On June 23, 2021 I delivered a keynote presentation for the RECAP Conference hosted by West Chester University. In preparing for the talk, I deliberated on what would help us reflect upon what we learned over these last few years of teaching in higher education as well as prepare our hearts and minds for what was to come. I ultimately felt compelled to discuss three pillars for preparing to teach, captured in the graphic above: (1) Reflect & Heal, (2) Apply & Extend, and (3) Readjust & Give Grace. I used the term pillar intentionally, as I saw each as a support structure. Below I share their meanings, and how to make sense of them for an empowered return to campus.
Pillar #1: Reflect and Heal
When discussing this pillar I challenged all participants to revisit their teaching philosophies and reflect upon: (1) whether they changed since the COVID-19 pandemic transformed higher education, and, if so, (2) how they have changed. I encouraged them to revise their statements as appropriate before heading into the next season of teaching. Next, I mentioned what I have heard from many instructors as a consequence of the pandemic, and have witnessed myself – an increased awareness of inequities facing students. I advised instructors to use such knowledge as a grounds for intentionally reflecting on how they could better understand their learners each time they taught a course, and to infuse equity and inclusion into the learning environment. Such resonates with some of the work of my center where we develop data-driven tools that help instructors better understand the diversity assets and strengths their students bring to their courses. I also challenged all instructors to consider their own growth during this process. This has been a time when many have tried out new teaching strategies, which has been simultaneously challenging and inspiring. I also recommended that the instructors welcome the healing process, taking time, as feasible, to recover from this challenging season before teaching again.
Pillar #2: Apply & Extend
During the presentation I further noted that there is much opportunity to apply and extend what we’ve learned. We can continue using strategies and tools that fostered student learning during the pandemic whether we teach online, or creatively deploy the same or similar strategies and tools for in-person teaching. We can use what we learned about student inequities to make meaningful changes in our courses and curricula. Concerns of student access, belonging, the impacts of trauma, disparities in prior preparation, and wellbeing are evident, and we are at a critical juncture to deliberately and continually evaluate how to provide experiences that support the success of all of our learners. We offer a number of strategies in our book, What Inclusive Instructors Do: Principles and Practices for Excellence in College Teaching.
Pillar #3: Readjust & Give Grace
Lastly, as we return to our campuses either virtually or in person during this new season, we need to be good to ourselves. First, we’ll need to give ourselves time to readjust. There may be some uncertainty and it may feel strange or unnatural at first. We also need to give grace to our learners. Practically this may look like intentionally designing courses that allow for an early period of adjustment and some degree of built in flexibility. Let’s also extend kindness and collegiality to our colleagues as we confront these new times. Also critical, investment in burnout resistance will be important from the start, as well as reminding ourselves of the joys of what we do.
I look forward to an empowered return to campus, and how these three pillars – Reflect and Heal, Apply and Extend, and Readjust and Give Grace – can shape the next steps of higher education.