If teaching in front of a computer all day has you feeling just as drained if not more than teaching in front of a classroom full of kids, you’re not alone.
Zoom fatigue, also known as online fatigue, if for real. If you’re looking for a reprieve from being in front of a screen 24-7, you may find the answers you’re looking for in this interview with Megan Brown. Megan is a 6th grade teacher currently teaching at a fully online school that her district put together for this year. She is a Google certified educator level 1 and 2 and will be graduating with a Masters in instructional design and technology in the Spring of 2021. She enjoys learning new technology resources and coming up with meaningful lessons using different resources, with her favorite resource being Google Forms. Megan is also the host of the podcast "So You Want to Teaching with Technology."
Are you ready to beat Zoom Fatigue so you can "zoom" to other things beside the million tabs on your laptop? Read on or listen to the podcast episode below.
Q: How teaching has changed for you since the start of the pandemic?
A: Teaching has done a complete 180 for me since the start of the pandemic. We went virtual in March last year using Schoology as our LMS. I created lessons and practice activities teaching 6th grade math. This year, I signed up to be a 100% virtual teacher using a pre-made curriculum on the platform that came with the curriculum, and I am teaching 6th grade social studies. It is extremely challenging because I have to do a lot of research before I create lessons because I have never taught social studies (my specialty is science and math), and we have a lot less interaction with students which I am not enjoying. I am a part of my district’s design team trying to plan out what the virtual school will look like next year, so hopefully a lot of those challenges will be fixed for next year.
Q: There’s a lot of debate in the news and social media about students returning to school and the validity, if you will, of remote teaching (if remote teaching is “real teaching”). Describe for us a day in the life of a remote teacher and what goes into preparing for teaching online.
A: Our school is running things a little differently since we have a pre-made curriculum, because we developed our virtual school in survival mode, so right now a day in my life starts with a morning meeting to do a social emotional lesson with my advisory class. Then, each teacher has office hours for 1 hour. Monday and Wednesday we host live lessons. I usually use something like Nearpod so students are interacting with the lesson and it is not just a PowerPoint presentation. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday we answer questions and help students with their assignments. Before and after office hours I am usually planning lessons or in meetings like curriculum meetings, IEP meetings, or meeting with my team members. I also usually have Go Guardian up so students can message me if they have questions. I also reach out to students to do 1-on-1 check-ins. I also spend a lot of time reaching out to parents of struggling students to try to get them back on track. I spend so much time on my email and my phone contacting people. I notice even with virtual teaching, I tend to be juggling many things at one time.
I think a student can absolutely have a quality education online. I think teachers are struggling right now because you have to relearn how to teach. But now that we have some practice and I am sure everyone has gotten professional development and practice I think teachers are much more prepared now and doing a great job. I love teaching online and cannot wait to see how our district's virtual school will change and improve in the coming years.
Q: Teaching was physically and emotionally demanding in a pre-pandemic classroom. How has the level or type of fatigue changed for you as a remote teacher?
A: I think I have the same level of fatigue as I did before the pandemic, but the nature of the fatigue has changed. At the beginning of virtual teaching, I felt extremely drained from staring at a screen for so long and constantly had headaches. This has subsided as my body has adjusted, but I was so surprised how physically drained I felt even though I only had a few hundred steps in a work day.
The emotional fatigue is extremely noticeable. I always feel stressed about students who are struggling because it is so taxing worrying about their grades, their well-being, and their emotional state. Now I have those same worries, but I feel like I have so much less control because I cannot physically make them do their work like I can in person. I know I could never make someone work, but I could place the activity in front of them and hold them after class. The feeling of having no control and worrying like crazy over some of my students is something I have not felt before and something I was not expecting.
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It has definitely made me realize how many people do not give the impression that they care about their student’s education and that is so disheartening. At the same time, it is amazing to see how many students are actually thriving in this environment and go above and beyond. We are starting genius hour, and these kiddos are so excited to start working on their projects.
Q: Whether we want to or not, many of us have to make remote or hybrid teaching work for the time being. What are some things that teachers can do to alleviate the exhaustion from sitting in front of a computer 24-7?
A: What has helped me the most is creating a daily schedule for myself. So every day I grade at the same time, lesson plan at the same time, call parents at the same time. This structure is helpful because the day just all ran together before I started sticking to a schedule, and I would never know when to stop working. In your schedule, you need a stopping time as well where you do not check your email, you are done grading and lesson planning, you put work down. You need a boundary because it can be hard to separate your work like from your personal life especially if you are working from home.
Next, I would schedule a time where you are going to do some exercise to get moving. That was one huge difference between teaching in person and online is I just don't move as much so taking 20 minutes to stretch, do yoga, or I got a cheap elliptical for my house, just something to give yourself a break from the computer.
Also, it is important to schedule a specific lunch time where you will not meet with people. When I first started working, I would always put my students first. If they wanted a meeting now, they got a meeting now. It got to the point where I would not eat lunch until 3:30 when our day was over. So now I protect my lunch time. I will not meet with students, I will take that half an hour to take a break and eat. It is great for you physically because you function much better when you have that sustenance, but it was also so helpful mentally because I allowed myself to step away and not feel guilty about it.
Lastly, find ways throughout the day to communicate with people. I work from home and it is just me and my cat, so it can get really lonely. I find when I am able to do a phone call or video call with a friend of my family it just gives me energy to keep working. I love calling my sister during lunch and watching my nephew on a video call. When you are working in person you are constantly bombarded with people, so those little moments where you can get some communication with the outside world can do wonders on your mental health.
Q: Sometimes, it comes down to changing how we do things - working smarter not harder so to say - to get through an experience and establish a healthier way of working in general. What are some strategies teachers can use to streamline their teaching experience so they can get some reprieve from online fatigue?
A: There are a lot of ways we can work smarter rather than harder. One way I mentioned before is just having and sticking to a schedule so you do not get wrapped up in one thing and forget about your needs.
To help streamline calling parents, my team always documents when we call parents so we are able to share that workload. I know a common problem I have is when parents will not pick up the phone. What I have found helpful, and this may not be something that everyone is comfortable with, but I feel comfortable texting parents using a Google Voice account so it is not my actual number. I have been calling parents and leaving a message, but I will follow up with a text that says I don’t know if you got my message, but here is what’s going on if texting is easier for you. A lot of parents respond to texts rather than phone calls or emails, so that has been helpful in just getting parents to respond.
I have also found a great tip for responding to emails. There are a few emails that I send out regularly like if people miss our morning meeting, they have to fill out a google form so that will count as them being present for the day. I also send out weekly emails to students who are failing and copy their parents. On Gmail, you can make email templates so you do not have to keep typing the same thing or even copying and pasting. Using templates has actually decreased my stress levels. Whenever I went to send the same email over and over I got a sense of dread like I really don’t want to do this, but using templates has been such a life and time saver. It is a setting you have to turn on, but it is very easy and I have a video on my social media (you can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @2teachwithtech) that shows you how to do it.
When it comes to grading, I would say it is okay to not grade everything. You can send out an answer key and have students judge their own work. Another thing I have done is go over the answers in a live lesson and record the lesson and send it out to students. You could even make an assignment where they have to watch the video and complete a google form where they select if they had the right idea for the assignment, had some struggles, or were way off and if they still have questions after seeing the answers. This way you can still get a sense of where students are at with the content without having to grade.
I know I have 140 students, so I try to limit what I have to grade to 1 or 2 activities a week because it just takes so long to go through them all. I would also make use of things that can be self graded. I know a lot of people use Google classroom, so if you do, make sure you are creating quizzes in Google forms from the Google classroom platform. When you create them in Google classroom the grades will automatically upload to your gradebook which saves you the step of entering in grades for each student.
Q: Even if you don’t contract COVID, your physical and mental health is impacted by the isolation and limited mobility this school year. How can teachers keep moving and stay connected to each other to combat the drain of teaching online?
A: I would say similar to how to alleviate online fatigue it is important to schedule breaks where you can get up and move or exercise, or do this before or after school. If you are like me and struggle with accountability, find an accountability partner. I have a coworker who is my accountability partner, so we talk every Tuesday and Thursday and tell each other what exercises we did that day. We get up and work out before our online school starts. Having an accountability partner also helps you stay connected with other people outside your home.
Another way to stay connected with your coworkers is to have virtual happy hours or some way to have fun. Just try to make some time to communicate in fun ways so that you are not just talking about work all the time and are able to laugh together. I listened to a presentation one time by Jack Burkemeyer, and he emphasized the importance of laughter. I cannot remember the specific number but he said something like if you do not laugh at least 9 times a day you are doing your job wrong. That is something I have noticed is I do not find myself laughing as much teaching online, so making opportunities to just hang out with students or coworkers and just laugh is great for your mental health.
I also think if you are struggling with mental health, now is the perfect time to try to see a therapist. A lot of them are able to meet virtually or do phone call sessions if you do not want to go in person.
Q: It’s important to note that it’s not just teachers feeling the online fatigue this year; our students are also spending much more time than ever before learning in front of a screen. What are some ways teachers can structure their class time or instruction to help students beat online fatigue?
A: The first suggestion I have is to make online interactions engaging. I actually have an entire podcast episode about engaging students online if you want a lot of specific ideas. The main takeaways I have are to make sure when you are doing a lesson, get students involved. I like to start lessons off with a virtual ice breaker. My favorite right now is doing 4 corners with Jamboard. I will ask a question with 4 different options, and students move a sticky note with their name to the corner for their response.
Nearpod is a great tool to do this because you can embed quiz or poll questions, collaboration boards for students to write their ideas, there are 3D virtual tour options, lots of ways for students to be active in their learning. I also like to use breakout rooms for student discussions, but I have noticed students are very hesitant to talk, so I always use something where they can communicate in other ways as well. I like setting up a Jamboard so each group has their own slide where they can record their ideas to a question. This is also nice because I can go through the slides and see where groups need a little prompting. A great way to help students with motivation on activities where they are working asynchronously is having menu choice boards so they can have more ownership of their learning and complete tasks that are engaging to them.
Another way to help students is to allow time for play. Students are at home and experiencing the isolation just like we are, so having opportunities for them to just talk and play games with each other is so important for their mental health. This is an area my teaching team has actually improved so much on. We have started doing monthly reward days where students can pick an activity they want to do. We have played Among Us in breakout rooms on google meet, we have watched a movie together and socialized during the movie on a google meet, we have done crafts together, and the kids really love having that opportunity.
We also started a reward system using Class Dojo so students can earn Dojo points for things like doing their work, attending live lessons, having their camera on, and things like that. Then we created a Google form that lists different rewards they can use their points for. They range in ideas like positive notecards home, having a google meet lunch or game session with two friends, an assignment pass, so they can miss an assignment, and we even have teacher taste test because they have a weird obsession with wanting to see us miserable and the one that is the most points is we will send them a pizza. This has been great for morale and it has gotten a lot of students to turn their camera on so it feels more like a class. Actually seeing student faces makes a huge difference.
Q: While the end is in sight, we don’t know for certain when or how our altered state of teaching is going to return to anything close to normal. Chances are, there are aspects of teaching online or using digital learning along with in-person that are here to stay. What are some things that need to be considered for the future, either on a school or district level, to help teachers use technology to reach their students and still take into account the physical and mental drain that comes from being in front of a screen?
I think you bring up a great point. My district is actually continuing our virtual school for as long as people will sign up because we have found there are a lot of kids who learn better this way, or it is helpful if they have to help support their family and have a job while in school. I think it is important that teachers are getting continuing professional development on online tools and strategies because technology just changes so frequently. I made a podcast episode about Google Meet features and it is already out of date!
I think it is also important that we hold students accountable for online work. Right now with everything going on it is important that we are giving students grace, but as this becomes more of a lifestyle than a survival method it will become necessary. Finally, I think it is necessary for schools to provide instruction about online safety and just how to use technology for school. I think most schools probably do some of this. I know we always have to do a day or two of online safety like don’t give out personal information online, but I think more structured instruction will be necessary as we continue. Students are great at figuring things out on their own with technology, but with how frequently things change and how heavily we are starting to rely on technology formal instruction would be helpful for everyone.
To recap some the amazing pieces of advice from Megan:
Allow time to connect with students online in an interactive and fun way, and let them know their efforts are appreciated.
Megan provided some great advice for anyone who has found themselves teaching in front of a computer this year. Be sure to subscribe to her podcast "So You Want to Teach with Technology" and check out her resources on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @2teachwithtech. You can also watch her YouTube channel, listen to her podcast, or read her blog on her website here.
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