Finding Balance in Today’s Classroom

Balance has always been a challenge for teachers. I vividly remember this during my early years as a teacher. Each night I came home exhausted. Maybe the 45-minute commute had a little to do with it, but the main culprit was how I used available time in the classroom. Since I was not very open to risks and convinced that the most critical aspect of my job was to get through the curriculum, my sole focus was on direct instruction. Based on the feedback that I received during formal observations, the consensus was that I was pretty good at it. Nights and weekends were spent at the local office store getting transparencies made for the overhead projector, which was the primary technology tool at the time.

I thought I couldn’t live without the overhead projector and appreciated the fact that it limited my time using the chalkboard. No matter how hard I tried, I would always get chalk all over my sleeves. Then something magical happened in the early 2000s. The science department invested in mobile carts outfitted with television sets. Now, these weren’t your run of the mill flat screens as they hadn’t been invented yet. We were given lovely large box sets that were connected to our desktop computers. With the new tech technology in hand, my days of making transparencies were done, and the overhead projector was retired.  Now my time was spent creating PowerPoint presentations for direct instruction.

The short walk down memory lane reminds me of why I was exhausted during my beginning years of teaching. It took some self-reflection and honest feedback from my students to move away from being the sage on the stage and more of a facilitator of learning. Differentiated instruction and cooperative learning strategies became embedded in some form during each lesson. There was also an emphasis on moving to inquiry and project-based pedagogies. After all, I was a science teacher, and the fit was natural.  Direct instruction was still a component of most lessons, but it was now limited to no more than fifteen minutes.  When I shifted more responsibility to learners in class, a better balance was achieved, and I evolved into a more effective teacher.

I share this story because of what I have either seen or been told is happening in classrooms at this very moment. Advances in technology and the pandemic have placed a great deal of stress on teachers and schools, and the reaction has led to an imbalance in many cases. There has either been a reversion to mostly teacher-centered practices or an over-reliance on technology as a result of remote learning and hard to manage hybrid models. No one is at fault here. In these times, educators want to mitigate risk while keeping their sanity. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t broach the topic as I am frequently asked for feedback and ideas during coaching sessions.  

The key is to be reflective in terms of how the lesson is structured and how the time is used. If students are using tech or direct instruction is taking place 100% during the period or block, then there is both a need and opportunity to find some balance with other tasks or strategies.  Below are some ideas to balance out activities to ensure greater engagement and set the stage for empowerment through personalization.

  • Keep direct instruction or the mini-lesson between ten to fifteen minutes.
  • Use varied engagement strategies (click HERE for specific ideas).
  • Utilize digital breakout rooms for discourse and collaboration.
  • Add in movement and brain break activities.
  • Move to pedagogically-sound blended learning and provide a mix of tech and non-tech options.
  • Integrate asynchronous tasks (i.e., self-paced activities) when appropriate and provide individual or small group support to those learners who need the most help.
  • Seek out or ask for professional learning support on remote and hybrid pedagogy.
  • Use the flipped classroom approach and differentiate when you have all your learners live.

Please note that these are just ideas. Finding the right balance is a personal journey that considers available time, supports, and equity.  We can all agree that technology allows kids to learn in ways we could never have imagined. However, in times like this, it should not become a crutch. Its role during the pandemic is the same as prior, and that is as a means to support and enhance learning, not drive it. Always value the magic of teaching, something that technology can never replace.

For more remote and hybrid learning resources click HERE.