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Teach Online With Confidence

Helping Educators Engage More Online Students with Less Stress through Simple Strategies

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Teaching Excellence Strategist

This content was first posted at APUEdge.Com

Teaching online can sometimes get stale or repetitive. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares 10 leadership principles that online educators can apply to their teaching strategies and professional development. Use these principles to revitalize your teaching career and help you connect with your students so you can bring your best self to the classroom.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Hey, welcome back to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to talk about how you can give your online teaching career a refresh. What does that mean? Well, we’re going to talk about 10 different areas to think about if you’re getting a little stale in your online career.

There is a well-known experience that many people have. You start teaching, it’s exciting at first, maybe even challenging, and you have a lot of things you’re going to be learning to try to help yourself really get in there and do a good job.

Over time, you develop your skills a little bit, you start to build relationships with colleagues and peers, you connect with the community. Hopefully you’re continuing to grow as an educator all this time and continuing to move forward. What you may have heard in the past is, “If you’re not growing, you’re moving backwards.” There’s just no way to stay in one spot in our professional development or as a person.

So this idea of being stale in our careers, what is that even about? That might have to do with not having things to look forward to, or when we get in a pattern of teaching the same courses all the time and we don’t have any new approaches to those things, or maybe we are always in the same spot. So every year we have a routine and we’d like something to refresh that for us or revitalize it.

So if you’ve been thinking about whether you should change jobs, change schools to teach at, or maybe whether teaching is really right for you at all, before you start asking those questions, let’s ask whether your career just needs a refresh. Is that possible?

Does Your Career Need a Refresh?

A refresh of your career is that maybe your role as an educator could start to expand in ways that it hasn’t before. We go into the classroom and we really own that shop. It’s kind of like we own a little business when we’re teaching a class, whether we’re live or online, we are in charge of that space. We get to set the rules within reason that comply with the institution we teach for, but, generally speaking, we manage the classroom in a way that works for us. And that’s like setting our own rules.

We get to teach in a way that works for us for the most part and we get to build relationships. No one else is standing between us and those people we’re teaching. We have student relationships. We can also see the results of our work by observing whether or not students are learning, and by changing some of the things we do and seeing what those results are. And if we have a process like this, we can even use students’ feedback to get a sense of how they’re loving our class or experiencing our class or not. And that can even trigger some growth.

So there are a lot of things we do already as educators, whether we’re teaching live or online, but particularly online, it can feel like we don’t know what other options are out there to help us grow. So today, these 10 areas I want you to think about will stretch you beyond just the role of educator and into the space of thinking about yourself as an educational leader.

That means that you’re not just a leader in that classroom or in that department, but you’re a leader in this field of education. And some of the competencies leaders use in a lot of other fields apply to you as well.

There’s a wonderful article Harvard Business School Publishing put out, Harvard Business Review, and it’s about what makes an effective leader. Today, we’re going to dive into this article a little bit, which was the report of a research in progress of 195 leaders in 15 countries in 30 different organizations.

Applying Business Leadership Principles to Teaching

We’re going to look at these 10 leadership areas as they apply to you as an online educator and see what kind of possibilities these might create for you. They might stir up some new ideas of things you’d like to try in your career or one thing you’d like to do a little differently. It might stretch your perspective beyond the current perspective that you have, and that’s a great thing, because anything you can do that’s going to change the status quo for you is going to give you some kind of new, refreshing experience in your career.

These top 10 things are grouped into five areas, but I’m going to just read all 10 of them for you here.

Ethical and Moral Standards

So the first one is ethical and moral standards, and that really covers the area of having strong ethics and safety. This can be part of your career area. It could be something you stretch outside of and share with other people. Maybe you are an advocate for certain student groups. There are a lot of subgroups within a student population that one could advocate for or could help. Maybe you want to start to move in a certain direction where you seek to mentor people in certain groups and ethically, safety, and morally in these three areas you might have some pretty clear ideas of what you’d like to do differently or where you’d like to grow. So think about strong ethics and safety and having your ethical moral standards.

Self-Organizing

The second area is called self-organizing. There are two sub-areas here that create the list of 10, providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines or direction, and clearly communicating expectations.

These two categories of self-organizing as a leader are critical. You want to be able to communicate expectations when you’re a leader. And when you’re a teacher, an educator, this is also super critical. The more you communicate your expectations to others, the more they’re going to be able to learn and do the assessments in an effective way. They’ll be able to move forward and also understand what you’re expecting and have a great experience with you. So one area you could grow in and think about in your leadership as an educator is how you communicate what you expect to other people, both your students and those people you might interact with in the education community.

That second one, providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines or direction, this is the perfect opportunity to be thinking about the kinds of assignments, forum discussions, and other tasks you have for your students in the online classroom.

There are goals and objectives in every class that we teach. That’s how we design courses, right? We have a course description and we decide, what should students know and be able to do when they leave that class? Those are your goals and objectives. When you have loose guidelines and direction, this could be something like giving students three options for their final project. You’ve clearly explained what they are, but they get to choose.

You could even explain that you want the project to include these things, but they can choose the format. There are a lot of ways to explore providing those goals and objectives and, yet, loose guidelines so that you can start to see products from students that are a lot more varied and interesting for you.

You can also bring out a lot more independence and growth from your students, which can bring you greater satisfaction and joy as an educator. So this area of self-organizing that you have as an educator is a type of leadership, and I encourage you to start exploring how you might do that a little differently and bring it out in your students as well.

Efficient Learning

The third area is called efficient learning, and this is simply the flexibility to change opinions. I know a lot of online educators who are fabulous at being lifelong learners. I also know some online educators who just want to accumulate knowledge and do have a belief that there’s one right answer to things.

Either way, you’re going to have your own belief and your own direction about what your opinions are. If you remain open and curious to your students, to the subject matter, and to continued learning as a person, you’re going to have places to go with that. You can seek out additional background courses that you’d like to take to refresh your own understanding and have something new to bring into your professional pursuits.

Or you could even learn new teaching methods. Perhaps in the online world you want to attend the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate or Innovate conference. They have two of those, and they both take different forms, but they happen in the Fall and in the Spring and can give you a lot more flexibility to change your opinions about some things and to try a lot more efficient learning for yourself, to professionally develop, and also to give you some ideas to turn that around into your teaching.

One of the reasons online educators and educators generally get stale in their careers is that we don’t have a lot of options. We don’t think we do at least. So the more we can get efficient learning professionally, the more we can change opinions, try new strategies, and keep things fresh.

Nurtures Growth

The fourth area that is a leadership competency is nurtures growth. And this means that the leader is committed to the ongoing training of their direct report or their follower or their student. If you were to just translate that directly into our field of online education, when we’re committed to the ongoing training of those who report to us or study from us, what we’re really saying is two things: One, we’re committed to the ongoing growth and learning of our students. We really want them to grow, be capable, and be able to speak the language of our subject matter.

And secondly, we are also invested in helping our students become students and eventually, practitioners. It really depends on the course and the subject level that we’re teaching, but generally when we see the people that we teach as those in whom we are invested and committed to, we are nurturing the growth of other human beings. And that is a new approach to be thinking about instead of just running a class, ushering in a new group of people that will then leave again. The more we think about nurturing them individually and in groups, the more we can see our teaching a little bit differently and come up with new ideas that can help us refresh what we’re doing.

Connection and Belonging

And the last area is the biggest area of leadership, this is connection and belonging. And as online educators, we need connection and belonging so much and so do our students. There are five subcategories in this connection and belonging leadership competency. They are:

  • communicates often and openly,
  • is open to new ideas and approaches,
  • creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together,
  • helping me grow into a next generation leader, and
  • provides safety for trial and error.

As you can imagine, these different areas all create a learning community, not just a learning community, but a community in which we are learning alongside our students. For example, we may be learning that our methods are less effective, that we need to try different ones. We might learn something from a student that gives us a new insight about how to approach our subject matter.

More than that, we’re not just the sage on the stage distilling information to these people who are our students. We succeed and fail together, and we also learn together. Even though I may be a subject matter expert in my area that I’m teaching, I’m still a learner in life generally and I’m going to be able to learn some things from my students, even if all it is, is that I’m learning new ways of thinking.

I’m really excited about being with my students generally and when I think about succeeding and failing together, I want to make sure I’m putting my efforts into that classroom, trying new things, giving them a little bit more help in the areas that students are starting to struggle in.

It’s easy to get focused on what’s going wrong instead of what’s going well. And this can be very frustrating and a source of getting stale in our online teaching and in our careers, generally. So some things that can help with connection and belonging are to brainstorm the ideas of how we can actually get connection professionally and grow our connections with our students more deeply, more fully, and in ways where we can see the result of our own efforts.

We also want to make sure that we’re communicating to our students what their efforts are getting them. Instead of just having them complete assignments and get grades, our feedback can give them an idea of how this could relate to their overall learning, their degree program, and their professional objectives and life.

As we’re thinking about our students as next-generation leaders and communicating openly and often with them, we’re going to be able to approach our classroom with fresh ideas every time.

Now, the more we think about ourselves as educational leaders, the more we step outside the classroom and into this bigger professional arena. Have you thought about presenting at a conference lately? Have you considered writing a paper about teaching your subject matter for other people?

If you’ve had some recent experiences with online teaching that you think others may benefit from, it’s definitely worth sharing these ideas at a conference or through a publication. Even if you think your ideas are common knowledge that everybody else knows, chances are your unique personality or perception of the situation is different. And you’re going to share something others can learn from. The very fact that it’s your expertise and your experience coming in makes it worth sharing.

Consider New Ways to Revitalize Your Teaching Career

I want to encourage you to think about these leadership competencies, the strong ethics and safety, self-organizing, efficient learning, nurturing growth, and connection and belonging that leaders bring for effective organizations. And, think about these as the staples of what can revitalize your teaching career and help you move forward, connecting with your students and trying new strategies to bring something fresh into your online classroom.

You can get through this tough time if you’re feeling stale or stuck, and if you need more ideas, please look through some past episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. You can find methods for gradingways to connect with students, and also some ideas about professional growth and managing your personal life with your work life, some work-life balance in there. There are also specific methods for grading work efficiently and effectively and new creative strategies for discussion boards. I hope you’ll take a look and I wish you all the best moving forward and getting through this season of online teaching.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

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