Where do you find your inspiration? I've seen this question emerge in a number of different ways via LinkedIn Groups, newsletters, Twitter, etc. We are all susceptible to feeling run down from time to time, and it can seem like we are covering the same ground in our professional and academic conversations. Yet finding inspiration to move forward means more than just improving our stress and time management skills.
As we enter the holiday season – a time of both giving thanks for the year that has passed and planning ahead for the year to come – how can we as online instructors maintain our momentum? Here are a few activities designed to spark ideas and renew energy:
- Make a connection outside of your field. This is often given as advice for job seekers, but it's just as applicable for career development. Find a group, resource, publication, or local event addressing an area of interest, but with a focus outside your primary area of study or research. You'll not only see how your expertise may apply in different ways, but also increase your awareness of other perspectives.
- Read something on your reading list. There's no need to provide suggestions here, because you probably already have books, journals, even bookmarked web pages, piled high physically and virtually. While that stack may be intimidating, pick just one thing to focus on for the start of the new year.
- Renew your focus on students. It's so easy to get caught up in the administration of an online class – posting announcements, grading assignments, uploading content, fixing broken links – that the individual learners lose priority status. This is especially challenging in an online environment where you don't "see" them every week. TEFL.net's list of ways to stay motivated to teach recommends "learning something about/from your students." Consider tweaking an assignment that allows them to showcase their personal interests or past experience.
- Connect with your college or university. Research from educators at California State University, Fullerton and East Carolina University addressed issues related to motivation and online teaching and identified the importance, especially for adjunct instructors, of being part of the school's community. Look for formal and informal ways to work with colleagues on short-term projects and to provide your input on issues that matter to you.
- Stay positive. When reaching out to peers and colleagues, you may find circles that easily connect over complaints and shared frustrations, but how does the group handle these issues? Avoid those that get mired in the negative and instead join groups that add suggested solutions to the dialogue. Inspiration can be found through the encouragement and lessons learned that are shared by others who do what you do.
- Sharpen your skills. What's that one thing you always avoid (or dread) in your online courses? It may be a technical feature or other nagging issue that emerges in every new class. Seek assistance through your school's faculty development group or more informally online to identify a solution. Tackling this will go a long way in stress reduction and freeing up time and energy for other things as you move into your next academic term.
- Revisit your professional goals. Educator Maryellen Weimer, quoting a study of mid-career faculty, advises, "The absence of motivating professional goals can cause professors to settle into a dull routine." What were your goals when you began to teach online? Are you on track or have you been diverted? Assess your progress and consider modifying your goals and approach as needed.
- Take a break. Allow yourself to walk away from your online courses to spend time with family and friends, and to pursue interests not related to your work and courses. And don't feel guilty about it. It's also okay to say "no" to requests that leave you overscheduled, with little time to focus on the projects that are most important to you.
This list is not meant to add to your already burgeoning schedule, but instead to encourage you to find the inspiration you'll need to maintain your pace and motivate your students in the future.
What are your favorite ways to recharge your teaching batteries? Share your thoughts with us here and consider how you might share your recommendations with others in your network.
Image credit: qisur, Flickr, CC:BY