Sunday, March 22, 2020

Tips for Remote Teaching

Our school just finished our first week of Distance Learning, but I feel like it was more like a month because so much has happened. The week began with a non-stop flurry of communication from students, parents, teachers, and administrators, and I felt like I was just treading water. By Friday, I felt like I had almost found a rhythm. Below are some of the strategies that I will be using next week, and  I hope some are helpful to you.

Simplify Communication

When we first launched our online teaching, everybody had questions and rightfully so. All aspects of school seemed brand new, and no one wanted to fall behind. As the EdTech Facilitator, I wanted to be responsive to the other teachers because I knew that they needed answers to their questions before they could move forward. In my zeal to be responsive, I found myself scattered and frazzled, often answering multiple questions at once, jumping among email, text, phone calls, video conferences, Google Classroom comments, and Twitter. It was too much. Next week I will
  • Encourage students to email their questions. It is convenient for them to leave comments in Google Classroom as they think of them, but it takes multiple clicks for me to open a comment, and there is usually only one comment in each place. I will be encouraging my students to ask questions by email, and I will let them know that I will only answer comments in Google Classroom if I happen to on that page. For instance, when I grade an assignment, I will answer any comments that the student left on that assignment.
  • Focus on one mode of communication per hour. Hopping around among devices drove me crazy. I can still be responsive if I answer within two or three hours. Next week I will prepare my activities for the day early in the morning. I will then answer emails for an hour with my phone put away. Once I am done, I will then check text messages. I will schedule all of my video conferences and phone calls in one block of time near the end of the work day. That way, I can gain some momentum and feel like I am making progress without being distracted by new incoming requests.
  • Create canned responses. Once three students asked similar questions, I would copy my answer and paste it in a text document on my desktop. That way, if any more students asked, I could copy and paste my response. If multiple teachers asked questions about an app or Google Classroom function, I made a quick screencast video that I could share with other teachers with the same question. Now the recipients feel like I gave a very detailed response, but it only took a couple of seconds.

Make a Schedule

We all know that teaching can be all consuming; after all, we care about our students and we make often make our own work, which can be a time-hogging combination. Online teaching is even worse because we don't leave campus. Next week I will be sticking to a schedule that is similar to one I had when I was teaching on campus.
  • Wake up at the same time every morning, get dressed for work, eat, Bible Study, clean the breakfast dishes, all of the tasks I would do if I were leaving for school. I want to have a set lunch time as well so that I am not snacking at my desk all day. 
  • I do all of my work in one part of my house and all of my relaxing in a different part. For me, my dining room table is where I work, but I try not to bring work to the kitchen or in front of the television where I relax after work.
  • Try to leave your work space at the end of the work day. Similarly, save household chores for after work because it is too easy to get caught up doing laundry instead of working. Did anyone else clean their dorm room during finals week?

Over-Communicate with Parents

After I earned my master's degree online, I noted how it was perfect for me but would be very troublesome for most pre-college students. Online learning favors the go-getters, the motivated students who look for the next day's work and ask questions. 

Last week, there was an unusual sense of peace that I had not felt in the classroom. After some thought, I realized that I had only interacted with the students with whom it is easy to interact. On our live, online class, only 2/3 of the students logged on, and only the engaged students contributed to the discussion. I received a lot of emails from students, but they were from the same twenty or thirty students who really care. In the classroom, I would have walked around the room and seen students off task, and I would have spent a great deal of my week talking with them and motivating them. In an online environment, the unmotivated students are invisible, and the positive reinforcement of the go-getters makes it very attractive to leave the unmotivated students invisible.

I imagine that my unmotivated students are enjoying the fact that a strict teacher is not looking over their shoulder, at least temporarily. I believe that these students open Google Classroom in the morning, but if they don't read the whole daily announcement (they would need to click on the "read more" message to see all of the day's work) and don't watch my whole daily announcement video, they could honestly tell their parents that they feel like they are done with their schoolwork without doing much. We need to communicate often with their parents and make it very clear where the students need to look for the work for each day. 

Keep it Simple, but Try Something New Each Week

On one hand, we need to limit the number of online places where students need to go each day. At our school, every teacher needs to post the daily agenda and homework in the RenWeb/FACTS Lesson Plan, mostly for parents, and in a daily announcement on the Google Classroom Stream, mostly for students. If some teachers email the agenda, others post it in the Remind app, and others write it in Slack, students will be lost. 

Similarly, teachers are overwhelmed by moving their classes online. They have to learn new platforms and rework their curriculum for this new style of teaching, usually just one day before they share it with students. I read on Twitter how many veteran teachers feel like they are first-year teachers all over again. Don't feel pressure to do too much each day. Everything I read states that we should decrease the amount of work and give grace on due dates since this is such a scary time for students, families, and teachers.

On the other hand, what a great opportunity to try new techniques. When teaching in the classroom, we often do not have time to try new apps or online tools. This is the perfect time to try flipping some lessons with EdPuzzle, have students comment on each other's work in FlipGrid, or share inter-active lessons on Nearpod, PearDeck, or a choose-your-own-adventure Google Form. The lesson might not work right, but at least you don't have a classroom full of kids to supervise while you fix it - you can just tell them you'll try again tomorrow.

Other Things I will Try Next Week

  • Take phone calls and answer emails outside in the sun and fresh air
  • Yoga videos
  • Stand every 20 minutes
  • Have a video chat with one life-affirming friend or relative every day
  • Don't check the news until the evening
  • Give my family "do not disturb" times. I will tell my children that I am happy to help them at the top of the hour, but please don't interrupt my work at all times of the day. This is only possible because I have teenagers who can work independently.