I have run two races in my entire adult life – two 5k Parkruns. The very first one I was lapped by OAPs: I’m not a runner. However, I understand the principle that the way you run is different depending on the distance of the race.
If we see this period of remote teaching as a race we began in January, one of the problems is that the finish line keeps moving. We prepared for a sprint distance, quickly readjusted ourselves for something longer and now it feels suspiciously like we’re running a marathon that we didn’t dress for.
If we do return to the classroom on the 8th of March then we’re just past the halfway mark but we’ve got to prepare ourselves for the possibility of a much longer race. How do we avoid our teachers hitting the wall with an ever-moving finish line?
Encourage shared planning and resourcing
One thing we’ve learnt this past year is that remote lesson planning takes much longer than preparing to deliver the same thing in the classroom. If it’s not already happening, it’s not too late to encourage departments to share out the planning and resourcing of lessons in their teams.
One or two teachers can take responsibility for a year group, sequence the lessons and take the time to make the resources for all of the department to use with their classes including the recording of asynchronous lessons. Whilst it’s important that live lessons and feedback are still delivered by class teachers, I’m not sure we should be insisting that all teachers record their own lessons for their own classes.
Streamline systems for submission
If teachers are asking for students to routinely submit work via email this can very quickly becoming overwhelming. Even at this point in the race, it’s worth departments investing time in establishing a system for easy submission of work e.g. through Google forms. We must keep looking for low effort, high-impact approaches to avoid teachers burning themselves out with inefficient systems.
Teachers working from home are having to juggle myriad demands including those having to support their own children with home schooling. There needs to be flexibility in the remote teaching model to allow for this. Just because a teacher isn’t online from 9am-3pm doesn’t mean that they’re not working their socks off. We’ve got to trust them.
This is where a hybrid model of synchronous and asynchronous lessons allows all teachers to make adjustments to their working hours to accommodate whatever responsibilities or challenges they’re facing at home. There also needs to be flexibility with any meeting times and an understanding that some teachers will just have to catch up by watching the recording or reading the minutes once their children are in bed.
Set realistic expectations
Every teacher wants to provide students with the best possible lessons they can – that’s as true now when they’re teaching remotely as when they’re stood in a classroom. However, one of the dangers with remote working is that it can bleed into the evenings and weekends as everybody fits work into their own schedule. Late night emails. Early morning Whatsapp messages. Zoom calls at lunch time.
School leaders need to set realistic expectations and think carefully about what can be taken away from teachers’ workloads to balance out the demands of remote teaching. Is that calendared parents’ evening still necessary this term? Do you really want teachers to write reports or can you use the data you’re already collecting to report home? Does that planned CPD event need to go ahead? Will that meeting add value?
We must do what we can to allow teachers to focus on preparing their lessons and giving students feedback.
Make support and training for remote teaching easily accessible
You may have had a twilight planned for this term but don’t plough ahead regardless – the pressing need is supporting teachers with remote teaching. This is especially true for your most technically challenged staff who will find the switch to screen fraught with anxiety.
Make your CPD offer bitesize and clearly focused on specific areas of need e.g. how to use Class Notes in Microsoft Teams or how to set up a Google form quiz. Create short videos or guides and make these easily accessible for teachers to access as and when they need to.
Above all, keep checking in with your staff. What’s causing them stress or anxiety? What’s taking them the most time? What can you do to support them? Just as it’s important to review and refine remote teaching, we need to do the same for what we’re asking teachers to do. If they’re still sprinting then we need to be their pacer.