We all know that it takes twice the amount of work to be gone from a day of school. There’s preparing your students for your absence, gathering materials, trying to foresee the potential problems, writing sub plans, and then returning to pick up where the substitute and students left off.
As my burgeoning teacher-leader role continues to evolve, I’ve had to do some careful thinking about when to be gone, how often to be gone, and how to maintain the learning pace in my absence. Thankfully, I have had wonderful substitutes, but I’ve also leaned on technology to bridge the distance between myself and my students. Last week while I attended the International Summit on Teaching and the WNET Conferences in New York, I used these tools to stay connected.
1. Daily video messages. Each morning I got up a little early and recorded a good morning message to each of my classes. Using the program Screenflow, and the built-in camera on my laptop I gave them a preview of the day. Then, I uploaded the message to Vimeo and sent the link to my substitute. Before I left, I had connected the classroom computer to a projector so she could display the message to the students. Note: Screenflow is a program that I’ve purchased, but other free programs like Jing accomplish the same thing.
2. E-mail messages. Using the database of email addresses already created, I was able to send students an email with pertinent links for the day as well as prompts for responding to an analysis exercise of public service announcements.
3. Class webpage. Before I left, I spent time coaching students individually as they recorded public service announcements they wrote in response to a non-fiction book they had recently read and studied. (We used books like Nickel and Dimed, Geeks, and Chew on This to look at how arguments for social issues are constructed.) I created and added to our class webpage a link for each student to listen to his/her recording as part of a reflective exercise.
4. GoogleForm Reflections. Instead of composing a metacognitive reflection guide for the substitute to photocopy and handout, I instead created the same reflection as a GoogleForm and then sent the link to all the students via their email addresses. This way, I didn’t have to wait until I came back to school to see their reflections, but instead could take a peek over my lunch break to see if I needed to do any redirection in my second day’s video message.
What I Learned
Plan ahead. I needed to reserve our school’s portable laptops for the days I would be absent and have a colleague who would be willing to check in with the sub on technology issues.
Use a familiar substitute. I requested the same substitute for both days (in fact, it’s the same one for any of my absences) and briefly met with her before I left.
Embrace the questions. In sending out the email message to students, it allowed them to ask questions and get clarification. Luckily, because of our time difference, I had a break during their class period, so I was able to respond instantly to many of them.
I’m teaching email protocol on Monday. I also learned that the first thing we’re doing when I return on Monday is learning proper email etiquette. Greetings, capitalization, salutations and tone. Talk about real-world applicability!
It’s never easy being gone, but when I am able to have these ongoing interactions with students, they clearly know that I’m still engaged in their learning and that we’re doing this together!