Tackling the Challenges of the Present and Future of Education: Navigating the Toggled Term
By: Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D.
On March 13th, 2020, the world changed as well as the world of education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past 16 months, districts, schools, principals, teachers, students, families, and the greater educational community have had to experience the challenges presented by the toggled term. The “toggled term” represents the idea that teaching and learning has to move between a variety of different classroom settings based on local health conditions as a result of COVID-19. Ultimately, it has caused an ever-changing scenario that has affected where our student’s education takes place. Over this time period, teaching and learning has been conducted online, within blended learning settings, and in traditional classroom settings — or in one or more of these settings throughout the school year. As a result of navigating the world we live in today, many schools and districts around the world have dealt with having to move between each of these settings along with integrating educational technology (EdTech) into all facets of classroom instruction and student learning. Ultimately, what has come out of navigating the pandemic since March 2020, is that the four walls of the classroom no longer remain the only place where learning takes place in our K-12 schools.
There are many challenges presented at this time as we navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for districts and schools. Schools must have the instructional and organizational frameworks in place to allow them to be flexible with the ever-changing conditions of the present. In addition, school leaders and teachers must be able to have the know-how to integrate research-based instructional strategies with EdTech to amplify student learning within online, blended, and traditional classroom settings. This also encompasses differentiating instruction for all learners, communicating and engaging with students and families, and utilizing professional learning networks to amplify new and innovative practices from educators located throughout the world. Each of these facets are required for educators to put themselves as well as their students in our current environment.
Beyond navigating instruction within modern classroom settings, teachers and school leaders must have a roadmap to help them develop professionally in their skills as a teacher and leader, as well as to focus on their self-care. More than ever before, learning and innovating is needed to amplify our instruction for our students yet we’ve also acknowledged as an educational community how self-care is needed to be consistently a focus of educators during and after work hours. Unfortunately, over the past 16 months, an unprecedented number of school leaders and teachers have left the profession. According to a study conducted by the Rand Corporation in 2021, it outlined how the increased level of job-related stress among teachers has resulted in one and four leaving the profession (Steiner & Woo, 2021). As an educational community and society, we must work towards turning this around and making education an attractive, sustainable, and respected profession. Ensuring self-care is a priority of schools as well as practiced by educators is the first step of achieving this goal.
Self-Care During the Toggled Term
Self-care should be a priority for teachers, schools, and school leaders. Over the course of the 16 months, self-care has come into the forefront more than ever before due to challenges brought upon by the pandemic, but something we must address to ensure teaching and leading schools is a sustainable profession. Ultimately, the goal is to outline a number of strategies that can be initiated today to help ensure self-care is a priority within our schools. First, three specific initiatives schools can do as institutions to help teachers self-care will be illustrated. Second, three self-care strategies teachers can do now to help them practice self-care during this time will be outlined. Through discussing each of the following initiatives and strategies, they may help teachers and school leaders have the opportunities to care for themselves and each other as well as establish and maintain sustainable stress levels to navigate this unpredictable time.
Asynchronous Flex Days. Schools and districts can do a number of things to give teachers more time to practice self-care and create working environments that are not as stressful. One proposal is to have one day a week geared towards online asynchronous instruction for students, which can then be used by teachers to plan, grade, hold meetings, collaborate with peers, attend professional development, support groups, and have flex-time for teachers to complete whatever they need with freedom and independence such as working out, errands, and passion projects. Asynchronous days could be once a week and placed appropriately in the school.
Revolutionize Meetings. Instead of traditional meetings, create flexible meetings, which may include ten minute Zoom announcements, hybrid workshops, and structured planning time. Schools and districts can take the time for traditional meetings that may last for over an hour and decrease the actual meeting time. Then, if meeting times are significantly decreased, give teachers choice as to what activities they can participate in during the time designated for meetings. Teachers are given a choice to participate in professional learning workshops, asynchronous modules, planning time, collaboration time, support groups, or activities such as working out, walks, or yoga. Ultimately, providing activities with a choice, will help cultivate more positive working environments and create opportunities for de-stressing and community building.
Provide Choice for Professional Learning. Give teachers the choice and agency to pursue professional learning that they feel will best meet their needs and the school’s vision. Then, provide opportunities to amplify their professional learning such as showcasing their accomplishments and content they create as a result of the professional learning to the school community so it can be utilized to help all teachers. Choice oriented professional learning can include having teachers develop their own digital portfolio to demonstrate not only to school leaders, but the rest of the school community, what they have done to improve their practice. Additionally, showcasing that learning can help give teachers resources developed by their colleagues to amplify their practice. Overall, this avenue provides teachers with opportunities to take their learning into their own hands in a non-stressful manner.
Create Boundaries. Creating boundaries is essential to ensuring there are opportunities to destress during the day. For example, creating boundaries includes not checking email after work hours, not taking work home, and focusing on personal and family time while at home versus work. By creating these boundaries, we are prioritizing ourselves, which will ultimately help our students because we will be refreshed and ready to go upon returning to school.
Exercise your Body and Mind. Taking time to exercise your body and mind is critical to being your best self for your students, colleagues, family, and friends. Having a daily exercise routine as well as having mental health supports and routines helps create a balanced rhythm for us to de-stress, focus on ourselves, and rejuvenate. Exercising your body may include morning of evening walks, gym classes, riding a peloton, or playing outside with your children. Mental health supports and routines may include seeing a therapist on a recurring basis, yoga, meditation, engaging in social activities outside of work, or taking time to work on a passion project that may not relate to what you do each day as an educator.
Focus on your Top Three Tasks. Each day create a to-do list of your most important three tasks or goals that may be work and personally oriented. These are non-negotiable tasks or goals that we set out to try and achieve for that day. If we keep to these tasks and goals and complete them to the best of our ability, we will have a sense of achievement and accomplishment at the end of each day.
Creating opportunities for self-care is critical for creating a sustainable profession during unpredictable times. Self-care is essential, which is why one chapter and two case studies are dedicated within the book Navigating the Toggled Term: A Guide for K-12 Classroom and School Leaders. Beyond talking about how to navigate these times at an instructional and organizational level, it is just as important to keep self-care as a top priority we must commit to so we can implement new practices to navigate this time in a sustainable manner.
Navigating the Toggled Term: A Guide for K-12 Classroom and School Leaders
To navigate these ever-changing challenges and opportunities to innovate how we teach our students, the new book Navigating the Toggled Term: A Guide for K-12 Classroom and School Leaders provides research-based strategies integrated with EdTech to take them on. It’s goal is to prepare pre-service, new, novice, and veteran teachers and school leaders to navigate education in the present as well as the future. The book delivers instructional and organizational frameworks for schools and districts to “toggle” to any classroom setting in any instance. Additionally, it provides a playbook for teaching in modern-day classrooms, whose boundaries may move between online, blended, and traditional in-person settings, along with step by step guides for differentiating instruction, engaging and communicating with students and families, amplifying professional learning and development, and educator self-care. Ultimately, the main topics of this book illustrate how to tackle the challenges presented in this era of education.
The book is designed as a playbook. Going from research to practical step-by-step application, the book goes further by providing case studies of classrooms and school leaders from across North America. Teachers, principals, and district leaders all outline how they are navigating the toggled term related to each chapter’s theme in order to show real-life experiences of educators practicing. These personal experiences taken together show readers how to put the book’s content into practice to amplify their students’ learning and be ready to navigate the present and future of education.
Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D. is an expert and innovator in educational technology and instructional strategy integration within online, blended, and traditional classroom settings. As a practicing educator in adult education and higher education, he develops EdTech tool integrations with research-based instructional strategies to drive instruction. He also has expertise in instructing teachers and educational leaders on how to utilize data to make data-driven decisions to drive instruction as well as has developed a data literacy curriculum for K-12 educators. Dr. Rhoads publications focus on instructional and organizational frameworks that help K-12 schools toggle between various educational settings and integrating research-based instructional strategies with mainstream EdTech tools to amplify student learning within any classroom setting. For more information on Dr. Rhoads, visit his website at www.matthewrhoads.com.
Steiner, E., Woo, A. (2021). Job-related stress threatens the teacher supply: Key findings from the 2021 state of the U.S. teacher survey. RAND Corporation 2021. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1108-1.html