As teachers, we so often rely on our own experience each year that passes in the classroom when it comes to developing lesson plan ideas. Currently, we are in a unique situation in education. Teachers have been thrust into an atypical version of distance learning. While distance learning can be very effective in some scenarios, it turns into quite the bit debilitating attempt to keep continuity and consistency in our classrooms that have now turned virtual.
Distance learning has its own set of challenges in addition to the regular challenges that we meet while face-to-face in the classroom. When attempting to research distance learning lesson plan ideas online, and yet still trying to use our tried and true materials from the classroom, it easily becomes overwhelming for a teacher to be actively teaching as well as morphing their craft into an online digital platform.
Especially when you consider that in this situation, most teachers did not have adequate time to be trained and/ or prepare to move their classrooms in this direction. Some teachers are adapting their lesson plan ideas, while others are struggling for several reasons, many of which are completely out of their control.
What if You Can’t Control Your Outcomes?
As I’ve been saying to all of the teachers that I have been working with closely over the past several weeks, you need to know at the end of the day you can only do what you can do. It doesn’t matter what kind of initiatives or requirements are being thrust at you, you can’t control whether or not a child is going to do their work at home or if they’re going to be preoccupied due to illness or an employment type situation. Technology will fail, lessons will not go as planned, and other scenarios that you simply can’t make up will occur.
However, as teachers, we know that teaching is very much rolling with the punches and being able to adapt your lesson plan ideas to whatever scenario happens in your classroom. We could all sit down and write a book about the crazy things that have happened to completely derail our classroom on any given day. This distance learning situation is no different, but teachers are becoming more flustered because they’re not used to this situation. It’s like when you were a first-year teacher in your first few weeks of school, and something went wrong. If you haven’t gone through that scenario before and you don’t have something in your toolbox to combat it, sometimes it’s more difficult to fix it on the fly.
You need to set expectations appropriately. Some stakeholders may be expecting too much and others too little, but you need to regularly separate yourself from the situation to take inventory of what lesson plan ideas are working and what are not. If something is not working, you need to try to figure out why. Those reasons may, in fact, be out of your control. The best you can do is document, document, document and then move forward. Perhaps you’ll come up with an idea at 3 in the morning that can help counteract the issue. Maybe nothing will ever transpire. Either way, document the issue and move forward with the circumstances that you can control.
Shifting Your Mindset
You need to remember that we are dealing with a completely unprecedented situation right now. I mentioned in another article that a lot of this is about mindset and a simple shift in that can find the silver lining in all of this. We are learning about tools and methods of reaching our students that we may never have been open to while things were “business as usual”. We are finding new ways to create boundaries to help with work-life balance that many of us ignored before (and if you’re ignoring now, you need to keep from martyring yourself or else you are going to find yourself burning out quickly).
Teachers are especially susceptible to burnout in this situation. We are taking the normal pressures of being in the classroom and combining them with a pandemic. So often, we are already the guiding light for our students and now we’re trying to help through something none of us have seen in our lifetimes. This is the recipe for burning out.
A 2003 study published in the Social Psychology of Education international journal took, “a sample of 246 teachers (who) responded to scales that assess seven school environment and seven classroom environment dimensions and the three facets of burnout measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal accomplishment.” They found that all of these, but especially emotional exhaustion, heavily influenced the rate of teacher burnout.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you simply cannot pour from an empty cup.
Creating the Perfect eLesson Plan
In lesson planning, you need to consider yourself first. I know this is out of the ordinary for most teachers, but it is essential if you want to keep helping your students in the best way possible. You need to set boundaries like the ones listed here and stick to them. Then, you need to determine what your students will need.
Every school is different. Some are just reviewing content already learned while others are pressing through with the curriculum. Some are doing this digitally and others are paper-based. Some are a combination of all the above.
The second thing you need to do is know what you’re working with.
It’s great that your school is digital, but when you have some students who aren’t participating, try to find out why. Again, it may be completely out of your control. In this case document and just try to consistently reach out to the student, making certain they know that you care about them. For these kids, having a relationship they know they have may be all you can do for them.
Maybe technology just isn’t working for a student. Try to see if paper-based could work for them instead. You can send them messages or even their work via snail mail. Perhaps you can come up with a “pick up” and “drop off” point that makes sense. If there is a language barrier, you could use the TalkingPoints app to help communicate. There is always a “Plan B” option if all parties are willing to give it a shot. Could it end up having the same results? Quite possibly. But again, you can only control what you can control. Do what you can and don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t.
The third is to come up with a variety of methods of instruction.
If you’re doing the same activities day in and day out, the students are going to become less engaged in the material and less likely to complete them. They need structure, but also excitement. I don’t necessarily mean “bells and whistles” excitement. Don’t try to plan a dog and pony show for each day when developing lesson plan ideas. Keeping your students intrigued about what you have planned next for them might just be enough of a hook to keep them working hard and showing up.
Literally, right now all we can hope for is that everyone keeps showing up.
By showing up, I mean in all ways. I mean this for you, too. Obviously, you would be there in person, but are you there completely emotionally? Again, if you’re finding yourself going through the motions, make certain you peek at the articles I linked to above. This is a time for self-care for everyone and creating a situation for yourself that will lead right to teacher burnout is not beneficial to anyone.
The Key? Communication.
To set this up, you need to make sure you’re consistent. Students (and parents) want to know where they can go for the information they need. If you’re going to put your weekly lessons on a Google Slideshow that they are emailed, they need to know where they can go each week to find it. If you’re going to post a more traditional schedule, make sure they know where they can access it. If you’re playing it day by day, be certain the day begins in the same location each time.
You need to be certain there is a way to communicate back and forth. This could be via email, a Google Voice number or Voxer, virtual meetings via Zoom or Google Meet, or a chat program like Remind or Microsoft Teams. You can also use programs like YoTeach or discussion boards on Google Classroom or Edmodo to have real-time conversations between you and the students that can be accessed at any time (Remember, have those boundaries set or else everyone is going to assume you are available 24/7, which is not beneficial to your mental health).
In addition to your boundaries, also respect those of the families. Too many parents are complaining about multiple messages from multiple teachers each day. Make sure that you know what you need to say the day before if possible and send one message in the morning. You can also send a message the night before, preparing for the next day. If you’re able, perhaps you can send one message for the entire week. Multiple messages should only be in case of an emergency. Everyone is overwhelmed to begin with, let’s make sure we’re not contributing to that.
It is important to keep social interaction between both the students with one another and with you. Everyone is craving human interaction at this point, so this is important for everyone’s mental well-being. You can spend some time just talking to each other without an “instructional” agenda. Have an opportunity for contests like “Dad Joke of the Day” to lighten the mood.
Remember, at the end of the day we need to make ourselves priority one, our students’ wellbeing priority two, and engaging lesson plan ideas to keep them “coming back for more” number three. If we can remember that order and keep plugging away during all the uncertainty, we will make it through to the other side and will be able to gracefully transfer into the new normal.
Dorman, J.P. Relationship Between School and Classroom Environment and Teacher Burnout: A LISREL Analysis. Social Psychology of Education 6, 107–127 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023296126723