Many teachers are finding their work to be more demanding this year, so looking for ways to simplify some of it is important.

Teachers everywhere seem to be working twice as hard and feeling perpetually overwhelmed and dissatisfied. Students are also feeling stressed out and disconnected—we’re all carrying an intense emotional workload. Although there’s much about the current situation that we can’t solve, teachers can work to mitigate some of this stress by prioritizing what’s most important—predictability, care, community, and learning.

These are a few strategies that I think can make the demands of this school year more sustainable over the long haul.

Within the constraints of our hybrid and virtual schedules, work to create norms so students know precisely what is expected of them. Asking yourself these questions can help you think about how to organize your virtual space:

  • Would a short (less than five minutes) weekly video summarizing the activities and projected learning outcomes for the week help both you and your students?
  • Can you pre-record your mini-lessons so the synchronous time you spend with students is predominantly interactive?
  • Should each week include a practice day and a review day?
  • What day and time each week are assignments due?
  • When and how can students talk to you and ask questions?

Whatever you decide, each class period should have well-established routines and predictable formats that students can count on. Students as well as teachers are managing more uncertainty than ever, so creating order will not only be calming for students but also provide guideposts that will aid in your planning and save time.

Clever technology tools are more abundant than ever, and our instinct is often to find the best and most effective ones to meet students’ needs. However, learning new tools and adapting our existing instruction can take hours of our time that may be better spent elsewhere. It’s good to remember that the learning effect size of technology is low, and according to John Hattie, “What we do matters, not the medium of doing it.”

We can simplify our planning by choosing our primary technology tools and sticking with them. Beyond your district’s learning management system, find tools that allow students to collaborate, practice, review, and reflect. You’ll also need ways to give feedback and assess students’ progress.

Working with the same tools consistently all year has the benefit of allowing you to develop expertise with each tool as you master all of its nuances and updated features. It also enables you to concentrate your intellectual energy on what causes learning—being a well-prepared teacher, having a passion for your subject and a connection with your students, and providing choice and engaging learning activities, with time for feedback, reflection, and improvement.

It’s likely never been as important to get to know your students, nor has it ever been more difficult. Relationships with our students not only impact learning—they are the foundation and the joy of teaching.

To help build these relationships, we can use students’ names often. We can offer students choices and opportunities for them to explore their identities and interests, which will provide fertile ground for us to engage and connect.

Schedule time to talk to students about their progress. Consider using conversation starters so you can listen to students, forge connections, and offer feedback, all at the same time.

As we grow in our knowledge of our students, we can more effectively engage with them in class. Students who are involved in the life of the class are students who are learning, and an interactive virtual class with student voices makes the work feel lighter.

Although we shouldn’t require students to turn their cameras on, we can ask them to—and show compassion when they don’t feel ready.

There will certainly be assignments that call for traditional grading methods, but perhaps your time may be better spent reviewing student work, jotting down notes, and making time for more holistic conversations.

If you release yourself from formally grading and commenting on each piece, you can look more carefully and think more deeply about a student’s work across time. You can then meet with students and provide them with themed feedback—patterns you’ve noticed in a student’s performance. You can then discuss your observations, ask them questions about these recurring themes, and illuminate their strengths so they can build upon them.

Themed feedback can be very effective because rather than deducting points for errors, it focuses on strengths and areas for growth. Offering themed feedback transforms some of the time you formerly spent grading into time spent with students in conversations that promote learning, growth, and connection. It also models for students your steadfast commitment to their success.

Now more than ever, we need to manage our time and workload so we can take care of ourselves and be more present for our students. We need to redefine success in this new educational landscape as an intricate weave of content, engaging activities, and feedback that at its center prioritizes connection and compassion for our students and ourselves.