Feed on

Amid the intense cultural changes implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19, I, like many others who became full-time caregivers, teachers, coaches, counselors, and nurses for children, younger siblings, and even aging parents seemingly overnight, dreaded the eroding line between work and home. Even though I enjoyed occasionally working from my quiet, carefully curated home office, that space has been invaded. I cringed as I pictured my eight-year-old making his Zoom debut in the adorable but disruptive fashion of professor Robert Kelly’s children.

How can we care for others, meet essential learning goals, reassure students, and maintain personal wellbeing in times of disruption? While this will most assuredly be a difficult transition, there are a few small, adaptable interventions that can make it easier: 

Make a Schedule

Routines can help mitigate anxiety and ensure everything gets done. Make a daily schedule and stick to it as best you can. I suggest actually printing and posting a daily schedule. Google Calendar works well too, but I prefer to have the schedule on the refrigerator and at my workspace. When it is posted, older children, adolescents, or parents can also see what we are doing and when without interruption. 

Here’s the “aspirational” schedule that I use to organize school work for my third-grader: 

While he does self-directed creative time, chores, and reading, I take Zoom meetings, answer emails, research, and write lesson plans. We do outside time and exercise together, which helps us maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Full disclosure: we don’t always stick to the schedule! Things happen, and we have to be gentle with ourselves and make course corrections throughout the day. 

Routines are important for our students too. Even asynchronous learning can be roughly scheduled with deadlines for completing tasks and assignments. Consider implementing a newsletter or agenda for each week. This “one-stop shop” can help students keep track of the course topics, due dates, readings, and appointments. Whatever your strategy, it’s also important to be transparent about your availability and establish mutual expectations.

Create Boundaries 

While we can’t ask infants or toddlers to wait patiently while we finish a Zoom call, it is age appropriate for slightly older children to work independently in the next room. We can also compassionately communicate these expectations with adolescents and parents. This can range from closing the door during meetings with a sign that says what time you will be done to designating and practicing non-verbal cues for when you cannot be interrupted. 

Make liberal use of the mute button on conference calls and Zoom. You can also use earbuds and/or noise-blocking headphones when safe and appropriate. Be prepared for contingencies and make your students and colleagues aware of these. You will definitely be interrupted at some point.

Multi-task When Possible 

It will not be possible for most of us to do one thing at a time all day every day. Although typically multi-tasking is not an effective strategy for productivity, we’re now in a situation that demands we find reasonable ways to both work and manage households simultaneously. Keep your hands free when you can, so you can soothe babies, write notes, and correct assignments while talking on the phone, reading, or grading. You can also engage in quiet activities (like coloring, puzzles, blocks, etc.) with younger children while working. 

If you have an in-home partner or an older child who is able to help, coordinate schedules to facilitate care-sharing routines. I’m not advocating that we outsource responsibilities wholesale, but this is an opportunity for everyone to work together to keep the household running. Make sure that you take turns and divide responsibilities based on availability and type of work. This can also make it easier to work uninterrupted and get necessary rest. 

Take Advantage of Rest Time

At my house, every day at 1 p.m. is D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time. I try not to schedule meetings or instruction during this hour, so that my third grader and I are doing the same thing at the same time. This quiet time is invaluable: we are able to reset and do something we both enjoy. If you have infants or toddlers, you are probably exhausted. Take their nap time or quiet time for your own rest and/or restoration. Chances are, you will work after their bedtime anyway, and a brief rest during the day will make this more tenable. 

This is also a good time to tap into mindfulness resources. If you don’t already have a mindfulness practice, start small. Journaling and focused breathing can help manage anxiety in moments of disruption. These are beneficial to us, our children (who are also experiencing anxiety and fear), and our students. These contemplative practices can help us achieve a deeper understanding and management of our emotions, but they can also focus our attention, and prepare us for learning. If you implement mindfulness into your courses, remember to communicate its pedagogical purpose and the way it fits in with learning goals. 

Connect with a Community 

Arrange virtual playdates for children and younger siblings. Their social time is good for them, but also frees up some time for you to work and rest. Building and accessing caregiver support groups and writing accountability groups online can also help us maintain connections with others in similar situations. If it feels safe, share your family situation with close colleagues and peers. You can even develop some strategies for another person to take over if you have to step away from a call or meeting. 

These principles also translate to pedagogical practices. Our students are facing similar social isolation and missing out on the community they love. Facilitate student-to-student communication as much as much as possible. Providing a collaborative framework through Sakai forums or small group zoom meetings, can help build virtual connections. 

Finally, take care of yourself. 

In moments of disruption, it is easy to fall into hopelessness and allow our inner critic free reign of our self esteem, but we can also use this time to inspire ourselves to overcome internal and external barriers. This is a difficult and disruptive time for everyone, and the best that we can do is to find a new normal. 

Adhering to a routine and making virtual connections are the best things each of us can do to enhance wellbeing. If you’re unsure of what you’re feeling or where to start, take some assessments and develop a self-care routine. It can sometimes take weeks to process our feelings about difficult experiences. Check in with yourself often and reach out when you need it. 

Additional Reading: 

ND Learning – Pedagogical Support for Remote Teaching
ND – Coronavirus Response
The Chronicle of Higher Education – How to be a Caregiver While Caring for Your Own Career
The Wall Street Journal – New Normal Amid Coronavirus: Working From Home While Schooling the Kids

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