Teaching on a normal day during a normal week has its challenges. A teacher with the best intended pedagogy can still find him or herself wondering what went wrong during a well-planned lesson. Today's circumstances, however, have us re-thinking, re-planning and re-creating a learning environment for our students in the midst of school closures and isolation. Does it seem that your tried-and-true pedagogy is suddenly more like a panicgogy? Here are some tips for maintaining a sense of community and meeting the needs of your students during these uncertain times.
You (and your students) are probably feeling that everything you typically "know" about a school year flew right out the window with the abrupt school cancelation notices. Your daily routines are now different. The way you provide instruction is different. But what is the same? Your goal as a teacher is still making sure that your students have what they need to be successful. You still want to provide rich instruction. You still want to create a learning environment where your students feel safe emotionally. These are some of the things you can still control. So, this is where you'll start.
Several education companies are currently offering their services for free so that students and teachers can have access to the best of the best. If your students have internet access and devices at home, you may want to consider using Zoom as an online video conferencing tool. Students of all ages can log in and see their classmates, participate in discussions, take part in virtual lessons, and enjoying being together in this time when we are all being kept apart. If there are families in your area without internet access at home, Spectrum, Comcast, and several other companies are currently offering it for free.
Some schools are having their teachers create weekly packets that can be emailed to students, or printed and picked up at school sites. If your district is going this route, fantastic! As you gather weekly material, remember the goal is quality over quantity. You don't need to provide thirty hours' worth of worksheets. Even if your students are bored, they don't need busy work. Parents also don't need complicated math pages that leave them more flustered than their children. Some sites have created daily math and writing workbooks that students will enjoy and parents will appreciate! Consider downloading and emailing these along with journal prompts, book suggestions, and notes of encouragement.
One of the biggest hurdles students and teachers are facing in the midst of this crisis isn't a lack of instruction-it's the emotional toll of the unknown. As we work to control what we can, remember to be aware of the impact that fear, anxiety, and stress can have on you and your students. Research has shown that it's difficult to think clearly and make healthy decisions when we are in a panicked state. As you create assignments for students and continue creating safe spaces in which they can learn and share, consider including emotional education and encouragement as well.
The more time your students spend on social media, the more likely they are to experience loneliness, depression, and addiction. During these isolation periods, students may feel they are "connecting" with friends, when, in reality, social media has them more disconnected than ever before. Consider creating class discussion boards, pen pal projects, or social media challenges where your students are working together to post something related to the content you're covering. If you can use social media purposefully, it can be useful rather than harmful.
Encourage your students to keep close tabs on their feelings throughout this season. Their emotions are likely as varied as yours! They can do self-check-ins several times a day using a feelings chart. A quick activity like this can help them identify and understand that it's okay to feel frustrated, sad, bored, angry, and happy all in one day. After identifying their feelings, they then have the power to choose what to do and how to act on those emotions. This is a huge part of social and emotional learning. Students need to learn how to label emotions, express emotions appropriately, and then regulate emotions effectively. Meditation can help with this as well. Many mindfulness and meditation apps can help students learn to relax and relieve stress and anxiety.
This one is especially important! Your pedagogy will not be perfect. Your students may not learn every standard were supposed to teach. There will be projects left undone and tests that will be missed. So during this time, give yourself grace. Give your students the benefit of the doubt. Be understanding of your administrators as they seek to make quick decisions that will have far-reaching impacts. When all of this is said and done, what will remain is the way we treat each other.
Remember, your students will continue to look to you for guidance during this time. They may not be able to walk through the door and anticipate your daily greeting, but you can still encourage them. You can still provide them with the tools and resources necessary to be successful. You can still create that safe learning space where they can grow and excel. Let's be honest: you're a teacher, which is synonymous with "superhero." There's no need to panic. You're a teacher! You can do anything!