Building Faculty and Student Resilience


November 6th, 2020

(2 minute read)

Laughter; tears; virtual hugs; expressions of gratitude; sharing of great ideas – these were the “teaching therapy” moments shared by the people who attended the Building Faculty and Student Resilience Hub & Pub gathering facilitated by CTL-Hub Teaching Excellence Faculty Fellows (HTEFFs) on October 21. (The HTEFFS are: Kaytlin Eldred, SAR-Health Sciences; Sophie Godley, SPH–Public Health; Joe Harris, CAS-Sociology; Irit Kleiman, CAS-Romance Studies; and Ben Siegel, CAS-History.)

It was a great opportunity to share time, ideas, and resources with colleagues. Below are some of those ideas and resources:

Supporting resilience in students

 To help students create community in their class:

  • Put students into breakout rooms as they arrive and let them socialize for the first 5 minutes of class – they’ll return to the class space more relaxed and energized and ready to engage
  • Or allow them to join breakout rooms themselves to mingle and get to know other students (See CTL Guide on Zoom, Part 2, for more information on this new feature)
  • Encourage them to keep their Zoom camera on during class if that’s possible for them (or have specific moments when everyone has their camera on)
  • Encourage non-academic ice-breakers: for example, what’s the most awkward thing that’s happened to you on Zoom this semester?

To help keep students engaged:

  • Change the pace of the class with different “episodes” every 20 minutes; for example, a mini-lecture, followed by a group task, followed by a reflection time
  • Hide surprise information in the syllabus or in assignment guidelines – see this explanation of “hidden gems” in class material
  • Ask students to create memes based on class readings and use the memes as a basis for discussion
  • Poll students on a regular basis to get informal feedback, especially if you are trying something new (suggested tools: Survey Monkey; Qualtrics; Zoom polls)

To help students focus:

  • Encourage students to practice focusing and time-management techniques (see this discussion on Time Blocking for more information)
  • Improve their motivation to put away phones and ignore social media through Forest, an app that plants a virtual tree
  • Follow the tips in James Lang’s recent article on student attention

 Supporting resilience in faculty

“The price of empathy is burnout”

The conversation also turned to how to support faculty as they, in turn, support students. Trying to define the boundary between the academic role and the pastoral role of faculty was part of that discussion. Caring and learning outcomes are not mutually exclusive! However, members of the group agreed that female faculty often struggle with the perception that they need to be “motherly,” so folks at the session were encouraged by the reflections by male faculty who were doing compassionate work with their students.

Some key pointers from the discussion:

  • Aim to maintain a supportive role for students without becoming exhausted or experiencing compassion fatigue (resources contributed included this guide on compassion fatigue
  • Identify clear boundaries (although everyone recognized how difficult that was to do when student need seemed so great)
  • Be aware of resources that students can access and help them find the right support, including through the BU Wellbeing Project
  • Encourage the affective connections between students to strengthen the community networks

The HTEFFS hope to host another “teaching therapy” session before the end of the semester – stay posted for more information. Thanks to all who contributed their ideas and their support for each other at this session.