Updated: Sep 29, 2021
If you are overly-dedicated, always-organised and little-miss/mr-initiative like me then you are finding yourself in one of two situations during remote learning: the first being that you are bored senseless and constantly finding something to do, or the second being that you are exhausted and burning out.
Neither of these situations does anything for our wellbeing.
If you are in the first situation because your school is operating on a “revision and consolidation” mentality rather than having a focus on teaching new content then this can often result in a lack of motivation and boredom for you as the teacher, especially if you are not active in lessons or engaging with students virtually and on a daily basis. I find myself currently begging for opportunities to create a new activity to assign, or finding online courses to complete while I wait for students to submit the few tasks being set today. I completely understand that during tough and unprecedented times such as this, the wellbeing of students and families is important - I am not denying this. But I have found that the quality of student work and the level of student engagement and motivation has significantly dropped due to the much lower expectations placed on teachers and students. When older primary students are barely completing an hour of learning a day because teachers are instructed to reduce tasks and reduce tasks constantly, and teachers are expected to not “teach”, this makes me wonder what their wellbeing will be like when they return to school. When they are faced with full days of learning and expectations that are much higher, such as prior to remote learning. Yes, we can just lower expectations when we return to school, but what is this solving or teaching them? If we constantly have low expectations children will work to the lowest of their ability, they will do the bare minimum. It certainly does not set them up for success and the ability to cope with expectations of higher education or the workplace.
If you are in the second situation where your school insists on maintaining maximum teaching and learning you may find yourself in multiple Zoom sessions a day, preparing copious amounts of activities for hours of learning each day, giving feedback on all tasks sometimes sending drafts back and forth, and constantly in front of a screen recording, reviewing and recreating. This leads to exhaustion in teachers and they burn out quickly, even with regular breaks and support systems in place. While I have not been in this situation in remote learning I have learned from colleagues who have, that this cannot be maintained for long periods of time. It’s a sprint compared to a marathon. Teachers in this situation would cope for short periods of remote learning, maybe 1-2 weeks, but when it’s expected of teachers to be doing this much every day for more than a few weeks it starts to take its toll on mental and physical health.
My recommendation for successful remote learning is to have a balance of the two; a focus on wellbeing AND learning. Not one or the other.
Tip 1: Maintain Routines Where Possible
If school normally starts at 9 am then this is when morning posts and messages or first learning tasks should be going out to students. It is important for students to have some sort of structure in their day and timing the posting of activities throughout the day allows for students to experience some normalcy. The number of tasks may be reduced compared to a normal day at school but posting literacy in the morning, maths in the middle of the day and another task in the afternoon, helps spread the learning out and keeps children engaged. It also allows for children to spend more time on tasks if they need extra time or gives them opportunities to balance learning with physical health and wellbeing because they can do optional tasks, wellbeing breaks or have time for themselves.
Tip 2: Daily Interactions with Students
It’s important to maintain a connection with your students. They are used to seeing you everyday and when this opportunity is taken away they feel disconnected from you and school. While ongoing Zoom meetings can be exhausting, I recommend alternating these with pre-recorded video. Videos and live meetings should have a balance of checking student wellbeing and learning. Teachers could have special meetings where children bring something with them to show their class, you could play a class game, have break out rooms or include fun songs, dances, questions in your pre-recorded videos. Interactions with students need to be maintained beyond an email or feedback on a piece of submitted work. It also needs to be fun and purposeful so that students remain engaged. Leading me into Tip 3…
Tip 3: Teaching and Learning
Remote learning is not the same as home schooling. In home schooling the parents or carers are the sole educators and responsible for the planning and implementing of learning experiences for children. In remote learning the teacher remains the one responsible for the education and learning experiences, while the parents and carers offer support and help where needed. Of course, it is more difficult for teachers to provide individualised and guided learning experiences during remote learning, but not impossible. It is important to teach at least one new concept, skill or piece of content each day during remote learning. This keeps students engaged, motivated and moving forward in learning. It also allows teachers to feel a sense of purpose and motivation because, let’s face it, we became teachers to teach!
Tip 4: Zoom Through
Overall, with an aspect of fun or wellbeing and an aspect of teaching and learning, Zoom sessions and videos should be kept as short as possible. A good rule of thumb is to use the age of students as a guide. For example: if your class is Year 2 then an 8-10 minute Zoom session occurs, if they are in Year 6 then a 12-15 minute video is recorded. Expecting children to be engaged longer than this is pointless and unproductive. A Kindergarten child being expected to watch their teacher for 20 minutes teach them a new sound for literacy is going to end up with that child distracted, bored and disengaged, meaning they may not be able to complete the task you set for them successfully and therefore becomes ineffective teaching and learning practice, relying on parents and carers forced to teach the concept to them again. I recommend keeping it short and sharp, even if there are multiple pre-recorded videos throughout the day attached to activities.
Please leave a comment if you have a tip for remote learning. What works for you? What has been successful in your school?