Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Sixty-three percent of college students in the U.S. felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year, according to the Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment. In the same survey, 23% reported being diagnosed or treated for anxiety by a mental-health professional in 2017-2018; imagine what this figure might be for the added stressors associated with Covid-19 in 2020-21.
The first year of college is an especially high-risk time for the onset or worsening of anxiety. Add to that the increased stressors from last year: violent video evidence of police-caused traumas and murders, and the surges of Covid-19 and job loss, life loss and even day-to-day disruptions that have come with the pandemic. The ongoing fear and anxiety that students have make what we do and how we support students (and ourselves) all the more important to maintain as a focus this year.
Take a SIP of this: Fear and Anxiety Part I: students
If you have five minutes
- Check in with how your students are feeling. There are lots of feelings charts online that take the pulse of the class in a quick and fun way. If your students are on Zoom, have them volunteer one word describing how they are feeling or thumbs up/down, or in Teams they can use emoji or reactions.
- Include time for student worries and concerns in class. Name the traumas that students are sharing with you and/or the class. If someone is worried about police brutality against people of color, name racial trauma. If someone is worried about campus opening up and they are not ready, name Covid trauma.
- Offer longer breaks in class. This gives students (and you) time to move their bodies – moving reduces stress. You can also do a “stand and talk” session. Students get up, find a partner and then talk with each other about whatever the instructor asks them to talk about.
- Add a quick icebreaker or “name game” activity to class to lighten the mood. Make sure to comment on the smiles or laughter that occurs.
- Come up with a short beginning- or end-of-class assignment that demonstrates gratitude. Gratitude has been shown to lower levels of stress. You can have students thank each group member for something they said or did to contribute to learning. You can share something a student said and how thankful you are for hearing that perspective.
- Share the Counseling Center Groups (https://temp.msudenver.edu/counsel/services/diversityworkshops.shtml) that the center supports this fall.
If you have 30 minutes
- Use different modalities during class when possible. Change how you engage students every 20 minutes to maintain engagement. For asynchronous classes, you can have two or three choices of how students complete a discussion or an assignment. These might include video chats, self-response, sharing images, etc., vs. just writing responses. You can have a mix of reading, audio and video in the course modules as well.
- Create pairs and small groups in class to promote friendship. In any content area, you can create pairs and small groups. Remind students to share their names and something about themselves each time during the semester. Challenge them to try to make at least one lasting contact/friend in the class whether you are teaching virtually or in person.
- Develop opportunities in class for students to “walk and talk” if in person. This moves their bodies, gives them a different environment and gives them a more informal space to talk about class ideas. For asynchronous classes, students can “take their ideas for a walk” – after they read an assignment, tell them to move around and take the reading for a walk by engaging with someone in their sphere of influence.
- For asynchronous classes, students can include a roommate or friend in their discussions and share that conversation. You can still put students in small groups on the discussion board to nurture community.
If you have an hour or more
- Create a stress- or context-informed syllabus statement. Acknowledge our current context, that students are stressed or facing new hardships and how you understand this. This sends a written message to every student in your class about what you value and how they can engage with you and your values. See an example in the Still Thirsty section below.
- Incorporate service learning (https://www.msudenver.edu/programs/service-learning/) or volunteering (https://www.msudenver.edu/alumni/volunteer/) into your course. Volunteering has been found to shift people out of the ego state and allows volunteers to become less anxious when helping others.
- Learn more about a topic related to stress and students that you might not know that much about. For example, if you have not engaged with learning about Black Lives Matter (e.g., https://library.law.howard.edu/civilrightshistory/BLM), give yourself time to learn more about this movement. If you have not learned about trauma-informed practices, you can attend the learning series (https://www.msudenver.edu/education/office-of-education-solutions/trauma-informed-practices/) developed in the School of Education. The sessions focus on education but might still be of interest.
- Attend webinars from Learning for Justice (https://www.learningforjustice.org/professional-development/webinars) on a variety of equity-related topics.
Still Thirsty? Fear and Anxiety Part I: students
Teaching Ideas and Resources to Help Students Make Sense of the George Floyd Protests – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/03/learning/lesson-plans/teaching-ideas-and-resources-to-help-students-make-sense-of-the-george-floyd-protests.html
A good example of a wellness statement for a syllabus: https://keepteaching.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk8756/files/inline-files/syllabus%20statement.introduction%20to%20faculty.2-1-21.pdf