Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wins & Challenges of Remote Learning & Teaching

At this point, I am about one month into working from home, brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak that has shuttered schools, businesses, and in general, life for nearly all people in the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world.  If you are reading this, I am sure you have been working from home in some fashion for the past few weeks as well.  It's been quite the learning experience, from video conferences with my students and colleagues, countless numbers of emails sent and received, and hours upon hours of time spent on the phone.  Needless to say, sleep comes easily each night after the long and exhausting days, more tiring than a traditional day at school.

Infographic courtesy of
Throughout this time, there have been a number of challenges, but a number of victories as well.  And while it has been a learning curve to get through some of the challenges, the wins most certainly outweigh those challenges.  And while a lot of those challenges have been highlighted in the media, it's important to recognize that wins that have come throughout this process, especially when a challenge has presented a learning opportunity.

Connecting with students over distance has been a challenge.  Tools like Google Meet and Zoom have become common vocabulary for nearly every teacher.  And in the beginning, both of these tools took off as teachers and students everywhere were meeting with one another.  However, it didn't take long for the first challenges to present themselves, especially "Zoombombing," which I predict to be on the list of words in the running for the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year.

While several instances of stories where teachers' sessions on Zoom and Google Meet were "hacked" and people were posting inappropriate images, saying things of an inappropriate nature, etc., and students having the ability to access sessions before or after the teacher has attended the session, the biggest issue was the lack of security features in effect.  However, while these were legitimate concerns, several wins have come from these challenges.  Zoom and Google both have boosted their security features that allow for teachers to have more control over meetings, such as the ability to turn on a waiting room, password protect meetings, and remove any users that are behaving inappropriately.  Google has integrated Meet with Google Classroom that prevents students from accessing a session before the teacher and cannot rejoin after the teacher has left.  Eric Curts of Ctrl Alt Achieve highlights this new integration in a great post, Google Meet is now integrated in Google Classroom! and Joe Marquez highlights some great Chrome extensions for Google Meet in his 5 Best Chrome Extensions for Google Meet in Education video.

And speaking of video conferencing tools, who else has had the challenge of making consistent contact with students?  My school is requiring the following in regards to availability, two-way communication, and attendance for students:

  • For each class period, teachers must be available online via Zoom or Google Meet for one hour
  • Students' attendance will be tracked by two-way communication with teachers, which can be through video conference, phone, text, email, messaging through Google Classroom or Hangouts, or another form (I also post an "attendance" topic in Flipgrid that students can use to check-in)
  • Students are required to check-in for attendance at least once a week
  • Any student that is not checking in and is in danger of failing the class must be contacted by teachers (my students with IEPs have a different standard, I am required to make contact with students each day)
To say it has been a struggle to have students show up for video chats, respond to emails or phone calls, etc. is a gross understatement.  It has been even harder to get in contact with parents/guardians.  And ultimately, I get it.  This is a tough time.  Students are dealing with a lot of things that they shouldn't need to, such as taking care of siblings while parents continue to work, sharing devices and Internet (if they have access to either of those things) and most likely going a little stir crazy staying indoors for days on end.  

However, while this has been a struggle, I have seen some amazing things from students during this time as well.  One of my students has taken the extra time to learn how to tie balloon animals and filmed herself tying a giraffe in a video on Flipgrid.  Another student has been trying to learn how to play bass guitar and shares the new riffs they have been working on in video chats.  Another student shared some of her drawings that she has been working on, and as a person that can barely draw stick figures, her work is quite impressive! Ultimately, education is about more than the standards and the books and this has been a great time to showcase the skills that students are working on that typically would not be addressed in the regular environment.  It's been awesome to see how kids are growing and making the best of this time away from school.  

Seeing this view of Mount Shasta on my
bike rides and walks never gets old!
Another challenge has been taking care of myself during this time.  When it was announced that everything was going to be shut down, I was visiting my parents who live about 3 hours away from me.  Knowing that I would be working from home, my wife would be working to finish externship hours for her degree program from home, and our daughter would be completing school work from home, we decided to stay with my parents.  Their house has a large backyard, the street is very quiet and gives my kids the ability to play in the yard and ride their bikes and my mother can help us out with the kids while we work.  While I appreciate everything that my parents have done to help during this time, it has been very hard to watch what I eat, get a consistent schedule for exercise established, and limit the beers that I consume (not that I am drinking several on a nightly basis, but beer consumption has increased since the lockdown, partially from virtual happy hours and partially from the mental toll of the lockdown).  

However, since I now know that this is going to be the norm for the remainder of the school year, I am starting to make a conscious effort to do the following:
  • Go for several daily walks and/or bike rides, especially during the workday to break up the screentime
  • Drink more water! It is amazing how much better one feels when hydrated!
  • Limit my food intake after dinner, something that was hard to do with the supply of junk food and leftovers of my mother's cooking in the first few weeks of quarantining with my family
  • Visit the Happy Feed app and document three things that made a positive impact on me each day (Happy Feed is a journaling app, check it out in the App Store or Google Play Store)
  • Interact with people via text, phone call, or video chat (how were the virtual happy hours not a thing prior to this?)
I know that you, the reader, have experienced a myriad of challenges and wins over the past weeks.  Take some time to reflect on those, what you have learned during this time, and how you are going to apply what you have learned to your teaching once we get through this, hopefully, sooner than later. 

And I want to thank John VanDusen & John Wells for their thoughts on challenges and wins.  While writing this, I posted a Flipgrid topic asking for thoughts and both Johns came through with their thoughts.  If you would like to share your thought and see their responses, please visit and submit your own thoughts!

Until next time... 


  1. I have been running ZOOM meetings with me as the only participant. I will record a video along with my screen and post it for my students. It allowed them to view it without being live and they can also go back and watch if they need to be reminded of the directions.

    Great post as always!