If I had to do it over again/ what they wish I knew

Advice from international educators who are on prolonged online learning due to school closures

(Compiled by Lauren Fernandez)

General Philosophy`

  • Don’t expect that it will be perfect and accept that the amount of learning won’t be the same as usual. Also if you teach Secondary explain to them that an effective online session is as much as what they give back. Nothing worse than trying to engage with unresponsive kids on the other side. It's much more awkward when you're online. Have to say that most of my kids have been awesome in that respect and really responsive.
  • Be willing to learn alongside the kids. This is a new situation for everyone.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Depending upon the age level that you’re teaching (as others have shared) be realistic in your expectations.
  • Have patience! Just because it doesn't work the first doesn't mean it doesn't work
  • Expect the unexpected!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help
  • Realize that things might take a bit longer with the learning curve
  • My mantra has been “ Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
  • Plan less. It’s all daunting for the kiddos and everything will take 3x longer. And...if you haven’t closed school yet, borrow as many things from school as you can think of.
  • Borrow where necessary. There are some great videos that can help supplement the course material in any subject.
  • Allow for students to give alternative avenues to show that they have been working hard and are progressing toward learning goals. Let parents know that simple photos of work, etc.  can be accepted if students are struggling to submit. Don’t let parents or students feel like it is a big time-consuming task to learn how to turn in their work.

Practice beforehand

  • Practice routines and expectations before going digital. We didn't have a chance to, and I have students who have not submitted an ounce of work. I've emailed, contacted parents, made Google Classroom comments, etc.
  • I was so glad I already had my google classrooms up and running.
  • Do a dry run in your class one day. See it from the kids perspective. What technology do they need instructions on? How can they access this or that?
  • I’m starting week 6. My advice is to become a Seesaw expert, or any platform you are using, learn how to work smart around it so you can be efficient. Then a checklist of how you will provide feedback. Connection is key to learning.
  • If teaching young learners get them typing first. Typing.com is free and has structured lessons.
  • Prepare your kids NOW. I started almost a week before we finally closed with 4th graders. Practice using your digital platform (Google Classroom). Show them how to log into learning sites, accept video conferencing invites, using digital tools like the highlighter feature on Scholastic News. I spent 3 days prepping kids, teaching very little content. It made the transition pretty seamless. There’s always going to be small bumps but there have been no major freak outs.
  • Practice the tech and programs you are going to use with the students before they are out to troubleshoot any issues. I wish I had my teaching resources, but that would require travelling from country to country with them.
  • For the teacher side, we had PD last week to have teachers plan what a week of continuous online learning might look like, what kind of support they might need and challenges that they face (ie. Low student participation). This week we have PD carousel to introduce all of the resources that are available (edpuzzle, pear deck, Screencastify etc.). Teachers will choose which ones they want to attend and get upskilled. We use Seesaw for Kg1, Kg2, Year1, and Year 2. Also, we created a Google Site with all of the resources for parents with expectations from the teacher, student, parents, as well as tech help beginners guides, and troubleshooting and brain breaks to help with movement etc.
  • I wish we had used some of that extra time during the in-service period to fully develop a plan for this scenario, train on software, etc.
  • I wish we had been encouraged to plan as if this was the foreseeable future. Instead, we were told to expect students in the classroom after that first week. Two days in and the government announced that public schools would be extending their closure, and of course, we followed suit.

Take it with you

  • If I had had some warning I would have scanned texts/ resources that I don’t have access to as we weren’t allowed on campus. That’s the hardest - recreating the wheel or hunting for the best fit wheel all over the internet - massively time-consuming.
  • I wish I had known in advance so I could have brought more resources home with me. I wish I had included more online assignments for students during regular school so students were (and I was) familiar with how to do these things online. I wish I was equipped with a better computer. --  My paper copies of our standards ( I don't have a printer), hard copies of class lists for recording assignments, notes from previous PDs on how to use Moodle (now that it's relevant, I would understand them better).
  • I wish we had been able to get some books in the hands of students before we started. Once the decision was made to go online, we were told that we cannot ask students to come to school to get supplies, even if they live locally.

Workload

  •  Don't give too much homework! Be realistic.
  •  Bite-sized lessons are the best!
  • Break it down for you AND for your students into smaller chunks. And be organized like never before!
  • Starting my sixth week. I really think it is based on the age of the student. I am teaching 8th grade. I have to keep them engaged because there are so many distractions at home. I am doing a lot of group work that needs to be done within the timeframe of the class period. Zoom and their breakout rooms have been great, as well as flipgrid. I have been assessing them on FlipGrid. Easy to grade and you can hear if they know what they are talking about.

Assessment

  • Figure out how you're going to assess and reflect grades. Think about lack of access/technical issues which will come up. What will you do if lagging means they can't understand what you're saying and vice versa? What if they can't upload their assignments?
  • Don’t plan to or expect to view or grade all of their work.
  • TOTALLY !!! Easy Homework to grade That's going to kill you!! I have 475 students - its madness

Self Care.

  • Five weeks in. My advice: Take eye breaks. I downloaded audiobooks and podcasts so I don't use screens during my "off" times.
  • So be patient with yourself, laugh at yourself, live and learn every day.
  • Be strict with times you close your computer. It will eat up 12 hours a day easily if you let it.
  • Be able to laugh at yourself.
  • Have a plan for your downtime, free moments in between when you are just waiting for questions or submissions for students. My first week, for my non-live classes that I prep & release online for them to work through, the during-class time when I'm required to be available for student questions was torture (even though I'd set some interactive discussions). Times since then have been better when I was ready with a plan for what I'd do (organizing files, marking things, editing photos, etc.) anything I could easily stop & come back to in between dealing with student questions/concerns.
  • Look after your wellbeing - posture, exercise, sleep, getting away from emails/notifications / the devices. Don't underestimate how much extra time, energy, and attention this experience will require of you.
  • Breathe, keep yourself in one piece and embrace the experience.... one day at a time.....
  • We are in week 6 now. I just asked my teachers this question last week. One clear theme was based around teacher wellness: set a schedule for yourself of when you will work and when you will turn off. Stick to it. Another theme was one task at a time. Finish that task before moving to the next. I know this sounds really simple but it’s easy to get distracted with all the emails and texts coming in from students and teachers. It can be 24 hours if you allow it.
  • Our school was clear with parents about when we would be available to return emails and answer WeChat messages. If you haven’t started teaching online yet, make sure that parents know when you will be available. And more important, when you will NOT be available.
  • As a teacher, set boundaries for lesson creating. Try to engage in a new task, project, or hobby to fill your heart and give you something to look forward to outside of planning/teacher times. Allow yourself grace to adjust each week as you manage online learning and observe your students. The novelty of online learning will wear off. Emotional issues like stress, anxiety or depression can threaten student engagement. Keep things as light as possible, in your communication with students and give parents a chance to share successes and proud moments with the teacher.

Engagement/ Feedback loops

  • Give meaningful and personal feedback - My students in Suzhou China have been away from friends for too long. We have started weekly competitions for the students to engage and share like Post a baby photo of yourself, What is your favorite hobby, cook a meal and post
  • When we started many teachers were very keen to teach their classes in their usual personal way. While this is great in a live classroom this approach can cause issues for the following reasons. Not all students will have access to the same connectivity and platforms - try and standardise your teaching platform so the students know where to go to see your work. We used TEAMS, MOODLE and Email. Only pastoral leadership has access to wechat (social media) for which is always accessible for those students struggling with teaching platforms
  • Teachers will be flat-out delivering information and trying to find fun ways to have the students give answers - tasks back. Don't be afraid of posting a VIDEO of yourself. Students won't judge you as much as you may yourself.
  • Whereas, on using google hangouts, the whole class is not working well, so I'm doing small groups of 4 so we can all see each other's faces. I am changing the groups so they see different people each time.
  • Set up your class simple and start small. Have tutorials/step-by-step posters for students on how to use online tools, especially for ones they are not used to. Make sure you have clear expectations and you include parents in conversations about that. Try to have at least 1-2 live meetings with your students but keep it simple.
  • Try to have online meetings at the start of each class and record these. Microsoft Teams is a great resource but there are plenty of others.
  • When you get there...stay in touch. The students will be missing conversations and daily interactions. Be available.
  • Add a personal touch each day, like a video of yourself talking to the kids. An activity you think will take 10 minutes will take 30 or more. The fewer links, the better. Mental health for you and the students comes first, stop working in the evening and on weekends.
  • When you deliver, ask questions and encourage them to ask questions too. More the better.
  • As a parent, personal connection with and feedback from teachers was a really big deal for my kids. When activities are explicitly direct in regards to posting or turning in homework, that was helpful. That is supportive to families as well.
  • Tutors/Advisors/Boarding staff all teachers can have a small cohort of students who can chat and relay problems too.

Connection between students

  • If you are using Zoom, use breakout rooms and have them do group projects. Give them a chance to interact. They are stuck at home and lonely. Let them talk.
  • Build-in opportunities for children to connect with each other. Many are by themselves at home all day and are lonely as are not seeing anyone. We have online daily check-ins with the whole class and they love it. Looking after their emotional well-being as well is so important.
  • Using Flipgrid students can communicate through short videos.

Keep communications simple and clear

  • Do not overload the students. Take the time to talk to them. Keep it simple—as in limited instructions and more interactions.
  • Keep the language you use simple. A lot of teachers have said that this has been a challenge. When we are face to face we read body language and use a lot of gestures to be understood. Video screens don’t necessarily show this and messages, sound quality, bad internet connections can all make a lesson become so much more difficult when a student does not really understand what is being asked of them. So keep the language simple.
  • communication > Daily Bulletin > Tutor notices > House News are all good ways to keep the community informed and included. Connections and Inclusion are vital for wellbeing
  • Consider mandatory brief once a week video conference if you’re not doing synchronous conferencing for class as we are
  • Be organised. Give step by step instructions that clearly explain what you want. Make sure you have a platform to be using.

Increased Support

  • Remember the students will need increased support. Giving clear, doable, and interesting learning activities will increase engagement. That said, be sure your student support team and counsellor are geared up and that your faculty know how to report concerns.
  • and you may not be able to predict which students will struggle - sometimes it will be kids who are used to achieving at a high level and sometimes it will be others. Have a consistent way to access lessons, have a plan for some kind of check-in for All students if possible, and don’t forget teacher wellness.
  • I find that my younger students(6th grade) need more support and connection from me. I often will keep the Google Meet open for the entire class so they can stay online with me or pop back in when they have questions. I don’t have to do this with all of my classes but some definitely.

Parents/Caregiver Empowerment and Support

  • Empower and educate parents. They will carry a heavy load and will feel rightly overwhelmed. Survey their situation at home first, what they predict will be their biggest challenge and how can school support them in supporting their children at home.
  • Roll out the information to the parents ASAP. Preview format lessons will take, schedules, and how to access everything, expectations for both teachers and students, and a section for FAQ.
  • Supporting parents to be empowered as “support-on-the-ground” was also helpful (clear expectations for students, due dates, etc). Our counsellors have started doing grade level Zoom calls for any interested parents.

Routine/ Planning

  • keep Routines as best you can. help the students set up a daily schedule or Work - Rest - Play timetable. Also SUPER helpful for parents trying to regulate screen time.
  • Keep it SIMPLE. It is easy to get caught up in gadgets and websites, but the most important thing is to maintain your connection with your students, period. This is a learning experience for everyone.
  • I plan the whole week at a time(takes an entire day or more) but then the actual delivering of the lessons is a much more manageable workload. But I don’t have anyone else at home to help either so to each their own.
  • Plan the work so the students know EXACTLY what's expected then you will need less on-screen time answering questions. Be very literal.
  • into my sixth week of online, a really good prep is to prepare live lessons and a series of short how-to hints and tips. We still have staff and students out of china with variable access to the internet so recording the live lesson for those to access always good. Keep the use of platforms to 1 or 2, centralizes information and communication. We use Managebac for curriculum management and Teams for communication works well most of the time. Keep the work simpler, online learning requires simple clear instructions and objectives take longer to achieve. Good luck
  • Schedule your assignments so students are not overwhelmed
  • For me, it’s important to keep the same routine as on normal school days. The only difference is that only the upper part of my body is dressed professionally as I am on Zoom with my students quite a lot.
  • Our school has been closed for 6-7 weeks. I agree... it can get overwhelming quickly for teachers, students and parents. Assignments need to be engaging and show your face in a video it’s way more personal the students will do much better if they see you rather than just seeing written out instructions or assignments. Also, get feedback from parents through surveys. See how they are handling it at home and what is working. Then adjust accordingly but you still won’t please all the parents.
  • Absolutely. You must, must stop at some pre-set time. I had students texting me and asking questions at 11:30 pm, then I'm up and ready to begin lessons before 7:30 am.
  • I’m a virtual instructor and if you let it - your days will be 14-16 hours long. Pick a time every day to shut it down and the rest can wait until tomorrow.
  • Set times for when you will stop responding to students. I have students messaging me at all hours of the day. While I am responding to them about 12 hours of the day I do take the other 12 for me and not for them. Same for parents. 12 hours is more than I would do at work. Also blue screen glasses https://www.amazon.com/s... for example. I have had days where my headaches got so bad my eyes were watering.
  • Depending on the age of the students, above all I would say give your students strategies for organisation. Keeping track with all work and trying to keep all students on track has sometimes posed a challenge, particularly if there’s no support at home. Give students more time to finish than you would usually expect. Touch base regularly with your students on an individual basis. Relax down with the planning - I’ve been going a little overboard and have now had to slow the pace right down to allow all students to move forward together reasonably. Use this opportunity to explore technology and resources that you’ve never used before - I’m learning so much all of the time.
  • Plan things out well in advance. Make expectations clear so that students know what is coming online (far more than in the classroom). I have started using "module" type work.
  • I wish we had not started with a week of asynchronous learning. We should have been synchronous from the start.
  • I planned on a 6 weeks basis, students felt a long term program and it helped a lot stay focused and positive. Students received materials on Friday, on our class usual schedule. Plus, we introduce the class journal: every child has to fill a short description of the best and the worst of day, plus some craft tutorial (we use seesaw). Good luck everyone…

Variety

  • Don’t make all sessions tech-based! ( assuming no one has said this!!) today I made my students listen to ABBA dancing queen whilst they were planning/ creating cereal boxes for Design! Kids need movement and teachers need to move too!!

Leadership

  • Finally; Leadership. Heads of Year deal with the students not engaging Heads Of department ensure all lessons are standardised and accessible by offering opportunities for feedback and options of educational platforms.

Technical Support

  • This is when the Information and Technology Team will be MOST important. Get these wonderful people well resourced.
  • Not too many learning platforms!!!
  • Choose one platform to use and stick with it.
  • Yes - The kids cannot cope with too many options. Teachers need to KISS (Keep It Simple Silly)
  • Pick your platforms and be consistent.
  • Make sure you have a platform that kids already use
  • Also, don’t buy a ton of digital stuff. You can easily screenshot existing PDFs and task cards then enter them into Google forms or Google slides.
  • I wish we had surveyed students and parents beforehand about what technology they had available and gotten them set up with some training in advance.
  • Consider the reason for choosing a platform it should help with one of the following: Tools for online discussion and connection; Tools for creating and checking for understanding; Enhance information retention via multimedia materials; Streamline and sequence learning for each of these choose a main tool and an extra to change things around / in case your main tool fails on you.
  • Build FAQs with your Tech team as you go and put them on a central page so that you can keep referring back to them

Opportunity

  • The amazing thing that I’ve learned also during these last six weeks is that some of my students have literally come alive in creating videos and writing projects that they were not doing for me before.
  • Let students use their strengths to get the work done. If you have a project, allow for it to be done in a variety of ways that way a student can choose to turn it in using their strengths. (Video, website, essay, slides, etc.)
  • Zoom out and think of all the times that you were in a classroom and couldn’t do certain things due to time, place or schedule. Now think about how your students could observe, build, measure, interview, create, etc. at home that they could never do at home.
  • Somebody is living in a fantasy world! If these classes were companies then which companies would go bankrupt because of poor performance (work ethic).