As a certified virtual teacher for the past three years, my life and general routine has changed very little since school closures were put into effect in March.
That being said, it was heartbreaking to watch the mass majority of teachers adjust to virtual teaching with little guidance or preparation. With the school year wrapping up, summer will look very different for teachers who are now left wondering how they should prepare for September; will they continue distance learning? Will they return to their classrooms?
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With all this uncertainty around what the new school year will look like, being a virtual teacher allows me to share some of my knowledge of how teachers can prepare themselves over the summer for a possible fully-remote September, or even a hybrid scenario of both in-person and distance learning.
Your mental health
Prior to the viral outbreak, teachers were already struggling with mental health issues. Taking care of ourselves became a platitude we posted on the wall of our classroom and then promptly forgot. Unfortunately, our love for students doesn’t negate the anxiety, loss of time, and exhaustion that come with teaching during a global pandemic.
Days went by and we forgot to eat lunch or change out of our pajamas. The same gripes we had in the classroom started to haunt us at home. Don’t let your mental health slip away with time. Keeping your mental health in check starts and ends with a routine, even during the summer months.
Time blocking, a system of segmenting your day into blocks of time, has been used by well-known entrepreneurs and scientists for years. During those segmented time frames, focus exclusively on the assigned task, allowing you to control what tasks need your attention. Here’s where you’ll need to apply some self-care: block out breaks, time with your family, and meals. Make the flexibility of virtual teaching work for you and stick to the time you owe yourself.
Many districts and health-care providers have offered additional mental health services. Take advantage of the free resources offered and talk to fellow teachers in your support system. Virtual coffee meetings can be an invaluable way to de-stress and connect with colleagues.
There is a daunting amount of edtech available to teachers. The relaxed pace of summer is a good time to test new platforms and take advantage of back-to-school offers and training. Many edtech companies offer free webinar training sessions and have a community of teachers who love lending a helping hand. Try a few platforms and take the time to get your questions answered, especially when using complex Learning Management Systems (LMS) systems like Google Classroom, IXL, or Schoology.
Getting comfortable with platforms can take time, especially for students. Using low-cost or even free software like Loom, Screencastify, or Screen-cast-o-matic can be highly effective, and you can even use this time to make a few recorded tutorials for your students. Using this method of teaching technology basics will save you time in the fall that you can use for teaching content and skills.
Teaching skills and behaviors is just as important in a virtual learning setting as it is in the classroom. Digital etiquette during video conferencing, or even the proper way to answer the phone, can help students learn life-skills needed outside of the classroom.
Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts are great solutions for synchronous learning, and offer robust privacy settings. Perhaps one of the topics that needs to be addressed, especially after Zoom hijinks and hacks, is digital privacy. Summer is a great opportunity to set up and test a video conferencing tool, and research what settings will work best.
Get ahead of the learning curve and make technology work for you.
Some teachers would be surprised to know that I talk to students and their families more than I did in the classroom. Leveraging a student’s family during virtual learning can make a large impact on student achievement outside of the classroom. Communicating one-on-one with families is an advantage of the virtual classroom, and allows for a level of authenticity and transparency that you might not get in a traditional setting.
Even during the summer months, parents will be looking to their teachers to educate them on how they can keep their children on track to be successful this fall. Utilizing parent-teacher communication apps like ClassTag allows you to schedule virtual parent-teacher conferences, send class-wide summer assignment reminders, and even helpful resources on how they can be more engaged in the new school year. School community doesn’t need to suffer, as there are platforms that help promote connectivity.
Customizing your teaching strategy
There is an enormous amount of discussion centered on if teachers will go back to a normal schedule in the fall, a hybrid model, or even continuing with only remote learning. Summer is a smart time to evaluate your teaching strategy. Many veteran teachers have a plethora of materials on which to recollect, and summer is perfect for converting these into digital options. Scan worksheets or use collaborative platforms like Padlet or Flipgrid for those more involved activities. Just like you would prepare your classroom in person, take the time to set up your digital classroom.
Traditional and innovative ways of teaching can be used for a hybrid and remote model of teaching. Both hybrid and remote classrooms lend well to project-based learning (PBL) and flipped classrooms. For a flipped-classroom: during at-school sessions, provide guidance and reinforcement of key ideas, while allowing for creativity. PBL makes learning accessible to all students. Students can explore what interests them, while learning real-world life skills.
Whether we go back to normal, or flip education upside down, teachers have shown the resilience, determination, and innovation it takes to get students to learn regardless of circumstances. By preparing ourselves now for what might come this Fall will make a world of difference for our students and families.