Blog post – Are you the same teacher now?

Crisis does not have to change you.

I donated a sweater this weekend. A dark-green, wool and warm button-up, precisely the type of sweater you want when you are chilled to the bone. It is an item of clothing that makes no sense in the Brisbane climate. And it made no sense when I bought it in September 2005 in Florida in the peak of humid summer. Days after Hurricane Katrina – and the subsequent failure of the levees – that left 80% of New Orleans, USA flooded, including my neighbourhood, I was not thinking straight. My clothes were gone, and I wanted something comforting to wrap myself in. So, I purchased the sweater.

All these years later, I am still altered by living through that Hurricane. I eventually embraced the loss of all my clothes, books, furniture, job – things that mattered a lot to not-yet-30-years-old me. The perspective of people losing their lives made the shift easy because:

  • people matter more than things,
  • there are lots of ways to make money,
  • making new plans is a wonderful human capacity,
  • being with people to make sense together is a healing process.

Even with all my insightful life experience, I struggled in 2020 with COVID-19 (young kids, families overseas, uncertainty). I really did not want to teach online. I learned to teach in a room with people and honed my pedagogical craft for over a decade through face-to-face interactions. I dismissed online teaching as less than – an impoverished third-rate educational experience. And I was scared to teach online. To fail or fall short and bruise my identity as an effective teacher. Being seen as a good teacher mattered a lot to me in 2020. The perspective of people losing their lives and jobs was again clarifying. Connecting with people to make sense of what was happening was healing.

Listening to how fellow teaching academics changed their teaching, and reflected on that change, gave me courage.

Listening to students share their stories of learning online inspired me to think differently and approach my teaching differently.

I got the highest SECaT results of my tenure at UQ in Semester 2 2020 with 80% response rate. I am glad they liked the course and I saw growth in learning. The assessment results demonstrated an upward trajectory in student grades and enhanced self-assessment as students participated in iterative cycles of peer feedback conversations. I changed my mindset and that allowed me to translate what matters to me as a teacher on-campus to online. Together with two student partners, we:

  • designed an assessment and feedback approach mindful of motivation and staying connected regularly,
  • opted for flexibility that meant students could miss synchronous workshops and stay connected with asynchronous activities,
  • designed a model for applying theory to practice through workshop activities using a weekly collaborative online platform that grew over the semester into a portfolio,
  • decided to foster peer interactions using a ‘professional learning community’ model,
  • created a sequence of weekly online learning activities to set a rhythm for the semester.

When it was time to move back on campus in 2021, I did not want to change the online course that was working so well by all accounts. I had new insights into the thinking and progress of students. I spent less time being brilliant at the front of the classroom (Zoom does not give that same rush you get in a lecture theatre), and more time creating conditions to understand and make visible student learning. Moving online made clear my values as a teacher, my philosophy as I had to translate it:

  • creating relationships between teacher-student, student-student and student-knowledge through interactions,
  • assessment and feedback are the connective tissue of knowledge (curriculum) and pedagogy (teaching),
  • caring for students as whole human beings (more than students) is not just a COVID-19 thing to do,
  • creating learning communities in the class recognises students as contributors to the class.

The paradox of change and continuity, right? I am still an effective teacher, but my practices have changed as my commitments (my values) become clearer thanks to COVID-19.

I wonder how you have changed and stayed the same as a teacher?

All members of the UQ Teaching Community are welcome to contribute a blog to be published on the ITaLI website and shared in our UQ Teaching Community Update newsletter. Contact to contribute or for more information.

Last updated:
13 October 2021