Care in the Classroom

In a second post on the importance of care in the academy, Courtney Dorroll presents seven approaches to care, and offers concrete examples for how to infuse self-care into the classroom.

In this second post on Care in the Academy, I present common types of self-care with concrete approaches and how-to’s for infusing self-care into a daily routine or the classroom.

Approaches to Care

Here is a list that gives a snapshot of common types of care easily integrated into the individual care practices or the classroom setting, including different forms self-care can take, along with resources available to help you further implement these approaches:

Community Care or Collective Care. Not everyone wants to do this alone or with the idea of the “self” in front of care. Cultures and religions approach community care differently. Self-care might work for some, while community care is the best approach for another. Or you can combine the two—it is not about one supplanting the other. The starting point might be self-care which then extends to care to others. For others, it must begin with caring for the community to then seek and empower care for the self. Wherever you start this journey, both are important and can embody good care practices.

Emotional Self-Care. Emotional self-care is an individual journey. When I share my story, it’s not to be prescriptive but descriptive. Everyone will discover the concept of care with varying levels of self-compassion, self-love and self-worth. Before I could actively start doing self-care, I had to get over the emotional hurdle of low self-worth. I needed to grow in my own self-compassion and self-love, and only then could I feel worthy of self-care. This part was hard. I work with a licensed clinical therapist, though some might seek help from a religious leader. If you happen to need more help in these areas, reach for reading on self-compassion and don’t feel shame in asking for help from others. I did, and it continues to be the best gift I have given myself.  

Empowered Self-Care. Sparked by the why and when, empowered self-care considers the gender, race, religious background, socio-economic status, perceive and real trauma, pandemic complications, and generational layers behind a practice. It highlights the reason someone might feel empowered (or not) to care for themselves. In class, I now name the power and privilege dynamics associated with self-care for my students and invite them all to give themselves permission to care deeply for themselves. This is especially powerful for those who have been denied (or in cases where an invitation to discover self-care has never come their way).

Ritual Self-Care. This is the act of doing self-care through specific practices. The Wofford Wellness Center, Psychology Department and Chaplain’s office created the Resilience Project Toolkit; this guide includes ten wellness exercises. These practices are appropriate to use with students and self, and I often use these in my classes.  

Social Justice Self-Care. When working to enact social change, we often suffer compassion or empathy fatigue. Social justice work is work even if you believe deeply and passionately about the cause. The Courage to Care Coalition provides online seminars on cultivating care that is one part lesson and one part guided meditations, beautifully combining the why to and how to of this kind of deep, restorative care. “To help build a more loving, liberated and just world” is their mission. 

Spiritual Self-CareCarrie Doehring from the Iliff School of Theology has a beautiful way of combining spirituality and wellness to create a spiritually-integrated care practice. Doehring’s model allows one to recognize and use one’s personal theological perspective to engage in this work. She also has helpful resources on spiritual care in her book, The Practice of Pastoral Care.  

(Fill in the Blank) Care.  All of the approaches above represent labeled types of care. Often, emotion can remain behind and/or embedded in terms. Before you read on, I invite you all to come up with the type of care that works best for you.  Lately, I have claimed sustainability care to define my journey of care in my life. Please give yourself the space to name and define how best to go about care work for you and your classroom.  It is vital to see care in all its forms and find your own personal approach.

Hone your Focus 

The key concept to self-care work is setting boundaries. This idea was a hard one for me, because imposter syndrome made it even harder to put in practice. But that is what it boils down to for me: understanding my focus, setting boundaries and learning to say no, so I can reserve the time and space to care for myself. Your time is valuable and necessary to sustain good, purposeful work. Evaluate the demands on your time. Scale back and choose one or two things you want to focus on. Say “no” to the extra asks that do not promote that focus or align with your purpose. I also encourage this when advising students. I want them to understand that success does not require a triple major, double minor and two interdisciplinary programs. Seek what inspires you and model this for your students. 

Remember the “Big Picture”

Give yourself permission to evaluate and pare down your course content to make space for care.  Build in time to breathe in your class. In my early years of teaching, I was the professor that clung to content; “I cannot take that out!” was my constant refrain. Then I read Carol Dweck’s growth mindset which revolutionized my pedagogical approach. I realized the process of learning was more important than the product. I shifted from an over-crammed syllabi by radically reducing my class content. Recently, I added a “Big Picture” description into my syllabi, spelling out the main and most important learning moment I have planned for the class. Clearly outlining this outcome sets the tone and focus for me and my students. 

Examples of Care in my Classroom

I begin my classes with an optional mindful meditation where students can participate, doodle, or do their own contemplative prayer. We take the first 3-5 minutes of class to re-center and relax together. I also build in two self-care days per semester. I intentionally program time to care and rejuvenate. This is included in the syllabus as a visible reminder. Leading up to these self-care days, I assign a few self-care readings, and we discuss taking time to do what they need to do to care for themselves. (As an example, see “The Disease of Being Busy”). We reflect after each self-care day about what worked and what didn’t work using these prompts: What does it mean to “fail” or “succeed” at self-care? How does it feel to practice self-care? Was there any growth or change of approach from one self-care day to the other?

Care in the classroom takes continual effort. When you step into self-care, don’t be surprised if you feel like you are subverting the system because, simply put, you are. Our culture, including academia, was built on the glorification of being busy. It isn’t easy to challenge and change a system, but it is worth it. This is not about “dumbing down your classroom” or being self-indulgent; it is about claiming space for yourself and building alternative ways to lead, teach and live.  

Courtney Dorroll is an assistant professor of Religion and Middle Eastern and North African Studies at Wofford College, where she co-coordinates the MENA Program and is currently the PI of a NetVUE Program Development Grant that extends self-care pedagogy across the incoming student curriculum. She has a 3 year old who keeps her playing with paints, crayons and playdough. When she is not teaching or playing she is taking care of herself with yoga, meditation and listening to  awkward comedy podcasts (her favorites right now are I Said No Gifts and Everyday Decisions). 

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