More and more schools announced closures over the weekend; even my sister-in-law’s school in Small Town, Texas has announced that they will extend Spring Break by another week, at least. The Governor of Jakarta stepped up this weekend and announced that all schools in the city must close for two weeks beginning tomorrow, and they must offer online learning. For us, nothing changes, as we aren’t planning to open until 30 March anyway, but I am glad that the government is taking this situation seriously and putting measures in place (finally!) to reduce the spread of the virus.
With these closures, many of us are left scrambling to figure our how we are going to teach online, a concept new to the vast majority of us. I’m definitely not an expert by any means, but I have been doing it for the better part of two weeks, so here’s my advice and observations. I hope that they are helpful to you.
For my advice around student wellbeing during this virtual learning period, have a read of Advice for Virtual Learning- Part 1.
Staff Wellbeing, Including Your Own!
What they don’t tell you about virtual school is that it’s WAY HARDER than real school. As in you can work 12+ hour days and still feel woefully behind. The pressures you now face are overwhelming, to say the least. You are learning so much, so fast, but there’s no time to process that new learning or consolidate it before you are asked to implement it. It’s pretty much a crash-course PD, where you are constantly adapting and trouble-shooting and finding new ways of doing the same things you would do in the classroom. One thing I’ve learned is that something that would typically take a few minutes in the classroom can take 30+ minutes to accomplish online, especially when you’re trying to remotely support young students on how to use the new online tools.
In addition to the pace of learning and insurmountable tasks you now have on your plate, most of us have to contend with self-quarantine and isolation from others. Extended time alone, a dramatic increase in screen time, and a decrease in movement result in exhaustion. You will expend an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy throughout the day, and most likely you will do so on far less sleep than you are accustomed to, at least at first. Your patience will be put to the test, and your emotions are likely to bubble over from time to time. It’s all normal and expected. Be easy on yourself and know that it does get better.
Schedules and Routines
All of this is to say, you need to look after yourself and your family. Setting a schedule for everyone will help establish routines and cut down on chaos. Set boundaries for yourself. If you don’t, you’ll never step away. There will always be another notification, Seesaw post to approve, email to answer, text message to respond to, video chat to answer, etc. Take regular breaks throughout the day and set a start and end time for your days. Allot some time on the weekends to get your work done and get ahead for the next week, but take time out to rest and spend time with your family.
Get Some Sleep!
My biggest hurdle is not getting enough sleep. As I said, there’s always more to do and the guilt of not getting it all done is real. I’ve found myself staying up late most nights working, often not getting to bed until 11:00-12:00. The lack of sleep means I’m less effective during the day, meaning I have to stay up late that night to catch up. It’s a vicious cycle. Learn from me. Set a bedtime and keep it. Another thing is that you can’t just work right up until you are going to bed, because staring at a computer screen messes with your brain, and you’ll be so wired you won’t get to sleep. Try to put some distance between the end of work and your bedtime, such as a shower, cup of herbal tea, and some reading (in a real book!).
Connection and Collaboration
Virtual school is lonely and isolating. It’s a strange concept; you are connected digitally all day, yet you don’t feel a real sense of connection. One way to combat this is to reach out to your colleagues and friends throughout the day. Message one another in your school’s online platform (ours is Microsoft Teams), call a friend or family member on the phone during a break or in the evening, video chat with your students and colleagues, take a walk outside (but keep some distance between you and others). Reach out to other online communities you have. Do whatever you can do to establish and/or maintain that sense of community.
Collaborating is key to making virtual school a success for others. We cannot do it alone. We need to share what’s working and what’s not, ask for help when we need it, and share new ideas and resources we come across. When we do this, we all win, and more importantly, so do our students. At my school, we have taken the consistent approach across all classes in the Primary school. When we find something that is a good idea, we all implement it. This cuts down on comparisons between classes (and complaints) when it comes to parents.
We have a ‘Virtual School’ channel in MS Teams where we all load ideas and suggestions for virtual school. It’s a feed of ideas that we can all revisit when we have time.
We also have a Primary group chat on WhatsApp where we collaborate, ask for feedback, discuss concerns or issues, send announcements, and share links with one another.
Our students feel the same way, too. They crave connection and miss their friends and the daily interactions they have with their teachers. Reach out to them on video chats to help them feel some sense of normalcy. Listen to one of my students’ reflection on the week. You can hear how much she misses the connection with her friends that she has at school.
I’ve already touched on some aspects of self-care, such as getting enough sleep and setting boundaries. Another aspect to consider is eating healthily, ensuring that you have a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Being at home and under a huge amount of stress has led to me eating more snack foods and desserts, which only leave me feeling even more sluggish. I’m working on eating healthier. Drink lots of water all day. A plus to working from home means you get to go to the bathroom whenever you want! So drink water with wild abandon.
Move your body several times during the day. It’s sooooo easy to get stuck in your chair, hunched over the computer all day, but you’ll be paying for it later. Take a walk outside for a few minutes on your breaks or after school. Do a yoga YouTube video when you wake up. Play the Wii with your kids after lunch. Whatever you can do to move, do it.
Take some time away from screens. Do something you enjoy offline, such as reading, knitting, working on a puzzle, coloring, cooking a meal, trying a new recipe, listening to music, dancing around your living room, taking a bath, taking a nap, playing a board game, etc. Whatever it is that you enjoy, spend time doing that. You are no good to anyone if you’re run down.
I came across a *FREE* PD on Designing Online Learning this morning and I’ve signed up. The PD runs from 23-30 March. The catch is you have to sign up by Sunday at 7pm ET if you want to take advantage of this offer!
I still have lots more to share…so there will be a Part 3 tomorrow. Stay tuned!