Supporting your colleagues, supporting yourself

By Elena Spathis
@ElenaSpathis

In what seemed like a span of a few hours, teachers needed to frantically shift to virtual instruction. All schoolwide events and extracurricular activities were suddenly cancelled. Feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and disappointment slowly settled in and took charge.

Like many other professionals, teachers’ roles changed overnight. Rather than being on stage all day in their classrooms, teachers would now be delivering instruction through their computer screens.

I immediately felt a pang of worry as I started to create online activities for my new virtual Spanish classes: Would my students truly learn this way? Would I be able to maintain a sense of community with them? What would my assessments look like?

Although I knew that so many changes were on the horizon, I organized my thoughts and came up with a list of tips as we adjust to the world of remote learning.

Tip #1: Communicate with colleagues

You may not be in your school building, but it does not mean that communication and collaboration cannot happen. See if you can collaborate with interested colleagues through tools like Google Docs, or through a videoconference on Zoom or Google Meet. Exchange ideas and share resources with those who are interested. If you are on Twitter, participate in a live chat specifically geared towards language educators, such as #langchat or #langbook. If you are very well-versed in a specific tech tool, introduce it to your colleagues and share how to use it. Don’t hesitate to connect with new educators across the country, or even across the world. Listen to new ideas and insight, and proudly share your own!

Tip #2: Check-in with your students

Although you are not able to see your students and interact with them on a daily basis in your usual classroom space, you can still do so through your computer. Reach out to your students through email or video messages. Schedule a time for your class to videoconference synchronously using Zoom or Google Meet. This can help maintain a sense of community. Send students a survey via Google Forms, in which you check in on them and ask how they are feeling, which activities they are enjoying or struggling with the most, and so on. Ask them if there is any tech tool or activity they would like to try. A check-in survey gives students the opportunity to articulate their feelings and have a voice.

Tip #3: Choose familiar or user-friendly technology tools

Strive to focus on the use of tech tools that are already familiar for you and your students. This will allow the transition at the start of virtual instruction to be a smoother one. If you are feeling adventurous or inspired a few weeks into this process, feel free to learn how to use a new tech tool – but ensure that it is user-friendly, and consider your group of students. Introducing a tool that is difficult to use or overly complicated with result in unnecessary frustration for all.

Some of my favorite user-friendly tools to use are:

  • Quizlet: for vocabulary review and digital word banks
  • Google Docs and Slides: for embedded or collaborative activities
  • QuizIzz: for review quizzes that students complete independently
  • EdPuzzle: for videos with embedded comprehension questions
  • Padlet: for an online discussion board
  • Pear Deck: for interactive slideshows
  • Flipgrid: for students to create videos asynchronously

Tip #4: Tap into the three modes meaningfully

Although virtual instruction cannot replace the value of a teacher in a physical classroom space, you can still incorporate tasks that engage the three modes: interpretive (listening/reading comprehension), presentational (one-way speaking/writing), interpersonal (two-way speaking/writing). Using the list above of my go-to technology tools, see if you are able to tap into the modes of communication in your virtual language class. Ensure that your students are hearing the language in addition to speaking it and writing it. Even in a virtual setting, it is possible to help develop students’ speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills. Make the tasks meaningful; require that students truly use the language rather than assigning numerous busy-work assignments. Quality over quantity!

Tip #5: Practice self-care

As we work through this challenging time, ensure that you are dedicating time to practicing self-care. Attempt a yoga or meditation video. Read for pleasure. Watch a movie. Listen to your favorite music. Spend time each day doing something that brings you joy or peace. In order to be there for your students, you need to take good care of yourself. Encourage your students to do the same—while we may not be living our traditional lives, we can still make time to doing something we love.

Elena Spathis is a Spanish teacher in New Jersey, and currently works at the high school level. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish and Modern Greek Studies, as well as a Master’s of Education Degree in Language Education from Rutgers University. She is pursuing a second Master’s Degree in Teacher Leadership, with a concentration in English as a second language. Elena also enjoys writing and blogging about her teaching experiences via Edutopia and Wayside Publishing’s Proficiency Talks.

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