Think back to your first year of teaching (for our first or second year teachers, just hang with me through this visualization). Remember how incredibly energized and gung-ho you were for all things teaching (not that you aren’t that now, but let’s just say you’ve got a dash more wisdom to go with your energy levels). If you were anything like me, you were a yes-man or woman. And I don’t just mean that you said yes to every request to join all the committees or teams. I mean that you said yes to every idea and resource you found. Of course we all did this, we were fresh without a stocked bag of tips and tricks, we had to say yes to everything.
But, for many of us, we also said yes to everything we did with our students. Yes to using that resource during our lecture, yes to the homework assignment that shouldn’t take that much longer, yes to that cool new project idea right after we just finished the last cool project, yes to the new classroom decor or bulletin board design, yes yes yes.
For many of us during remote learning, although we might not be consciously saying yes to everything, it feels as though we certainly aren’t able to say no… to anything! With in-person students as well as those attending remotely; recreating our lessons that have been effective for years into something that’s accessible online; trying to keep in touch with anywhere from 30 to 130+ students during our office hours or evenings so as to make sure they have what they need, not to mention trying to contact parents as well. It just doesn’t end.
At the time that I’m writing this post, I had just asked teachers on social media some of their biggest struggles in teaching virtually (or at least teaching in general in the year that is 2020).
To sum up their responses, I’d like to put it into a few words. What is bogging down teachers right now with virtual teaching is the struggle to do all of the things. There was a resounding, “there’s just too much” response from teachers, and, to be honest, I’ve been hearing that from teachers in some form or another for some time now. It’s now just got multiple layers thanks to all things teaching in a pandemic.
This is freaking hard. Pardon my language.
So hard that many teachers aren’t going to continue teaching after this year. There, I said it. Let’s call it what it is so we aren’t fooling ourselves when it comes true.
Also, in calling it like it is, we can see that this is serious, almost desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures.
Now, this isn’t going to be a post about how lawmakers and everyone else needs to chime in in order to make our teaching lives better. Although that is necessary. But, nope. I believe that each individual teacher can take simple steps that while taking them may seem desperate, are in fact just what they are… simple steps to help you stay in the classroom longer while remaining effective with your students.
So what is it, exactly, that’s so overwhelming?
It’s all the things, right? It’s the unsustainable workflow we find ourselves in as we attempt to do all the things. And that’s where we’ll spend our time in this post, diving into ways to make the overall workflow of what teachers do - teach, to be exact - a bit more sustainable.
The majority of the work you do in your classroom is to create a sound and effective process for your students to master the standards. If that’s all we had to do as teachers our jobs would be WAY simpler, am I right? But that’s beside the point.
Our workload, as exhausting as it is, is oftentimes exasperated by those who create it… US!
As much as we would like for the learning process of our students in our courses to be nothing short of amazing, creative, student-driven, engaging, and novel, with all our other responsibilities, it’s just not sustainable to maintain that level of ingenuity every single day.
Reach for more sustainability in your own workflow by streamlining and declaring that of your students.
To make the learning process more sustainable, start by declaring it to your students. We’ve all learned that explaining to our students what they will learn during one class period is important, but helping them see the process of how they will learn those standards is equally important.
And the virtual or blended classroom makes declaring how students will learn the standards in your classroom even more important.
What does it look like to declare the learning process to your students? It means letting your students in on the planning process a bit, or at least letting them see it.
You could do that one unit at a time, where you explain to students what all they need to know for the unit and how they’ll obtain the knowledge… but that’s kind of a lot, even for your oldest, highest performing students.
My recommendation would be to show students in a given set of standards, what I call “Topics”, which includes the material that would be on one smaller formative assessment or quiz, what exactly they’ll be doing to learn those standards.
In my AP Psychology class, it looked something like this…
Day One - Students came into class with their flipped video notes completed, and they used those notes for in-class assignments that were normally done in stations. Any station work they didn’t finish was then homework. Sometimes we would take two days here depending on how much and how long it took them to accomplish the tasks.
Day Two - Students came in and reviewed for their topic quiz. We then reviewed as a class, gave the quiz and remediated together. After the quiz, students had a differentiated task based on their score of the quiz that was short and to the point. Their homework that night was then to watch the video notes for the next topic.
Rinse and repeat for each topic through the end of the unit.
Which leads me to the next pointer in reaching for a more sustainable workflow…
Who ever said that monotony was such a bad thing?
Maybe I shouldn’t describe this pointer in just one word, but in a world where everything seems to be fluid and changing for our students, monotony… better put, consistency… may be just what many of our students need to thrive right now.
When they know what to expect in your classroom, they will know exactly when they are and are not meeting those expectations. And when those expectations are THE SAME time and time again, we are even further setting them up for success.
Does this mean you have to do the same exact thing every single day or topic? Well, no.
But if you have the same structure and as consistent of a process as possible, that’s right where you want to be.
The monotony, I mean consistency, that I show teachers in Flipped Classroom Formula when I’m working with them to flip their classrooms over the summer consists of the schedule I showed you above…
Step One - take flipped notes.
Step Two - use those notes in class for a deeper dive into concepts with in-class activities.
Step Three - take a quiz showing mastery of the topic.
Step Four - remediate that quiz score.
Any variation that I built in would be in the in-class activities. That could be a lab, a project, a reading assignment and a writing workshop. Anything that allows your students to master the skills and standards of your course.
By declaring the process and making it as consistent as possible, you’re not only allowing your students to thrive inside of your crystal clear expectations, but you’re also allowing yourself to do simply what it takes for your students to master the standards…. And nothing more.
Let’s face it - we get ahead of ourselves and want to do all the things. Especially this year though, we simply can’t be that “yes-man or -woman”.
So, at least for this year, let’s lay out the process as clearly and consistently as possible, and see how our students do inside that learning process before we decide to add anything else to it.
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a super practical, make-it-happen-now pointer. All the other pointers so far are ones that you need to reflect on and decide how it will work in your class. This one, though, you can make it happen now.
I’ve seen recently how much late work is bogging teachers down.
Much like you declare a learning process for your students, also declare a process for grading late work. And only do it once per week.
I’ll repeat that. Only sit down to grade late work one time per week.
Here’s what that could look like. You let students know you’re grading late work only on Wednesdays, which happens to be your completely asynchronous day (I know that’s not necessarily so for everyone, but this is just an example scenario). So when a student turns in an assignment on Thursday that was due on Wednesday, it’s not getting graded until the following week.
Here’s what this does…
Next, use the email notifications you get from your Learning Management System (i.e. Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, etc.) when a student turns in an assignment late to your advantage. Don’t just delete them because you have fourteen THOUSAND notifications in your email inbox. Instead, batch select them (let’s say each morning when you first log on and check your email) and put them into an email inbox folder titled Late Work. Then, on your declared one day per week, go to that folder and click inside each one to find the late work one email at a time.
Boom - no more sifting and searching through your LMS feed for every late assignment.
This late work grading process will only be effective, however (without adding more headaches), IF you are incredibly vocal and crystal clear, announcing and explaining it frequently to students AND parents. Make a video that you post as an announcement in your Learning Management System. Send that video and a one page explanation in an email to parents, and remind them in your newsletter or individual emails thereafter.
For more encouragement and resources, don’t forget to grab the Virtual Teacher Toolkit jam-packed with printable or screenshot inspirational quotes, a digital interactive notebook template, and a tool comparison chart.
This week’s Virtual Teacher Feature is Chris Fuge of Sequoia Middle School in Fresno, California. Chris is a technology teacher and uses the Microsoft platform through his district.
The redeeming quality of currently teaching fully remote right now, Chris explains is, “Kids are getting more comfortable using technology for productive purposes. I think this will go a long way in preparing them for future careers that are more global and collaborative in digital workspaces.”
A big struggle with his middle school students, though, is their lack of motivation that oftentimes turns into struggles with attendance. But Chris tells us,
“I love teaching, especially technology. I get to share with my students topics and projects that I would want to do if I had free time! Students are so excited and engaged with their learning. Distance learning has certainly added some challenges, but we are starting to overcome them!”
It’s so awesome that Chris gets to focus on skills like coding, game design, robotics, and even video production, and it makes me appreciate his advice for virtual teachers even more.
Chris tells us to “find what works for you and stick with it. There are so many great apps and programs out there that it can be tempting to try to learn/incorporate all of them into your lesson. I think it's important to find a balance between stability and innovation, for both the teacher and the students' sake.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Find what works, declare, and stick with it.
Stay tuned for next week’s post in the Virtual Teacher Series on Parent Communication. And, find us on social media to see more of our Virtual Teacher Features, and to help us spread positivity around all of our virtual teachers and classrooms.
And we'll see you right back here next week,