Over the past two weeks, Liz has been not really thrilled with this “New Normal” of working from home. I think that she envisioned that we would be able to spend more time with one another because we would be literally in the same location, BUT that was not the case. Every morning for two weeks, I would sprawl-out my “stuff” across the kitchen table and hunker down for the day. To my surprise, it was like going to work, except ten times busier! I found that I had to schedule my breaks still as I could work straight through the morning and into the late evening. All the while, I would be sprawled across the kitchen table working furiously and attending so many Google Meetings that I can’t tell when I am in a meeting and not :)…like Inception-style… This is the same experience for educators holding virtual class for students, Principals, Superintendents, and other District Administrators. Now, let me be clear, I am totally blessed to have a job but also know that this environment is not the same as in-person education. My personal and professional focus for this remote learning experiment as been geared at first and foremost balancing our curriculum around the needs and unique circumstances that many of our families are under, while at the same time providing a “good” educational experience for students and families. At the same time, we also need to be mindful of how challenging it is to move to this virtual work environment for many of our educators. One thing we need to do is….
Lead by Example
After reviewing the literally hundreds of resources and ideas from so many talented educators across the country, I have developed my own LIST of the top FIVE things to do in order to make this remote work experience work in terms of balancing your professional and personally obligations, as the lines can be easily blurred!
1. Buy a Desk
So this one is probably the most important tip I can give you. If you do not have a desk….buy one! Really, working at the kitchen table does not work for many reasons. Not only will your back and rear be calling to quits before your day is over, but you need to establish a “dedicated space” for working. I have the added benefit of having an extra room that I can take over with a desk, but many families are utilizing ALL space within their homes. By buying something with the purpose of establishing a work environment, it helps you to psychologically associate that desk with work. Whatever you leave on that desk is like leaving things at work. When you leave the desk, you are no longer at work. This can be a super helpful reminder for not only your own psyche but also for your family members that see you at home every day and wonder why you are not able to talk to them. Special consideration is to spend more money on the chair than the desk…the chair makes a world of difference. Although the work from home photos are humorous, sustainable, they are not.
2. Set a Schedule
This is one that I have struggled with…We cannot work 12 hour days; it just is not doable. If you don’t set your hours and create a schedule, then it will overtake you. Set a schedule, just as you would in the school year, but at the same time, allow it to be flexible not only for your own needs but for the needs of your students and families. In the typical school year, I would answer emails into the night and be always available….as hard as it is….I am really trying to push back on that. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE NEEDS EMAILS PAST 6pm. I used to think I was being productive and staying on top of things by being readily available into the late hours of the evening. Still, realistically, I am a contributor to the cycle of people not being able to disconnect and just watch Stranger Things. Really, take my word, no one wants to hear from us at night, so set the example…I am role-modeling this myself effective today.
3. Keep things in Perspective
For the last two weeks, I have been consistently encouraging everyone to focus on supporting students and families emotionally and socially during this time of crisis. Of course, we have educational responsibilities, but if we let that lead the work that we do, then it will become all that matters. Let the social connections and needs of your students and families lead the work we are responsible for and trust me; it will all fall into place 🙂 Below is a wonderful Hierarchy of Needs for during the COVID-19 Distance Learning Era, sourced from George Couros who sourced it from Jay Dostal.
4. Seek Inspiration and be Inspirational
Okay, so Segwaying from my sourcing of George Couros material. All of us need someone to inspire us, and honestly, I have found that George Couros ignites my educational passion and inspires me to think differently. Not to mention he is a super genuine guy. With that being said, during this time, it can be very easy to lose our inspirational drive as educators, but I would challenge you to seek it out more than ever. Push against the system and use it to your advantage. If you are not typically a “Twitter” user, then start an account and be active. If you have always wanted to start a blog, then as I am trying to “Lead by Example” launch a blog and project your thoughts into the world. In the end, seeking inspiration will cause you to become more inspirational in your practice with others and ultimately impact your students and colleagues, and now is a better time than EVER to sprinkle some inspiration in the world.
5. Shut it Down!
This is my CLOSING tip. DO NOT WORK ON THE WEEKEND! Seriously, same rules apply as I mentioned regarding evenings and setting office hours. Maybe there was a time in the pre-COVID-19 Era when working nights and weekends was OK, but now, we need to disconnect if not for our own sake but the sake of those we work with and ultimately serve.
It is sad to think that my new professional life is feeling familiar and routine now. Like many educators and educational leaders, the workload in this new environment can feel overwhelming, but at the same time, I remind myself that we are blessed to have a job. I also think about how this new normal is not an ideal situation for anyone involved, especially the students and families we serve. It seems like a distant memory only 2ish weeks ago when we were forced to close schools and ask our educators to move from in-person education to distance education…seriously…the video below portrays this experience for me very well! 🙂
However, even though this new normal really has its downsides, I have witnessed many educators creating innovative and special experiences for their students during this time of scoail distancing. I and many others have gone to social media as a place for professional collaboration and there have been so many incurable ideas and experiences that we have been able to either adapt of contribute to.
But even if we are not sharing ideas, social media is an amazing place to reflect on the memories we had this year.
I have repeated this time and time…..but I will repeat it….social connectedness, relationships, and engagement are the most critical things we can provide for students and families right now. We have an excellent system for continuing our learning during this time, but our focus should be on our connections with students and families. The curriculum is in place as the backbone, but we need to make it come alive with teacher innovation and excitement through those three critical things.
Practice what you Preach…
I am trying my best to communicate in all ways possible and support the great work of our teachers, I am trying my best to communicate in all ways possible and support the great work of our teachers, coaches, and administrators. I am also trying to role-model what I preach, so I have kept my vlogs very fluffy and fun while providing some updates that are not overwhelming. Communication is probably the most essential part of my job right now. Whether it is bi-weekly vlogs and blogs, the countless meetings, or simply having rapid email/messaging turnaround, it is all-important. So make sure that you are communicating in multiple ways, keeping it fun, and most importantly, being genuine. Does everyone read these blogs….hah no…how about watch my videos??…..nope…but I do it for consistency of communication and for it to be there for when someone wants to tune in.
So as you continue to adjust to this NEW normal in your own professional and personal life, take time for lots of reflection, be thoughtful in your communication and remember, sometimes, LESS is MORE and distance learning can still be made into a FUN experience for our students by just being yourself 🙂
Remember, when you first welcomed students into your classroom at the very beginning of this year? It feels so long ago almost in a galaxy far, far away 🙂 No, but really, think about how you welcomed them to your classroom. You spent so much time trying to make them feel included and, most importantly, engaged citizens of the class. You may have felt like a performer for the first month trying to make even the most mundane math problem come to life or literally performing a read aloud as if you were auditioning for broadway..…you know who you are Elementary teachers 🙂
Distant Learning is NOT Possible if students FEEL Distant
Students need engagement MORE than ever, which is why I try to role-model this myself by producing silly intros to all my Vlogs. I have talked a lot in my Blog/Vlogs about the importance of humor and social connectedness. I cannot stress enough to educators how important it is to keep your students engaged, and one way to do that is through humor. I created a stay home Parkour introduction to my latest Vlog, and one teacher responded with their own student’s Parkour video!
Students want to feel connected to their education, but it may look different than how we traditionally see our roles. Be an entertainer, be a calming agent, be whatever you need to be in order to maintain that connection for a student to their educational experience. Of course, we still have a curriculum to follow, but it must work within the needs of our families as we are in uncharted territory. Sometimes learning might be just sharing you and your family making a cake 🙂
This may come as a total shock, but did you know that Shaquille O’Neil has his Ed.D.? His dissertation focused on humor in the workplace, specifically for leadership….seriously…never thought I would ever be referencing Shaq lol…..This idea of humor takes new meaning for us as educators entering into this new landscape. Educators are a super funny bunch and strive off daily humor with not only one another but with their students. So how does this happen virtually? Well, you have to be willing to take some risks and act a bit silly to really connect with your audience. States are entering into some really uncharted waters as we see them canceling school for the remainder of the school year (Vermont being one of them), and we have to think…..how I will make my students feel connected?
I have focused my last few blog/vlogs on Social Connectedness in this new COVID-19 Era because I truly feel that we MUST be innovative on how we are building community within our schools in the online world. How important are academics? Well, I personally feel not nearly as much as a student feeling socially connected to their peer and teacher. If a student can learn to read or even not lose their current skills, then that would be great. I guess what I am trying to say is we need to LOWER the bar.
Lower the Bar
We need to think about how families are handling this sudden switch to online learning. Many (MOST) districts were not designed to go online in a matter of days, so it is not like we are experts in this field, so it is important to understand that we will make mistakes, ask too much sometimes, but realize that at the end of the day, it is about a student feeling connected. What is the easier way to do this?