How to Recover (Or Find) Your Joy in Online Teaching

Author: Dawn Mitchell

Hello everyone!


I hope that you enjoyed the beautiful spring weather we’ve had this weekend.  I read an article posted by The Chronicle of Higher Education that really resonated with me during this time.  The author, Flower Darby wrote, “In the first few weeks of the pandemic, a lot of faculty members were rushing out of their comfort zone, moving their face-to-face courses online, and figuring out how to teach from home with kids and pets. As head of a teaching center on my campus, I am seeing many of my earnest colleagues overcome their nerves and experiment with unfamiliar modes of instruction. They are excitedly posting their first attempts at recording mini-video lectures and drafting syllabus statements of flexibility and support for students…it’s only natural that folks will start to feel discouraged, disillusioned, and even grief-stricken once the initial frenzy of pivoting online has died down and the reality of remote instruction — day in and day out, for the rest of the semester — sinks in, without even the prospect of commencement to look forward to.”  I found myself nodding in agreement to her words and am wondering if you are, too. If so, you may find Ms. Darby’s advice for how to recover your joy in online teaching helpful.  She shares five excellent strategies in her article.

  1. First, don’t ignore your feelings - Facing up to your frustrations, rather than stuffing them down into a bottle and jamming the lid on top, helps you process the experience in a healthy way, take charge, and feel less like a victim.  Be transparent and vulnerable with your students, too. Talking with them about the challenges you’re all facing will help them process this experience.

  2. Restart. Pause. Continue - Be intentional in taking stock of how you and your students are experiencing the course, and be ready to keep tinkering. Indeed, send out a quick anonymous survey asking students what you should stop, start, and continue doing in the course. As a colleague said to me the other day, students look an awful lot like people, and people like to have some say in their experience. So ask them. You won’t be able to make all the changes they want, but you can share what you decided to keep, drop, or adjust, and why. They’ll appreciate you closing the feedback loop.  I think one of the main takeaways from this big experiment will be to inject a huge dose of flexibility into higher education. You’ve proven — perhaps unwillingly — that your battleship can change course, and quickly. This crisis has had plenty of downsides, but realizing that you can be flexible in the classroom is not one of them.

  3. Layer on more engaging tech - Having started simple, you can add additional, media-rich content when you feel your energy and interest in online teaching start to lag. For example, if you initially resisted adding videos to your course, try using your smartphone to record casual, 90-second videos of yourself giving a class update. Record the videos from your kitchen, or in a park while walking the dog. That doesn’t require a lot of time or planning. Have a couple free minutes? Need to talk to your students about something? Do it, using your phone, and post it. It’s good to be authentic — to let them see where you are and what your day is like.

  4. Keep interacting more with students, not less - As we all know, the worst online courses have a well-deserved reputation as boring and unengaging. If you’re being thrown into the deep end of remote teaching with very little time to prepare, you are discovering that for yourself. In the first week or two of your online pivot, you probably communicated a lot with your students, bringing everyone up to speed on how this new incarnation of the course was going to work. Your instinct may be to pull back on that communication as all of you start to get (at least a little) comfortable with this online pivot. But now is not the time to be restrained with class interactions, and doing so can lead directly to dull online courses. If you think about it, you’ll realize that you provide a lot of guidance, nudging, and reminding naturally when you teach in person. You remind students about the test next week, comment on how today’s activity builds on what they did last week, and check in and ask how group work is going. You give any number of helpful suggestions, and you adjust your approach, as needed, based on the verbal and nonverbal feedback you get in class. That can happen in a virtual classroom but not anywhere near as naturally. Teaching well online requires intention, effort, and a commitment to working with students in different ways than you do in person.

  5. Be kind to yourself (and everyone else) - This is a stressful professional situation. You’re going to need to change your initial online plans, I can almost guarantee it. Things will go wrong, and you will have to be ready to flex, yet again. Give yourself breaks. Protect your personal time to do things that bring you joy, that help you re-energize. Practice yoga. Enjoy a good cup of coffee, a healthy snack, a glass of wine. Engage in mindful meditation. Nurture your spirituality. Binge-watch bad television. It’s a weird world we’re living in. Businesses are closing. People are losing much-needed income. Fears abound. Toilet paper is scarce. We can be kind to one another amid all the crazy. It can only help.


Sincerely,

Dawn


Dawn Mitchell

South Carolina ASCD President

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