Blog post – Compassion and caring as a university teacher in a global pandemic

Teaching is always about more than ‘delivering content’. We are in a global pandemic. Business is not as usual. The ‘outside world’ is disrupting our higher education ‘working world’ in cognitive and emotional ways. For example, revising teaching and assessment approaches requires that most of us learn new technologies while accepting the loss of our preferred approaches to engaging with students. We are more than teachers. Our research (for many of us) is also being impacted. 

The ‘outside world’ of COVID-19 pandemic is not only intersecting with our ‘working world’, but it is also impacting our ‘family world’. We need to stay healthy and keep family members healthy too. We are keeping up-to-date with the latest news and policies (social distancing, self-isolation, closing borders), making arrangements for immuno-compromised and high-risk loved ones, etc. 

Juggling our ‘inner world’ of family and work with the ‘outside world’ is a lot in a global pandemic. We have many cognitive and emotional demands on us at the moment that are unfamiliar. We have responsibilities to our families, friends, students and colleagues – all of these are impacting us as teachers. They are impacting our students as learners. Learning is a social process and our current model is disrupting in-person social learning processes and taken-for-granted learner-teacher interactions that make learning meaningful for most of us.  

How are you acknowledging the impacts of COVID-19 on you and the different ways others are being impacted by the global pandemic?

Answering these types of question matters as a teacher. They are questions that open up our compassion and self-awareness.

Teaching and being a teacher online has to be about more than ‘delivering content online’. In these unprecedented times, students will see and sense how we are acting. The human imperative of our vocation demands that we acknowledge what is going on, that ‘business is not as usual’, and that COVID-19 is impacting each of us differently – and that is okay: it is to be expected. It is healthy and helpful to acknowledge it. It is also asking us, as teachers, to reconsider how social interactions, vital to learning processes in most of our classes, can unfold in the policy of social distancing, self-isolation, lock-downs and quarantine.

How are you communicating with compassion and caring in your learning and teaching? 

One way is sharing your vulnerability in the current situation: I have never taught online before and I know that most of you have never taken a course online before either. We are going to do this together with lots of patience and understanding as we all navigate learning online in this class and the broader impact that COVID-19 is having on all of us in different ways. 

Another way: I have an immuno-compromised family member. For this reason, I cannot risk spreading COVID-19 to my family. I am teaching solely online and will not be on-campus but I am available with designated ‘Zoom office hours’ where you can always talk to a member of the course teaching team. 

Or this: I miss the interactions that happen in our seminars. We cannot replicate that online in the same ways. But we can try different approaches online, which is why I have set-up peer study groups of 4-5 students in Blackboard where you can Zoom and talk via discussion boards. 

Even this: Thank you for your email. I understand how stressful the current situation is and that it is affecting your concentration. Yes, you can have an extension on the essay and you do not need to send me a doctor’s note. 

Compassion can be as simple as sharing how you are being impacted as a human being and teacher with your students. It can mean encouraging social interactions online when students and staff cannot get together on or off-campus. It can mean letting go of your usual firmness on deadlines.

As Peter Goodyear, Professor of Education, ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, and Australian Learning and Teaching Fellow, recently argued, Teaching at heart is a fusion of human relationships and worthwhile activity.

I recently set-up an online forum for my Research Higher Degree students that allows us each to set small and achievable weekly research goals via a simple ‘to-do list’ feature. The invitation for students to join reads:

Group of Higher Education Researchers staying connected, supporting each other, and working together (at a distance) in the face of COVID-19. Be generous with each other. Be accountable to each other. Be kind to ourselves and each other.

The asynchronous online forum combines with synchronous online seminars, motivating individual research efforts. Taken together, we share research progress, work through shifting research plans given travel bans and social distancing requirements, and check-in on each other. Purposeful online activities with human compassion.

How are you exercising compassion in your courses? How are you caring for yourself, students, and co-workers in the time of COVID-19? Share your practices and read how members of the UQ Teaching Community are practising care and compassion.

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Last updated:
1 May 2020