By David Hotler
David Hotler is a teacher living in Madrid, Spain. Join him and Future Design School Director of Learning Sandra Nagy for an interactive webinar on Thursday, March 26 at 4:00 PM EDT. RSVP on Eventbrite to learn more.
We all now, without a shred of doubt, teach people, not subjects. Write that on the wall for the foreseeable future.
Then, slow down. Everyone is overwhelmed. The end of this school year will not be like the end of other school years. Take a deep breath and remember that. Think about that. Internalize it. Then stop complaining. Stop it.
In many ways, the kids are more prepared for this than the teachers, parents, and administrators. Take solace in that, and then think about how you can help them. Here are a few ideas.
Listen to the students and let them complain — without saying anything back other than, “I hear you and that sucks so bad, I’m sorry.” They might be missing out on their senior year sports season, prom, final presentations, big exams, moments of celebration with friends, or something else that is HUGE for them. Also remember that some of them are now stuck at home and locked into an abusive household, don't have food to eat, don’t have the ability to find resources, and all the horrors of poverty that this situation will augment.
Be sure all stakeholders understand the new normal that is school. Treat the first day of virtual school like the first day of school. All the new routines need to sink in, and people need time to adjust to them. They need to be clearly written, consistently communicated, and allowed to grow. That might also include holding virtual parent coffees, small assemblies with kids, or anything else you do at the start of the year to set the tone and get the ball rolling.
Don’t try to keep your regular school schedule. It just won't work. Post work in the morning and let the kids contact you if they need you. Teachers that want to hold onto a synchronous routine and teaching practice will have a bunch of students who are super confused. Assume half your students are going to sleep in until 11am and start school about 2pm, and the other half will be up at 7am with anxiety waiting for your post. But also assume that both of these types of students are going to produce great work. Design for extreme users and the middle will fit right in.
Prepare parents to support their digital learners. Parents need to know that schools can only do so much from behind a keyboard, and that they might need to help students prepare a working schedule for the day. Schools should also remember that families might have one laptop for three students. So making synchronous virtual meetings anything but “extra” could be a bad idea.
Plan events that have nothing to do with the content you teach. Think virtual staff happy hours, classroom meet-ups for yoga or to chat, show and tell from home — anything to build and keep community and foster positive connections.
Think before you send. The increase in email traffic is astounding. Before you send an email, think about the person who is going to get it and that you are probably one more email on a huge stack. Are you sending something that should actually be a text message? Can it be part of another email? Could it wait till next week?
Avoid the echo chamber. Things with “COVID-19” or “Coronavirus” actually written on them carry with them some baggage, stir up emotions of feeling overwhelmed, leave a bad taste, and associate the thing you wrote it on with all the other things it's written on (like political rhetoric on social media). I am avoiding those key words all together.
Provide everything in two ways. If you wrote down the instructions, record yourself reading them. If you made a video, take some screenshots and build a guide. Remember, if it is hard for you to describe, it is hard for them to understand.
Consider bolstering your SPED/Learner Support programs with other staff members. Kids with high executive functioning issues or other learning needs can really struggle without the human element. Consider pulling staff and having them support your SPED/Learner Support team. Every single student in the school should chat/email/video call with at least one staff member every single day. Ideally, the conversation will be 80% about the human and 20% about school. Make a plan for this if you don't already have one. Assign every staff member a small group of kids who they check in with every day.
Don’t deploy new technology for technology’s sake. Tech support staff need to know that this is not a time to try a bunch of new stuff. For some teachers, recording a video and adding it to Google Classroom is like earning a Master’s degree (and that is okay!). Chill out on the “here's all the ways to maximize, optimize, and blow this out of the water” messaging. Instead, offer to come to a teacher's video class and be a second in the “room” or help a teacher co-plan, schedule classes or assignments, or prepare teaching materials to go virtual.
As a teacher, plan less, support more. Don't expect to get through the same amount of content as you normally would. It won’t work. That also means there’s no point in assigning busy work to fill the time.
Find out what cannot be done online and then find a solution. It might mean covering some soft skills instead of the course content. Instead of a robotics course, do some design thinking instead.Don’t take no response as a good response. Normally when we teach, we scan the room, and even if a student doesn't speak up, we can read on their face some confusion or other emotion that signals we should act. But you don't get that with virtual learning, so always build in something that requires a response from students right away — even if that response is, okay, I have it, I get it, I am working on it.
And above all: know that our students, our colleagues, and our families, friends, and communities will remember the atmosphere that we created during all of this. We can come out on the other side a more resilient, more connected community, OR we can come out on the other side more divisive, more fractured, and more hurt. How we engage during this will have a profound impact.