As a faculty member in a graduate program in educational leadership, I underestimated how the pandemic would impact my teaching—and change the way I approached pedagogy and implemented learner-centered practices. In our accelerated executive doctoral program, the students work as administrators, leaders, and educators in schools, universities, and non-profit organizations. In the wake of our first awareness of the coronavirus, their professional and personal lives flipped upside down. In addition, in my own personal life, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2020. For the first several months of the pandemic, her health and treatment were my priority. Despite these harrowing times, I often looked to the arts—TV, movies, and videos—for collective understanding and joy in difficult times. One of those respites was a new show called Ted Lasso. This lighthearted, quirky comedy became the basis for the four critical lessons I learned while teaching through the pandemic. Using quotes from the character Ted Lasso, I introduce each lesson with several ideas to consider to evolve as an educator. These lessons include:
- Integrating self-care and self-awareness
- Demonstrating a heartfelt, compassionate, and generous approach
- Developing perspective
- Ensuring relevance and application to assignments
Self-care and self-awareness
“Your body is like day-old rice. If it ain’t warmed up properly, something real bad could happen.” Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso was speaking about warming up for exercise to prevent injury, but self-care can take on many definitions. Student responsibilities in their jobs had increased, their worry about the safety of the students at their institutions was overwhelming, and their concern about the health of their family and friends was all-consuming. Many students could not address self-care during the early days of the pandemic. Yet, I learned they needed to take care of their needs, and I needed to take care of mine. While the pandemic ravaged our country, my mother faced significant decisions about treatment, side effects, and options. As the oldest child, I was her primary caregiver; I felt immense pressure to keep her safe and healthy enough to continue her aggressive chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells invading her body. Quickly, I learned to prioritize projects and say no to initiatives not able to be given the attention needed. With multiple doctor visits each week, I needed to rest, exercise, and meditate. In addition, many students were dealing with side effects of COVID-19, including brain fog and fatigue, if not more serious complications like upper respiratory issues and heart and lung limitations. Reflecting on my teaching, I needed to define self-care and what it meant to me. To do this, consider your process for healing and recovery. In addition, ask what ways you can recognize and affirm your students’ resilience and strengths while they navigate the post-pandemic academic world.
Compassion and generosity
“Just listen to your gut, and on the way down to your gut, check in with your heart. Between those two things, they’ll let you know what’s what.” Ted Lasso
Before I became a faculty member, I was a student services professional, specifically in student affairs. I’ve always believed in being a compassionate educator, but during the pandemic, it became clear that I needed to care more deeply about who the students were—and what they were going through because we were going through it together. Again, the quote from Ted Lasso resonated with me because I needed to demonstrate compassion each and every day. I read Susan Blum’s book on Ungrading, and looked for ways to believe in and trust students. I reviewed my policies and syllabi to find ways to remove obstacles and barriers. Specifically, I changed my late assignment policy to reflect students’ autonomy. After reading a tweet from Alanna Gillis, assistant professor at St. Lawrence University, about her late policy and reducing inequality by removing the fear of asking for an extension, I used her practice of creating a form for students to request an extended time for assignment submissions. The form does not require a student to provide an excuse that will be judged or critiqued by me as a faculty member. Students needed compassion, understanding, and kindness. Their jobs were difficult; they did not need additional criticism or negative feedback. I needed to find ways to provide feedback to improve their writing, presentations, and assignments while not contributing to their stress. To do this, review your late assignment plan, your syllabus, and other policies for ways to increase your compassion and trust in students.
“I think things come into our lives to help us get from one place to a better one.” Ted Lasso
Putting things into perspective has been a constructive endeavor. The experiences throughout the pandemic showed me what was most important—the health and safety of our friends, families, and communities. I explored tools to be more mindful and consider how to prioritize the most important issues and roles in teaching. Seeing a broader, global perspective on education and society allowed me to adjust my expectations and create systems of care for my students. Students appreciated being able to share their perspectives and feel seen by me as their faculty member. During my two and half decade career in higher education, I, along with many of my colleagues and institutions where I’ve worked, often have had misaligned priorities, and focus solely on productivity and being busy. To change my perspective and have a more mindful one, I had to slow down. To do this, set up times to talk to students in both formal and informal settings. Add mindfulness activities to start class sessions or record mindfulness moments as videos to upload to your online course.
Relevance and application
“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these [students] be the best versions of themselves….” Ted Lasso
I reviewed the learning outcomes and assessment practices to ensure the assignments and outcomes were relevant and practical to their professional experiences. In the early days, it was imperative to ensure the assignments aligned with outcomes and that the students could see the application of the assignments. If the assignment did not align, I deleted it. I had poignant and passionate conversations with students about eliminating “busy work.” Before the pandemic, I believed all my content and assignments were significant (and necessary) to achieving the learning outcomes. It took difficult conversations with students to realize that I needed to focus on what I wanted them to learn and find ways for them to do it more deeply. Felton (2022) said to focus on quality over quantity. To do this, consider what you can eliminate to focus on the most relevant, practical, and applicable assignments. I attended a conference, and the presenter said to list all the essential content that could be covered in a course, then pick five to seven items to teach with passion and depth. It terrified me then, but now I realize it is some of the best advice I’ve received.
“Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.” Ted Lasso
I’ve grown and evolved as an instructor in the three years since the pandemic began. Change is uncomfortable. I’ve adopted a new approach utilizing trauma-informed principles. First, it is vital to identify the principles of trauma-informed teaching. Originally applied to social work and mental health counseling, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers six principles for trauma-informed care (CDC, 2023). This model provides insight for faculty to improve practices and pedagogy in light of what we learned during the global pandemic.
Those factors include:
- Transparency and trustworthiness
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment and choice
- Cultural, historical, and gender issues
As we adapt post-pandemic, we must recognize the trauma, adversity, and crises our students face. We need to respond to students with compassion to promote resilience. We must examine our policies and pedagogical practices through a trauma-informed lens (Costa, 2020). To do this, utilize Costa’s checklist to review your teaching and syllabi for these principles.
“It may not work out how you think it will or how you hope it does. But believe me, it will all work out.” Ted Lasso
These lessons impacted my teaching and how I approached the course content. I’m committed to implementing what I’ve learned and continuing the reflective process to determine the best way to approach the material and content to ensure successful outcomes and learning for students. I’m a better teacher than I was in 2020—and Ted Lasso is still a really positive TV show.
Dr. Tiffany J. Cresswell-Yeager is an assistant professor of higher education leadership at Gwynedd Mercy University. She teaches in the doctoral program in educational leadership, specifically in the higher education concentration. With a background in higher education administration, her career spans two decades with experience leading and supervising student services, intercollegiate athletics, enrollment services, and alumni relations. She has varied experience in strategic planning, student conduct, and crisis management. Her research interests include leadership development, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and first-generation college students’ college choice. She often presents locally, regionally, and nationally related to leadership, communication, and organizational development. Cresswell-Yeager earned her PhD in administration and leadership studies, an inter-disciplinary degree in sociology, political science and economics, from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Center for Disease Control. Six guiding principles to a trauma-informed approach. https://www.cdc.gov/orr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm
Costa, K. (2020). Trauma-aware teaching checklist. 100 Faculty. https://bit.ly/traumachecklist
Felten, P. (2022). From pandemic to endemic pedagogy: Being clear in our teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2022, 39– 46. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20481
Gillis, A. @alannagillis3. (2022, March 24) My system 1. Simple Google form asking name, course, assignment title, and new due date. [Tweet]. Twitter.
Sudeikas, J., Lawrence, W., Hunt, B., Kelly, J., Ingold, J. & Wrubel, W. (Executive Producers), (2020). Ted Lasso. Warner Brothers Television Studios.