Teaching with compassion and care in difficult times

«Is ”business as usual” what we want to communicate to our students right now?» Patric Wallin asks.

- We need to ask ourselves: How will students and teachers transition to online, Patric Wallin points out.
- We need to ask ourselves: How will students and teachers transition to online, Patric Wallin points out.
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Both students and teachers are currently trying their best to keep things going, as Anne Borg pointed out in her letter to all employees at NTNU. And while we all have many technical questions about how we can keep things running, I would like to urge everyone not to forget about questions of compassion, care and solidarity.

Therefore, I was irritated and disturbed when I saw an email on the 17.3 informing me of the information that will be sent out to all students who take Experts in Teamwork at the moment. I reacted in particular to the following two points:

Attendance is still mandatory. Students should meet in the online course room in Blackboard each village day. Attendance will be registered by the village leader as before.

Absence for a total of more than 3 days will lead to not passing the course.

Needed: Decisions through dialogue

I understand that everyone is stressed and it is easy to retreat to strict rules in order to feel in control. But how can we continue with “business as usual” in this situation? Right now, both students and teachers need space to make decisions through dialogue with an emphasis on compassion and care. We need to allow everyone to do their best and show trust.

We need to ask ourselves: How will students and teachers transition to online? Will students have the necessary resources to participate? How are students and teachers coping with this stressful situation? And how will they perform during a crisis? When trying to find answers to these questions, we need to keep in mind all the uncertainties that come with the current situation: students might have lost their part-time jobs, they might be faced with sever financial uncertainties, they might not have access to the necessary technology, students and teachers might need to take care of their kids, relatives and friends might be sick, and we all are probably anxious and stressed. We are humans and we are affected by what happens around us. Let us acknowledge this. I, at least, cannot continue with business as usual and I agree with John Warren ”If it doesn’t make sense...refuse”.

Som starting points

Here are some starting points for teaching with compassion and care greatly inspired and strongly based on the work by Sean Michael Morris @slamteacher and Jesse Stommel @Jessifer, as well as endless discussions with educators Naomi de la Tour @delatoured, La Shonda Lipscomb, Jaime Wood @JaimeRWood, Angel Saavedra @PolPsyProf and many others who continuously, crisis or not, engage in critical (digital) pedagogy:

Teachers and students are humans first!

Reach out to your students and let them know that you want to find good solutions with them. Ask what your students need, what they are able to do, and work with them. This may mean more work for you, but it’s the only way to be equitable.

Things will not always work!

We will all need to improvise and be patient, teachers and students alike. Technology and techniques will not always work, but if we work together, we will be able to make the most out of the situation. Everyone will make mistakes. Be okay with that. Digital learning and digital pedagogy are tricky for even the most proficient online teachers. Forgive and be forgiving.

3 Edtech doesn’t teach, you do!

Do not rely on tools as a substitute for what you already do well. Online does not mean you need to change how you teach. You are still just as human, and so are the students on the other side of your screen. Email, text messages, online meetings are all ways to keep in touch and sustain a human connection.

4 Trust is even more important online!

Show your students that you trust them. Reconsider the rules that you have set for attendance and participation and adapt them to the new situation. Rethink grading, asynchronous work is harder than synchronous work (most people find working remotely difficult). Assessment should reflect that. Be open about these things with your students, engage with them in dialogue, and consider allowing students to self-grade for at least some assignments.

5 Grades should not be the focus right now!

Ask yourself what grades actually represent in the current situation. Are letter grades necessary and desirable or might a move to pass/fail help in the current situation? More than ever, there are many factors at play beyond teachers' and students' control that have nothing to do with students learning and content knowledge. Is it right to be testing our students in this situation? Can we ask students to evaluate their own work? Self-reflection and metacognition are critical skills in every discipline. Can we design assessments that are more collaborative? In that way, students can support each other and act in solidarity to each other. Student learning will still happen even if teachers do not witness, evaluate, and record it. As Jesse Stommel says, “There’s nothing radical about ungrading at this particular moment. It’s just necessary.”

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