Distance Learning Tips for Teachers

Three weeks ago, “Distance Learning” was a phrase most of us had never heard of, much less considered.

Now? Teachers can hardly open their emails, scroll through Instagram, or click on a website without being flooded with resources for Distance Learning.

The resources are helpful, they really are… until they aren’t. Therefore, major problem right now is that we have been abruptly thrust into this brand new world of Distance Learning and the information overload, analysis paralysis, and uneasiness that it brings along with it.

Teachers are planners. We are preparers. We are nurturers and collegial workers. Our classrooms are like our babies and routines and procedures are not just our jam, but our way of life. Distance Learning means that, in a mere week, we lost it all- the careful scheduling, well-practiced routines, happy environments, the smiles, hugs, and laughter that come along with teaching. We went from dancing and singing and building relationships with our kids to… wherever we are now.

So, that brings me to this: Where are you in this crazy process? Are you jumping into Distance Learning head first? Are you stunned and immobile? Are you overwhelmed with the amount of resources and the pressure to provide meaningful lessons yesterday?

Let’s make a plan to get you back on your feet!

First of all, you can do this- You CAN teach through Distance Learning and you WILL be successful at it. Your kids will be ok. Your parents will feel prepared and supported. You’ve just got to remind yourself that you already have the knowledge, Distance Learning only means that you are presenting it in a different way. In other words, you are still teaching sight words or multiplication or present tense. However, instead of doing it face-to-face, you’re doing it screen to screen. Same content, different format. You got this!

Step 1- Change Your Mindset About Distance Learning

We’ve had a week to process it all. You miss your kids. I miss my kids. We miss face-to-face contact with our colleagues and friends. We don’t like the way we look on camera. We hate the sound of our own voices. Etc. Etc. Distance Learning is not what we elementary and middle school teachers signed up for, yet here we are.

If you complain your way through this, you won’t grow through this. WE ARE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT. We’re not doing what we want to do right now, we’re doing what we have to do. Why did you go into teaching? To help kids and families grow. THIS IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY! This is the time that they need you the most.

So, wipe those tears off your face, take a deep breath, sit up straight, and let’s get to work.

Step 2- Choose One Thing

Write down a list of things you need to do for Distance Learning. For instance, it probably looks something like this:

  • Read through emails
  • Create list of links/resources to use
  • Create list of links/resources for parents to use
  • Set up remote meeting schedule with teammates
  • Create daily/weekly communication plan for parents
  • Create daily/weekly work plan for students
  • Figure out how students will submit work
  • Play around with communication tools and figure out what works best (Google Classrooms, Google Meet, Zoom, ClassDojo, Epic, PebbleGo, Wonderopolis, Pinterest, YouTube, Teachers Pay Teachers, Google Drive, Google Sheets, Google Docs, Sign-Up Genius, MailChimp, Constant Contact, PowerPoint, Google Slides, etc.)
  • LESSON PLAN for the next 2-8 weeks
  • Ask parents what they want/need in terms of support
  • Create in-home workspace
  • Schedule “office hours” for coworkers and parents
  • Designate times to do laundry, clean house, answer personal emails, be a parent/spouse/friend/neighbor, exercise, run necessary errands, etc.

When you look at this list, it looks overwhelming, right? That’s because it is. If your brain is running in all these directions at once, it’s no wonder you can’t accomplish anything! No one could! Take that list and ask yourself,

“Above all, what is the ONE thing I could do right now that would have the biggest impact on my students and myself?”

That’s it. Take that one thing and run with it. After you get a handle on that, choose one more thing. Then another. In addition to actually getting things done, you’ll feel more control and more confident in yourself!

Step 3- Create a Daily Schedule

You are a teacher and you need to be on a schedule, it’s as simple as that. Give yourself parameters and timeframes. Give yourself BOUNDARIES and office hours. And remember to give yourself free time! Just because you are not going to a building every day does not mean you are not doing your job. Similarly, don’t think you have to work around the clock to prove yourself and your worth.

8 million people in the US currently work from home and, by 2027, it is predicted that the majority of the US workforce will be working remotely. Statistically speaking, several of your parents probably work remotely, and understand the challenges that it brings. They are not assuming that teachers are lounging around on an extended spring break right now.

Prepare 3-3.5 hours of work for your students. Similarly, spend another three hours planning, creating content, and communicating with your team. You don’t have to fill an eight hour day! There is no commute, transitioning across campus, turning on lights, plugging in iPads, or supervising bathroom breaks. If you can remind yourself of this, you won’t feel so guilty about having a shorter workday.

First, write down the things you need to do every day. Next, assign a consistent time frame for each one. Finally, share it with your team and parents so they know when to expect responses from you.

You might also like: 5 Research-Based Time Management Tips

Here is the schedule that I sent to my team via text yesterday:

  • 8:00-9:00 Check email + Morning Meeting via Google Meet
  • 9:00-10:00 Film lessons
  • 10:00-11:00 Grade Level Meeting via Google Meet
  • 11:00-12:00 DO the action steps we talked about during our Meeting
  • 12:00-1:00 Prep & eat lunch with my 2-year-old, then put him down for his nap
  • 1:00-3:00 “Office Hours” for parents + film tutorials for/email parents
  • 3:00-4:00 Check email + Wrap up day
  • 4:00 Shut off computer and switch into “home mode”

Also read: Best Time Management Apps for 2020

Step 4- Take Care of Your Mental Health

In our faculty meeting this week, our Head of School used the analogy of “put on your own mask first.” In other words, you will not be any help to anyone else if you are spiraling out of control. So get your mental and physical health together before you try to jump into teaching.

There are SO MANY great apps for managing stress and anxiety. For example, my favorite one is Sanvello (formerly Pacifica). I have been using this app to manage my anxiety for over a year and cannot recommend it enough! This past week, Sanvello announced that its Premium membership is free for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Additionally, you need to set boundaries between “working” times and “home” times. Since there is no way to “leave” work, try turning off your text or email notifications from coworkers/parents/students after a certain time. Otherwise, you may start to feel burdened, overwhelmed, resentful, or stressed.

Here are 11 More Apps to Help Manage Anxiety

Step 4.5: Take Care of Your Physical Health

Eat/drink/exercise like you know you should! While researching The Blue Zones of Happiness, Dave Buettner and his team found that the world’s happiest people eat six or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. So do not let yourself sit around loading up on carbs and non-perishable foods all day long!

Also, drink your water (half of your body weight in ounces is a good rule). And don’t forget to exercise! Is your gym closed? So is mine. Here are some workout apps you can download. Here are some YouTube channels you can watch. If you live in a place where you can go outside, then do! If you can’t go outside, then at least spend time in front of a window to get some sunlight!

Read: 3 Tips for Forming Good Habits

Step 5- Create a Workspace in Your Home

Classrooms are such a HUGE part of teaching! For Distance Learning, you still need a designate place for all your “teacher stuff.” This looks a little different for everyone: some teachers were able to go in their rooms and fill a wagon with everything they would need, while others never got the chance to get in their rooms. Maybe you were so bewildered on the day you were supposed to get your stuff, that you couldn’t even think clearly enough to grab anything meaningful. It. Is. Okay.

One of my favorite quotes is “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Your Distance Learning videos don’t have to to be fancy or influencer-quality productions. I love this example by @thehappyteacherspalette.

Could you temporarily clear out a closet? What about removing decorative items from a bookshelf for a while? Remember, this is only a temporary thing! We are doing what we can with what we have for as long as we need to.

You might also like: How to Feng Shui Your Workspace

Finally, it’s OK that you don’t have it all figured out- none of us do!

But we are teachers. We literally TEACH problem-solving skills for a living. We will get this done and get it done well. Remember, our kids are watching us now more than ever, and we have an incredible opportunity to help them learn by modeling growth mindset, positive attitudes, and adaptability.

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