In this final blog post on care in the academy, I want to highlight Wofford College’s self-care pedagogy workshops for instructors who teach incoming students in their first semester at the college.
This work, funded by our 2020 NetVUE Program Development Grant (entitled Self Care Pedagogy for First-Year Students), supports sustainable practices for both students and instructors. Instructors applied to participate in our workshop. The opportunity to create and implement professional development began with a vision and these guiding questions:
- How do we take the concept of care beyond the superficial aspect of “self-help” genres?
- How do we move self-care to deep care and sustain that care in our vocations and in our lives?
- Do we have the audacity to add care to our professional development and to our classrooms?
In the summer 2020, we launched the three-day retreat-style workshop (held online due to COVID) where participants could focus on deep self-care for themselves, learning techniques and activities that could translate into their classrooms. In addition to the guiding questions we had above, our leading questions for this project included: What happens when a professor incorporates self-care in the classroom? What happens when professors practice and model self-care?
Our hope was to create a parallel process where instructors incorporate caring for themselves and self-compassion into their lives, and then they model this for students. Together, we found we can all add compassion to our lives and classrooms. We can create a narrative that recognizes the humanity in all of us through an intervention of critical care pedagogy.
As we find ourselves in an ever-uncertain environment, we aim to name, process and heal from the added stressors of life in a pandemic and life for marginalized students. Self-Care is a method to sustain and recognize the emotions students experience. Differing levels of trauma (real and perceived) are entering our classrooms, and we must be equipped to handle issues associated with increased anxiety and depression. I highly recommend this post on bandwidth as a way to use self-care as a vocational development tool to help those that have reached or exceeded their bandwidth.
We benefitted from the expertise of campus leaders Dr. Trina Jones (Professor of Religion and Associate Provost for Curriculum and Co-Curriculum), Dr. Tasha Smith-Tyus (Director of the Career Services), Perry Henson (Director of Counseling and Accessibility Services), and Jessica Scott-Felder (Assistant Professor of Studio Art). We also engaged external leader Dr. Sonya Maria Johnson (Assistant Professor of Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College). Dr. Johnson is my personal self-care mentor; our bond over self-care traces back to a Wabash Early Career Workshop.
Topics covered in our self-care workshop included the following:
- Self-Care for your Life and Classroom
- Self-Care as a Personal Construct
- Teaching Care for the Caregiver
- The Roots of Western Meditation
- Self-Care as Professional Development
- Art Therapy with Mindful Mandalas
Workshop participants, faculty who teach Humanities 101 and staff who teach First Year Inquiry (FYI), worked to create their own self-care rituals and committed to implementing intentional self-care activities in their fall courses, documenting the process in reflective essays, and administering a pre- and post-survey to their students.
Here are some examples of the activities created by Wofford First Year Inquiry instructors.
Kellie Nakatsu Buckner, Wellness Center Counselor, created a Check-In Questionnaire. Kellie wrote:
In order to know how to care for ourselves, we need to take time to evaluate our current state and needs. I developed a quick check-in form that students completed that helped them determine if they are in need of any adjustments to their self-care. It had basic questions about sleep, hunger, thirst, pain or discomfort, feelings, etc. The first day we talked in class, I gave an example of a check-in questionnaire, each student eventually created their own form that they used for the rest of the semester. Their forms checked in on things that were personal to them and their knowledge of their needs. It was interesting to see how their individual check-in forms related to their needs and personalities.
Curt McPhail, Career Center Executive Director, created a Personal Board of Directors for Self-Development activity:
The Personal Board of Directors was created to promote a student’s long-term self-care journey and to give guidance and support for decisions and life. Curt devoted a class session to sharing research on the value of surrounding yourself with positive people in order to keep a positive perspective. He then asked students to: “Identify who you think is currently in your lives that would be BOD material; develop the ideas of what you would use the BOD for and develop a short pitch to ask people to be on it; construct a 3-5 person board of directors.”
Here are some representative take-aways articulated by participants in the workshop:
To be healthy as individuals we must take care of ourselves. To be healthy as a community we must help all our members remember that caring for themselves is important to our greater good. The more students we can get caring for themselves well, the more we will see their good contributions to the well-being of the Wofford community while they are students and after.
The main takeaway is just how necessary and also how accessible self-care is. The workshop also very effectively showed how to transmit this ethos and its activities to students, which I am very eager to do in the fall, especially given the current stress associated with the pandemic.
Beyond personal reflections on impact, we discovered some common themes:
- Self-care during times of transition,
- Self-care as vocational discernment, and
- Self-care as a tool for retention.
Self-care can be a tool to help students make the transition to college life. This became particularly important when we realized this fall semester would be mired by the constraints of COVID-19. It was no longer the case that the incoming student had to simply figure out where their classrooms were physically located on campus, but now they had to juggle class location (which ones were on Zoom, which ones met inside, which ones met outside, or asynchronously) and rules around physical distance, personal spaces and mask-wearing.
Small liberal arts institutions are training life-long learners, and we advise our students to reflect and choose a path where they find passion and purpose. We see this in selection of a major and career exploration. We discuss paths of learning in a vocational way and encourage students to find what they love and do what they love. Yet fulfilling a “calling” can also produce an intense work environment: when you love what you do, you often will do it more and work harder to do it well. Self-care can help build a sustainable work/life balance while at Wofford, but also develop resilience for vocational discernment translating to lasting habits for future careers.
We can also approach self-care as a tool to retain our valued colleagues who dedicate so much of themselves to support students and ensure institutional success. This is especially vital now, with requirements and restrictions of COVID-19. We are all being challenged to innovate, adapt and take on added risk in order to make teaching and learning thrive despite uncertainties. Adding in intentional moments of self-care as a tool for professional development can be a gift to help sustain our higher education administrators, faculty and staff.
Self-care in the classroom can also be a way to retain our students. College life is all about major transitions of the self. So much is going on in these young adult’s lives and the pressures and stressors of these transitions in normal time, but especially in these unorthodox times, weighs heavily on each student. Self-care can be a way to help build life-long resilience and keep our students thriving (and not just surviving) in our institutional contexts.
Other blog posts in this series by Courtney Dorroll: A Call for Care in the Academy, Care in the Classroom, and A Global Guide to Caring for the Self. See also Trina Jones’ Caring for the Care-givers: A Plea.
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).