It’s early August and I’m starting to have my “teacher dreams.” If you’re an educator, you probably know what I’m talking about. At some point in late summer, my subconscious starts to remind me that school is starting soon and that I need to start getting prepared for the school year. For me, “teacher dreams” usually consist of missing the first day of class or showing up to teach in my pajamas. Or some fantastical variation of these. To get the dreams to subside, I’ll dedicate some time to prepping classes and preparing syllabi. I spent a few hours yesterday and completely prepped one of my fall classes. Last night, I finally had a restful night of sleep without a “teacher dream.” But I’m sure the dreams will return soon.
As I’m prepping my fall classes, I have to admit that I’m struggling a bit. Two of my classes are ones that I’ve taught in face-to-face manners in the past. With the pandemic upon us, however, my institution has moved almost all of its classes to completely online delivery for the fall. As I’ve thought about how to redesign the classes for effective online instruction, I’ve decided to offer a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction for the students in these two classes. I’m hoping that the mix of flexibility and consistency will meet the students’ needs. That’s the plan, at least.
So, where am I struggling? As I’m working through my syllabi, I want to include some expectations for our synchronous class meetings. Looking at my social media feed, I’m seeing a lot of my colleagues and teacher friends who are sharing all sorts of things that burrow deep into my brain and get me thinking about my role as a teacher. One friend shared the following meme credited to Dr. Brad Johnson.
I have to admit that these concepts really resonate with me. Regular readers know that I advocate for teachers to “Lead with Empathy.” especially during these stressful times. I know that my students (and my colleagues) are struggling with all sorts of challenges right now. I want to be mindful of these challenges and offer grace and empathy as I can.
But I also want to set clear expectations in my classes. If I’m designing my classes to include some synchronous components because I know its pedagogically sound and in my students’ best interests, I have to clearly communicate what expectations I have for students’ attendance and participation in our synchronous meetings. Thankfully, my social media friends have given me some things to ponder there, too. Here’s an image shared by another teacher friend that offers some clear expectations for students who participate in a synchronous setting (in this case, Microsoft Teams).
As I examine these two documents, I’m struggling with how to align these two. While the synchronous expectations presented above are clear and concise, do they reflect grace and empathy? Do they focus on relationships? Do they communicate patience? While the expectations are probably achievable by the majority of students, I worry about those students who may not have a “quiet room” in which to work or may not have the opportunity to “eat a healthy breakfast.” I worry about the students who struggle to “stay focused” in an online environment or the ones who may not have regular access to all of the expected tools (headphones, charged computer, notebook, pencil, webcam).
So, there’s my struggle. How do I clearly communicate my expectations without also communicating from a position of privilege? How do I outline my requirements for participation and attendance without also ignoring the challenges that my students are likely to face? I don’t have the answers, yet. I think I need to sleep on it some more.