Few could have anticipated the massive impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on teaching. Self-isolation recommendations and quarantine directives have shuttered schools, forcing educators to switch to emergency remote learning, even though many of them weren't prepared to do so. Teachers quickly learned to navigate videoconferencing sites such as Zoom and Google Meet, and school districts worked tirelessly to get devices into the hands of students and to ensure that students had internet access.
As we've all seen, the transition has been hard. Facilitating online learning is inherently challenging—doing it in a time of social upheaval is doubly stressful. Here are seven coping strategies teachers have found useful during this difficult time.
Further Reading: How Teachers Can Help Families Deal with Remote Learning Challenges
1. Prioritize Your Students' Social and Emotional Well-Being
Many schools immediately recognized how important it is to prioritize their students' social and emotional well-being. Teachers, administrators, nurses, counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and translators are working together to ensure that students are safe, connected, and as engaged in their learning as possible.
It's important to work together to engage students and families with flexibility and equity in mind. Educators are on the front line, connecting students to the resources they need.
2. Set a Schedule
Once the lockdowns started, many teenage students became nocturnal, and high school teachers would receive work emails at 3 a.m. Because their students were communicating, teachers felt obliged to reply. To reach their students, some teachers worked late into the evenings and on weekends. Teaching became a constant, 24-hour exercise.
Many of those educators quickly realized that wasn't going to work, so they began to set regular hours—usually 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.—during which they would communicate with students and create and grade assignments. Teachers let students know that they'd always respond to emails within eight hours. The teachers who established these routines quickly found that they didn't feel so overwhelmed.
3. Acknowledge the Good and Bad of Videoconferencing
Videoconferencing can be an awesome resource, as it allows you to communicate with your students face to face. But it can also be awkward. The discourse you have in a classroom is tough to replicate online. Despite strict privacy controls and password protection, there can be issues. Sometimes, students have been in bed or on their Xboxes when their teachers have reached out to them. Students have signed on with inappropriate names and shared private chats they didn't realize were being recorded.
One powerful outcome of the self-quarantine orders is that many students now know how to behave appropriately on videoconferences—a skill they might not have picked up until much later. In setting guidelines for proper videoconferencing etiquette, teachers have positioned their students for success in college and in their careers.
4. Recognize that Things Will Go Wrong
During one especially important online conference, one teacher I spoke to set up three computers so that they'd have a backup plan if something went wrong. They started the conference on the good computer, but they couldn't share their screen. So they moved to the second computer, but that took a long time—and they still couldn't share their screen. Mercifully, the third computer worked just right.
It's important to have a Plan B—and a Plan C and a Plan D. In some instances, you might even have to jump on your phone if you're having sound or other technical issues.
5. Talk to Your Colleagues
Collegiality has always been an important part of teaching, but teachers have never felt the need for support from colleagues more acutely. Educators share the same concerns about their students and the same uncertainty about the future. They worry about possible learning gaps. They worry that they might not be able to reach all their students.
Talking to their colleagues—via video chats, phone conversations, or texts—has helped teachers realize that they're all in the same boat. One teacher set up a Facebook page, ELA Teachers of the Quarantine, where teachers can share ideas and information.
6. Create Lessons with a Personal Connection
Some teachers have tried to engage students using interactive websites, but that doesn't always work. Some took a simplified, student-centered approach and asked students to keep a journal. That's when teachers discovered that students were scared, sad, lonely, and frustrated. They missed their friends, and they missed school. These teachers realized that if they wanted to help students, they'd need to develop assignments that asked them to personally connect with their learning.
While teachers in other districts effectively used apps such as Flipgrid, others were more successful when they asked students to simply read and write. Asking students to reflect on a reading assignment in ways that enable them to feel a personal connection to the work can be powerful.
7. Focus on What's Important
In many states, education departments have weighed in on how school districts should be handling remote instruction. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for example, has developed guidelines that stress focusing on the educational standards most critical to student success in the next school year. The secondary focus is to encourage districts to work toward increasing student engagement with a focus on addressing fundamental needs. This lets teachers concentrate on what's most important: ensuring that students grow and learn.
Further Reading: How to Prepare for a Post-Pandemic Job Interview
Teaching during shutdowns and quarantines is tough. Most of us are navigating uncharted territory. Being prepared for the challenges and pitfalls of online learning, concentrating on making sure that students' social and emotional needs are being met as they learn, and reaching out to colleagues can make the transition easier.
We'll get through this. Hang in there, everyone!