Remote teaching advice from China

Editor’s Note: In this guest post, teacher Elliot Moore shares his firsthand experience and tips for shifting to online learning in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Elliot Moore
Photo: Elliot Moore

My name is Elliot Moore, and I have been living and working as a teacher for the Georgia School of Ningbo (GSN) in Ningbo, China, since August 2015. Compared to previous years here, 2020 is shaping up to be one of the more memorable ones. 

Around the beginning of December, there was talk about a new virus coming from the city of Wuhan. Like many people, I quickly dismissed it and continued preparing for Chinese New Year (CNY). But eventually, that sense of excitement everyone was feeling was replaced by a sense of fear and uncertainty. Government officials announced Wuhan had been placed under quarantine and advised everyone in China to remain where they were for the next few weeks. 

For those of you unfamiliar with China, CNY is one of the most populated human migratory events that occurs annually. Millions of people leave the cities and travel all around the country to spend time with family, or travel abroad where it’s warmer. During CNY, there are open and public celebrations throughout the entire country. For the whole week, families and friends gather to share many large meals. It is a time of happiness for the people, and a time of prosperity for the economy. Any hindrance to celebrating must be immensely grave or urgent.

Unnamed at the time, Covid-19 was highly infectious due to being identified as a droplet infection carried on a cough, sneeze, or through heavy breathing. It remained alive on surfaces without a host for up to four days and spread quickly throughout the Wuhan region. 

Hoping to avoid a similar outbreak, provinces around Wuhan closed their borders and started to shut down businesses and schools. Expatriates were advised by their embassies to leave China while flights were leaving the country. 

I ended up staying because of commitments I made. I also stayed because I didn’t want to risk putting my family in danger. My mother was recovering from breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, and my brother and his wife were expecting their first child. It was a stressful time, but I believed the government was working hard to contain the virus, and that normalcy would return soon. We had to adapt, and part of this experience included developing teaching techniques for distance learning courses that worked.

Creating an online learning community

While transitioning from a classroom to an online learning environment, I found it helpful to establish rules and procedures with my students before attempting any course work. We worked together to come up with a cyber-classroom contract that included: 

  • fair and flexible check-in schedules
  • behavior policies for discussion forums
  • penalty systems for late homework 

Once the contract was completed, students and their parents or guardians signed the document and returned it to me by email. By establishing these expectations, my students were able to move past the novelty of learning online to being able to attend classes anywhere with internet access.

The first three weeks were a period of adjustment. Many students had difficulties getting used to the distance learning program. After reaching out to those students, it became apparent their problems weren’t about the technical aspects of remote learning, but were really around dealing with the circumstances that caused the school closure. 

Rather than dismiss their worries and continue with the next lesson, I spent the beginning of the class period talking with my students about why we had classes from home and answered any questions they had. This experience was positive; students appreciated knowing the truth about why they had courses from home. From that point on, students had fewer difficulties with attendance, participation, and submitting assignments on time. 

Collaboration with colleagues

Before GSN closed, I was part of a school community that extended beyond my classroom. We met regularly to share stories about how our classes were doing and to seek advice from one other if there were any problems. 

During the school closure, we remained a tightly-knit community through chat groups and email. We also met once every two weeks through online conferencing to discuss student performance, best practices, and any teaching anecdotes we experienced in our personal or professional lives to lighten things up. Having the opportunity to stay connected with my coworkers helped remind me that I wasn’t alone while teaching from home. 

If your school hasn’t scheduled time for your teams or departments to connect, I highly suggest you reach out to your colleagues and set up a messaging group for work-related conversations. Regular communication helps identify students who are having difficulty adjusting to remote learning and provides you with an outlet for any questions concerning online teaching.

Prioritizing your personal wellness while teaching remotely

One last aspect of online teaching I would like to mention is making sure you take care of your health and wellness. Start by creating a workstation that is conducive to how you work best. I personally find it best to work on my computer in a set location facing a wall. Other colleagues who were on vacation outside of China chose to work outdoors on the beach, by the pool, or at a coffee house. 

Regardless of where you decide to set up your workstation, make sure you are in a distraction-free environment with access to a stable internet connection. Monitor your eating habits and consider adding 20 to 30-minutes of exercise to your daily routine. When you teach at home, most of the work you do is stationary. You are not moving around as much, compared to being in the classroom. You also have easier access to all of your favorite foods. 

My final piece of advice about staying healthy while working from home is to keep a daily journal of what worked and didn’t work during your online classes. For many who use online teaching, this will be a new experience. By reflecting on r daily online teaching practices, we can help improve our instruction time with students.

Adapting to change

I’d like to think that for many of us, teaching from home will be a short-lived experience. That said, we should be flexible and embrace the new challenge as best we can. 

Start by working with your students to adapt your current classroom rules and procedures into a format that is compatible with an online learning environment. It’s important to be patient. Remember your students are also unfamiliar with remote learning and need a little time to get used to the new routines. 

If you don’t have the technical know-how to use a program or app, don’t be afraid to reach out to one of your colleagues. It is crucial that you don’t lose your sense of school community while teaching remotely. 

Please remember to take care of yourself. Choose a comfortable area to work that amplifies your online presence with your students. Make sure you exercise regularly and eat healthy. Try to avoid things like snacking while you work remotely. 

I’d like to remind you all that never before has there been an opportunity like this to advance remote learning in schools all around the world. I implore you to record what you learn each day from your online classes and share what you have learned to improve current and future online methods of teaching.

Photo: Google Edu

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