This blog post is part of a series profiling educators’ experiences teaching throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Hear from 4th-grade teacher LayToya Herring, J.D., and intervention specialist Pamela Kral.

For any educator, adapting your instruction is a time-intensive endeavor. Throughout the last year, even the most experienced teachers have had to start at square one — learning new digital tools, developing new student engagement techniques, overhauling previously tried-and-true practices, and more. So how are educators managing it all? 

In the Spring of 2021, TpT spoke with Michelle Webb, an elementary educator and Teacher-Author of the store Teaching Ideas For Those Who Love Teaching. In that conversation, she shed light on how she adjusted to remote learning, kept her students engaged, and found ways to save time. Keep reading to discover how Michelle adapted to remote instruction and took steps to avoid burnout. Along the way, you’ll learn how Easel by TpT’s digital tools saved her time and made increasing student engagement in a remote setting a little bit easier.

Adapting to delivering remote instruction

Michelle has over 15 years of experience teaching primary grades in both public and independent schools. She currently teaches a highly diverse cohort of 21 students, originating from countries like Honduras and South Korea, as well as from the surrounding community in Chicago. Additionally, within her school population, a number of students are learning to speak English as an additional language. To keep her diverse group of students engaged, Michelle’s teaching style is founded in activities that engage the whole student, support a variety of learning modalities, and differentiate for a wide spectrum of student needs.

The pandemic has given her renewed clarity about what’s most important when it comes to self-care, boundaries, and planning for the future. When confronted with uncertainty, Michelle strongly endorses preparing what you can, where you can. Following advice she got from a fellow educator, she now plans lessons in batches, a unit and a week at a time. She also turns to TpT resources, including Easel Activities, which saves her time preparing her instruction. By prioritizing her work-life balance, Michelle has been able to avoid lesson planning on weekends, a huge deal according to her, and she’s been able to establish structure for her work, even when little else is within her control. “Don’t allow the uncertainty to drive you crazy,” she advises. “Otherwise, you will burn yourself out. Because this is hard.”

Making learning easier with a streamlined ed tech solution

Even as many schools plan to reopen this year, some districts will still accommodate a mix of virtual and in-person learning. During the Spring of 2021 when Michelle’s first grade class was 100% remote, Michelle was an early adopter of Easel by TpT to help keep her students engaged. Using Easel’s digital tools, which seamlessly integrate with TpT, educators like Michelle can easily create custom, interactive digital activities by adding digital annotations, text boxes, digital manipulatives, and more to resources on TpT or their own original materials.

When Michelle introduced her students to their first Easel Activity last fall, she was initially worried that another digital tool would be too confusing for families. And with many families across the country experiencing digital tool fatigue, Michelle was not alone in having this kind of concern. But when report card time rolled around, she suddenly received a flood of Easel notifications letting her know that the activities were being completed. “That let me know, okay, Easel is easy to use,” she explained.

“I hope that teachers understand that this generation we’re teaching, they are now digital,” says Michelle. “I’m not saying they’ll never go back to pencil and paper, but they like working on tablets. They just get it. And I think that once teachers try their first Easel Activity and get their students trained to use it, it’s going to open up a whole new library of activities and options for the teachers and the students.”

Saving time creating engaging digital resources

Michelle not only learned that Easel Activities were easy for her students and families to learn, she also discovered how easy they are for teachers to create. Like many educators, she faced the daunting task of adapting her existing instructional materials — mostly printable materials for in-person instruction — into digital resources for remote and hybrid learning. And because Michelle is also a TpT Teacher-Author, she had to consider how to adapt the resources she’s made available to other educators, too.

When evaluating whether to convert her instructional materials into Easel Activities, Michelle had initially been worried it would take her hours to adapt every resource. On top of this, she feared that it would be a hassle to ask other teachers who use her materials to add another tool like Easel to their practice. But she needn’t have worried at all. What she found instead was that her resources were immediately compatible with Easel’s digital tools, meaning she didn’t have to overhaul each of them one-by-one. What’s more, she discovered that other teachers were finding it simple and straightforward to translate her resources, from presentation slides to math worksheets, into online activities using Easel. So while converting her resources to digital activities may have seemed like a hassle at first, Easel made it easy and saved Michelle valuable time that she could invest in other important remote learning needs. Her takeaway? “[Easel is] going to be a game-changer,” she says.

Save time lesson planning with Easel

Michelle, her teacher customers, and her class were all surprised at how quick and easy it was to get started with Easel Activities. Here’s a few tips on using Easel to enhance your own instructional practice:

1. Set the stage and develop learning habits early with students. One thing Michelle says she wishes she’d done with her students is introduce them to Easel Activities during the first week of school. Introducing Easel early could help her set expectations from the get-go and get students and families comfortable with the platform right away.

2. Differentiate activities to accommodate all your students’ learning needs. While Michelle’s first-graders are all English speakers this year, some years she’s teaching multiple students who are learning English as an additional language. Easel Activities make it easy for her support students who might need:

  • Scaffolding — she can write notes and questions in the margins for individual students
  • Visual cues — she can highlight words or phrases within a passage to support reading comprehension
  • Virtual manipulatives — she can offer intuitive drag-and-drop shapes, text, and images for visual or kinesthetic learners

3. Be prepared for last-minute changes to plans. While districts continue to bring students back to school for in-person learning, there are still plenty of unknowns that can make it challenging to stick to plans. Easel Activities gives teachers like Michelle more flexibility to adapt their daily lessons, no matter where and how they’re happening next.

How are you using Easel?

Do you have tips or ideas for how to use Easel? We’d love to hear from you! Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook and tag #EaselByTpT to share your ideas. And keep an eye out, as we may feature your ideas on social media or our blog!

Learn More About Easel

Still getting the hang of Easel? Find some quick how-to’s here, or try this interactive tutorial to walk through the basic tools and functionality.

Start creating interactive lessons, just how you want, with Easel by TpT. And if you have a TpT School Access subscription, get started with Easel here.