3 ways to instantly feel better about distance learning.

"Look at the state of this bloody book"
        1B5 comes flying through the window of the principals office.
“If Kate doesn’t pull her socks up and start teaching my 6 year old to keep his books tidy I’ll be making a formal complaint to the Ministry of Education!”

This is a scene from my very first year of teaching.
Her name was Raelene.
We’ve all had Raelene’s in our lives. They’re the parents who really make you earn your money and no matter how hard you try - there’s always one!
My Raelene was just like any other parent who you could describe as being ‘engaged in the wider life of the school’. She was running the PTA. Her husband was on the Board. She volunteered to be a parent helper whenever she could. But most significantly for this story, although she was small in stature, she was a GIANT WALRUS-SIZED PAIN IN MY ASS!

When Raelene came into my life I was a shiny new beginning teacher. I was full of hopes and delirium, fuelled by thinking that I was sure to be the next Suzy Cato. There I was with my fluro green shoes and crisp new packs of colourful classroom borders. I had landed a job in a teeny-tiny 4 teacher school, with the Year 0-3 class. I was naïve, insecure, overwhelmed… oh, and SURPRISE, I also happened to go and get pregnant in Term 2. SMH!

Raelene provided me with my first real experience of what it meant to be truly overwhelmed. She had an opinion about every single thing that I was doing and was not afraid to announce these to any other parent who lingered around the school car park for long enough.
She was obsessed with how her child’s work looked.
She insisted that it was my job to teach her child manners.
She would openly criticise what was happening in the classroom during her parent ‘helper’ visits.
The weight of her expectations was crushing. I became so overwhelmed by the situation that I actually couldn’t function. The problem got bigger, and bigger and BIGGER until I well and truly went into shut-down mode.
It felt like trying to blow bubbles with a walrus sitting on top of me. I was suffocated and felt absolutely helpless. Every time I tried to do something I’d find myself in a puddle of bubble solution AKA tears.
When I think back to that time, describing it as being crushed by the Overwhelming Walrus seems so fitting. For those of you who have been there, no doubt you’ll remember the feeling well too.

Fast forward to today >>>
One thing that social media has taught me in the last few weeks, is that the Overwhelming Walrus can burst through the doors and plonk itself down on any one of us. I’m seeing so many teachers being absolutely buried under a fat smelly pile of expectations coming in thick and fast over the internet. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s someone new celebrating the 28,000 page document that they’ve created for their learners, or some business trying to convince you that you’ll never be able to successfully educate kids online without signing up for their new fandangled meditative/hip-hop fusion work out.
It’s so easy to get stuck underneath your own version of the Overwhelming Walrus, but the good news is, you can wriggle your way out with a purposeful shift in thinking.

When it came to Raelene, It’s fair to say that we weren’t on the same page. We had different values and expectations in the same way that you have different values and expectations to all of those other teachers online. Rather than beat ourselves up and try to conform to someone else's ideals, we get to choose what we will focus on and make decisions that lift weight off our shoulders rather than continuing to throw buckets of fish into them.

Focus on what you DO know, rather than what you DON’T know.
Don’t know how to teach computational thinking in a way that links with ANZAC day?
It’s all good- that doesn’t have to happen right now.

There’s so much noise right now about what we should be doing to make distance learning successful. What will make it successful is the relationships that you have with your learners. You know how they work best, you know what they’re interested in, you know their challenges. That my friends, is what’s important!
I see so many phenomenal teachers who have forgotten just how phenomenal they are. You know WHAT to do- the only bit that’s changing is the HOW. This is not the time to completely reinvent everything that you’re doing- it’s about tweaking what you do know, so your experience and knowledge of your students is what guides you.

Focus on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do.
I know, it sucks that there are thousands of families that don’t have access to the tools that they need for distance learning. It sucks that you left all of your big books at school and can’t access your favourite Greedy Cat story right now. It sucks that you can’t get a straight answer about when we’ll be back at school.
You could spend literally hours thinking and talking about all of the things that you can’t do at the moment. OR, you could use that time focusing on the things that you can do:
You CAN use this as an opportunity to engage whanau in the learning process and show them the power of learning through play.
You CAN encourage kids to share their hobbies and interests with their peers.
You CAN foster a love of ubiquitous learning which will pave the way for a future of kids & families who truly understand that powerful learning happens anywhere, anytime.
You CAN help to make this a positive experience for learners so they have nothing but the fondest of memories of distance learning once this is all over.

Focus on what you DO want, not what you DON’T want.
This is a subtle one but it makes all the difference.
When it came to Raelene it was easy to become consumed by thoughts like “I don’t want her in my classroom, how do I get rid of her?” which put me firmly on the defensive. With a few years and experience under my belt now, I see that it would have been a much better use of my time and energy to think: “we need to get on the same page; how can Raelene and I reach some shared understandings?” or “how can I work WITH Raelene rather than against her?”
So, with your distance learning journey, rather than weighing yourself down with thoughts like “I don’t want kids to fall behind / get disengaged / become overwhelmed etc” think about what you DO want for your learners throughout this adventure:
“I want my learners to be super engaged and motivated; how do I include their interests more into their distance learning program?” or “I want students to make the most of this opportunity to participate in learning activities that we couldn’t do at school; how could I include some more life-skills type activities?”


So if the Overwhelming Walrus tries to crash through your window and slam itself down on top of your motivation, use a little bit of self-coaching to send it packing. Your thoughts have tremendous power and once you figure out how to choose beneficial ones, it’s a real life-changer.

All the best for this week.
You’ve totally got this!

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