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.

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Donna Murray
2 years ago

Great article – and I especially like the emphasis on the wider community not just the people in front of the students. We are all part of a community, and we have all had a very tough time over the last few years

Chris Campbell
Chris Campbell
2 years ago
Reply to  Donna Murray

Thanks Donna, and yes, everyone has had it rough. I think we can all help each other.

Tom Worthington
2 years ago

Chris, teaching academics perhaps need a short break, and then some training to prepare them for the challenges to come. This training should focus on professionalism, as well as efficient ways to teach and assess. My worry is talk of kindness and trust could set up academics for further exploitation, and exhaustion. Professionalism requires looking after not only your clients (students), colleagues, but also yourself, and requires skills to cope with a world which is not kind, or trusting. In 2016 I warned to be ready to teach online in a crisis. Having designed my teaching with a built in… Read more »

Chris Campbell
Chris Campbell
2 years ago

Yes Tom, training is a great idea. It’s super important. Thanks for sharing the link. It’s really interesting.