In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to recognise which aspects of teaching and learning you can control and which you cannot.
For instance, you cannot control whether schools remain open or closed, but you can control how you address the challenges that accompany not teaching in your regular classroom. You cannot control the plethora of teaching advice that floods the internet, but you can control how - and how much of it - you use. You cannot control how students react to online learning, but you can control how you respond to online teaching - and how engaging you make it for students.
Your attitude and your approach to the new norm of teaching online matters, and your greatest tool to succeed is your voice. As you navigate your way, keep in mind the important distinction between noise and voice. Noise comes in the form of complaints, negativity, and sarcasm; voice is solution-orientated, enthusiastic, and productive. Be deliberate and conscientious as you foster the latter; you have the power to use your voice to make a difference for your students, your colleagues, and your students’ parents.
There are three components to voice: sharing your thoughts and ideas in an environment underpinned by trust and respect, offering realistic suggestions for the good of the whole, and accepting responsibility for not only what you say but also what needs to be done.
Your voice is most influential when you are authentic, true and sincere; when you optimistically offer constructive suggestions that are progressive and inspiring; and when you are action-oriented with a compelling commitment to making a difference.
The power and potential of teacher voice has never been more important - or needed - than right now. Your voice can provide hope and guidance for colleagues and students. Use the power of your voice to:
1. Share your heart. It is okay to show you are vulnerable. Be open and be honest; let students know how you are feeling and why. Your students need to see the real you and know that this shift in learning is an unsettling change for everyone. They need to know that you, too, are trying to see the silver lining and view these changes as opportunities to learn in new ways - and that you know it is not easy. Don’t be afraid to let students know what you don’t know (such as how to use certain features of your new online platform) or to acknowledge that you need the assistance of their ingenuity to better engage their peers in online learning. When teachers genuinely seek students’ help, the students realise that no one has all the answers, and that we all benefit from working together. You simultaneously create a trusting environment where everyone feels respected for who they are and where they are with learning. Modeling vulnerability, a willingness to learn from others, and the ability to learn from mistakes is invaluable - and powerful when we expect students to do the same.
2. Operate for the good of the whole. While online learning may not be an ideal situation for most, it is important that we all embrace a sense of community and selflessness. Students, colleagues, and parents need to collaborate with a shared sense of optimism. Rather than default to a mindset of “I can’t” or “This will never work,” consider the possibilities and encourage everyone to make suggestions that benefit your online communities. Use your voice to support colleagues who are struggling with this new mode of teaching. You and a student could demonstrate Screencastify or Flipgrid for another teacher (with as much patience as is necessary!)
You might take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of an administrator by sending a message of thanks - perhaps even the old-fashioned snail mail way! It is easy to get lost in our own struggles, yet we need to recognise that everyone misses their students, their colleagues, their peers, and much of what used to be normal. Use your voice to remind students and teachers that even though you are far apart, you remain a school community. Take action to bring everyone together, such as hosting a virtual coffee break for colleagues where your students present an appreciation skit, engage everyone in an online game, or share memes that make others smile. Invite parents to a tea time discussion about online applications their children are using. The possibilities are endless; seize the opportunity to build a community in a whole new way.
3. Be Action Oriented. When you or your students wake up not able to recall what day of the week it is, then it’s time to establish some goals! This will not only keep everyone grounded in time and space, but will keep your students focused on meaningful actions. Establishing definitive end dates and breaking down assignments into manageable tasks will help students develop a sense of accomplishment. As students progress toward achieving their goals, be sure to celebrate their successes along the way. Let students know your own professional goals during this time - and consider including a fun personal goal or two. Are you learning to make sourdough bread or accepting an online fitness app challenge? Share your journey with others, encourage students to share theirs, and take action together.
Just as you take your temperature to assess your physical wellbeing, it is important to take the temperature of your voice. The following is a list of factors we need to be extra cognisant of when you are using our voice during online teaching sessions. While you do not need to check off every box right away, working toward that goal will help ensure that your voice is impactful and meaningful to your students and colleagues.
- I am genuine and sincere.
- I am an inspiration to others.
- I am empathetic.
- I am a good listener.
- I am willing to learn from others.
- I am focused when talking or working with others.
- I am enthusiastic.
- I am knowledgeable and well-informed.
- I am concise when I share my thoughts and ideas.
- I am optimistic.
- I am able to laugh at myself.
It is natural to feel a bit overwhelmed during this period of uncertainty, but we challenge you to channel your most confident and constructive voice. Embrace the notion that your voice - and how you use it - is the most influential and inspiring factor that you can control, and it has never been more important to your students and colleagues.
We challenge you to be an upbeat realist. Be the teacher that you were gifted to be, and rise above all else to use your voice for the good of the whole.