I Can’t

I can’t. Huh….those of you who know me will know that those are two words I rarely say. But tonight, I can’t write a blog post about another tech tip or a way to engage students. I just don’t have it in me.

I can’t – because my heart is feeling broken. 

I can’t – because as a young adult my father engaged in civil disobedience to protest segregation in the small college he was attending and today it seems like nothing got better. 

I can’t – because as a mother I keep hearing George Floyd’s voice call for his mother and the tears fall unbidden and unchecked.

I can’t – because while a virus rips through the world doing its best to eliminate the human race there are people on the news who seem to be doing their best to eliminate other people. All because of the colour of their skin?

I can’t – because as a privileged white female I wonder what I could have done differently? Have there been times when I should have said something, done something…but I didn’t?

I can’t – because right now all I can see is the hurt in the world and I feel it will get worse before it gets better and that scares me.

I can’t write a blog post about technology tonight. But  what I can do is be a teacher. I can teach my students to stand up, to stand together and to speak out. I can show them that the night is always darkest right before dawn, but dawn does come. That peace conquers war and love conquers hate and good conquers evil. At least, I have to believe these things. I have to believe in hope and kindness. Because if I can’t believe in those…then I just can’t.

One Thing We Should Keep

Everywhere I look, people are starting to talk about going back to “normal”; getting their hair done, playing a round of golf, shopping at the mall, having dinner out. I find myself somewhat puzzled by this. We’re not really going back to the “old normal”; we’re going forward to a “new normal”. And truthfully, no one is really sure what that new normal will look like or how long it will last. I wonder if what we were used to will ever be normal again? Will I ever not worry when boarding a crowded international flight? Will it ever feel normal to shake someone’s hands? I’m not so sure.

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

Before this gets all “gloom and doomy”, there are some things that I hope we keep as we move to our “new normal”. Things like more family time and a slower pace of life, things like discovering new hobbies or creating new traditions. In the same vein, as much as I am looking forward to getting back to some safe form of face-to-face teaching, there are some things that I hope we keep from this period of remote teaching and learning.

One of those things is the use of tools like Screencastify to record teaching moments so that they can be watched again and again.

This practice is nothing new to the ed tech field. It’s the basis of sites like the Khan Academy and trends like the flipped classroom. The idea is that the teacher records their screen and maybe even themselves, as they explain a new or difficult topic. The resulting video is shared somewhere where students can access it whenever they need to, for as many times as they need to, in order to learn the content. The videos can be helpful for ELL students or for students with hearing or sight issues.They’re great for students with chronic health issues who often miss class. And they even help students  like my own two kids, who often needed to overlearn a concept before they felt comfortable with it. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me, here. I am not, in any way, advocating that teachers should video record every lesson they give. That’s not only not necessary, it’s not practical! Nor am I saying that a recorded lesson is better than face to face teaching. However, whether students are learning from home or at school, the ability to watch and rewatch a critical lesson can be very helpful to many students. And I’ve spoken to a number of teachers who have enjoyed the creative process of filming and editing these helpful videos.

So, whether we move forward to a new normal or to the old normal, I hope that screen-capturing lessons and making them available to students is one thing that we keep.

Professional Development…Now?! Seriously?!

Okay, let me start off by saying that I am fully aware of the fact that many (if not all) educators are currently in a state of managed chaos mixed with disbelief, a bit of denial and a dash of depression. None of us signed up for  what we’re going through. So….now might not be the best time to bring up professional development, right? Who has  time for it?  Well….we do?

Hear me out on this one – it might be worth it. I’ve watched over  the last two months as many of you have embraced new technologies and learned new skills, all while in a very stressful situation. You have amazed me  and sometimes even brought me to tears with your success stories and your struggles. So, why not take some of what you’ve learned, add a bit more learning and have some kind of designation to show for it? (And for teachers in my district, this might give you some goals for your professional development plans for next year).

THE BIG THREE

Let’s start with Google. Google has a whole website and infrastructure dedicated to professional development. There are guides to all of the Google tools, there’s a course for those interested in learning more about distance learning and for those who are really feeling “googley” you can get certificates. There’s Google Educator 1 and Google Educator 2. I have both of them and I have to say that I learned a ton while studying and taking the tests.  Once you have both of those, you can apply to be a Certified Google Education Trainer or a Google Innovator. As I said, you do learn tons and you can apply almost everything you learn straight into your job!

Not feeling Googley? What about Apple? Apple has an AppleTeacher Learning Centre. You sign in with your Apple ID. Some of the resources on the site are really geared to schools or districts where every student has an Apple device but there’s still great stuff here. There are three main “courses” you can take – iPad, Mac and Swift (coding) and you can take quizzes and become an “Apple Teacher” in one or all of  these. There’s lots of great stuff on the site. One of current favourites is the 30 creative activity cards, geared to primary kids. You could download these and send them home to your students as”optional” activities to do at home!

For those who are interested, Microsoft has the Microsoft Certified Educator program. I haven’t personally done this one, so don’t have much to say about it but if you teach in a Microsoft district it might be worth looking into it!

OTHERS

Lots of Ed-Tech companies have their own certifications and digital badges that teachers can earn. Sometimes it’s a matter of showing them how you use the resources and sometimes there’s a quiz you can take. Some companies offer incentives. For instance, when I became a BookCreator Ambassador I was given a huge library, rather than the smaller size you get with a regular free account.

Here are some of the sites/apps that offer educator certificates/badges. I’m sure there are more sites and apps that offer training or accreditation.  If you know of any, leave a comment so I can add them.

Book Creator Ambassadors

Fresh Grade Champions

Screencastify (Master Screencaster)

Kahoot Certification

Common Sense Educators

Common Sense Ambassadors

Go Noodle Ambassador

Quizlet Ambassador

You may not be ready to think about any of this right now. I get that. This remote learning stuff can be all-consuming! Or maybe you’re sick of Netflix and tired of your own company and this is just the distraction you needed. In either case, be kind, be well  and stay safe!

Book Creator? You Bet!

What if I told you there was a digital creation tool that was safe for kids to use and  A) allowed them to create ebooks that incorporate images, video, audio, text and drawings, B) allowed them to create comic strips, C) worked on almost all devices, D) could be used with students from K to 12 AND was super cool?! You’d be interested, right? You bet! 

Well….welcome to Book Creator!

Book Creator has come a long way since its launch in 2011 as an ipad app. Here’s what it’s like now:

So, how do you get started? Well, go here and create a teacher account. If you work in SD45, do not use the “Sign in with Google” as this is not part of our G Suite. Create an account using your school email. Once you’re signed in, you’ll be guided through creating a library. Make sure you give your library a unique name. (eg – Gr. 3 Library…not very unique! Mrs. Baskin’s Gr. 9 Biology…better!)

Free teacher accounts get one library with 40 books allowed. Although there is a limit on books, there is no limit on the number of pages in a book or the length of the audio or video files added to a book. And, once you are done with a book you can delete it to free up space in your library.

To add students to your account, follow the instructions here. NOTE: If you teach in SD45, do not have your students join by clicking Sign in with Google!

So…..what can kids do with Book Creator? Just about anything! An explorer’s guide to penguins. A book about your school with interviews with all the teachers – what a great thing to show families new to the school! A book about local plants and animals along with the First Nations name for each of them. A math journal, with how-to videos for each new concept learned! A poetry and photography portfolio. A book snap! A collection of Shakespearean insults with a reference to what play they were found in and what they meant. And while you’re at it, create and add a meme for each one!

Here’s a link to a video/webinar showing you the ins and outs of using Book Creator. And here’s a recent one with a focus on accessibility from home (warning….it’s long!) Here’s a shorter one that shows the basics!

Normally, kids can only collaborate on a book in the paid version of Book Creator. But right now, it’s being offered as a 90 day perk due to Covid-19. Here’s how to get it and here’s how to have kids collaborate on the same book at the same time.  And here is information on how to combine books within your library.

Once you and your students have created the incredible books I know you can make, you have a variety of ways to show them off. You can save them as an epub,  embed them on a website, or publish them online. The iPad version also allows you to save the book as a movie. The Chrome version does not allow that function. Just make sure that anything you publish to the wide world does not have students’ full names or pictures of students in it.

We’re all working and learning from home and let’s face it, PowerPoint and Google Slides are great presentation tools but they can get a bit boring after a while. Why not mix things up a bit and have your kids become digital authors with Book Creator? You bet!

A Googley Goodness Gift for You!

We are at the beginning of our 6th week of remote teaching and learning in our district…wow. So, here then, as a little gift for making it this far…is some Googley goodness for all of you! Google themselves have created a “Teach From Home” hub with some great help, but there’s lots of other great ideas out there on the interwebs!

We’ll start with a check-in sheet. Are you having a hard time keeping track of what your students are doing? Create a check-in sheet like this one on Google docs.

Then, through Google Classroom, assign it to your students by making a copy for each of them. The kids can fill it out during the week and then hand it in at the end of the week. And you have a record of what they’ve been up to.

Let’s go to Google Meet next. Remembering that one of the first tenets of remote learning is to connect with the students, after you’ve checked in with all of the kids and everyone has said hi, why don’t you try playing a game? Here’s a blog post with some great games to try. These might even be a fun change-up from Staff Meeting Bingo during a staff meeting….

Do you want to have regular “office hours” where kids can make appointments to enter a meet with you for extra help? It can be done quite easily using Google Calendar. Here’s a video that walks you through the process.

Do not give kids a link to the meet as that could potentially allow them to get into the meet when you’re not there. Instead, come up with a “nickname” that makes sense (eg: Ms. Wilson’s Math 8 Office Hours). Tell them that just before the time of their appointment, they should go to meet.google.com and enter the nickname, then wait for their appointed time to join the meet.

What if you want kids to brainstorm and collaborate during a Meet session? Let’s imagine you want your class of 30 to split into 5 groups of 6 and brainstorm ways that immigration benefits Canada (or some such question). Start by setting up a Google Doc with 6 groups set up with 5 name spaces for each group. Share this doc with all of the kids either through Google Classroom or in the Chat function of the meet. Help them learn how to open a new tab to go to the doc and put their name in one of the spaces. Since they’re all linked into  that same doc (and you are, too) they can all see when a group is full and they need to look for space in another group. Of course, you could avoid the angst of group picking and just have their names already written down in groups!

At the bottom of their group names, have a link to that group’s “brainstorm page”.  Once their group has all the people in  it, they can all click on the link to the “brainstorm page” and start adding their ideas. (HINT: if you ask each student to write in a different colour and indicate which colour is theirs, you have an easy way to track what everyone has saidAfter a certain amount of time, call them all back to the meet and ask one person in each group to report out about what their group wrote. In case you’re not sure how to do the linking, I’ve created the pages and links and put them in a folder for you. Just make sure to create your own copies of all of these, for your own Google Drive!

Of course, you could also use Padlet for this. Or Google Drawing. Or Slides. Or even Jamboard. (Note:  In our district Jamboard is only enabled for teachers. But how cool would it be to use it in a staff meeting or Pro-D opportunity?)

And finally, the last Google Goodie for the day, courtesy of @missgeog92. Something strictly fun! Outline quizzes. Give one of these to your kids each week and  see how  many they can get!

Consumption Vs. Creation – Balance In An Unbalanced World

Wow. What weird times we are living in. In so many ways. For the last three weeks I have been focused on providing new digital tools for the teachers and students in our district to use, as we take our first tentative steps out on the high wire of remote learning. I’ve cheered on teachers who are trying new technologies in an effort to connect and teach from afar and I’ve been so excited to make tools I’ve admired for years available for people to use. I should be flying high and I guess I am in some ways. But….

Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels.com

But I am a little (well, maybe more than a little) worried about all of us. How do we find that balance between too much and not enough? And, perhaps more importantly, can we find balance, when every student we teach and every family we communicate with is experiencing things differently? One family says “too much work”, another says “we have no printer”, another says “can you give us more?” and a fourth family says “we can’t cope with school right now.” So, before I push out yet another resource, I thought I’d take a look at one area of balance that I actually know something about. Balance between digital consumption and digital creation and why the distinction between the two is important.

First: definitions. Digital consumption is like watching Youtube or reading a book on Epic! Books. Yes, you might be engaged, and yes, your brain might be making connections and learning but you are mostly being a  passive learner. Digital creation is like creating a Youtube video or a BookCreator book for someone else to read. You’re likely to be engaged, your brain is making connections and you are being an active learner. Both consumption and creation have a place in our remote teaching toolkits. But let’s be honest…the bang for the buck is much better when you involve kids in digital creation. Even little kindies can participate!

You want examples? No problem!

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Your kids are learning measurement? Digital consumption: go on Math IXL and do the exercises having to do with measurement. Digital creation? Use a non-standard measuring tool and take a picture of how many (lego pieces, toothpaste tubes, forks, etc) it takes to make up 2 metres (the socially acceptable distance). For those ready for extension….how many whatevers for 1 metre? What if it was 5 metres? How many whatevers does it take to be as long as you if you are lying on the floor? Are you longer or shorter than 2 metres? Is anyone in your house 2 metres long? Kids can take pictures or videos and hand them in with short explanations. No tech to take the picture? Draw it out….it’s still creating!

Learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion? Sure, they could watch a video on Discovery ED and then answer some questions posted on Google Classroom. Better yet? Have them watch the video to learn the concept and then have them create their own video using household objects to illustrate. An object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by an outside force. Cue the foot kicking the soccer ball!

I could go on all day with these. But you’d get bored  and my blog would be too long, so let’s wrap up. Yes, creation is messy and might take a little longer. And yes, parents  might have to get involved. So….newsflash….don’t give as many assignments. Remember, care, comfort and connections come first. Curriculum is at the back of the race. No one is going to give out “Pinterest Teacher Awards”  when this is all over. We’re living through trauma. 15 years from now, no kid is going to fondly remember all the novel study questions they slogged through. By I bet they’ll remember the day they dressed up as their favourite character and made a booksnap! Or the Rube Goldberg machine they made to show what they learned  about simple machines.

And finally…here’s a video showing creation at its best. Each student in this video had to film themselves and figure out how to hand it in to their teacher. And knowing their teacher, I bet she had them do some thinking about what they liked, remembered and missed and then write a script (there’s an easy assessment piece) before they filmed. And then…..drum roll, please….the teacher got to do some learning by creating this cool video! Digital creation courtesy of Grade 5 students in Mrs. Kwan’s class….awesome sauce!

So, know that balance is almost impossible in the world we are teaching and learning in. Know that creation is better than consumption, when possible. Know that, given a chance to play and be creative, children will learn. Often more than you thought and often different things than you expected. Know that in the long run, kids may have to relearn curricular concepts they “should have” been taught this spring.  That’s okay; we’ll figure all of that out. But if you give them a chance to create, they’ll be practicing Core Competencies and life skills and that’s a pretty good balance, I think!

#belikeishi

Teaching and learning in our district has begun to settle into a new, if very odd, routine. There are some things I like (my commute is swift and I can go barefoot all day) and some things I miss (face to face interactions with students and colleagues and my morning Starbucks). Most days I am positive and upbeat but some days I find myself scared or sad or in tears. To self-regulate I go for a walk with my dog or garden or create something. I’ve had enough life experience to know how to calm myself. What about our students? Like the little sponges they are, they’re sure to be soaking up the emotions of the people around them. 

That got me to thinking. What could I do to help kids think of ways to make themselves feel better? And, as usually happens in my brain, that got me to thinking of something I had learned from a friend and fellow teacher, Darcy McNee from Saanich School District. She introduced me to the book “Ishi: Simple Tips From a Solid Friend” by Akiko Yabuki.  It’s a stellar book. Here’s Darcy reading it:

So I contacted Darcy. The conversation went something like this. 

Me: “Hey Darcy, what do you think about using “Ishi” as a springboard to help kids learn how to cope with their feelings during this weird time?”

Darcy: “I’m in! Sounds great and I’ve already got some examples!”

We contacted the publisher (thank you Penguin Random House Canada, and, of course, Akiko Yabuki) and spent the next several days texting and thinking and building and discussing. And now? We’re ready to launch our website and this initiative! #belikeishi

The premise is simple. Read the book to kids (virtually, obvi!) You can share a link to this blog post or to our website, which also has the reading on it. Then challenge them to come up with their own “Ishi creation”. They can check out the examples on our website. How do they make themselves feel better when they are scared, angry, alone or stressed? Can they find a rock and take pictures to show how they deal with their feelings? Can they draw it out, or paint it? Can they build with Lego or other toys? Can they code their Ishi creation? Can they use the camera on their parents’ phone or on the family iPad to make a little video? Remind them, for safety reasons, not to put a picture of themselves on their creation and to only put their first name on it. 

We’d love to share their creations with the world. With their parents’ help, kids can email their “Ishi creations” to belikeishi@gmail.com or post them to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #belikeishi. And hey, if you’re going to get your students to do this, why don’t you try it, too? How can you #belikeishi?

Let’s see if we can spread a little positivity while teaching our students (and ourselves) that how you view the world and how you deal with your emotions are important life lessons for us all! #belikeishi

One Word…Optional!

So….how’s the whole “remote teaching and learning” thing going for you? Teachers I’ve spoken to seem to fall into one of several categories. Some are relishing the challenge, some are slowly adapting and some are feeling completely overwhelmed. And all of us are missing our connections and routines and daily interactions with our “kids”.

Well guess what? Our students and their families probably fall into similar categories. We likely all know a student or family who is just keeping their head above water, for whatever reason. And we probably also have a student who has ripped through all the work we’ve given them and is chomping at the bit for more! Or a desperate parent who keeps emailing us with the plea for more work to keep their child occupied. It’s a tricksy tight-walking act we’re being asked to do…some work, but not too much. But how do we know how much too much is, when every child and situation is different? There is no perfect “Goldilocks” solution, that fits every child, so what’s a teacher to do? I have one word for you…optional!

Sure, put out your list of learning activities that you would like all children to do (if possible). These are the activities that you sweat over and worry about…the ones that will help move that child along the path to being ready for the next grade or that will get them engaged with the material you are supposed to be teaching.

And then….offer up OPTIONAL activities. Make it clear that these are not activities that you expect everyone to do. They’re not activities that you will mark (although I suspect lots of your kids will want to tell you all about them). These are activities that have some educational value (c’mon…we’re teachers here…you can’t just turn that off!), they’re activities that parents will feel good about “feeding” to their kids and they’re activities that kids will enjoy. 

Need some ideas?  Well, one of the ones I’ve been hooked on is the lunchtime doodling lessons from Mo Willems, hosted by the Kennedy Center. Now, I know these are on Youtube, and in my district we are being very cautious about Youtube. However, if you give families the link straight through to the Kennedy Center, the videos play on their site and kids aren’t taken to Youtube.

UBC Camps are running weekly activity sessions for kids – one for 6 to 8 year olds and one for 9 to 12 year olds. The video activities are live at the scheduled time and then hosted on youtube, for kids to watch later. Let parents know about the youtube part ahead of time, so they can make choices that are right for their family.

GoNoodle has a family channel, with loads of great get-up-and-move videos. Vancouver’s own Science World has a “Dome-at-home” site, full of great activities and I bet most museums have similar offerings.

The interwebs are full of all kinds of crazy, fun challenges right now. Challenge your kids to (optionally) create a Rube Goldberg machine or an inside/outside obstacle course. Older kids love taking selfies or videos of themselves. Challenge them to recreate a famous piece of art or act out a famous Shakespeare scene using items (and people) found around the house. My daughter has spent part of the weekend trying to teach me the “Carol Baskin” dance. I’m not sure either of us is learning anything educational but we’ve sure had fun and created memories that will last long after the pandemic does. (And no, I’m not ready to share my dancing skills with the world. Yet!)

Sure, parents themselves could look up these ideas. But it doesn’t hurt to throw in a few suggestions, right? Just remember, they’re OPTIONAL. No expectation that they’ll be done, no marking happening. Just a chance to help keep those “but-I’ve-already-done-all-of-my-homework” kids occupied. And maybe a chance to quietly engage one of your students who is finding it hard to cope with things right now.

Stay safe, be kind and look after each other!

One Week In

Well, the shock of the first week is over and we’re starting to settle into new routines. My commute is a lot shorter, although this morning I had to swerve to avoid a sleepy dog and 2 puddles of lazy cats, which almost resulted in a pile-up on the staircase! I miss interacting with my students but I am enjoying the challenge of helping teachers learn new technologies, many for the first time. So, for this week’s blog, I thought I would give you a bunch of tips and tricks and links to cool things. But first, a word from our pint-sized prime minister, Lego JT (and by  this I mean Justin Trudeau, not Justin Timberlake).

For those who would like to share this with their students, here is a non-Youtube link to it.

So, let’s get started…in no particular order! Got an assignment you want to give to some students and not to others? No problem! In Fresh Grade, here’s what you do!  In Google Classroom, when you’re creating the assignment, click “All Students” in the upper right hand corner and then choose the students you want the assignment to go to.

Since Fresh Grade and Google are the two main communication tools we’re using in our district, here are a few links you might want to keep handy:

  1. Tips for using your Google Drive: here and here
  2. How to use the new Google Classroom Rubric tool
  3. Where I go to find G Suite answers
  4. Fresh Grade’s Teacher Support Blog (just remember that we’re using FG Classic)
  5. Fresh Grade How-tos

Do you have a paper document (like your favourite Math worksheet) that you want to use digitally but you don’t have a scanner at home? No problem! You could use your phone and take a picture of it or you could scan it in notes. From there, you could airdrop it or email it to someone. And here’s another way to do it, using Google Drive on your phone (Android or otherwise). Once you’ve got the worksheet scanned you could share it with your students. But what about students who don’t have printers? Here’s a video showing you how to make that worksheet fill-able on Google!

Hey, while we’re talking about our phones, don’t forget that you can use the camera on your phone to video record yourself. You can also use Voice notes (or a voice recording app) to record just your voice, maybe reading the latest chapter in the class novel. On my iphone, I would use Voice Memo, which saves my “talking” as an m4a file. From my phone, I can upload that to my Google Drive (New, File Upload) and then put it straight into my Google Classroom. I can also upload an m4a file to Fresh Grade. (BTW, for a list of the file types that will upload to Fresh Grade, click here. Google seems capable of handling most file types).

And while we’re talking about reading (ish), Audible has made a selection of its kid books (small to teen) free to listen to right now – no sign in required. Scholastic has Bookflix, which is for the younger crowd and matches fiction books with non-fiction books (like the classic Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day” with Scholastic News’ “Snowy Weather Days”). And then there’s Storyline Online – a non-profit site where famous actors read stories out loud. I was mesmerised by this site and listened to several stories before I tore myself away. Kids get to “meet” the reader, see the pictures and see the words at the bottom of the screen. There are also accompanying Teacher Guides and although the guides are bare bones, there’s some good stuff there.

Okay, two last things before it’s time for bed. The first is a tool you can use to have class discussions. Yes, I know you can have discussions in Google Classroom, but this is cooler! I’m talking about Padlet. Padlet is a collaborative space where teachers and kids can discuss issues or questions or topics. It’s more of a Grade 5 to Grade 12 tool. As a teacher, you create an account, set up the padlet and then give your students a link to it. They don’t need to log in, just click on your link and post what they want to say! They can even add images or links to websites. You do have a limit of 12 padlets with a free account but 12 will take you pretty far! Give this one a try:

Made with Padlet

The second thing before bed is this….remember last week, when I said be kind? Well, be kind to yourself. All the tips and tricks and links on this post may be too much for you right now. And that’s completely okay!! There is no one behind you, watching to see if you use these. And by the same token, be kind to techie colleagues who want to try some of these things! We’re all at different places and we all need to follow different paths to feel comfortable. Finally, be kind to your students and their parents. Go slow (even slower) with the ones who need it but pay attention to the ones who are asking for more. Differentiate the learning that is happening – it’s what you would do in the classroom, right? Stay healthy and take care of each other.

Back To (A New) Reality

Well, that was probably the weirdest spring break I’ve ever had! I alternated back and forth between getting out and enjoying some of the beautiful weather (at an appropriate social distance) and worrying about my family, my friends and my students. Alternated between wanting to be on social media to connect with people and avoiding it because I really didn’t want to hear all the negative stuff!

And now here we are, in this new reality. In a regular year,  we’d all be asking our students what they did during the break and getting them geared up for that crazy, fun final term. This year, we’ll be checking in to see how they’re doing emotionally and finding out what supports they might need for learning at home. We’re all dealing with a higher-than-normal level of stress and uncertainty and, let’s face it, we’re part of a huge, unintended social experiment, the likes of which has never been seen before! And as scary as that can seem, it’s also a chance to learn new skills, slow down a bit and really focus on the things that are important. So, after scouring all the opinions and advice on the interwebs, and chatting with teachers who are already there, here are my top 8 (not 10 ‘cause I have an afternoon dog walk planned!) tips for teaching in the age of social isolation.

  1. Put The Brakes On To Move Forward

Yeah,  I know that seems a bit weird, but hear me out. As teachers, we want to do everything we can to make sure our students learn what they need to move successfully to the next grade. Sometimes (and I totally include myself here) we get so over-excited about all the cool things we could with our class that we overdo it! As our Superintendent recently remarked…”take what you would normally do, cut it in half and then cut it in half again.” I would add…then expect up to half of your students to struggle with some or all of what you’ve given them. Sllloooooow down! If your little peeps don’t learn how the Egyptians built the pyramids, it’s okay (aliens is the answer, by the way!)

  1. We’re All Fighting A Battle

You know that saying that talks about being kind to everyone because we’re all fighting battles? Yeah, That. Seriously…you have students in your class who may be looking after younger siblings, worrying about parents losing jobs or grandparents being sick or stressing out because their newly minted relationship with their first ever girlfriend is about to tank due to social isolation. It’s not an easy time for anyone, so if you have a student who doesn’t complete your carefully crafted lesson on finding parallels between the Black Death and CoVid-19….it’s okay. Be kind! They may be fighting a very big battle. And by the way…be kind to yourself and your co-workers, too!

  1. Focus On The Important Stuff

In our district, the important stuff, to start with, is the “three Cs” – care, comfort and connect. Talk to your students and maybe their parents. Let them know that, as crazy as the world seems right now, school is  still there, their teachers still care about them and that everything will be alright, eventually. For many of the students we teach, that connection with a caring teacher may be just what they needed to feel safe.

  1. Going Viral Is Not Your Goal

How many of us got into teaching because we wanted to be the cool teacher whose digital lessons went so  viral that they got invited to be on Ellen? None of us, right? Don’t panic about making uber-cool video lessons  – make small, bite-sized manageable lessons that kids (and their parents) can cope with. Don’t agonize over what shirt to wear or whether or not your make-up looks funny in online videos. Your students have seen you – they know  what you look like and they still like you! Just be you, connect with them and reassure them and teach them a bit, if you can. Don’t worry about going viral and even if you did, Ellen’s off the air right now!

  1. Baby….Bathwater…Bad Idea

I love ed-tech sites and apps and there are always cool new ones popping up that I’d love to try! So imagine my delight when all sorts of them started offering up their services for free during this time?!? I’m almost dizzy with delight, imagining all the cool things my students and I could do! But….as much as it might be tempting….don’t!! Here are three reasons why:

a) We’ve worked really hard in our district to develop a list of ed-tech tools that are safe and respect student privacy. New tools might not fit that mold. Do you really want to be the teacher who winds up on the news because of a data breach involving student information?

b) Think about how hard it can be to introduce a new concept in class when you have all of the kids sitting right in front of you. Introducing a new tool to them when you can’t sit with them and help them is not a great idea.

c) Take pity on their parents, who are probably already feeling overwhelmed.

There are loads of awesome things you can do with the tools we already have access to. Explore and use those for now. We could be doing this distance thing for quite a long time and eventually we’ll make more tools available.

  1. Get Dressed and “Go To Work”

My husband has been working from home for a long time now and his advice about working from home makes sense. He gets up at a regular time, showers, gets dressed, walks the dog and gets his coffee and then he sits down to work. He has a place in the house he calls his office and that’s the only place he works. He takes regular breaks and when the day is done, he leaves his office. I think sticking to a routine and having some sense of normalcy is important for all of us. I’d even be telling my students the same thing – set aside a place and a time for school!

  1. An Incredible Opportunity

Instead of being negative about the fact that school is so different and there are all these hurdles, look at this as an opportunity. An opportunity to take a good look at what we really do on a daily basis and re-evaluate. An opportunity to learn new things about your students and yourself. An opportunity to try new tools or rethink what you’ve always done. An opportunity to reach out to another teacher (virtually, of course) and learn something together. An opportunity to make history!

  1. Find the Joy

Finally, remember that as scary and unbelievable as things are right now, there are rays of light. The Italians singing to each other over their balconies. The choir whose choral festival was cancelled but still found a way to sing together.

People banging pots and pans at 7pm to say thanks to the essential workers. Neighbours volunteering to shop for others. Breweries distilling hand sanitizer and people 3D printing medical supplies. Kids putting hearts and rainbows on the windows of their houses. The earth beginning to heal itself as we’re all forced to slow down. Take the time each day to stop and find some joy somewhere.

Up next week? A plethora of tech tips to help you navigate this new reality!