The global coronavirus pandemic turned education upside down in a matter of days in the spring. Suddenly schools across the world were closing their doors and sending their students and teachers home to get on with distance learning, with little time for planning or preparation. It has to be said that many educational establishments rose to the challenge magnificently. Teachers made the pivot to remote teaching and used all their creativity and ingenuity to get to grips with a new way of teaching and make sure that the education of their students continued during lockdown.
Now, as most schools won’t be returning before the summer break, by the time the new academic year begins, teachers won’t have seen their colleagues in person for almost six months. What’s more, there’s no certainty that the start of a new term will mean business as usual. It is probable that many schools will be looking at blended learning, with students coming in for part of the week and combining that with distance learning. You might have staff members still working from home part of the time, but coming to school at other points in the week. And if there’s a second wave of infection, there’s every possibility that the educational sector will be facing another long period of distance learning.
How does this impact on staff wellbeing?
Staff wellbeing wasn’t necessarily prioritised during the rush to move to online teaching. But it’s important to recognise that teaching can be a stressful job at the best of times. There is a huge amount of planning and administration. The job demands a high level of emotional engagement. And as teachers head into the next academic year against a backdrop of uncertainty, this can take an extra toll on stress levels and mental health.
However, belonging to a team can help staff members through challenging periods. When teachers feel stressed or overwhelmed, a sense of camaraderie can provide them with a support system – and give teachers a safe space to share expertise and insight with one another. So, what’s the best way to make teachers feel like they’re part of a team when working from home?
How to build a team with teachers working from home
Team building exercises among teachers can come with some unique difficulties. For the last few months, teachers have been working on their own at home, only communicating directly with the head of their department. Once the school year starts again, some teachers will be back in the physical classroom only a few days a week, potentially working to a different timetable than their colleagues. In normal times, there are spontaneous moments of connection between colleagues in the staff room, at lunchtime or during in-service days or training. So, how can management replicate these opportunities in a socially-distanced school?
1. Use video conferencing
A study by Remote.co found that video conferencing helped 87% of remote workers feel more connected. You might be worried that your teachers feel Zoomed out, but it’s important to make time for a video call just a couple times a month during school hours to help everyone feel more connected – and maybe even get in some laughs.
2. Set up a virtual staff room
Give your staff a place to connect with one another, share their success stories, or talk about any issues that arise. Working together successfully on problems is good for team building and morale, and asking for help and sharing advice is a great way for teachers to build connections with one another.
A simple way to build a virtual staff room is with Slack; this way, you can have different channels for each department. There’s also the opportunity to set up a channel dedicated to remote learning issues and tips, or another channel for general questions or queries – the possibilities are endless!
3. Mix it up
It’s also a great idea to encourage staff members to connect across departments. You can save this for bigger team events – such as in-service days or training sessions. Make sure to actively organise people from different departments to work together in teams – that way, colleagues will build relationships across all departments for a truly connected team.
4. Keep it fun
Training sessions and staff meetings are good team building opportunities, but don’t feel like it all has to be work-focused. There are lots of activities which involve working in teams, but which are fun too! You could organise a virtual pub quiz and have departments competing, or get staff to take part in an online escape room and see which team figures it out first. You could set up a book club for interested staff members and have an online meeting once a month, or even have a games night where you play video Pictionary.
With great team building exercises, your teachers are more likely to be happier and collaborate more effectively with colleagues. A strong team spirit will help your team to navigate the new pressures and stresses of a socially distanced school. Through your team-building activities, you’ll also get a good sense of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses – meaning you can better support them to achieve their potential.
If you’d like to explore more ideas on how to support teachers to teach successfully during this difficult time, check out our blog posts on teaching during the COVID-19 crisis.