These past few days, as the Coronavirus continues to move and more people are infected, a lot of schools have now closed and suspended in-person to learning and have been asked to educate children via e-Learning. This has precipitated many people coming together to collaborate and prepare for eLearning and to consider how best to proceed.
After writing my first blog post on my experiences in eLearning, I have talked to more people and had the opportunity to do more reading and thinking and reflecting and would like to share a few more ideas here. The start can be the most exciting but then reality sets in and possibly with no current end-day insight, it is important to look after yourself.
Start slowly. Systems – tech, communication, resource building and sharing and resources are all going to take time to develop. Overwhelming your students in the first few days may mean that they feel a burden they can’t overcome. Could Week 1 be just about teaching systems, resources, communication channels and checking in? How can you keep things so very simple to allow them to find their way through? How can you best support student e-Learning without losing students? What do you need from your school or your parents to best support this transition?
Be kind to yourself – Uncertainty is challenging, especially as teachers and students who are very used to schedules and routines. You will fail and along the way (maybe more than usual) some things will not be okay. That is completely normal and fine, as we all know, but sometimes we forget to be kind to ourselves and shake off those doubts and try things again. Your students will fail too and will need reminders and help to find their way forwards.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – amazing tools, ideas, templates, websites, resources are out there! Find and connect with educators around the World and find out what they are doing too. Twitter now abounds with teachers working to share and find things that are engaging for students. Collaborate where you can. Just remember, we are not Physical Activity teachers, we are Physical Educators– how can you still educate young people along with the activities that we are sharing?
Assume positive intent – we are used to a certain level of communication and of being able to talk face-to-face with our colleagues and students. That is not the same as Zoom calls, emails, and texts. Often we can try and place emotions or values on emails that may have nothing to do with what the sender was thinking or intending. It is much easier to be pessimistic than optimistic. Remember we are all trying to be the best we can be for our students, and we may not agree on what they look like – but we can compromise and remember to be kind to each other as we are not always aware of what is going on with each other’s situations. How are you using your communication tools to solicit clear and positive communication with others? How often are you communicating, is it too little or too much? Have you an agreed way to meet with your colleagues? Is there an optimal time to meet online together? (Daniel Pink in his book When is very specific about optimal times to meet in the day for best creative work!) Are you able to share concerns honestly with others? Who could you turn to for support?
Prepare for the Long haul – our school has been closed for 6 weeks, this week it will be 7. There is no return date currently published. For some people about to start eLearning, your administrators or district or government may have set return dates but we aren’t yet sure what will happen. Every day more schools close, more events are canceled or postponed and so this is a great state of flux. Consider a long haul like a long flight – you will need to make sure you are thinking of the long term wellness and needs not just the next few days or weeks. If you can, you might like to go to school and grab essential texts or resources, you might like to scan or use an online scan program for any student documents or take photos of your environment to put into your slide shows or for sharing with students. Are your students prepared? Would it be useful to create some screencasts about how to use programs or websites? How to log into your school websites or how to submit work? Do you need to update your website to have clear email addresses or other ways to communicate with students and parents? Is your school clear about who is communicating what? Who is checking in with parents and students? Is your school looking at what tech options are available to staff and students? Are you using tools that everyone can access?
Set a schedule – as educators, we live by a strict school schedule – but once we are online, that changes significantly. You may feel the need to work online for too long – it is important that you set yourself a schedule to make sure you are getting off of work, spending time with others, being active, getting jobs and chores done and not spending endless time looking for the best YouTube clip or choosing font colours. Keep it Simple! What is a realistic schedule to keep for a long haul eLearning timeline? Has your school created a schedule for students? (they are not going to be awesome at this either!) What is important to highlight for students beyond their classes? (our school is promoting Gratefulness, Activity, Hydration, Social check-ins as well as a school schedule when online each day.) How will you fit in the family commitments as well as school ones? What is coming from your administration about expectations? How is this being communicated to parents?
Find Meaning in being active – get outside, explore, wonder, enjoy your time off – we know that Social Distancing is the new norm, how might you get out and away from your computer? This is so important and one of my go-to bloggers, Justen O’Connor writes about creating meaningful movement by really using your senses to connect with the activity you are doing – talk about the purpose of this movement and connect to it so that it isn’t just moving for physical movement’s sake. What smells, tastes, sights, feelings are you connecting to in this movement? How did you feel before, during and afterward? Try and make a habit of this in your schedule.
Eat Well. Stay hydrated – I am very good at eating, and often. Now that we are all at home and working near the kitchen, things are not awesome for our eating habits! Consider whether you are eating because you are hungry or because you have closer proximity to food. We tend to eat when we are bored. You may find your usual activity levels are reduced and that you are eating more – both of these are not awesome. This may be the same for your students too. How might you set up your routines around food? What food are you buying and when are you preparing it? Are you mindful of what you are eating? Are you eating with others? Are you preparing food that will sustain you or is it too little or not enough fibre/carbohydrates/fat to fill you up? Are you eating when you are actually thirsty? Be mindful of the amount of caffeine you are taking – it may also change now that you are at home. How might you share this with your students to encourage them to be more mindful too?
Share your stories. I wish that I had started sharing videos/films of me doing the learning and being reflective with my students much earlier on. I felt self-conscious about being on film, but the truth is, students, like to see you online, being normal and honest. They like to see you being active, they like to see or hear you introducing work and explaining it to them. They need to see you (and their classmates) to feel more connected. How might you share your stories with your students? How could you encourage them to share their voices and videos with each other? Do your students have access to this sort of technology? How might you encourage face-to-face group work online? How might you use Zoom or online calls? How could you do screencasts (with your face on them!) to do check-ins? Who might cameo in your class videos?
Be realistic – You can’t do it all. You will fail and need to re-group. Students will call you out on things that aren’t right or that you didn’t get done. There is no point in setting massive homework tasks that need to be graded and assessed quickly – be realistic with what you can achieve and be mindful of what your students can do with this new environment. We are all educated, experienced, usually quick-typers and users of technology. Our students may not be. Check-in and ask them how long tasks are taking to do, so you can quickly amend things if need be. Could you offer choice to your students based on their time? – ex. Baseline task, bonus tasks. Can you poll students about how long things are taking? What technology they have? What help they are needing? Do you need to scale things back? Do families have access to wifi? Is there an adult at home to help? Will their family be adversely affected financially and now see some services cut? (folks who use wifi at school may not have a wifi plan for long periods of use at home). What can you really achieve and is what you are setting Educational or busywork?
Seek Support – people get paid to support you, they need to know what you need and how you might need it. eLearning may fall more heavily on some staff and teachers and less on others, that can be the nature of any sort of change. Be positive. Seek out those who can support or help you and be clear in what you need. But be mindful that things can take a while to settle into a routine and some people may be feeling very overwhelmed and take longer to get back to you. Some people may not like to admit that they are struggling – be supportive but also I am aware that we all have a job to do – and we do need to do it.
Free tech upgrades?? So many tech tools at the moment. Try looking up Socrative, Google Suite, Kahoot, Calm, TechSmith, Screencast-o-matic, VoiceThread, Quizlet are just a few online platforms that have offered FREE upgrades and support for teachers and students moving to eLearning platforms. You may need to go through your Technology people or District to get your school accounts up and running.
Communicate regularly – Feedback is very meaningful! Offer feedback and feedback loops whenever you can. As seasoned teachers, this feedback typically tells us what teaching or engagement we intend to do next, so we must solicit feedback to know what is working and what is not. I have been using Visible Thinking routines to try and solicit what my students are thinking and to offer support to those who aren’t quite engaged or understanding the content covered and celebrations with students who clearly are finding meaning or understanding in the content. How might you offer feedback that is not overwhelming for you – audio? video? online? emails to groups of students? How could students be involved in peer feedback? Are you celebrating successes? How might other teachers be involved for students that need extra support?
Social Support – are there some people in your school community who may need additional support at this time? How might you take time to reach out to someone and let them know you are thinking of them. Schools are vibrant spaces full of social connections – with the loss of sport, arts and other activities, consider how you will look out for your colleagues and students as they have less face-to-face social interactions.
Celebrate. Often. For whatever reason you can – faced with uncertainty and with a barrage of negative press, it will be even more important to Celebrate with your students, parents, and colleagues for even little things. How might you celebrate with those who are completing work? Helping out at home? How can you help your students to be advocates of celebrating their own successes and achievements too?
Resources – at the start having the resources you need will feel like the most important things. It is somewhat easy to look at Fitness and to scramble for Google Drive folders, links, YouTubes videos, and shared resources. You will want to reach out to discover what others are doing and to share in the tech tools that will benefit your online e-Learning spaces. Please look out for resources that will prove to be vital when discussing Mental Health – anxiety, stress, negativity and how we can help others to be less self-critical to be organized in the time of online learning, to be kind to others, to sleep well and to eat well and to know how to advocate for themselves. Please practice self-care and promote this to others – lookout for resources that will build a kid’s ability to read themselves and their emotions and to be ready to share those with others.
Resources that I have found to be useful:
https://theconversation.com/7-science-based-strategies-to-cope-with-coronavirus-anxiety-133207 This article shared by Karl Mercuri has been rich with discussion points and strategies to cope with anxiety from the Coronavirus.
This article shared by one of our MS Counselors, Kara Haines, comes from Mindful.org and has three mindful ways to deal with an anxious mind.