Did you ever imagine that teaching could be this hard? We’ve all embraced challenges that inspire and excite us, but teaching keeps throwing curve balls. Whether you’re an educator whose classes have abruptly moved online or a parent of kids now learning from home, 2020 has already packed more than enough surprises. And the next academic year is starting soon.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you get ready.
Take some time now to pause, catch your breath, and map out a plan for meeting your teaching goals this year. We’ve chosen to feature several of our favorite strategies here, curated from diverse sources.
Take care of yourself.
Right out of the gate, here’s a tool that’s all too easy to overlook, and it’s essential. Your students—and by that, we mean your own kids and those on your class roster—need you to be healthy. Schedule time to relax, decompress, and take care of yourself so that you can stay healthy, happy, and on top of your game. Neglecting yourself will only set you up for getting sick, and even if you stay healthy, it can lead to burnout.
Accentuate the positive.
Students perform better when they’re less stressed (don’t we all?), and when they feel that they have a chance at success. Make sure you praise students for good behavior, hard work, and high success. Praise more often than you correct. A 5:1 positivity ratio is ideal.1 In addition to helping your students, your positive outlook can strongly influence your level of happiness and help you flourish, physically and psychologically.2
Reach out across distance.
Online interaction often carries an inherent sense of distance that can affect the way you communicate. Replace detachment with immediacy. For example, at the end of a set of assignment instructions, saying, “If you have any questions at all about what you’re supposed to do on this assignment, please remember that I’m here to help. Reach out any time so I can support your success.” is more friendly, caring, and reassuring than, “Questions? Post them in the Q&A discussion forum.”3 The wording and context will vary with the ages and grade levels of your students, of course.
Keep learning. Start by learning another language.
Think back to your favorite educators. Their sense of curiosity was evident to their students. When they were excited about learning, you learned to be, too. Passing that along can be as simple as reading a good book or taking a new class. Any topic that interests you makes it easy to share your enthusiasm. Remember that at least one student in every class speaks another language at home.4 Learning a new language will strengthen your support and empathy for students who are learning English as a second language.4
Keep your expectations high and communicate them to your students.
No one rises to low expectations. Expect everyone to contribute. Let your students know what you expect of them and explain that you believe in them and will work hard to help them achieve. When you have high expectations of every student and provide the support needed to reach them, you help your students achieve to their best ability.5 Their abilities may vary and your support can vary accordingly, but don’t lower your expectations.
If you haven’t already, become an expert in communication technology.
We all got crash courses in Zoom this spring, but technology has a way of surprising us with new ways to use it. If your year-end approach to Zoom, Google Docs and your school’s other online learning tools was still “fake it ‘til you make it,” now is the time to get up to speed.
Bookmark, bookmark, bookmark
The internet is bursting with subject-specific resources designed to help your online curriculum shine. Spend some time exploring and bookmarking the sites you’ll want to rely on in the months ahead. You might start with the Content Resources tab here. Be ready to scroll and keep scrolling, though, because this collection, sorted alphabetically by subject, is wonderfully well-supplied.
Include passion projects in your curriculum.
Guide your students past the “I’m done with my work. Can I go now?” mindset. To help them stay motivated to keep working hard, use their time at home as an opportunity to explore different subjects within their environments. Methodical pursuits such as cooking and building help develop problem-solving skills. Highly engaging activities like music, art, drawing, and dance improve language skills, mental focus, empathy, and creativity.6
At every age, playtime is important. Not only does it give the brain a break after analytical tasks, but physical activity can alter brain structure in ways that improve memory, attention, mood, and cognitive function.6 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends unstructured play with few rules and lots of room for imagination because it gives kids the space and time to practice social-emotional skills and creative problem-solving.7
Ask for help.
We’re all in this together. Social distancing and self-isolation may make us feel otherwise, but we’re part of a multi-layered community—in our schools, districts, cities, and larger circles. You don’t have to carry everything yourself. When things get tough, you have colleagues and friends who can help. Even better, asking for help accomplishes much more than resolving the challenge of the moment: it can increase your energy and reduce stress, save your time, build your skills, strengthen your connection to other people, and improve your outlook.8
Nurture and develop your teaching expertise.
Build the foundation for your successful career through online master’s degree, graduate certificate, and licensure endorsement programs at the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences. Find your ideal place in K-12 education in our Department of Curriculum and Teaching, make a lasting impact through your work in our Department of Special Education, or become the leader that every school needs in our Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.
1. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from gettingsmart.com/2017/04/6-simple-ways-to-become-a-better-teacher-for-your-students/
2. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/the-scientific-evidence-for-positive-thinking/6553614
3. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching
4. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from allaboutcareers.com/features/article/how-to-become-the-best-teacher-ever
5. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/nov/10/what-every-teacher-should-know-about-expectations
6. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from edutopia.org/article/7-guiding-principles-parents-teaching-home
7. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/3/e20182058
8. Retrieved on June 30, 2020 from thewholisticrealistic.com/9-best-benefits-of-asking-for-help/