Prepare. Practice. Persist.

Voice of Dr. Deborah Breen, Director, Center for Teaching & Learning


My office window looks out over the Charles River esplanade; on any day, it’s a welcome refresh to gaze out the window and see a range of sights and activity, from the changing foliage of trees, to rowers and sailors on the water, and a delightful panoply of people cycling on the bike path, walking dogs, or having lunch at the benches looking out over the river. 

Just now, it is the active and hardy folks who exercise at the fitness circuit who are grabbing my attention: despite the wintry conditions, they gather there in ones, twos, and small groups, to go through all kinds of exercise routines. They remind me that, in our own ways, we’ve all been running a marathon and the end is not in sight just yet! As we face another semester of uncertain conditions, I’m inspired by many folks around me to think about what it takes to learn and teach in a pandemic.

First, preparation.

While recognizing the powerful impact of loss and anxiety on our community, I remain very grateful to BU’s medical, research, and facilities staff for having us covered with testing, cleaning, and other safety protocols. We don’t know exactly what’s coming, but we do know the general contours of flexibility, adapting strategies and technologies as needed, and having resources at our disposal to support students and ourselves. We’re grateful to BU’s medical and facilities staff for having us covered with testing, cleaning, and other safety protocols. Their preparation helps instructors and students focus on teaching and learning. As you continue preparations for your classes in these first weeks of semester, please take a look at our Teaching and Technology Faculty Resources for resources to support you. This recent  FAQ for Addressing COVID Absences also provides helpful tips on preparing for the inevitable student absences in the next few weeks.

Next, practice.

Despite the uncertainties, take confidence from the knowledge that you’ve already practiced the variety of moves you’ll need for the coming weeks. Teaching is the art of intuitive but also intentional adaptation of what we’ve learned in a variety of classroom contexts. Practice what works (such as breaking content into smaller, manageable chunks; reinforcing information intake with analysis and application; making space for community and connection in every-size class) and be prepared to expand your repertoire of strategies and tools. EdTech training sessions and CTL consultations are available for support as you think about how to expand your classroom practices.

Finally, persistence.

We’re all tired of the buzz words of the pandemic; nonetheless, persist we must. Compassion for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves, continues to be a necessary companion to persistence. Creating learning spaces that enable student success despite uncertain conditions is no easy task; we encourage you to share strategies and tips with each other, support each other in positive persistence this semester, and reach out to the offices that provide support for faculty and students. Students will find academic support with the Educational Resources Center, with other support available through Disability & Access Services and Student Health’s Behavioral Medicine unit. Faculty may find support with Wellness Resources at BU.

“Compassion for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves, continues to be a necessary companion to persistence.”

– Deborah Breen


In a recent BU Today column, Sandro Galeo, dean of the School of Public Health and Robert A. Knox Professor, wrote, “[w]e are already on the way to making the virus something we manage.” In what I hope is our final semester of managing the impact of the pandemic in our classes, I am grateful that the BU community continues to be creative, resourceful, and committed to providing great learning experiences for our students. We acknowledge the many difficulties of teaching and learning in a pandemic. But soon, very soon, we will be able to look back and say, “Nevertheless, we persisted.”

Deborah BreenAbout the Author: Dr. Deborah Breen is the director of Boston University’s Center for Teaching & Learning. Deb is focused on developing and expanding partnerships at BU that highlight and strengthen significant learning experiences for all students. She encourages research into learning experiences, collaborations with faculty and staff in initiatives that support teaching and learning, and opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to contribute to an understanding of BU’s learning environment.