Tips for faculty and staff to get through a fall term under COVID-19
All across the country, rising incoming freshmen are anxiously preparing to start their college journey. In any other year, that means excitement and anticipation of the new term. But it’s 2020, a year unlike any other. And fall brings the first new term under the backdrop of COVID-19.
According to a recent survey of 1,200 colleges and universities by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the number of schools pulling back from their planned on-campus start is increasing. Now just under half of the institutions surveyed are planning to reopen campus, down from two-thirds in late May. And the status of schools that have opened or are still to open changes every day. This puts an even bigger burden on you. Maybe you’re in a high risk group yourself or have someone at home who is. Perhaps you’re worried about your job or stressed out and confused by all the different rules, regulations and protocols. As someone who already wears a multitude of hats — mentor, educator, leader, researcher, administrator — it can be taxing knowing you now have to add safety monitor, pandemic expert and anxiety counselor to the list. Here are some simple tips to help lighten the load.
1. Turn protocols on paper into everyday reality
With many states seeing spikes in coronavirus rates, it’s no surprise that staff and faculty on campuses that are open are concerned about being in close quarters with potentially hundreds of students each week — students who are less likely to have been wearing masks, socially distancing and following other COVID-19 mandates.
For classes with smaller numbers of students, maintain social distancing as much as possible. In situations such as labs, with fixed seating and close collaboration, use assigned seating and assigned partners to minimize potential exposure and expedite contact tracing should someone get the virus.
For classes with larger numbers of students, social distancing is a must. Masks should be worn at all times and anyone who feels ill or has a temperature should stay at home. Hand washing or hand sanitizer are a must. It’s less than ideal to teach a class with students spaced strategically around the room, in face masks, but it can be the difference between classes continuing on campus or not.
2. Reach out before classes start
With all of the uncertainty and changes hovering over the fall start — be it on campus, online or both — keeping incoming students connected is crucial. From the staff at student life to individual professors, personalized email, phone and text outreach can not only give the students a sense they’re welcomed here, but also shows that someone cares — and that students have someone they can reach out to. With fewer “getting to know you” group activities allowed, it’s important for students to feel supported.
3. Be transparent
The reality is that this isn’t the start of just another term. Normalizing the “new normal” is a way to put students at ease. They’re going to feel overwhelmed. They’re going to be confused and feel a sense of missing out on things that were previously part of the everyday routine. That’s OK. Being upfront about the changes through open dialogue can help relieve some of the anxiety students are feeling. And with changes happening every day, continuing to talk about the realities of a campus under coronavirus restrictions will reinforce the message.
4. Look for warning signs of students in trouble
It’s becoming a cliché, but these really are unparalleled times. The same holds true for what students at your institution are going through. Maybe their family is struggling with job loss, income worries or housing insecurity. Perhaps a loved one has (or had) COVID-19 or some other serious illness. Once on campus, the student could begin to feel isolated and alone, worrying about news from home (and news in general) in addition to their studies. The same can be true for students learning remotely, often under less-than-optimal conditions.
Social isolation, withdrawal and lethargy are all signs of depression. Does their personality seem to be changing? Are they irritable or constantly anxious? Are there marked changes in their concentration, motivation and class participation? These could all be signs of underlying issues. In the proper one-on-one setting, it’s OK for you to ask and show your concern.
5. Keep calm and carry on
Under the best of circumstances, starting the fall term is stressful and challenging for most college freshmen. Toss in a global pandemic and things can quickly become overwhelming. So your patience, understanding and reassuring demeanor — even when the world around you may be chaotic — can set the tone for your students as well.
6. Be available
With all of the coronavirus-related changes and new demands on your time, adding another responsibility to your list may seem counterintuitive. But it’s crucial that you make yourself available, as much as possible, for your students — even more so than usual. Freshman year is a time when feeling homesick can reach its peak. Add to that the fact that students are being asked to distance themselves from one another and the loneliness can become palpable. Being able to talk with someone they trust and respect — whether it’s a question about class, an upcoming deadline or just a chance to chat — can help the student weather the emotional storm and continue on the path to their goal.
Need help pushing reset when student goals go off track? The answer is CLEAR.
The CLEAR Framework — Confirm, Legitimize, Evaluate And Respond — gives you a way to work through frustrations and challenges with upset students and ensure that you’re responding in the most productive way.CLEAR Framework