Mid-March 2020 was the last time I took a commercial flight (RBA-AUH). Abu Dhabi Airport would shut down some days later, and the Pandemic would officially kick-in. It’s been an interesting year, and I learned at least a few things:
1. Studying a new language is a wonderful experience. I decided to take Japanese seriously; and to witness the process by which a ‘difficult’ language unlocks, is simply amazing.
2. It’s OK if the world shuts down for a little while. It gave me time to reflect on what matters.
3. I discovered why I like face-to-face classrooms: I miss hearing the laughs, the wows and the yikes. I miss feeling their emotions.
4. Remote Education & Professional Development works. I’ve met so many wonderful people this year, and I learned tons.
5. I value my time extremely. I kind of knew it before; but Zoom has forced me to micro-plan my online classes so I can make good use of every minute (though I don’t always succeed).
6. Relationships are a two-way street. If we nurture them, something beautiful will grow. If not, they die.
7. I wear more sport clothes. Teaching from my desk has made me discover how elegant one can be with ‘chic sport’ clothes 🙂
8. I discovered how much I like giving workshops & webinars. Estoy en mi salsa!
9. I learned that 35 Celsius can feel like a refreshing autumn breeze (#UAE).
10. Teachers of Arabic need so much encouragement and support. And I feel that we are at a turning point in our field. With everyone online, I feel more connected to colleagues from around the world. Many initiatives are brewing, and it will be good for teachers and students.
Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, very few teachers were exposed or had experienced online instruction and the tools available for this purpose. As a consequence, our understanding of education delivery was disrupted, and the necessary readjustments were felt by many as a huge burden. Suddenly, teachers had to quickly learn how to manage remote instruction platforms, they spent extra hours planning their lessons, and we started to be hunted by professional and emotional insecurities linked to unprecedented situations and expectations. In many cases, teachers also felt abandoned because of the lack of support received from their schools and universities, most of which weren’t really prepared for the new reality.
As a result of these challenges, many teachers couldn’t hide their aversion and suspicion towards remote teaching and they even questioned its effectiveness, especially in the form of patterned complaints that quickly spread across institutions and instructional teams. And yet, some education experts already knew that online instruction can be as effective as in-person teaching. In fact, asking the question of whether remote learning works is to a large extent meaningless, because there is good and bad education happening in both formats; now and before.
So how can we ensure that online instruction delivery is efficient? What elements do we need to consider? How to identify blindspots and areas of growth?
Thanks to my work in coaching and training language teachers, I’ve had the opportunity to design a Self-Observation Form that helps practitioners monitor and improve the quality of their online instruction. While the form was initially designed for language teachers, it can work very well with any class that follows a flipped classroom model; that is, courses where students are expected to read and maybe do exercises at home, and classroom time is devoted to discussions, discovery, practice, and knowledge activation.
I designed a Self-Observation From because I wanted a facilitative tool that teachers could use individually to reflect on the way they teach and manage their online environment. Ideally this would require teachers to video-record their online class, so they can later watch it and examine it. In some cases, this can be a challenge, because many teachers have never watched themselves in action, and it feels uncomfortable.
The Self-Observation Form is divided into six broad sections, each of which contains discrete items related to essential factors that intervene in successful teaching. The form is not comprehensive, because it does not account for interactive decision-making or the various classroom management techniques that exist. But the 35 items capture important components that contribute to promoting learning and building a healthy classroom community. There is much to be said about the impact of each descriptor on the different items included in the form and the synergy or bad energy that builds up when one or various aspects are present; but I’ll elaborate on this in a separate post.
For now, I’d like to invite you to look at the Form, reflect on it, and think of ways you can adapt it to your personal or school needs. I believe that using the Self-Observation Form two or three times per semester can help teachers deliver online classes that are both successful and gratifying. For beginning teacher, the form can be even more beneficial when they have a coach or a mentor that is guiding their professional development. Another alternative is to use it in Peer-Observation routines, as long as there is absolute confidentiality and a non-judgmental relationship with partner colleagues.