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Best Practices for Positive and Productive Remote Work for Educators

By: Justin de Leon on March 20th, 2020

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Best Practices for Positive and Productive Remote Work for Educators

Teams & Culture  |  Crisis Management  |  Remote Work

Schools across the country have closed their doors to protect students, employees, and communities from the spread of COVID-19. While schools may be closed, district and school leaders, teachers and students are doing their best to maintain momentum and learning.  This means many people across the country are suddenly remote workers.

While you might work from home every now and then, you might not be used to working from home for a sustained period of time (or the foreseeable future for that matter). Our team at Education Elements is distributed across the country and half of our colleagues work remotely.

So, we have had to learn how to build culture, be productive, and stay sane all while working from the comfort of our homes (or hotel rooms).  As you transition to working remotely, we thought it might be helpful to share a few practices that help us operate remotely as individuals and as a larger team. Self-care - and care for others - is crucial during these times, and these practices help us make our work both more effective and more connected.

Here are a few things you can do to make your workday at home positive, productive, and healthy:

  1. Get Dressed
    Seriously. It’s mostly a mindset thing, but putting on clean clothes helps set the tone for the day. I’m not talking about putting on business attire just to sit at your kitchen table for eight hours. But putting on something a step up from pajamas can help you mentally prepare for and transition into your workday.

  2. Go Outside
    I get it – all of the guidance is telling us to stay home...which you should.  But closing your laptop, putting your phone down and taking off your Apple Watch, then heading for a walk around the block or standing on your doorstep for a few minutes can help you reset and recharge. Bonus points if you are feeling bold and want to practice earthing (think walking outside with no shoes on…if it sounds hippy-dippy, that’s because it is).  

  3. Make a Schedule for Work, Family and Personal Needs
    Many of us are home with our entire families, juggling our job responsibilities and struggling to maintain some semblance of school for our kids (that can’t just be the case in my house). If you have to run circle time or check Algebra practice problems, work that into your schedule, after setting expectations with your team. Set aside time to work on your projects and engage in meetings, but also save time to eat and take breaks.

Here are a few things you and your team can do to make remote work successful:  

  1. Turn the Video On
    In these temporary times of social distancing, it is going to be tougher to connect with our colleagues. I recognize that some people might actually be glad about this. But remember that teams need to stay connected to share information, make decisions, and maintain culture. Video conferencing allows you to have a more authentic meeting that better approximates the face to face meetings you have at school or the central office. Turn the video on for meetings, and outside of meetings, you can take space for yourself.

  2. Set Expectations for Meetings and Roles
    Even though you and the team are remote, you can still remain productive, and support one another. Take time to establish a clear schedule of team, project-focused and individual check-in meetings. Set a clear purpose for the meeting. Choose a purpose for each agenda item in the meeting (do you need feedback?, are you sharing information?, do you need a decision made?). To help make meetings run smoothly, assign people to roles. Typically in our meetings we have a facilitator, note-taker, and timekeeper. This will reduce uncertainty and tension, and provide the support team members need to get done what they need to.

  3. Overshare
    In remote environments you will not have chance encounters or hallway conversations like you do at school or at the central office. Sharing information has to be intentional and overdone to maintain transparency and clarity. When you are first transitioning to remote work, consider having a daily standup meeting each morning – ten minutes for each person to quickly check-in and share goals for the day. Consider establishing a predictable day or specific cadence when leadership will share updates that will influence the larger team. It’s important to consciously make sure everyone on the team feels included and informed.

  4. Raise Engagement
    A simple way to do this is through check-ins. A check-in is a question used to start off a meeting. Each person answers one at a time and there is no cross talk. Check-ins give everyone a voice at the start of the meeting, help you learn about your teammates, and set the expectation that all are welcome to participate. This can help begin to build or deepen psychological safety. Yesterday during one team meeting the check-in question was, “What will you do to avoid going stir crazy at home?”  One colleague shared how she plans to watch The Office on repeat. Another shared that he will use the time to paint (I had no idea he is a painter). Another colleague shared that staying at home is heaven and that she plans to bake, paint, and draw. By creating the space for team members to share, uninterrupted, we are listening to and learning about one another, and growing as a team.

  5. Extend Grace
    Though there is a widespread notion of professionalism on video calls, know that it’s a sudden and dramatic shift in work for all of us, even those of us used to working remotely. Many of us are coworking with partners and family members, and have kids at home full-time. So if a child, a pet, or a partner pops up on video, be patient and let your team member know that it’s okay. Say a friendly hello and give each other a moment to reorient. We are all doing our best. Several of our internal meetings over the past week have brought moments of joy with guest appearances from babies and dogs.

Remote work can be incredibly productive, inclusive, and effective when teams and individuals take the time to learn and try practices and routines for virtual environments. Start small and start now by trying out one of these practices on your own or with your team. When you feel the practice is gaining momentum try out another one. We hope implementing these practices makes a difference in how you and your team feel in the midst of sudden and drastic changes. Reach out with any questions or ideas you have about remote work – we’ve got a team full of people who have taken this plunge.

Check out Best Practices for Digital Learning & Virtual Meetings, our guide with tips for those of us suddenly working and teaching remotely. To provide support to educators navigating the drastic changes brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic, we've also launched a series of webinars, office hours, and facilitated chats across a variety of topics. We hope you find something that's helpful to your district and teams.

Return to School: Return Planning for K-12 – Free webinars, office hours, 1:1 chats, and resources

About Justin de Leon

Justin de Leon is a Partner and joined Education Elements in 2012. He began his career in education teaching English at Brownsville Middle School in Miami-Dade. In his first year, he shifted from a traditional model to a blended model as a way to personalize and saw management issues disappear and achievement increase. During several school years, Justin worked with Teach for America to provide mentoring, coaching and professional development to ELA corps members. After moving to the west coast, he gained experience in the charter world while teaching ELA at KIPP Heartwood Academy in San Jose, CA.

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