By Tiffany Ford Leave a comment
It’s the start of the school year and as I enter my classroom things look a “little” different. Desks are piled up in a corner. Chairs are stacked. Bookcases are emptied. Walls are bland, with not a poster or anchor chart in sight. Most importantly, the only person in the room is me. Many teachers dream of an empty classroom with no students. We all need our breaks, so I get it. However, what happens when the dream becomes reality. It doesn't seem like a dream anymore when you don’t get to see your kids smiling faces, give out your end of day hugs or see the twinkle in a student’s eyes when they finally accomplish one of their learning goals. As I sat down and thought about what this new reality means for not only me but for my students, I started to worry and ask lots of questions. How can I still be an effective teacher virtually? Can I keep six and seven-year-olds engaged through a computer screen? How long will I have to teach this way? Even though the questions kept rolling through my head, I decided that I would take control over the things that were in my power. In the end, why worry over things that you cannot control? Instead, take some time to plan out how you will make the best out of a tough situation. Over the past few months, I have used the following strategies to navigate teaching virtually in a pandemic. My hope is that you will be able to benefit from using my strategies and trying them out in your classroom. Trust me, it will take a huge load off your shoulders and with everything that has gone on, please let this be my gift to you. The goal is not to just survive teaching during a pandemic but to thrive while teaching as well.
1. Start strong with classroom management and stay consistent.
Set rules and procedures for virtual learning on day one. You should have rules/procedures for how to raise your hand, how/when to mute/unmute yourself, how to ask to use the restroom, how to listen when someone is talking, and anything else you feel will be important to your classroom dynamics. One book I will forever pay homage to is First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry Wong and Rosemary T. Wong. In this book, I learned that for learning to take place, classroom management needs to be implemented before anything else. Once you have effective classroom management, your focus will be less on discipline and more on teaching and making meaningful connections with your students.
2. Making connections with your students is just as important as learning.
Let’s face it if your students do not feel comfortable with you as their teacher, they will be less willing to learn. Since you are a virtual teacher, the biggest indicator of your students' learning is their engagement in your lessons. It’s so easy for a student to not participate. They simply will just look elsewhere, lay their head down, or just stare at you the whole time but not have a clue what is going on. Don’t be afraid to make jokes, be silly, ask them questions about themselves, tell them stories about you, play games, or have random dance breaks. Each week have a day to reward them for their hard work. For example, a Fun Friday where you do a fun activity with them. All these things will help you to connect with your students on another level outside of learning.
3. Over-communicate with your parents; this is okay.
As an educator you may be confused and concerned about how you will teach your students; your students’ parents have those same feelings. As students have become virtual learners, parents are more involved than ever in their children’s education. Let your parents know what is going on weekly in your classroom; I would suggest a weekly newsletter. All communication should be clear and descriptive. I always say “I rather write a page of useful and detailed information and leave no questions on the table than write a paragraph that has parents sending numerous questions after reading it”. Lastly, always be friendly and understanding in your communication. Many parents are very stressed right now so be the one that they can trust by making them feel you are on their side. This is a big stress-reliever for them. Parents ultimately want to know that you have their child’s best interests at heart. Once they know this about you, teaching will be so much easier for you.
4. Set up a classroom environment.
Yes, your students are at home learning, but it helps that your environment still reminds them of school. If you are teaching at school, set up your classroom. Hang posters and anchor charts. Set up your classroom library. Teach in front of the board. Use the Smartboard or projector when teaching. This will help your students to feel connected to your classroom. This also helps you to feel some type of normalcy. You may not have students in the classroom but at least it aesthetically looks like a classroom. If you are teaching from home, find an area in your home that you can transform into a classroom. Set up a desk. Buy a large board. Have classroom materials within your reach.
5. When planning lessons, get in the mindset of a VIRTUAL teacher.
It does not matter how many years you have taught, teaching virtually is different. With this in mind, DO NOT rely solely on how you have taught certain subjects in the past to guide your planning. We are in a new virtual era, so this means you will have to re-adjust your teaching. Read both physical books and online books to your students. A favorite website of mine is https://www.getepic.com/. This website has a plethora of free books that you can use as a read-aloud for teaching. Simply share your screen, and your students can follow along with you. You can also find online versions of your students' textbooks that can be displayed on your screen when teaching. Use videos to help with introducing new content. Plan lessons and gather materials for those lessons in advance. Something to keep in mind is that it is our job to always be prepared.
6. Take time for yourself.
If you effectively follow the techniques listed above, your stress level and workload should decrease dramatically. With this being said, this leaves time for yourself!! Take your lunch break and actually eat (do not work). If you plan, in advance, you will not need to work during your lunch break. Take brain breaks with your kids. You have earned it too! Make sure you balance your work and personal life. Personally, I do not work on weekends, but some educators do and that is perfectly fine. One way to avoid working on weekends is to plan accordingly throughout the week so your weekend time is for yourself and your family/friends.
Final Take Away
In the end, I want you to understand that we will be okay. In a world where everyone is feeling unsure of what will happen next, it is completely understandable to feel like everything is out of your control. However, I hope that this has helped you to realize that you are in complete control of what type of teacher you decide to be. Remember that your students are relying on YOU and that they love you just as much as you love them. You are impacting them in more ways than you will ever know, and I promise they will forever be grateful for your continued efforts.
Tiffany Ford is a Masters-level public and charter school teacher and private virtual tutor of students at various grade levels. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more of her blogs at https://cunningham-creations.com/blog/