Personal and Professional Health When Teaching Online: A Six Faceted Approach

William H. Robertson

University of Texas at El Paso





At times, teaching is a solitary profession, especially when it comes to making lesson plans, grading, mastering technology, and planning active learning strategies to use in the classroom. When you move to a fully online format, the sense of separation can be even more pronounced as you look for ways to establish community and increase your faculty presence online. Such separation can often lead to an increase in time spent on each class and with each student, which may increase your stress and impact other important areas, including your research, your service, and of course, your home life.


For myself, I have found that if I have a framework that helps me to achieve a balance between my teaching online and my personal and professional life outside of teaching online, I am a much more productive and happier person. A modification of the six facets of understanding, a framework from Wiggins and McTighe (2005), provides a framework adapted to help maintain personal and professional health when teaching online.


Explanation


The first of the six facets of understanding, explanation, involves centering on the big ideas of why and how something takes place. In teaching online, explanation applies to focusing on the types of interactions present within the online environment. In an instructional design sense, it is an alignment of three critical interactions that center the learner: student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-teacher. The interaction of these three spheres promotes the ideas of explanation by emphasizing making sense of the big ideas in the class and then communicating and articulating their understanding to peers, the instructor, and themselves. This process reinforces the educator’s role as a facilitator within a student-centered technology-enhanced teaching methodology regarding personal and professional health.


Interpretation


The main idea of interpretation as it applies to teaching online is to have several ways of communicating content that integrates stories and discussions, allowing individuals to wrestle with meaning and context. In teaching online, it is important to remember that everyone comes to the online environment with different experiences in terms of depth and breadth of navigating and synthesizing content. An important goal here is to remove boundaries that limit the expectations of groups of individuals and limit one another. The goal is to establish a healthy and safe learning environment where multiple opportunities exist to share experiences and learn from one another. For the online teacher, allowing for choice in assignments and allowing for open-ended prompts can provide platforms for differing opinions to be heard and to be supported with research and personal experience.


Application

The ability to turn ideas into actions has a direct impact on the health of the online teacher. In other words, it is essential to understand that as new problems arise, which they inevitably will, it becomes an opportunity to exhibit critical thinking. It is the teacher’s responsibility to model and integrate activities and experiences that require an ability to analyze and synthesize information, evaluate the possibilities moving forward, and invoke new solutions that need a creative approach and solution. By weaving carefully selected and designed problems that develop proficiency in problem-solving and reinforce self-directed learning, the online teacher provides students with the ability to retain facts through critical thinking by working through problems logically and making connections to the real world. Practically, this means being clear, concise, and thoughtful in your online communication through email, discussion posts, and class materials.


Perspective


Perspective implies looking at an issue from various viewpoints, and understanding how implications impact various people, not just a single group or individual. Keeping your perspective when teaching online is very important, as it is in life in general. The value of seeing options and opinions outside of your own is often more difficult when teaching online than in person. The interactions are distant and can be out of sync with your present situation. Without perspective, you can also feel that everything that happens is highly urgent and crucial, and if you live in that quadrant, you are likely to burn out quickly. Take the time to stay flexible, organize yourself, and schedule your day in small to-do lists. Then you may find that although most everything is important, not everything is urgent, especially in an asynchronous learning environment.


Empathy


Empathy is an ability to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, or in other words, to understand another person’s emotional situation and unique way of viewing the world. Most teachers who are successful have a large degree of empathy in their teaching and living in general. Having empathy implies that you need to be others-centered and to take the time to get to know your students and their situations. From discussion boards with introductions to video reflections, you can add to your classes' richness by providing choice to students and flexibility to add their own culture, agency, and beliefs into their classroom products.

For the online teacher, a good approach is to follow the 10 steps to decreasing teaching depression. Step 1 – Do something nice for one of your students. Steps 2-10, repeat Step 1 with other students.

Self-Knowledge


Self-knowledge implies wisdom and understanding. As content experts, faculty must overcome their self-immersion within their academic discipline to make it open for others who may be encountering course content for the first time. To achieve this perspective requires self-reflection and an ability to regulate oneself for the betterment of others. For the online teacher's personal and professional health, it is good to regularly take time for reflection and engage in activities that increase your mindfulness, such as yoga. Remember, your personal and professional health is physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. You need to ensure that you address these areas as you see appropriate, resulting in your being a more present teacher online. It is about redeeming the time and ensuring that you are not just living in your mind, but you are objective about gaining insights into your profession and applying these lessons in your teaching and life.


Finally, to bring it full circle with Wiggins and McTighe (2005), use a backward planning approach to your classes and your teaching. First, set your goals and then identify the steps you need to take to reach them. Be sure to allow for progress over time and have accountability partners who will keep you in good shape. Hopefully, the six facets of understanding can become organizing principles to ensure personal and professional health for you when teaching online.






Discussion Questions:


1. Which facet most closely aligns with a strength you exhibit when teaching at present? Explain your approach to addressing the chosen facet


2. Do you feel that you have typically left out any of these facets in your perspectives of teaching? Identify and explain one facet that you perceive would be helpful for you to develop more perspective and understanding with respect to your teaching.


3. Overall, how are you best addressing your personal and professional health when teaching online? In your explanation, draw from six facets noted above.






References:


Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2014). Improve curriculum, assessment, and instruction using the Understanding by Design® Framework. ASCD Professional Learning Services. Retrieved December 23, 2020 from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/publications/ASCD_UBD_whitepaper.pdf

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