We have been thrown into an era of virtual learning with no time to prepare. Most school districts have virtual learning days in place in case of inclement weather; however, being out of school for the rest of the year doesn’t compare to a few days of snow. Distance learning is new for everyone: teachers, students, and parents. These are complicated times, so here are some quick tips on navigating through distance learning!
1. Choose a few tools for distance learning and run with it.
For your sanity, try to limit yourself the applications and websites you use to reach out to parents. There are tons of great resources out there- all with their pros and cons. However, you will lose your mind if you are using a plethora of these resources daily. It becomes hard to keep track of who is using what and which assignments are where, even for the most organized teachers.
I’ve personally been using three modes of communication: Class Dojo, Microsoft Teams, and good, old-fashioned phone calls. Class Dojo is useful to send a singular message to all parents. Microsoft Teams is useful when it comes to talking to students, conferencing, and even seeing them “in person”. Phone calls have stood the test of time though. It’s a quick way to talk to both parents and your students. I would highly recommend trying to talk to your students on a personal level. Ask about how they’re doing, what they have been spending time on – anything. It’s tempting to ask about schoolwork and ask about certain assignments, but learning about their new reality is just as critical. Knowing that their teacher is checking in on them as a person (instead of as a student) will mean the world to them during these times of uncertainty.
2. Consider taking your students on a virtual field trip.
Do not count field trips out just yet. While physical field trips are out of the question, virtual field trips certainly are not. For example, many zoos and aquariums have “animal cams” that allow viewers to see the animals in their exhibits in real time. Museums also give an opportunity to have virtual tours. School systems vary, so you make still need permission slips. However, it is possible to obtain free school permission slips online. Many planetariums, zoos, aquariums, and museums are doing their part to make virtual field trips easy for teachers and students alike.
Movie streaming can also count as a virtual field trip- especially if it is relevant to literature that students are currently reading. Most students would be ecstatic to watch a movie or video as an assignment! With younger students, permission slips are most likely necessary depending on the film. As stated previously, free school permission slips are always an option and can be distributed online.
Currently, one of my favorite virtual field trips is to watch “Lunch Doodles” with Mo Willems. All of my students, no matter what grade they are in, have absolutely loved every Mo Willems book that I have read to them. Some of my students even have a few of the Gerald and Piggie books entirely memorized. Tuning in at the same time to watch him has been a great bonding experience for us! Students can also share the art they create at the end of each “lunch doodle”.
3. Remind yourself that this is new territory and you’re doing your best.
None of us have ever experienced something like this, so don’t stress yourself out by thinking that you are not doing a good enough job. We will experience trial and error – success and failure. You may have a coworker from your same school discover a method of distance learning that works for them, but find it doesn’t work with your set of students. Do not blame yourself for this! Teachers are different and students are different.
Right now, we should focus on taking care of each other as human beings first and academics can follow. Everyone is trying to navigate through such uncertain times, so cut yourself some slack. This adjustment is not an easy one to make to say the least, but we will overcome the new challenges that this new era of digital learning presents. Just take a deep breath, meditate, drink some coffee, and tell yourself that we are doing enough and we will get through this.
This new land of virtual school thrust me head first into the fire that awaits me next school year: a hybrid position split evenly between classroom teaching and teacher support. I cannot pretend to be an expert in virtual school, but I can share some wisdom from the front lines.
If you’d have told me in January 2020 that just a few short months later, I’d be saying farewell to teaching my students physically, I’d have thought you were crazy. But that was early 2020, and as January progressed to February and March, the COVID-19 situation escalated far faster than I could have imagined.
Teaching a class from home has a very specific set of challenges that many educators are now facing daily. Some of the most common challenges are a proper network set-up, a reliable and safe platform to use, making sure students can connect, engagement and a quiet location to teach from.