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Teaching Online and Working from Home: Strategies to do BOTH

Mar 30, 2020

Within about one week’s time, the entire nation’s population of teachers went from teaching in-class to teaching online.  Take into account the varying degrees of tech-experience amongst teachers, some who have built online lessons for years and others who still keep a paper-pencil gradebook, and we’ve got ourselves a uniquely exhilarating and terrifying situation when all the nation’s schools simultaneously closed their doors.

In this post, my goal is to put words to what most teachers are experiencing right now as they wrap their minds around the molded-together, modge-podge position they now hold as an online, work-from-home teacher.  Identifying what we are experiencing is the first step, but then I hope to provide effective and efficient strategies for this new dual role. 

A Message For Teachers

I want to take a moment and give a huge shout out to all teachers.  Because we have a career in common, you are my people, and today I stand incredibly proud of my profession and those who have stepped up to the plate in this trying time to provide resources, lessons, or just a loving face due to their school doors being closed.

Teachers are doing what they can to continue to reach their students not because they are under contract - many of them could just chalk this up as an extended summer, but instead are grieving the loss of the school year, trying their damndest to reach their kids in hopes of having some impact whether that be academic or just on a very basic level of supporting another human being.

You are doing work that the rest of the world chose not to, and although you may not be physically saving lives like those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic right now, for many of your students you are a constant presence, a positive, smiling face, and an adult sending them a message of love and support.  Keep doing what you are doing.

Dual Role

Now that we find ourselves at home instead of in our classrooms, teachers must assume not just one role, but two.  As it is with any other profession that’s moved from in-office to at-home, we must learn the ins and outs of working from home.  Things like how to set up our office so that we have one focused space to get to work in, and how to take breaks here and there to get our blood moving and maintain our productivity over the long haul, etc.

But for teachers, we can’t just work from home.  We must teach from home, and that, my friends, is a whole different beast.

Because, no, it’s not just like getting on a conference call or answering emails or making a virtual proposal to the board.  NOPE. Our audience is light years different than the audience of most folks in a business-focused, virtual conference room.

In many ways, what makes our jobs so different from others in the business world that exist inside the normal classroom (that job being to motivate these underdeveloped brains to care about their education and attempt to learn standards that many of them don’t give a crap about in the first place) still exist in the online classroom, but now we don’t have physical presence to use as part of our persuasion or motivation toolkit.

So let’s focus, at least in this post and in a freebie I have for you, on how best to assume both of these roles.

Teaching Online

The number one takeaway I want you to get from this post and from me in general during this distance learning is this…

SYNCHRONOUS

This is when you tell your students “We are going to meet TOGETHER at a designated time on a designated tool, be there.”

I do NOT recommend delivering content during this time because students will be able to see each other, and they will not have the capacity to pause or rewind you if they miss something.  And NO, they won’t watch the recording after being there live… and neither would I.  I despise doing things twice even if the second time would be better.

Tools for synchronous teaching connection include: Zoom, and Google Meet (with Grid view extension).

ASYNCHRONOUS

This is when you give your students assignments or otherwise something to accomplish that they can do when they get to it, NOT at a designated time.

I recommend that this be when you deliver your instruction and/or the content of your course through a video of you doing just that… delivering the material of your course.

The advantages of this are the same as they are in the flipped classroom – your students 1) can watch when they are able to, hopefully by a deadline you put in place, 2) they can rewind and pause you as they need to without any of their peers knowing it, and 3) this gives you time during your synchronous teaching to clarify, clear up, and answer questions.

Tools for asynchronous content delivery include: Camtasia, Screencastomatic, and Screencastify (for shorter videos).

These are the strategies that will follow you back into your classroom if you play your cards right.

Be sure to go here to check out my Ultimate Flipped Classroom Starter Kit so you can see how all this training will improve your instruction when things get back to normal.  Otherwise all this would be a waste.

 

Working at Home

Working from home is something that we are even less familiar with, am I right?  You are a classroom teacher after all, and for good reason… you’re darn good at it.  And the previous page is where I hopefully gave some tips on how you can let your skills shine through in the online world.

The next few pointers, however, will focus on how to go about managing your whole family being in the same building where you’re working, how you don’t really have a designated “work day” anymore, and how you can go about remaining productive while also managing your homelife.

The three areas we will focus on optimizing your “work-at-home” abilities are as follows…

MINDSET

When I use the trendy word “mindset,” what I really mean is making sure your expectations are where they should be and being very objective about your own feelings and emotions during what is a huge transition we all are going through.

Here’s the big takeaway here… your varying “guilts” that you have will run rampant in the beginning, and probably already have.  Your #momguilt and #teacherguilt will rear their big ugly heads.  P.S. I HATE these two words, but that’s for another time.  It’s imperative that you recognize how in most moments of your day and in all your attempts at sitting down to accomplish any one thing for any one of your roles will be abruptly interrupted by another role.

So… place your expectations right where they should be which is firmly grounded in grace for all, especially for yourself.

But we can’t get a ton of things accomplished on grace alone.  Have a healthy dose of grace, but also consider the next two areas so as to increase your efficiency in working from home.

TIME

O, time… it’s just not the same as it used to be, right, when your kids were off at school and you were able to get a few things accomplished on your plan bell, picked up groceries on the way home, got dinner ready, had family time, then did it all again the next day, am I right?

No, it’s not the same, nor will it ever truly be again.  But no need to bask in that tragedy.  Instead, let’s focus on pointers to make the most of it.

First, you can work early or late.  Pick one, not both.

How you set up your day between homeschooling your own kids, teaching and meeting with your students, and all the other things in between, you can either wake up before everyone to get all the preparation work accomplished, or stay up after everyone.  I also recommend using nap time to work (set “Margins” below). 

This may be all null and void if you don’t have any kids or if you have older children who don’t need your assistance in almost every move they make.  BUT, you should still set firm boundaries.  Even in this crisis, you are more than your work, and, if you’re anything like me, you can easily slip into working all of the time.  Set hours to start and finish work, and hold yourself to those hours – then, take up a hobby, binge watch Netflix, learn a new skill, etc. 

MARGINS

This last area is similar to my recommendations in the “time” section  simply because I mean finding time in the margins.  I am a true believer in block scheduling my day; grab this Teacher-guide PDF I made you to see what mine looks like.  What this means is that instead of writing down our schedule in precise time increments and exactly when I’ll accomplish something, I block the day by the biggest items we’ll accomplish.

Finding time to work on the work in the margins of this block schedule simply means that when you have a free moment, do your best with it while keeping your expectations grounded.  If you get interrupted by little lady or little man during this time, give them your attention – you’ve already had (or will have) your main chunk of work time today... The rest is for them.  Here's me on my computer, outside while my kids played just the other day.

This way too, any extra time you squeeze in or tasks completed are total bonuses and you can feel really excited and accomplished for that.  You’re able to be grounded by your main work time, and not rely on the margins too heavily so that you can keep your focus on your kids.

Block schedule

The block schedule is NOT my own.  I’ve seen many people use it, and it reminds me of a block bell schedule that many schools use.  Instead of breaking your day down into smaller 30-45 or even 60-minute increments, break it into 2 to 4-hour increments that each have their own theme.  Go here to see mine (note my oldest is a kindergartner so your homeschooling schedule could look very different).

Quick reminder about our first “mindset” point…. Hopping on your computer while your children are occupied outside playing is NOT something to feel guilty about.  Doing it every time, yes, that’s something to feel guilty about, but don’t beat yourself up because you have things to accomplish during the day and you choose to work on some of them while your kids are doing a great job on their own.

Another good margin time is making meals – I almost always have my computer out while making dinner in case there’s an email I can answer after I put the casserole in the oven.  Something to keep in mind.  Here's me making lunches (please ignore my mess of a kitchen, and apparently our need for one thousand drink cups to be out at any given time).

This is a difficult time and transitioning to both working and mothering/fathering at home is not easy.  But I want you to know that you can do hard things.

It won’t be like this forever, but you can decide RIGHT NOW that you will be better because of it.

Don’t let ridiculous expectations of being able to do all-the-things tear you up inside.  In fact, I highly recommend just not even getting on Pinterest or other forms of highlight-real social media for more than 20 minutes a day. 

When you do pick up your phone, catch up on the news, see some positive things people are saying or doing, and then GET OFF!  Don’t go down the slippery slope of comparing yourself.  Especially if you are comparing yourself to what others are doing with this time.  Know where you’re starting and work to come out of this scenario as better.  That’s it.

Not someone else’s better.  Yours.

And when you see other teachers totally rocking it with amazing student engagement during this time, and they have all these amazing activities they are doing with students… get a glimmer of inspiration if that’s your kind of thing, and then move on.  There’s no need to compare yourself.

Do what you can to make yourself and your students better, and then move on.  That’s all you can control.  The rest is up to the universe.

Never before have we as teachers had an opportunity to take a moment and consider how something awful like this shut down can improve our instruction and make us better for our students and for ourselves.  Don’t let this moment pass you by.

In an effort to NOT let this time go to waste, I have quite a few events and items I want to bring to your attention.  

First - go grab this Guide I made to help you wrap your brain around all this teach and work from home stuff a bit better.  It includes a bit more of a breakdown as well as a glimpse at our block schedule.

Second- I am going Live on Facebook this week, and I don't just mean my normal one time live on Thursday nights, I mean EVERYDAY.  Yep, that's right... every-day!  Check out these topics I'll be covering.

Monday - ALL Things Google: Forms, Interactive PDFs, Classroom, Meet
Tuesday - Things Teachers Should do to Prepare themselves to NOT Go Back this Year
Wednesday - Make this Teaching Online Time Count
Thursday - Live Interview with Flipped Classroom Formula Teachers
Friday - Flipped Classroom Formula Q&A

Last - I want to give you some specific training on the Flipped Classroom and HOW all this learning about and implementing of online teaching you've been doing can, in fact, improve your instruction once you go back to the classroom eventually.  Remember, if you don't, it would all be a waste.  So, I would like to invite you to an online workshop, a Flipped Classroom Insights Webinar where I'll provide some training and give you the opportunity to ask your questions!  It's this Thursday night at 8pm EST.  Find more details and sign up below, then I'll send you details on how to join the webinar (as well as a workbook to accompany the webinar, and then a certificate of completion when we're finished).

 

I feel it, and I know you do too.  This is an opportunity that we just simply can not pass up where we get to take all this crazy learn by fire implementation of online learning, and make it count... let this crazy time make you better.

See you live this week.

All my best,

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