Deep work needed in a pandemic classroom.

Teachers of today’s pandemic classroom. You are not alone.

On March 13,2020 I received word that our school was closing as a precaution during the start of the pandemic. I never realized that would be last day in the classroom for the 2020 school year, and the only time I would see students again were in small boxes of a Google Meeting screen.In August we returned to school. Like many teachers, I felt anxious. I was worried about the health and safety in the classroom, and more importantly I was worried about what, and how I am going to teach students.

A desk sits in a square six feet away from o ther desks.

Then I started thinking deeply.

I thought about my “why?” Why did I become a teacher in the first place? For me, it was about being apart of something that was bigger than myself. For me it was a calling to be someone positive. I became a teacher to become a champion for students. I learned early on the power of teaching, and how nurturing positive relationships can empower student success. I am the type of teacher that values human relationships over grades in a grade-book.

Now more than ever, students need those relationships. Students need to have someone cheering them on, and need a dose of positivity in a negative induced society. I realized I could be the bright spot of someone’s dark day. It gave me extreme optimism to return to school.

Return to School

Returning to school was challenging. My program was decimated. Last year I had 132 media students, now I have 63 across 22 sections of classes. The school created cohorts of students, and developed a schedule where students stay in one place, and teachers go to the cohort.

A whole new world needed to be constructed, with new curriculum, new safety protocols, and new students to engage with. On top of that, like many schools across the nation, our school community suffered a major morale hit. Teachers, administrators, and students are currently miserable, anxious, and fearful. The toxic atmosphere is not conducive to a successful workplace environment. I reflected on my study of Cal Newport’s deep work, and realized I needed to redirect my energy and full focus in order to be successful in the class.

Deep Work Adaptations

Immediately, I decided to cancel out the noise, and isolated myself to my classroom. I realized this room is the only space whose environment I can control. It was also my commitment to make this space the best learning environment for student learning. I stopped following teachers on Twitter, turned off push notifications on my phone, and eliminated as many distractions as I could. The effect was immediate. I found I had more time to devote to engaging with students, and felt my own social emotional needs become healthier

First, I needed to focus on the “wildly important.” Our school has embraced an alternating week of in class and remote classes. This only gives me 21 days in a term of in class learning. We also have remote students working on material at home. Planning two sets of material is challenging enough, and I came up with a plan that focuses on the important material only: Creative work focusing on fostering positive relationships during the in person classes, and attending to social emotional needs during the remote weeks.

Second, I needed to embrace the idea of leaving work when the bell rings, and keeping work away from home. I am no longer checking my email after hours, and am not planning lessons and materials outside of school. I’ve found my own sanity has been saved, and now I actually feel recharged to return to school ready to deeply work through the day.

Finally, I have developed a routine to maximize time in the classroom. I’d use my limited planning time to be able to plan for 10 different sections, and have developed routines and rituals that have afforded me maximum productivity, and increasing student engagement. We’ve only been back to school for a month, and students are already telling me this is the only class that they look forward to attending throughout the day.Without deep work, I don’t know if I’d be as successful.

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