Keep Calm, Teach On: Leading in the midst of uncertainty

If you haven’t been in a room with 25 anxious graduating seniors on exam day, only to receive a confusing message from university administration saying “all events” are cancelled, without clarifying if classes count as “events” just moments before the test starts, well, count yourself lucky. Yesterday was ROUGH. Not the least because *I* felt just as anxious as my students.

Will we see each other after today? I don’t know. Is graduation still going to happen? I don’t know. How will we do our discussion and activity-based class online? I. Don’t. Know.

Like many organizations, our university seems to be struggling with decisions around the corona virus crisis. Earlier this week, we were told to practice social distancing and that faculty could decide (individually) whether to transition our courses online. If we do, those courses must be taught synchronously during scheduled class time. If we don’t, we still have to provide materials online for students who are sick or don’t feel comfortable attending class. We’re able to cancel classes for 2-4 days to transition, but no discussion about equity, workload issues, access to technology, or anything. Such fun times!

What’s especially challenging is that the university is providing minimal guidance on any of this. My students were a bit shocked to learn that the emails they got are the emails I got. Nothing else. No insider info. No clear recommendations or best practices.

After my classes took their exam and I survived four hours of back-to-back meetings, I left work ruminating on the day. Saying goodbye to my students felt so awkward and uncertain. Like the semester was ending abruptly in the middle of our stride. Because of the exam, we didn’t have time to process or plan. In 13 years of teaching, it was one of my worst days in the classroom.

So before I went to bed, I penned the message below. I still don’t have a ton of answers and the weekend will be a lot of work figuring out next steps, but I want students to know they are still supported and we’ll figure out our way through. And yes, dammit, we will still have fun doing it.

Message to my Senior Seminar in Organizational Communication students:

Good evening all,

Well, I don’t know about you but today felt like a whole month. On behalf of the university, I want to apologize for the confusion of our leadership’s messaging and the anxiety it’s provoking. It’s about 17(hundred) levels above my pay grade and I know making decisions for a university as large and diverse as ours must be very difficult. That said: We are going to get through this! We will be fine. We will learn and grow and survive this semester. It will be different than I planned, but we’ll have the opportunity to think about new aspects of org comm in new ways. And of course: You. Will. Graduate. (So long as you keep doing your homework and showing up, ahem.)

As I mentioned in class today, my priority is our collective health and well-being. As I am concerned with our emotional as well as physical health, I would like to meet at least one more time face-to-face on Monday. With the stress of the exam and the messaging uncertainty, today’s abrupt departure is not how I want the tone of our goodbye-for-now to be.

So, I am requesting that we meet in class as usual on Monday. I will have a new syllabus, adjusted directions for the activity leading, and some plans for how we can accomplish our class in a virtual space. I will also be looking for your suggestions as well. For those who are not comfortable attending, I will have a Zoom meeting set up and you can attend virtually. Although, I would greatly appreciate if we could all be co-located at least one more time.

Let’s plan to push the readings, TP assignment, and activity leading for next week to the week prior. So our discussions of Emotion will happen during week 10 and our discussions of Leadership will happen the week after Spring Break. Again, I’ll develop a new syllabus calendar to be discussed on Monday. (It’s likely that we’ll cut Dating at Work and the second workshop scheduled for Week 12, but stay tuned.) Let’s plan for the Final Project Proposal to be due Wednesday, 3/18 instead of Monday.

In addition to discussing new course directions, I would like to give you the opportunity to revise and/or finish your exam answers. I’ve heard concerns from several people already, and I know that today’s stressful environment was not really conducive for concentrating and demonstrating your brilliance. Therefore, I plan to allot at least 15-20 minutes at the end of Monday’s class for you to revisit/revise your exams. (This, of course, is optional, and if you’re satisfied with your answers, you will be able to leave early).

In the mean time, please do the following: 

– Familiarize yourself with Zoom

– If you don’t have one already, set up a Twitter account and get familiar with the platform (feel free to craft a new account for class purposes)

– Think creatively about how we can engage with each other outside of the standard discussion board context or video chat

– Be in touch if you have any suggestions or questions

– RELAX. We will be flexible and creative and will still have some fun. Somehow!

Take care,
Dr. Malvini Redden

P/S Wash your hands and stop touching your face. And drink water and take your vitamins!



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