How Do I Do This All at Once?

A Starting Point

We have learned so much together over the course of our community of practice sessions this year.  Thank you to all of you!  I’ve gotten a wealth of ideas, food for thought, and books to read from this work—and then, of course, oh yeah, Covid and learning to teach online—literally all at once!  That you’ve maintained the momentum, the commitment to continuing to learn and to improve our practices is a testament to the passion and genuine care for our students in this department.   I am still experimenting—even now—with some of your ideas, with small scale ways to improve the final part of the semester for my students even as I’m already thinking about ways to do it better from the ground up next time. 

The simple answer to how can we take everything we have learned (and are learning on the fly) and implement it all at once is—you can’t.  And you can’t beat yourself up about that—as the last community of practice session emphasized, the “okay is good enough for now” mantra is essential to keep us functioning and grounded enough to give what we can to our students in this incredibly stressful situation.  BUT we can do something(s)—bite sized bits that can have a real impact for our students, and our anchor text for this community of practice, James Lang’s Small Teaching, offers a wealth of terrific, small scale things to try to help our students better learn and retain information, and better apply, connect and understand what they’ve learned.  But the bits we take from Lang (and from all the other great material we’ve studied together) need to be chosen strategically and intentionally and they need to be chosen with this question in mind: how will this transform my students’ experience of and in my class? Please notice the focus here on students’ experience—of course we want more of our students to succeed and we want to do everything we can to support them and give them a strong foundation as they move forward.  But even if they don’t pass the first time around or even if they withdraw—things happen—what was their experience in your class and how do they come out of that feeling about whether or not they belong in college, whether they have what it takes, their capacity to continue to learn and grow?  So the student experience, for me, is my key focus. 

Lasana Hotep at a podium

“What we believe determines what we’re willing to do, to try.” Lasana Hotep —equity training RCC April 24

I’ve come to think that what is most crucial to being able to create classroom experiences  and course designs (virtually as well as F2F)  that transform our students’ experience is critical self-reflection or what I try in design and practice and implementing any one of the wonderful suggestions we’ve been given may not truly transform my students’ experience.  Let me explain.  As Lasana Hotep pointed out in our most recent equity training at RCC, there is no simple, technical response—no silver bullet strategy or activity or technique—that by itself will improve equitable outcomes for our students and our students’ sense that they belong in college—even if there are bumps along the way.  First and foremost we have to challenge the assumptions and narratives behind how we’ve designed and conducted our classes.  We can’t simply lay strategies—no matter how wonderful—over the same old assumptions about our students—who they are, what they should know, why they do or don’t succeed, what they should be able to do coming in the door, who they should be as students.  Without interrogating the assumptions (and the narratives behind those assumptions) that I make (often unconsciously) about my students, any strategy I use will be limited in its efficacy.  So with this framing, let me dive in, if we can’t do everything at once, what can we do, what can we try to support our students’ learning in and experience of our classes?

Small Teaching

Cover of Small Teaching by James Lang

Lang’s book divides the small teaching strategies (and by small teaching he means bite-sized doable things to try in our course design, in our day to day classroom practice) into three categories:  Knowledge, Understanding, and Inspiration.

For knowledge, he has chapters on retrieval practice, predicting as a tool for learning, and interleaving—“spacing and mixing learning activities”—so a kind of cumulative learning that keeps returning to earlier material and skills even as new material/ skills are added rather than discrete units which is a hallmark, really of our process oriented composition classes (Lang 68). 

Chart of Lang's Small Teaching Tips: Retrieving, Predicting, Connecting, Practicing, Growing

His chapters in the section on understanding include connecting, practicing/ applying (this was the primary focus of Carolyn’s Active Learning community of practice—developing learning spaces where students not only get “knowledge and skills” but “get to practice this in relevant ways”).  The final chapter in this section is on self-explaining—the work of having students work on explaining what they are doing and how they are doing it to themselves and others to help deepen learning, correct misunderstandings—the kind of practice we encourage when students write self-reflections on essays they turn in or when they do peer review.

The final section of Lang’s book turns to broader based themes of motivation (how do we help students develop and maintain motivation), growth (fostering growth mindset in our students, but in ourselves as well), and expansion (thinking beyond traditional pedagogies to include service learning/ activity or project based learning) but still offers bite-sized strategies. 

He concludes with a framework for thinking about and using what he’s presented in the book embodied in these questions:

1) What can I do in my next class session? (and the next, and the next…).  This is important for us now as we try to navigate ourselves and our students through the end of this chaotic term.  And this question reminds us, that we don’t have to wait for next semester or the next time I teach this class to make changes—I can make small changes—right now!  (and tomorrow, next week…)  The temptation to sort of write off a semester, gut it out and think, “it will be better next time when I can fix this” is strong!  But we still have time and opportunity now, this semester, with these students (and we might learn something that will make our plan for next semester stronger).

2) What can I do as I design/ tweak my classes for next semester (syllabus, assignments, assessment, pacing)?  This is crucial for us as we face the reality of a summer term—and a fall term—with entirely online classes. What have I learned? What can I do differently given what I learned this semester? And what have I learned that I’ll keep no matter what?  There have been opportunities as well as challenges in this experience!

3) What do I want to work on long term—what is a long term goal for how I’d like to transform my classes?

Small Tweaks, Adjustments, Experiments with Equity in Mind

Image for Webinar Series: Racial Equity in Online Environments

What I would add to Lang’s framework are six principles from CUE (Center for Urban Excellence) for thinking about these changes with an explicit equity minded lens because we know, as I was reminded in the CUE seminar with Jennifer Ortiz (Chair, English, LA Trade Tech), implicit bias tends to intensify during high intensity, high stress times such as we’re experiencing now.  Our stress levels, the rapidity with which we’ve had to make changes without time for a great deal of (or any) planning will be impacting how we respond to students, and without explicit equity focused intentionality, will impact decisions we make about how to structure our online classes, our WRC, etc.  Equity outcomes suffer in challenging environments without intentionality.   Here are the six principles Jennifer Ortiz presented:

1)Deconstructing—decentering whiteness in our classrooms; engaging in and fostering critical awareness and examination of assumptions, beliefs, dominant social norms in how we develop the content and approach in our class. 

  • One small way I have been trying do this, beyond some basics (inclusivity in course materials, giving students more agency, and other great suggestions covered in earlier posts) is by being willing to be vulnerable, share my own education story, and in particular in this moment, my own very real struggles to learn on the fly and adapt—and admitting when I make a mistake or find a better way.  Part of deconstructing is deconstructing my students’ assumptions about me—the assumptions they make about all of us by virtue of our position, how we look, how we sound, etc. 
  • And incorporating reflective practices into class can help aid in this effort to decenter.  Audrey’s dissertation research has underscored the power of reflective practice in the classroom.  It Creates transformational learning as learners question problematic perceptions that they have/have had, and restructure perceptions to be more open-minded and empathetic (Caine & Caine, 2006; Canlas et al., 2015; Merriam & Bierema, 2014) .  It Motivates learners’ consciousness by giving learners a sense of closure and clarity, allowing them to be aware of the new connections that they have made in learning new concepts and successfully engaging learning (Wolfe, 2006). It Invokes empathy & prompts radical listening (Rosen et al., 2014) It Create collective consciousness, coalition building, compassion (Canlas et al., 2015)  Prompts reflection about students’ positionality and privilege and how identity shapes experiences in contrast to others (Bettez & Hytten, 2013 ; Smele et al., 2017 )

2) Welcoming—communicating clearly to our students at every step of the way and every facet of our classes that they are welcome in and belong in our class, that they belong in college

  • As I know so many of you are doing, I’ve been reaching out even more than normal to my students.  I email.  I post announcements. Discussion boards include check-in type questions.  I start every Zoom session or office hour with a check in before we even start to think about course material or assignments.  I include encouraging notes and questions about how they are on every paper I return—I’m eager to hear what else you all are trying!  I’m communicating more intrusively and I’m trying to mindful of tone—not where have you been? But are you ok? How are you doing? What do you need? As Alex’s post on Emotions in Learning made clear, acknowledging the very real—and difficult emotions—we’re faced with right now and being transparent about our own struggles, too, can help students feel like they still belong—that they are somehow not suited to college because they aren’t feeling as motivated right now and the like.
  • Ortiz’s department has also been working on doing more discipline/ department based welcomes that include a lot of basics (details about accessing academic support, getting into Canvas basics, for us it could be details about the WRC and what support services are available) that students as a whole—say all students in English 1A—could really benefit from and they’ve been doing this with video.  She still does an individual welcome video of her own for her classes, but the department/discipline level one helps and may be more efficient for some kinds of information.  The key, in any event, is humanizing ourselves as instructors as a team ready to work to support students.   
Chalkboard reads: "No significant LEARNING occurs without a significant RELATIONSHIP."

3) Validating—consistently communicating our belief that our students are capable of and expected to succeed

  • Since the 2nd week of our time online (so end of week 6), I’ve been posting (and sending) a wrapping up the week and getting ready for next week message for my students.  In the wrap-up I praise—specifically—what went well in the discussion boards or a great zoom conversation and often I praise not even the content of what might have been in a post or reply, but the fact that I can tell they did the reading with care and thoughtfulness or the way in which they responded to a peer—supporting, drawing out, and being specific in what they appreciated in a particular post.  I praise their efforts in making this transition, getting the work in despite the fact that I know (because they’ve told me) they are working more hours, or caring for family members, or just plain feeling seriously unmotivated and struggling to manage time without the normal structure of going to school F2F.  And I remind them that yes, this is challenging—we are all doing the best we can and I remind them what tools they have to still succeed (I expanded the number of my late slips, for instance, which give students an extra week to get something turned in).  And I ask specific questions at the end—the how are you doing, what do you need, kinds of check in questions—and because I email this out as well as just posting it, they are replying—we’re keeping up a dialogue.

4) Representing—yes, being inclusive in our course materials so that students can see themselves and explicitly, people who look like them who have important ideas and perspectives to engage.

  • Star’s post and the thread on culturally responsive teaching made it clear how crucial this is and gave us several ideas for how to do this better.  But her post and all the trainings on equity I’ve been able to be a part of this year have made it clear that simply including (the old model of cultural diversity) is simply not enough by itself.  It is crucial but it can’t be the only strategy.

5) Demystifying—providing clearly and accessibly (simple language as well as ease of access!) information students need to succeed

  • This is some of the work we did on syllabi and prompts in January.  In the midst of the current situation, on a week by week basis I’ve been “translating” the sometimes difficult to understand policies and resources being put in place for students in the midst of this crisis and sharing that with them—announcements, email, and the like.  And there is work we will need to do individually and, I think, as a discipline/ department to make sure our students –especially students who will be new to RCC this summer and fall–understand all the basics—how to access Canvas, how to come to office hours, how to get into and “do” the lab.

6) Partnership—communicating in all aspects of our class and our communications with students that we are committed to working with them

  • And I think this also means communicating our own curiosity and willingness to learn from them—and being transparent that we are human, too, and as Jan pointed out in her post, they will need to be patient with us because we need to be flexible, too, as we navigate the current situation

These principles offer a framework for the kinds of strategies—the small tweaks and adjustments (let alone any of the big ones we may be envisioning)—we strategically and intentionally choose to use and how we use them.  (These are similar—but not identical—to Darla Cooper’s 6 factors for student success—I’ll include a link to those at the end of the blog—this is another terrific framework and there is a lot of overlap). 

And So…Self-Reflection

Simply including culturally diverse texts or picking techniques from the rich menu of strategies our series and work together has offered will not fundamentally, deeply transform the experience of my students—especially minoritized students—if I am not also willing to interrogate my own assumptions, to fearlessly look at my data—again and again—to cultivate curiosity and growth mindset for myself and a willingness to truly know my students, believe in them, meet them where they are (which sometimes means going more than half way to meet them)

Reflective teaching is “the sustained and intentional process of identifying and checking the validity of our teaching assumptions and the habit of constantly trying to identify, and check, the assumptions that form our actions as teachers…[in order] to help us take more informed actions so that when we do something that’s intended to help students learn it actually has that effect” (Brookfield, qtd. In Neuhaus 92-93).

Cover of Geeky Pedagogy by Jessamyn Neuhaus

Our work together and the equity work I’ve been able to be part of this year have challenged me to keep asking:  What profile do I have in mind of my students when I build my syllabus, design my class, construct my policies, offer an “analogy” in class to help explain an idea (what are the analogies I reach for saying about the assumptions I make?)?  Is this who my students really are? What am I assuming? What don’t I know?  As Tina pointed out in her post “Whether we know about each individual student’s story or not, we need to be aware of how past learning experiences and financial and familial burdens affect the success of our students.”  I recommend Jessamyn Neuhaus’s chapter on Reflection in Geeky Pedagogy (chapter 3) and Stephen Brookfield’s Book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher for a good discussion of the value, the necessity of self-reflection for our teaching practice.

In the April installment of RCC’s equity training series with Lasana Hotep, he offered this take on being self-reflective as educators:  being reflective means that I accept that there are some things I am doing that aren’t working (or that aren’t working for some of my students—your data will help you see this).  These things are often grounded in assumptions and narratives I have absorbed/ inherited (narratives about wealth and poverty, about education, about race, among others).  I have to reconstruct—starting with my own attitudes.  And this takes us back to Star’s emphasis in her post that we need to stop, observe, detach, and awaken—SODA—often, and courageously interrogate our efforts.  Star, like Tina, reminds us that “We need to see our students as people who need our guidance, understanding, and sometimes, dare I say, mercy…they are people who deserve to be seen, heard, and acknowledged” people with whom we are in a messy, dynamic partnership of teaching and learning.

So What Next?

As we move forward and tweak, adjust based on what we’ve learned this semester, can we approach our choices with a willingness to think through assumptions we may be making about our students that bear no relationship to the reality our students are actually living?  My point is that we need to be strategic and intentional in the practices we choose to adopt.  And to be strategic and intentional, we have to engage in self-reflection and examination.  We don’t have to change everything all at once—we can’t.  But we can continue the journey, continue the progress, continue to find small ways day to day—even right now, and semester to semester to transform the experience of students in our classes.

We have a lot of amazing strategies, tips, techniques to try out and experiment with; we’ve all learned a lot this year and a lot this semester that will inform how we construct our online classes for summer and fall—and we’ll be sharing some of this at the upcoming institute on May 14th! 

But I would reiterate, that perhaps the most important change—and it isn’t so small—is a willingness to work on myself, to question my assumptions, to focus on intentional principles to inform and prioritize our choices, to err on the side of giving students the benefit of the doubt, and to keep being gentle with ourselves—small changes are okay.  They accumulate if we keep at it!  And right now, okay is good enough.

Let’s Talk!

  1. What is the most important thing you’ve learned this semester about who your students are that you hadn’t realized/ been aware of before? 
  2. What is one small change you made this semester once we went online (not the big one of going online—but a tweak you’ve made since then)?  Why did you make it—what were you hoping to address? How did it go? What did you learn?
  3. What is one change you know you want to make next semester? Why—what do you hope it will accomplish?
  4. What ways do you think self-reflection (of you, the instructor) can be used to examine your own positionality in the classroom in order make positive changes?  
  5. How do you avoid the trap of turning critical self-reflection into everything that is going wrong/ beating yourself up over challenges in your teaching and in your students’ learning/ success?
  6. What kinds of self-reflection activities do you use to get students to consider the narratives of others in the classroom?
  7. What do you think is the biggest barrier to making changes in our teaching practice?  What gets in the way?

Community of Practice Session

  • Pedagogy in Practice Spring Institute: May 14 11-1 Zoom
Flyer for Spring Practice -- What's Working

  • How Do I Do This All at Once Community of Practice Session May 29 1-2 pm Zoom

Resources/ Works Cited

“The Consciousness Gap in Education—An Equity Imperative” March 10, 2014.  Lasana Hotep shared a key portion of this talk in one of the equity trainings this spring—it is a powerful call to action to examine our own assumptions and narratives.  It is worth watching the whole talk.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche 2009  Oct 16.  Many of you know this well and even use it in your classes—but if you don’t know it, take a listen!  It comes at this idea of the narratives that drive how we interpret the world in a really powerful way.

Here are some resources from Audrey on the power of self-reflective practice in the classroom and for the self-care we and our students can really benefit from:

Bettez, S., & Hytten, K. (2013). Community building in social justice work: A critical approach. Educational Studies49(1), 45–66. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/00131946.2012.749478.

Caine, G., & Caine, R. N. (2006). Meaningful learning and the executive functions of the brain. New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, 2006(110), 53–61. 

Canlas, M., Argenal, A., & Bajaj, M. (2015). Teaching human rights from below: Towards solidarity, resistance and social justice. Radical Teacher, (103), 38–46. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.5195/rt.2015.226 

Delano-Oriaran, O. O., & Parks, M. W. (2015). One black, one white. Multicultural Education22(3/4), 15-19.

Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Rosen, D., McCall, J., & Goodkind, S. (2017). Teaching critical self-reflection through the lens of cultural humility: An assignment in a social work diversity course. Social Work Education36(3), 289–298. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/02615479.2017.1287260

Ross, S. N. (2014). Diversity and intergroup contact in higher education: Exploring possibilities for democratization through social justice education. Teaching in Higher Education19(8), 870–881. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/13562517.2014.934354

Ross-Yisrael. (2019). Using self-awareness as a bridge to teaching diversity at a regional college campus. AURCO Journal25, 177–186. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.library.capella.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=136976895&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Sheckley, B. G., & Bell, S. (2006). Experience, consciousness, and learning: Implications for instruction. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, 2006(110), 43–52. 

Smele, S., Siew-Sarju, R., Chou, E., Breton, P., & Bernhardt, N. (2017). Doing feminist difference differently: Intersectional pedagogical practices in the context of the neoliberal diversity regime. Teaching in Higher Education22(6), 690–704. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/13562517.2016.1273214

Wolfe, P. (2006). The role of meaning and emotion in learning. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, 2006(110), 35–41. 

6 thoughts on “How Do I Do This All at Once?

  1. Janelle

    Thank you for your post, Kathleen. I found it to be empowering, reassuring, and understanding.

    Educators are passionate lifelong learners ever-seeking to improve their craft to better serve the community. Covid definitely complicated the ongoing internal struggle to be the best we can possibly be. At the same time, it’s served as a valuable opportunity to practice graciousness towards students, families, and ourselves. We’ve been challenged to learn even more, to become flexible beyond initial consideration, and to construct new solutions.

    Reflections are valuable tools for developing self-aware thought processes for teachers and students. It’s easy to fall into the pit of despair if we don’t highlight what we’re doing right. At the beginning of each day in the classroom, I made it a point to focus on implementing the things I knew were beneficial and motivational for my students by jotting down keywords on my lesson plans or sharing with my teammates. If something wasn’t working, research and experimentation of new strategies and techniques were worth the effort. Confiding in mentors and teammates was especially reassuring and helpful when adjusting to new circumstances and situations. Failure is an opportunity to try something new. It sure doesn’t feel like that initially, but we need to develop a spirit of resilience, even if it means slowing down or starting over. I’d rather try and fail repeatedly in hopes of eventually succeeding than wallow (for an unreasonable amount of time) and regret it eternally.

    Currently, the self-reflection activities I’ve planned for students include: journals, pair/group shares, and class discussions. Journal for texts assigned allow for personal connection and outward application which gives students a chance to think about their identity within the context of the diverse community at large. Pair/ Group shares and class discussions allow students to consider the narratives of others after they’ve had a chance to express themselves. Within the online environment, it will become threaded discussions and zoom sessions. Honestly, I’m curious to hear from everyone else regarding their strategies within the online and in-person classrooms.

    The biggest barrier, in my opinion, is ourselves. Our thought process and approach (inwardly and outwardly) are powerful motivators for progress or stagnation. Our hearts need to be in the right place: helping our students succeed. Our eyes need to be fixed on moving forward. Even if it’s slow. Even if we fail. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir because dedicated educators naturally feel this in their core. When our students fail: we fail; student success and failure reflects on our abilities are educators. This perception has truth to it, but it is not all encompassing. And yet, that has the power to wear us on and make us lose sleep. That’s where grace comes in. Knowing we’ve tried our best by employing our strengths and attempting to be better allows us the license to say we’re pushing forward. Anxiety and its band of negative feelings stem from a lack of control. We don’t have complete control over our students. We can’t choose for them. We only have control over how we react. We can try our best, learn, adjust, and reach out in kindness to the ones we are supporting. If we do these things, students will see how much we care. Hopefully, that care will nurture their success. If not, it might be time to reevaluate how we expressed that care and reach out for help.

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    1. cmrosales

      I love what you’re saying here about grace, Janelle. I think it’s interesting that many of us are ok having grace, leniency and understanding for our students, but for ourselves, well that’s a different story. I think I’ll try and add those ideas to my nightly mantra when my brain is spiraling out of control and reminding me of my every shortcoming from the day 🙂

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    2. kathleen

      Hi Janelle,

      I love your reminder, too, about the importance of working with a team–we don’t have to do this all by ourselves! I am so looking forward to getting some great ideas today.

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  2. Wendy S.

    Kathleen, thank you for such a thought-provoking post. What really struck me was what you said about students withdrawing. I’ve had more students drop my classes this semester than ever before, at highly alarming rates, and these numbers were causing me a great deal of stress and self-doubt. But what you said about student experience makes a lot of sense. Our students’ lives are not in our control, and sometimes they need to do what they need to do, but the experience they had in our classes is still valuable to them making the decision to return to college or not. This made me feel so much better because I thought back to every student who has withdrawn, and how the majority of them all communicated with me about dropping, why they needed to, and told me they’d like to take a class with me in the future. To me, that tells me that they felt comfortable approaching me with this tough decision, that they understood the importance of letting me know their plan, and that they felt that the class offered them something valuable, or else they wouldn’t want to retake it. Their experience in those first 4 weeks was key, so as I move into the fall semester, I want to think about how I can build that same trust and respect online that I did in person.

    I too attended Dr. Ortiz’s webinar and want to begin the semester by sending my students a welcome video. I thought her technique in introducing herself, the course, the learning platform, etc. was a nice way to give an overview of crucial info right off the bat. I think sometimes a lot of text at the start of the semester can be overwhelming in a welcome email, but students seem to respond well to videos. I’ll be trying this and thinking about how to make the video fun, while capturing my personality, while also giving them the info they need. Now I wish I’d grabbed my sorting hat from my office. Alas!

    The need to be strategic and intentional in our teaching really stuck with me too. I’m going to keep repeating it in my head like a mantra to make sure all the decisions I make going forward are strategic and intentional. For example, in my 1B class this semester, I felt like the ordering of assignments was a little off. I began with a play, then short stories, then poetry, then graphic novel, but because everyone is responding so well to the graphic novel, I’m almost wondering if it is worth sacrificing the fully developed critical thinking skills in those essays at the end for the buy in at the beginning of the semester. I’m not sure. I also need to think more about which skills I want to prioritize and which I want to build up to, logically. I felt that this semester, the assignment didn’t flow from one to the other in a very clear way. It is definitely too late to fix that this semester, but my first course of action will be to ask the students what they think about the order and how I should revise it and why. I will also ask them about the clarity of assignments and the scaffolding, if it made sense moving from one genre to another, how or why. Reading their rational will keep me from making assumptions about what I thought worked or didn’t for them and why. Once I get their feedback, I can think more critically about effective scaffolding.

    I have also been making small tweaks to discussion posts each week. At first, when we moved online, my discussion questions were solely about the readings for that week. Then, I started writing at least one check in question (affect). Then, I started writing long response posts myself (vs commenting on everyone posts) to help me manage my time. Then, I started adding a question that made them read my response post and respond to it themselves, to encourage the back and forth conversation. Then, I begin adding short activities to the discussions to make the discussion more engaging. This last week, I finally started filming my own videos (prior to this all my “lessons” were written for them). Today, I even filmed a simple encouragement video to help my 1A students who are worried about the research paper they are just starting, reminding them of my office hours, the library services, and offering a few points of extra credit to anyone who knew what my t-shirt was alluding to (it was the Goofy Movie ). I feel like I’ve been reflecting so much on discussion that after the semester is over, I can reflect more on another aspect of my classes.

    I’m really struggling with question #5, so I’d love to hear what others have to say about managing that level or self-criticism, especially with being new-ish still, trying to acclimate to RCC culture remotely, trying to learn about necessary policies and practices (and acronyms), trying to form some type of community with no face to face contact, and trying to be the best teacher I can be to so few students. Janelle, your comment about being kind to ourselves and to our students was very inspiring. It is also a nice reminder that we cannot control the decisions are students make, we can only show care and guidance. I will keep this in mind moving forward. 🙂 It has been a heck of a first year here y’all! I look forward to the discussion tomorrow.

    Wendy

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    1. kathleen

      Hi Wendy,
      I struggle with that 5th question, too! Still. But I think just constantly reminding ourselves that what it means to really serve our students and not fail them goes way beyond whether or not they pass the class–this is important, yes!–but for me, supporting students in making the best decision for them at that moment in their lives and (hopefully) supporting them in such a way that helps them feel empowered to and able to come back and succeed really helps.

      But just day to day, semester to semester, every time I hear a great idea–one part of me thinks, “why haven’t I already been doing that? I’ve failed!” or when I have been using a really supportive practice–intrusively checking in and trying to show care when someone is “missing”, for instance, and then this week… I didn’t do it–I got “too busy”. I know better. I think Janelle’s idea about grace here really helps–I’m still learning, I’m still human. Sometimes we have to let it go and just pick up and try again. I can’t do my best for my students if I’m falling apart–so grace is good. 🙂

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  3. cmrosales

    I remember telling my students every semester that when we are tackling a larger project — like the research paper or a book length text — we have to take it in manageable chunks, like pieces of a cake. If you give me the whole cake and ask me to eat it all right now, I’ll look at you with crazy eyes (but also a little bit of gratitude because, let’s be honest, it’s a free cake). But if you give me a whole cake, piece by piece then, yeah, I can manage that.

    It’s funny though because I can tell my students that all the live long day, but when it comes to me remembering and then taking my own advice, well that’s another story.

    I truly appreciate this topic and the way you’ve presented it to us here, Kathleen. The idea of small tweaks and manageable chunks is so important to remember as we tackle this colossal “cake” of online learning when none of us expected to be here, 100% online. Now, to answer some of your questions:

    What is one small change you made this semester once we went online (not the big one of going online—but a tweak you’ve made since then)? Why did you make it—what were you hoping to address? How did it go? What did you learn?

    One small change I’ve made is posting more multimedia elements in my assignment pages, announcements, lessons, etc. than before. I’ll post memes, YouTube videos, songs, random quotes, Bitmojis, etc. I think my main decision for doing this was to humanize the online environment. Tone is so hard to communicate online sometimes and these little bits of humanity sprinkled throughout our Canvas page hopefully remind them of who I was (and still am) as an instructor. I think it might also remind them that I remember that they are human beings too.

    What is one change you know you want to make next semester? Why—what do you hope it will accomplish?

    I’d like to do more synchronous live sessions. I’ve done a few already, and I think I’m (finally) learning to navigate the reality of being a full-time mom / kindergarten teacher / college professor all at the same. exact. time. It’s not easy, but I know it’s worth it. I’ve found that after I did those sessions, students started engaging more in the online discussions and I got a few less panicked emails. Not everyone is able to attend of course, but since I post the video later, I think it also helps those who watch it asynchronously. One thing I’ll have to try and figure out is whether I can have these sessions consistently at the same time/day each week. Things at home can be so unpredictable sometimes.

    How do you avoid the trap of turning critical self-reflection into everything that is going wrong/ beating yourself up over challenges in your teaching and in your students’ learning/ success?

    I love this question because I have no idea. I get stuck in my own criticism spiral, so I’d love to hear how others do this.

    What kinds of self-reflection activities do you use to get students to consider the narratives of others in the classroom?

    We do an “I AM” poem that allows students to offer parts of themselves and their identities to each other. Once they are able to reflect on who they are and what they want to project to the world, they get to present that to their peers. Then their peers get to see what is important to each of their classmates and what parts of their identities they are each proud of. I have also noticed that students get excited to see that others in the class share some parts of their own stories and there’s a sense of understanding and community built there.

    I’m excited to read and hear what others think on this topic. See you all soon!

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