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#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

What motivates you to keep teaching? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses tools to assess your true drive and how to track the impact you’re having as an educator.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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 podcast. Today, I want to talk about some motivation we have to show up for work, why we’re in this game of teaching in the first place. And that question on my mind is, “What fuels you?”

What is it that motivates you to keep teaching, to reach out to help other people? They’ve studied this out. And the research tells us that there are a lot of different orientations we have, to come to teaching. On a practical level, that’s really nice and kind of helpful to figure out about yourself.

If you’re interested in the direction that you’re going with teaching, the Teaching Perspectives Inventory is an awesome tool to assess what your main driver really is, and whether or not you’re actually doing it. The teaching perspectives inventory is one way to see your primary motivation and the comparison between reality and fantasy. So, check it out.

Some people will be the apprenticeship type, some will be the social change type, and there are several others. I’m not an expert in the TPI, but I do know that this was the first thing that opened my awareness to the fact that we are not all educators for the same reasons. Some people are educators for reasons that really light their fire. And it makes them happy and excited to just do what they do. And some people are not as excited about the job that they do but the fact that they get to be with people.

Sometimes people are much more excited about just being involved in that subject area. Like maybe you teach geology and you just love rocks, you just love the mountains and all the different rock formations and everything you can talk about with rocks. If you get to talk about it all day long when you’re teaching, that’s going to bring you that joy and excitement, right?

As a musician myself and a creative, I really love teaching music. I especially loved teaching live music classes, when I was a band teacher, or when I was leading some choir group. It would be so much fun to take something that was very rough, and help people put it together until it was just absolutely beautiful and totally expressive. To me, that was so much fun.

But it was nothing compared to seeing the people that I was working with transform as human beings. And there’s a phrase that I like to bring into my role as an educator. And strangely, it comes from Napoleon Bonaparte. And I didn’t ever know until I looked it up who initially said this phrase. But the phrase is, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” That is so interesting to me. So not only is an educator a leader, by being an online educator, you’re out there creating new things. Helping people into whatever field it is. Helping them learn and grow and transform, and you’re also just leading the future.

So, a leader is a dealer in hope. And that is something we all have that we can do as educators. And hope is absolutely essential to a happy life, or a high-quality life. Hope is that idea that there is something better in the future. We can get through the tough times, because they won’t always be tough. We can look forward and we can look to what will be that hasn’t come to pass yet.

The leader’s hope really comes from the belief that a goal is attainable. We can teach people something new; we can help them to learn, grow and transform. It gives you the strength to take yourself through the tough times. It also helps you to use your own personal creativity. And to think more about ideas that have you stuck, too. You wrestle with them and come up with new possibilities.

And hope also brings the ability to be resilient, which means to get through the tough times, to bounce back, to keep going. When we face uncertain times in our life like the world we’re living in now, we need more inspiration. We need more creativity. And we need more resilience to get through and keep going. And hope can bring us all of those things.

So as a leader, as an educator, we are dealers of hope. We bring hope, we talk about hope. And we provide a frame of reference so others can have hope too. Beyond that, what is it that really does motivate you to teach? What is it that brings you into the arena every single day, to do what you do? If we can pause and just capture that, the fuel behind what you do every day, then we can make sure you have it in your life every day. We can actually be intentional about doing the kinds of things that are going to put that in its proper place.

One of the things that fuels me is the people and the joy of connecting with other people, but also wrestling with things and creating something that is transformed. It could be that we’re wrestling with a problem, a program, or trying to develop a musical number we’re going to polish and perform. It could be anything like that. But that wrestle and the transformative experience, and then the product at the end. That is such a beautiful bright spot in my life. And I look for that all the time when I’m an educator doing my educator thing.

What is it that you look for? Take a moment to just jot down some ideas for yourself. And if you have a reflective journal, this is a great idea to write about today. What is it that you deal in? As an educator primarily, we deal in hope. But what else? What is it for you?

Think about the last week of your life as an educator, just the last seven days. If you’re teaching a class right now, what is it that happened during your day that brought you a ray of sunshine, or made you feel really excited or look forward to doing it again? Whatever that is, I would write that down in your reflective journal. This is going to be a clue of the big picture ideas you need to be pursuing so that you have more satisfaction in your role and more happiness in your job.

One of the things I love most about that, wrestling with problems, is collaborating with other people. And right now, in my current role, I do a lot of collaborating with other educators, with colleagues and peers and leaders of all levels. And we might end the day with a conversation where we’re talking about something that is a challenge we’re working on. I love focusing on some of the wins of the past week. So often, I’ll try to choose a conversation for the end of the day that will bring a spark or a light into that day and end the day really well.

That way, in my own role as an educator, no matter what challenges I’m facing during the day, I’m going to end the day in a way that really leaves me feeling great and having a sense of control over what I’m doing. After all, there is so little we can truly control in our world. And in our lives, we can control the attitude we have. And a great way to do that is to put people in your path that you know you can be positive with or who will celebrate with you, or who are willing to look at the hope and the bright side of things. So if you’re interested in that, that could be a way to end your day as well.

What else brings you a fuel for what you’re doing? What gets you through those hard times and helps you persevere, when things seem really, really difficult? It’s very easy to notice all that’s going wrong, we could list five things that are going wrong right now. But what’s going right for you?

If this is a bit of a struggle, and it’s difficult to know what lights your fire, I’d like to suggest one activity you could try every day for the next week. And pretty soon you’re going to be able to identify those things that do bring you a sense of satisfaction in your work. And then you’ll notice what really lights your fire, not just satisfaction, you’ll get to that next level of being really excited about what you do. This activity is to write three good things that are happening or did happen.

At the end of every day, schedule five minutes, just take a notepad and write down three good things. After you do that for a couple of days, turn them into three good things that you did. Things where you had an impact, where you contributed your strengths or your talents. Something where you had autonomy, or you benefited by collaborating with somebody else. Whatever it is, you want three distinctly different things every single day for one week.

And then at the end of the week, look back for patterns. What similarities do you see? Are there similar activities that were good in your opinion? Did these things bring you hope, satisfaction, happiness? Help you feel glad that you are doing the career field you’re in? Whatever you see in those patterns, you can then decide how to get more of that in your daily work. And that’s going to continue to light your fire.

As you think about what fuels you as an educator, and what really brings you excitement in your day and passion to your work, there are some things we can do to help light the fire of other people around us. This is especially important if we have friends, family members, peers and colleagues who are struggling to feel like the work they do makes a difference.

The first thing we can do to inspire hope in other people and light their fire is to show that we love and care for them. That could be we’re just listening, we’re just being there being present, just spending the time. Everyone needs to feel that they are important, and that others will listen to them and just care for them. So demonstrating the love and care we have for others can be a real bright spot that lights the fire.

Second, remember that everyone deserves happiness. And there are some simple things we can do to inspire happiness. While we may not be able to make anyone feel an emotion, we can definitely invite happiness through the things we do. Sometimes it’s through a thank you note, sometimes a phone call, there are a lot of things that can bring happiness. And if you think about what the person in your life might be most interested in, you can act on that and generate a little more happiness.

A third thing we can do is to help the other person figure out what lights their fire and motivates them most. And this could be a lot of talking about the past, what brought them excitement in the past, why they entered the teaching profession, what they have loved. Sometimes in courses they have taught in times when they’ve had a good experience professionally, or with students, happy memories they have during their career.

There are a lot of ways to get at that and really identify what someone’s passion is in their professional area. And if it’s really, really challenging for a person to get up to the space of finding that, we could also look at recreational interests and life areas, and find something that brings joy, excitement, passion, enthusiasm and happiness for that person. Simply having the conversation and exploring that with someone else can also demonstrate that love and care that was the beginning of this list. Anytime we spread that hope in others, and light the fire for them by identifying what they care most about, that will just bring more of the good that we’re trying to put out there in the world by being educators, teaching others and lifting them to the next level of whatever their career field is, or whatever their professional goal is or their personal development goal. So the more we help other people figure out what lights their fire, the more we’re generating a lot of that.

Alright, so think about what lights your fire. Notice it over the next week, and see if you can share and inspire others to do the same. And of course, I would love to hear from you and hear how you’ve made this a reality in your life and in your work. Go ahead and visit BethanieHansen.com/request, and you can share your comments there. And any tips and strategies you have in this particular area would be wonderful. We can share them with other educators in a future episode. Take care of yourself this coming week and enjoy your students. Now we’re wishing you all the best 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.

#125: Three Steps to a Great Online Teaching Routine

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

Teaching online can be time consuming and seep into instructors’ personal time. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into how to plan a strong work routine. Learn about the importance of surveying your workload ahead of time, writing it down and tracking it, and reflecting and adapting to improve your time management.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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.

Thank you for joining me here today on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m very excited to share with you some ideas to help you plan your online teaching routine. If you’ve taught online before, you already know this can expand to fill every inch of available time. It can become something that takes more and more time all the time, because there is so much more we can do when we’re working online.

The other reason this can expand to fill all of our space is that when we teach online, many times we succumb to interruptions and diversions and other courses of action. So, we might be in the middle of writing discussion responses to our students when a child comes in and wants our attention. So, we’ll get up and go attend to that. And then a lot of time has passed. And when we get back in the room to do more of our online teaching, we’ve lost our train of thought. We have to back up and get started all over again. Examples like this, and many others, are very much reality for all of us who teach online.

Even though my children are fully grown, and they’re not going to walk into the room and ask for my attention while I’m teaching, I do know exactly what it’s like because I’ve been there. And in my experience, planning ahead and sticking to that plan can help everyone function better while you’re an online educator, and expect when you’ll be free, and spend time with you later.

So, today, I’m going to share three tips with you for some good planning of your routine when you’re teaching and working online. And those are to survey ahead of time, write it down, and reflect and adapt, no matter what.

Survey Your Activities and Needs

So, we start out with surveying, and surveying is simply looking ahead to see what our tasks are going to be and how long they’re going to take. I know, we don’t always know exactly how much time it’s going to take. But we can give it our best guesstimate.

For example, if we’re going to grade papers, and we have some kind of estimate about how long it takes to grade an essay, then we can look at how many papers we could logically expect to grade that week and divide it up over how much time. And pretty soon, we know exactly how much time we need to spend.

Perhaps we’re going to plan ahead to do it all in one day. Or we’re going to break it up to do over several days. But it involves surveying and looking ahead in a way that I’ve heard of called pragmatic prospection. I know, that’s a little bit of a mouthful. But pragmatic prospection is about being practical. And looking ahead.

The pragmatic part is, “What’s it really going to look like?” Am I really going to read a lot of messages from students? Am I going to answer a lot of questions? Will I need to make some kind of asset, like a video or a handout to post in my class? Will I have a lot of things to grade? How much do I expect to engage in that discussion?

And as I’m looking pragmatically about the realities of my particular online course, I’m also looking ahead. That’s the prospection part. I’m thinking, “What do I want that to look like?”

What does the quality of my comment need to be? What do I really want to invest for it to be good quality, but not take up more and more and more time? So, as you’re looking ahead, you can start to envision what the workload is going to look like, what you’re going to need to do, and what the rest of your life will be like when you’re teaching that online course.

As part of doing this habit of surveying, or looking ahead to the different types of tasks and the time it’s going to take, don’t forget to include all of the things that you do outside of work. So, we’re going to look at the online teaching first and write it down and think about it. And then we’re going to look at the rest of our life.

If there’s some kind of family obligation happening, I want to be able to plan for that. And so, I want to set aside the time for those things as well. And maybe I need to prepare for that by going shopping or calling some of my relatives, getting some of that done. So, I’m surveying all that I need to do. And I’m thinking ahead. I might also be surveying what it’s going to look like when I’m doing some grocery shopping, if that falls on me this week, and if I’m doing any household chores, and how much rest I want, and all of those sorts of things.

So, the survey is kind of like an overview, where I’m just thinking through my day, and my week, and I’m thinking about what it needs to look like, what it’s got to include, and where I want to be at the end of the week.

Write it Down and Schedule Your Time

Step two is to write it all down. Now after I’ve taken the initial survey, I’m going to start writing down the actual plan.

When we’re taking the time to write things down that we’re working on, like a calendaring habit or a schedule for online teaching, the goal is to realistically write down exactly what is expected to happen. And, yes, that might be painstakingly writing every 15 to 20 minutes of activity, and then tracking it while you’re doing it. So, not only will you write down what you expect to do, you want to make little notes about when you had to modify, spend more time than expected, or spend less.

Writing it down is going to help you realize how much time you actually spend in your online teaching. And that will also help you know if you are over anticipating how much time it will spend, or under budgeting the time. Writing it down could be every single day for a week, and then reassess. Or it could be every day for an ongoing duration. You have to decide what will work best for you in terms of tracking this, but the goal is that once you write it down ahead of time, that you stick with that schedule, no matter what.

I don’t know about you, but many times in my experience, I will sit down and think about grading some essays. And sometimes my mind will just be not very focused for grading essays. And I’ll think, “You know, I’m going to do something else. And I’ll come back to this in a little while when I’m a little bit more focused for that.”

And in doing this plan, the way I’m suggesting today, surveying ahead of time, writing it down, scheduling your time in advance, and then reflecting afterwards, we have to stick to that plan to know if it’s going to work. So, if I’m going to approach it from a mindset of not really being focused and wanting to delay the work that I’ve planned for myself, I’m going to have to do something to get myself in a mental frame of mind to do the work, not just when I’m in the mood to do the work.

So, if that’s your experience, I want to suggest thinking about a time when you were focused on doing that work, and figuring out what it’s going to take to get your brain back in gear in the moment that you need to do it now. So, whatever it takes to help you reframe your mental energy, and your focus and concentration, you can kind of play with that and try a lot of different approaches to help yourself get back in the game, and do the thing that you wrote down that you would do.

Reflect on Your Time, and Adapt as Needed

And then step three, this is reflect and adapt. Looking back on the week, we’re going to look over what worked and what didn’t work. Were there some things that took a lot of mental energy that were hard to do late in the day? Do they need to be scheduled earlier in the day? Did something take a lot longer and need to be scheduled for a longer duration with breaks in the middle?

As you’re reflecting on what works and what didn’t work in planning your routine, you’re going to get better and better at planning your online teaching routine. Reflection isn’t just about what didn’t work, it’s also about what did work. If you notice that certain tasks go really well together, make a note of that, and notice it so that you can plan it ahead and do it again next time.

Adapting means that you’re going to take the plans you made this week, and you’re going to change them a little bit based on what your reflection has turned up. If, when you’re reflecting, you happen to notice that something was really hard to do at a certain time of day, adapting would mean you’re going to do it differently next time.

And maybe instead of a specific task, and maybe you want to give yourself a choice between two certain tasks at one time of day and the same two tasks later in the day. Whichever one seems most challenging, do it first when your mental energy is at its best. And then you can come to the easier one later when that same window of time comes around.

As you’re reflecting, celebrate some of the growth and achievement that you’ve attained. If grading essays or posting in discussions is particularly troublesome for you, if it takes a lot of time and energy, but you were able to get it a little faster, or streamline it a little bit, maybe you could celebrate that success and notice what’s going really well.

And then the other thing to celebrate is if you really did make yourself stick to the plan you made. When you write your schedule and you stick to it no matter what, even if you’re not in the mood, you can celebrate that afterward because you pushed through that mental challenge or that energy-level challenge.

Another tip about all three of these things, surveying, writing it down, reflecting and adapting. These steps can be used with family members, if you have family members living in the home with you. You could share your planned schedule and ask for their input. Is there anything that they suggest adding to your work schedule that maybe you didn’t notice that you spend time on? Or is there something in your family and personal life that they’d like to make sure goes on your calendar at a certain day and time?

All of those suggestions and ideas can be really useful to you in getting a very realistic sense of what your routine should be like when you’re working and teaching online. And, of course, when you’re reflecting on the week and deciding what did work for you, you can also run that by family members, or those people that live with you, and ask them for input in that case as well. Maybe they will have noticed that certain things worked really well and certain things need to change.

Anytime you write up a schedule, and you’re really trying to stick to it, it also helps to post that schedule, so other people know exactly what to expect and when you’re going to be available. If they want to spend time with you in the middle of the day and they’re used to interrupting you, but now you’re going to take a break at a certain set time, they’re more likely to leave you alone until that time, when they know when it’s coming up and what exactly they can expect. So, share that information with your family members or people who live with you.

And I say “people who live with you” because not everyone is living with a spouse and children. Some of you may have roommates. Or you may live with other extended family members, whoever is important to you in your life. Include them in your planning, and the survey of all that is involved in your online teaching time, and all the things that are important in your life outside of that. And get their help when you’re reflecting. The more eyes you get on your plan, the more refined it’s going to be. And the better it’ll be.

Wrapping it up today, I want to just share my own experience planning the routine and sticking to it. Whenever I do this, and I share it with my family members, it’s so much easier for me to have a rewarding life, in my workday and outside of it. My family members are ready to spend time with me and really excited to see me at the end of the day. And also, they know what they can expect when I’m working. And they know what my schedule is. It’s super helpful to me to plan it ahead of time and also to communicate out.

And, on the flip side, when I failed to do that, and I’m trying to get it going, I might start and stop two or three different tasks without completing any of them. If I’m not aware of what I need to do and what my timeline is. And pretty soon my work is going to fill up all of the available time, including the family time after work. So, I know firsthand from experience how important it is to plan and keep track of the time spent.

It can also help me feel really great about all that I accomplished during the workday and realize that I really did get a lot done, and I contributed to my students and all of the other people that I’m working with. I hope you’ll try this out, doing the survey, writing it down, then reflecting and adapting and see what works for you. Let’s get some input. There’s a form on bethaniehansen.com/request where you can share your experience and let us know what works in terms of scheduling your online teaching, and what doesn’t. Stop by and give us a note.

If this podcast has been valuable to you, and you enjoy what you hear, share it with your colleagues. We would love to extend our audience and also help other people teach well online. There’s so much we can do to improve our practice and make this a better experience for everyone. Thanks again for being here and best wishes 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.

#122: Find Your “Why”: What Drove You to be an Educator?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

What motivated you to be an educator in the first place? How do you find meaning in your life and work? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides guidance on how to identify your “why” and how that information can help you get through challenging times.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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 today, I’m glad you’re with me. And, likely, you have an interest in teaching online, or perhaps you’ve been doing it a very long time. Either way, this podcast is typically targeted or focused on those of you who are out there doing the good work of teaching online.

This can be a very challenging profession and professional endeavor. And it can sometimes be just downright discouraging. There are times where we have to really pick ourselves up and push hard to get through the toughest times in online teaching. And if you’ve been doing this very long, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So, today we’re going to talk about what fuels you. Or in other words, what is your “why” behind what you’re doing, as you’re teaching online?

The more clarity and the more direction we can get around the why behind what we’re doing, the easier it’s going to be to continuously push through those tougher times that tend to discourage or be disheartening to us all as we’re teaching online.

What kind of things might come along that could put us in a funk or in a space where we need that connection with our why behind what we’re doing? Really, it could be anything. It could be some kind of outside situation in the world, something happening, clear across the world that, for some reason, really impacts us personally, or for which we emotionally feel quite invested in.

It could be something in the organization for which we teach, maybe things are becoming difficult in that organization. Or we might be suffering from lack of resources, lack of time, overwork, overburdened workloads, lots of different things can create stress in the work situation that we have.

Maybe we teach for more than one institution, and we’re struggling to balance deadlines, timelines, the deliverables we need to turn in, or all that work we need to grade for our students.

Or, maybe it’s something totally personal. Some of the things that impact us personally could be our own health, our mental, physical or emotional health, our ability to connect with other people, or the frequency of connecting with others to enrich ourselves. Maybe we’re feeling lonely, isolated, detached from those around us. Other things that could happen might be in our home situation or our relationships. Maybe we’re struggling with a child that’s having challenges or a spouse.

Whatever it is, there are so many reasons why it’s powerful and useful to find the why behind everything we’re doing in our online work. So today, think about what led you to become an educator, first of all, and let’s start with all those things that easily pop into your mind.

What Drove You to be an Educator?

For example, did you ever have an educator that you really admired? Did you have one that inspired you or made you feel like you really belonged? If you can think about an educator who promoted your value as a human being and really pushed you to become who you are today, perhaps you became an educator so you could give back or so you could be like that person. Think about that initial start that got you into teaching.

Maybe it’s the subject matter. Maybe it wasn’t a person at all, but more the topics, the interest, the path you took through college studying this stuff? Is there a bigger meaning behind all of that that really drives your passion to teach it to other people?

Is it the ability you have to make an impact? Do you see the value of your teaching on other people easily? Are you able to notice what they can glean from you? The somewhat-apprentice learning they get from you? The way they’re nurtured by you? Are you able to help people feel connected, like they have purpose and they have belonging? Let’s start thinking about all those deeper meaning type of feelings that we have about what we do.

How Do You Find Meaning?

There’s a man named Viktor Frankl who is well known for his philosophies that came out of his experience living in the concentration camp for a time. And he created this theory that we really gain meaning from three different things. We’re going to get meaning in life through our work, through love and through suffering. And sometimes the work we do every day when we’re teaching, whether we’re teaching face to face, or we’re teaching online, that work brings us a sense of meaning, like, we’re just contributing to the world.

We’re putting good out there, we’re giving every day, and we have the ability to get meaning from that very thing we’re doing. If you’re in that group, you’re not alone, a lot of people, their why is the work. You can lose yourself in the work, you can feel a great purpose in the work. And daily, if you get out of bed excited about doing the work, it’s very likely that the work of teaching itself really excites you, and you get meaning in life from this endeavor.

This idea of getting meaning in life through love. Now, this is the idea of those cherished personal relationships that are closest to you, the deep love that you have for others, and the way you want to be with them, and build relationships with them and connect with them. Is there something about your students that really brings out your love for humanity, for individuals, for other people? Do you feel this deeper feeling for them that drives your work? Is the meaning that you’re getting in your educating coming from that love?

And lastly, through suffering. Many times, if we suffer some very difficult thing, it could be an illness, or an accident or tragedy or any kind of external or internal suffering, there can be this constructed meaning through the suffering. One can decide to turn that suffering into transformative development and growth, and really find deep purpose and meaning in that suffering.

Sometimes in our online teaching work, we might be motivated through the work itself. And maybe at other times through the love. This last year, when our institution had its large graduation exercise, there were hundreds, even thousands of people there. And it would be very easy to connect to the students there, face to face and feel love for them, especially if you taught them in several courses over time. It’s also very easy to feel connected to this work by loving colleagues, really feeling like those relationships have developed over years. And there’s a deep love and respect for those that one works with.

And then, of course, there are those hard times where things just all come together into a horrible crucible of suffering. And it could be the late nights struggling through teaching a tough concept, grading hundreds of essays, and just pushing through when there are other things competing for our time as well. Or it could be even beyond that—the personal challenges, the health challenges, the world challenges, and all the suffering involved with those things.

So, looking at all three of those ways people find meaning in life and in work. What resonates most with you today? What seems to light your fire? What brings the why into what you do? Why did you decide to be an educator? And why do you keep doing it?

It might be easy to say, “Well, I do it because it’s a paycheck. Well, I have student loans, and I do it because I need to pay them off.” Or “I do it because, well that’s the job I have, or because I work here.” If any of those ideas come into your mind, I want to encourage you to just set them aside temporarily. Those are important ideas and worth thinking about. If we take it to a little bit of a deeper level, what beyond that keeps you showing up every day? Because you could work anywhere.

With your brain capacity, experience, intelligence and educational background, you could get a job anywhere, but you work where you work, doing what you do with your gifts, talents, attributes, and the ability to make your unique contribution. Why is it that you’re doing it?

What is it that you love about it, or that you get out of doing that? What motivates you to be there?

I encourage you to find a place where you can brainstorm these ideas, write them down and list everything that comes to mind. You’re not going to show it to anyone else. And it’s okay if some of the things that come out are things that you wouldn’t be proud to share. Like if you don’t really want to tell anyone that the main reason you do what you do is for the money. It’s okay to write it down. You don’t have to share it. It’s your business. But write all the different reasons why you’re doing online teaching.

Some people like this because they can reach a lot of people all over the world and really engage with many different cultures and people from different backgrounds and learn as well as teach at the same time. And some people do it for convenience, they could teach face to face, but they like the flexibility that comes from teaching online. Whatever comes to your mind, write it all, make a huge list—some people call this a “brain dump”—and sort it all out.

And once you’ve written down all the different reasons why you do what you do teaching online, sort them into different levels. So, we have the very practical, basic “why.” Maybe because it’s flexible, maybe because it brings us a good paycheck, or whatever that is.

And then start to look for those things that you might have listed, that go to a slightly higher level or a deeper level of thinking for you. Maybe you have a connection to your students that you can’t get any other way. Maybe you feel a huge reward in certain types of situations, when you’re teaching online. Whatever that is, let’s sort them into kind of levels to see what, ultimately, is your biggest “why.”

Does it really boil down to the practical arrangement? Does it hit your deeper level of getting the meaning through the work itself or through the love you have? Or through the suffering that it might involve?

And then we’ll take this one step further. Once you’ve made your list that creates your why behind what you do, what kinds of words and language do you use when you talk about your online teaching? “I have to go do this.” “Well, I’m late again.” I mean, things like this, do they come out?

Or is it, “I get to go do this,” “I’m really fortunate to have this opportunity” and “I can’t wait to get back in that classroom”? The words we use can actually create meaning all by themselves for our thinking and for our brains. So, if we’re constantly saying things in somewhat a negative, pressured light, like a “have to,” that starts to make us feel like the meaning is very superficial, or maybe it’s less than it really is.

And if we use words that empower us to find that sense of meaning through what we’re doing, then as we go to the work, it gives us this subconscious desire to get that meaning out of it, to have a deeper purpose behind what we do.

I have thought about this a lot. I have a son who works in restoration work. And in his company, he goes into people’s basements when they’ve had a flood or some kind of disaster that has destroyed part of their home. And he is part of the crew that initially arrives when they’ve had this disaster and tears up and mucks out and cleans out whatever has overflowed or exploded or erupted underneath their home.

Sometimes it’s a very disgusting job that most people would not want to do, especially when something like a sewer has backed up. And when I was speaking to my son about what he does, and asking him why he does this job, he had a really positive why behind it.

He said, he works with people in their most desperate hour, in some pretty devastating circumstances through which they are suffering, and they can’t see a way out. And he is there, superhero in his way, able to completely block it off, make it a sterile environment, clean it out, tear it out and refresh it so that they can have the new materials put in and have their house back into a livable condition, even better than it was before. And, in this way, it is like being a superhero, saving people in their darkest hour.

As he thinks about his why, of course, there are some pretty bad experiences that he’s going to have in that job. The dirty work of restoration before it’s time to do the restoration itself, getting rid of the old stuff that’s there. That’s the hardest part. So, I admire that why, and I’m sure it comes in handy a lot of times when he’s thinking about the hard parts of the job.

Just like that job, as online educators we have wonderful things we can do for people meeting them wherever they are and helping them become educated when they might not otherwise have access to this kind of opportunity.

And during the hard times, if we can create a few statements like my son did about his restoration work and remind ourselves of those things when we are in our toughest moments, knowing the why behind what we do for our own selves and our own work will empower us and help us more than anyone else ever could. I hope you’ll think about your why and take it home today and write up a few statements that help you remember it.

Keep it in a place you can look at it often. And enjoy being the online educator that you are, through the hard times and through the good times.

Thank you for being here. We’re all in this together getting through the profession we have of being online educators. I wish you all the best and hope that you feel uplifted this week. And I wish you all the best in your teaching this coming week as well.

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 switches this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#119: Managing Vacation Time While Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

Is it possible to take a short break or vacation while also teaching an online class? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares strategies for planning a short time away from the online class. Learn about the importance of communicating time away with students and colleagues, how to work ahead in preparation, and other tips for planning a short break away from the online classroom.

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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 Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I want to talk about managing vacation time while teaching online. At the time of this episode being produced, it is mid to late July of 2022, you’re of course welcome to enjoy it and listen to it at any time of the year and we hope it’ll be valuable to you.

This this idea, though, of managing vacation time while teaching online tends to come up at three specific times of year. One is in the summer. Traditional school districts, if you have children in school, are on summer vacation. And a lot of times, spouses, if they teach at a traditional on the ground campus also have vacation. Whether you have family members who are on vacation or not, it might just strike you that you want to go on vacation for a few days in the middle of the semester that you’re teaching.

If you’re teaching throughout the summer, it can definitely be challenging to want to continue teaching while you’re also having that urge to go on vacation and travel. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to navigate that.

We also have the fall, early fall, there are many holidays that happen, especially Thanksgiving in the United States. So, around that period, if you have courses that just continue through Thanksgiving week, it might also be challenging to navigate that period. And then the other thing is, we have the winter holidays at the end of December. So, a lot of people will have holidays, maybe you have Hanukkah, maybe you have Christmas, New Year’s, there are many other holidays also that happen in the winter. And many people have a tradition of taking vacations and traveling and seeing family. And above all else, celebrating during these periods.

No matter what kind of time of year you’re facing or looking at, managing a little vacation time around your online teaching is possible. It can be done thoughtfully, prepared ahead of time, and managed really effectively while your students continue to grow with you, and continue to learn with you. So, we’re going to talk about that. And we’ll just jump into three main elements to help you manage vacation time while teaching online.

Review the Pace and Structure of Your Class

And here’s tip number one: The first tip to managing your vacation time while you’re teaching an online class is to look at the pace of that class, the structure of it, and the time that you’re going to need to be away. This is really important because if your vacation is going to happen over a three-day period, right when your students are completing a major assignment, you might have tons of unanswered questions, leading to student frustration. And it’s also going to seriously impact your success as their educator leading them through that.

So, take a look at the big picture of your course. It has some ebbs and flows and some tense times and some less tense times. There are going to be some moments where you’re really preparing for an assessment, or engaged in a discussion that’s super relevant. And there are other times where you can be less present and just kind of check in and answer questions. So, take a look at the big picture of your online class, as well as your own needs and your plans for that travel or vacation you’re thinking about. And then plan your time accordingly.

As you do this, you might notice there are some things that come up for you. One thing is the grading timeline. Will you need to be grading 30 essays when you’re also driving down the road to California? Or will you need to be involved in a seriously detailed level of discussion while you’re flying across the country to New York City? Whatever it is, you want to just look at the load that you’re going to have and the needs that your students are going to have and plan the timing of that vacation the best you possibly can when you consider the course that you’re teaching.

Consider Your Students’ Needs

Secondly, look at your students’ needs. Specifically, we’re going to get into the details now. So, if, again, we’re going to grade 30 essays, what do students need to know for that to go well, for them and for you?

First of all, they’re going to need a lot of clarity going into that big assignment, especially if it’s around the time of you taking a few days of travel or vacation. They’re going to need some guidance. Maybe they’re going to need an explainer video. You could look at our previous episode number 118 for a Video Explainer, if you wish, a little guide on that.

You can also create some kind of guidance asset around walking them through that assignment. The steps needed, the materials included, what knowledge they’re demonstrating, and how this hits one of the points they’re trying to come away from this course with. So, think about what students are going to need in terms of the preparation for that assignment, so you can plan ahead to give them all of that structure, all of that scaffolding for success.

Secondly, give your students the information about yourself. That is, if you’re going to be offline for two or three days, you want to tell them that. That would be an announcement about instructor availability. In fact, I like to use that as the title of my announcements. It says, “Instructor availability” and then the dates. And in the body of the message, I just tell them, “I’m going to be off my usual routine” or “I’m going to be out of the classroom, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, due to travel, I will answer all of your questions when I get back.”

I give that information to them ahead of time so they can look ahead, plan their own work, asked me those important questions before I’m offline for a few days. And then as soon as I’m back, I’m checking those messages and I’m reading my emails, and I’m making sure I follow up with any student who’s a little bit nervous, and who wants an answer to something. I also want to make sure that when I get back in that classroom, I’m diving into any discussions we’re having, and I’m making myself fully present to them.

Now, if you’re a person who takes your cell phone with you, everywhere you go, you might be able to answer those questions when you’re out of the office, or away from home. Perhaps you answer those questions on the fly, and you just give students what they need here and there when it pops up. Or perhaps you actually tell them, you’re going to be completely offline, and you just answer them when you get back. Either way, students need to know what to expect in the assignment coming up and in their communication with you.

And then when you come back, some reassurance of your presence would be a little different than the absence you had. So, they would want to see you more engaged and more present so they’re reassured that you’re back with them.

Consider Your Own Needs

Third, we want to look at you and your own needs, personally. This is the only way you can decide what’s the best approach for your short time out of the classroom. That approach might range from completely cutting yourself off to the internet during those few days you’re going to be away, to just having that phone close by where you can answer urgent questions, or even allow students to reach out to you through text or phone call, maybe even email.

So, your personal needs are very important when you’re taking time away from your online classroom, especially if it’s during a class and just for a few days. One thing that I would highly recommend is getting ahead on your teaching. So, if there’s anything sitting there waiting to be graded, if you can take care of it before you’re away for a few days, then you don’t return to a huge pile of grading that sets you behind even further.

Another thing you could do is proactively just engage a lot in whatever discussion is happening that week. So, you have a lot of presence, and you’ve connected with your students to whatever level you can and then you won’t feel quite so overwhelmed. Again, getting back and needing to jump in and connect with so many students.

But lastly, I would say when you’re considering your own needs, personally, how much do you really benefit from various types of de-stressing activities when you’re on a short vacation. Whatever those are, plan those into your vacation, thoroughly enjoy that short time. Really invest in yourself and those that you love that might be with you.

Engage in all those fun activities so that you feel like you’ve really had a time away, and relish it. And then when you come back, you’ll be fresh and rejuvenated and ready to go. Never cheat yourself when you have a couple of days away, thinking that you have to get back quickly and get back online. It’s always going to be there. And you’re always going to feel that drive to get back to your online classroom.

So, if you have prepared adequately and followed those three areas of looking at the pace of the class, and your planned time away, looking at the needs of your students and planning ahead for those needs and addressing them, and then also looking at your own needs and planning what you’ll do during your time out, then you can have a fantastic time on your short vacation while you’re still teaching online.

Make Colleagues Aware of Plans

As you plan a time to get out of the computer room, and possibly away from class for a couple of days or three days, be sure to loop in your team. Many of us work with organizations where we have peers, colleagues, managers. And if it’s truly unavoidable to be away from that computer and you’re going to have that time anyway, alert them to your absence. Alert them to your absence so that you can have colleagues looking out for you. Perhaps they could stop by the class, just in case there’s an urgent question or need your students have, and they can have your back should something happen and you’re not able to get back home as planned on time. Then there’s someone that will be aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

Perhaps you have a supervisor or a manager, or a department chair, or a dean, or a principal that you can inform. I had that experience recently myself. I was going to be taking a very early morning flight from Washington D.C., home to Idaho where I live. And both the car to the airport and the flight are canceled, independent of each other. There were not enough drivers for the car so I had to find an alternate method. And also the flight being canceled, I had to find a different flight. I ended up finding another flight the same day from a different airport. And then I could just take a taxi so it all worked out. But you never know when you’re on a vacation if things will work out exactly as you’ve planned, especially in the constantly changing travel environment we’re experiencing in the United States today.

So, make your plans, have backup plans, communicate out. And again, tell your students what to expect. When your students know what to expect and you’ve planned for them and communicated well with them, they respect that and they trust that and they’re fine until you come back the next day or two when you’re back online. So, enjoy your time away should you be out of a class for a few days and plan accordingly. Best wishes in your online teaching and a short vacation you might have while teaching online 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 switches this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#113: How Reflective Practices Can Help Students Learn More Deeply

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education

There are many ways to help students retain information, but one of the most successful ways is through reflective practices. Learn how reflective practices can help students “think about their thinking” and include strategies like journaling, blogging, and other self-directed methods to think more deeply about what they’re learning in the online classroom.

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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. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I want to talk with you today about a simple tip to help your students learn more deeply. You may already be familiar with the needs of adult learners, and one of those needs is that they have some kind of ownership of their learning. They are somewhat self-directed. They also need to know what the application of their learning will be, how it’s going to connect to their career, their real life, the real world. This simple tip today is all about helping your students take charge and self-direct their learning to a greater degree.

Ways to Help Students Learn and Retain Information

When learning more deeply, there are a lot of different options available to us. One option is repetition. We can teach the same thing in a lot of different ways, and that is going to help the learner move it from short-term to long-term memory over time.

We can also do action learning, some kind of applied work outside of the online classroom. Students can get out and do something in the real world to help it stick, to be more permanent and more lasting. We can also scaffold the learning and repeat the content while we do it.

For example, in the first week of class, you might introduce a concept, come back in the second week of class, test, quiz and assess that first concept along with the week two concept and cumulatively build the information testing and assessment over the course of the class.

All of these are great options, and they might be strategies that you would like to try with your online students, and especially your adult learners, to help build some retention of the information and increase the likelihood of student success in their learning.

How Reflective Practice Helps Students Learn

But the tip I’m going to give you today is even more simple than all of those strategies, and it is the simple idea of using reflection. Reflective practice, journaling, blogging, self-assessment all of those things fall into that bucket of reflection.

There are some things students can do when they’re preparing for the assignment or the work, during the learning itself, and afterwards that will use reflection in ways to cement their learning and help them learn more deeply. This first tip that I’m sharing today about reflection is really intended to get your students to be more in charge and more autonomous about their own learning.

You don’t need as many crazy strategies or methods in your teaching, or at least not those that take so much of your time to create, if you’re using a lot more student reflection. And the reason for this is that as your students are using that reflective practice, they’re thinking about their thinking. They’re taking that step one step removed from the learning process, and they’re starting to analyze how they learned, how they incorporated the information, how they worked with it, depending on the type of reflection you’re going to use.

Encouraging Students to Journal

So, I’m going to just suggest a few different options to get your students journaling in your online course so they can learn more deeply and do this in a more simple way. Students who find a new concept to be especially difficult can benefit from a reflective practice before even starting the learning activities. There might be some questions to complete ahead of time to ask the student where they might have some connection to what they’re about to learn. You might, for example, ask what they already know about the subject matter, what they think they know, what they guess about it.

You could share a little bit of introductory material to get them curious, and also have them reflect on once they have this little bit of information what they now hope to learn about it, what they expect to know and where they might be most interested in gaining new knowledge.

Some kind of self-direction before the learning activities even begin gives your students the chance to reflect on what they’re about to do and take ownership right from the start. Now, during the learning activities, a student can have some kind of questions they’re going to reflect on, complete, write some narrative about, or even discuss with a peer partner in the discussion section of your online class.

And all of these questions along the way could be about how they’re learning, what they’re understanding, what they’re not, and any kind of reflections on the process they’re experiencing. I had some questions like this in a course I was teaching online in which I asked students about week four, maybe it was week three of an eight-week class how they were learning the content. I asked them what was going well, what they wanted to be more effective at in their learning and where they could use a little bit of support.

I was pleasantly surprised when students came back with all kinds of suggestions and ideas, and some even brought in examples from their own lives and their work to tie to the learning and asked questions to see if they were on the right track. Journaling midpoint and throughout the learning process can really bring those connections along in the process of the learning and help our students to see much more relevance, learning more deeply than they might otherwise do. And we have to admit that when our students are passive consumers just reading the content or just listening to the content or watching the content without doing any kind of activity, they’re much less likely to remember it.

It can go into short-term memory, but it takes a little bit of analysis or manipulating that information or applying it or reflecting on it, or even memorizing it if that’s necessary for it to go into long-term memory storage and later retrieval. So, a reflective practice can help with all of those things and help students take their learning into more long-term memory, where they’re more likely to remember it by the end of the class.

Journaling is a good practice you can use for reflection with students. If students have a journal and they’re writing in it each week about their learning, maybe they’re sharing what the new concepts are, what new applications they can see, what questions they have. I can recall this was used in an English class I took at the college level when I was already a teacher and I changed states for my credential to transfer over, I had to take a literature teaching course. It was basically how to teach literature in any subject area for secondary educators. And since my subject is music, I found that very interesting. We were going to talk about reading in music classes.

There was a journal attached that the professor used throughout our experience and we would write about the readings that we experienced or read in the class, questions, thoughts, applications, and then we would turn those in. At the end of each week, the instructor would give them back to us with kind of like a conversation. So, the instructor would answer questions or ask some in return, maybe write some statements to contribute to our understanding.

It was clearly very time consuming for that instructor to do, but incredibly helpful because it really gave each student the opportunity to reflect as we’re learning and even get some feedback on that reflective practice. So, there’s another thought that you could try in an online class.

Choosing a Method in the LMS

Now, no matter what learning management system you are using, online classes do all have places where you can use journaling, if you want to do it online. One method could be to set up the blog section of the online class, if that exists. I’ve also seen it done where discussion boards were created and groups were made so that each student had their own private group discussion board. That way the instructor and the student could engage back and forth and no other students could read it. So, if you’re concerned about privacy for your online students and the safety for them to really explore their thoughts, reflect on their learning and ask questions to you, that private group feature might be an excellent way to go.

One of the reasons journaling is especially good is that students can think through their opinions they might not otherwise share in a live discussion. Journaling can also help them think internally and really think about how things might unfold in their own life, and it’s not necessarily about everybody else. So, it can be very personalized and help the student also tie to some background knowledge, some things they already know, and try out new vocabulary that they aren’t yet comfortable using in the live discussion or the larger group discussion. So, this is something I’d highly encourage, to get your students to a deeper learning level, and also actually personalize the course quite a bit more.

There’s this idea that in a learning management system, you could do e-journaling. Of course, it’s a reflective practice like we’ve been talking about in this podcast so far, and it is a private entry between the student and the instructor. And it will take a little bit of careful design in your course to figure out how to create this private blog or this private discussion board. Because after all, we don’t want other students to see it, that defeats the whole purpose of a private space.

It is an asynchronous tool. So, just like the handmade or the written journal that I experienced in that college class, the private blog or private discussion board space, or whatever you choose to use for a student’s reflective practice, becomes a really great way to keep the thoughts in one space without having the whole community see it.

So, really the goal for the whole thing is that we’re just trying to give that student a space to really open up, think through their learning, reflect on their learning, make some applications and have the opportunity to connect that with the faculty member.

Adding Structure to the Reflective Practice

So, I would suggest giving some initial questions to your reflective practice for students. When you give them something to think about as they go through the work, go through the learning, or even after the learning is done and they’re doing this as an assessment, some questions can really help students get started thinking through their ideas.

One question could be what is something you’re learning that seems familiar to you, or you anticipate applying in your life or work? What is something that you noticed connects to other things you already know? What questions do you have about what you’re learning so far?

Remember that it’s meant to be reflective, so you don’t need a lot of questions here, but a few to get your students started could help them begin the practice, especially if they’re not already familiar with journaling or very comfortable with it. So, again, you can ask questions or you can have a prompt where it is sort of like a mini-assignment. The student reads the prompt where you ask them how to apply certain ideas from the lesson and they’re going to reflect on that afterwards.

You could give them a prompt asking them to review the concepts that they learned, find ways to connect the current learning to previous learning or last week’s learning, how it builds on itself. Or you could even ask students to write about how their new learning connects to the bigger theme that is being taught or learned in the course. All things that you include in a prompt or a series of questions can be personalized to the student, personalized to the course, the subject matter, or generalized, if you prefer to give students a lot of space.

Grading Considerations for Reflective Practices

Now, once you’ve given your students a good start in reflective practice before, during and after learning activities, how do you grade this? After all, students are going to do this when it’s evaluated and it’s less likely they will consistently do it if it’s not graded. So, one way you can do it is pass-fail based on their participation alone. If you choose to do that, it’s a non-threatening way to give credit and allow a lot of latitude for different types of reflection of varying lengths.

You could create a rubric for the reflective practice or journaling that might happen. And that rubric could be that it’s proficient or advanced, demonstrating solid ideas with detailed support and evidence or experiences or connections. You could have a second category that’s perhaps developing or approaching the standard. And you could have another one where this is missing completely. It’s not demonstrated at all.

And some of the things you might evaluate in student journaling would be the response connecting to the course materials, actually reflecting on learning and connecting to the learning, some coherence throughout their writing, and also application to life, work or other places.

The more you give clarity upfront, and also keep that conversation going with your students, the more they’re likely to benefit from this whole practice and know what to start with, what they’re really aiming for when they start writing. I believe in journaling. I’ve been a journal keeper my whole life and when I’ve seen this used in courses that I have taken as a student, it’s been incredibly beneficial. I notice that I’m thinking more deeply, and I’m also able to remember the experience years afterwards.

That course I mentioned earlier in this podcast was 20 years ago, for example, and I still remember a lot of those journal entries because they took some time to think about and there was a lot of conversation with the faculty member when I got that journal back. So, I want to invite you to consider how you might try reflective practice with your students, how it could naturally be weaved into the course you’re teaching and try it out, see if it works for you. And, of course, I would love to hear your feedback on what you’re trying and whether or not this is working.

Feel free to stop by my website, BethanieHansen.com. There’s a request form where you can add comments and just share your experience with reflective practice and using journaling in your online course with your students. Thanks for being a listener here at the Online Teaching Lounge. It’s great to have you with us and I really hope you’ll come back next week. We have a special guest coming up. It’s going to be a wonderful experience, so definitely check it out. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week and throughout the season ahead.

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.

#112: A Guide to Dealing with Challenging Students in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online educators sometimes face challenging students who disagree with a grade or are argumentative in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses ways to help online educators deal with such conflicts. Learn how to implement de-escalation tactics to meet in the middle, work with colleagues or administrators to get additional support, and finding ways to recover after a stressful situation.

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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. This is your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. I’m very happy to be with you today to talk about difficult students online. There are a variety of situations in which you might find yourself working with a student you might describe as “difficult.” And by difficult, I’m talking about a variety of things. It could be that student is challenging a grade and persisting after you have provided additional feedback. Or the student might be arguing throughout the class, creating a tense atmosphere. This might seem like it is escalating. It might seem as though your student doesn’t like you and resists the teaching approach or even your personality. And with a lot of tense events are happening in our world, so it’s likely that you’re going to encounter challenging students more often in the future, as our students face unexpected stressors, trauma, world events, natural disasters, and uncertainty.

While you’re working with challenging students in your online teaching, your own stress level increases. The experience might drain your energy and might make it harder to notice the students who are having a good experience in your class, and all the positive moments happening. We can easily become defensive when a student reacts poorly or challenges us, and our own response might add fuel to the fire.

To address all of this, in today’s podcast we will first look at ways to meet the student in the middle. To focus on de-escalating the tension to find a potential step forward.

Then, we will look at options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

And last, we will explore supportive habits that can help you to get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and to recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When a serious challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching. And we will close with those ideas.

Focus on De-Escalation and Meet in the Middle

A lot of times, students escalate quickly when they don’t understand, or when we’ve made a comment to them that they have taken as a judgment instead of an evaluation of their work. While it might surprise us when this happens, especially if it happens quickly, it also makes sense that not all our students will immediately understand what we say to them.

As you face a challenging student in your online class, I recommend looking backwards. Consider your past teaching moments and any challenges you might have faced. How did you work through those challenges? When we reflect on our past challenges, we can identify key skills we developed that are now available to us in present challenging situations. Looking at past teaching challenges can also help us consider new perspectives about the current problem. There is a lot we have already learned from working with difficult students in the past, and we can draw on what went right in those previous scenarios, as well as what we would have wanted to do differently.

To meet students in the middle, we can draw upon the skills we have learned from our past challenges. And we can try to understand our student’s perspective. From their vantage point, what might have been more helpful in the assignment instructions, or in my grading feedback? And where they are sitting right now, what will be most helpful to move them forward in the class?

Meeting someone in the middle suggests that I consider how I might be part of the problem, so that I can be part of the solution. One way to learn about the student’s perspective in order to meet in the middle could be to have a phone call or video chat and ask them: “What is you understanding of the situation?” or “What might help you most right now?”

As we hear what students will tell us, the most important part of this conversation is to listen with a true desire to understand their viewpoint or their perspective. As this begins to take shape, it is tempting to jump in with comments or assume that we’re ready to make a compromise of some kind. However, I would encourage us to keep listening to ensure that we have the full story from our student. And then, we can summarize or paraphrase what we heard to make sure that we understand. Only then, the student feels fully heard are we able to take a step forward to resolving the situation.

Be Authentic and Present

Now, if you have a problem that you can’t de-escalate with a student, and you really do feel like you’ve put in the steps needed but things are not improving, authenticity can be one additional resource available to you. Authenticity is a combination of awareness, behavior, relational orientation, and unbiased processing.

When we think about being authentic in a moment of tension or conflict with a student online, we might find that to be just the opposite of what is possible for us. But, if we can stay grounded to our personal values, what we care most about, and the humanity of that other person we are dealing with, we can bring ourselves back down emotionally and become mindful of the moment that we’re in and be able to let those really tense thoughts just stream on by.

The most important thing we can do in a tense situation with students is to think clearly and to be able to be back in the moment that we’re living in. By doing this, you can be authentic, you can present yourself as your best self, even when there’s a tension there. Most people that we’re engaging with, even if they have a complaint, will be less aggressive when they feel that we’re being non-judgmental towards them and inviting them.

Pause to Refocus

If you start to feel inflexible, resistant and defensive towards the student, I want to encourage you to pause, take a step back and see if you can understand what the student is experiencing. Just giving that pause can give you a little bit of space to see it in new light and understand if the student has missed something along the way, then a simple clarification can help get things right back on track.

Of course, not all students are going to respond openly when they initially are defensive about something. Again, if you sense yourself tensing up and resisting the student or starting to argue back and forth, a pause or silence to breathe and refocus can help. Letting go of that sense of resistance may be the tone that invites your student to do the same. And once we are meeting in the middle and understanding what is going on, we can take a step forward towards solutions, no matter how small.

In my experience, I notice that when someone is being challenging or difficult, it’s like I’m being invited to get defensive in return. It’s like an unwritten invitation to get defensive right back. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to be sucked in quickly. It’s easy to do that when we’re not seeing the people face to face that we’re teaching, and if we read the question or complaint in an email. If we take the invitation and get defensive back with a student who’s having a challenge experience, it becomes very difficult to see the student in a positive light or present ourselves in a positive way. And we might invite more of what we don’t want.

Another problem that we might face is feeling that we need to be right. If we have seen the situation from an objective viewpoint, and we feel that we’ve communicated very well with a student, we might feel like we know the answer, we are right and the student just needs to accept it. The problem with that is that the firmer we get, the more we’re sort of inviting that fight in return. If we’re willing to hear the person out and be a little bit softer in our presentation, and really listen, sometimes that alone will de-escalate the situation and invite your student into a discussion.

Some things we can do to invite the other person to de-escalate and join us at the table for a conversation are to ask open-ended questions and just wait. And listen. If we’re able to do that, and just give silence and take it in, then another thing we could do is to restate back to the student what we’re hearing. To validate that, yes, they must be frustrated with that understanding, whatever that is, and to ask them what they’re hoping that we can do together to resolve the situation. Sometimes it really is a small thing that’s just a huge misunderstanding. If you find yourself in this situation, slow down, and see if you can get yourself present in the moment to be your more authentic self and invite that student to the table with you.

After focusing on de-escalation strategy, slowing down, listening, and learning about what the student is experiencing, and working toward a solution, we might find that this student continues to challenge. In some cases, it begins to seem as though everything in the class starts a new challenging conversation, and the student is not interested in working with us to resolve it. When this happens, there are options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include contacting other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

Consider a Partner or Department to Support You

One helpful partner we can contact might be a department chair, a manager, a partner teacher, or another team member who can be on the phone or on a Zoom call with us and our student. Having a second party there can bring in neutrality to help us to have the conversation in a less emotional manner than we might otherwise have. The team member can add value to the conversation by sharing additional ideas or perspective that can help both you and your student to move forward. And after the call has ended, this person might be able to share perspective with you that you’re not seeing, because you’re very close to the situation.

In any challenging situation, whether we are alone in the conversation or with a team member on the call, we can listen to the student’s story, their experience, and their complaint, and then let the student know we need some time to think about what they have said, and a second conversation to respond. It’s like we’re scheduling two different meetings, that first one will be to hear this student and really understand their situation. And the second conversation will take place after we have had the time to consider how we want to address the complaint or concern.

And be sure to respond in a prompt manner as much as possible. The wonderful thing about this approach is that it takes all pressure off you. In that first call, you can be open, a good listener, and just focused on learning as much as you can about the student’s perspective and experience. You don’t have to give any answers during the first conversation, and you can have time to think before responding.

If you work with another department, the representative from that department might be able to suggest alternatives and additional solutions to help you and your student. Some departments you might consider contacting include the student conduct department, a faculty advocate, a student services or advising team member, the university chaplain, or the disability services and accommodations office. Each of these teams has a slightly different approach when meeting the students’ needs, and you may find that aligning your approach with one or more of these teams gives you strength and perspective to respond well. If you have any suspicion that your student could use these services, you can even recommend them to your student, that they reach out to those departments. And of course, you can as well for a little more insight and support in dealing with a very challenging situation.

We know that online teaching can itself be challenging at times and a bit isolating. But with these ideas, we hope that you’ll be able to reach out to your students make some personal connections, feel that you’re able to really reduce the tension in a situation that might otherwise escalate and help your students to get right back on track.

During the conflict, it’s possible that you will feel unable to relax and consider the student’s perspective if this student has approached you in a hostile way or a threatening manner. If that happens, don’t wait to reach out to others for help and support. It’s difficult to know what to do in such a situation, and other team members and departments will be able to help you.

If the challenge is a tough one, but it does not seem that you’re being threatened or treated in a hostile way, it might still push you a bit. You can know if you’re feeling stress if you start to firm up your grading practices in response or if you feel like suddenly becoming strict with grading timelines when you were previously more flexible. If you start to notice yourself getting into more strict absolutes, which we call all-or-nothing thinking in terms of your deadlines and your grading, this serves as a red flag to let you know that you’re under a lot more stress than usual. And you might unintentionally invite more resistance from students, instead of less. When you notice these kinds of red flags in your approach, I encourage you again to pause, step back, and continue to treat that challenging student as you would any student in your class as much as you can. And at the same time, contact other colleagues, a manager, or one of the departments available to help you, and ask for back up.

If you need a break from your classroom, you can also talk to a partner teacher, a manager, or a leader in your institution, a department chair, a principal, or wherever you’re working for some backup for some help. Perhaps there might be a day or two, you could be out of that class to get some space if the situation has escalated.

Take Care of Yourself and Recover from Stress

For the final topic we explore today, we look at supportive habits that can help you get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When serious and challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching.

And you might truly experience stress and trauma when you’re working with very challenging students. Especially if there’s been a traumatic event. There is a resource one of my wonderful colleagues shared with me from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is linked here in the podcast transcript. And from it, we are taking some helpful tips to notice normal and natural reactions you might experience when dealing with a traumatic event or a disaster, and emotions you might have. Physical reactions you might also have, and then some suggestions on how you might manage your workload afterwards.

For example, one of the suggestions is that if you realize you’ve been injured, you need to seek medical treatment, of course, and if you’re not injured, focus on completing only one task at a time, just slow down in your work. And that will help you feel like you’re getting some control back and getting on top of things as you’re getting back in the game of working with your students.

Pause and take deep breaths. Take the time to gently stretch to calm yourself before you tackle each task. And plan to do something relaxing after work. Be patient with yourself if you notice that you’re having trouble remembering things, difficulty thinking clearly, worrying a lot, of experience more difficulty making decisions. All of these can be normal effects of stress or trauma. So do your best to exercise self-compassion.

And look at those tips for survivors of traumatic events. Talk with others who can understand you and understand what you’re going through. Listen to uplifting music, music that can help you relax and calm yourself. Of course, use what you know to be good coping skills, healthy coping skills that work for you.

As you work with challenging students, you know, because you’ve been teaching online, that there are many types of students that we work with, a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds. Hopefully you’ll be able to get through that experience and take the skills you have gained in the challenge to apply in other scenarios in the future. And if you’re not able to finish the class with that student, you will still be able to care for yourself and work through the stress and trauma of the significant challenge you might be experiencing. Regardless of how the situation ends, taking the time to focus on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress is important. And adopting habits to sustain your wellbeing will help you regain confidence after the conflict.

The ideas we have considered today around working with challenging students have focused on de-escalation efforts to meet in the middle, working with colleagues and other departments to get support if the challenge isn’t improving, and finding ways to recover once the stress has subsided. Although these ideas are a good start, there is no substitute for your own experiences and intuition about how to resolve challenging situations and relying on your own insight can be helpful throughout the process.

Thank you for being here today and for your desire to help challenging students get back into learning in your online class when possible. We wish you all the best in resolving tough situations in your online teaching and in your work 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.

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