Compassion and Self-Care
For many faculty at Xavier and other New Orleans institutions, instructional continuity is only something we think about during hurricane season, but the COVID-19 pandemic has raised important concerns about teaching in times of disruption and uncertainty. As faculty strive to adapt their classes to be taught remotely, it’s important to remember the human imperative of our vocation.
Right now there is a cognitive demand being asked of all of us. Whether stressed by preparing to teach remotely, worried about housing or food insecurity, concerned about vulnerable family members, concerned about immuno-compromised and high-risk individuals, many of us have a lot more of the “outside world” impacting our daily work. There's nothing wrong with that, but as Karen Gross, writing for the New England Journal of Higher Education, says, "What really worries me is that the soap and alcohol focus means we are not focused on the psychological impact the threat of this virus—even if it does not strike close to home or campus—on students (and faculty, staff and administration). Soap and alcohol are not psychological mediators and they do not lower the stress and fear and toxicity of the virus threat."
Many faculty have a well-developed professional persona we use when we step into our classrooms, a persona that in part communicates complete control of the situation. One important thing we can do to help ourselves and our students during a disruption is to remember that we are all impacted differently, and that opening up about how the current disruption is affecting us, personally, while inviting our students to do the same, is a way to humanize the experience. Perhaps the best way we can begin our newly online classes is by saying, “Students, I’ve never taught a class online before, so please be patient with me as I will be patient with you.”
In the words of Dr. David Robinson-Morris, Director of Xavier’s Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit, “While we practice social distancing and remove ourselves from public engagement, please allow yourselves a few moments to reflect on our obligation to one another, to all members of the human family. It is in these times where a deepened sense of our humanity and human connection is most needed.”
Transitioning to Remote Teaching
As faculty are starting, very suddenly, to teach remotely, students are beginning to learn remotely. Many faculty did not sign up to teach this way -- our students didn't sign up to learn this way. We need to be thoughtful as we proceed, for our students' sakes as well as our own. Below are some suggestions to proceed in a mindful manner.
- Be kind. Everyone is stressed. This includes students, faculty, staff, and administrators. It also includes you. It's okay to be stressed, and it's okay to let others see that you are stressed.
- You cannot recreate your classroom online, and you cannot hold yourself to that standard. Moving a class to a distance learning model in a few days' time excludes the possibility of excellence. Give yourself a break.
- Make assignments lower or no stakes if you're using a new platform. Get students used to just using the platform. Then you can do something higher stakes. Do not ask students to do a high stakes exam or assignment on a new platform right away.
- Remember that letting others into your home can be yet another stressor, even if it's only virtual. Some students might be uncomfortable being seen on camera. If you're using Zoom or Virtual Classroom or some other web conferencing system, don't force students to have their webcams on.
- Stay in contact with students, and stay transparent. Talk to them about WHY you're prioritizing certain things or asking them to read or do certain things.
- Do not read on best practices for distance learning. That's not the situation we're in. We're in triage. Distance learning, when planned, can be really excellent. That's not what this is. Do what you absolutely have to and ditch what you can. Thinking you can manage best practices in a day or a week will lead to feeling like you've failed.
- Be particularly kind to your graduating seniors. They're already panicking, and this isn't going to help. If you teach a class where they need to have completed something for certification, to apply to grad school, or whatever, figure out plan B. But talk to them. Radio silence, even if you're working, is not okay.
- Practice self-care and encourage your students (and colleagues) to do the same. Give yourself permission to relax, whatever that means for you.
Humanizing Remote Teaching
The following tips are adapted from the unpublished paper "Humanizing Online Teaching" by Mary Raygoza, Raina León, and Aaminah Norris of Saint Mary's College of California. The advice is based on scholarship on teaching practices for equity and social justice. It is not centered on the technical aspects of online teaching but rather pedagogical practices that promote care for the whole student and class collective.
Be Flexible, Be Patient, Be You
- Technical glitches will happen. The way something was supposed to happen in-person will not go that way online. Students and faculty alike will be adapting to this new challenge. The uncertain and inequitable world is happening as your class is happening. Everyone is holding a lot. Remind yourself and students of this. We must cultivate compassion for one another and ourselves. Authenticity when glitches happen creates bridges of connection.
- Take breaks - take approximately a 5 minute break per hour; encourage movement and stretching; when you do so, you can ask students to turn their camera off and then turn it back on at the end of the break time.
- Log in a few minutes before class and chat informally with students as you would normally do; similarly, invite students to ask questions as others are logging off. Also, have appropriate boundaries on your time as you usually do.
- Encourage students to use video conferencing to connect with one another outside of class-time. This can be helpful not only for group work but for socializing such as sharing a meal virtually, or having a virtual study session.
- Bring your energy! Online learning spaces need energy!
Build a Community
- Take time to establish norms for being present, mindful, and safe. You may bring a set of norms to students, you may bring a set that they then expand or provide feedback on, or you may co-create classroom norms with them.
- You, as a professor, may have to summon a higher amount of energy to demonstrate excitement and engagement in the class as a model for them; however, authenticity transfers across the digital platform. It’s a wonderful practice to make space for co-learning and being transparent with students when you are working out technology glitches to support their learning.
- Engage students in a “temperature check” at the beginning of class. It is harder to tell how students are doing when you are in a virtual space, so this can help to get a read of the virtual room. It can also help students to feel more comfortable, warming up to speak online.
- You may also invite announcements or celebrations- these are things students usually share with each other in person as they walk into a classroom, so it can be good to make intentional space for them.
- Just because you are online does not mean you can’t do things like mindfulness practices to center the class.
- Take time for students to share appreciations with one another at the end of class, for anything big or small, related to the class or not. Again, this helps in fostering community when you are not in person.
- Ask students to all use the video to help to maintain human connection. In an online environment, we can still connect through body language and eye contact, though limited.
- Share an agenda with learning objectives and activities for the day so students know what is coming.
- If using breakout groups, make sure to give them a “protocol” or clear guidelines about what you want them to do. In person, we can “read” the room more easily to have an idea of which groups are struggling and move there to redirect. Remember that they can reach out to you for more support, but you won’t have the ability to “read” the room. Circulating among groups and making sure everyone is on the same page on what they have to do (check in on task clarity before breaking out into small groups) can help a lot!
- If you normally have a routine when students enter, e.g. a warm-up or “do now,” continue to do those or you may start implementing them because students will trickle into the online space.
- Have an array of instructional activities; class online can be boring if it is just the professor speaking
- Plan to engage students in reflective, meta-cognitive activities such as exit tickets or a Know-Want to Know-Learned chart.
Foster Equitable Participation
- Check in to see if anyone is having difficulty accessing their classes: internet connection, a quiet space, a device, or a mic or camera? Are there ways you can support their troubleshooting, resources you can point them to?
- Consider using the transcription service built into the software. Before you start your session, add the transcription service. You can always share these transcripts (with student permission) on Brightspace.
- If the topic is not privileged or sensitive, check in with students to see if they would be comfortable with recording the session and post these online. Recordings allow students who miss class to have access to the class at a later date.
- As students are sharing out, pause to invite anyone to speak who has not spoken yet.
Assign Group Work
- If using Zoom, you can turn on the breakout rooms function and have students break into groups that are random or manually assigned. Be clear about what time you will have everyone return so they know how to pace their group work. You can “float” group to group as they work, as you would around the classroom.
- Assign or have students select group roles, such as Timekeeper, Facilitator, Reporter, Recorder, and Equity Manager or Harmonizer. Groups roles increase accountability to one another and in an online format ensure that everyone participates. Allow students to alternate roles so that each week they are included and provided with different responsibilities.
- When you come back together, have a specific prompt of what students will be reporting out on. You may have those who share out say what they learned or appreciated from a classmate in their breakout group, so that they are not just repeating what they themself said in the breakout group.
- Ask students to create and present multimodal presentations online. This allows for students' involvement to be dynamic and engaging. It also builds their capacity to present in the online format.
- When you want each person in the class to have an opportunity to speak to something, ask for a volunteer of who would like to begin and when that person finishes, they say the name of another student, “tagging” them in. This keeps the flow going and ensures everyone speaks. Before doing this, you may want to do a pair share, give them time for a quick write, or at least 30 seconds of thinking time so that they are prepared to share and not cold called or put on the spot when it is their turn.
- We teach teacher candidates who are holding a lot of care and concern for the young people they teach and often experience their own trauma or secondary trauma. Students cannot give a classmate a consensual hug, just sit next to them, or grab them a tissue when online. If you teach a class where challenging topics and experiences come up, be prepared to hold space, offer validation and affirmation, create space for dialogue, and provide guidance that students need.
- Utilize the screen share function. Both you and students can share your screen- you can share your whole screen or just a specific document or tab (the latter is recommended so that you do not over-share). This can be great for showing students a presentation or inviting students to present.
- Portions of this page were adapted, with permission, from Jamiella Brooks, Ph.D., Associate Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Pennsylvania.
- Portions of this page were adapted, with permission, from Amy Young, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication, Chair of the Department of Communication, Pacific Lutheran University.
- Portions of this page were adapted, with permission, Raygoza, M., León, R., & Norris, A. (2020). Humanizing online teaching. http://works.bepress.com/mary-candace-raygoza/28/, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License.
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