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August 30, 2020

Remote Learning Hacks

For years I said that I would never teach online, not yoga and not higher ed. This past Summer I did both, offering my college course, Yoga: Culture, Theory, and Practice online. Now my three kids are doing remote learning at least through January. I am by no means an expert, but here are some suggestions based on our family’s experiences.

Physical Setup

Find the most comfortable and sustainable way for you to engage in synchronous instruction. That might mean an office chair, a ball chair, or no chair at all; notice what’s going on in your body and if it isn’t working change things up. You can work with what you have and make adjustments to support healthy posture and focused learning. A rolled up towel is great for lumbar support. If your kid’s feet are dangling and you don’t have an adjustable seat you can stick a box under their desk to help them ground their feet, or if they might benefit from a little feedback you can loop a theraband around the two front legs of a chair for a gentle place to quietly bounce their feet.

Place your monitor and camera at eye level. I put a big jewelry box to hard work underneath my laptop while teaching, and my kids’ school issued iPads are propped up on a stack of books. It’s more comfortable and prevents tech neck. In the picture above I was explaining to my students how Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock) is intentionally engaged for breath retention in asana and pranayama. Without intention, dropping the chin towards the chest constricts the airway and compromises the spine. As if Zoom Apnea wasn’t bad enough! If at all possible, keep that elevated device dedicated to Zoom. We are lucky to have a laptop on hand so that my middle schooler can use his iPad for Zoom and use the laptop for Google Classroom and note taking.

Remote learning workspaces should have everything that you might have on hand in a live classroom. We have book bins and desktop organizers to hold all school supplies. Students who use fidgets should have plenty of good quiet options within reach. Since my kids are on iPads I ordered a pack of styluses for them.

If more than one person in your house is engaged in synchronous learning you might consider headphones for all. I don’t love the idea of active noise cancelling or bluetooth on the reg, so I looked for wired, passive noise isolating headphones with an inline mic. Sony’s MDR-ZX110 headphones are good and affordable. Our district issued iPads have cases that don’t work well with the right angle jack, but 3.5mm TRRS extension cables are a cheap and effective fix.

These are the breaks!

Movement breaks, breathing breaks, bio breaks, eyeball breaks: I can’t pass up a good Kurtis Blow ref. Follow the 20-20-20 rule for eye breaks (work with kids to identify some eyeball targets far from their workspace), and remember to blink. I ordered everyone’s RX glasses with blue light blocking lenses (if you follow my Zenni referral link we both get $5 off when you order, and check out my beloved blue light blocking readers above).

Unplug whenever possible. There are so many wonderful apps for movement, mindfulness, and meditation, but I would really encourage everyone to take those practices offline. If parents or students might benefit from a guided practice, look to books or card decks for prompts. Weather permitting, let nature be your guide and get outside for a mindful walk. It’s okay to turn off your phone.

For Teachers

Before diving into learning objectives and content, prioritize establishing a classroom community. Remember that last year students and teachers had the benefit of knowing each other before going remote. This year everyone is meeting online for the first time, so you might never be in the same room or look each other in the eye. Icebreakers, daily group check-ins, 1:1 student/teacher meetings, and the use of breakout rooms are all great ways to foster connection. I also felt that it was important to acknowledge that these are hard times and this is not how any of us are accustomed to teaching and learning.

For Everyone

Notice how you show up. These are trying times. I find that it’s important to remember that we are all struggling. Any time I find myself grumbling about Zoom or the fact that we are all living our lives online I think about what would have happened if this pandemic struck when I was a student. The learning would have stopped completely. No digital media from the library, no podcasts, maybe we would have gotten some workbooks with a note from teachers wishing everyone the best of luck. Well-off parents of preschoolers would have signed up for Sweet Pickles (am I the only child of the 80s who has this jingle burned into my brain for life?)

Speaking of access and resources, this pandemic has brought countless inequities to light. We are fortunate to live in a 1:1 school district and have great technology and other learning materials at home. Our reality is a far cry from school districts where teachers are distributing paper handouts and pencils. I heard of one teacher who cried when she realized that she didn’t send home pencil sharpeners, and that her students would have no way to sharpen those pencils. Those students were also getting most of their meals from school. The situation is disheartening and can lead to feelings of helplessness, but if you are in a position to help there is no shortage of ways to be helpful. Take action, find purpose. Give to food pantries and contribute to local support efforts. Donate surplus school supplies you have on hand. If you have operational laptops or tablets that are no longer useful to you they could support another family’s learning. Maybe your employer has decommissioned machines sitting in an office while everyone works from home? See if they are willing to donate them. Here in the Chicago metro, I am working with GiveNkind to get laptops and tablets to families in need.

Remote learning is exhausting and imperfect, and I am so grateful for it — both can be true at the same time. Sometimes people think that practicing yoga and meditation make life easier, but the truth is that life is always hard. The challenges don’t change, we do. If parents, students, and teachers are resentful and resistant it compounds every challenge. Flexibility, gratitude, and patience make things easier and better. Best wishes for this school year. May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you have peace.

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