Turning Chaos into Success During Distance Learning


The first day of school last year and the screen was a mess! Parents were writing to the principal, students were complaining, and there was no order to the class. And worst of all, my internet was glitching so much, no one could understand a word that came through the screen. I started to sweat, not just regular sweat, but in all the places that make you feel uncomfortable when you perspire. My head, my hands, my pits, my back, and everyplace else. This was the first time that families were there with you on the first day of school. Welcome to distance/crisis learning: where the family comes to class and the family criticizes your every move. 

“Man, how do I get through this technology piece?  How do I manage the amount of emails, and text messages that are coming through?” All these issues and problems were not manageable, Calgon, take me away! 

A week or two passed and things were starting to be manageable. Everyone was getting used to the classroom structure and logging on, and now it was time to assess their learning. 

I began to wonder:

  • What do I do about the student who uses technology as an excuse? 
  • What do I do about the student who always says, “You were glitchy, I didn’t hear you?” 
  • What do I do about the student who is looking at the screen, but is looking at another window on their computer, or worse, watching a television screen with their head pointed in another direction? 

First, I needed to identify the factors that were interfering with the process of a student receiving what the teacher is giving. I began to ask myself questions to guide my thinking because my success equals my student’s success. And that my friends— is the ultimate goal (plus what little income I receive)! 

  • Who do I need to talk to?
  • What boundaries and learning parameters do I need to set in order for my words not to be wasted on a daily basis? 
  • What procedures do I need to set in place for my success and my students’ success?

To help me answer these questions, I started to listen more to what my colleagues were saying. What are my colleagues and other teacher friends complaining about most about distance/crisis learning? The most prevalent complaint was, “My students turn their screen off!” 

This was the perfect target. I have strong personal feelings regarding the efficacy of students; they will naturally show traits of an ambitious learner, or an ambitious procrastinator. Of course an ambitious learner will not allow barriers to get their question answered, and an ambitious procrastinator will let every opportunity for learning pass right by. I have spent so many years as an ambitious procrastinator, that I recognize ALL the tricks. Did I mention ALL of the tricks? Just making sure! Therefore, I have learned to question students in a manner that allows them to recognize when they are not being ambitious in a productive way. I’ve learned to not to be afraid of being honest with students and parents… putting it right on the table…I mean, screen! You need to find a way for kids AND parents to feel responsible, and to know that there was someone holding them accountable for learning, even through distance/crisis learning! 

So there it was, I started and did not let up on demanding normalcy within the confines of a video screen. I  communicated to the parents and verbally sent messages during a conference call for class. And most of all, I had parent buy-in! Who else is holding their child accountable for 2nd grade standards? Nobody! 

Another success came when I played into the students’ desire for connection and competition. Usually parents are on board with whatever makes their child smile. I made sure to honor their time at home, and on the screen and acknowledge ALL of their efforts during crisis/distance learning! By making it an everyday occurrence to see and uplift success—  not in an artificial way that includes everybody, but in a way that truly acknowledges real work, for real praise — the procrastinator is motivated to show success in front of his/her peers AND their parents! 

Through these efforts, in the end I can say, “I didn’t have that problem of students checking out and not turning on their screen,” … My class enjoyed each other, everyday! We had the the proud numbers of 99% screen time everyday! Numerous cards and notes from parents were received regarding how much their child had grown during crises/distance learning! And just like any other year my students had the same love and admiration for one another.

Michael Williams just completed his 17th year as a credentialed teacher within Oakland Unified School District. He currently teaches at Crocker Highlands Elementary and continues to love his career more each year! He has a multiple subject credential and has used it to teach 1st, 3rd, and 2nd grade. In his spare time he loves chillin’, riding his motorcycle, playing instruments and creating music! He also enjoys hanging out and spending much quality time with his family, church family, and his two feline homies, Paws and Shooter!