This school year has been filled with a record number of changes and inconsistencies across the board, not to mention political and social unrest, that impacts many of us both personally and professionally. We also know in normal circumstances that “teaching” is so much more involved than anyone who has never taught can even begin to fathom.
This year though, this year teachers are extending themselves even more than any of us thought was possible. I have heard teachers share how the workload and the expectations placed on them as completely unsustainable because of the constant changes and the need to juggle in person expectations but in a virtual or combination environment. It’s too much. It’s so much that most educators are pining for the “normal” days of teaching again. Past, present, or future, our reality is that the load is often too heavy.
To begin, let me say that these can and should be applied during virtual or in-person teaching. I will also say that not every idea may work for you. If these are not ideas that you can apply or that you would not find helpful, that’s fine, but hopefully, you will find at least one strategy to take away.
Maslow Before Blooms
Maslow before Blooms has become a common phrase in education. It embodies the idea of the whole child. We need to take care of our students as children before we can expect them to be students. This idea can equally be applied to adults, specifically ourselves, although it rarely is. What do you need as a human before you can focus on being a professional? Do you need 8 hours of sleep? Do you need 3 solid meals? Do you need time to consume or create, not necessarily for professional purposes? Do you need to be a parent or a child or a friend? All of these things are needs you may have as a person, not as a teacher. They are needs that should be addressed on a regular basis if you want to do the best you can as a teacher. If you are working to ensure your students are being taken care of, you should do the same thing for yourself.
Teachers are fantastic at building relationships with students. Regardless of grade level, I think we all acknowledge that relationships are the foundation for solid learning to take place. Let’s circle back to educators though. This is the year for relationships to be sure! Some educators are still in buildings, while others are teaching from home. Even if we are able to collaborate with our colleagues like in past years, it certainly can be helpful to build connections outside our building. As you grow your professional learning community, you are also gathering resources and ideas from a greater number of educators than are simply “in your building”. The give and take (aka “stealing”) that educators are known for, grows exponentially the more people that you are connected to. Find a platform that you are comfortable with and start asking, start sharing, and start engaging. You are likely to gather some phenomenal resources and potentially build some truly amazing friendships.
The reality of online teaching is that it cannot and should not look exactly like in-person teaching. There are things about the online environment that do not lend itself to some of the more informal parts of teaching, like walking around and spot-checking for student understanding. One of the biggest things I noticed in the Spring of ‘20 that did not translate was the amount of work that was assigned and the amount of feedback that could be given. I highly recommend prioritizing assignments and feedback. Be intentional about the tasks you assign and the feedback you provide. You and your students will have fewer tasks to complete but there’s potential for more growth because you are prioritizing the quality of feedback over the quantity of assignments. In the end, you are prioritizing not only your to-do list but yourself. Give yourself the chance to have a break.
One of the most consistent things about technology is that inevitably, it will stop working. Often, when you need it the most! Technology is not perfect, it is human-made, and humans are not perfect. So make sure you have a backup plan. Just like you have detailed sub plans and emergency sub plans, make sure you have some detailed backup plans and some emergency backup plans. Depending on the particular situation, the backup plan may be as simple as paper and pencil instead of laptops. Other times, you will want to have some video directions and examples already created, ready to be pushed out if it is needed. No matter how you choose to be prepared, it’s going to be less stressful for you if things are ready to go when the need arises.
It is OK to give yourself a hard stop opportunity. You are not ONLY an educator. There are other parts of your life that need you. Set your hard stop and stick to it. If you need to reschedule it, fine, but don’t skip it. Make your hard stop work for you. Do you hard stop at 4:00 pm and start again until 10:00 pm after everyone goes to bed? Do you hard stop on Fridays at 3:00 pm? Or do you do lesson plans on the weekend but no grading or emails? Again, do whatever will work for you, whatever will help you. There is always work to be done, but that doesn’t mean you always need to be doing it.
Indulge in “Me Time”
If you’re still reading this, thank you. Every tip I shared is to help you focus on yourself, to try to give you a few minutes where you aren’t working. Even if you love every second of your profession, you still need some “me time”. So stop reading and go indulge, however that looks. Thank you for every second that you devote to education and your kids. We will get through all of this and the world will be better because of them…because of you.