lessons and post them somewhere like Google Classroom. Students can then view them when they are able and complete the given task to submit to you. This style of learning offers flexibility to both you and your students.
Of course, I would still encourage you to get some face time with your students, but this time would be more about connecting and checking for understanding rather than the actual lesson itself.
- Meet Your Students and Their Families Where They Are
We all have a list of a million challenges right now, but some are greater than others. Do not assume anything about a student or their family. Of course, this should always be a teacher’s MO, but right now it is even more important than ever.
Families are struggling to figure this all out. Some are forming learning pods with neighbors, others are calling in the extended family to help, and others are stuck not knowing what to do.
Unfortunately, distance learning puts a heavy burden on families already faced with challenges such as lack of internet, childcare, and other necessities. We are seeing the education gap widen with BIPOC individuals being affected disproportionately. We need to do everything we can to meet ALL families where they are and provide their students with a positive learning experience.
Be open and honest with your families. Ask them what they need and be ready to listen, not jump in with solutions automatically. Hear what they say and then work together to make a plan. They know their situation best and don’t need you to jump in and tell them what to do. Instead, be there to support them.
- Stay Flexible
If you are anything like me you probably have a detailed schedule already laid out in your head and picture your students completing their tasks with joy.
Indeed, that would be wonderful, but alas not real life.
Make a plan and be ready to stick to it, but also be ready to zig and zag as needed. Teachers are experts in this and I know you will do everything you can to meet the needs of your students. Be ready to try the unconventional and most of all, remember we are all in this together and you are not the only one being challenged.
If you get stuck, reach out! You probably aren’t the only one faced with a similar situation and maybe, just maybe someone has figured out something that works already. Or, maybe the hive mind can work together to get it done.
Remember, this isn’t homeschooling or regular virtual school, this is a crisis and we are doing our best to stay ahead of it.
- Adopt the Motto: Done is Better Than Perfect
Perfectionism is a strong trait in the teacher population and I absolutely fall into the trap of wanting to be perfect, but now is not the time for that.
Repeat after me, “Done is better than perfect.”
This goes for everything from setting up your Google Classroom to recording a lesson of yourself. If you don’t have the most visually pleasing background, don’t sweat it. Don’t have time to jump on the Bitmoji bandwagon, not a problem!
Be there for your students and keep learning. That is your job.
- Schedule Office Hours
Families are going to have questions, and lots of them.
First, schedule office hours where students and families alike can jump on a Zoom or Google Handout and ask a question. This will serve a couple of purposes.
First, you can get some face time and remind everyone you are human, not just a computer.
Next, this will give you a solid view of where families are at and what the most common questions are. You know what they say about questions, for each person that asks one, there are three more who didn’t want to ask. If you take the questions and either record your response or type up a quick FAQ to send to families you will be doing a lot of good.
- Build in Time for Community
Just because you aren’t in a physical classroom does not mean you shouldn’t take time to complete community building activities with your students. These activities can be done through a video chat, an app, or a hyperdoc with links to things students love and can connect over.
Right now we should be just as concerned about students’ emotional well being, if not more, than their academics, and knowing there are other students feeling the same way as them goes a long way.
- Use Games to Engage
Video chats can be super boring and tedious, so make them something to look forward to by including a game or two.
I am a huge fan of gamification, especially for review, and think now is a great time to pull out all the stops.
My favorite game to play on Zoom with students is Digital Stinky Feet, but there are a million and one options out there, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
- Choose a Few Tools
If you search, there are thousands if not millions of tools out there that all claim to be great for distance learning, and I am sure they are. They are also totally overwhelming.
Start with two tools. Tools you know how to use and will be effective. Then you can learn one new tool at a time to add to the mix.
This will keep distance learning novel for your students with the slow introduction of multiple tools as well as keep it more manageable for your and their families. No one needs one more thing to be overwhelmed by right now.
- Keep It Personal
This is tough. Sometimes it even seems impossible. Stay honest and open an personal.
You don’t need to reveal every detail to your students and their families, but giving them a general idea of how you are doing can be a good idea. You might want to share some challenges you are facing personally or professionally during a class meeting in order to open the space up to allow for vulnerability. You could also write your families an email explaining what life looks like at home for you asking for what their day is like in return.
Check in with families early and often. One teacher shared with me that she made a list of families to call each day of the week, I think it turned out to be six phone calls a day Monday through Friday. Families knew they would receive a call that day and were ready with questions, but most often this teacher was hearing about their lives.
Creating a system like this can be the difference in a student drowning or being thrown a life preserver.
Move With Your Cheese
There are so many unknowns right now, so all we can do is keep moving with our cheese.
I imagine all the amazing tools and communication techniques that we will have in our teacher toolkits when this is all over. You’ve got this!
Get Your Game On!
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