Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Pedagogy of Care: Covid-19 Edition


Someone asked me on Twitter if I had an updated version of my Pedagogy of Care Gone Massive article on Hybrid Pedagogy for COVID-19 times. I didn’t have a particular update to the particular points in the article, but I have written updated thoughts on care in general and what I think priorities should be during this crisis. I think this article on Literacies Teachers Need During COVID-19 is a good overview, but I should go deeper, shouldn’t I?I think care can occur on many different levels.
You can care on the course philosophy and design level: how is your course design welcoming to diverse students and shows your genuine care for them? (Keep in mind there are forms of care that are instrumentalist, calculated or neoliberal – where a teacher “shows” care to ensure student success or to motivate them. This is important, too. But I think genuine love and care for students is the thing most of us already carry inside of us and need to express now more than ever). No matter what size of class you teach, creating spaces where students can support each other socioemotionally is REALLY important. I talk about this more with Dave Cormier in this video.
  • You can show care at the class situation level. By how you make yourself vulnerable and share of yourself (authenticity and openness literacy) whether in a Zoom call, recorded video, or note on Slack. This helps students relate to you more, because you are being fully human and they can be, too. You can show care by modifying your class session to discuss topics stressing students instead of carrying on as if nothing is happening. Conversely, you may ask your students if they’d rather be *distracted* from the current crisis and do something else. I have done a combo of these, including sometimes dividing class into two groups and meeting each group for half the class time… so that no one ends up listening to a conversation they didn’t want to hear about.
  • You can show care in habitual ways, like always asking students at start of class how they’re feeling, or checking in with them between classes on Slack
  • You can show care at the personal level by ensuring students are able to reach you privately
First of all – note that in the article above, I mention a group of things like wellbeing/care literacy and humanizing/authenticity literacy. I also mention socioemotional digital literacy and equity literacy and openness literacy… so all that actually factors into care somewhat, doesn’t it? E.g. equity is about caring to look deeply into possible inequities in your class and amongst your students, and seeking to rectify whatever is causing the inequity, or find ways to address them in your course if you cannot rectify (e.g. if you can’t get better internet for a student, ensure you do low bandwidth asynchronous work or at least options) . One of the most empowering ways to redress injustice is to put power of decision making in the hands of those farthest from justice, but ensure they have enough knowledge and tools to make a well-informed choice, and know how much leeway they have to design their own path. E.g. don’t assume what support a single parent would need to do well in your course. Ask them or give them options to choose from.Trauma-informed pedagogy is particularly important during COVID-19 times, obviously because everyone is living through a crisis, but even outside crises, we know many of our students are living through some trauma, like depression, anxiety, learning difficulties like ADHD, domestic abuse, economic problems, loss of a loved one, love life trouble 🙃 or anything else. They may or may not tell us about these things. Because of the pandemic, we know many of our students will be going through some of these. See these COVID-19 Diaries by my student Omar Cherif capturing multiple student viewpoints.I also have a half-written post on creating intimacy online… so I will share that below.My original post about pedagogies of care tells a story of a hug and how we cannot hug online. We also cannot make “true” eye contact online (and it’s a skill to mimic it by looking at the camera… but when you look at the camera you’re not looking at the other person on your screen.. so you SEEM to be looking at them when ur not. Depends where they appear on your screen). The other thing you can’t share online is a meal… but you can mimic that with coffee hour or tea time or such.But hey. Remember that book, the Five Languages of Love? Physical touch is only ONE way to show love. It’s difficult to explain this to kids/grandmas and how lack of hugs messes their dynamic… but we know we can show care in other ways. Gift giving (digital e.g. memes and fun videos or cards or delivered physically), giving of our time to spend talking on phone or video conference, doing service for each other (like buying groceries for elderly, like extending deadlines for students). And of course, we can show care with words. And I know not all of us are as good with our words. But whatever words you have to show care for students, find ways to get them across. In writing or orally. Whatever allows you to express it best.I realized towards the end of the semester that all the care I was giving to students and faculty at my institution was wearing on me, it was so much affective labor, and I still had my own family to care for…. but I also saw it all reciprocated when faculty called to check on me and my students showed me love in so many moments and forgave me for lateness in sending in grades.In my original article, I talk about the following steps for care:

First of all, I had to know about this student’s situation, because she had shared with me; I had to empathize with how it would make her feel, I had to imagine her reaction, and respond in a certain way, and I had to be ready to hug her. Nel Noddings calls this attentive and receptive “engrossment” of a carer towards others. It also requires action from the cared-for to affirm they feel cared-for.

To do this online, it would be something like
  1. Take time to know your students, face and name, individually or in small groups if the numbers allow it. If numbers are huge, ensure there are spaces where they can support each other, and when someone is struggling focus on them as a whole person. It’s the difference between caring for ALL your students vs caring for EVERY student. That second is so important. And so hard.
  2. Create a hospitable environment and open relationship that makes it easier for students to share with you. As bell hooks would say, we need to make ourselves vulnerable before asking our students to be.. and still, we need to accept that they might choose not to. E.g. I let my kid appear on Zoom calls sometimes (“let” is an exaggeration. I can’t help it so I go with the flow). I understand not all people would feel sufficiently professional to do so. But if you do, it makes you more human to others and allows them to let down their guard. But equally, I never expect everyone to turn on their cameras and recognize there can be all kinds of reasons why someone would choose not to do that. This semester most of the time students wanted their cameras off. I learned to distinguish their voices well!
  3. Empathize/imagine. I don’t think empathizing online is much harder than in person… as long as you approach the situation as a human interacting with other humans. Sometimes I am thankful that I am beyond my usual stoicism and am feeling vulnerable, anxious, worried right now and seeing impact on my wellbeing, my family’s, my colleagues. This helps me empathize with students and imagine how those with preexisting depression and anxiety must be taking it harder. Even the strongest of them struggled with time management or stress over social isolation or worrying for loved one’s health or just daily decisions to risk going out or stay home.
  4. Respond. No hugs allowed. No clap on the back. But so much more in the other love languages, like taking time to listen and finding ways to help out. Preempting care – e.g. one time, before universities closed, we had an extra day off due to weather and i met my students on Zoom so they could experience this in case we closed. We closed 3 days later. They were grateful they had that experience before everything went to Zoom. I expected time management challenges so I gave students options, as their first assignment back, to either go through a module about learning online, or a time management for online learning chapter. It made all the difference. When my university was considering online proctoring, we spent time as a class discussing it on Slack and our first Zoom session after that, I switched up the lesson “plan” to discussing this article by Shea Swauger about the ethical implications of proctoring/surveillance.
And it may take a while to feel the impact of your care, but you’ll get it, eventually. By the way, some people have said they got student evaluations complaining they spent too much time talking about covid in class. I understand students who need a break from this (see comments on it above). But I also think people who chose to talk about it, especially within the frame of their discipline and/or to just check on student wellbeing did the right thing, regardless. It may not be good to force students to discuss the trauma, if they don’t want to, but it seems worse not to ACKNOWLEDGE the trauma and keep going as if nothing was happening around us. That seems irresponsible and insensitive to me personally. Even people who teach math and engineering have found ways to connect with students via jokes and memes outside class time, and others have found ways of integrate covid into their courses. When you care and you give yourself freedom, you find ways.Before I go, I saw these really cool images on Twitter about equity, equality, justice. Take a look:
Added later: Thanks to @edtechsinfo for keeping me honest by getting the image origin at by @lunchbreath from the original book by Shel Silverstein.

Added later. I came across the Equity Rubric from Peralta community college (still going to explore it).I also use particular WhatsApp sticker hug emojis that I wanted to share! I may make them into a GIF!


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