Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, April 02

Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, April 02

Last week I challenged you to notice 5 things you are grateful for each day.

I sincerely hope that you were able to do that.  I know that for myself – when I am facing adversity like I am – and I think we all are – that being grateful is a great tool to help me with perspective.

This week I would like to share about what “working from home – week one” has been like.

I started this piece of my journey – this working from home piece – when the college I work at made the decision to move programming online last Monday… so – I have been doing this for about a week now.  So, teaching from home is a puzzle all on its own… and I have been working hard to try to figure out how best to solve this puzzle – along with my students.

This isn’t the first time that I have worked from home.  When I worked for the Federal Government (like 15 years ago) I worked from an office in my basement… I did that for a number of years – but that was different – as I wasn’t teaching, I was managing servers, switches and all that sort of stuff in offices along the border… so I wasn’t working with people all the time.  Managing the IT in the offices I was responsible for was a different puzzle – and the tools that I had to do that job were more – attuned – to the task.  Remote control, scripts, etc.  In many ways – working from home was not a lot different than sitting in the server room… other than the social aspect of things  (I could visit a little with the people who worked in the offices).

In my role in with the Federal Government – my ADHD was actually a gift.  I could/would hyper-focus on solving an issue until it was resolved.  That piece of my experience was pretty rewarding.  The piece that suffered immeasurable damage from all that time working alone was the human piece.  I became very isolated, very much alone.  This “bit” is a piece that is responsible for pieces of my journeys into my darkness’s.

So then, what is the difference between teaching at home and working on computers at home?  Computers aren’t people for one.  The responses they provide are either 100% positive – it worked, or 100% negative – it failed.  Computers are only responsible for the tasks that I assigned them.  Nothing more – when they did their job, it was good – when the machines failed – I had more work to do.  It wasn’t very often that a human was impacted very negatively if a machine failed – we had redundancies and could always fall back to a manual system.  Obviously, my students aren’t machines.  They are all individuals that come with all their own personal and private pieces that might or might not ever have anything to do with my interactions with them.  My students aren’t all the same.  My students operate on their own sets of rules, responsibilities, values and experiences.  In a way – I wish I could “demand” a response from a student… but that doesn’t work either for a number of different reasons – culture – etc.

Right now – I am going pretty much flat out.  Trying to prepare materials that the people in my class are then able to watch, work, view, read or ignore… (I say the ignore because some have and do.)  I am trying to build as much “connectivity” into this online experience for them as I can.  They have done a pretty good job at finding a solution to communicate between themselves using “Snap-Chat” and other online interfaces.  THAT’S GREAT!  The problem pieces are, 1. I don’t do snap chat, 2. Not everyone of my students has access to this “Snap-Chat”.  So then I got busy working on creating interfaces in the College’s Learning Management System (Moodle – its an opensource online learning platform) so that they can communicate with each other in there… but they don’t use it because it’s clunky and they have to log into the system to use it…  Along comes Microsoft Teams… and it seems to provide the easy of use that they want with the immediacy of communication that they require – more synchronous rather than asynchronous… (phone call vs letter mail).

What does all that have to do with me – well you see – I am a very social creature… and what I am seeing is that this working from home – this distance experience – well, I am feeling very much isolated again… and I am starting to get into this hyper-focus piece again to – well, I honestly don’t really know what it is I hope to accomplish… lots of stuff I suppose… LARGE among them – is to feel some sort of connection to my students.  In searching for those connections I work hard at creating these online lessons that look very much like what my students would see if they were in class… I’m talking, I’m recording what I am saying – writing “on the board” and teaching what ever it is that I am teaching – but its all one way… In networks – we would call this simplex communication – one way… even further – this would be very much like a connection-less protocol used for sending messages where-in – the message is sent – but there’s no confirmation of the message being received… very much like SMTP if you are into that kind of thing – although UDP would be a closer approximation…  I am missing the confirmation of message sent and understood.  So how do I build that in?  In the classroom I use questioning, that – look you in the eye and see if you are “picking up what I am putting down”.  Online – not so much with the instant feedback.

Questions, questions, questions.  The answer that I have come up with is to create questions that the students have to answer in what I have called my “Daily Accountability Task”.  This is an effort on my part to see that if the communications that I am sending are being received.  I have even created a kind of forum called the “Accountability Café” where my students are required to post answers to questions, questions they need answers to, “What they learned from work they have done.” Etc.  This has worked a bit… but I still don’t feel much of a connection and I really really miss my classroom.  In creating the questions that I ask my students to answer – little quizzes – sometimes I am fortunate and the students actually start asking each other for advice – help.  I use randomized questions with multiple variables, so all of the questions are effectively different – yet based on the same competency.  That’s super and I appreciate that the work I have done is leading the students to learning from each other… (you catch the piece – they aren’t asking me).  The feedback I have been getting is more in quiz scores from the LMS data management system – rather than the students themselves.

I’ve even worked with MS TEAMS to try to do an online class – deliver a lesson in real time, with students watching… and it still feels like I am just talking to myself.  I don’t know if it’s the newness of the interface for the students or that they don’t want to be thought of as being singled out… but there is so very little feedback or comment – back to me – from the students….

I recorded the last lesson and one of my co-workers had a listen to a couple of minutes… his comment to me was “Video turned out real good, watched a couple minutes. Instructor doesn’t sound as excited as the in-person version I’m used too but that’s what happens without a live audience….”  And he’s 100% right. My reply to him was that “When I am doing lessons like this, I feel like I am just talking myself as I teach the paper a lesson, I’ve done so many times before.”  It’s the connectionless environment that seems to be sucking the passion out of all this for me.

I am not entirely certain how I fix this – or if there is something to fix.  A friend that I discussed this with told me that this is a new reality in many education delivery systems.  Students “fill up” on learning when they want, do the exams when they are ready and there’s very little communications back and forth.

I 100% get that this wasn’t a choice for them or for me.  This is the result of this viral pandemic and that – working from home – learning at distance – is the truly responsible thing to do.

I also understand that this is new to me and its new to my learners – learners that weren’t prepared for this mode of delivery.  Hopefully this doesn’t last too long and that “we” grow accustomed to how this will work.  I will continue to try to figure out ways that I can engage with my students in meaningful ways for their benefit and mine!

There’s still this little nagging concern about this forced isolation that makes me really nervous.

We’ll get through as best we can… It will have to be “good enough”.  (That’s a whole other piece – I don’t do very well with “good enough”)

This week I’d like to challenge you to three things:

  1. Get on the phone, on Skype, FaceTime, Teams, Messenger, or whatever technology you use and connect with someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Shut all the other distractions off and spend at least 10 minutes having a great conversation with someone who means something special to you.  Its likely that they can use the connection too.
  2. Spend a little time thinking about the people that are doing work in this world that puts them at risk – and just take some time to send out some gratefulness energy to the world. When I do this I get a bit of a change of heart – I recognize the efforts of strangers who are doing work in incredibly challenging circumstances.
  3. Practice some self care – by doing whatever it is that helps you feel super about you! Have a hot bubble bath, a great cup of coffee on the back patio watching the chickadees flit around, or make that special dish or desert that you like.  Just take a little time to celebrate you…

That’s it – I challenge you.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – practice distancing.  Keep that 2 meters between yourself and others when you are out.  This is the very best – only – way we are going to get this virus gone.  The benefits or otherwise – of our efforts and actions today will be seen in three weeks from now… the longer folks don’t — the longer this is going to be and the worse it’s going to be.