Check out BookNook – an reading application that Teachers and Paras are using to read with their students remotely – offered at no cost during the COVID-19 Shutdowns

I grew up wanting to be a teacher. At an early age, I played ‘school’ with my chalkboard easel and ‘graded’ papers my brothers scribbled on. I wanted to be a teacher; I never had a backup plan. Fast forward to graduating from a prestigious education program, I finally was a teacher. I experienced it all. I taught all grade levels, K-12. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the real ugly.  I have so many stories I could probably write a book.

Years into my teaching career, I had to take a step back from the classroom due to my son’s mild health complications. I still wanted to somehow be a part of the ‘education world’ but needed more flexibility than what the classroom could provide. What seemed like a forever job search, I stumbled upon working remotely for an edtech startup.  I was apprehensive and uncertain what this would entail; including working remotely. 

Teachers like routine. 

Teachers like structure. 

I wasn’t sure how well I’d do in a work-from-home environment. But, I took the time that I needed to plan and lay out how my work-from-home life would be. This was a luxury that teachers who are now thrust into a remote situation do not have. I was able to prepare as much as I could. There was no warning for what educators are currently experiencing which makes it ten times more complex. There are so many unanswered questions that are overwhelming for all; from the superintendent down to the students. As a professional ‘overplanner’ and ‘worrier’, it is tough even for me to take this advice but we have to do our best to take it one day at a time.

Here are a few tips I’d suggest to all my educator friends struggling with finding their balance working remotely during the COVID-19 school closures:

  • Communicate. One of the biggest complaints from  remote workers is lack of communication.  Now more than ever, it is important to communicate with students and their families.  Make sure messages are clear and precise. We don’t want to bombard but want to be effective. Don’t forget to communicate often with your coworkers. Having remote meetings and check-ins can help with the loneliness of being at home. It is okay to say, “I want to make sure I’m understanding this..” when receiving messages and always ask questions if things are unclear. If you are set up for success, your students will be too.  
  • Stay Organized. Working remotely has its organizational challenges; especially when most educators were thrusted into the unknown of teaching from home. Create your own workspace (not just the dining room table). Create folders in your email to keep track of items and use learning tools provided by your district (if applicable). Build out your day to day schedule and share with students/families.  Leave time for ‘office hours’ or ‘connect hour’ for students/families to meet with you if they have questions or concerns. Keep a list of things you need to get done. (I use sticky notes..lots and lots of sticky notes!)
  • Keep routine and keep it simple. Depending on your school, build out your calendar (or even your very own bell schedule by setting a timer on your phone).  By providing the structure of a ‘normal’ school day, it will help students get back into routine. Keep tasks to students simple and give clear instructions.  Don’t give them ‘independent, busy work’ or tasks that are too difficult for them with limited tools at home. 
  • Remain Positive and Focus on wellbeing of all. I am a huge proponent of social emotional learning not just for students but for adults as well. It is crucial during these times to make sure you are scheduling time to take care of yourself.  There is no commute to work (bright side!) so take that time to go for a walk, treat yourself to that ‘social distancing snack’.  It is unbelievably challenging to remain optimistic (I mean it is a pandemic for crying out loud) but students will pick up on your spirit; even over a Zoom call! Take care of yourself so you can continue to take care of your students!

Maslow before Bloom has been happening all over as most school districts prepare to shift gears back toward learning. These tough times will pass but in the meantime, do your best to create a remote learning environment that includes flexibility, responsiveness, and compassion. And when you do return to those familiar hallways and empty classrooms; you’ll be even more prepared to take on any obstacle that gets in your way; all while settling back into your routine.

Hannah Imoru is a former K-12 educator with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. She also has a certificate in Social Emotional Learning. Hannah currently serves on the Partnerships team at BookNook; an edtech platform reinventing small group literacy learning.