Maintaining Emotional Balance While Teaching in a Pandemic

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Mental HealthOnline Learning
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This post’s authors, Anitre Bell and Essie Childers, are college educators and Cengage Faculty Partners


Ready or not, colleges and universities are opening doors to students, offering different learning formats. Some classes will be entirely online, while others are planning for hybrid formats, including HyFlex. Then there are those campuses that are returning to traditional face-to-face course delivery with some days remote (hybrid) or synchronous (a set time), live online. Given the various modalities, many instructors have been training all summer and creating and modifying course content to ensure they’re ready. It is no secret that fall will be recorded in history books and undoubtedly change the future of higher education.

On top of the countless hours of work preparing for their fall courses, there are instructors who are recovering from COVID-19, organizing pandemic pods for homeschooling, taking care of aged parents, adjusting to college students returning home, experiencing loss of income, affected by racial unrest—the list goes on. Faculty are tired, anxious, fearful, and stressed. Still, as the spokes in the wheel essential for student success, faculty must maintain a healthy emotional state while teaching amid the uncertainty of a pandemic. Read on for some suggestions for maintaining emotional balance during the epidemic.

Develop a Growth Mindset

Let us begin by defining a growth mindset based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. According to Dweck, a growth mindset is the belief that the foundations of all our skills can be developed when we devote time and hard work to it. Our roles as educators have always been unique. We have worn many hats throughout the process.

Things this year have looked and felt different, but we must activate our growth mindset to be open to the “new” teaching models. Also, educators must help our students initiate their growth mindset throughout this process. Some of our previously used best practices must be tweaked to provide effective and efficient teaching. We must walk into the room or log in ready to encourage learning. Educators must practice patience with ourselves and others so that we may receive the necessary support—and provide that support as well.

Employ Interdependence

One of Maya Angelou’s famous quotes is, “Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.” In employing interdependence, instructors recognize the importance of giving and receiving help from others. When faced with two weeks or less to change face-to-face content to online content, did you ask for help? If so, you probably had fewer headaches and a more positive mindset.

It was amazing to see several vendors offer free access to online content, training, and consultation. Experienced online instructors shared content material with faculty new to the online environment. Sure, you can work alone, but working with others is more fun, and so much more can be accomplished.

Incorporate Rest Stops 

While traveling, rest stops are strategically placed on your route. Why not also place rest stops strategically along your teaching pathway? It is essential to recharge yourself by taking rest stops. Each person does something different at their rest stop. Some stretch, grab food or take a deep breath.

Some ways you can implement a rest stop are to walk away from your computer, set up strict office hours, and relax with family time. What ideas do you implement to encourage rest? These can be used to recharge and reenergize. Rest is vital for our mental and physical health. Recognize when you need a rest stop and do just that!

Increase Happiness

Teaching in a pandemic—online or in the classroom—is a dauntless task. There will be many challenges and stressful moments. Skip Downing talks about having strawberry moments—creating and savoring a momentary pleasure to spur happiness. “The strawberry moment is feeling gratitude for what we have rather than distress for what we don’t.” He further posits that it could be showing kindness to someone who is facing one problem after another. Take moments to be calm and create a gratitude journal. Expressive writing is a great stress reliever. Increasing your happiness level will allow you to have a healthier emotional state and be a more diligent teacher.

Many people have experienced so much in the last 100+ days. Our goal as instructors is to teach and adapt to any learning modality, but we must also have a plan to nourish our bodies mentally and physically. The journey is far from over but remembering or adding these simple tips can help as you navigate this new normal. It is ok to proceed with caution but having the courage and confidence to do that is half the battle. “Be open to it being better than you imagined.”


Looking for other ways to help you prioritize self-care? Check out our Empowered Educator event covering culturally responsive teaching, instructor self-care, student perspectives on online learning and more!