From shopping at the grocery store to interacting with our co-workers, social distancing practices have transformed our lives.

And when it comes to how students engage in a learning environment, the educational model has changed … forever. With distance learning and online courses, virtual communication between students and instructors is prevalent from first-grade classrooms all the way up through universities and professional development training.

Here we share six practical and foundational ways you can persevere in advancing within a new teaching space to best meet the needs of your students while also thriving as an educator.

1. Begin as a Learner

One of the first, and perhaps most important, steps in persevering in new opportunities is to start with the mindset of a learner. Often, this step requires acknowledging that you don’t know everything about everything.

PGS instructor Steve Graham writes in this blog article about the value that learning has for leaders as they set the example for those around them. This applies to you as a leader in your classroom as well. Leaders and influencers who focus on learning as a practice of professional development are better equipped to grow through vulnerability. They’re willing to use failures and setbacks as a way to move forward.

Approaching these innovative methods of teaching with a spirit of humility and open-mindedness can be an exciting endeavor. Having the attitude of a learner as an educator empowers you to relate to your students and cultivate a meaningful classroom environment where all can flourish, even in the midst of uncertainty.

2. Approach Teaching with a Servant’s Heart

As an educator, you have the responsibility and opportunity to walk alongside students in what may be a challenging and frustrating season for them.

In this article, PGS instructor Daniel Gowdy shares how a “follower” mindset can be transformational for leaders in elevating relationships and focusing on meeting the needs of others rather than just our own successes.

“When we serve, we transcend self-interest and show an intrinsic drive to serve a calling larger than ourselves. We develop followers to become healthier, wiser, more autonomous and more likely themselves to have a followership mindset” (Greenleaf, 1991).

When there’s already so much that we ourselves are navigating through, it can be easy to neglect our call to lead as a servant in putting others’ needs before ourselves. However, as leaders in the classrooms, our homes, our workplaces and communities, we set the example in building others up. If you notice a student struggling within their new learning environment, seek out opportunities where you can listen and identify what they need and find ways to help them move forward.

3. Be Open to New Experiences

You may be someone who’s drawn to new experiences and innovative endeavors. Or, you may approach new things with apprehension. Either way, today’s educational landscape requires an open-mindedness when entering the classroom.

PGS instructor Jane Streelman dove into this online transition with her group of associate students at the end of July 2020. With her dedication to empower students to thrive in the classroom and beyond, she approached the online environment with an open mind and an eagerness to move forward.

As an educator with years of experience, Streelman sought out ways to grow in her use of technology and how to best use available resources to meet the needs of students.

“No matter what class I teach or what age, some things are always important. One area is relationships,” Streelman said. “Using Microsoft Teams worked well to establish meaningful relationships with livestream students. I could talk directly to students and they to me. The cohort was able to work together using the technology. Being able to see each other in real time made a difference.”

For Streelman, teaching in a new, livestream format provided the opportunity to learn how to use new technology that helps students connect in an innovative way. No matter what new changes you’re working within now, keep an eye out for what’s going well—you may be surprised at what you find, even if it looks a little different than you’re used to.

4. Emphasize Communication—In All Areas

Like in any relationship, the need for effective communication is foundational to success. Having consistent, intentional and meaningful communication lets your students know they’re on track and if there’s another way that you can help them thrive.

This value of communication comes in multiple dimensions, particularly in an online environment. In the classroom, regular communication is required for answering clarifying questions about assignment expectations and in understanding key concepts. By regularly checking in through forum posts or sharing comments, you can equip your students to keep moving forward with confidence, knowing they have the information and resources they need to do well.

Yet this value of communication extends beyond class time and course material. As an instructor, you have the unique opportunity to connect with your students on a more personal level.

By establishing yourself as a trustworthy source that not only has the content knowledge of the subject area you’re teaching, but also life experience and a listening ear to pay attention to their thoughts, feelings and concerns, you can show compassion and hospitality, regardless of the classroom setup.

5. Use Your Resources

As an educator, you’re facing similar opportunities and challenges as those in classrooms for kindergarten through high school and into college. You’re not in this alone.

If you’re experiencing a particular communication challenge with students or are wondering how you can better meet the needs of your students, other instructors probably know the feeling. As you persevere in new teaching opportunities, use your resources.

You can also use your experience in persevering and innovating in other areas of life that have required change or modifications due to social distancing. If your gym has been closed, you might have had to find alternative ways to exercise. You may have had to adjust your grocery shopping practices for a time to follow recommended practices. In these examples, you’ve already demonstrated that you have the perseverance and tenacity to advance and thrive even in the midst of change and limitations. Use those practices of perseverance and integrate them into your classroom.

6. Be a Source of Encouragement

As you emphasize communication and positive relationships with your students, you can serve as a source of encouragement. You may not even fully realize the hardships or challenges your students may be facing. One may have had their family lose their source of income. One may be taking on more responsibility as a caregiver with their children learning from home. One may be navigating the grief of a lost loved one.

We each navigate our own stories. As an instructor and influence in the classroom, you can serve as a source of encouragement and compassion in a season when it may be needed so desperately. This support can be demonstrated through thoughtful email responses, timely answers to questions or being intentional about establishing relationships with your students. At PGS, instructors often ask for prayer requests to support students as well.

Seeing God Act in Persevering Through Teaching

Whether innovation and new learning opportunities bring excitement or apprehension—or, perhaps a little bit of both—persevering through teaching in a new environment is an opportunity now handed to us. It’s a platform to walk alongside students as they learn and grow into their full potential.

It also presents the opportunity to see God working and moving in our lives and in our schools, so long as we open our eyes.

Philippians 2:12-13 says,

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

In this new educational environment, God can work. He has worked and will continue to bring about His purposes. As an instructor, you have the invitation to be part of His work in serving and equipping students through a degree program.

Advance in Your Influence as an Educator

As an educator, you have the unique position to make a difference in the lives of your students, wherever they’re at. Continue your influence as you invest in yourself through a graduate program such as the Master of Arts in Education. Check out our degree program page to learn more about how you can grow with practical classroom concepts to better serve your students.