The troops are so very tired

Week 11. And while partial opening has been announced at most schools in Beijing for G12 and G8, this probably going to result in more stress, uncertainty and questions rather than less.

Even more than ever before I am convinced we will need to radically change our teaching and learning practice. And now I’m not talking about the students but the adults. Everyone I’ve spoken to today has been really exhausted. In my conversations I’m trying to get to a better understanding of it – since we’re not feeling the joy right now. It’s wintertime in the trenches and the troops have foot-rot.

The reasons I can find are related to the need for some kind of assessment and evidence of learning. Which means assignments and marking. And lots and lots of feedback. I sense a huge reluctance on the part of teachers towards giving group feedback. Or even to let go of one-on-one emails in favour of using discussion forums to address anything – even banal requests for links to a document or small questions on assignments.

All this comes from a very good place. A very kind and caring place. And it’s really harming our teachers. Someone confessed to an 18 email exchange with a student on uploading a video file. I remarked that it could have been solved with a 2 minutes conversation with myself or the IT department but the person said they “wanted to work it out themselves and learn how to do it too”. Teachers are fiercely independent folk. I’m a fairly independent type myself, but I’ve re-qualified into one of the most collaborative parts of the teaching community possible – Teacher Librarianship. We have no shame in asking for help in our PLCs and (except for a few not so admirable souls, mainly found on TpT) openly share anything we create freely.

Independent, soldiering on with being too proud to ask for help is not going to help this. As my esteemed colleague Stephen always says

“We need to take time to make time”.

In my morning chat with my husband this morning – he’s been thrust into the hotel business this year in a managerial capacity – he reminded me of a saying in that business:

“Tell Everyone, Everything, Everyday”

when he first told me it months ago I thought it was a bit patronising. But I’m thinking it has some merit now. Bear with me.

Tell Everyone

With asynchronous online learning, people spread over the globe it’s easy to lose sight of who is or isn’t at meetings or training and who may be missing out on important communications or PD. Weekly updates tend to have content creep which means that there is so much to read through and absorb and so little time in which to do so that messages get missed or suffer from the consequences of the idea of “I’ll go back to that later”. Who are our messages missing and why? Just like we attempt dual coding and multi-modality in our messages to our students are we doing enough of that for all staff?


Everyone is overloaded. Too much content, too long emails, too bloated libguides, too many FAQs. But there are seasons to online learning too. What everything looks like this week as teachers are preparing for online meetings with families and students looks different to when they’re introducing new concepts or doing formative or summative assessments. I mentioned Atul Gawande’s “The Checklist Manifesto” to a colleague this morning and suggested we perhaps need to create one for the “hot topic” of the week. I mentioned it again to another colleague struggling under the weight of marking – I’d attended a great webinar (one of many that Microsoft is hosting – you just need to register to be able to view it) where Esam Baboukhan showed how he uses self- and peer-assessment checklists before student return their work for grading. I don’t think we’re above following the lead of pilots and surgeons in this regard, and found myself saying to someone I was helping today, “slow down, slow down, let’s just do this slowly and carefully and then you can use it as a template for the next thing.”

Notebook self and peer assessment


In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the “compound effect of hundreds of small decisions”. When everything is topsy turvy and no one really has a proper routine (despite the plethora of nice looking examples all over twitter and on TV and in media) it’s probably less about having a schedule and more about having habits that can exist independently of time and space. I’m thinking it’s more in the nature of “when I’m doing this, I do it like that” It’s consistency and predictability that wins this battle. You can always find this information in this place. Things are always named in a certain way. Meetings are always found on the relevant shared calendar. Recordings are always found in a certain channel and named in a specific easy to find way. Because there is so much it is so easy for things to get out of hand. It’s easier to quickly reply to a student than to ask them to post the same question on the forum. It’s easier to troubleshoot the same question with a quick email than to do it the first time it arises and then commit that answer to a knowledge base. I remember when we moved over to https:// for all our systems. People had all their bookmarks and caches with the old http:// for things. It worked fine while at school but didn’t work for them at home. We got the question why all the time. In the end we put it on Yammer and “bumped” it up every day for weeks on end. People forget. Things slip their mind. Minds are overflowing.

Learning new tools is hard. Learning new ways of teaching is hard. Everyone is tired. I’m just not sure what it will take to get off this very fast spinning wheel. We’ve not yet reached cruising altitude and we’re about to go into another tail spin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.