In the book The Joy of Science, Seven Principles for Scientists Seeking Happiness, Harmony, and Success, one of us with co-author Jen Schneider discuss the pressures that academic faculty operate under. As an antidote to these pressures, Snieder and Schneider introduce practices of self-care for faculty that increase wellbeing. They also propose habits that allow faculty to be more mindful and intentional in the way they show up, and lead more harmonious lives.
It is important that as faculty we learn how to take care of our wellbeing. But what do we do for the wellbeing of our students? What attitude do we bring to the classroom and to what degree do we support our students? If we do care about the wellbeing of our students, how do we do give shape to this care? In a time when the evaluation of student development is mainly based on their academic achievements, how do we assist students in leading harmonious lives? Do we treat our students with care and avoid seeing them as a “product” that we help deliver? These questions are important not only because the high rates of anxiety and depression among college students are worrisome, but also because we work with students in the formative years in their professional and personal development. As teachers we influence the work patterns that students develop, for better or for worse.
We have recently started the Teaching with Heart project. This project seeks ideas, practices, and strategies for creating a caring classroom environment in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics classes in higher education. Or formulated more daringly, how do we bring a loving mindset into the higher education classroom? This project is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and we work with cohorts of teachers who come together on Zoom from around the country. The teachers participate in an interactive online workshop series. After the workshop series, the teachers participate in an online community where they receive bi-weekly newsletters with topics they can grapple with in small teams. Through student perception surveys we measure to what extent the teaching style of participating teachers changes as they go through the program. The activities focus partly on the mindset of teachers that they bring to the classroom, and partly on teaching practices. We recently published a paper in Physics Today with 12 Teaching with Heart practices that can easily be incorporated in the classroom.
The Teaching with Heart project also has a research component, in which we aim to answer the following questions. What does it mean to bring love to the higher education classroom? What are suitable expressions of love? (This obviously does not include romantic love.) What language should we use to encourage teachers in higher education to create a caring classroom environment? (The word “love” might be too soft or fuzzy for some teachers.) How do we convince teachers that a loving stance in the classroom does not come at the expense of lowering student outcomes? (Think about it, when raising children lovingly, parents have expectations and set boundaries.) How do we muster a loving mindset as teachers when we are under pressure and are stressed ourselves?
We would love to hear your views on these questions. Send them to us or enter them in the comments below. Let us know in case you would like to explore collaboration opportunities with us, receive updates on Teaching with Heart, or if you would like to participate in the program.