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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.