I’m willing to take a gamble and say you’re feeling uncertain right now.
Change – big change – is difficult.
Especially when we throw in extra stress, like a pandemic. Or a lack of toilet paper. Or, when you have new things to learn in incredibly short amounts of time.
With the rapid transformation to online learning that looks set for Term Two, families, teachers, schools, universities and whole systems are going through huge upheaval.
Upheaval is, by definition, a serious disruption to what we know. There’s no doubting that. Particularly as, through this monumental shift, we all face upheaval in our roles, skill sets, understanding…and life in general.
No big deal, right? Just your classic societal transformation in a few weeks.
These changes to life might mean looking after your child/ren at home more often, adjusting to teaching all your classes online, transforming your business model, leading a team or whole school though this mist of uncertainty, or wrapping your head around which supports you can access and how to apply for them using the right systems and processes.
If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling slightly, or completely, out of your depth (depending on the hour you ask me). At these times it can feel like you’ve figuratively stepped off a cliff and realised you’re not sure you can do what is needed to survive.
This is normal. As we face new skills or roles there are usually four stages we go through as we move from a complete novice to expert. (Often called The Four Stages of Competency, or Four Stages of Learning).
I picture it like this:
**I’ve added in the phrases Blissful Ignorance, The Pit, Near the Summit and Cruise Control**
After the last couple of weeks, we’ve all been pushed off that cliff face.
Suddenly, we’re discovering there are things we don’t know, haven’t done before, or don’t yet fully understand;
Teaching an online lesson.
Re-designing your whole curriculum into a brand-new context.
Using Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams or one of those other fandangled contraptions.
Wrangling your three and one-year-old all day, all week (send help, please).
Accessing employment or welfare support.
Whatever it is, we’re all currently looking up and wondering how we might get out of the predicament we’re in.
In 2013 I moved to live and teach in the remote Aboriginal community of Bidyadanga in the Kimberley, 200km south of Broome. With four years of teaching experience, I thought I had a good enough toolkit to jump straight in and adapt. I knew how to connect with kids, build positive relationships and use effective teaching strategies.
It took 10 days to realise I was rapidly falling down that cliff face.
I’ll never forget sitting in a resource room, surrounded by mountains of books and laminating sheets, wondering out loud how I could possibly stand up off my chair, let alone go back into a classroom.
Helpless, ill-equipped, frustrated, stressed and completely overwhelmed. I was ready to give up.
Like how some of us may be feeling right now.
I lived, and taught, in Bidyadanga for two incredible years.
It was a life-changing and overall, highly positive experience. It’s also an experience I continually come back to when I face being in The Pit. Like now.
What was it that helped me then?
Use the word yet
The first step if you want to make it out of The Pit is to realise you can escape. You just haven’t got out yet. Keeping the door in your mind ajar, no matter how slight is critical.
In Bidgy I couldn’t get some kids into my classroom, which would lead to them running around outside, banging on windows, causing disruptions and prompting other kids to run out of class. The intensity was on par with a Slipknot concert. Instead of simply saying. “I can’t get them in the room” I genuinely said aloud, “I haven’t worked out how to get them into the room yet”. Switching up the language helped depersonalise it and see what I had to focus on.
Identify key skills or actions required
Saying YET is great, but it doesn’t help unless we name what we need to do and the skills that will help with that.
If I’ve just realised, I don’t know how to run an online lesson. I don’t know how to cast my screen, keep video off (dependent on your school policy), navigate multiple windows or tabs, or get to the app I use to start a lesson YET. That’s good news (it doesn’t seem like it, but it really is).
Write down the list of skills and put them into the order you’ll need or use them.
Admit you need some help
Owning what you can’t do is a perfect way to discover who and what could help. Tap into those resources. Right now, we’re all needing help in some way or another.
Not feeling confident about using technologies to teach, support learning or assess students? Who seems to know about different online resources that could support your upcoming unit or topic? Name those people within your school, teaching teams, leadership group or, even, on LinkedIn…then reach out and explain what you need and advice you’re seeking.
Invest time and effort in deliberate practice
This is the important part. Deliberately practise and target the exact skill or action. Know what you’re working on and focus only on that during practise.
Before an upcoming online lesson, you might focus on practising muting microphones, giving short, clear instructions, or simply opening and starting an online lesson/meeting. Name that key focus and do it again, again and again. You’ll most likely make mistakes and stuff up. That’s part of the process…we’re all doing it!
In Bidyadanga, I realised to help get students into class I needed to build strong, positive relationships – especially key powerbrokers. I chose to use time every single day to find those students (on yard duty, during lunchtimes) and identify interests and tap into them…along with creating some great video compilations of street art, NBA dunk competitions and break dancing on PowerPoint.
Those students then became in charge of selecting and playing the welcome or exit video IF they were in class and respectful. I also practised different ways of phrasing things and making sure I was always, ALWAYS on time to class, ready to greet the class and have materials ready to go. Did it always work? Nope. Did I master and adjust ways I used these strategies to navigate these situations whenever they occurred? Definitely.
Get clear feedback on your progress
If we know what we’re aiming to achieve, it helps us know what to keep doing, stop doing or change. Remember to get feedback from trusted others. People you know who do the skill at a high-quality…not just anyone.
This could be someone watching you or vice versa (in front of a class, or just between you two). Remember too, feedback can also come from yourself – go easy on yourself and reflect on how you’re going.
You know you need to nail the opening to your first online lesson next term. Model to a trusted mentor or person the instructional time at the beginning and how you’re going to transfer students into their group or independent learning…what questions will you ask? What directions will you give about using chat, your role or how much time?
Not comfortable with that? Why not record it and then watch/listen to yourself? (Or ask them to do a practise and listen to how they deliver and word things).
We’re all in this together. If you or anyone you know might need some help, feel free to reach out. If I can’t help you, I’ll find someone who can!
Oh, and if anyone has some tips on ways to reduce a one-year old’s tantrums, I’m all ears.
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**The careful observer will notice quite a lot of connections with the work, research and studies by Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth on mindsets, grit and perseverance. And they’d be right. They are two HUGE influence on my teaching, education, parenting and leadership philosophies. I was massively influenced in 2012 after reading Dweck’s Mindset, but unfortunately couldn’t come across Duckworth’s Grit until it was published in 2016 (influenced by Dweck’s research) and now read every year…and subscribe to her work on character development through Character Lab.**