You never know when an emergency or illness may strike. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies to help online educators prepare for unexpected absences, illnesses, or other emergencies. Learn why it’s so important to keep your class in order, develop a communication plan, provide emergency contact sheet, and more.
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. Today, we’ll talk about sick time when you’re teaching online classes. I hope you never get sick when you’re in the middle of a class, that could be a difficult time for you. But, it does happen and, of course, there are other reasons we might have to leave our class, like illnesses or other emergencies. Perhaps we have a brief technology failure and don’t have new technology right away. For whatever reason, there are so many reasons we should prepare for sick time when we’re teaching online and this episode will help you to do that.
First, we’ll talk about keeping your class in order before an illness ever strikes. Then, policies you may maintain so that when someone else teaches your class, students will know what to expect. We’ll talk about grading your work, the actual emergency or illness time, and some personal experiences I have in this area. So, let’s get started.
Tips for Preparing Your Classroom for Sickness or Time Away
First, before you ever have an illness, you want to keep your class in order. What are some of the things that you might do to keep your class in order?
First, be proactive. Guide your students in what they’re habits should be when they are participating in your class. By being proactive and giving announcements up front, having your class set up for the entire course before it begins and having a regular routine, it will be easy to maintain that class in your absence should you need to be out of class.
You can guide students well in advance of any assignment by giving them some sheets of guidance, maybe examples. You can have a video where you walk through the assignment. And, all of these can be prepared before you ever start teaching your class. After all, you handle these assignments regularly and you know that there are students who tend to struggle with the same things every time. Why not prepare those videos before the class begins so that, should you become ill, your guidance is already there in the classroom?
Keep an Organized Classroom
Then, keep an organized classroom. If you have rubrics in place for your assignments, always have them in a space that students can view them before submitting their work. You might also have them in a place where someone else can see them if they should have to step into your class in your absence and grade that work.
You can have the lessons labeled and everything in order in the learning management system. With the way that learning management systems are designed today, it is very easy to have an organized online classroom, well prepared with all the lesson materials before the course starts, and ready to roll for your students and for the entire session.
Create an Emergency Contact Card
Contact information for your supervisor might be difficult to get if you work at a large online institution that is not very personal with you. However, most places we teach nowadays do contact us and let us know exactly who to speak with should we become ill or have an emergency. Create an emergency contact card and keep it in your wallet, on your board at home where you might keep important things, and share it with any loved ones that are close to you. If you have an accident or an illness and you are not able to communicate with your institution or your students, a person in your life can use that information to reach out on your behalf.
Some important details could include your supervisor’s telephone number, email address and name. If that’s not available, maybe there’s a faculty relations or a hiring department or some other management group at your institution that you can speak with.
If you’re a K – 12 educator, there might be a substitute teacher hotline, a principal, an administrator, a colleague, a friend, someone you can contact or have your family and friends contact in your absence. Keep that information close by, always ready in an emergency.
Provide Students with a Secondary Contact in Case of Emergency
One other tip is to give your students information about who they can contact if you don’t appear in class. Should something happen to you and no one in your life is able to reach out to the institution, students should know how they can reach out when they need help. Perhaps we could give them the information to the department chair, the principal or whoever manages your group. Either way, you always want students to have a secondary contact in case of emergencies, so giving them that information could be useful. You might not give them your supervisor’s phone number, but an email address would suffice.
Maintain Healthy Habits to Keep You Well
And then, of course, maintain healthy habits the best you can to take care of yourself during times where you are well and healthy and all is going as planned. When you maintain healthy habits and take care of the sleep you need, the healthy eating and the rest at times when you’re not working and keep those relationships alive in your life, that will help you to be ready to go when it is time to teach your class so that you’re always at your best. Then, when you should have to reduce that effort, you still have something to give and you have done such a great job up to that point.
Classroom Policies to Develop Ahead of Illness or Unexpected Absences
Now that you’ve kept your class in order, a second area to be thinking about is policies you maintain in the classroom. These policies can be very helpful to you in times of illness or emergencies.
Develop a Communication Plan for Students
First one is a communication plan. A communication plan is when you tell your students how often to expect to hear from you. For example, you might tell them to check the weekly announcements every week and you can prepare standard announcements to have rolling out each week of the class automatically. You can update them with any pertinent information as you go, but having these in place is a wonderful part of your communication plan.
A second part of your communication plan is to let students know how often to expect grading feedback. If they have questions about their grade or would like something explained to them or would like to challenge a grade, giving them a communication plan about how to contact you and who to reach out to is very helpful. This communication plan could also include that information I previously mentioned about contacting a supervisor if you are out of class and non-responsive. It may sound strange to tell students what to do in your absence before you ever have an absence, but in case of an emergency, students do need to know who they could reach out to to get help finishing their course.
And, in your communication plan, I would also suggest posting this in the course where it can be prominently displayed so any visitors to your classroom can also see it. Perhaps in a course announcement or the syllabus or both.
You can follow your communication plan regularly and make sure students are updated about what’s going on in the class, and also use the course messaging system. Many schools nowadays use email as well, which is fine, but in your absence, someone will not have the access to your email. If there is a messaging system in the classroom or a question and answer board, I would suggest using that regularly so students’ exchanges can be viewed by others who might need to step into your classroom.
Follow your communication plan. Once you’ve told your students how you plan to communicate throughout the course, stick to it. If something should happen and you can’t be in the classroom, they will be the first to realize something has gone on and be able to reach out if needed.
And, of course, be clear and present in your course activities. A highly engaged instructor creates a wonderful atmosphere and relationships with their students. If you’re clear and present in the announcements and your grading substantive feedback area and also posting in discussions, it’s going to be obvious that you’re there creating a wonderful learning experience together with your students. If something should happen, another person could look into this and see how you have taught them, what your approach has been, and do their best to continue giving those students a positive experience in your absence.
Maintain a Clear and Quality Grading Strategy
Clear and present grading of students’ work is also essential so that your course is always well-maintained but also anyone who must step in in your absence can see what you’ve done with students to this point. And, I would suggest if you have essays to grade that you provide comments directly on the essays that are written. Also, provide students with the rubric ahead of time. Post it in the assignment area and use it in your grading. This makes your grading very clear and others can understand on which you have based the scoring and the feedback.
Now, when you grade your students’ work, it’s important to use rubrics. Rubrics show various ranges of skill levels achieved, categories that you focused on, and so forth. One of those categories should be the content itself.
For example, if you’re teaching a music appreciation class, as I do, there’s a section where we mark about using music terms appropriately. I, of course, have ranges for that but I also mark it and explain to students when they have used the terms well and when they have a misunderstanding. And, I have some different corrective elements that I can put in there to explain what the term means if a student has misunderstood.
The content you are teaching matters the most. Writing style is also important. We want to help students as much as we can learn how to write properly and be able to produce academic essays. But, more than that, we need to know that they understood the subject matter. Unless you’re grading English essays, in any other subject area, grade the content first and be sure to give lots of comments about that content and then provide correction on the formatting, the citation style, and the grammar and other things you might care about.
Never let a student move on out of your class who has very poor writing without correcting that. It would be a shame for a student to go through an entire online degree and not learn how to write properly. English class is really not the only place where we can do that.
If you provide quality grading in your classroom every time, then should something happen to you and you’re not able to finish teaching the course, someone else will be able to look over your grading, see what your approach has been and give those students a quality experience to the end of the class.
You can also ensure that when you have given your students quality grading feedback, they are learning from you. There are things that you can teach them that no one else can, and giving them your best every time when you are at your best is a really great policy to ensure that they learn what they can learn from you.
And, lastly, decide up front what you care about most in grading your students’ work. What ideas and concepts matter to you? Be sure to remark about those ideas when you’re giving the feedback and let students know as much as possible.
Tips on How to Handle Emergencies or Illnesses
Now, let’s talk about how to handle those emergencies or illnesses that occur. Anything could happen, ranging as small as simply having an allergy situation, like I’m having this week, or you might have something like a hospitalization, a surgery, a major illness that keeps you away from your work. You might have an accident. Perhaps there’s a natural disaster or a car accident. I have worked with faculty who have had all of these things happen. I’ve also worked with faculty who had terminal illnesses or major degrading illnesses that took away their ability to teach online at all.
Issue an Instructor Availability Announcement to Students
There are so many things that can happen during our lifetime, independent of our work. Whatever is happening to you, whether large or small, the first step is to let your students know what to expect. I like to call this an instructor availability announcement. Your students need to know that you’re not going to be on your normal schedule, that your regular communication plan has been disrupted, and that they will need a little more patience than usual.
When you give them this plan, it is not important to give them your personal details about the crisis you’re experiencing or the illness. If you are comfortable doing that and you would like to share it in a brief way, it’s of course acceptable to do so. But, I always suggest that faculty keep their private details to themselves when they feel they want to do that.
So, telling your students that you’re going to be out of class for a few days, or unable to interact with them for a few days is totally fine. That instructor availability announcement could say something like, “I will be offline Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. I will check-in Friday and at that time, I will answer any questions.”
And, you could also give a contact information for your supervisor if they have an emergency or a question that’s urgent in your absence. If someone else is going to step into your class while you’re away, it’s helpful to let students know that as well. Introduce the person, give them their email contact information and, of course, help that person know what to expect when teaching your class.
In an ideal situation, when you’re ill, you’ll have a substitute teacher come in and work with you. In colleges and universities, that is rarely the case. Sometimes you might have a colleague that’s able to teach for you, but that is extremely rare. If you’re going to be out only a couple of days, simply putting an instructor availability announcement and returning and catching up when you’re well again is adequate.
If you’re going to be out a longer duration and someone’s going to teach the rest of your class or a period of time for you, you might want to orient that person, if possible, on what you’ve done with your students and what you would appreciate them doing in your absence.
Communicate with Supervisors, Colleagues and Family
Communicate with your supervisor and your institution about your absence. And, of course, if you are not able to do so, be sure to have your family or friends who are contacting your manager for you do this on your behalf.
If you have a colleague that can teach for you in your absence, communicate well with them what you’re going to be doing and when you can be back and how they can reach you if they have any questions. Then, of course, when you’re teaching and you are just gone for a short time, you’ll have to catch up and let students know about your grading timeline when you’re back.
When others are teaching, you will need to know what they are going to do in your absence. For example, in my institution, if another faculty member steps in and teaches for you, they will manage the questions students have and they might engage in the discussions and keep the class basically moving forward. But, the grading will be the instructor’s responsibility when they return from the illness.
In special situations where an instructor is gone for longer than just a few days, that grading might be done by a colleague. But, it depends on the situation and it’s not exactly clear for every single case. It can be helpful to discuss this with others who might be teaching for you, just to find out what to expect and also to help them know how they can help manage your class.
In the worst-case scenario where you cannot finish the class or even tell your students that you are gone, the best thing to have done up to that point and in any case when you’re teaching is just your best work, to be on top of your game when you are healthy and well and when everything is going the best that can be expected.
If you cannot finish the class or even tell your students that you are leaving, be sure to give your colleague or your supervisor the best guidance you can about what you’ve done with your students to that point and then step out of the classroom and allow them to teach it out.
Tips for Supervisors to Manage Faculty Emergencies
Now, I’ve had some personal experiences with each of these scenarios where I have managed online faculty in the School of Education at my university and in the School of Arts and Humanities. There have been so many situations and they’re all different. They range from just a brief illness where a faculty member just let me know and needed me to watch their class, and sometimes I’ve had a situation where a person had a major illness, they were hospitalized and in surgery and unable to communicate with me. And, the way I discovered it was they were simply absent for class more than a day or two.
And, as the supervisor of online faculty, I’m very proactive and I look at their classrooms and I stay on top of that. So, a faculty member’s not going to be away from class for more than a day or two without me noticing and then I’m going to reach out if it takes three, maybe four days and they’re not back in class and I’m going to see what I can do to help them.
If you don’t have someone like that in your situation, it’s especially helpful to reach out and be proactive whenever you can. I’ve had faculty also have car accidents where some major things were happening and they were not going to recover right away and they really could not teach again for weeks. I’ve also had faculty where their technology had failed, their computer crashed, they were not able to get another computer anytime soon. And, in those kinds of emergencies, it can be especially debilitating to you if you do all your work online.
One recommendation for that is to find a place where you can either get a loaner computer, short-term or maybe there’s a computer work station where you can log in, either on a local college campus in a library or in a public library. And then, of course, log off again and clear the cache and the cookies after you’re done using it for your teaching. If you have a family member or friend with a computer that you can use, you can also do that short term in a technology accident.
If you have a health decline that’s actually going to take away your ability to teach online, and I’ve worked with many faculty in those situations as well who either could no longer type, could no longer speak, could no longer maintain the rigor of grading essays for very long, different things, you might be able to work with your academic institution to teach smaller course loads.
You might be able to reduce your typing by using something like Dragon Dictate, naturally speaking. There are a lot of different ways to accommodate health declines or other kinds of setbacks where you’d like to keep teaching but cannot teach to the full load that you might have in the past. And, I would highly recommend considering those and then, of course, deciding if you are able to teach in the future. And, only you have the answer to that. You can think about your own personal situation and decide.
Whatever happens to you, know that your work is valued to your students and to those that you work with at your school or your institution. As an educator, you make a difference and you matter immensely. I want to encourage you not to be embarrassed if you have a sickness or an illness or an emergency, but to reach out to people around you and communicate what your needs might be. You will be surprised how others can step in and help you and manage your students on the short term at least in your absence and help you make arrangements for whatever needs you might have.
Of course, wrapping all of this up, it’s never fun to be sick when you’re teaching online, but there are so many things you can do to plan ahead before sickness ever strikes or emergencies come, and there are things that you can do to manage those things if you should experience them.
Above all, I suggest that you keep a contact card for your colleagues, your manager, your supervisor, and your institution available where loved ones in your life can reach out and let others know if something’s happened to you, should that be the case. This, at the bare minimum, is really important so that you have an emergency plan as an online educator.
Well, to your health and to your wellbeing, I wish you all the best this coming week and I also wish you a successful experience managing any illness or emergency you might face while teaching online.
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/requests. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.
Are you experiencing burnout? Burnout is serious and can impact your health, happiness, relationships, and work. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the signs of burnout including exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. She also discusses ways to rebuild your emotional strength, manage your energy, and find satisfaction in your work again.
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 and thank you for joining me today. We will focus on how you can recognize burnout and overcome overwhelm through tips from Dr. Jacinta M. Jimenez’s book, “The Burnout Fix: Overcome Overwhelm, Beat Busy, and Sustain Success in the New World of Work,” and other resources.
But before we do that, I’m going to share out three announcements.
Here is a Site to Help You Navigate through Prior Episodes for Help
First, if you’re trying to decide what past episodes to listen to in your online teaching focus, with 104 episodes published so far, you could get lost in this long list of episode topics and strategies. To help you out, I’d like to invite you to visit my website: BethanieHansen.com.
Once you get there, you will find a menu item across the green menu bar at the top of the page called “The Online Teaching Toolbox.” By clicking this menu item, you will find some broad topics listed to help you navigate toward what you’re looking for. You can also access the toolbox using the big button on the home page that says, “find effective strategies right now.”
In future weeks, I’ll keep adding more structure to the website that will help you navigate topics even more quickly and effectively, so that you can read or listen about whatever you need in the moment.
Online Learning Innovation Conference is Coming Up!
Second, I’m announcing that the Online Learning Consortium’s spring conference is coming up. At the time of this podcast, early April 2022, the international conference is just a few days away. The conference is called “OLC Innovate,” and it is focused on new ideas, strategies, and fresh approaches to online, hybrid, and blended education. I’m putting a link to the conference in the podcast transcript, so please take a look. The conference includes virtual presentations as well as live sessions on-site in Dallas, TX. So, if you cannot travel to attend in person, consider the virtual option.
At the conference, you’ll find new ideas, and you will also benefit from specific topics like blended learning, community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, instructional design, online leadership, networking, research, career and technical education, instructional technologies and tools, open learning, and teaching and learning practice.
And your presenters will be excellent educators, leaders, and researchers who have gone through a “rigorous three-stage, double-blind peer review process upon conference proposal submission. Acceptance to present at OLC Innovate is competitive and is a great accomplishment.”
It’s always a good idea to refresh your teaching and stopping by a professional conference like this one might be just what you’re looking for. Not only will you keep growing, but you will have at least one fresh idea you can take with you to try out. If you are attending, I’m presenting a workshop about creating podcasts for education you might find interesting. Dr. Jan Spencer, one of my colleagues at American Public University, is presenting a workshop about three specific areas of online teaching and learning practice. These include the rules of the road for online presence, fun ways to enhance forum discussions, and innovative strategies for creating assignments.
Whether or not you’re able to attend the OLC Innovate conference for April 2022, I encourage you to submit a proposal to present a session, a workshop, or a discovery session for the OLC Accelerate conference coming up with virtual sessions November 1-3, 2022, and live sessions in Orlando, Florida, November 14-17, 2022. The call for presentation proposals is open until May 18, 2022.
Two Consecutive Years with the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast
Third, and most importantly, today’s episode number 104 marks the end of our second year with the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. This means that we have shared tips, strategies, and topics about managing online teaching every week for two continuous years.
There are over 2,000,000 podcasts out there with over 48 million episodes, and those numbers keep growing. And although there are millions out there, many of these have only a handful of episodes and then they dropped. Fewer than 20% of podcasts that start up reach one year of continuous episodes.
Next week’s episode launches our third year, and I invite you to keep listening to strengthen your online teaching technique and help rekindle your sense of purpose in what you do every day for your students.
We have established a strong history and have exciting plans for the year ahead. Episode 105 will feature Dr. Jan Spencer, the Department Chair at American Public University, and Dr. David Ferreira, Provost at Charter Oak State College and part-time faculty at American Public University in leadership and student affairs. The episode will focus on helping students navigate their online education journey, and it’s one you won’t want to miss!
Education is one of the most powerful forces in the world. By seeking education, we begin to dream again. We dream about who we are, and who we can become. What we can do, and what we might be able to achieve that we previously never imagined possible. And when we teach, not only do we help others learn and grow, but we also help them make their dreams come true.
Pursuing an education online can be a scary proposition for students. After all, when we sit in a live class, on a college campus, with a live teacher and classmates all around, this almost automatically puts us into a mental space to focus on learning.
Yet online, our students might doubt their own abilities to focus, to stay on task with the online materials, and to keep working without all of those people in the same room. This is one of the many reasons we support you and your teaching through the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, and why I hope you will share this podcast with anyone you know who could benefit.
Statistics in a recent study suggest that the number one reason that people listen to podcasts is to learn something new. And giving you new tips, topics, and ideas is our goal here. That said, let’s move into this week’s topic to help you get the new ideas you came for.
The Online Teaching Lounge podcast celebrates you, the educator, in this episode. As we close our second year of connecting with you, we realize that you work hard. And teaching online, at times you might feel isolated or alone. Technologies used in online education are marvelous, but they also invite us to keep trying new things, exploring, and making the class and our approaches better. This never-ending quest for excellence can become overwhelming. So many things might be part of that path to burnout as an online educator.
But how do you know whether you’re just getting a little stagnant and need new ideas, and whether you might have burnout?
Dr. Jacinta Jimenez describes three components of burnout. These include exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.
Exhaustion means that you might feel very intense emotional, physical, or cognitive fatigue, and maybe a combination of all three. It’s a lingering state of being tired, and it’s persistent. One of the ways you can know whether you’re exhausted in these ways is that after you get a really good night of sleep or take some relaxing time off, you don’t feel refreshed or replenished. And if you notice this trend over and over, that’s an even better gauge.
Cynicism is an attitude of suspicion where you believe the future is bleak and that other people are acting only out of self-interest. An example of cynicism is when you always think the worst and have a hard time seeing the good in anyone. When you experience cynicism, you have low levels of job engagement. You start to feel detached. And, you are easily annoyed by the people you work with.
And inefficacy is where you’re being unproductive. You are working harder, but you’re producing less. You’re not getting the results you might have gotten in the past. You even start to feel incompetent, like you can’t keep up or be successful. Self-efficacy is an important part of confidence and it means that you can make things happen, and you know you can. Your efforts lead to results. In contrast, inefficacy is the state in which you believe that no amount of effort you put in will get you the results you’re trying to achieve. You don’t see that you have an impact or make a difference.
Although there are these three common components come together to suggest burnout, everyone experiences them in unique ways. For example, you might find yourself having a lot of exhaustion, where someone else might have a lot more cynicism.
Regardless of which aspect seems to weigh heaviest for you, burnout is serious and can impact your health, your happiness, your relationships, and your job. When you’re teaching online, you might find that getting the work done takes longer and longer. Mental clarity and sharpness are difficult to harness when reading through students’ comments and considering how to respond.
Either the online work begins to take up more of your free time, nights, and weekends, and keeps you from enjoying your personal life, or it’s increasingly challenging to get yourself to sit down to being at the work at all. You might even begin to think your students are not learning or getting anything out of what you’re trying to teach them, missing signs of their efforts altogether.
If you believe that you might be experiencing burnout in your work, this doesn’t mean that you lack coping skills or are just bad at taking care of yourself. And it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There are many combined forces that lead to burnout, some in the workplace, some in our own expectations for ourselves, and some in areas that are more difficult to pin down. If you’re experiencing burnout, Dr. Jacinta Jimenez’s five core pulse practices can support you in working through it and recovering.
The five core practices are behavioral, cognitive, physical, social, and emotional. These practices take consistent, intentional effort. And in the book “The Burnout Fix” I’ve referenced for this podcast episode, you’ll find exercises you can read, work through, and integrate into your life over time.
Getting through burnout is not something that can be done quickly or easily. But the positive of it all is that you can find real, research-based, and solid strategies to use that will help you out of burnout and they will also increase your resilience for future challenges and tough times ahead.
There are two of the five core practices I’d like to highlight today because we’ve explored them many times already in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. The first is to “undo untidy thinking,” which means that you’re going to intentionally teach your brain to let go of thinking patterns that don’t help you.
Believe it or not, there are many different kinds of thinking patterns that hurt us. And some of these are common in work groups and families, and we accept that they are true or just the way things are. One of these is “all or nothing thinking.” This would be something like when you’re teaching a class that is going really well, and one student complains. Whatever the reason for the complaint, believing that one student’s complaint ruined the entire teaching experience or makes you a bad teacher, regardless of the positive experience you’re having with all of the other students, this is all or nothing thinking.
It’s often called a cognitive distortion, because it’s not based on fact or truth. Could one complaining student actually be a sign that you’re a bad teacher? Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean that you are suddenly a bad teacher when everything else is going so well. And you would need much more evidence and insight to determine the quality of your teaching beside just one student’s opinion.
Another core practice Dr. Jimenez recommends in her book is to evaluate your effort. This means that you think about your emotional wellbeing and your energy levels. And, you take charge of your time and priorities. In this area, you might have to settle for “B-minus” level work on some things you’re responsible to complete, and you might even need to leave some things unfinished. Perhaps you will have to say no.
Evaluating your effort might feel difficult because many of us believe that we are our work. Or in other words, our work is a reflection of who we are. So, if we’re putting in too much time and not getting the results we want, or putting in too much effort for the smaller things that should take much less, it seems like our fault or a flaw in our character. But that really isn’t true.
One way to begin making changes in effort is to notice where you have high energy, and what drains your energy. And then, you can also think about different times of day in which you have naturally higher and lower energy. With this awareness, you are in a position to begin planning the draining tasks you must do for the higher energy parts of your day, when you are more able to tackle them better. And those things that refuel you or lift your energy can be planned in times where your energy levels might naturally be lower. Focusing on your energy levels and the required effort of your work and life tasks helps you start setting limits and boundaries to avoid overwhelm.
Intentionally setting limits on the time something will take or the effort you can give it helps get things into their proper places again, and it gives you the space to establish priorities. And if we work with our priorities in mind day in and day out, and re-evaluate those priorities regularly, we can guard ourselves against becoming overwhelmed in the future as we move out of burnout.
Another area of evaluating your effort has to do with your emotional health. Emotions are data that speak to us, and yet many adults don’t recognize what they are feeling or have words to describe it. And many are uncomfortable experiencing these emotions.
Just like strengthening muscles, learning to identify what you’re feeling, reason about what it means for you, and what you’ll do with it, gives you power over your emotional self and builds emotional strength. As you focus on doing this and on managing your energy as well, you will regain a sense of purpose in what you’re doing and begin to feel a sense of satisfaction in your work again.
As we close our second year of the Online Teaching Lounge with today’s focus on identifying burnout and trying some ideas that will help reduce burnout and lead to thriving again, I want to thank you for the work you do each day teaching others online.
As I mentioned earlier in this episode, this can at times feel like isolating and challenging work. But through the power of education, we help people grow and learn, and we even help them make their dreams come true. In your own work to build new habits that reduce burnout and bring you back into alignment with your purpose and priorities, you too will begin to dream again and may even be able to keep moving forward serving many more students in the future, too. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and in the year to come!
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.
Teaching online can be a challenging experience, and without strong wellbeing habits, teachers risk exhaustion and burnout. Approaching the work with a foundation of specific habits and routines will promote your teaching success and help you approach your work with energy and enthusiasm and a state of peak performance. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you plan ahead for wellbeing as you teach online in your next class.
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.
Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.
Last week, we explored the practical ways in which you can get your class in order before you begin to teach. In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part two of this two-part topic. We’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really “sharpen the saw.” That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas, to set you up for peak performance in your online teaching.
Healthy Wellbeing Through Daily Habits
Peak performance means that you’re in a state where you can perform at your best. You feel more confident, like the work is effortless, despite the fact that it is challenging work. You find yourself deep in total concentration on the work that you’re doing, and you’re able to gain some satisfaction from being in the work. While this kind of performance requires preparation, skill, and expertise for the work itself just like elite athletes and masterful musicians invest over time, there is also another investment that sets the foundation.
And that investment is a set of habits that get your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional selves into a condition most likely to promote peak performance. We’ll look at preparing your body for peak performance in your online teaching. And in each area we cover today, I’ll share tips to help you commit to focus on this area and take action.
Preparing Your Body
Getting enough sleep is the first and most important part of preparing your body for peak performance. If we were to treat the brain as an elite athlete treats the body in preparation for competition, focusing on sleep would make a lot of sense. Sleep helps your body and your brain work properly. But even better than that, sleep improves your learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity. And a state of peak performance definitely requires agile use of learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity.
On the flip side, failing to get quality sleep can make you cranky and makes it difficult to focus and take in new information. It presents a whole host of potential health implications, but more importantly it can sap your motivation. And when you’re teaching online, you’re going to be sitting a lot and looking at a computer monitor, which will require energy and focus, both of which are depleted when you are not getting enough sleep.
Drinking enough water. Getting enough water every day is important for your health. Drinking water can prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood change, cause your body to overheat, and lead to constipation and kidney stones. Water helps your body keep a normal temperature.
One of the most important reasons to drink plenty of water throughout the day is that water boosts energy. It’s difficult to know when we are running low on water, because we might feel depleted and think that we are hungry, tired, or something else. Drinking water in those moments refreshes the body by feeding cells, especially muscles, and it helps body systems function like digestion.
Exercising daily is the third tip I’m sharing today to help you prepare your body for peak performance in teaching online. Just like sleep and drinking enough water, exercise helps your body function effectively. It also helps you process emotions and regulate your mood by getting active and moving your body. Even going for a walk is exercise and can help you with the regulation your body needs.
Physical exercise is also effective to help you keep your thinking, learning, and judgment sharp over time. And in a state of peak performance, clear thinking is necessary with the ability to change directions quickly.
Preparing Your Mind
One way to prepare your mind to function in a flow state or at peak performance is to regularly plan alone time. This time can be used to rest, to reflect on your day, to think about ideas, to consider new possibilities, or just to be still. This time is an important part of your development and allows you to focus on your own thoughts or needs for a time, so that you can be ready to help others again when you’re with them.
Some people use alone time to mediate or pray, and others use alone time to recharge their energy levels by reducing input. Whatever seems to fit you best, you can schedule time alone for yourself and remember that it’s one of many essential ways to prepare yourself for a high level of performance in your online teaching.
Develop a reflection habit, whether daily or weekly. Reflection on your thoughts and experiences helps you continue learning. And when you reflect on your performance as an online educator, you can also make adjustments while teaching your class. You might notice something small that concerns you, think about it, consider it, and then try a sight adjustment in your next approach.
Regularly reflecting makes you the master of your own thoughts. With so many voices speaking to us throughout the day, and the many people and priorities that beg our attention, giving yourself space to consider what you think makes prioritizing and decision-making easier. A reflection habit helps you to make meaning out of the chaos you encounter. And when you also reflect on what is going well or where you are grateful, it can also increase your happiness and optimism over time, which are more likely to lead to peak performance. To take this idea up a level, add some kind of journaling. Write down your ideas and insights, it makes them last longer.
And the third tip I’m sharing today around preparing your mind for peak performance is to keep learning. Let’s go back to imagining the elite athlete who is competing. This person reflects on their recent performance or even their performance during the warm-up. Perhaps a coach provides observations as well. The entire point of talking about these things is to keep learning to perform better. And to perform well in online work, we too need to keep learning.
Continuous learning makes mistakes less significant. It opens the mind and lifts the attitude. When you keep learning, you’re able to build on what you already know and keep getting better. You can gain a sense of accomplishment through your continued learning and this boosts your confidence, which has a direct impact on how you show up in the online classroom for your students.
Preparing Your Spirit
As we think about “sharpening the saw” to build a solid personal foundation of health and wellbeing for peak performance, it might seem unusual to prepare spiritually. However, your spirit includes having a clear purpose and direction. And seeking a level of clarity and focus in your online teaching to help you manage it well and enjoy it most. It means that you’re aiming for that level of excellence we’ve been calling peak performance.
It’s not just something you do once in a while. Peak performance is a way of thinking and a mindset that guides your choices, decisions, and actions every day. It is an inner commitment that helps you work effectively and efficiently, setting boundaries around this time so that your non-work time is refreshing and protected from overwork. In this way, it requires a sense of purpose, and a direction.
Have hope and optimism. Hope means that you believe in good things to come in the future. And optimism means that the challenges and setbacks are viewed as temporary, localized, and not personal while the positives and rewards are viewed as permanent, pervasive, and personal. To continue learning and developing excellence in your teaching performance online, hope and optimism have to become part of the way you think. Constant doubt and negative expectations will have an entirely different energy and outcome.
Another way to prepare your spirit to fully engage in your online teaching is to serve, contribute, or give back to others. I’m not talking about teaching them online. Yes, that is a kind of service, but it is typically a paid service. The serving, contributing, and giving back I’m referring to here is all about giving freely without expectations. That kind of service to others, to your community, and to people who need help, turns our attention to the needs of others and helps us open up to them. It’s another way to learn to tolerate ambiguity and not have to know everything.
Service reduces stress. It also helps us develop social trust and connection with other people more naturally. It can feed your spirituality by giving you a sense of purpose and meaning that is separate from your professional work and energizing to your life.
Preparing Your Social-Emotional Self
The last area of personal preparation to achieve peak performance in your online work is to build a support network of people you trust, and then set aside ample time to spend with those who are important to you. Learn to receive from others. Surround yourself with people trying to be at their best.
Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate emotions, boost mood, and lead to higher self-esteem and empathy. It can also improve our immune systems. To bring your mind and body into alignment for peak performance, you need to be able to regulate emotions well and control your mood.
Tying it all together, we focus on two areas when preparing to teach online. One is the classroom itself, which we reviewed on episode 101. This includes the specific preparations you put in place to make things run smoothly, and the ways in which you “sharpen the saw” by preparing your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional self for the work you will do.
To bring it into your daily habits and make it last throughout your teaching, it’s a good idea to design tiny habits that are simple, small, and achievable, in the foundation areas to maintain healthy wellbeing and balance. This will give you the encouragement you need to avoid overwork and to set boundaries that help you enjoy your online teaching and your life away from work.
Thank you for listening today, and for your work with students online. If you’ve heard something useful today, please share this episode with a friend or colleague. Please, join me again next week for episode 103, an interview with Dr. Jan Spencer and our special guest, University President Dr. Kate Zatz. Until then, 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.
Teaching online can be a challenging experience, especially if you are new to the technology or much more experienced with face-to-face teaching. Even if you are experienced at teaching online, a few specific preparation methods before the class begins will promote student success and renewed teacher satisfaction throughout the course. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you prepare to teach online before your next class begins, aiming for peak performance in your online teaching.
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. We all know that preparing to teach is a worthwhile practice. In fact, preparing has been compared to “sharpening the saw,” by Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people.” Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.
In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part one of a two-part topic. This first part will take you through the practical preparations to teach an online class, including preparing the online classroom, anticipating students’ needs, scheduling your daily work, and focusing on results and outcomes.
Next week, come back for part two, when we’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really sharpen the saw. That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas.
Peak Performance in Your Online Teaching
Peak performance is a state in which you are able to perform at your best, when you’re feeling confident, wrapped up in the flow of engaged work. You might compare this to the state at which an athlete is performing well with their game, or the way in which a musician is immersed in their performance, feeling the activity to be both natural and effortless, despite the work they are putting in. Where athletes and performers naturally seek out peak performance experiences, people can actually achieve this state in any professional field, including teaching.
You might be thinking that teaching is a learned skill or something that just anyone can do. And, both of these ideas could be true. To enjoy the work, do it well, and feel confident, educators can learn to teach at their own peak performance threshold. Peak performance is highly desirable because it can result in feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and consistent success. And when we teach at, or close to our own peak performance level, everything can seem easier, with greater impact.
The basic building blocks of peak performance include consistent practices in the way we manage time, resources and energy. There is a heavy focus on Covey’s 7th habit of “sharpening the saw” to first cultivate personal wellbeing and inner resources. And there is also a heavy focus on rituals and routines, consistently doing the work now, and focusing on excellence as a habit.
While building a personal foundation for wellbeing and inner resources comes first, the rituals, routines, and consistent work and focus on excellence include preparing well in the work itself. And, this is where our topic today comes in. We’re looking at the personal foundation part of peak performance in next week’s episode, which you’re not going to want to miss.
Preparing your Online Classroom
Preparing your online classroom can become a routine. There are basic steps you can take to ensure that everything is set up to guide your students effectively, and that you are ready for the first day of class.
First, prepare your syllabus, and post it in your online classroom where students can easily see it. If the class is built by someone else, read through the syllabus to refresh your ideas around the goals for the class, the weekly topics, and the assignments.
Next, review the assessments and assignments, including discussions and things students will submit to demonstrate their learning.
As you do this, consider the student perspective to decide whether the instructions and guidance are adequate to help students complete their work, or whether a little revision is needed. And include a scoring breakdown, a grading rubric, or some other clear indication of how students are evaluated, so that they are able to plan for success.
Once you have checked your syllabus, assessments, assignments, and discussions, review your content. If needed, add it to the online classroom. As you review the content and reading materials you’re providing students, again, try to take the student’s perspective. And as you do, ask whether these materials clearly prepare students to demonstrate mastery with their assignments and their assessments, and whether the content supports the course goals.
If some of those areas are not represented in the content, you might need to add a reading, a video, an instructor note or recorded lecture, or some other content to more fully support what students will learn and need to be able to do by the end of class.
And once you’ve reviewed these areas, consider your course announcements and introduction to you, as the instructor. I personally prefer images, videos, and intermittent written materials to guide students in the course announcements and in my introduction as well. Breaking up your content with images and other engagement can help students interact and remember what they are seeing.
As you finish preparing your online classroom, look for a student view. Many LMSs have the ability to transition to student view so that you, as the instructor, can see everything as your students will see it. As you do this, note anything that is not visible or needs adjustment, and make those adjustments.
As you walk through your own classroom preparation routine and write down your steps, you can add to your process and adjust over time to make preparations more efficient. Writing your routine can also give you the space to reflect around what works, what doesn’t, and where you can take the quality up a level. This routine and repetition loop is where you can focus on excellence and set yourself up for peak performance in your online teaching before you hit day one of the class.
Anticipating Students’ Needs
Before class begins, learn about your students, and try to anticipate their needs. You might be able to tell whether your students are in their first semester, whether they have taken classes before, or whether they are repeating the course after a previous attempt. If you cannot learn these details before class begins, you can set up your first week’s discussion to ask students more about their backgrounds, their experience with the subject matter, and their comfort level with online classes.
With information about your students’ needs individually and collectively, you’re in a good position to anticipate their needs throughout the course. For example, if you have students who are in their first semester and new to online learning, you might create a screencast to walk them through the classroom in the first week.
And, you might consider a topic organizer to help them think about their project, as well as a video-walkthrough of the technology they will need to complete their project. As you anticipate students’ needs, ask yourself, “What would help me most, if I was the student?” And considering the background, experience, and other information your students have shared, you’ll be in a good position to help your students make progress in their learning and handle the technologies of the online classroom. The more you learn about your students and prepare to help them with their needs and challenges, the more capacity you will have to teach well at peak performance.
Scheduling Your Daily Work
When preparing the online classroom and then teaching the class, scheduling your daily work will give you the consistency to build on for peak performance. After all, planning your time makes you the master of your work and your schedule. And you will be able to avoid feeling overwhelmed and crushed by what can seem like a heavy load when teaching online classes.
One idea to help you schedule your online classroom preparation work is to stop by the course each day to complete one readiness task per day, leading up to the first day of the class. Using the process of preparing a class I mentioned earlier, you might first review or prepare your syllabus.
And the next day, review assignments and discussions. And each day, tackle one task. Not only does this give you power over your time and help you to pace yourself, but it also helps your subconscious brain realize that you’re getting ready to teach the course, so that you’re making mental space to get into your peak performance teaching mode when class begins.
Just as you might break down your course preparation tasks into a routine that happens consistently each day, scheduling your daily work for teaching the class will help keep you moving on schedule and make your teaching time a regular, routine part of your day. As you create a habit, or a routine, around scheduling your daily work, you can build in learned optimism to think about each day as a fresh start, let go of temporary setbacks or challenges with students, and push forward to keep improving your experience.
Focusing on Results and Outcomes
Focusing on results and outcomes is an important part of continuous improvement and developing peak performance. If you were a ski racer, just imagine, you would be able to use the timing of your race and other factors to gauge whether your performance is at the level you want and whether you keep improving.
In a similar way, you can use data to help you see the results in your teaching. Planning ahead to think about this data before the class begins may help you further plan for your students’ needs, so that you get the information you really want at the end of class, to see your own teaching performance better.
One obvious source of data for results and outcomes is your students’ performance in formative discussions and in course assessments. You might be able to look at your students’ average course grades, assignment grades, the level of their engagement in discussions each week, and other statistics that give you data to interpret and from which you can take action.
Another source of data could be your own records of daily and weekly teaching work, the time you’re spending, and the reflections you have about where you’re confident and performing well, and where you feel like additional attention and growth might help you.
If you’re tense, anxious, and restless about different parts of your teaching, these feelings suggest that you’re not in the peak performance space. Focusing on specific areas will help you know what is influencing your experience, so that you can adjust the one or two areas where you have room to grow, and you can recognize where you are doing well.
Peak Performance Tips
As you prepare your online class and your habits for peak performance in your online teaching, keep in mind that you can find flow every day at work. Flow means that you get the most reward from what you’re doing, and you can even learn to love those parts that you have to do by focusing on excellence in your routine or your delivery of that aspect of your work. Finding flow in your work will always require skill and challenge, and it feels like the state of being completely focused, immersed in the activity, and absorbed in what you’re doing.
Preparation is one key to teaching well, and focusing on what you can control and do gives you the space to take action and prepare for an excellent class. As you prepare, consider which parts of your online teaching can become routines to be consistently used and improved over time, and consider where you might need some positive self-talk or conversations with other people to maintain motivation and mastery over your time.
And lastly, consider a performance routine. An athlete might have a lucky shirt to wear, or a chant before taking the field. A musician might have a particular warm-up method or visualization practice to get ready to step out on that stage. And an online educator might have a favorite mug or background music, an outfit that makes them feel like they are in the work zone, or an exercise habit before work that brings focus and energy. Whatever might work for you, the value of consistent routines can pave the way for an excellent online teaching experience.
Thank you for joining us today to talk about peak performance in your online teaching by preparing the classroom, anticipating your students’ needs, scheduling your daily work, and focusing on results and outcomes. When we start a course having thought through these areas and thinking about the goals to be achieved at the end, and we aim for peak performance. We can serve our students much better and maintain a high level of teaching quality throughout our time with them. If you’ve heard something valuable today, please share this episode with a friend.
And, of course, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and invite you to come back next week for part two on this topic.
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.
Teaching children during a pandemic, whether face-to-face or online, can be challenging due to the heightened stress and trauma. To cope with these difficult times, children need to be taught strong social-emotional skills so they develop a foundation for self-expression, communication, creativity, and effective learning. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen interviews APU Department Chair Dr. Kathleen Tate and Assistant Professor Dr. Greg Mandalas about five ways teachers can incorporate social-emotional learning into the classroom. Learn new ideas for the classroom like creative drama activities and social stories to build empathy and help students develop relationship-building to cope with stress and conflict.
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, everyone, to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, I’m speaking with the Department Chair of the Teaching Program in the School of Arts, Humanities and Education, Dr. Kathleen Tate, and faculty member, Dr. Greg Mandalas, about social-emotional learning and mindfulness in the K-12 traditional and online classrooms. Just to help our listeners get to know you a little bit, let’s let you each introduce yourself, starting with Dr. Kathleen Tate. Tell us something about you.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Sure. Hi, Bethanie. I have about 25 years ofexperience in education, with experiences in corporate, civil service, retail, and other industries. I’ve been a Department Chair in teaching for over 10 years at the university, with prior tenure-track professor experience at Auburn University, University of West Georgia. I’m a former elementary special ed teacher. I taught in an urban, low socioeconomic system, bilingual public school. I have several lifetime teachings certificates from Texas, which they do not offer any more, in pre-K through 12 special education, first through eighth grade theater arts, and first through eighth grade elementary education.
I’m a children’s bookauthor. I have 16 years of online consulting experience at master’s and doctoral levels. And I have to say I enjoy guacamole, tennis, scrapbooking, boating, swimming, baking, going to museums, and reading whenever possible. I play drums and keyboards and am very passionate about how people of all ages, children, teens, adults learn, and also infusing arts-based and multi-modal approaches in instruction.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Kathleen. And thank you so much for such a wonderful introduction. Our audience is in for a real treat today. And Greg, let’s have you also introduce yourself to us as well.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Yeah,sure. Well, thanks so much for having us first of all. I’ve worked for the past 27 years in education wearing many, many hats. I spent about 18 years as a music teacher before I moved into the wild, wild West of the administration world as a school principal.
I’ve been a principal for the past nine years in two different buildings. Also, for the past 11 years, I’ve worked as an online instructor in higher education. I’m currently an assistant professor in the School of Education, and I enjoy playing golf and anything that has to do with music, as you can imagine, as I was a music teacher. And, just like Kathleen, I’m also a drummer, so maybe eventually we’ll have a drummer educational podcast down the road. Again, thanks for having us and I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Bethanie: Wonderful! I can totally relate to your music background; I was music educator for 21 years myself. I wish we would do that podcast, sounds like fun!
Bethanie: I’m glad that both of you are here with us. As I mentioned, our listeners are in for a real treat because one thing that on everyone’s mind right now is how to help children keep learning, how to function in the rough environment we’re in. At the time of this recording, we’re still experiencing the pandemic. There’s a lot of stress out there. So, why should we talk about social-emotional learning?
Kathleen: That is a great question, Bethanie. We know students are increasingly experiencing a lot of challenges, in the community, at home, within and beyond school walls. They need skills to help them successfully prepare for learning.
Greg: Yeah. And to back that up, when speaking with those in the field of education, like teachers and counselors and other principals, it is obvious that there is an increased need for social-emotional education. It’s a topic that keeps coming up time and time again. Teachers are consistently seeing an increase in these issues, and there’s a need to better equip our teachers in this area so they can educate the whole student like we talk about so often.
Bethanie: That makes a lot of sense. Now, just in case we have a few less-experienced teachers out there, or somebody’s wondering, can you give us a little bit of background about what social and emotional learning is?
Kathleen: Sure. The Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning, let’s call them CASEL, gives us a definition for social-emotional learning, which is “the process by which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
These are very important for today’s K-12 students and adults to develop, and for teachers to model and support them.
Greg: Yeah, I agree with that as well. Self-awareness in particular is especially important in the K-12 classroom. While this concept is one that many students just grasp through simple informal experiences, your listeners can probably tell you that there’s a section of the population that needs direct instruction to understand exactly how their own actions affect those around them. The same is true for self-management and responsible decision-making.
For example, your listeners can probably relate to, even in the online world, a student who may become frustrated with their work, and perhaps this student has just very few skills in the area of self-awareness, and shouts out in frustration at something. That’s something I can definitely relate to as a former teacher.
And when that happens, the other students around obviously become distracted when that student acts out. But it’s possible that student who is acting out doesn’t have the tools to understand or the empathy needed for those around them. And it’s our job as teachers to meet that need of that student, too, to better equip them.
Kathleen: Greg, I’m so glad you mentioned empathy! Social awareness, empathy, that is at the heart of all of this. And it can be developed in different ways. For example, many listeners are probably familiar with William Glasser, MD and his classroom meetings, morning meetings, that help student-led conflict resolution take place in the classroom.
Getting to know students, families, and each other. This can be done in traditional classrooms or online, through autobiography- and biography-genre projects, as well school-based community projects. Through stories and readings, my favorite creative drama activities, pantomime, tableau-which are frozen pantomime pictures, improvisation, role-playing. For example, using child labor as a social studies topic that might be covered, empathy can really be developed looking through those photographs, reading the stories of people, and also taking care of classroom pets or stuffed animals.
When I was an elementary teacher, I would let the children whose parents gave them permission, take certain live animals that we had in the classroom home for the weekend and care for them, bring them back on Mondays. We also had stuffed animals the students had to take home, care for, write about in their journals, and bring back on Monday. And the students absolutely loved it, whether it was a stuffed animal or live animal, and it really taught them to care for someone or something outside of themselves.
Bethanie: You know, Kathleen, when you talk about these animals, classroom pets and stuffed animals, it just brings to mind an experience we had in our family where my son was in first grade, and that teacher had—I believe it was a hamster—it was class pet. Every weekend, it would go home with a different child. And it definitely was a source of building responsibility and some early relationship skills, like that empathy you were talking about. So, I personally just want to vouch for that as a really effective practice. So, thanks for bringing it up. Now what about other ways to build relationship skills?
Kathleen: Well, there are other relationship skills, such as communicating effectively, cooperating with and listening to others, resisting peer pressure, asking for and providing help when it’s needed, negotiating and resolving conflict.
Going back to creative drama, students can practice communication, cooperation, listening to each other, negotiating ideas, when they negotiate, plan, and carry out creative drama activities, such as skits, role-plays, pantomime, puppet shows and so on.
Students, not just children, (they might be older students) explore topics across the curriculum, in-person or online in pairs or small groups. There is really less risk through creative drama because there’s no one way to do things. There’s no one way to pantomime. There’s no one way to improv. It also helps to build self-esteem.
Children can act out verbs, historical events, story plots, things like that. Creative drama activities also help play out scenarios related to resisting peer pressure, for example, whether it’s with children or teens. This can help with thinking ahead about those common situations that may happen at or outside the school, in-person or virtually. And with such activities students can learn how to ask for help and learn to help each other.
So, it’s really practicing these skills. When listeners who are teachers use those collaborative groups, that’s a great time to give roles such as a leader, recorder, and so forth,or in literature circles in language arts, or project-based scenarios in science and social studies. This gives more opportunities for that active speaking, listening, and cooperating.
Greg: Yeah, I want to piggy-back on that a little bit. My experience has been that those social stories that Kathleen’s talking about can be especially powerful with the younger students. I’m a principal in a K-3 building, and I’ve seen it in action, with these social stories. And once the kids can relate to characters in the stories, it does help them to create that empathy we talked about earlier.
And even for older students, it could be helpful for them to actually write out the social stories and then maybe act it out in a play, like Kathleen mentions. Those are all awesome ideas that listeners can apply right away.
Bethanie: All these are fantastic and really getting us started. So, if we were going to take this a little bit further, how can our listeners as educators really address social-emotional learning whether they’re face-to-face or online?
Greg: Well, I look at it just like any other lesson plans. You have to start with the end in mind. What’s the objective or the goal?
If the goal is to teach empathy, work backwards from that. How are you going to do that? What does that student have that might be of particular interest to them that you can use during your social story time? For example, maybe the student is very into sled riding, say for example, or anything like that. You could use a story about sled riding. Two students go sled riding and work backwards from there. Maybe there’s a conflict. It can lead some conflict resolution.
And, just as you listeners know, your students change every single year. So, your focus may change from year to year, depending on your population. So, teachers have to know that, and be ready to adapt to the to the various needs that are presented to them, which I’m sure your listeners again can completely relate to.
Kathleen: Greg, I like that, focusing on the end in mind. Teachers should decide whether they want to explicitly or implicitly address social-emotional learning. And this can vary day to day, and they can do both.
Explicitly, they can introduce key words and concepts such as relationship skills, and then lead activities and discussions about using them. Or, more implicitly, embed the skills into lesson activities across the curriculum. These things can be done face-to-face or virtually. But, either way, students should work in groups. And do more creative drama activities. Just make sure the screen in Zoom, for example, focuses on pairs or groups, as they’re doing that.
Bethanie: This has been a lot of great, helpful information. If you were to think about, let’s say, five things that teachers can do right now, whether they’re teaching online or face-to-face or may be in a hybrid classroom situation, what would you suggest?
Kathleen: Bethanie, are you putting us on the spot? No, I’m just kidding.
Greg: Ha, ha, ha!
Kathleen: So first, I would say develop empathy by having students study characters, significant historical figures, current figures, current events, concepts across the curriculum through viewing photos, using created drama activities. Even virtually, students can be paired or put into a group for the skits, activities, or problem-based scenarios.
Number two, let students take care of virtual or actual stuffed animals over the weekend, or live pets, and creatively journal about them. Anything that helps them with perspective-taking can help develop empathy. If you’re not ready to try a creative drama activity, just use photos, art, poetry, songs from different eras and cultures to help evoke emotion and empathy about historical or current events. These are things listeners can do tomorrow, in-person or online.
A third take away. Make sure to structure opportunities every day for students to work together in pairs or small groups. Younger students do better in groups of 2 to 3. Older students can start to work in groups of 4 to 5. If you’re unsure about how to set up Zoom breakout sessions for virtual groups, just contact the technology teacher on campus or in the district for help with that.
But before doing any group activity, discuss expectations first, interactively. Have the students come up with expectations for working in groups and listening and sharing, and ask them what the consequences are if they don’t. How is it going to make them feel when people don’t listen to them?
Help them really think explicitly about those relationship skills of listening, cooperating, and communicating. And then co-create rubrics for group work expectations and allow the students to self and peer evaluate. These things only take a few minutes to do, and they help set the stage for success.
Greg: Okay, Kathleen came up with three, I have two more. And mine are going to focus specifically on teachers themselves and what they can do in this arena.
As you know, it’s a stressful, stressful position being a teacher, whether you’re online, face-to-face, or hybrid. We need to practice self-care as teachers. And a good way to do that, you can start by learning simple breathing exercises, and these can be done in the classroom.
Speaking from experience, I’ve led buildings where we made this a building-wide initiative, where we’ve all learned about mindfulness and applied it to the classroom. I think that helps take some of the stigma, which was still, may be there, the stigma about possibly, you know, is this mental health thing for me? It’s for everybody. We have to practice self-care. So that’s one thing they definitely can do.
And finally, teachers should meet with the organization’s counseling department to learn what resources may already be in place both for teachers and students, in person and virtually. It’s amazing what’s out there, and we may not know about it.
Kathleen: Greg, that’s a great suggestion because school counselors tend to be underutilized, I think. So that’s a good reminder.
Bethanie: Fantastic. We have a lot of great ideas for our listeners, and surely the experience you both brought to the table is really going to be helpful as listeners start to implement some of these. Any last-minute thoughts that you might have as we wrap up our podcast today?
Greg: I just know that it’s a stressful time to be an educator, and I remember when I started 27 years ago that I was told it’s a stressful time to be an educator. It’s always going to be a stressful job. And there’s a reason behind that. We are moving the needle with kids and making relationships with kids, which is, probably the most important job that you can do.
So when you do find yourself getting stressed out and anxious, and your students are having trouble with some of these mindfulness activities, just remember that. That it’s not the easiest job in the world. But it absolutely is the most fulfilling job in the world. So stick with it.
Kathleen: And I’d like to just add that I think most teachers are doing group work but if they’re not, I think that should be a priority. And creative drama may sound scary, but if you Google or buy some books, get some basics, or meet with an art teacher, perhaps, or theater teacher, you can really get simple ideas. It’s not that difficult to infuse puppetry, reader’s theater, improvisation, pantomime, virtually or in-person, and it’s really worth the time to focus on these skills and infuse activities that help develop them over time during the school year.
Bethanie: Fantastic. Thank you again for the wonderful tips and strategies on social and emotional learning. I just want to add my own suggestion for listeners, that when children do the things that you’re teaching, celebrate it. Really draw attention to it. Because it helps them repeat the behavior anytime. And we all know that not only do we need our own stress release, but so do students, right? So, we’re giving them the tools here to empower them to take charge and be okay in tough times. So, really fabulous things that you both shared with us. Thank you.
Greg: Thank you for having us.
Kathleen: Thank you for having us, Bethanie.
Bethanie: Yes! So, thank you, listeners, for being here in the Online Teaching Lounge today. We’ve been here with Dr. Greg Mandalas, a faculty member at American Public University, and also Dr. Kathleen Tate, Department Chair of the Teaching programs in the School of Arts, Humanities and Education. Thank you again for joining us, and we wish you all the best 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.
Teaching online can bring stress in managing competing commitments, diverse teaching tasks, and multiple modalities. To free online educators from overwhelm and stress, productivity strategies provide structure to the work. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares three productivity tools that include a prioritization matrix, task batching, and time boxing to help online educators structure their work and keep time investment within limits. Learn how to simplify your approach to the daily work of teaching online and feel a sense of relief by reducing your stress.
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