Support Teachers’ Distance Learning- Don’t Vilify Them

Teachers are in a horrible position. Teach in potentially unsafe conditions or struggle with online learning. I have been worried about fall 2020 for my freshman and senior. As a parent, you want the best for your kids. But here is the thing- what is best for our kids is to show support for our teachers!

Online learning

My freshman started school today- from the kitchen table. Yes, he complained, but I wanted to hear that he was on with all his teachers. I never know if he is in his room. This is a privilege that will be earned!

Each of us has a different experience with the spring, summer, fall debate and struggle with online learning. Here is something in my life I didn’t expect:

Have you ever felt like the universe aligned for you and brought you the right person at the right time?

I have several people in my life like this, but the one most recent person for me is Nora Flanagan. She is a high school English teacher for Chicago Public Schools. I was fortunate to meet Nora because she was one of the TedX Wrigleyville speakers I coached. Her talk is phenomenal. She takes us on the journey of a school teacher and parent during quarantine when all shut down and CPS had to pivot in a weekend. It is worth a watch.

Nora Flanagan, CPS High School English Teacher

Ever since meeting Nora last May, I have been pushed by the desire to help teachers. She is such a fantastic educator, I was frustrated more resources and support were not available to her. There was a part of my brain that said “What can you do? You are an executive business coach. Not in education.” But the nagging feeling wouldn’t go away.

Taking the nudge from the universe, I reached out to Nora about the student experience and what support they were being given to increase their online communication and presence on screen. This is what I talk about every day with all kinds of organizations. Maybe educators needed help showing up on screen in a powerful way for their students. As it turns out, administrations have focused on how to connect virtually and move curriculum, they are not concentrating on the teacher-student connection. Who has time and energy for that piece when they are working simply to make sure students have a device and wi-fi?

Informal research began

I held discussions with teachers from all over the United States. I did not find one who thought they were being supported or trained for physical presence in this new normal. Anxiety is high. Intensified not only by the last-minute decisions of school boards on how to return, but also by the baseline nervousness we all feel every time we don a mask. The teachers I spoke with share a common concern: how do I create community and relationships with students who won’t already know me? I kept hearing, “we need what you know.”


Looking to support my informal surveys, I found more support for the need for virtual body language. The Washington Education Association, surveyed 1500 members and found 79% wanted more professional development or training before the start of the school year, with 23% of those saying they need significant training to be more effective in the fall. Education Week sites “teacher training on virtual instruction” as one of the keys to making remote work.

In the struggle to connect each student with a device, the crucial teacher-student relationship is being left behind. Teachers have not been taught how to successfully move the most important part of their teaching online- themselves! Online curriculum training is not including body language for the screen or clear articulation behind a mask. More technology is not the only answer.

New Distance Learning Training is Necessary

So my new book, Closing the Distance in Distance Learning: A Teacher’s Guide to Online and Mask Communication was born! Every teacher in the country needs this support. I am creating a website of videos and extra materials to download. I know every school system won’t pick this up to gift their teachers, so I am making it available to all. My parents and grandfather were all teachers. This feels so right to share my path with those called to teaching.

So when the universe drops awesome people in your life, take a minute to ask why. If I hadn’t dug into my nagging suspicion, this book would still be in my head and not on paper. Who changed your life and business for the better? What has you on fire right now?

And by the way, Nora wrote the foreward to the book!

Alison Henderson is a certified body language expert and Ted-X Speaker. She is one of only twenty-two Certified Movement Pattern Analysts in the world. Help us spread the word of this training for teachers! Please share and encourage administrations to contact us.