Connecting with your students during crisis

By now, hopefully, you’re engaging with UAF’s Instructional Continuity resources and feeling supported as an instructor. As classes resume in their new distance format, it’s a good time to focus on giving students that same support and connection. You can show empathy in your virtual classroom using any of the following techniques.

1. Be flexible

Students have varying levels of technological fluency, access, time and attention. You can demonstrate empathy here by providing multiple options for assignments that accommodate a range of bandwidth and technology usage, and/or soft deadlines; some students may be completing your course on their phone. With the closure of testing facilities, exams will need to become more flexible as well. This is an opportunity to practice creativity in meeting learning objectives while holding space for students who may be in turmoil. Fill out this form to request help revising assignments, exams, and other aspects of your course.

2. Be real

Appropriate self-disclosure can enhance trust in relationships. It’s important to let students know that you’re also learning/struggling/in it with them, as this can help open lines of communication.But be careful not to minimize students’ problems or stress them out more. You can also simply reflect back to students that you hear their concerns by paraphrasing or including a check-in for understanding. Ex: You seem like you may be stressed about using technology for our upcoming Zoom meeting, is that right? I was at first. I found that testing it out ahead of time helped me feel more comfortable.

3. Be proactive

In a face-to-face class, it’s easy to tell if someone is present and engaged with the material. You may find that some of your students now simply disappear. Students may be unsure about how to contact you so reaching out to them by email (and phone when possible) to make sure they have successfully made the transition to distance learning could really help them gain a sense of stability and feel like someone cares about their success. Establishing routine check-ins may help avoid a crisis. If you don’t hear back from a student at all, please contact the student care team at the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities (CSRR).

4. Be supportive

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we support students in their goals while helping them navigate the remainder of the semester. A little encouragement can go a long way and we may all find that we need to take on an additional supportive role (check out this adjusted syllabus). That said, you don’t have to become a therapist or advisor. If you’re not sure where to refer a student for help, contact the CSRR. Here are some resources you can include in your course and/or communications with your students:

This is not the semester that any of us planned. Over the past few weeks, our entire institution has undergone a massive transition. Some of our students had to quickly move out of their dorms and return home without saying goodbye to the community they have built during their time at UAF. Some are coming to the realization that they have put in years of hard work but will be unable to walk the stage at their commencement ceremony. And of course some may be personally affected by the pandemic and their classes may not be at the top of the priority list. Be patient with yourself, students, colleagues and the university. We’re all trying to get through this time of change together! Remember, this situation is temporary and eventually things will get back to normal.

Brighton Brooks

Brighton Brooks, M.Ed.,

Brighton has been offering student success skills and academic coaching to distance learners for over 10 years. They’re currently pursuing certification in the field of Dance/Movement Therapy.

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