Five Things I Wish I Knew About Distance Learning

teacher at laptop teaching remotely

By Gloria Giambrone, Teacher-Mentor

As a college student, I enjoyed taking online courses. I was able to complete most of the assignments at my own pace, there were very few face-to-face meetings, and there were plenty of opportunities for discussion with others by commenting on their blog entries.  When I took these classes, I never felt pressured or overworked. I was not sitting in front of a screen for hours upon hours in a single day.  I chose to learn this way; professors chose to teach this way.  Since the Coronavirus pandemic started, our students and teachers did not have a voice in this decision.  

When school buildings closed in the spring to slow down the spread of coronavirus, I was overwhelmed and did not know where to start, what to do, or how to teach. I always thought of myself as “tech-savvy.” Boy, was I wrong!  At first, I thought I should recreate the school day for my students and teach the same way as I was when we were in the classroom. This did NOT work. I could NOT make it work. I was defeated, and the only thought that came to mind was to quit teaching.

Then I started researching ways to make virtual learning work. I found a couple of websites, virtual learning tools, and ways to make remote learning more engaging.  The tile of an article I found caught my eye “Why You Shouldn’t Replicate Your Classroom Teaching Online.” This was that “aha” moment I was looking for. This is what I was doing wrong. I was trying to replicate my classroom. Author Becki Supiano suggests using “online tools that let teachers connect with students differently than they could face-to-face. For instance…an app called Hypothesis, which lets people socially annotate a text.”  

There are things outside of your control when you are using technology. Your computer will shut down. Your internet will be down. Your students will turn off their cameras. Your students will be distracted. Have a back up plan. 

Before this school year started, I sat down and reflected on last spring: How can I make distance learning work? What should I do? How can I make distance learning more engaging?  I thought of 5 things teachers must know for distance learning. 

Read our post on two mental shifts that helped one of our teacher-mentors adapt to this new way of teaching during Covid.

Distance learning need-to-knows

1) Find your space 

home, office, workspace

As more people are working from home, perhaps your own family, find a spot in your home where you can set up a calm teaching space. This space should be free of distractions. Look for a corner perhaps and set up an office space. Play around with virtual screens or even hang a sheet behind you during synchronous lessons so kids don’t see family members walking by on their way to the kitchen.

2) Create a new routine

“Routines are the backbone of daily classroom life. They facilitate teaching and learning…. Routines don’t just make your life easier, they save valuable classroom time. And what’s most important, efficient routines make it easier for students to learn and achieve more.”

Linda Shallaway, NBPTS-certified teacher and education writer

Need I say more?  Set those routines. Ask yourself: What does your day look like? What time are you going live? What are your expectations during these live meetings? What does asynchronous work look like? When are your students expected to complete this work? 

Ask your students what is working and not working for them. Their input is very important to set these routines. 

Be open to changing these routines as you get to know your students. 

3) Expect the unexpected 


What if the internet goes down? What if I catch the virus? What if my students cannot access the materials? 

Just like in the classroom things can go sour. How do you deal with these situations?  Things will go wrong. Do not panic! Take a deep breath, close your eyes and count to 4. There are things outside of your control when you are using technology. Your computer will shut down. Your internet will be down. Your students will turn off their cameras. Your students will be distracted. Have a back up plan. 

If this happens, try this…

  • Your internet is down: Send an email to your students and their families asking students to complete their asynchronous work. 
  • Your computer shut down: Use your phone to join your meeting, and let your students know the meeting will be cancelled. 
  • Your students are turning off their cameras: Remember to set those expectations early on to nip it in the bud, but also remember not to be reactive. The kids are having a tough time with remote learning, too, so it’s important not to alienate them.
  • You get sick: Many school districts expect teachers to go “live” even when they are sick. DON’T. Take your time off and rest. 

3) Make distance learning tools your new best friends 

pear deck for google slides

Most if not all curricula have been adapted for distance learning. This has been a drastic change from what we are used to. Not all our students have access to math manipulatives or even books. Use some of your free time exploring some distance learning tools. You will find that these will make your life easier. Your students will be more engaged. 

Here is a list of some of the distance learning tools I use in my classroom: 

5) Practice self-care

rest, letters, letter blocks

What is self-care?  According to psychologist Raphaila Michael, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.” 

Practicing self-care is easier said than done! I know. I am one who will spend countless hours looking over content and engaging activities for my students instead of taking much-needed time to myself. But practicing self-care is what will get us through this difficult time. Dedicate 15 minutes of your day to self-care. Spend this time reading a book, taking a walk, meditating, exercising, knitting, painting. Find an activity that helps your mental, physical, and emotional health, and devote this time to it.

Looking for self-care inspo? Check out our recent posts about teacher-friendly self-care practices and how to create a sacred space in your home.

Do you have any tips for distance learning that you’d like to share? Drop us a comment below! We’d love to hear from you.

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