Teach Online With Confidence

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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Teaching Excellence Strategist

#69: 10 Leadership Principles to Refresh Your Teaching Career

#69: 10 Leadership Principles to Refresh Your Teaching Career

This content was first posted at APUEdge.Com

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

Does Your Career Need a Refresh?

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

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

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

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

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

Applying Business Leadership Principles to Teaching

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

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

Ethical and Moral Standards

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Efficient Learning

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

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

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

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

Nurtures Growth

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

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

Connection and Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider New Ways to Revitalize Your Teaching Career

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

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

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

#68: Entrepreneurial Ideas and Concepts for the Online Educator

#68: Entrepreneurial Ideas and Concepts for the Online Educator

Online teachers must be innovative and creative in order to keep online classes relevant, fresh, and fun to teach. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses what educators can learn from entrepreneurial business strategies. Learn how to apply the “five C’s” of entrepreneurship—credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution—in the classroom.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Have you ever noticed that there are several types of educators, but really two ends of a polarity spectrum? There are traditional approaches, where a person develops a class, teaches it over and over exactly the same way, and really relies on the presentation of the course, but preserves the content.

Then there are people who are a little bit more on the creative end. I’m not sure if you would label these as innovative or simply creative, but many people in the world would label this entrepreneurial.

Entrepreneurial educators are more creative types, who want to change things up a bit. They’re always looking to meet students’ needs or find out what students really want to learn, even if the topics come from the same basic background, they want to change things up. They don’t want to do the same thing twice. They might do it twice to see how it’s working, but then add something to it the next time.

So along this spectrum of sameness—traditional approaches and variety, creativity, and edu-preneurial approaches—think about where you are as an online educator. In today’s episode, we will talk about entrepreneurial approaches to your online teaching, and we’ll be using five concepts from someone very interesting and unique in the business world.

Chinedu Echeruo, who was a serial entrepreneur, is a business person, has an MBA from Harvard and has really made a mark on the world through a history of doing a great job in business, starting with a travel app, Hopstop.com, that was sold to Apple, and a lot of other things that you can search the internet and find.

The five C’s of entrepreneurship we will be looking at today are credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution. So let’s jump in.

Credibility: Where Does it Come From?

As an educator, you likely already have some kind of credibility. Your credibility comes from your background, your knowledge on the subject matter, your expertise and your personal experiences that you access.

Some of us are very traditional. We want several degrees in a subject area before we teach it. We want to write a book on the subject. We want to write articles about it. Present at conferences. We want to be recognized for our expertise. And that’s where we think our credibility comes from.

Others of us are very authentic. We want to talk about it in real time, connect on a personal level and have something to say that may be changing over time, and we feel that our openness and vulnerability to be lifelong learners is part of our credibility. And we don’t necessarily need as deep or as long of credentials as some other people might have.

Credibility varies. Credibility really is something that comes across to others and is received by others. And then, is judged by others. In the educational world, some kind of credibility must be there from our credentials.

If you’re a K-12 educator, you have some kind of certificate to teach in the classroom. Even if it’s a temporary substitute-teaching credential, you have something that’s giving you the permission to be there. It’s like a stamp of approval, where someone out there has said, “Yes, you can enter the classroom and do something now.”

If you have been teaching a long time in K-12 education, you might have what we call a Professional Clear Credential, or something like that. It’s a little bit more long lasting, and you can just renew it over time. Sometimes you have to prove that you’ve been teaching to renew it. Other times, you might have to prove you have new units of study in your subject area, new educational credits to prove your credibility, and you can renew that credential. But all those credentials are usually based on some kind of college degree. And that’s part of your credibility.

In entrepreneurship, credibility is very important as well. If you come along with an idea and you share it with others and you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you haven’t done your homework, you’re not really sure where this is coming from, then it’s going to be difficult to get someone to buy your idea, much less, sell it, or gain support, or traction of any kind.

In the classroom, we similarly have that same idea of needing to prove our credibility. I’ve seen some online educators post their background on the front page of the classroom. They’re telling everyone where they went to school, where they studied. Perhaps they studied abroad, traveled to Ethiopia or Russia or South Africa or Brazil or someplace like that. And they may even have some pictures of their travel expeditions in the subject field.

For example, if you’re a business teacher, maybe you have images of you in a business setting. If you’re a communication teacher, maybe you have images of yourself on assignment somewhere. And if you’re a music teacher, maybe you have images of yourself conducting an ensemble or performing on an instrument. Whatever you put in the classroom, that initial credibility goes a long ways towards helping your students know that you’re probably someone who can lead them through this content.

Ongoing credibility is different. The way we show up in that online classroom every day and throughout the week and over the course itself, that credibility is essential that we maintain. We can’t really stand on a degree or a certificate or some pictures we put in week one, and hope that students just trust us for eight or 13 or 16 weeks of class.

Our credibility comes through in the way we teach. In the way we follow up with questions. In the way we give students sources or connect to the ideas out there in the real world. And in the way we help them dig in, without just telling them the answers.

Credibility in entrepreneurship and in online teaching are both critical elements just to get started and they have to be maintained throughout a project, or it’s going to fail. Our students will trust us immensely when we’re teaching online, as we establish credibility and also maintain it.

Clarity: Ensuring Students Understand Ideas and Concepts

The second idea of entrepreneurship is about clarity. You have this creative approach, this big idea, and you want to communicate it out and try to create a product or sell it somehow. How well can you communicate that to other people?

If you are going to be an entrepreneur, of course, you need to be able to express what you’re trying to achieve, what you’re trying to do, and who you’re trying to sell it to. Perhaps it’s a service, you’re trying to solve a problem for someone. In that case, the clarity in entrepreneurship is about the solution, the pain people are feeling, how you can help them solve it, how many people you can solve that for, and what assumptions you have about it.

You might have to do a little bit of market research to find out what really would help people and what they really would buy. And of course, you’d also have to find out if they really want this solution. Solving a problem can be great, but solving a problem that people want solved is even better.

In education, we have the exact same scenario. We want to teach people clear ideas. By the end of a course and the end of a degree program, we want them to be able to do certain things and know certain things, and be able to apply all of that in the real world.

We need absolute clarity when we’re teaching a class, about what we’re trying to get at the end of that class. What should students be able to do? And every time we are in the discussion forum or in the assignment space or evaluating their work, that should be forefront in our mind. So in an entrepreneurial way, we need to be finding out all the time, whether we’re reaching our students. And also, are they able to communicate with clarity back to us.

Conviction: Persevering to Help Students Understand Difficult Topics

The third area of entrepreneurship is conviction. In many episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge, I’ve made reference to a tool called the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, the TPI. This is a great tool to just double check your orientation as an educator.

Conviction in your role in education comes from either your experience, a problem you see that needs to be solved in the world, the way you care about people, what you’d like to help others become. There are just so many ways you can approach education or teaching your subject matter. And your conviction is critical to seeing through those long classes, to persevering and helping people understand difficult topics and really getting through an entire career as an educator. Just like an entrepreneur, conviction has to be clear because we’re going to be on a long journey with our students.

If you’re interested in taking the TPI, it’s free and available online, and I have a link to it in my podcast notes. If you want to pursue your ideas with students or help them to pursue these topics in the future, think about your conviction.

How invested are you in helping your students learn about this topic? If you’re teaching a class that you really hate teaching, you don’t like the subject matter, and it’s just part of your job because that’s what you do in this particular institution. Maybe it’s time to either reframe the class, find a way for it to be a lot more relevant, or to ask to be relieved of teaching that class, and teach the others that you have much more conviction about.

You want to pursue that because you need to enjoy what you’re doing as an educator and your students need to get from you, what they need to turn that subject into something applicable in their lives or relevant to their work. So think about your conviction as part of your work as an educator. Much like an entrepreneur would be thinking about pushing an idea through and investing.

Capital: Accessing Resources to Help Teach

Now, think about capital. Capital is an interesting business idea. Of course, we need people to support us if we’re going to be putting a product out there and we also need ideas, we need material resources, we need financial resources. So human capital is not the only thing we need in entrepreneurship.

And in education, really, we’re thinking about the subject matter, the people in the class. There might actually be a lot of other people with expertise we can bring in, that can contribute to this endeavor.

For example, if we’re writing a course, we might not need to write that entire course just ourselves. We might be able to pull in experts from the field, have quotes from them, have a little cameo where maybe someone you know in your field is willing to be interviewed by you. And you could put that into your course to share with your students online, with permission of the person you interview.

There are so many different resources you may have as an educator. You can creatively draw those into your online class. Long, long ago, when I was first a band teacher, I remember tapping into the local university and inviting students who were learning to play their instrument at a very high level to come in and perform for my students, who were junior high kids.

So, for example, I might have a college level tuba performance major come in, talk about playing the tuba, perform on his tuba a little bit, and demonstrate some really amazing, beautiful tuba playing. Students could ask and answer questions. And there could be a whole exchange there. He could also work with the tubaists in the junior high and give them a little bit of a masterclass, which would be the one-on-one or small-group coaching that a tuba player might give a small group of musicians.

These ideas can be done online. Now, the masterclass or the live group interaction might not, but the interview with the tuba player would be very easy to record, to create a transcript for, and to place in that online classroom.

So there are a lot of resources and capital you may have out there that could be part of your class, that maybe you’re not thinking of. Most of us think about taking a textbook and creating the activities. And we’re sort of in this closed space of just looking at these resources, but remember all the people resources you have out there. All the real world resources, and you may find that what you have to teach and what you have to share in your classroom is much greater than just a textbook.

Concentration in Execution: Finding What Works

Lastly, when we talk about concentration in execution, this is your focus and the way you stay true to what you’re trying to accomplish. In a business sense, this would be pushing through difficult times as well as prosperous times.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to have a slump in the beginning when you’re really trying to get things off the ground or get things started. You might not even make money the whole first year that you’re trying to work in a new endeavor. It might rise. It might fall. There could be waves of high and low throughout the entrepreneurial journey. A lot of people who are entrepreneurs come up with many creative ideas. They try them on and they move on to other ideas. And eventually, something works really well.

In our educational pathway and teaching online, we can have a similar entrepreneurial approach. We can try new things in our assignments, in our content, in the way we find out how things are landing with our students. And, when those things work really well, we can refine them and use them over and over, or we can pass on them when they don’t work well, try something totally different, or simply tweak those things.

Being committed to concentration in execution means that we’re very focused on what we’re trying to execute and get through, without totally changing it up all the time. Before we make modifications to things, we need to know why we’re changing it, what’s working, what’s not working and not just reinvent things from scratch. That could be totally exhausting and something that online educators do not have a lot of time for. So we definitely want to know what’s working and build on it and keep moving forward with our students.

To tie things up, today we’ve been talking about entrepreneurial behavior and concepts in our online teaching. And I’ve been drawing through some concepts that Chinedu Echeruo shared, and I put the link in the podcast notes. So please check it out. The five C’s of entrepreneurship; credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution.

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.

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

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

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tackle What You Dread First

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

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

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

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

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

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

Unclog Your Mind

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

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

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

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

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

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

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

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

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

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.Com 

Discussion boards are a required part of many online courses, but they can sometimes get flat and boring. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how to have an engaging dialogue with students. Learn five strategies to improve discussion boards as well as how to apply the Guided ANCHORS approach to managing discussion forums.