May is upon us. This is always a difficult time of the year when students and their teachers are fatigued, and here in North America, motivation wanes as quickly as the temperatures climb. With everyone on edge, it can be one of the most challenging periods of the school year… and that was before COVID-19.
Over the past few months, teachers at every level in regions around the world have been forced abruptly and without training or planning to move to remote instruction, virtual or otherwise. There was no time to arm teachers with the professional knowledge, technology tools, or curriculum resources that would make that transition smooth or effective. Instead, teachers scrambled to find what they needed with some resorting to sitting in school parking lots to conduct hasty video calls while connected to the WiFi, all in an effort to make a connection with their students and try to provide some kind of instruction.
I can’t stress that enough - facing overwhelming odds, you did it. Even if it didn’t feel like the finest teaching you’ve ever done, you found ways to connect with as many students as possible and you found ways to recreate something like the high-quality instruction you had spent so many hours, days, and weeks preparing for; some of you even found ways to excel in this environment. Anyone who is not blown away by how the teachers of the world rose to the occasion just isn’t paying close enough attention; it was nothing short of miraculous.
Yes, there are very legitimate concerns about not meeting the needs of every student, equitable access, and the “Coronavirus slide” that we all fear. We can’t pretend those are not genuine obstacles that educators will all have to figure out moving forward, but you found ways to connect with your students, let them know that you care, and get them to use their minds. At the end of the day, there is much of which to be proud.
With all of that in mind, some of the educators across the Turnitin organization wanted to find a way to recognize and acknowledge all that you have accomplished and all the challenges you have faced. This is a message of gratitude, filled with our collective best tips on how to make it through the end of the school year and into what might be the next phase of global education.
Focus on the positive.
In this time when it feels like every part of your life--both personal and professional--is in flux, choose to focus on the positive. Amidst the challenges that you face each day adapting to your new methods of teaching, there WILL be successes. Those successes will likely look incredibly different than the ones you experienced while teaching in a physical classroom with your students physically present, but success is a success no matter its form.
Take a few minutes each day to reflect on how things are going, and find a way to highlight the positive things that are happening:
- Were you able to check in with each of your students this week?
- Did all of your students sign into a synchronous class session?
- Did everyone submit an assignment on time?
- Were you able to make one of your favorite classroom lessons translate meaningfully over a video call?
- Did you survive a week of your students trying to film a group Tik Tok during your video meetings?
No matter how this week went overall, choose to focus on the successes. You moved your entire teaching practice from the classroom to the internet in a matter of days, and while it might not be exactly how you planned the end of the school year, you’re making it work for you and your students. Celebrate the positive aspects of your day and encourage your students to do the same. We’re all in this together, and when your students see you appreciating the little wins, it’s likely they will follow suit.
- Katie Wike, Senior Instructional Innovations Specialist, Teaching and Learning Innovations
Make the time to make your list.
Between pouring over mind-melting instructions for online classrooms, recording (and re-recording) hours of lectures, and scrambling to give each of your students the educational, electronic, and emotional support they need, you are facing challenges most of us will never understand. So, I think the best piece of advice I can offer is a simple thing my teaching mentor always told me when I felt like I was drowning: “make the time to make your list.”
Even when you’re overloaded, grant yourself some mental self-care minutes to write down all the tasks swirling around you, down to the minutiae of “find a chair that doesn’t kill your back before online summer school starts.” Group your related tasks together and just start checking things off. I like to handwrite my lists and I’ve found that it’s helpful for me to have a rainbow of colored pens and a notebook that’s on the small side, so it doesn’t take up too much space on the stumpy table that is functioning as my home office desk right now.
If you’d prefer an electronic method, you could always use a spreadsheet to gather your work or check out some free list-making apps and websites. Some may even connect to your existing online classroom. There are also tons of articles on task organization techniques if you want to get as nerdy as some of us at Turnitin do about this. In any case, you have truly been thrown blindfolded into a tornado and we will never be able to thank you enough for leading students through this. Just remember that you deserve (a year-long vacation and) to give yourself time to get your bearings in the storm.
- Erin Reddy, Senior Product Writer, Product Writing and Localization
Find your people (or person) and stick together.
In our current education climate, you most likely don’t have the luxury of collaborating with fellow educators in person. However, now more than ever, staying connected with other educators is important for your sanity (and survival).
As someone who has worked, taught, and taken courses remotely, I’ve learned a few things over the years to make these experiences positive. Hands-down, what’s made the biggest impact is building and maintaining relationships with people going through the same experience. As a remote employee, that meant (and still means) staying connected with my team daily. As a student, that meant picking a Learning Partner and leaning on this person to discuss coursework and assignments. As an instructor, that meant finding a colleague with whom I could share ideas, ask questions, and who could be there for moral support. Choose a colleague (or a small group) and set the intention to stay connected over summer and throughout the school year. Consider sharing interesting education articles with each other, hosting video chats to discuss what’s working or what’s not working (professionally, or maybe even personally), or sharing helpful resources. These are unique times. Be there for one another, stay positive, and be good to yourself!
- Kristin Van Gompel, Senior Instructional Innovations Specialist, Teaching and Learning Innovations
Focus on your students, and the rest will come.
When you found out that you wouldn’t be returning to school this year, I’m betting some of your first thoughts were: “How will my students get the services they need?” and “Will they be safe?” Then came the formidable task of moving your entire classroom online and figuring out how to deliver effective instruction remotely.
While migrating all of your content to a digital format requires ample time and effort, it’s just as important to thoughtfully cultivate an online environment where your students feel safe, welcome, and a part of the community. To that end, leverage your school’s communication platforms to promote inclusivity and sustain the relationships you’ve built with your students throughout the year. Renew a sense of normalcy by providing predictable routines for asynchronous work; consider grouping related tasks into modules or weekly assignments, and state clear expectations for any student collaboration. Establish reliable avenues for students to reach you when they need support (subject-related or otherwise), but be sure to set reasonable boundaries so they’re not expecting you to answer homework questions at midnight!
Whether in-person or online, providing a warm and supportive environment for all students will nurture a sense of connection to their classroom family, which is likely needed now more than ever.
- Jill Crivelli, Senior Instructional Innovations Specialist, Teaching and Learning Innovations
Build and tap into a digital network of cohorts, resources, and friends.
This semester was filled with what everyone is calling “unprecedented challenges,” which meant “all new problems.” I’m part of a Facebook group on teaching resources in higher education and have a network of friends who work across the nation at colleges and universities. I am able to contact them via twitter, Facebook, and via email and text. It makes me feel a whole lot less alone to see others going through the same thing and then share the ways in which we’re all trying to address remote learning and assessment and feedback and lesson plans. Or honestly, seeing them vent about the same exact things (in a private forum, of course) also brings in a sense of solidarity.
Sometimes, the cohorts at our own campus aren’t the ones we can lean on. And widening our network helps us to see what’s happening beyond our own institutions and absorb the broader picture. Check out Facebook--there are teaching groups there, in which teachers share lesson plans and collaborate on solutions to ongoing challenges. Twitter also has a number of good teachers there--doing research and offering up resources. I also have a Slack with a bunch of instructor friends. And then, of course, there’s the good old phone and texting. Virtual hugs are not as good as irl hugs--but they’ll do in a pinch.
- Christine Lee, Senior Marketing Manager, Corporate Marketing
Embrace vulnerability and ask for help.
Depending on your relationship with your school and district leaders, you might think that you have to be perfect at all times and only show your best. You might even think your leaders are too busy to deal with your worries and needs. As a former coach, principal, and district leader, please take it from me: WE WANT TO HELP!
Most of us want to be there for you when you’re struggling or when you need a different perspective or when you just want some feedback. Yes, we are working on budgets and putting out fires and presenting to the board and trying to predict what summer school and the fall will look like, but the task we most WANT to focus on is supporting teachers and students.
Right now, when everything is difficult, reach out to your leaders. Ask for their assurances, their guidance, and their support; share your concerns and ideas for moving forward. You may not think that it is okay to admit you need help as you sort through all the new learning and anxieties of the current climate and begin to consider the new normal, but in reality, taking some concrete action to support teachers is likely the most rewarding part of an administrator’s day. We’re worried and learning right now too, and being able to DO something tangible to help the situation will feel good. The added bonus is sharing your struggles now, as we transition to summer planning, will put everyone in a position to learn from mistakes and do better, whatever the future may hold.
- Patti West-Smith, Senior Manager, Teaching and Learning Innovations
In previous blog posts, Turnitin writers have advocated that teachers give themselves grace right now and allow for their own learning, complete with mistakes and reflection, just as they would encourage their own students to do. We know that is hard. It’s important to be just as understanding and kind to yourself as you would be to others.
From our desks to yours - take care of yourselves.
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