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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

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

Maintaining a high level of productivity can be challenging for online educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides strategies on how to improve your physical and mental energy to increase productivity. Learn tips about how to manage your never-ending “to do” list, why it’s important to unclog your mind, and the value of giving yourself time to work on your personal “heart projects.”

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. It may seem a little odd to you today that we’re going to talk about increasing your productivity as an online educator, but I firmly believe that habits and strategies are what help us get through our teaching job and our teaching career. Many of us enter this profession because we want to make a difference or distill ideas upon others, or perhaps mentor people into our profession or the area that we love the most. Maybe we even want to make a big difference in the world.

Regardless of the reason why you came into this profession, the fact remains that being an educator is hard work. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot of feedback to give others. We must be organized to make that happen. We have announcements, we have content in the classroom itself, when we’re working online. We have follow-ups, personalized outreach efforts we need to do when students are falling behind. Guidance of all kinds. And as I mentioned before, feedback.

Among these many different types of activities, time gets away from us, sometimes. Have you ever said to yourself that you would get back to a task later in the evening? That’s a great sign that productivity tips can help you a lot in your online educator role.

Today, we’re going to talk about some special tips that come from a wonderful book called “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance. It’s “50 Simple Hacks to Organize Your Tasks, Overcome Procrastination, Increase Efficiency, and Work Smarter to Become a Top Performer.”

Not everyone approaches their educator job as if it is a performer productivity type of role. However, we know that unless we keep up with the day-to-day tasks, the endless minutiae of being an administrator of the classroom, we will not be able to have the kind of impact we would like to have.

These tips today are intended to help you. I want to help you really enjoy what you do and make a difference, as you want to do. So let’s jump in and talk about productivity habits. I will share just a few today to get you started. And after this podcast, I do hope you will check out this book, “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance.

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

The first habit I’d like to share with you today is in the area of increasing your physical and mental energy. You’ve probably heard that athletes are always thinking about increasing their energy and bringing protein into the body, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest. It makes a lot of sense that a person who’s out there competing physically would need to do that, right?

Of course, the mind is also one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal. We can’t have energy, like confidence or focus, motivation, or any kind of productivity at all, if our mind is wandering or not feeling healthy. In fact, there is a lot that has to do with our physical and mental energy that impacts our productivity and our overall effectiveness as educators.

Think about it, if you were really approaching your job as if you have to be in tiptop, physical and mental condition to be an educator, what would you do to reach that goal? I’ve thought about this a little bit, and in the time that I’ve worked at American Public University, I’ve been very fortunate to have the influence of the Wellness Team. Not sure if that’s their title, but early on several years ago, there used to be this little challenge in the employee portal. It was private, no one else could see it. But you had to record your weight at the start of each year. And you had to do some exercises along the way, partially some kind of incentive to have one kind of health insurance over another.

And I’m expecting that it probably had to do with the cost out of my paycheck. And that’s what motivated me. I don’t recall exactly what the situation was, but I do remember that I had to write down how much I weighed and then I had to engage in certain health-related activities like walking, or counting steps, or something like that.

Now, when you think about it, even just becoming aware of your own physical activity level, your physical fitness, your overall health, and your bodyweight does something to you. It was a few years of doing that, and pretty soon I realized I needed to make major changes. In my own situation, I did lose 95 pounds and I have successfully maintained that for the past four to five years. And it all started with that awareness every year that was part of the health insurance plan of just working at American Public University.

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*About this image: My professional faculty photo, taken by American Public University Systems (2015, on left) and an informal photo taken at home (2020, on right)

If I took it further and thought about it every year and recorded my efforts to become a mental athlete as an educator, I would take it a lot further and increase my goals in physical and mental wellness. Over time, I want to become more confident, more focused, more productive, and more happy with myself in my role and in the work that I do with my students.

In essence, it is the everyday habit that one puts into their physical and mental abilities that come together to summatively create the performance and productivity we have in the online classroom.

There are some high-powered physical and mental energy hacks that Torrance shares in his book. And I’d like to share these with you here.

Tackle What You Dread First

First, he talks about tackling what you dread the most. It’s going to give you energy to deal with the less critical things or the less enjoyable things throughout the day because you’ve done the most difficult one.

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

Second, you’re going to visualize before you go to bed, and the thoughts that you take to bed matter. So your mind is going to get in a mood for sleep. And you’re also going to think about or visualize the type of things you’re going to be doing when you’re waking up that are pleasurable to you. So you’re actually predicting a positive day for the next day and thinking about the energy you need to begin the day.

Now that second hack there, thinking about it before you go to bed, I personally do that a lot. That’s one of my own habits. I’ll make a to-do list about the things I want to do the next day. And I’ll think about how I need to wake up.

Then in the next morning, when I wake up, I’m actually laying in bed sometimes feeling very tired and not at all interested in getting out of bed. And I’ll remember what I’m going to do first thing in the morning. And then I’ll purposely choose to jump out of bed and give myself some energy so I can get moving.

Sometimes it’s really hard. And other times it’s very easy because the motivating task is so interesting to me. Whatever you do, visualizing before bed can set the tone for the next day, but make sure it’s something positive you’re visualizing, and you’re seeing action and the motivation that you’re going to need.

Unclog Your Mind

Third, unclog your mind. So Torrance suggests that we all have a never-ending to-do list. I don’t know if you have one, but I know I do. And it can sometimes make me feel like I never really finish things. There’s always another list tomorrow and sometimes one list can go through a week or two without completely getting wiped out.

If you can unclog that list by writing it all down, setting it aside, turning off technology, and letting go of emails and all those things, at some point you’re going to have a little bit of space to think more clearly, be more mentally alert, and be able to set limits around your time.

Unclogging your mind is also going to help you think about what you can take off of your list. If you do write it down and realize it’s been there a while, maybe it doesn’t even need to get done at all, or maybe it could be delegated. There’s possibly another solution if you find that something is on your to-do list for a very long time.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The fourth productivity hack is getting the right amount of sleep. Believe it or not, the amount of sleep you get every day actually impacts your mental and physical functioning. Over time you can actually have long-term health effects that are negative if you’re constantly cheating yourself on the sleep.

Now, if you have dragged your work out throughout the day, especially when you’re only working online, if all of your energy is put into that, it can feel like you can never really let go and never really get enough sleep.

Think about what kind of environment you need. What kind of bedding will be most comfortable for you? Is the pillow nice and cool or warm, however, you prefer it? Would there be something you could do before bed to relax you, like a warm bath or some people even drink warm milk, or cocoa, or something like that? Is it helpful for you to read a book before you go to bed? One thing that I’ve heard a lot is no caffeine and no alcohol in the later hours of the day because both of those tend to impact the quality of your sleep throughout the night.

And then, of course, avoid screen time, two hours before bedtime. You can wear these blue-light-blocking glasses that will help you to actually reduce the impact of the screen on your eyes. And you can also buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon that’s going to help you have an experience with bright light, first thing in the morning to really set your time clock and your circadian rhythm.

These are good things to think about if you’re still having problems getting high-quality sleep, but getting enough sleep is definitely essential to give your brain the energy it needs and your body, the energy as well to get through the day.

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

Next, spend a good day chunk of your day pursuing your heart project. A heart project is something you really care about. It’s in your own goal area. It might be what Torrance calls your ultimate passion. When you focus on these things you care most about at some point during a day, this is going to give you a lot of joy, it will refresh you, and help you feel totally revitalized and energized.

So if you have a lot of grading to do, and you’re not a big fan of grading, do the grading, but be sure to give yourself time for this passion project, or heart project. You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And if this is it, give yourself the time after you’ve done some of the more difficult tasks of your online teaching job.

Some of the other tips mentioned here in the body and mind category are to have a sense of gratitude and to have a positive outlook on life generally. You also want to think about eating the right foods. Believe it or not, the things you put into your body impact your energy level and your mental functioning.

There’s a thing called inflammation. If you’re not familiar with this, certain foods can actually cause your body to react in a way that inflames your cells and parts of your body. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, some people react very poorly to that. You might have puffy eyes or a puffy face and mentally feel quite sluggish and tired. This will make it more difficult to be productive as an online educator, or in any other field.

Think about how healthy food makes you feel. And even if it is less enjoyable than some of those more high carb, or high sugar foods you might crave, think about how you might be able to incorporate these healthy foods to enhance your mental alertness.

Eating more calories early in the day instead of at night can also give you more energy. And then, of course, more fiber, fruit and vegetables, and protein and minerals and vitamins. These things can all add to your energy level and clear up your mind so you can think clearly and be more productive along the way.

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

And then lastly, be active, enjoy what you’re doing physically. You might be inspired through exercise, which will help you sleep better and relieve stress as well as boosting your brain. But you might also find a new habit that you could enjoy, like going for a run, short walk, working out with someone else, biking, or even dancing.

My personal favorite is putting on my noise-canceling headphones, some really peppy upbeat music, and walking on my treadmill for 30 minutes or more sometime in the middle of the day. Whatever it is that helps you to physically get active. When we’re working online, we’re sitting a lot and we’re much more prone to want to sit a little bit longer so that we can just get through what we’re trying to do that day.

If you break it up instead, you’ll find that you have more energy and you can even be more productive. So take breaks. Think about the food you eat and the exercise you do as ways to fuel the mind as well as the body.

There are many other productivity hacks and habits in this book by John Torrance. I hope you’ll check it out and try those that I’ve shared with you today, as we all work towards being more productive online educators. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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.

#64: This Summer, Start Your 100 List to Lead a Rich and Thriving Life [Podcast]

#64: This Summer, Start Your 100 List to Lead a Rich and Thriving Life [Podcast]

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com

What are some important things you want to accomplish that will help you lead a thriving and rich life? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen inspires online teachers to take some time this summer to start a “100 List.” Learn how to think about creating this list of inspiring experiences that will bring richness to your life, how to align these items with your values, and what items can help uplift others, too.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome To the Online Teaching Lounge. In today’s episode, we’re going to brainstorm some fun summer plans for the online educator. Not all online educators have summer vacations. If you work for a K-12 school district, perhaps you do have a couple of months where you might have a break from teaching.

Perhaps you’re regrouping after a difficult school year, where there were a lot of stops and starts and interruptions. Whatever the case, summer is a time when many of us traditionally think of rejuvenation. Going on a trip, doing something to rekindle the flame.

The area we’d like to think about today is creating a longer list that is not just for this summer. At the time of this recording, we’re heading into the summer of 2021, but this recording could be valuable to you any time.

We’re going to talk about your list of 100. Earlier today, I was at a brief conference, where Dr. Taniguchi, a BYU professor, was teaching a concept that he began at age 16 in his young life. And that was called a 100 list.

What’s a 100 List?

This 100 list was basically created so that he could list all of the things that he’d like to do to have a thriving life. You might’ve heard of a bucket list. It’s the things you would like to do before you die. Well, this is the opposite. This is a list of 100 things he wanted to do to have a rich and thriving life. Think about that. If we explore all the different things that we would like to have as part of our life, to give us solid experiences, help us keep growing, learning, stretching the boundaries, there might be a whole different set of things that we put on that list. Not quite the same as a bucket list, but maybe there are some overlaps there.

In this situation, I want to introduce you to Dr. Taniguchi. And what I learned from him, you can also find widely on the internet. This man has been chased by Mussai warriors in Tanzania. He has slept in snow caves to survive, swum through New Zealand caves to see glowing worms, stopped a bear from dragging his friend away in his sleeping bag.

He was a professor of experience, design and management, and there are so many things shared about him. Some other accomplishments he has attained are that he’s climbed the front of Yosemite’s half dome. He has paddled the Nile River. He has climbed to the summit of six of the tallest mountains in the world, and coached cross country skiers that were in the last five Olympic Winter Games. He’s from Hawaii. And he has a really remarkable life.

So when this man was 16 years old, he saw a picture in Life magazine, and the picture was a man holding up a list of 100 things he wanted to do before he died. That photo was taken, apparently, because that man had just done the last thing on the list.

The idea was that he started his own list, and it took him a long time to complete writing the list, not to do all the things on the list, but just to decide which 100 things to include. And long since that time, he has in fact accomplished all 100 things on his list. And I have some links to these sources on the podcast notes today. So please check them out.

In another space, he does show the list. And he has some really fascinating things on there. For example, some of the items that he has done that were on his list were to climb to the tallest mountains. He wanted to dip his toe in the Atlantic Ocean, in the Pacific Ocean, and various other places in the world. He wanted to visit all 50 states, learn another language, and a lot of other things.

So if you were to think about creating your own list, there are some rules that Dr. Taniguchi has developed to help you create such a thing. And those rules will really help you get started in deciding what should go on that list.

The first thing he suggests is that it’s a choice to decide to thrive in our lives. And thriving means we’re not just hanging in there, we’re not just enduring, but we’re having a rich and rewarding life. And we have some peak moments that we can really draw on throughout our lives.

As online educators, we do a lot of similar and repetitive things throughout the year. And sometimes those things can be very draining for us. Sometimes they can also be refreshing. But when we create options to help ourselves thrive, then we actually have experiences that perforate that sameness and bring highlights to the year, and to the life as a whole.

So think about what it would take for you to thrive. What kind of experiences you want to have. And then you find opportunities to prioritize those experiences. For example, if you were driving through South Dakota, and you had on your list of 100 that you want to see Mount Rushmore, then you would make it a point to stop there. And if you don’t have that on your list, you might not even think about it or know that it’s located on your drive somewhere.

So by putting things on this list intentionally, you’re going to be more likely to actually do those things. And who knows? Perhaps this summer as an online educator, you’re going to fit a few of those things on your list of 100 into your life.

Choose Items that Bring You Closer to Living Your Values

The second thing besides just simply deciding or choosing to thrive is knowing the values that govern your life. So one of the things Taniguchi says is, don’t put things that you want to try on your list. Don’t just put everything on there that you’re interested in trying, but put things that will actually bring you closer to living your values. And don’t put anything on your list that conflicts with your values, whatever those might be.

So you have to choose carefully and choose wisely, what will make your list of 100. You might come up with 20 or 30 great ideas, and then find the spaces on your paper difficult to fill. I’m curious about how far you’ll get. I started my list of 100 earlier today, and I got to about 35. So now I’m going to have to think about it and come back to that list.

But definitely, when I come to a break between classes or a break in my teaching, and I find that I do have time to get off, and do a trip, or learn something new, or try something new, I would really love to have some great ideas. So building this list of 100 is going to give me some of those ideas I can just look at and make plans for those things.

I talked to someone earlier today that said they had been to Norway and saw the Northern Lights there. That’s something I would definitely want to put on my list. And I’m sure there are many other things that will come to mind when other people mention them, and that I probably wouldn’t think of on my own, but really do interest me. Think about, wisely, what will help you have a thriving life and align with your values, and put those things on your list.

Once It’s On the List, It Stays on the List

Once you put something on your list, Taniguchi has a rule that you cannot take anything off your list. He says, if it was important to you at one point, that meant something to you, and it needs to continue to be important to you.

So one of the stories that this man has told, is that he had a client that he led up Denali, which is, I guess, the highest peak in North America. And the man had been diagnosed with terminal cancer months before the trip. And he almost canceled the trip. And he didn’t say anything about the cancer before the trip, so Dr. Taniguchi did not know that was the situation.

But the experience of hiking up that mountain really changed the man’s life. He got re-engaged, he got married, he finished his last cases at work, and he continued living vibrantly. And before that, when he got his diagnosis of cancer, he felt like giving up completely and he was disengaging from his life. That experience meant the world to him. And he accomplished quite a bit, and had a lot of life left before the end came for him.

So your list of 100 can be inspiring things that give you a life worth living. And it will make your life fascinating to others as well, as you share some of those stories. And it will also help you inspire yourself to keep going.

Add Items that Help Better Yourself and Uplifts Others

Some other tips about creating your list of 100 is to better yourself and uplift others. Each time you accomplish something on your list, you could ask yourself, will this make me a better person? And will it help me to uplift and have a positive effect on others?

So every time you’re going to spend time enriching or bettering yourself, it’s going to make you a better educator and a happier person. And you’re, of course, going to be better at all that you do. And you’re going to be able to be more satisfied with your life, because you have variety, and intense and challenging experiences, and things that you’re really pleased about that you have accomplished.

Add Things that are Outside Your Comfort Zone

Now, some things on your list should be some risks, like a real stretch. I’m not a person who is interested in putting Mount Everest on my list of 100, but maybe you are. Maybe you want to try to do something new that really is far outside your comfort zone.

For me, if I were to write on my list that I want to run a marathon, that would definitely be one of those risks. And I don’t have a whole lot of experience running, but I do think that would be a super fun thing to do. And I would like to add it to my list. And if you’re a person who does routinely run marathons, you can appreciate the fact that for someone who’s never done that, it sounds daunting and challenging and really out of my comfort zone.

And maybe there’s something new that you’d like to do. When I was younger, I would have put learning to ski on that list. And, yes, you can put things that you’ve already achieved in the past that are inspiring to you, that you have already done, that you want to include on the list. That is one of the rules that you can do. So I would love to put that on my list. I did learn how to downhill ski at one point.

And interestingly enough, as I’m talking to a group of educators here on the podcast, I want to share that in my first professional teaching position, I worked in the Marsh Valley School District in eastern Idaho. And one of the things they did over there was, they took the entire junior high to the ski mountain several times during the year, and they taught the kids how to ski.

So I had an opportunity as a teacher to go up there and be a beginner, because I knew nothing about skiing. And I’m really glad I did, because I had some great experiences, and it developed into a lifelong joy of alpine skiing that I shared with my family. And my husband, when I married him, had been a ski patrol or ski instructor, I forget which, but he’s an excellent black diamond downhill skier. So it was kind of helpful that I had at least checked out skiing and had an interest. And then we were able to raise our boys as skiers as well.

So you never know how something you put on this list of 100 things you’d like to do to have a life of thriving is going to enrich your life in even more ways by connecting you to other people, or maybe even creating entire family hobbies that everyone can enjoy.

So this summer, as you’re thinking about what kinds of things might enrich you as an online educator or give you fulfillment or even professional and personal growth, I want to encourage you to get started on your list of 100. To create that list of things that you want to strive to do over the next year, or 20 or 30 years, to have a thriving life and really create peak moments that are worthwhile.

Thank you for being with me here today to consider developing ourselves as people and as educators, and creating rich and thriving lives. I wish you all the best in creating that list of 100, and in your online teaching this coming week.

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.

#59: Tips to Skillfully Cope with Life’s Inevitable Stressors

#59: Tips to Skillfully Cope with Life’s Inevitable Stressors

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com. 

We all have an endless “to do” list that we can’t keep up with. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all our responsibilities and tasks, but that cumulative stress is incredibly harmful to our physical and mental wellbeing. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU Chaplain Kyle Sorys about his role in offering emotional and spiritual support to students and faculty. Learn ways to skillfully cope with life’s inevitable stressors like dedicating a day each week “no work” where you just enjoy life, establishing “no screen time” each day, getting more sleep, eating better, and meditating. Also reduce stress by learning how to extend self-compassion and self-kindness to yourself in conscious acknowledgement that you’re doing the best you can. All these tips can improve your overall wellbeing and help you live a fuller, less stressful, life.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

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.

Hello, everyone. And welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We are so excited to have you today, because we have a special guest, Chaplain Kyle Sorys. He is going to share a lot of expertise with us today. And as you know, our podcast is geared toward online educators. So you’re living and working online and you have a lot on your plate, and we hope today you’ll find something that makes working online just a little bit easier to manage.

Your life online is something we have covered quite a bit in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ve talked about sleeping more, getting some better exercise and some activity going, there. And we’ve also talked about eating healthy and managing your time. So today we’re going to meet Chaplain Kyle Sorys and I’m really excited to have him here today. So, Kyle, welcome.

Kyle Sorys: Thank you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thanks for being here. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your path to becoming an online chaplain at APU and AMU?

Kyle Sorys: To me it’s like two questions. It’s like, how did you get here? Where we all can resonate with, since we all work for this organization. And also, what was the path to becoming a chaplain?

And so I’ll just say the chaplaincy, the profession of chaplaincy, I stumbled into it. And I wonder how true that is for most people in their professions versus seeking it out? The truth is when I was in college, when I graduated undergrad and I was looking at master’s programs, I just wanted to take all the classes. I really wanted to be a professional student. I wish they paid me, instead of me paying the school.

But yeah, all the classes, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I want to take that one. I want to take that one.” And it’s like, “This is training you to be a chaplain.” I’m like, “Okay.” I had no idea what a chaplain was, but I’m like, “Okay. I just want to take the classes. If these classes train me to become a chaplain, then I’ll be a chaplain.”

So yeah, graduate. And then learn what chaplaincy really is. And here’s a learning curve that first year when you’re new to something. So I cut my teeth in the hospital for a while. After that, I did church ministry, youth ministry, specifically. That’s where I met Chaplain Cynthia, who is our full-time primary chaplain at APUS.

[Read an article by Chaplain Cynthia: Embracing Change in This Era of Mass Confusion and Fear]

So it’s interesting how our paths course correct or flow. Just interesting to me. Like the whole purpose of that one year at the church, because I never saw myself working at a church, was I think just to meet Cynthia, just to connect with her.

And so after that, I still do it, too. Not as much because of the pandemic, but a hospice chaplaincy. And Cynthia asked to me to help her out and come on online university chaplaincy. There’s such things as university chaplains like on site, but I’m wondering if APUS, Cynthia, myself, and we have another one, Audrey, if we’re the only online university chaplains in the world, which boggles my mind.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. That is interesting to think about. And I’m wondering what might be different, just to expand that a little bit, about being a chaplain online versus in the live space? What’s the change?

Kyle Sorys: So in hospice, I call it ministry of presence. Being one-on-one with another person, having the physical energy of another person. That gets removed on the online environment. Hence why I really, when I’m working with students or with staff or faculty, mainly it’s students I work with, I really try to talk with them over the phone, at least get the voice. That way I can have a feeling or an understanding. Get that body language, but in the voice. I don’t know how to describe that. It’s like voice language, but under the language, does that make sense?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. It sounds like tone and inflection and mood.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah, exactly. Because I learned, a lot of emails, right? A lot of emails in the online university profession. The written word, it makes it a little challenging to try to really feel what the person’s going through. Really hear what they’re trying to say. And I find myself, well, I hear this in the writing. It’s like, well, I hear it in the word, but I don’t literally hear it in my ear. So that makes it challenging.

But the freedom it gives too, that you can be anywhere in the world and we can connect this whole now Zoom revolution in a way. Everyone’s on a screen. There’s a lot more flexibility versus, “Oh. You have to meet me in my office, or I have to come meet you. And how far, and where are you?” And more localized as well. I can’t go physically visit someone in the East coast when I’m living right in the middle of the country. So pros and cons.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. And just before we jump into some of the things we might want to talk about today, can you give just a brief, “What is a chaplain?” for any of our listeners who are really just not familiar with that role?

Kyle Sorys: I’m still trying to figure it out myself. It’s funny. Was it last week or a couple of weeks ago? Quarterly, we do “Meet the Chaplains,” and that’s where I explain the profession of chaplaincy a little bit. And traditionally, it is clergy members, but in a secular environment, like a hospital, the military, prisons, fire departments, police departments, so secular organizations bring a traditionally religious person in, has a religious background. I think that’s evolving and changing that ritual religious ritual ministry is important, but that’s not the emphasis here on the online university. Maybe that’s one to five percent. I think I’ve prayed once or twice. I don’t know how many students I’ve worked with in the past year that really requested prayer. Most of it is emotional support. And underlying that is spiritual support.

So in brief, chaplaincy is offering spiritual and emotional support. Hence the importance of that ministry of presence, of just being with someone in their struggles and just listening to their story. So another definition I could say as me as a chaplain is someone who hears stories and just appreciates hearing stories.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. It sounds like a really engaging profession and also one with a lot of variety.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: On the idea of the emotional and the spiritual support, it seems that online faculty in particular are very heavily loaded nowadays. They’re doing a lot. It takes a lot of time. As you mentioned, a lot of emails. They experience that too. What would you like to share with listeners about stress management?

Kyle Sorys: First, it really is about an acceptance that stress exists. You can’t escape it. So there’s no need to resist the stress. Because stress can mean a whole lot of things to different people too. So when I contemplate, like what is stress? And for me, stress is whatever disturbs the mind, whatever disturbs the heart. It’s those winds and storms of life.

And sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most often we’re the ones creating that wind and those storms and those disturbances of the mind.

There’s an analogy that you could get hit with a dart or shot with a dart, a really sharp dart. It hurts. And what do you do with it? Well, most often what happens is we take more darts and stab ourselves, instead of just pulling that dart out and going about our life. So stress happens and what do we do? What is our reaction to the stress?

And so to manage stress, there’s skillful coping and unskillful coping. And it’s really cultivating these skillful coping mechanisms where we just pull that first dart out, instead of adding a second dart or a third dart or fourth dart and so on. And then adding more darts because we’re adding darts.

So that’s definitely where I’d say, start with stress management. Just accept and open to the fact that it is unavoidable.

And then investigating, what are we adding onto it? Is it in our benefit or is it making things worse? Because most often stress happens, we react and we don’t even realize how we’re reacting. It’s just so much habit patterns and conditioning. So really learning what’s under that and managing that, then the stress itself. Stress, you can think of it as more as a symptom of an underlying condition going on.

The stress is not personal. I have that, that sometimes we like to think it’s about us. It’s against us. That it’s a personal attack or life’s out to get us, like we did something wrong. All that we add on to it. No, stress is just stress. It’s not personal.

I think if we can really connect with that, at least for me, if I connect with that, that it’s just nature arising, nature unfolding, just stress happening. It’s not personal. There’s a letting go in that. There’s a release and that which helps the stress.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: As you’re describing this, I’m getting this idea. There’s this concept that thoughts just exist and they might float through your mind and float out of your mind. And if you have a negative thought, you could just imagine that and let it go in the same way. Your analogy to the darts makes me think of that same idea, passing through.

Kyle Sorys: Exactly. There’s two common analogies of the mind. One is the sky. Sometimes you get the nice, beautiful fluffy white clouds just slowly rolling by. Other times, there’s dark, stormy clouds filled with water, ready to burst. Sometimes there’s lightning and sometimes there’s tornadoes. But it’s just weather patterns of the mind. It all comes and goes. And exactly, do you want to get involved with the clouds? Are you even able to get involved with the clouds and the storm? Or you just watch it? Yeah, exactly, just take a step back and just watch the clouds pass by.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. Thank you, Kyle. So what strategies might our listeners want to try to deal with their stress or manage it?

Kyle Sorys: This is a hard question to answer, honestly, because it’s so individual. Strategies that work for me may not work for another person and vice versa. But when we were talking before, when you invited me and we talked about what this podcast would entail, I remember mentioning a story that popped up called “what’s done is finished.” So for this question, I’m going to read that story. It’s really short, but I just want to share that to hopefully plant this seed. You can come to keep in mind the importance of this phrase, “what’s done is finished.” And this comes out of my probably favorite book, “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Sounds great.

Kyle Sorys: Oh, it’s awesome. Yes. So what’s done is finished.

“The monsoon in Thailand is from July to October. During this period, the monastics stopped traveling, put aside all work projects and devote themselves to study and meditation. The period is called the Vassa, the rain’s retreat.

“In the South of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall for his forest monastery. When the rains retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery.

“A few days later, a visitor came, saw the half-constructed building and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished? Without hesitation, the old monk said, ‘The hall is finished.’

“‘What do you mean the hall is finished?’ the visitor replied, taken aback. ‘It hasn’t got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like this? Are you mad? What do you mean, the hall is finished?’

The old abbot smiled and gently replied, ‘What’s done is finished.’ And then he went away to meditate.” That is the only way to have a retreat or take a break. Otherwise, our work is never finished.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: What a way to frame that idea.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah. That to-do list. We all have a to-do list. It’s just part of our adult life and it never ends. I know I get stuck on what’s left. Oh, it just keeps accumulating and I can’t keep up. Versus just set it down and looking at it. Nope. I checked that box off. I checked that box off and having it, it’s good enough. What’s done is finished. And there is a letting go in that.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Kyle, thank you for sharing that story and the great example of how to re-conceptualize or view it differently when we’re feeling like the tasks just never stop. They never go away. And in our online teaching world, it does often feel that way, because we might have classes overlapping. There might be an endless pile of forum discussions to reply to, or essays to grade and more to do. So very nice concept to think about just being finished. I like that.

Kyle Sorys: There’s another philosophy I personally stick to, and I understand I don’t have family. I don’t have children. So it’s really easy for me to implement this into my life. But one day a week, I truly commit to no work-related tasks. Even thoughts about work. I’m like, “Nope. Setting those aside. Today’s not the day.” One day a week to live life as I feel it’s meant to be lived, whatever nourishes me spiritually, emotionally. Because come to this understanding that I guess it’s a bigger view. Again when I was in college, it was in Boulder and we called it the Boulder bubble.

Around Boulder, there’s just these majestic mountains and all this natural, just uncivilized greatness and wonderfulness. But you get so bogged down in the Boulder bubble, the assignments due, the busy-ness of traffic, this where to go, those daily tasks of life that we forget the big picture that these mountains exist. And then the big picture of space and time. When we really contemplate our lifespan in the grand scheme of things, a space in time. We’re a blip, or a blip of a blip. And life is precious.

Our time is precious. And in hospice work, I joke, but I’m serious when I say this, that I have heard nobody, not one person on their death bed ever say, “I wish I worked more.” So what’s really important in life? So at least commit one day to embracing that, what life is really about for you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful guidance. Thank you for that piece as well, Kyle. Now I hear you are a bit of a connoisseur of meditation.

Kyle Sorys: Yes.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Maybe have some strategies you could suggest for a beginner. How might we try meditation?

Kyle Sorys: You start where you are. That’s first. You just start where you are. It’s funny. Because the instruction to meditate is really simple. But in actual practice, it can be quite challenging. And that’s why we call it practice. But if anyone is interested in meditation I might say, “If you’re really serious, call me, contact me, email me, and I’d love to talk one-on-one more about it.” That way it can be more of a personal and individualized approach, because not everyone is at the same starting point.

No one has the same causes and conditions happening in their life. So that helps. But basically, really you just commit to a practice, and you start very small, and the practice is stopping and resting. You just sit and be. And breathe.

The image that was given is it’s like sitting on a park bench. What do you do? You just sit. You just be, when you sit on a park bench, and you just take in the sensory experience, be it the birds singing or the people around, or if there’s children playing or the firmness of the bench seat. The warmth of the sun, you’re just in that moment. Whatever’s happening, arising, you’re just being with it. Again, another joke, but serious, we’re called human beings, but we’re conditioned as human doings. So really it’s tapping in what does that mean to be a human being? To just be, to learn to set things down? That’s meditation, the essence.

What really helps is when you do sit, you’ll see that the mind just carries these bags of past and future. And if you’ve ever carried heavy luggage, maybe that’s a thing of the past, because everything’s on wheels now. But if you carry these heavy bags, how wonderful it feels to let them go and set them down, right?

So that’s what we’re doing is just not giving into the lure of the nostalgia of the past, or reminiscing about the past. Or planning and worrying and creating an anxiety about the future, which is uncertain. Whatever you think is going to happen, probably rarely ever happens that way.

So, that’s the practice, just at least five minutes a day. Start small. Going to stop. This five minutes in the morning and this five minutes in the afternoon or this five minutes in the evening, this is my time to just stop. Put a force field around me that keeps everything out. Just for these five minutes, I’m taking a mini-vacation and relax to the max.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Oh, I liked the sound of that. In fact, as you were describing it, I was starting to think about the birds chirping and just getting really present in the now, and not worried about the next hour or the next day or when those assignments are coming due and all the grading we’re going to be facing, needing to manage that time. But just thinking about the moment you’re in and letting go of anxiety. Really appreciate you sharing that suggestion and a little bit of a process with us as well. Thank you, Kyle.

Kyle Sorys: You’re welcome.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: What else, if anything, might you suggest or share with us that could really help online educators with their stress management or maybe anything else that has to do with their overall wellbeing? What do you think?

Kyle Sorys: You mentioned it in the beginning. You I guess talked about it in the past. That the body and the mind are not separate. So to take care of the mind, as in meditation, you also need to take care of the body. Meditation is rest, but rest is also physical rest. So we are a very sleep-deprived society.

And I had one student. She was going mad. She was really stressing out and that was the one question like, “How’s your sleep?” That’s all I asked and she said, “I don’t sleep. I kind of this and this.” And I checked in with her and she just asked like, “Did you get sleep last night?” And she goes, “Oh.” Like her mind was just reset and how everything just smoothed out for her, just because she got one good night of sleep. I think we forget that. Maybe we forget that because that to-do list, right? Like, “Oh. I got to wake up. I got to do this.”

Move the body. Working with elderly people, that’s their advice. I ask them like, “What’s your nugget of wisdom?” And some of them will say, “Make sure you move that body every day.” Be it stretching, walking. Because just reflect what’s the percentage of your daily time committed to sitting or lying down? It’s too much for me. I’ll admit that’s way too much. And to be conscious of standing more, just even standing and walking, moving, and stretching and being mindful when I’m bending over. And I guess this body communicates that to me. It’s like, “Take care of me. If you don’t, I’m going to make you.”

And then, yeah, the nutrition also. I guess you’ve talked about that in the past. What fuel are you putting in the body? That affects the mind as well. Other well-being tips… Like committing to not having work, but having periods in the day where, “This time, no screens allowed,” because we are definitely becoming a civilization of screens and can get really caught in the screens. And I just know it tires my eyes. It tires my mind just looking at the light. I don’t know. It does funny things to me. Maybe that’s just me, but I have a sense others might experience that as well. But be aware to take time out from the screen. I actually had a friend, that’s a slogan. He goes, “Put yourself in timeout at least once a day.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And someone said to me, “Be your own parent.” It sounds a lot like that.

Kyle Sorys: It’s hard. Right?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Exactly.

Kyle Sorys: As adults, we struggle the most feeding ourselves and putting ourselves to bed.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: It’s true.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah. I think of, with stress, another way to think of stress, I like this. That the mind is like a garden. And so everything in life that we consider good or bad, it really is neither. It just is. But it can all be used as fertilizer for the mind. And so when we step in the crap of life, our reaction is to get away from it, to scrape it off the shoe, to be repulsed and disgusted by it. It’s so nasty. But we could just leave it on our shoe and take it home and then scrape it off in our garden and it’ll grow some beautiful flowers.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That is a great, great visualization there.

Kyle Sorys: And the importance of self-kindness and self-compassion. “You are doing the best you can. You have to remember that.” Pretty much everybody is doing the best they can. And if you’re not, if you ask yourself, “Am I doing the best I can?” You say, “No,” then you know like, “Oh, okay. I need to be striving a little bit.”

Most often, you’re going to say, and “Yes, of course I am.” And just, well, have some kindness there. Have some gentleness there. Another slogan or motto that I use often is, “You make peace. You be kind and you be gentle. To yourself, to others, to this moment. Just make peace, be kind and be gentle.”

And I think that can go a long way in helping with the stress and wellbeing. Cultivating lightheartedness, having a sense of humor, the importance of humor and playfulness. This adult mind forgets that skill and its so vital to childhood development. But I do believe it’s still that aspect of play and humor is vital to our adult development as well. And to just cope with the inevitable stressors of life.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Kyle, thank you for all that you’ve shared today. I can tell that you draw on your expertise from your various background experiences you shared with us earlier. And also, even though this is just online, you and I are looking at each other on video while we’re recording this. And I really feel like I have a sense for your presence. I don’t think that virtual totally prevents that from coming through. It’s just nice to be here with you, and thanks again for all you’ve shared with our listeners today.

Kyle Sorys: Likewise, Bethanie. Thank you very much.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. So as we wrap it up, this is the Online Teaching Lounge podcast and we’ve been here with Chaplain Kyle Sorys and talking about your wellbeing as an online educator. We wish you all the best this coming week in being the best version of you in your 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.

Guest Podcast: A Mindset for Working From Home

Guest Podcast: A Mindset for Working From Home

This content originally appeared at DrBCoach.Com. 

As an online educator, you’re likely working from home. This post and podcast episode are reposted from my coaching site, DrBCoach.Com. I hope you will enjoy this addition to our collection of strategies about teaching online. 

A mindset for working from home means that you can experience confidence, fulfillment, and joy while working from home. And you can experience life balance and quality relationships while working from home.

Does this sound like a dream? It’s not. It is entirely possible. Enjoy this episode of the “Mindset for Life” podcast for a little encouragement and tips to develop a mindset for working from home.

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What is challenging when you’re working from home?

When working from home, it is easy to allow the work to spread out throughout the day. This means there are poor boundaries around time spent and tasks to be done. It might also mean that we put ourselves last. When doing this, we lose confidence. We become stressed and overwhelmed. And pretty soon, things seem uncontrollable.

Beyond the stress and overwhelm, working from home can seem less fulfilling, in many ways. For example, we are not down at the office (or at the school, for you educators), seeing the physical reminder that we are professionals doing a “real” job. We don’t have casual opportunities to run into people in the hallway, exchange ideas, and feel uplifted from a random five-minute conversation.

A Mindset for Working from Home Can Help

With a mindset for working from home, you can gain confidence over time. Confidence comes from noticing what went well every day, or at least every week. As you notice what went well, and you write this down, over time you build evidence of what you’re accomplishing and completing. Even a little time spent on a project that was less focused than you would like is a win, when you’re working from home in unusual circumstances. You might not notice your confidence growing at first, but as you develop the habit of noticing and reflecting on what went well over time you will grow in confidence that eventually becomes powerful.

This kind of mindset can also help you find fulfillment in your work. Fulfillment comes from not only noticing what went well, but looking for why it went well. Much of the time, you had a direct impact on what went well during your day. As you notice your own role in the positive “wins,” this brings fulfillment. You might also notice others’ impact on what went well, which can lead to feelings of gratitude. Your own role and others’ impacts on positive aspects of your day come together to create meaning and fulfillment.

And what about joy? Joy comes from allowing yourself the space to experience the full range of your emotions, including the positive ones. You might find joy in anticipating a positive result, and then achieving it. Perhaps joy might come from noticing something like a puppy dancing around his toy. Joy can come from letting go of pressure and judgement, and accepting what is happening in the present. And of course, joy comes from connecting with other people.

These ideas, and more, can help you enjoy working from home with confidence, fulfillment, and joy. For more on these ideas, and to take them further in your own life, consider working with a professional coach

#55: Work-Life Balance (Part 2 of 3): Creating Guidance Assets

#55: Work-Life Balance (Part 2 of 3): Creating Guidance Assets

This content was first provided at APUEdge.com. 

Online educators often get overwhelmed by the endless tasks they need to complete like answering students’ questions, posting announcements, grading papers, and engaging in forum discussions. In this episode, APU Faculty Director Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the benefits of creating guidance assets to help students self-manage and set expectations, while also helping online teachers manage their high workload. Learn about creating guidance assets like screencasts, video introductions, course announcements, netiquette guides, example assignments and more.

Listen to the Episode:

 

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m Dr. Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’m pleased to be with you today. Thank you for joining me to talk about work-life balance. This is particularly important because we’re talking about a profession in which we have a lot of work, unlimited possibilities electronically, and often high expectations.

There are growing numbers of online tools that we can look at. We can engage through text, audio, video, multimedia components, apps, you name it. And of course, there’s the learning management system, which can be attractive and overwhelming.

Any way you look at it, teaching online can be a very involved endeavor. So if you’re working online or teaching online right now, chances are that you have considered your work-life balance, and how to keep all of this under control.

As you think about online institutions, moving online, or you teaching online particularly, we think a lot about whether you’re creating the course, or it’s a standardized course you’re going to teach, that somebody else wrote. This can make a huge difference.

If you’re having to create the course, you have a lot of work ahead of you, and it’s best to do that work before you start teaching it. If you’re teaching and creating it at the same time, because maybe you’re in an emergency transition period, you don’t have a choice. You have to figure out how to manage that workload, and keep it efficient and moving forward.

Now, either way, we want quality in the delivery of the course, but we also want to connect with students. The best way to have a good experience teaching online is to have students who want to learn online, and who want to be there with you. You can experience a really high level of intensification.

This is a chronic sense of work overload, over time, and this idea of de-skilling, which is reducing the quality of your instruction into separate steps like grading, posting things, et cetera. And these can feel unrelated to the big picture of teaching your students. Either one of these situations can lead to burnout and poor work-life balance very quickly.

As you’re thinking about all the tasks that you have to do as online educator, I want to help you out today, in giving you strategies to increase quality of life, and work-life balance overall. We want to give you the strength to get through high levels of work, and also meet your students where they’re at, so they enjoy learning from you.

Today, I hope these strategies will encourage you, and help you to better manage your students’ needs, and also give you more abilities to set boundaries that will enhance your focus. When you try out what we’re going to talk about today, you might actually need to stretch outside your comfort zone just a little, and try something new, in order to be more efficient or more effective.

But if you’re willing to do these things and just give them a try, I think they’ll help you whittle things down into a more manageable task and more manageable workload overall. And I think you’ll find that they’re worth the effort, as you go through your career goals, and the goals you have for teaching this particular class that you’re teaching right now.

Let’s look at your increased level of work-life balance by doing one thing as a high priority item. And that one thing today is producing assets that guide students in self-management.

Assets to Help Students with Self-Management

When you think about the most important and most pressing things you do as an online educator, this probably is not at the top of your list. For some of you, I know you think about preventative steps you can take early on to help students with their success.

But a lot of times, we’re putting out fires when we’re teaching online. We’re getting messages, we’re getting questions, we have a lot of engagement we need to follow-up on, and we need to grade things. And we need to do all of this in a pretty timely manner.

That can feel like we’re just running from one task to the next, doing that de-skilling I mentioned before. Thinking about creating things that are a bigger picture, that are going to prevent things in the future, might feel like it’s really out of our reach, because we are just putting out those fires every day.

If you create these guidance assets to help your students navigate around your classroom and know the communication expectations, it’s going to add a whole lot to lowering your stress and helping you manage your workload.

How Can You Proactively Address Student Questions All At Once?

Think about how you can anticipate the needs and proactively address questions that your students have. You can minimize the individual guidance you might have to give every single student once the course starts by giving these strategies to all of the students upfront, before the challenges ever hit.

There was a study in which it was suggested that adults will rise or sink to the level of responsibility we expect of them, a key premise of andragogy, and the assumptions we have about adult learners.

If you use strategies that support your students’ learning, and also give them ways to become self-sufficient, we call this self-efficacy, when they’re doing it, this is going to help you engage your students better, while you allow yourself to balance your tasks and your time more effectively.

There was a suggestion in another study about workload reduction. It starts with anticipating and proactively addressing what your learners’ questions are and what their problem areas might be.

So think about the class you’re currently teaching, and if you were to just start right now, looking forward to the coming tasks that are going to face your students in the coming days and weeks, what kind of methods might you use to give them a heads up about the challenges?

Maybe you’ll send an announcement, at the very least, that tells them what to expect, what to anticipate. Some instructors create sample assignments, just to show what the formatting might look like, or how things will develop from the beginning of the assignment throughout the submission.

If you store copies of announcements and guidance assets you’re going to create, and repeatedly use these things, you’ll want to revise them and update them over time to save you some development time in the future by reusing them, but also keeping them current. If you’re teaching the same course over and over, creating this kind of asset is really going to help you to have the tools at your disposal without having to reinvent them every single time.

If we look at andragogy theory, the theory of teaching adults, this suggests that adult learners are self-directed. They’re going to get greater autonomy as they’re going through the educational experience with you, and with everyone else they’re interacting with.

Because of this, your adult learners are not as interested in being told what to learn. They’re much more interested in having a meaningful influence in the process of learning, all by itself.

When you give them assets that establish your teaching presence and your social presence, and your cognitive presence, from the community of inquiry, you can actually give them some boundaries for you as the instructor, and you can set up these boundaries for yourself. And at the same time, you’re supporting your students in meaningful learning, and helping them be self-directed in what they’re learning, and how they’re learning it.

You can increase your efficiency and your time management when you develop these things in a way that they can be used again and again. I’m going to give you a couple of categories here that will help you take some steps in producing assets that will guide your students to manage themselves, as they’re working in your class.

Prepare Student Guidance Assets

The first area is to prepare student guidance. I’m calling these assets, because they might be documents, they might be videos, but they’re tangible things that you’re going to use and reuse with your students, and continue to improve. When you teach online, this is going to require you to take the role of a mentor, and a coach a little bit more than the traditional lecturer role that some people associate with higher education.

If you’re used to being the lecturer, where you present things to students in a live situation, and now you’ve moved online to where that’s maybe recorded, and you have to do some other things, this can really be a helpful way to branch out.

Preparing student guidance could be something like a brief video, a netiquette guide, a video guide, some kind of document to help students work through their experience with you.

Communication problems happen a lot online, but they can be prevented entirely, if you tell students how you want them to engage in the class and in the discussion forums, from the very beginning. Students really like to know what your standards are, and they like to be able to review the materials you give them as needed.

You can make the brief video or screencast with some narration, where you’re talking on that video, to guide students into different areas of your classroom. The video might be a walkthrough of how to engage in your class, showing them the different places they need to be, like the tab for the assignments, the tab for submitting things, checking their grades, reading the lessons, accessing any lecture that might be there.

You can also use a netiquette guide to guide them in a way that provides the proper tone for the online class, and some expectations you have, before they ever post in that first week’s discussion. Again, this is going to give your students the opportunity to self-regulate, because they know your expectations.

Any of these videos, tips, or other guidance assets can lead your students into really great participation, and these assets can be used as a reference later, if students fail to comply, or don’t meet your expectations. If you need to redirect them, you can offer them another copy of the netiquette guide, or the video guide that you created, and remind them of what matters in that classroom.

Create Video Assets

Now creating video guides doesn’t have to be a challenging process. There are a lot of things out there you can use. You could create a short video using whatever tool exists in your learning management system. A lot of LMSs have video recorders built in. If you don’t have one, you can look up Screencastify or Screencast-O-Matic. Both of these are excellent ways to record the screen while you’re talking.

If you’re really nervous about putting your voice or yourself on the screen, but you know your students want to connect with you, you can also create slides. There are even ways where you can type a transcript, and something can automate a voice that reads it for you.

It’s best to include your own voice, if you can, and your face students who see you feel almost automatic trust for you at a level that is totally different than when they just read your words. When you guide them through the class and help establish your instructor identity, this also builds the trust that helps them endure and persist throughout the class, when they hit hard times.

When misunderstandings happen, students complain a lot less, because they feel comfortable asking questions and reaching out to you. Think about the free options, Screencastify and Screencast-O-Matic. If you want to buy something, there is Camtasia, there’s also Snagit available, both of which are excellent at recording your screen, and allow you to narrate at the same time.

Create a Netiquette Guide

Talking about the netiquette guide, before the class begins, a netiquette guide can give clear expectations about in-class communication that you want students to use. This was something that Dr. Craig Bogar mentioned in Episode 53 of this podcast, and we’re going to hit back on this topic now.

If there are specific forum discussions or assignments that you prefer submitted in a certain format, you can always post a model and explain it, and also talk about the kind of language to be used. Netiquette can apply to the discussion forums, but it can also apply to the way they use academic language in assignments.

Provide Students with a Model Assignment to Reference

You might consider giving a model assignment to illustrate this, and attaching it to the assignment description. You can give examples and guidance as part of your routine teaching, to prep people for submitting the work.

And also, if you find that there’s a concept that people are not understanding when they’re in your class, you can always create a short video discussing it and talking about how it applies.

If you’d like a sample netiquette guide, you’re welcome to click the link in the podcast notes, and you can access a sample guide that I created and used for quite some time in my online teaching. And you’re welcome to use it.

Prepare Announcements in Advance

Another step you might consider is to prepare announcements in advance. When you do this, you’re going to have something ready to go for each week. You can, of course, tailor it as the course progresses.

Something is going to come up that you’re going to realize needs to be added to these announcements. Maybe it’s a current event, or a suggestion based on something a student has said. Being adaptable and flexible is really important, because online learning can sometimes feel like we’ve structured it so well, that it’s not flexible.

If you can be flexible with your announcements, then you can adapt them throughout the time you’re teaching. But developing them in advance of the course is a great way to keep your workload light. If you keep the content of these announcements for specific dates in the future, but don’t put dates on them, they might be appropriate for the next time you teach the course. Again, you’ll want to personalize and modify things, to make sure that they still meet the needs of that course you’re going to teach in the future, and those students that you’re working with at that time.

Depending on your learning management system, you might even be able to set all of your announcements up to auto open on the first day of each week, without having to manually do this every week. If you created tools to guide your students through the assignments, or to help them navigate your classroom, you can also set these up in the announcements area, to publish automatically as well.

These things are going to help you build a positive academic atmosphere, and set the tone in your online classroom. All of this work done in advance sets you up for success, and helps your students feel safe, because they’re guided by a teaching presence who is really connecting with them, and helping them in every way possible.

When you set this positive tone in your online class, and include elements in your course announcements that are friendly and personable, these also build connections with students, whether you’re aware of it or not, and this reassurance helps students feel like their questions will be answered whenever they have them. Generic announcements, really, depersonalize the experience, so try to avoid making them look super generic or leaving off your personal commentary.

Lastly, anything that’s working for you, like guidance assets you might create, screencasts, video introductions of you, course announcements, a netiquette guide, and example assignments, as you review these and keep them updated for the next time you teach the course, you can store these and repeatedly use them, and personalize them each time you return to the teaching.

Tips for Saving and Storing Assets for Future Use

Saving and storing materials you’ve developed will really save you time. This is a huge investment. Creating assets for your students takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. If you don’t have a place to store repeated announcements or forum posts that you would like to reuse, like your introductory or wrap-up posts, you might consider an online storage site.

There’s one called FacultyFiles, and it’s a free resource that allows you to set up course materials storage areas, separate it by class week and the type of the class, set up how many weeks the class is and put these things in the weeks that you’re going to use them, and just use that as a repository for keeping track of your grading rubrics, your forum posts that are somewhat standard, your announcements, and other things you might repeatedly use.

Using some kind of online storage like this one is especially helpful if you have gaps between teaching the course and the next time you teach it, so you can just keep these resources organized and ready.

In closing, I hope that you have gained some tips today for producing assets that are going to guide your students and help them manage themselves. The workload can be very high in online teaching, but when you create these kinds of important guidance pieces for your students, you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long term as you’re teaching the course.

Your students can be more self-directed, which satisfies them in their learning much more. You can focus instead on the teaching that you enjoy most, and also engaging with your students.

Thank you for being here for part two of our work-life balance, setting priorities series, episode 55 today. Come back next week for episode 56. We will talk about effective management strategies to round out your work-life balance nicely. Best wishes to you in your online teaching this coming week.

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 and your online teaching journey.

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

This content initially appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

Teaching online can be overwhelming and cause a significant amount of work-related stress. In the first part of this three-part series, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses teaching strategies to help online educators prioritize their time by engaging students first. Learn about using a Community of Inquiry framework, keeping written notes about students and your interaction with them, and the benefits of using backwards mapping to ensure you’re meeting objectives and connecting regularly with students.

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the episode today for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re in year two of this podcast, and it is very exciting to support you in your online teaching efforts. You’re not alone here. You might feel alone teaching online as it can be very isolating to do that, but we’re here for you and hopefully you’ll get some tools and strategies and encouragement by listening to this podcast today.

We’re at the beginning of a three-part mini-series. Today is part one. We’ll talk about work-life balance and how you can set priorities for your very top priority as an online educator. This will be about engaging with students first.

Next episode, we will talk about work-life balance in setting priorities to produce assets that can guide your students to manage themselves.

And lastly, also in work-life balance, we will talk about setting priorities to use time management strategies effectively, managing your workload.

These three areas are going to support you a lot in your work-life balance. As online educators, we know that we can teach any time anywhere, and it’s very easy for us to have the online classroom follow us to all places that we go and kind of pop into all places in our lives.

There’s been a lot of research done in online teaching, and even though it offers attractive flexibility for you as the instructor, all kinds of instructors out there report high teaching workloads, feeling isolated, having high stress levels, and having generally poor life-work balance.

There’s a lot of assumptions about online learners out there we can use to our advantage, especially when we’re working with adult learners, and those come from andragogy theory. There are also some frameworks that help us as online educators and we’re going to look at the community of inquiry framework to give us some practical application as we’re taking this tour in our three-part mini-series.

We can also look at some areas outside of online education, like the work-life balance theories. There’s been some research done in that area. And then lastly, we can think about the kinds of boundaries that would support your work and simultaneously allow you to focus on your student success as a priority. I personally believe that when you set boundaries in the online classroom and in your online teaching generally by prioritizing what matters most, developing assets to help your students guide themselves, and managing your time efficiently and carefully, you can have better definition to your work. And you can also focus your efforts, which means you’re going to do a better job as an online educator and you might even enjoy it a lot more. So here we go with part one, engaging with students first.

When we think about engaging with students first, there are some things about work-life balance for online employees that also apply to our online educators here. In some of the research done about working online, there was a little collection of strategies people were using to have good work-life balance.

Of course, there were some that were provided by the employers, but those were pretty few. The most successful strategies came from the employees themselves. These are called employee originated solutions. Now, employee originating solutions means that you have the locus of control. You’re the boss of what you do for these solutions, how much you use them and how you manage them. And the most popular employee originating solutions for online workers that were effective, were mindfulness strategies, self-reflection, and meditation. And these could be either prompted by the employer or just come up with by the employee themselves.

These are going to increase your mental and emotional presence in the online classroom and just working online generally. It’ll also increase your mental and emotional presence in your personal life and reduce the interference of work-related stress.

Now, when I say there’s interference from work-related stress, I mean we might be thinking about our online work when we’re not actually doing it. We might have emails pop up that stress us out because we think, “Oh, we have to go online right now.”

Chances are this has happened to you if you’ve worked online very long. It’s pervasive and we think because we can read those messages anytime, we should do it to keep our workload under control. But we don’t realize that when we’re doing those things, the stress is creeping in and we’re feeling all that stress all day long in our personal life too. Before you know it, we think we need to be working all the time throughout the day just to keep the workload manageable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Really there are a lot of ways we can reduce that stress and create less pressure in our work life.

So thinking about this, we’re going to talk about connecting with our students first. This is going to be the top priority for us as online educators. And I’m going to share just a few tips with you today. Then I encourage you to come back next week for episode 55 when we will talk about producing assets that guide your students to manage themselves.

Understanding the Community of Inquiry Framework

Now let’s look at the framework that is really common or popular in online education, the Community of Inquiry framework. This framework gives us a practical model that we can use to design how we involve ourselves in the classroom. How we engage with our students.

The Community of Inquiry framework focuses on teaching, social, and cognitive presence as priorities. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If you’re in higher education, it’s very likely that you have. Each of these presences within the COI model, the teaching, social, and cognitive presences, work together in an interrelated way. So they work together in ways where we often are meeting two or three presences all at once through our activities. And we’re going to support our students in their learning experiences by focusing in these areas even more precisely.

Social Presence

Social presence is about the way your learners can engage in a comfortable learning environment and feel supported and trust you as the educator and feel like they can collaborate with others in that environment.

Teaching Presence

Teaching presence is about your ability as the educator to design and facilitate the online class. So what you run and put announcements out there and guide them in their assignments and all of those things is part of your teaching presence.

Cognitive Presence

And lastly, cognitive presence is the way learners can construct new meaning through the process of learning. So that means they’re doing some things that draw the points together, connecting the dots, making even more connections to the subject matter. And you can promote that as an educator in a lot of different ways.

When you are designing and facilitating a course online and you’re thoughtful about connectedness to what the learners need and what they already know, you can use the CoI framework to plan what you’re going to do thinking about your social, teaching, and cognitive presence. This is going to give you a lot of space to prioritize what’s really important and make the best of your time spent in the online classroom.

Now, if you take a thoughtful approach like using a framework such as the CoI I’ve mentioned here, you can plan your activities around those key areas. If you don’t do that, it’s very easy to resort to a to-do list. Maybe we’ve got a to-do list of things to grade, things to post, comments to write, announcements to post.

And when we have that to-do list that’s just a checkbox approach, it’s really easy for us to lose track of the bigger picture, what we’re really trying to accomplish as the educator. The framework helps us to ground ourselves in the goal of connecting with our students, promoting the cognitive aspects of what we’re doing and also helping them get to know us as faculty or as instructors. So our first priority is to engage with the students first.

Engaging with Students First

There are some strategies that will help you engage with your students first. Some of these could be posting and replying early each day in the discussion. Of course reading messages and emails that your students send you early in the day will also help you to address any serious concerns that your students have. This is going to build trust. If you make weekly notes about your students and add some things that you’re figuring out about them, it will help you get to know them better.

You can also use a strategy called backwards mapping and use it to plan your workload. The workload’s pretty high when you’re teaching online. There’s a lot to read and write and grade and a lot of time to spend because when you’re not meeting face to face, you’re going to replace that with a lot of written work and other types of online interactivity. So there’s more to grade, more to do, more to read.

Because of this kind of workload, you want to decide where to start in your teaching tasks. This will help you avoid being overwhelmed and quickly burning out. When you engage with students first as your top priority, this is going to help you establish your teaching presence and your social presence. If you don’t have those two areas when you’re creating your course, when you’re engaging with students, it’s very difficult to bump things up to that next level of cognitive presence to help students adopt critical thinking and really be engaged in the underlying aim of all those educational activities that you’ve planned.

Consider Posting to the Classroom Every Morning

So you might consider starting the day with a post in the discussion forum for each class you’re teaching and responding to all the messages and emails. If you post early in any class you teach every work day, this means you’ve been responsive, you’ve got a presence that is regular, and you’re not going to forget to engage with your students. After all, the more you engage, the more you build relationships and you guide them by teaching them in that subject area.

Most of the institutions with online learning have some kind of expectations of you as the instructor. Maybe they want you to be in the classroom a certain number of days or in the discussion area a certain number of days. There might be some kind of guideline to that where you’re working now or where you’re teaching now.

In my own work, I’ve noticed that if students haven’t participated in the weekly discussion yet, I go in there and post an initial thread with some kind of encouragement to get started in the discussion. Maybe a current event that ties to the topic or something else of interest. This helps my students to just start getting into that discussion and readily engage in the dialogue. So we’ve got the academic community and it’s growing because I’ve created the starter and I’ve also helped them to see me and feel like I’m there helping them out.

This is true when my post asks them to reflect or apply the topic or connect to some kind of current event. These all satisfy andragogy theory and meet the needs of adult learners, and also they build cognitive presence.

Maintain Collection of “Starter” Threads and Written Notes about Students

Now, if you’re teaching the course repeatedly, you teach that same topic over and over again each time you teach this class, you might want to maintain a collection of well-developed starter threads that you can use every time students don’t appear to be engaged. So when you need to start a thread for the week, it’s nice when you’ve already researched one and you can kind of further tailor it for the class at hand and meet the needs of those students, but you’ve got something to start with.

Another tip to engage with your students first is to keep anecdotal records. When you post early each day and you build that priority of instructor presence and connecting with your students, you get to know your students as a priority. You’re applying andragogy throughout your teaching. And when you record notes, typically called anecdotal records, about your students, this will help you keep track of who they are. Especially if you’re teaching a lot of sections with a lot of students, it’s difficult to do this.

Some of them may not have a photo online and it’s difficult to get to know them or associate their name with their work. Keeping a written record of your students and things that you’re learning about them and also who you’ve replied to each week can help you to manage the touch that you want to have with each student effectively.

Your notes might include something like where the students are living, their backgrounds and interests, maybe their academic major, whether they’re in the military or working, whether they’re new parents, and any other pertinent details that you noticed that you care about.

If you write those details down, you can be sensitive in your responses. And when they reach out for extra help, you also have some level of context around who they are and what their situation in life is. Knowing their backgrounds can help you also remember that you’re working with real human beings, not just some names that show up online. This can help you to understand their problems and also their challenges when they reach out to you for special help. They are real. They do care about learning from you and knowing them a little bit better will help you to approach them in a way that lets them know you care about them.

When you connect students’ experiences and backgrounds to what you say in the class, this helps even more to establish your social presence because it helps the students feel known and it also gives you that human element as you communicate with them.

Your weekly student contacts are a best practice because these give you the space to identify any students you haven’t connected with recently or touched in the online class, and you can also determine who has become inactive in the course. You can follow up and reach out to help students re-engage in the class.

Anecdotal records of your contacts with students will help you to vary who you reach out to, who you look for, and who you follow up with, and eventually you’re going to touch everyone and remember the students you’ve taught long after the class has ended.

You might even benefit from using a notepad like EndNote Online or maybe an Excel document where you kind of use a spreadsheet approach. You could put these notations about your students there to keep track of them and even begin with week one when they give you their introduction so you’re just getting to know them.

Whatever process you use, the main goal is to really establish a relationship and keep yourself focused. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I used to go to a dentist who would remember things about me when I hadn’t seen him in six months. I would sit down in that dentist chair, I believe I was 16 or 17 at the time, and he would ask me all about how school was going and different activities I was engaging in. At the time, I thought that man was a genius. Now that I’m older and I understand how those things are maintained, I realized that he was keeping anecdotal records so that he could follow up with me and build rapport. It’s difficult to work on someone’s teeth, as a dentist, if they’re afraid of you. But when you build rapport, trust is created and fear can reduce. That’s my estimation of what happened at the dentist, but it also happens in online education.

The more you convey that you know the student and you’re relating to them, and the more you connect socially by sharing your expertise and your thoughts about what’s going on as well, the more students build trust for you. They’re more than likely to reach out to you when they do have concerns instead of just dropping the class or disappearing and disengaging.

Backwards Mapping Techniques

The last area I want to share with you in this priority of connecting or engaging with your students first is to practice backwards mapping. Now, you might’ve heard this term before. Backwards mapping is something that Wiggins and McTighe came up with in a curriculum design process. The goal is that you’re going to look at what you want to achieve at the end of a class, you create this big picture view of the goals, and then you break them down into smaller tasks that need to be planned ahead of time to reach the goals.

Public school teachers use this strategy a lot when they’re choosing learning goals for their students. And of course, as I just mentioned, plan the desired date, the goals to be achieved, and move backwards to decide when to start the project, when to start the lesson, and when the bigger benchmark measurements need to happen.

Backwards mapping is a great strategy that can be used in planning your online teaching engagement productively. So not only is it a curricular tool, it is also a good planning tool for your involvement and your time management.

You can use backwards mapping to ensure that the requirements or goals you have for yourself professionally as an educator are met on time. For example, let’s just say you’re teaching a class of 50 students. That would be a pretty large class. And if you’re teaching a class of 50 students and you need to respond to everyone at least once during the week, if you’re online for five days of that week, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re connecting with 10 students per day. If that works for you to spread it out that way, then you could backwards map in that way and then on the last day of the week, check in and see if you have met your goal.

You can reply, you can grade this way by backwards mapping your approach to grading as well. You can also backwards map different things like posting announcements, logging in, and doing other follow-up pieces of your online teaching.

Backwards mapping assignments to be graded can really help you anticipate how many documents you’re going to evaluate and how many you would need to evaluate each day to return the graded work in a pretty timely manner and with the expected grading quality that you’re wanting to return to them. Take a look at backwards mapping. It’s a great strategy to help you reduce the overwhelm of the teaching load that you might have when you’re teaching online.

So, in summary, your priorities would be to post in discussions every day, early in the day, as your first priority to connect with your students. So engage with students first. Reply to messages, emails, and students questions before any other task.

Take anecdotal notes about your students from week one forums and throughout the course as things come up. Track the students you’ve responded to or touched each week and then follow up with missing or disengaged students. You can also use these strategies as you’re engaging with students first.

The first one is to set time management priorities. You might use a checklist to ensure that there are things that must be done and that they get done. Plan time for each commitment that you have on a schedule or in some kind of a planner, and then backwards map your engagement and your grading.

When you do these things by setting priorities and following strategies that work for you, you’ll be able to have work-life balance because the work is getting done in a focused manner and at a quality that helps you really connect with students and make a difference in your online teaching.

I appreciate you being here today. Thank you for listening to part one in our work-life balance three-part mini-series. Come back next week and we’ll talk about producing assets that guide your students in self-management. And I look forward to seeing you then. Best wishes this coming week in your 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.