Online teachers are often too busy juggling a heavy workload to notice an important fact - we may be teachers, but we're students, too! Online teaching improves your existing skills and helps you develop new ones (whether you realize it or not). Here are skills you’ll probably refine today and must have for tomorrow:
As online teachers, we’re used to being in positions of authority. We answer a million questions a day, make decisions, offer advice, and give direction. We’re highly focused on running our online courses like well-oiled machines. But in the course of any working day, online teachers are also actively learning. We’re constantly honing our existing skills, and developing new ones on demand. And, ironically, we’re usually far too busy teaching to notice that we’re actually full time students ourselves.
Because with online teaching, every work day is a learning experience. There’s just no way around it. Here are just a handful of the skills online teachers are refining or developing every single day.
Skills Online Teachers Develop Every Day
1. Communication Skills
Most of your communication probably happens online. When you’re confident in this medium, you automatically adapt to the lack of visual cues that can trip up a less skilled communicator. You control language, tone, and style to make sure your learners hear you loud and clear – the first time you email them or post an online course announcement. Online teachers simply don’t have time to clarify things 100 times. So we’ve quickly trained ourselves to be clear and targeted communicators.
2. Compassion And Empathy
Online students can often find it easier to open up about their learning obstacles in a virtual environment. You may find that your students tell you some surprisingly personal and confidential information. When a student confides in you about a significant Life Event, that says they trust you. And this is where your ability to be compassionate comes into play. When a student misses a deadline not because they’re disorganized, but because their partner has walked out, or their child is critically ill, online teaching compels you to tap into your empathy stores, and give students like this a break.
Online teachers have effectively signed up for a never-ending lifetime learning course. It’s called How To Be More Patient. This is a tough course for people like me. I like to work fast and get things done. Today. Or preferably right now. But all the online teaching I do is asynchronous. Answers are not instant. Problems are not always fixable immediately.
It’s not only students who find this form of time-lapse communication frustrating. Online teachers do, too! So both online students and online teachers are learning to be patient as part of this process. That’s just the way it is. And as your ability to be patient develops, it gets easier to be a little gentler with your learners. Sometimes your online students are so anxious or so overwhelmed, that they genuinely can’t grasp what seems to you like a perfectly simple task. A patient explanation or pertinent example can help them make the breakthrough they need.
4. Subject Expertise
When you teach a topic, your expertise in the area automatically increases – even if you already had a good grasp of the subject to start with. I teach in several areas (from Adult Education to Communication and Project Management) and I’m learning something new all the time. Sometimes it’s from reading or talking to colleagues – but more immediately it’s from grading student work, and interacting with the very people I’m teaching. So, yes, I am a subject expert in a few areas. But a good proportion of my knowledge has stemmed from what my students have to teach me. Is that also true for you?
5. Time Management
Take a look at your track record for making deadlines. I bet it’s pretty stunning. And that’s because teaching online has helped refine your skills in this area to a whole new level. Most online teachers could easily juggle a buzzing chain saw, a snapping shark, and a razor sharp samurai sword. We take on bigger challenges than that all the time. Over your online teaching career, you’ve probably developed tools for handling time pressure without even noticing it. I certainly have.
At the moment, I have around 300 online students to take care of, a pile of graduate dissertations to mark, and three websites to work on (one for online teachers, of course!). Whenever I edge towards panic, I take a breath and remember: Everything will get done. It always does, because I know how to prioritize and get through the most important items on a To Do list which never seems to shrink. I bet you have the same ability – and largely because of the nature of online teaching.
These are just some of the ways that online teachers are students by default. We’re being trained all the time – often without even noticing it.
It’s not that surprising when you think about it. Online teaching demands a complex mix of skills which need to be constantly refined.
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