Take Care of Yourself While Teaching From Home
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the disruptions of the 2020-2021 academic year will create lasting changes for most of us in higher education. Now, we are seeing many articles about what has and has not worked, and what the future of higher education may look like. Many universities will offer more courses (if not the majority of them) in an online or hybrid remote format, which means more of us may continue to teach from home. This teaching tip offers some strategies for how you can take care of yourself while adjusting to this new normal.
Tip 1: Take a break from Zoom. As we shifted quickly into working and teaching from home, Zoom became our lifeline. It provides connection to our students and colleagues in a way that is more personal than an email…but even the BBC agrees that it’s exhausting! Being attentive on a video call takes more energy than an in-person conversation because we have to work harder to process body language and we can’t naturally observe non-verbal cues. Plus, we’re aware of being watched, which can lead to expending energy being performative.
Remember the meme at the start of our stay-home situation that said “we’re about to find out if all those meetings really could have been emails after all”?! But instead, we just shifted from in-person meetings to video meetings. Maybe it’s time to actually find out if emails can replace some meetings!
Consider video chats only when you can clearly articulate the value in gathering together – do you need folks in one place at the same time to strategize or brainstorm? If it’s just an update or passive transmission of information, send an email. Are you concerned that viewpoints will be lost without the interactive discussion that a virtual meeting can create? Perhaps try a tool like VoiceThread to gather those multiple perspectives.
If you can’t opt out of video meetings, try this: As the host, normalize turning off the video after welcoming everyone. (If you’re not the host, talk with them about this strategy or post in the chat that you’re choosing this option, so others can feel more comfortable doing the same). This reduces that performative pressure. Yes, it will be harder to ensure that folks are paying attention but let’s be honest, when we held in-person meetings and classes, many participants weren’t always paying attention and we didn’t force them to make eye contact 100% of the time. Instead, we invited them into the space by calling on them or by asking open ended questions. We can do the same on a video call, without the video.
Tip 2: Manage screen and sitting fatigue. It’s not just video meetings that are exhausting, it’s staring at a screen way more than we used to. Screen fatigue actually has a real name: computer vision syndrome (CVS). If you’re experiencing a significant increase in eye strain and headaches, it’s likely due to the fact that you’re now grading all assignments via your LMS as well as electronically reading textbook chapters, plus all of the emails and document editing that we do via screens. There are strategies to address this - try eye yoga (no flexibility or downward dog poses required).
It isn’t just our eyes that are impacted when we’re at a computer all day. We’re at greater risk for repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel and our posture suffers too. Check out the Wakeout app, which features 30 second “workouts” - there is a great set of activities for hand health. You can also try the free WorkRave software. WorkRave does a lot of great things – it prompts you for “microbreaks” with a set of hand, eye and shoulder stretches and it can lock down your computer for a few minutes at an interval of your choosing so you can take a break – try setting it at 90 minute intervals to force yourself to hydrate.
Tip 3: Practice Mindfulness. Nothing like a pandemic to ramp up anxiety, amirite? Mindfulness (defined as: a process of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment) can be developed through the practice of meditation. Cultivating a daily meditation practice can keep anxiety at a low simmer. The free meditation app, Insight Timer, has a set of guided meditations geared specifically towards wellness during the pandemic. Another evidence based strategy is journaling, which helps people identify and process negative emotions, and ultimately alleviate anxiety. Here’s a short video by Tim Ferriss, noted entrepreneur and wellness blogger, to show you how to use journaling for focus and anxiety relief.
Finally, this Chronicle of Higher Ed article: "Productivity and happiness under sustained disaster conditions" provides some useful advice for faculty, including strategies to "protect your mental health and emotional resilience".
Here’s hoping that one or more of these tips will help you settle into teaching from home in a way that feels meaningful, valuable and productive. Being able to share these tips, and how you’ve successfully used them, with students may also help them settling into online learning in the fall and beyond.
Happy teaching (from home)!
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University.
Lorien Carter, MSW
Associate Professor of Practice (in Social Work)
Faculty Instructional Coach
Washington University in St. Louis