So, you’ve been doing it for a while already, this distance learning thing. Months ago, “distance learning” wasn’t even a phrase in your vocabulary. Imagine hearing it in January: Is it foreign exchange? Learning through binoculars? Quizlet, it’s Quizlet, right?

We’re all still figuring out what it is. This school year, things will get tough no matter what, but how do you keep your students engaged and maintain sanity through it all? Here are six ways to stay optimistic in the face of change and continue to remain positive once we come out on the other side.

1. Simplify

Don’t try to learn everything at once and start small. Your kids need that too. You set up protocols and procedures in week one of teaching and then corrected the next month. You’re there again. It’s an endurance game now. Aim to keep videos for less than 7 minutes. Define parameters for student work in clear concise ways. This may mean more work for you, but you’ll get better quality overall. Remember, you’re not there to answer those questions that percolate easily in any classroom.

2. Craft your Pattern

Make it easy for students to habituate. Make a routine, and stick to it. This is not normal, but the more it feels normal, the more students will engage. Enable a routine by hosting virtual classes at consistent scheduled times, set the etiquette each class. Keep in synch with your district and colleagues. Prioritize new content for synchronous teaching and exploratory and review content for asynchronous teaching.

3. Streamline

Choose one spot to be your virtual home base. Make sure your instructional content and assignments are easy to find online. The procedure to turn them in should be clear and consistent. From an LMS like Schoology, Canvas, or Moodle, link to interactive activities and support materials. If your district doesn’t have an LMS, try Google Classroom.

4. Have Fun

By now you may have your virtual routines set. Distance learning invites approaches you may have never taken before. Be willing to try some new things:  

    1. If you haven’t already, create a ClassFlow free account, and deliver a virtual lesson with polls and activities.
    2. Ask students to make their own Bingo review game, and play it in your virtual class.
    3. Invite students to create their own videos. WeVideo is free and offers easy templates and instructions. 
    4. Share and create gorgeous diagrams with Information is Beautiful
    5. Get magnetized with virtual demonstrations through Phet Simulations for Science.

5. Remember the Kids

This is not independent learning, but distance learning. When our students go explore in the unquarantined world, they will not remember the app you used or the concept you taught. They will remember if you believed in them. Teaching is personal. Make a plan to reach your students on an individual level. A phone call, an email, a text, a comment on a paper; all of these show that you are in the same boat, and you are still there. Find a way that works for you. 

6. Cut Yourself Slack

Set goals high, but keep expectations realistic. Take that deep breath. Work together. Ask for help (even from your super-tech-savvy students!). Be patient and practice self-care. Envision the end-goal: a safe classroom, a resilient generation, a new cultural respect for the unmeasurable gift that you provide daily. 

For more tips on preparing for back to school, check out this list of tips.