Coping During a Pandemic: 8 Strategies for Educators

#A2TStudentNeedsClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below with how you are going that extra mile to help your student’s cope this year.

October 7, 2021

I saw an infographic on social media a few weeks ago that hit me with a startling realization-this is the 3rd school year we have been in this pandemic. Translation–its been 3 school years since these students had a normal year. My 5th grader’s last normal year was 2nd grade. The 6th graders I mostly work with haven’t had a normal year since 3rd grade. It made me realize, my normal expectations and handlings of typical issues with class have to be handled differently.

Not only are they coping, but so are we. We have our own life challenges we are dealing with, then we are the sounding board for friends, coworkers, parents and students. If you are like me, you have occasionally wondered where the skills you are teaching rank in the grand scheme of things–and are working to adapt them to fit in to today’s world and needs and to make up for those inevitable learning gaps that have resulted from these last 3 years.

Here are 8 Strategies to help you, your students and their families cope while we work through this year.

HAVE A WEBSITE FOR RESOURCES Empowering students and parents can result in fewer calls. Resources like Schoology and class dojo have places to post videos, documents, and resources that they can access for learning, reviewing, self-guided tutoring, and even submitting their work. It can also be helpful when students make mistakes and need to relearn or get guidance. It may take some time to set up, but once in place, a weekly upload is all it will take. Taking the time to make a step by step video for how to complete a lesson that you can post will also save time and be very helpful for your visual learners or those that need to see it modeled more than once. You can do this with Zoom, Teams, or your cell phone, then just upload it to a free YouTube channel you create. I post mine as unlisted so they have to go to my website to find it, not just my Teacher YouTube channel.

OPEN OFFICE VIA ZOOM FOR TUTORING Everyone needs help at some point, but can’t always stay after school, especially if quarantined or ill. Having a set day and time each week after school can help with peace of mind and balancing your own schedule. I set 30 minutes aside each week and invite parents and students to just drop in for help, questions, or anything else needed.

USE AN APPOINTMENT SCHEDULER Since your open tutoring time may not fit for everyone, capitalize on the free appointment schedulers available, such as calendly.com or setmore.com to allow them to schedule on their own. You can block off holidays and days off, set up work hours, and even categorize the appointment type so you know what they will need. Then just choose what times and days you will have availability and you can help them. I have this link on my website and it’s included in every email I send, but some still text or call. If I am in the middle of another task, I simply tell them my next available time, ask if they want me to reserve for them, and then I schedule it and reach out at that time. They can get help, I can maintain focus on the task I am doing

GOOGLE VOICE FOR CALLS AND TEXTS Yes, they can contact the school, but it is just easier to reach you if they need you. But you still need to keep your personal number personal, so Google Voice is a free option to set up a number and use it for calls and texts. It has an app you can download to your phone, or just use the website on your work computer. The best part is the Do Not Disturb hours and days you can set up so they won’t come through during that time. You can also add names and labels to these so you will know who is reaching out to you when you do check messages.

SEND WEEKLY GROUP EMAILS I like to send an email every Friday to my parents and students reminding them of what should be turned in by now, a preview of next week, any upcoming important dates, as well as links to reviews, resources, and my appointment scheduler. I also remind them I will be unavailable on the weekend and I will get back to any replies they send on the next school day.

SEND BIWEEKLY PROGRESS REPORTS This may sound overwhelming, but an informed parent is a supportive parent. Since most school gradebooks are digital and have an option to copy and paste or download to a spreadsheet, you can actually do this quite quickly. Get an email from every parent at the beginning of the year, if your school doesn’t do this already. Have it in the spreadsheet or a comment section on your gradebook and include it in a column of your spreadsheet. Then, open your Office Word program, create a short but sweet blanket letter, then go to the Mailings tab and choose Start Mail Merge and use the mail merge wizard to walk you through step by step in setting up fields, choosing the source and creating emails via your Outlook email (if you don’t already use Outlook, but have Microsoft, it is very easy to set this up no matter which email you use). If you are not a techy person, there are several YouTube videos available to help with both of these set ups. Once your mail merge letter is created, just save it and you can open it and reuse it. If you have a lot of students, create this as a weekly task and just split your students into 2 groups to make it easier to field responses.

HAVE GRACE This should apply to you as well as your students and their families. Allow extensions and redos, but within limits. Maybe 2 weeks extra time and 2 additional attempts to correct. This puts the focus on learning and not just completing, and keeps you from having to worry about who is allowed what if it is a blanket policy. If you are having a difficult day, modify what needs done and do what absolutely needs completed. Repeat after me: there are no emergencies in education.

HAVE BOUNDARIES If you don’t set boundaries, you will work too hard and not have time to replenish yourself. Set work hours each day, set work days and take weekends off. Say no to additional requests. Don’t drop everything to do something now, schedule it in your next open appointment time. Eat lunch. Use the restroom. Talk to friends. Go for a walk. Those papers to grade, lesson plans to submit and emails to answer will keep until your regular work day. If you can’t fit it all in, then schedule time with a mentor or administrator to talk about your tasks and time and see how they can help guide you-sometimes that fresh outside perspective can help us see things we missed.

Remember to take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Going in all directions all the time is not sustainable. Creating these tools can empower your parents and students, making your life more manageable and theirs, as well. You’ve got this!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with how you are going that extra mile to help your student’s cope this year.. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Wrapping Up the School Year From Home – Tips for Distance Learners

May 27, 2021

It won’t take long, but this quick checklist can save you time later!

It has been a long and crazy school year, whether you have been at home or on a campus. For those of you that have been students at home, I thought it might be helpful to share some Teacher Tips to help you wrap things up for next year, whether you will still be working from home or plan to return to campus.  Taking these steps will help you start next year off successfully!

CLEAR MATERIALS Whether you purchased, printed, borrowed, or created your materials, chances are that you have LOTS of things collected from the year.  Start by pulling out all materials and sorting through them. What needs returned? What needs submitted? What needs retained for records? What can go? Can any of it be sold, recycled, or passed on? Making these decisions makes the next step of clearing them a breeze. Recycle or trash anything you don’t need.  Post any items for sale or donation on your local community board or drop at a local donation spot.  Anything that needs returned or submitted can be taken in one trip.  Finally, anything you need to retain can be put into a file folder or binder and marked for the school year. This would also be a great time to deep clean the space since it won’t be in constant use.

INVENTORY SUPPLIES Unless you graduated, you will need some school supplies next year, whether schooling at home or back on campus.  Take inventory of what you have and make yourself a shopping list now to pin to your fridge or bulletin board.  Then, you can shop sales all summer or be ready for the back-to-school shopping before school starts.

TRANSITION WORKSTATION Unless you will be doing some sort of summer learning program at home or online, chances are you won’t need to keep the workstation set up all summer.  Use this time to store away anything that won’t be needed (clean it first, you’ll thank me!) and set up the space for gaming, online lessons, or crafting this summer. Repurposing the space will keep from wasting valuable real estate in your home and allow you to truly relax this summer. Plus, if it’s a shared workspace with someone else still working, it will be a help to them.  This is also a great time to talk about how the space will be used next school year and plan for any changes that may need made so you can begin planning or save up for them now.

TRANSCRIPTS Depending on what type of home school choice you made, it may be your responsibility to collect those transcripts and submit that documentation to your local home school/distance learning office yourself.  This is the time to take care of it and you don’t want to be surprised when you go to start the next grade that there is no record of completing this one. 

PLANS FOR NEXT SCHOOL YEAR Whether you are returning to campus, remaining distance learning, or transferring to another school, whether by promotion or change in venue, be sure all parties are aware and planning for it.  Talk to your student about the plans so they can be aware, or even part of the decision, and prepare for it now.  Talk to the school and be sure they know your intentions. If you are leaving one location for another, they will need to get records sent over and waiting until the start can delay entry or be a very long wait. If you are returning to on campus, you will want to make sure they have a seat for you and your records to start smoothly and be prepared.

I know you are just ready for summer to start so you can relax and have one less BIG thing to worry about but taking an extra day or two now to get these things resolved will make it a much more restful summer!  Enjoy that break, you deserve it!

Don’t forget to pass this on to others that it may help!  You can also support me by going to the blog page and clicking the STAR button to like it or subscribe to my blog, so the latest post gets sent to your inbox every week.  Join the conversation in the community on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook in the GROUP Addicted to Teaching.

Celebrate the Prodigal Student

January 12, 2021

Most everyone has heard the story of the Prodigal son from the Bible, where the father celebrates the son that was gone and returned, making the son that never left upset, until the father explains his why. But, as a whole, society rarely celebrates the prodigal anything. We have awards for Honor Roll, Perfect Attendance, Top Readers, Math whizzes, the fastest runner, the best athlete–people who excel right away and straight to the top. Those that don’t succeed right away or first are shunned. As educators, we have a chance, and a responsibility, to change that.

We need to celebrate the Prodigal student.

If you’ve been a teacher for even a single term, you know which one this is. The student that, somewhere along the lines “checks out” mentally. They are absent often. They don’t complete work and rarely, if ever, turn thing in. We invest hours in them. Calling home, tutoring sessions after school or during lunch, allowing extra time on work, providing guided notes–you name it. And then we eventually stop and let them fail, or find their own way.

But what if we didn’t?

What if, when the student engages, even for a fraction of a second, we celebrate them? We could brag about their accomplishment to them with an attaboy, a note, a call home, an email to the principal. And we can repeatedly do this without focusing on the past, especially since they cannot change what already happened, no matter what we say or do. Eventually, with celebrating these successes, they will give us more to celebrate, in most cases, until they cross the finish line and go on to the next class or grade. Even if we only get to celebrate some and they do eventually fail, though, can you imagine the impact of the seed planted with celebrating what they did instead of chastising what they didn’t do?

I started making this my focus in the last couple of years. I was listening to Toby Mac’s song If You Wanna Steal My Show on the radio one day, and it hit me that I didn’t need a stage, my classroom would do just fine to give God the same chance to work through me. (If you haven’t heard the song, check it out here). Then I wrote a simple prayer that is tacked to both my bathroom mirror and my clipboard that holds my agenda at work:

Dear Lord, Today let my words and actions be yours and what you need me to be in the world. Amen.

I read it several times a day. I say it out loud. And I finally started to live it. I have students that will go all term and not work, in spite of calls and texts and encouragement to make progress, then want extensions to finish when they realize that failing is upon them. And I do what I can to make it happen. I have worked beyond the end of my work day to be there for that student. I text every day to check in during the extension. I call when I see they are on something challenging, then send them a video that shows them how to do it if I wasn’t able to catch them and help.

When they turn things in, I send a celebratory text to mom and dad with them in the group text about what they accomplished–another step closer to success! I say. I know not everyone can, or will, take these extra steps, it’s just what I do. But everyone can celebrate those little victories and plant that seed of encouragement. I celebrate every student’s success, but my smile is a little bigger and my heart races just a little faster when it’ the kid I thought I’d lost.

Let them be the kid that gets seen for doing something great. Everything we say and do for our students plants a seed. We hope that it’s in the lessons we teach and they will take the knowledge and skills into their future classes, jobs and lives. But what if it is a seed of hope, pride, accomplishment that is what they really need?

Be that teacher.

Celebrate the Prodigal Student.

Becoming the Teacher My Students Needed Me To Be

By Sonya Barnes    4/30/2020

Please like and comment on this article if it resonates with you.  You can also interact more frequently by following me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or join the conversation on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.

I remember the days of kids not wanting to work, or fake working when they didn’t understand and avoiding asking for help.  They would do as little work as possible to just get done as quickly as they could.  I remember calling home to parents or students to be hung up on when they heard it was me or sent to voicemail so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.  Those moments truly made me an unhappy teacher.  I questioned everything about my practices and wanted to do better, sometimes even considering a departure from the profession entirely.

We hear so much about building relationships with our students, we were shown videos of students and teachers high fiving and fist bumping, with glistening tears in their eyes about their love for each other, but not enough on how to do that.  Sure, I’ve had a few students I’ve connected with over the years and am still in touch with as adults. But it’s rare. And, honestly, I’m not even looking for that with every student. But I would like an enjoyable professional relationship with every student that is positive and progressive in their learning.  It’s not too much to ask, is it?

By happenstance, I stumbled across the how this year.  I found a way to define it, break it down into reproducible steps and saw it succeed-although not 100% because, well, what is ever 100% in life? 

My school does PLC’s a bit differently.  Our principal lets us choose our area of growth to focus on, let’s us do the leg work on it and share about it in a video at the end of the year with our colleagues—and we do so enthusiastically.  It’s not very often that your mandatory learning for the year gets to meet you right where you are and be about something you want it to be about.

With carte blanche, my team decided we wanted to explore the area of Growth Mindset.  It has become such a buzz phrase in education, but, other than defining it, we hadn’t really gone in depth of how to expand on it since it started. We wanted to explore this and see if we, already happy, bubbly people in a positive work environment, could find a way to do it better. And, to be perfectly honest, we were the newbies at the school still learning a new job, so wanted something we thought would be pretty easy.

We had to start by posing a question, so here is what we posed:

Once that was done, we started digging into the research element. I won’t bore you with all the details (unless you are interested, then check out the snip or comment below or email me and I can send you some links!), but we found out some amazing things. 

The sources–if you can’t read them, I can send them

We were surprised to learn that growth mindset not only impacted student learning/teaching environments but could impact whether or not dietary changes or attempts to quit smoking would be successful. Whoa. Game changer. 

A coworkers response to a research post

We realized we needed to do more than we already were, though. Especially since our project required us to make changes and implement them to get data.  We already used the “positive sandwich” approach in student feedback on assignments, but we stepped it up. In fact, when we stopped being negative at all, we saw a whole new level of connection with our students and parents.

You see, by creating a safe and welcoming environment focused on learning and not perfection, learning truly happened. We worked hard at the old proverb of treating others the way we wanted to be treated. We didn’t like being told what we did wrong, we liked hearing what we did well and what areas we could improve on and how.  So, if we, as professional adults, didn’t like negative feedback, why on earth would our kids?! How would they learn positive feedback and growth mindset if we didn’t live it?!

A student that hadn’t worked in weeks would start a conversation apologizing but would quickly relax when asked if they and their family were okay, or about some challenge they’d been struggling with the last time we talked, or how I could help them get the outcome they wanted.  I stopped telling kids to redo work they messed up on, but told them what I liked, what they could do to earn back points lost and gave them the choice of doing it—and most did.

By telling them I wasn’t worried about the past since we couldn’t change it, but that I was worried about how they could succeed right  and in the future showed them that they are the most important thing, not something they can’t change, I changed their view of the task. It truly became one of those teachable moments.

You know what else happened? Parents and students answered my calls, texts or emails. They knew my goal was to help, not judge, not make them feel bad, not point out the flaws. The students would call or text for something they didn’t understand and needed help with. And no matter how obvious the fix should have been or that I had a hundred other kids ask me THE SAME QUESTION that same day, I never made them feel bad. In fact, no matter how silly the overlook may have been, I’d downplay it as being something that was okay to not know since it may have been different than what we had known or just pretty hard to figure out. 

To truly embrace building those relationships, you’ve got to treat students as people and as equals, regardless of rank or responsibility in the infrastructure. You must respect their life and where they come from, what they are going through and be willing to walk through it with them to the other side.  You need to compliment them, celebrate their successes, and work together to solve the not YET successes.  Will it work every time and with everyone—I doubt it.  Who can make that kind of guarantee that isn’t selling something for 3 easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling?  But I can guarantee that you have no chance of seeing success if you don’t try.

So, start looking at how you interact with students, parents, coworkers, your own family—people.  Look for opportunities to focus on positives and celebrate successes or turn negatives into positives in the making.  You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain, and you may find the payoff is in more than your day to day teaching interactions.