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Covid Finally Taught Me To Lead With Compassion As an Instructor

Last updated on July 20, 2020

Why was I suddenly convinced about the importance of having compassion as an instructor during Covid?  Probably in large part because I needed compassion as an instructor as I learned to pivot suddenly and move my classes online.  If my students would be compassionate with me, I would certainly be compassionate with them.  I admit this started out as quid pro quo arrangement. The only unsettling factor is I had to lose my allegiance to what I knew as the “fair grading policy,” which is- I couldn’t be offering exceptions willy-nilly to any student who asked for an extension. Being consistent was a rule of my teaching, prior to Covid; now, fortunately, I have discovered higher priorities.

During the summer of 2020, I am now intentionally planning and redesigning my courses to be prepared for the ongoing pandemic and whatever else this crazy world throws at us. (After all, I teach about Natural Hazards- volcanoes, earthquakes, wildland forest fires and the many ways that mother nature can disrupt our lives).  Thank goodness for all the resources our Plymouth State University Open Learning and Teaching Collaborative, known as Co-lab, (, has put together, and for offering a professional development course that in part focuses on adaptability as part of their ACE framework (  I am learning from my colleague’s reflections on adaptability and flexibility with deadlines as they similarly make new plans for their courses. I can mull over their ideas and take the best that fit with my pedagogical philosophy and practice.

Here is the list of takeaway ideas that I am now embedding in my courses:

  1. Communicating with my students that I want my course policies to reflect my teaching philosophy which upholds that I view class members as humans first and students second.
  2.  Involve students in making decisions regarding submission of assignments, so assessment policies reflect their concerns and suggestions, and they can feel some ownership.  Collectively we can discussion and explore strategies for helping ourselves feel accountable.
  3. Instead of using punitive language, I can offer incentives, like offering an extra point for submitting work early- in the first two days- of a multi-day submission window.
  4. As a student myself, (I am always engaging in various forms of professional development), I will start from a place of trust.  I can empathize that the reason students may not be fully engaged is that they are overwhelmed or struggling with other issues and I can help them in their educational journey, not just be successful in my course alone, by being supportive.
  5. Communication is key; discussing needs is an opportunity for me as an instructor to broaden my outlook and an opportunity for students to grow. Accountability is particularly important around team or group work and therefore communication is key across the community of learners.  We can collectively explore how to be flexible and contribute the highest quality work while respecting the importance and need for deadlines.

I will continue to add to this list and or revise as my thinking and practice about adaptability evolves, for face to face instruction, blended courses, or solely online courses.

Resources, which I found helpful in creating my takeaways: (Thank you PSU CoLab!)

  1. Comments from PSU colleagues taking the ACE Framework Course, offered by the CoLab, ( Peter Miller, Wendy Palmquist, Lynne Bates, Eun-Ho Yeo, Katie Wolsiefer, and Taylore Aussiker.
  1. Strong Instructional Practice: Flexibility with Deadlines, Metropolitan State University of Denver. 
  2. Rethinking Deadline and Late Penalty Policies…Again, Brenda Thomas,
  3.  It’s Time to Ditch Our Deadlines, Ellen Boucher, CHE.
  4. Cruelty-Free Syllabus, a 45 minute video by Matthew Cheney of PSU, which I have been wanting to watch for many months now, and is worth every minute invested. 
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