A Teacher’s Survival Guide For Distance Learning

Teacher Angela Barnett

I’m Angela Barnett, a 3rd-grade teacher in Southern California.  Just like you, my teacher world was upended without notice.  At first, I was in survival mode…like treading with my head just above the water.  Even though I have held many leadership roles, such as ELA/ELD Site Lead, and District Teacher Induction Mentor, the transition to distance learning was not seamless.  However, I knew I could do better.

I reflected on what was not working and what I could do to make things more manageable.  This guide was created to help other educators with this new reality of teaching.  And the first step to trying something new is changing your personal mindset.  We can’t stress this enough with our students and now we will be modeling it every day during this new school year.

So, I hope that you find at least one tip, trick, or strategy in this Survival Guide to help you plan your lessons and engage with your students.  Remember to start small and substitute where you can.

You can download the full guide or check out a few of the highlights below.

The Mindset Shift

Asynchronous Learning - Screencast-O-MaticWhether the teaching will be done in a classroom or online, you’ll need to be ready for any type of learning environment and this requires a mindset shift. You’ll need to provide learning for blended, flipped, or hybrid scenarios.


Synchronous Learning happens in real-time.  This occurs in the classroom when you are face to face with students.  Or when you are online teaching via a web-based video conferencing platform.

Asynchronous Learning happens at an individual’s pace, not in real-time, nor with a teacher.  There are many online channels that can be used, including recorded videos.

Both will require delivery methods that meet the needs of a blended, flipped, and hybrid learning environment.

What is a Mindset Shift?

According to Liz Huber, a Mindset and Productivity Coach, there are “seven crucial mindset shifts you need to achieve a goal.” 

Our goal, as teachers, is to provide a meaningful and rigorous learning environment for our students.

Here are the seven shifts you’ll need to be successful. 

  1. Working From Home Success  Set a goal and then take action – use Backwards Planning
  2.   Have a Growth Mindset – ”I can learn how to make this work.”
  3.   Use daily affirmation – ”I got this!”
  4.   Plan big – but start small
  5.   Focus on what you know – begin substituting (SAMR)
  6.   Be proud of your accomplishments – focus on the journey
  7.   Your resources are limitless – be flexible

As many of us know, by working with children, there is only so much we can control.  Our profession was affected by an unprecedented event,  but not our impact.  

As long as we stay flexible, resilient, and resourceful then we can attain the goals that we set forth each year – teach kids and build relationships.  

The only way we can accomplish this is by shifting our mindset to one that captures the essence of 21st learning.

Create a Distance Learning Plan

Distance learning requires a plan of action. Here are a few tips I’m going to share that has helped me manage and organize lessons and units.


Most districts/schools will be using a schedule that mirrors what an in-class day would look like.  An elementary digital Daily Schedule will look different from one that is used at the secondary level.

Be mindful about the time spent choosing and creating your plan:  Slidesmania has a plethora of templates for Google Slides and Microsoft Powerpoint to meet your needs.

At the elementary level, teachers may want to create an entire slide deck for each day of the week because most of them teach all subject areas.  Secondary teachers may want to establish choice boards since they are subject specific.


Planning for the week may be more conducive to an e-learning environment for both teachers and students.

As a 3rd grade teacher that plans for more than 4 subjects every day, I used a weekly template from Slidesmania.  I changed the days of week to subject areas.  Each slide was revealed on the respective day.

Weekly schedules can be as simple as a calendar with daily activities embedded. 

All effective plans and schedules should be a hyperdoc/hyperslide.  

Keeping as much information in one location for a student to access is key.


Planning for a month is usually done for units or modules.

Projects, such as, PBLs (Project Based Learning) will require organization that consists more of a timeline.  These can be used to track assignments and reflect on goals.

Science modules (NGSS) are taught with the 5Es in mind while incorporating  STEM.  These lessons emulate the Design Thinking Process that allows for a more in-depth look into a lesson.  Mystery Science provides a good example of this type of schedule.

Teachers might also use monthly planning when designing Novel Units of Study, like literature circles and book clubs.

Inclusive Learning For All Students

Inclusive Learning For all StudentsHowever, there are ways to create an inclusive learning environment for all. I’ve listed a few below. You’ll find the full list in my ‘Survival Guide.’

Check-Ins  These not only give teachers insight, but it allows for reflection.  They teach students how to monitor their own feelings and can be used to teach empathy.

Surveys  Get to know your students and begin building relationships.  Remember to ask questions to guide your lessons: “What do you need to be more successful?”  “Did you understand the new concept/skill?” 

Check-Off Lists  Keep students organized and on task by providing ways to check-off assignments or activities.  This will promote independence, as well as, build organizational and time management skills.

Create moments during synchronous or asynchronous learning for Social-Emotional Learning activities.  They can be embedded anywhere.  For example, use a Google Form as a check-in, interest survey, or reflection. 

Tools and Resources

Child on computer for remote learningThere are many ways to help your students, as well as yourself, stay organized, and make sure that time is utilized in an efficient manner. 

Use these tools and resources to check for understanding of basic information, directions, to-do’s, and schedules.  They will also support executive function skills and social-emotional learning.  

Here are a few examples of how to use them:

Google Forms: check-ins, surveys, reflections – students can even turn in products

Flipgrid: opportunities for students to ask questions to teachers and peers

Padlet: an area where students can communicate, collaborate, and curate materials

Pear Deck: use their Social Emotional Learning templates

EdPuzzle: embed questions and notes into a video 

Because all these platforms support video it is easy to add one you created from Screencast-O-Matic to each of them.  Think about differentiation and personalized learning when choosing the tool to use with your students.

Embed all of these straight into your schedule or planner.

*Tip: Being conscientious about time management will benefit the social-emotional welfare of everyone.  Add timers that students can use to help guide their workflow during the day.

Flipping Your Lesson Plans


SAMR Model

The SAMR Model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura to help teachers assess how they can incorporate technology into their lessons.  What type of technology you choose will depend on your objective.

Substitution – Students can create a presentation using Google Slides.

Augmentation – Students use Screencast-O-Matic to record presentations made with Google Slides.

Modification – Give students a choice on how to create their presentations (ie infographic v movie).

Redefinition – Share videos via YouTube to an audience that is outside of class (ie class from another school).

For example, students can read an ebook then create a video to share with peers = Substitution + Augmentation.

The SAMR Model is not tiered, therefore, you can toggle between the areas and even mesh them together to fit your needs.  

Whether you develop a synchronous lesson (whole group) or asynchronous (student-paced), use this model to help guide the use of technology in a meaningful way.

Student Paced Learning

There are a number of ways to encourage students with their learning. Here are a couple of strategies I’ve used.


Hyperdocs are more than hyperlinks placed on a Google application, such as Docs or Slides.  They are:

    • Digital lessons that are designed by pedagogyStudent Learning with Screencast-O-Matic
    • Interactive while being engaging
    • Includes the meaningful use of tech tools
    • Integrates the 4Cs

It does take time to create a hyperdoc, however, there are many resources available.  

Hyperdocs was coined by three women: Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, Sarah Landis.  Their site is filled with tools to help get you started.

Multimedia Text Sets

Multimedia Text Sets (MTS) includes the digital equivalent to hands-on activities for a lesson.

Key aspects are:

    • Focuses around a common topic or themeStudent Learning at Home with Screencast-O-Matic
    • Provides background knowledge or practice
    • Allows for differentiation
    • Used as formative assessments

One of the purposes of students interacting with an MTS is to create choice, which will help encourage self-efficacy.  

Text Sets, such as, Choice Boards teach students to use an array of digital tools that will in turn build their academic confidence.

Station Rotations

When planning for stations, think about scheduling with a centers-based model in mind.  Make sure it is structured and used consistently.  

Stations can be used for any subject area as long as the expectations and procedures are explicitly taught.

If you are not sure where to start here are a couple of examples you can use:

Example One

Stations can be used daily as a morning routine for skill building or spiral review.  Use SAMR to creatively turn the Daily 5 Routine into digital stations.

ELA:  Daily Five Routine

Read To Self        = Silent Reading (AR)
Word Work  = Word Sort in Google Slides
Work on Writing   = Quill
Read to Someone  = Flipgrid
Listen to Reading  = epic!

Example Two

Stations can also be used across content areas, such as Science.  You choose which stage or stages to use in a rotation model that can be done weekly.

NGSS 5E Lesson Plan


Last Thoughts

Remember, this isn’t an explicit guide to getting through the New Reality of teaching.  This is a guide to help you overcome those feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.

We are living in the world our students are growing up in, which means we need to model the application of meaningful technology in education.  What better way than to utilize the 4Cs: Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical thinking.

Hopefully, the ideas shared will inspire your next lesson or activity of engagement with students. You can download the full guide with more tips and advice below.