Survival Tips from a Hybrid Teacher

Hi there teacher friends,

I couldn’t help but notice a big transition for many teachers who have been virtual for much or all of the school year switching to a hybrid format. Welcome to the party, folx. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. In my district, we’ve been our own version of hybrid since September. I’ve been providing instruction to both in-person and virtual students all year. No, I don’t want to do it for the rest of my career, but for right now, I’ve managed and I think you can too. Yes, it starts as chaos. Even when you think you have a routine, some days are still just clunky. Most of the time, it’s not cute. Now I’m in no way an expert, but I do feel like it could benefit somebody if I share the things I wish I knew seven months ago…

For context, I feel like I need you to know that I am a very lucky teacher with a lot of district and school support. I know you hate me already. But here is the list of caveats for my working conditions that may not reflect the working conditions of every teacher coming to this page. I work in a district near Milwaukee with 1-1 devices. Every child has internet access and a device. I have a class size of 16 (I know that’s a dream in some places) with three virtual students and 13 in-person, although those numbers have flipped many times with in-person students “going virtual” for periods of time and virtual students transitioning back into the classroom. And the BIGGEST gift I’ve been given by my district is every Friday to prepare for virtual learning. We have PD and meetings on these days as well, but the bulk of that work day is for teachers to prep for the demands of virtual learning. I sincerely hope that if you are being asked to teach hybrid, you are being given adequate time to do it. If you’re not, I’m so sorry and I hope you have avenues to advocate for yourself and other teachers. Our union has teamed with administrators and advocates tirelessly for these accommodations for us this year. It’s what every hybrid teacher deserves.

A final note that all I can do is speak from my experience and what has worked for me this year. This is my survival guide. I am certain you won’t do everything like I have, but I hope there are ideas here that you can roll with and make your own.

Collaborate like you’ve never collaborated before.
Picture it: August. A district planning to accommodate both virtual and in-person students. Teacher anxiety as far as you can see or feel….
We knew we needed a long term plan that would 1) be equitable for in-person and virtual students 2) be manageable for teachers all year long. The only way we could do that was collaboration on a larger scale than we had ever attempted.
My partner teacher is the best person in the world. We survive(d) through our partnership. We joke that together we equal one decent 2nd grade teacher. She and I had made our way through virtual learning in the spring (IN OUR FIRST YEAR IN 2ND GRADE BTW) by splitting lessons by subject and sharing half the workload. This was the model I was depending on for the coming year, but even that, was a huge demand. How could I make sure I was supplying high-quality online content for 2/3 subjects every day while maintaining the needs of an in-person class? And then bigger questions…Not everyone had a partner teacher. Not everyone held the same affinity for technology use. An equity problem arose because virtual students shouldn’t be getting less quality because they’re only getting what each individual teacher can manage to get online. Furthermore, if we’re all using the same curriculum, if we’re all responsible for teaching the same standards, how could it possibly be justified for each teacher to have to make videos or online lessons for every single subject by themselves?

The solution is what I contribute my sanity to this year. We collaborated by grade level. We have seven 2nd grade teachers in our district and a specialist working on our team. We all took a responsibility for a part of the online content. One teacher took reading, two took math, two took writing, two took phonics, two took science and I took Social Studies. We create virtual lessons for the week and link the videos in google slides, where they are linked to a google site for our students to access. This was still a lot of work. But it wasn’t nearly the work I would be doing by myself.

Here’s an example of a week with everyone’s linked lessons

Speaking humbly for what I believe is a majority of teachers in this district, we found that this collaboration was not only important for students, it keeps making us better. We get to see each other teach. I have learned so much about the standards and grade level I’m teaching that didn’t know before this year. I have learned that I’ve been cutting my phonics time short and not doing as many activities as I could to strengthen my readers. I have learned that my writing units were lacking grammar lessons. I have learned that the way I’ve been explaining place value has alternate models that helped some of my learners. Collaboration is an opportunity to learn. Find a team that focuses on what’s best for students and everyone will learn (and share the work!)

This is just one example and the only one I have from my personal experience, but there are teachers reaching out to one another for help more than ever. There are teachers ready to give you help. Collaboration benefits you and your students. So before you try to go it alone…think about how you can share this tremendous workload. Maybe you don’t have the team I have, BUT, do you have a teacher partner to share the work with? Do you have a specialist who is doing videos anyway that could work for your class? Can you use content that the teacher from the grade above you used at the beginning of the year or that the teacher in the grade below you started and could work for some of your students? Can you partner with a teacher in your same grade level in another school or district? FIND A TEAM, hybrid teacher friend. It’s the most important advice I can give.

Please, please, use what is already there.
Someone did this before you. I’m so sorry to tell you this, but they probably did it better. That’s because at the time they were doing it, it was all they were doing. You’re doing so much right now that anything you throw together will fall short of what is already there. I know you’re amazing, but I promise you they won’t be handing out awards for the best virtual math lesson you’ve ever made that took you two hours and you didn’t have time for reading or writing. You will burn yourself out trying to do it all. We’re in a time that teachers and teaching companies went into hyperdrive sharing all the wonderful things they have ready for virtual learning. You need to use them.

A few examples that I highly recommend because they saved me more than once this year:

This app allows you to design instruction that’s interactive with student devices. It’s great for instruction, assessment and independent practice. But more importantly, it comes with hundreds of premade lessons on every standard and topic you can imagine or need to cover in your classroom. All of those lessons are editable, so even it doesn’t teach something exactly how you want, you can go in and make a few quick changes and have a fully prepared lesson. It requires a paid subscription but their pre-made content is SO WORTH asking your administrators for. It has saved me hundreds of prep hours.

This is where our students do a lot of their research for writing, social studies, and science. Again, it’s paid. But I use it every week and my students love it. How simple and great to assign a reading (that will also read to students who aren’t independent readers) and then a follow up task to apply what they’ve learned? It’s saved me a lot of time.

Mystery Science
These low-prep science lessons are perfect for virtual learners. They often require few and commonly-found materials that give little learners a hands-on science experience in a virtual learning world. Our district has a free account given during the initial closures last year, but they are currently giving free trials until June 2022! Check it out!

Zearn materials are free. They are based on the Eureka/Engage NY math curriculum and strong materials for teaching common core math standards. Math instructional videos can be accessed with a school purchase.

Like I said, if you’re planning to teach it, someone else probably already has taught it, recorded it, and has it ready for your class. Search thousands of subjects on teacher tube and find a video that teaches your standard or skill for the day.

Have your virtual learning content on a platform that can be accessed by both in-person and virtual students. As I previously mentioned, this is as simple as a Google site for us with a slides presentation pdf linked to the lessons for the week. It could be pdfs with video lessons you list on Class Dojo or assign on SeeSaw. Either way, you teach one procedure for accessing your virtual content. In my experience, it’s likely that your virtual students or in-person students may have to switch formats, so you want it to be the same whether they are at home or at school. Your students will build independence with this and when it’s time to go through their reading, writing, math, any lesson, they know where to go, what to watch, and how to follow along. It also creates a connection between your online and in-person learners when they’re accessing the same content and learning from the same source. It makes your teaching easier because you’re not keeping track of what was learned by each group.

Build your online routines and expectations from Day 1. This is new and it needs to be taught. Of course students are coming back into buildings for the first time in a long time. You definitely still need to work on walking in hallways, keeping distance, masking etc. But be sure you also focus on online routines, safety, and expectations. Students need to know that stopping a lesson to hop on their favorite iPad game, might be fine at home, but not at school. They need to know what apps are safe. How to navigate to the content your asking them to find. Our technology is a tool for learning here. They need to know how to log on, log in, submit. When you’re talking, their not still looking at their device. Where do they put it? How do they charge it? Think through what you want it to look like and give time for your students learn those things. They have to code-switch because technology use at home is very different than technology use at school. You may want to consider some kind of monitoring system work time. Our district purchased GoGuardian , which allows teachers to see the work students are doing on screens both in the classroom and at home. I personally use the free Classroom app from Apple to monitor my student iPads and hold them accountable for their independent work time.

Change whole group instruction. This may be how many teachers teach anyway, but I was committed to my whole group instruction time in previous years. My whole group instruction is much shorter and much more virtual than in-person this year. It was the only way I could make it work. I had to drop my dreams of my in-person whole group instruction running the way it used to… just for now. What I plan for my virtual students, needs to be the plan for my in-person students. I could not double plan. I really think you shouldn’t either. So I have content videos ready for my virtual learners, I needed those videos to be the main source of whole group instruction for my in-person students as well. My in-person students are often watching videos to get their curriculum or tier I instruction because the work has been done and it’s there ready for them. This was the part that was hard to get used to. It was hard to see my in-person students learning from videos some of the time because, hey, I’m standing right in front of them, ready and willing and wanting to teach them like I always have.

But for the sake of planning time, I’m suggesting that this could be how you start. You can expand from there. Video lessons do not have to be every lesson and it does not rule out differentiation for your class in small groups or by addressing misconceptions after the video as a whole group. It doesn’t mean I don’t reteach a lesson with my own instructional strategies when I see the need. For example, I reinvested whole group instruction time into doing number talks with my students because they strengthen their math strategies and we needed that. But I had the flexibility to do that because they are getting the lesson from a video. I build on the math standards they learned in their lessons in small group, which allows me to target the skills they need more thoroughly than whole group would anyway.

It allowed me to teach and reteach based on the needs of both my in-person and virtual student groups because they were all working from the same lesson/video source. This might not be for everyone, but it’s how I survived so far. It doesn’t feel like it used to…but this is pandemic teaching friend. I had to roll in a new kind of way.

Lists and choices are your friend! You absolutely need independent work time in the day, and it can be a great time for students! You need it to instruct your small groups for guided reading, guided math, or strengthening a standard with a set group of kids. You need time with your virtual students to walk them through questions at home. You will need that time to set up your next activities, assess individuals and groups and anything else you need to have time for in the day.

My favorite way to make this time fun is through daily Must Dos and May Dos for our Math and Reading time. I just couldn’t get my head around Daily 5 or Daily 3 stations which is what I would use in a typical year. But this system gives my students fun choices that work as natural motivators and prioritize their daily lessons.

These simple daily slides have been a saving grace for me, because all I have to do is a quick adjustment of what the choices are that day. I keep the choices at the bottom of the slides and rotate them out. I add to it when I can to keep them fresh and fun. I can also tailor it to the needs I see. If we are just screened-out, their may dos might be working on game board and reading real books instead of apps. If I can tell they need some respite from the work, it might be an Epic kind of day, where they can relax and listen to stories. If it’s a day full of energy, maybe I let them work together on a readers theater assignment. The easy flexibility is what I need and what they need.

Another great resource is choice board formats that you can edit yourself or look for premade choice boards from other teachers. I’ve listed a few of these resources but there are so many more that students will love and will motivate them to use their independent work time productively.

These virtual field trips from Mrs. Fahrney
Ms. M’s Free Resources (OMG, Earth Day Library, Sports Library, Animal Library, SO MANY FREE LIBRARIES that she assembles and shares all for FREE)
Ms. Menji’s Libraries (Again SO MUCH, ALL FREE)
Links from @thomasm (Obsessed with her STEM task cards)
Ms. Hect’s links (Keeping it fun with the drag and drop activities)
Join ALL of the Pixel Art Mysteries FB groups for free mysteries. Your students will never work harder.

Check out these free Google slides choice board templates from Hello Teacher Lady.
A Primary Kind of Life’s digital choice board templates for the week. Just put in your links and go!

USE ONE LINK. I cannot stress this enough. If you’re still using multiple links for multiple meetings, STOP IT. Stop it for multiple reasons.
Nobody has time to be working with calendar times and meetings that will only start at a specific time. You don’t have time to be fumbling around with more than one meeting link. Let the children come to you. I use my Zoom Personal Meeting Room personal link for every student I see, but if you are using Meet, just use and open one Meet link every single time. My students all know how to access that link from their Class Dojo portfolio. It’s such a relief to know that they can get into a Zoom meeting whenever I need them to. It allows me to change when I meet, so I can stay with a group a little longer if they’re on the edge of a conceptual breakthrough. It means I can ask a student to join my group if we’re working on a skill or standard that I know they need extra practice with. It means the routine is the same every day and when I switch groups or switch times or switch anything that I need to, my students still know what to do every single time. I need that flexibility to teach them all the best way I can.

Focus on small group instruction. I needed this shift in my mind. I have done the best and most teaching this year in my small groups. My students learn the most from that time. I always knew that small groups were where I could target skills and standards best, but the demands for me to meet each students where they are at this year made my small groups especially important.

But this was a big hurdle to jump in the beginning. Just the logistics of showing content, them accessing content, using the time efficiently was so difficult. I had to have everything ready before my group time (which is another reason independent work time matters).

I decided early in the year that for my own sanity, I would mix my virtual and in-person groups and have them all attend group through Zoom. This allowed everyone to keep their distance, drastically cut down my transition time in between groups, and gave my virtual students daily interaction with my students in class. It also let me set the same behavior expectations while in small group for both groups of students.

Some resources I recommend:
Literacy Footprints
It comes with a cost, but it was a game-changer for my guided reading instruction. Students can log in and read the books themselves, or I screen share and we read together. I use the assessment kit for my running records. The strong phonics and comprehension lessons cut my prep down so we’re ready to work with a text right away.

I use this for independent reading practice, as well as guided reading. The app allows students to choose and read books at their level and provides comprehension quizzes. I love their graphic organizers for teaching reading standards.

My secret to being prepped and ready for small groups is that it doesn’t have to be pretty to work.
My slides to practice reading comprehension skills and discussion are super high-tech. Notice the very nice title “Guided Reading Slides” and that I basically copied all of my favorite organizers into a slide show and then had text boxes ready to fill it in as our discussion goes. When the lesson is done, I delete the text and save the text box and I’m ready for the next group.

Math is similar. I found some favorite fluency games online that help my students build confidence. I focus on the standards in our small groups that often align with the lessons they watched in whole group. Again, awesome quick title, “Math.” There are about 70 slides, (you can see some on the side) full of different problems and activities that I can go through with groups to strengthen their conceptual understanding of our math skills and standards.

So I’m living proof that your small group instruction doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective and engaging. I am the engager. I know my standards. I know where my students are now and what the expectation is for the end of the year. I can ask questions. I present problems. I provoke discussion and thought. Our discussion is what’s moving the learning forward. Problems that need to be solved. Strategy-sharing. All of this propels our 15-20 minutes together forward to make it the most valuable time in the day, even if I didn’t spend hours planning it ahead. Be confident in your skills to engage and move your students. Use your standards and formative assessment to guide you. If you struggle, find your standards guides or a few go-to activities that strengthen student fluency to use until you can dig in to a new skill. You’re a teacher and your ability to teach and engage is the prep you need.

I like this model and recommend it, but it doesn’t work for all students. Some of my in-person students still need to come and sit at my table, with distance, but just need to be closer to focus. Some need to stand to stay engaged. Whatever they need, we do. I’m Mrs. Flexibility Deane this year. Sometimes not everyone read what I asked or saw the video they were supposed to watch before so we go backwards. Those times are frustrating and make me feel like we’re off track or I’m losing ground. But I know there’s nothing like my small group time in my whole day. It’s the most effective teaching I’ve done this year.

Make time for fun and connection. I have to confess that I was not very good at this at the beginning of the year. I’m not talking about my in-person students of course, because that time is built in to my routines in my classroom. I walk around and talk to students at breakfast. We greet each other every day. We share every day. We do a whole class community-building activity every morning in our morning meeting. That is easy because it felt normal, even with the adjustments for masking and distancing. Where I really struggled was involving my virtual students in the fun. I struggled to give them time away from instruction to connect with their classmates or share about their life. So I’m telling you, hybrid teacher friend, to start thinking about how you can do this now, because it’s so important. Now that I’ve started, I’m sad I didn’t have the energy to start sooner.

The main thing I needed was accountability for the time to give my virtual students time for fun and connection. I use Class Dojo points to reward really excellent work or behaviors in my classroom, so I started using that with my virtual students. Every 10 points, the students earn a “cash-in.” Here the “cash-in” menu for my virtual students:

It’s not fancy, but it holds me accountable for the time to recognize my students.

GoNoodle: Very simple. I let my virtual students pick the dance and turn the camera so they can see it. We all do it together.
Class Game: I do reverse-charades for the class game, so I show my whole in-person class a word and they act it out for the virtual student.
Show and Tell: Again, so simple. My virtual students talk about something special at home and my in-persons students ask questions about it.
How to Draw: They LOVE this one. I highly recommend the Art for Kids Hub on Youtube for fun directed drawings you can do together!
Virtual Field Trip: Tell me where we’re going and I’ll set it up! I often use the VR feature on Nearpod, which they love, but there are plenty of live stream or youtube virtual field trips to use too!
Special Mail: I send stickers, cool pencils, books, free ice cream coupons and always a hand-written note telling them how important they are.

Let it go…
You have to. Things will go wrong. No matter how well you prepare. No matter whether or not you ran through it last weekend or the night before. It might take way more time than you ever dreamed to get your students logged onto a new app, so you skip something that day to build that routine and make them confident. Let that go. It may be a beautiful lesson that you spent way too much time crafting that works just perfectly on a browser but for some mysterious, filthy damn reason nobody can fricking access on their iPads … See how I let things go?
You need to have grace for yourself. Grace for your students. Know that everyone is being asked to do something new, and awful, and inspiring, and incredible. You can’t sweat the things you try that don’t work. You can try to make them work, but also let go of the plans. Switch gears. Do something dependable until you have the space and time to try again. Just implement little things as you go. Try something interesting or exciting to you when your routine is in place. Don’t build anything up too big in your head. Know that it’s time to let it go when it has taken too much time and energy from you.

Extended screen. Umm…show something to your class on your big board while you prep the next thing on your other screen? Life changing.

There is so much to learn. There is so little time. When you’re teaching students in the classroom and in the virtual world, time is everything. Please take care of yourself and find the shortcuts, the teams, the little things that work for you.

Godspeed, teacher friend.

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