Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #7: Ready or not…

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

This week marks an end to your regularly scheduled programming of Weekly Wisdoms  – The school year is getting started, and I’m part of a teaching team too, ya know! The regular TEALS meetups are an awesome way to keep connected, discuss issues, share ideas, and stay energized about the incredible work you’re doing.

I want to use this last post to run my own quick checklist of things to remember to start the year. This will be a mix of things covered by the Classroom Plan or Remote supplement and from my experiences that I’ve found important to classroom success, and fairly short, to keep it focused 🙂

  • What will you be doing on day 1 to build connections with your students?
  • How about day 2, when there are generally  still computer issues?
  • Speaking of which, what’s your Plan B activity for total internet collapse?
  • Have you planned your first visit yet?
  • What are your students’ names?
  • What’s your plan for talking with every student every day?
  • How will you conduct frequent formative assessment to gauge class understanding?

 

Please share your answers below! I’d love to hear more about what you all are doing, especially for the first few questions – I’m always looking for ways to better engage with my students. And if you’re a returning volunteer, call out things I’ve missed that you’ve found critical!

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #6: Classroom Co-teachers

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

I’m going to keep going on last week’s theme of feeling a little clueless and make this week: “what’s my job again 2: classroom teacher edition.” Specifically, I’m gearing this towards classroom teachers in the co-teach model, though, many of the same tips apply to TA-support.

As the classroom teacher for a remote class, you are the single most important person in the success of your classroom. The content that the remote volunteers are delivering could be the best in the world, but without your support, those lessons will fall flat.

What does that support look like? Parts of running “remote classrooms” are things you’ll be very familiar with from running any other classroom. Getting to know your students, encouraging questions, keeping focus, handling behavior, and managing IEPs are all things you’ll do in this class just like any other.

So, let’s focus on some of the differences. The biggest one is a step that can be kind of daunting – not only inviting other instructors into your classroom, but also handing off primary content delivery to them. This may make you feeling a bit secondary – you’re not! Resist this feeling! Remember that you have the greatest ability to welcome the remote volunteers into your classroom, and to make interacting with the feel normal. Students will follow your lead.

Some practical tips to consider:

  • Talk to the remote volunteers in front of the class
    • Say good morning all together
    • Help repeat the instructions
    • When the volunteers indicate, re-prompt the class for questions or to raise hands
    • Let the volunteers know how the class is doing – you have the best view of facial expressions and body language, and are the only person who can feel when the room is full on confusion
  • Remind students to ask the volunteers questions
    • You should handle as much as you can, but you’ll probably get overwhelmed
    • Encourage students to ask their questions, even non-curriculum related ones, to the volunteers
    • Ask your own questions, even in front of class. You’re a student too, and it sets a great example for them to “do as I do, not just as I say”
  • Keep students engaged
    • Walk around the classroom – distracted students stay more on task when someone is over their shoulder
    • Take note of which students engage with the remote volunteers, and which shy away. The shy ones in particular will needs extra encouragement to connect, and some more in person help from you

I want to close this post out by inviting the classroom teachers we have here on the forums to chime in. What were some of your challenges in your first year as a TEALS co-teacher? What were successful and less-than-successful strategies for running your remote classrooms? What’s something I should absolutely steal and take back to mine?

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #5: I’m a TA and …what’s my job again?

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

 

This week’s wisdom is directed to one specific set of you all: my fellow remote TAs.

As you’ve probably realized by now, the TA role in TEALS is a bit different to the TA role that you may have experienced in a University course. The TEALS TA role is not secondary to a class professor, but is an equal member of Co-Teaching Trifectas or TA Support Tandems[1]. The importance of the role and it’s place in the classroom are what keep me coming back as one each year.

But a not uncommon feeling I’ve head when I talk to other TAs is one of being kinda sorta useless – or at least, not very useful. Sure, you’re grading assignments, and trying to do check-ins with students in class, but you’re left with a feeling that you’re not having the impact in your classroom that you were hoping you’d have.

If this feeling comes up, it’s worth stepping back to analyze why. It could be that there are smaller, day-to-day practices you could be leveraging more. Things like asking your students follow up questions when you chat them, and making sure that at least one of your questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no”. There are certainly students who are absent, or are struggling to keep up with the pace of the class, and maybe those students aren’t getting the help they need. Working with those students can easily occupy a TA for a whole day.

It could also be that there are larger classroom practices that your team isn’t employing, and should strongly consider. As a TA, you’ll be leaving some great, personalized feedback for students on their projects and assignments. When was the last time you took class time to have students review and respond to this feedback? Remember, students need to hear it 7 times or do it 3 times to really absorb a concept. Responding to feedback is another time to hear, and correcting an assignment is another time to do. You’ll be the first to notice when the entire class does much worse on an assignment than expected, and you’ll be most familiar with the errors they made. This makes you best prepared to dissect what concept seems to have been collectively missed and to lead a review of that concept.

And finally, if you find yourself with some free time, you can use that freedom to add to your classroom in ways beyond the curriculum. Quick learning students will need additional meaningful challenges to grow. There are entire libraries of projects in every language that can inspire your students, but they’ll need some adapting for use in your classroom. And don’t forget that the classroom teacher is one of your students as well. They’ll have to maintain, modify, and grow this class long after TEALS steps out, and every resource you can find or create for them will set them up for long term success.

As you know, teaching is so much more than lecturing. As a TA, you’ll be less occupied by the lecture than the teachers, which means you get to be more concerned with all of the other aspects. You’ve got the most freedom to take your CS course beyond the confines of powerpoint – use it!

 

[1] Some more background, for my non-TEALS audience. Co-teaching and TA Support are two models of school engagement in TEALS, and TA is one of the roles that volunteers take on. The TEALS website has more information on both their engagement models and the volunteer roles.

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #4: Light Speed Curriculum

Welcome to Weekly Wisdom Wednesday. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

 

Scene: your office

Characters present: you, and the entire TEALS curriculum for the year

You: “This does seem like a lot of material to cover”

The curriculum stares back, silent

“I mean, is a classroom really supposed to get through ALL of this?”

10 Units of AP, 6 units of Snap, and 8 units of Python offer you no answers

“Some of these lessons seem like they’ll take a long longer than they say too…”

The 70 some AP lessons offer you no consolation, nor do the similar number of intro ones.

“Maybe we can save time on the review days?”

The endless tomes offer not even a smirk at your obvious joke

“Ok. Deep breath. Maybe we can just move quickly so we can cover everything”

You can’t be sure, you might be hallucinating, but as the words came forth, the curriculum appeared to get even more daunting.

“HOW IS DOING ALL OF THIS POSSIBLE?”

The curriculum stares back, silent


 

Ok, ok, so it’s not that bad. But it’s an honest concern: the curriculum covers a lot of material, remote classes have to invest extra time into all of the technology setup overhead each class, and all of that technology means that your class will probably move at a slower pace. “I feel like we’re way behind in the curriculum” was a frequent topic for remote volunteers at last year’s meetups.

So, what’s to be done? The most important action is to be intentional about your choices. I’ve written previously about an entire semester my teaching team spent with this problem, and the issues it caused because we unintentionally made (or didn’t make) choices about classroom pacing.

To get practical, I can share what’s worked well for me in my Intro classes. First and foremost, slow it down! A mistake my team made in our first year was to try and cover the entire curriculum at the pace it dictates. What we should have done was go at the pace our classroom was dictating, which was quite a bit slower than what TEALS writes it as, and what many other schools are able to achieve. This is not only ok, it’s good! If you take the time to introduce a concept, make the choice to spend the time to ensure your students are comfortable with it.

Slowing down means cutting out lessons, which means you need to be conscious about what you cut, and how you adjust what’s left. If your students need more time on a project to benefit from it, can that time be unstructured work time? Do you need to define extra checkpoints and expectations? Can you take the project day-to-day, or do you need to set a hard deadline for moving on? For the project you cut, why did you choose those ones? What concepts will you be removing from your curriculum? Will you attempt to cover these in another way, or do they simply need to be dropped? The answers to these will vary for each project and each class, be sure to think about what’s right for yours.

I don’t have experience in how to deal with this in AP courses. Slowing down is a lot harder, since that test is coming in the spring, whether you’ve covered the material or not. I will be teaching one this year though, which means I need your help! Experienced AP remote teachers, you’re a small group, and I’d love to have every one of you that read this share your experiences in pacing the remote AP classroom.

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #3: Visit Early, Visit Often

Welcome to Weekly Wisdom Wednesday. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here. This week’s post is a little more focused on a TEALS mechanic of remote volunteers visiting their partner schools, but contains important ideas for all remote educators

 

While many Weekly Wisdoms will focus on ideas, not classroom mechanics, I’m dedicating this entire post to one mechanic.

Visit your classrooms. Visit as early as you can, and visit as often as you can.

TEALS provides recommendations and guidelines for trips, as well as money to reimburse expenses. Keep that link handy. And, take note of where it states you have up to $1000 per remote volunteer for travel expenses. For those of you who have to take a flight to visit your schools, this will indeed only cover a couple of trips, so you’ll want to plan them particularly well. But for those of you within a few hours drive of your schools, even with costs for gas, rental cars, and/or hotels, your limiting factor on visits is mostly likely to be the time you have available, not the cost.

Spend as much time as your calendar and TEALS budget allow. It’s the single biggest classroom-improving action within your control. No other single class can have as much impact, inject as much energy, or build as many bonds as your physical presence in your school.

First as foremost, classroom visits are the best way for students to get to know you, and you to get to know your students. This is biggest aspect of the “visit early” recommendation. For all of the strategies available to minimize the effects of distance and online separation, it still involves being separate. You’re a person that exists, sure, but you exist largely in your student’s minds – more like an interactive character in a video game rather than a real person.

But when you step into the classroom for the first time, you immediately and irreversibly become a real person. You have a three dimensional form, they can see all of your hand gestures when you talk, and there’s no lag between when they ask a question and when you answer. And even when you’re no longer there, they can remember the you that exists in real life, not just how they imagine you. There’s a powerful difference between your students knowing you and meeting you.

Visiting often will help build your relationship with your students more quickly, so the more often you can spare, the better. This is especially important for students who are struggling. Online, it’s easy for your students to say things are going well or keep responses basic. But when you’re with them in person, with your human appearance and friendly face, you are far more likely to get a truthful answer from a student who wants to say, “I’m don’t think I’m doing well in this class.”

So, what should you do with all the visits you’re going to go on? I mentioned some ideas when I talked about how you’re cooler than you think, and I recommend all of them from personal experience. The general idea is to do whatever give you the most interaction with your students. Often, this means a culture day – it’s a good use of time! Summer Training #2 in Redmond provided some handouts about good ways to get to know your students and school, so review those when they hit Canvas (I would have unbelievable amounts of fun working out a scavenger hunt my students made for me).

There’s about a month until school starts. Have you planned your first visit yet?

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #2: Who are you people?

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

I want to start this week by addressing a feeling that many of you are probably having with regards to your teaching team – the feeling of not really knowing anyone. Especially for first year volunteers, it’s not uncommon to still feel like someone on the outside looking in.

If you were lucky, you met your team (or at least a few members) at the first in person training. You’ve hopefully started having conference calls, though, they’ve either been basic intros or discussions about the classroom plan. Many of you still only know each other through the internet. And many of your teammates work in different places for different companies, so meeting up is a luxury.

It’s ok! These feelings are normal, and you are not alone. If you don’t know someone on your team, they also don’t know you, and nearly every team is in the same place.

However, as a remote team, this is not a problem that will solve itself. Remote teams don’t have the chance to have the casual, face to face conversations that build teamship. You don’t have 5 minutes before class to chat or a carpool ride to catch up. You handoff plan is an online shared document, your chit-chat is audio/visual testing before class starts, and your team meetings are all virtual.

Remote teaching is incredible, but it also easily leads to getting through most of a year, looking around, and still thinking, “who are these people?”

It’s worth figuring out how your team will build a sense of teamship. The better you know each other, the better you’ll operate better as a unit. You’ll also have an easier time calling out problems and disagreeing (constructively) with one another – both of which are critical to success. And, if your team hasn’t communicated at all yet, it’s past time! It’s ok for anyone to send that first (or second, or third) email to the team. If you feel like you need more communication, communicate more! And if you’re having trouble reaching people, including your classroom teacher, leverage your Regional Manager – they’re there to help you succeed!

So, find some time to bond. If you’re lucky enough to work close to each other, have you weekly sync calls in person, and call the classroom teacher together. If you’re a little more spread out, find the time every so often to get together. A team breakfast or lunch not even once a month goes a long way. Last year, my time got breakfast once about every six weeks, and even the people who dined solely on coffee would come and enjoy having a chance catch up. If nothing else, plan your school visits together! You’ll likely have a couple hours of travel time, or at the very least, will get most of a day in person together. And if that is truly the only way to see each other, then it is a good use of time, even if you’re tempted to spread out your visits.

Right now, you’re called a team. Soon, you’ll be teaching together as a team. And with a little effort, you can be feeling like a team in no time.

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #1: You’re Cooler Than You Think

As a part of my volunteering with TEALS, I’m writing a weekly blog for new remote education volunteers. See the tag “weekly wisdom” for other of these posts


 

Kicking off this idea of “weekly wisdom”, I want to start with one of those concepts that doesn’t really get covered in a training, and one that took a while for me to learn:

As a remote volunteer, you’re cooler than you think.

This is especially true for those of you who, like me, are volunteering with a rural school. Think about it from your students’ perspective – you are a professional, working in a field that your students are only just starting to learn. And you’re not just some guest speaker that will come in for a day and then never be seen again. You are stepping into their lives day after day for an entire year. They’ll get time to get to know you, get comfortable with you, and seek mentorship from you, in a way that they often are otherwise unable to get.

Taking it a step further – you are an incredible asset for your entire school. If you’re willing and able to put in the time, a visit to your classroom can be transformative not just for your students, but other classrooms as well. During trips to our school, we spend the entire day meeting not just with our TEALS class, but with the other tech classes, helping give deeper meaning to what they’re learning in courses from web design to basic computer use.

We also use one trip a year to drop in to some of the non-tech courses. We talk to the marketing class about how market research impacts the features we write and when we write them. We talk to the graphic design class about how our designers play a critical role in defining what our product is and how it makes users feel. We show these students how their work and interests combine with technology. And at the same time, these visits build bonds between our new CS program and other teachers, and build interest in TEALS courses in other students.

As you plan for the year, and plan for your visits, plan to leverage how unique TEALS is. Take your cool factor and invest it around not only your classroom, but your entire school. The benefits will come back tenfold.