Many posts are offering tips, do’s and don’t’s or teaching strategies to support students and help them continue to learn during this time of uncertainty.
Sometimes when life challenges you and learning becomes less important I gave my students permission to be absent from class, to care for her dying mother and to support family in times of loss. Based on my experience, student not always wants this. In fact, they say that being in class helped them forget about their problems. This reason resonated with me.
As a student, and even as a teacher, being in class has always offered me a sanctuary where I could tune down everything else and immerse myself in a community of knowledge seekers.
A few weeks ago a growing number of higher educational institutes all across the country are temporarily canceling their face-to-face classes to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 situation. The conversations and concerns on our campus and on National level have turned to the topic of academic continuity plans.
As I look through the materials put together by various teaching and learning centers and instructional technology groups, I have noticed that the resources have focused almost exclusively on the hows of technology:
- tools to record lectures;
- create discussions;
- proctor exams.
While the technological know-how to virtually connect with our students is necessary, it is not sufficient enough to continue the teaching and learning endeavor.
Beyond the electronic connection, we need to connect emotionally — especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty. From a neuroscientist perspective, I know that emotions are key to learning. We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.
So I began to wonder about the impact such transitions will have on students and colleagues emotionally, psychologically and even physically.
connection is key
I am thinking about how we can teach in times of uncertainty and how we can ensure that our students continue to learn most effectively.
So how can we, teachers, support and coach our students to balance mental and emotional loads, so that they may stumble just a little bit less?
Reflecting on that experience and my questions, I came up with a short list of what I would’ve liked my teachers to do when I had been a student who was sent home due to COVID-19 virus.
1. Email your students to remind them that you are still there for them.
2. Tell them how you are shifting your schedule to deal with the new situation and that change is part of life. Humanize yourself and make it casual and lighthearted.
3. Reflect on the notion of rigor and continue to challenge and support your students. As instructors, we often must balance rigor and support, and this situation might be one where students will need more support than rigor.
4. Use hopeful and optimistic language, such as, ‘When you come back …’ This will help students look forward to coming back to the campus.
5. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If possible, talk about COVID-19 and fear. This is an opportunity for you to remind your students to consider the sources of their news and to beware of the large amount of misinformation.
6. Let your students know that you are there for them and that if they need help they can reach out to you.
7. Most important, ask each of your students how you can help them.
In times of uncertainty and unknowing, we can create a space where our students’ voice and insights can illuminate the path we are carving out together.
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list, and I invite you all to add to it in the comments section below. Think about yourself as a vulnerable student who is trying to learn and complete a degree on an already thinly spread set of obligations. What might help you?