- Throughout the pandemic, faculty have felt the brunt of high expectations from both administration and students.|To better manage expectations from administration, instructors can build pods of fellow faculty and lend a hand when bandwidth allows.|To better manage expectations from students, instructors can build grace opportunities into syllabi and host extracurricular events as a pod.
Sherri Singer is a Professor and Department Head for Social & Behavioral Sciences at Alamance Community College in North Carolina.
For instructors, the struggle of managing admin and student expectations has become a long-term fight throughout the pandemic. Way back in March 2020, we rushed to develop online courses to carry us through the semester. Then, we navigated a year of lockdowns and mandates, mainly online. And just when we thought we could catch our breath, expectations pivoted again.
As of Fall 2021, faculty have been in pandemic mode for 18 months. Students and institutions should be used to meeting these new expectations, and some semblance of normalcy should have returned. But that didn’t happen. Faculty now find themselves caught in the middle between high administrative and student expectations.
Since the pandemic began, educators approached our challenges as a sprint with a definitive finish line. But we need to adjust to a marathon pace where we can take our time, plan and gain some precious control back. Managing expectations is a balancing act, but it can be done. Below are a few ideas of how faculty can better manage both student and administrative expectations while still maintaining a work-life balance.
Managing Administrative Expectations
Institutions are struggling for enrollment numbers and are tired of student and parent complaints. To resolve these issues, they often put pressure on instructors to find solutions. To help alleviate this stress on both yourself and on administration, here are some tips on managing expectations for both parties.
Build a Pod
The first rule of managing expectations in the pandemic is to build pods. A pod is a group of fellow faculty who can meet and work, solve problems or simply vent together. Knowing five or so people at your institution who you can count on is a great start. Plus, if you and your pod can work together on administrative projects, quickly solve student issues and plow through tasks, everyone benefits.
Lend a Helping Hand – When You Can
Administrators are under just as much pressure as faculty, and often need a helping hand. When an administrator chases after paperwork or asks for a hand scheduling an event, chances are they’re just as underwater as you.
The easiest way for faculty to balance expectations from admin is to analyze the asks for help and do what you can to resolve them. You may not be able to individually email every advisee, for example. But you can send out one mass email. If you are hosting an event online, you can invite recruiters and open the event to the public. As institutions struggle for enrollment, find your place in the recruitment requests. Zoom into a high school classroom as an expert, host a one-time Q&A session or answer a few potential student emails. If you position yourself as a point person for a specific task, you can better manage your own workload. Ask yourself, “what can I do easily to help?” and evaluate your bandwidth from there. Chipping in where you can makes a world of difference — and your administrators will appreciate it.
Managing Student Expectations
Recently, I had lunch with a local K-12 superintendent. During that lunch we talked about challenges that educators face. While many of her students had succeeded academically, her kindergarteners, first and second graders were all struggling with the classroom setting and social development. As we talked, I realized those issues were the same ones that college students face.
We have to help students adjust and return to the classroom — and to our expectation levels. As college faculty, we often struggle with the concept of “working with students.” Some students need extended absences and time to make up work. Many struggle with mental health issues, stress and balancing school with work hours. One size does not fit all, and that often leaves faculty in the middle. But there are things that you can do to help alleviate some of this stress.
Factor In Grace Periods
First, instructors can anticipate students’ expectations and embed grace policies in the fabric of their classes. We know students will miss class, struggle with the workload, ask for extra credit and expect faculty to “work with them.” Now, we must define our level of expectation, set boundaries and embed grace into the syllabus.
As you design your courses, ask yourself where you can add flexibility. Examples include accepting late papers with a penalty, accepting one form of work late while holding the line on larger assignments or even adding extra credit. A hard “no” when asked about submitting a late assignment instead becomes “You can submit your assignment up to one week late with a five point per day late penalty.” You can maintain your boundaries and standards while still being approachable and willing to work with students.
Collaborate to Create Experiences
Work with your pod to create extra credit experiences, including speakers on Zoom or student events that you do not have to grade. For example, my pod worked with North Carolina Historic Sites and the Student Government Association to design a series of Historic Trivia Nights over Zoom. History students from all classes could attend multiple sessions where they would learn about North Carolina History. As a prize, students could win $10 Amazon gift cards and historical socks.
These trivia nights became an instant hit, averaging over 80 students per session. They were also a game changer for everyone involved — the events helped balance student and faculty expectations while boosting visitation numbers to the Historic Sites during the pandemic. New and prospective students saw an engaged department, the community saw a college open to all and the administration saw recruiting in action.
The best part was that these nights were learning experiences that students could attend for extra credit. We timed them to match specific assignments, and as a department, all offered the same amount of credit for attending multiple events. That meant only sending one mass announcement, dividing up the workload among instructors and eliminating grading. After two semesters, the percentage of students who attend enough to raise their grade was less than 1%. When students or parents complain about low grades, we can also now say that we provided them an opportunity to raise their marks.
Looking Forward at Future Admin and Student Expectations
As we continue the pandemic marathon, my pod has found a successful model that benefits students, faculty and the administration. We learned to work together, collaborate on assignments for students and better manage our time. We also learned to compromise, listen and take time off; weekends and holidays are sacred, after all.
My advice would be to build a pod today, start planning for your next semester and above all, be kind throughout difficult times. Small gestures of kindness go a long way.
For more information on balancing time and managing expectations, download our eBook, How to Combat Burnout: A Guide for Instructors.