Pedagogy of kindness for our exhausted academics: What can be done?

By Associate Professor Chris Campbell (Charles Sturt University)

I have been hearing from a number of sources that academics are exhausted and tired and that they have had a few difficult years, particularly those who have high teaching loads or who specialise in teaching. I’m hoping that with the recent long weekends people were able to do a mini recharge and reset to help them continue with their year in a less exhausted kind of way.

Is there anything we can do to assist in the longer term?

I’m thinking that if we all outwardly begin to think about and live with a pedagogy of kindness then we may all help each other, as well as our students, in both the short term and in the future. A pedagogy of kindness is not a new concept and has been around pre-COVID, with Cate Denial suggesting that while we often think of kindness as something some people are good at and others seem to strive for, it is something everyone can apply. It is about trust and being able to have honest conversations.

While I have previously reported this, it is worth discussing it again with a view of what we can do to help ourselves through this long term exhaustion. Samantha Chang’s Thinkings and Musings suggest that “kindness requires us to recognize our difference positionality, power, and identity” and that we must be kind to ourselves also. While Samantha applies this to our teaching and interactions with our students, she also suggests being kind to ourselves can be conducted through our use of transparency. Those who know me will know how much I value being transparent. Turns out this is important and one way we can be kind to ourselves. Chang continues that it is about being open about capacity and abilities when talking to others. I think that probably also means being able to give accurate timelines for when things can be completed, and ensuring we try to work to those timelines.

While the pedagogy of kindness revolves around fostering student-teacher relationships, I think that in our context fostering teacher-teacher relationships is very important. This means not just those educators who are tutoring or teaching for us, but our colleagues in a more broader sense. For example, our educational designers, curriculum consultants and academic developers as well as the educator in the office next to us. If we care for each other more, that is, value each other, then surely we are encouraging a relationship of reciprocity and a lovely collegial environment that also puts each other as well as students at the front of what we are doing. While we often may think we are doing that, I feel that in this time it is important to be explicit about this with each other.

While Fiona Rawle states that pedagogy of kindness isn’t a simple checklist, as it is clearly much more complex than that, she does go on to suggest 12 ways for a pedagogy of kindness and while she has focused on teaching practice these do apply to working in higher education more broadly. She suggests we be kind to ourselves, make deliberative connections, encourage dialogue and model empathy. There is lots to work on in this space and I think that putting some ideas out there perhaps assist with this. Together I hope we can all overcome this sense of exhaustion and put a spring back into our steps.

Image credit: https://uwm.edu/graduateschool/that-kind-of-teacher-alum-returns-to-uwm-to-spread-a-pedagogy-of-kindness/