This isn’t an easy blog post, or at least introduction, for me to write. But, I want to be completely transparent with you. I don’t want to pretend like everything is sunshine and roses in my little piece of the world, because it’s not.
If you’ve already got a handle on all things distance learning and you’ve hit your stride, this may not be the post for you. I do have plenty of other distance learning posts that may be helpful. You can check those out here and find one that supports your needs.
If you’re feeling stressed, uncertain, out-of-sorts, or just need some encouragement-keep reading.
Personally, I feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster in terms of my mental health. Some days I’m fine. Other days I’m a cross between stressed, scared, mad, and sad. I also have different emotions based on the hat I’m wearing at that time:
As a mom, I have to help my own children navigate this experience. This has been especially hard on my fifth grader as she realizes she may not have her big fifth grade field trip, Field Day, Eco Expo, or graduation. I want to respect her emotions, but at the same time wailing in self-pity isn’t going to help anyone.
As a teacher, I was able to transition into the tech and resource end of distance learning easily. Due to my professional development course, I already had some experience with this. However, I was not prepared for the emotional side of distance learning. Walking out of your classroom with no clue as to when you’ll be back and hugging your students good-bye without knowing when you’ll see them again is hard. Really hard.
More than likely we all have our own individual struggles with being home. That struggle will vary due to our individual needs and personalities. For me, it’s the not knowing when this is going to end. I’m a very goal oriented person. I need an endpoint, a destination. I don’t feel right when I don’t have a plan.
The reason I write all of these things to let you know that you’re not alone. I feel like if we’re completely honest, we can all acknowledge that there are some serious growing pains in this experience.
I also want to offer you support, and I hope to give you some actionable ideas and strategies that you can use to make this experience a little easier for your mental health. In the remainder of this post, I’ll share some of things I’ve quickly learned to do and not to do with distance learning.
A predictable, but flexible, schedule has been such a help for me and my mental health. I can easily lose track of time when I work. In fact, our first week of digital learning, I feel confident that I put in more hours that I would on a normal week of school. All I did was work.
I’m learning to set up clear work hours. This goes for email too. At a certain time each day, I completely close my school email and notifications.
I begin my work day by checking and responding to emails and messages on Google Classroom. I use any extra time to manage my FlipGrid and Padlet accounts. The next two hours are reserved for Zoom calls. Then I grade and message students as needed. I end my work hours by checking my email one last time.
I do reserve Sunday nights for my weekly plans. That always worked for me at school, so I haven’t changed that.
Speaking of notifications, I have drastically limited the quantity of notifications I receive. I greatly reduced the various ways students were allowed to comment and message me an each other. My Google Classroom notifications were in the hundreds every day. I couldn’t deal with it. If I know there’s something that I might need to take care of, I can’t relax until I’ve handled it.
As a wife, mom, teacher, blogger, curriculum creator, and professional development leader my plate is always full. Over the years I’ve learned that the best way to manage my time is through batching. This means I don’t hop from one task to another. Instead, I focus on one thing to completion.
My first week of distance learning or distance teaching, I felt like I was jumping from one thing to another. Constantly. I quickly realized I needed to apply that batching strategy to my online instruction. I now no longer try to grade as soon as an assignment is turned in. Instead, I set aside a time for grading and only grade during that time.
This goes again my instincts, but it’s working. We simply waste too much time when we hop from one platform to another all day.
Let it Go
We have to let go our preconceived notion of what school should look like. A “normal” distance learning day isn’t going to be the same as a “normal” school day. There are too many unknowns right now for us to truly manage it all. We’ve been conditioned to have these incredibly high expectations on ourselves and our students, and almost overnight these expectations changed.
For the sake of our own mental health, we have to show grace and patience to ourselves, our students, and their families. I’m trying to shift to the mindset of providing learning opportunities to my students. Whether the student chooses to take part in those opportunities, is something I can’t control. I have to let go of the idea of grades and accountability, which is not easy.
The first two weeks of distance learning, I chased down missing assignments, and it was torture. (At this point all of my students have a device and connection.) I did that because I wanted to make sure everyone understand the platforms, assignments, and our procedures. I wanted to make sure there is no miscommunication.
I’m learning to simplify and streamline my assignments as much as I possible can. One way I’m doing this is through my new digital interactive notebooks. The notebooks are organized by math skill and be be used 100% digitally. You can see the third grade notebooks here and the fourth grade notebooks here.
Each notebook comes with a cover page and hyperlinked tabs. Each tab take students to a specific location within the file. Of course, students can scroll through the file as well.
In each interactive notebook, the first page is for vocabulary. I have my students write the definition in their own words. If they are up to the challenge, they can also add a picture example of the terms.
The second page is a skills practice page. Students may also click the sticky note to be taken to a corresponding Study Jams video. If you don’t want students going to the link, you can delete the sticky note.
Each notebook comes with a math journal prompt. This isn’t the same as a word problem (those come later). Instead, it requires students to think and write about math in a nonthreatening way where there is no right or wrong answer.
Each notebook also includes an interactive sort. In this sort, students drag each unit of measurement into the correct column. This allows students to work with metric and customary measurements.
Each set of notebooks includes word problems. I included several multi-step word problems in each notebook.
In the last page of the notebook, students complete a problem solving task. I also linked a Khan Academy video for students to reference.
Every school year, I reach a point when I’m overwhelmed and stress and school isn’t fun for me anymore. I’ve learned that whenever I hit that mental health wall, I need to slow down and remember why I love teaching in the first place. I’ll take a day and just have fun with my students. Then, the next day we get back to work feeling so much more refreshed and ready to learn.
I’ve tried to apply that same principle to distance learning. Watching my own two kids at home allows me to see firsthand just how boring it can be, especially when it rains 12 out of 14 days! To help interject a little fun and break from boredom, I’m going to start giving students a weekly challenge. These challenges are 100% optional and 100% silly. There is no reward, requirement, or rules (other than being safe). Not only will students have fun planning these challenges, but they should also have fun viewing each others’ videos. You can download the files below here.
Limiting my time on the computer is so hard for me, because there are so many things I need to do. As of right now, I have 390 resources in my TpT Store, and I want you to be able to use them ALL digitally—today. But, it took me 9 YEARS to make all of those resources, so those updates aren’t going to happen overnight, or even in a week or two. I find myself working on those updates every spare second I get, and I know it’s not the best thing to do for my mental health.
We have to get off our devices. We need to do other things that make us happy. What that is will depend on you. After I force myself to take a break, we’ve been going on walks and bike rides, reading, baking, and I even bought myself a paint-by-number kit. For our own sanity, we have to step away.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a goal-oriented person. Unfortunately, I can’t make a goal of returning to “normal” mental health. However, I can set other obtainable goals. These goals must be centered around the things I can control.
These goals can be teaching related. I may set a goal of communicating with each child individually with each child at least once a week. Or I could set a goal of learning a new platform or tool.
I can also set personal goals. One of mine is to clean out and organize my closet. That may not sound like a lot of fun, but it will give me room and an excuse to need new clothes once I have somewhere to wear them again! 🙂