For both instructors and students, the fall 2020 academic term has been far from a walk in the park. Lectures and coursework have had to be juggled with caring for family members, mental health concerns and housing issues in many instances. We asked educators from our #ProfChats panel to weigh in on the difference that empathetic teaching can make in online learning communities. They also shared strategies on how to become more authentic educators. Here’s how to get started.

 

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1. Remember to take care of yourself

It can be difficult to say ‘no’ to exciting projects, research and teaching tasks. Derek Bruff, Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, suggests a way to give a conditional ‘yes’ to new opportunities.

Others like Sharon Mitchler, Professor of English and Humanities at Centralia College, set strict working hours and take a mental break from academia by following fun Twitter handles. Her top accounts are below.

Taking care of your mental well-being may be as simple as giving yourself enough time away from your desk. Here is a solution from Viji Sathy—a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Tazin Daniels, Assistant Director at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, takes a different approach when it comes to self-care. Part of her philosophy involves relying on support from those around her.

Daniels also sheds light on a community that could benefit from extra support and check-ins: those who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

Self-care can be easily pushed to the back burner when work commitments pile up. Karen Costa, Co-Founder of 100 Faculty, shares plenty of simple ways to make time for yourself.

Once your life jacket is fastened, share the strategies above with your students. Cathy Davidson, a Distinguished Professor in the PhD English program at the City University of New York (CUNY), writes that this is an “invaluable” part of strengthening your class community.

2. Humanize your course with trust, care and authenticity

A humanizing course experience can make students feel valued and welcomed—even from a distance. Karen Costa stresses the importance of being a caring figure your students can turn to.

Accessible professors aim to be available to answer questions and concerns through a variety of mediums. Karen Freberg, Associate Professor at the University of Louisville, offers some tips for humanizing your learning environment.

Presence doesn’t come with a prescription—it depends on your students and their unique circumstances. Derek Bruff suggests some ways to connect with learners using media.

Part of being present means showing students that you too are coping with similar challenges. Consider using this advice next semester from Jenel Cavazos, Associate Professor and Master Teacher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma.

It’s important to trust your students. But it’s even more important to recognize that it’s okay if they don’t trust you, writes Karen Costa.

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t fly in the virtual classroom. Be mindful of how you interact and accommodate students, so says Tazin Daniels.

3. Address students’ socio-emotional concerns early on

Students’ basic needs must be addressed before turning to academic policies. Cathy Davidson suggests some key areas to focus on beyond academics.

Course tutorials led by teaching assistants (TAs) can be effective spaces for mentoring and checking in on students. Learners may also be able to relate more to their TAs, suggests Jenel Cavazos.

Students may face a number of non-academic challenges—some of which may be concealed. Remind them that it’s okay to prioritize their lives outside of your class, Tazin Daniels notes.

Professors like Cathy Davidson have helped address socio-emotional student needs on a larger scale. Her students wrote a cookbook featuring wellness menus and more to support wider communities.

4. Small changes to your course delivery add up

Make a habit of celebrating and advocating for your students. That might be as simple as congratulating them on completing a project, suggests Sharon Mitchler.

Some students may be faring well. Other groups could be severely impacted by the pandemic. Viji Sathy writes that equity must be at the forefront of your teaching experience.

Sathy also highlights the importance of responding to—versus disregarding—student hardships. Even if it’s connecting students to a campus resource, it’s better than saying nothing at all.

Lenient extension policies can make all the difference between an all nighter and prioritizing one’s well-being. Amanda Haage, a professor in the Anatomy department at the University of North Dakota, shares how she’s facilitating flexible assessments.

 

Follow @TopHat on Twitter for more tips and strategies related to online learning and teaching.

 

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