Faculty Matter Tip #30: This One is For You – the Importance of Self-Care

Our lives – as well as those of our students – are complex, and the final weeks of the semester always seem to bring a large number (and great variety) of unexpected and challenging complications and disruptions.  It can be very difficult to keep our many spinning plates  “strategically counterpoised”, a phrase I borrow from our colleague Cindy Baer, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature. As research on stress and coping suggest, it is much easier to marshal the energy and patience and compassion to arrive at good solutions when we don’t already feel exhausted and tapped out.

The gist of this tip is fairly simple. Most of us are familiar with the instructions on the laminated card found in airplane seat-back pockets: Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then help others around you with theirs.  As we approach the Thanksgiving Break and then the final push of the semester, we encourage you to tend to your own needs – for sleep, for exercise, for nutritious food, for calm, for uplifting and affirming human contact, for spiritual renewal, for opportunities to connect with what matters most to you, for time to catch your breath.

SJSU has an institutional membership to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.  This entitles all faculty to free access to a number of resources focused on self-care and work-life balance.  Our own Center for Faculty Development also offers sessions on these and related topics.  Coming up later this month: Self-care and time-management strategies for the end of the semester and beyond, Monday 11/27 from 1-2pm and Tuesday 11/28 from 12-1 both in IRC 210. Please sign up online.

Note:  Below, please find a section of an earlier Faculty Matter post, to remind you of the many resources our students can draw upon as they gear up for the next few weeks:

Peer Connections provides one on one appointments for peer mentoring and tutoring. They also offer several workshops a month on academic success skills. The Writing Center offers one on one tutoring for writing, online resources, and workshops. The Communications Center has drop-in17 and one on one appointments for oral and written communication. There are also numerous tutoring centers in the departments and colleges listed on the Tutoring Hub.

Educational Counseling provides one on one appointments, workshops, and online resources for academic success. The library has technology workshops. In addition, the library offers resources to support students in research, including details online to help the student define the type of resources and help they need and how to connect with a librarian. The library also has laptop and iPad rentals, meeting rooms that can be reserved for teamwork or collaboration, and online resources on referencing and literature reviews and tutorials on plagiarism. The Spartan Success Portal has a range of online, academic success modules.

You can read all previous tips on the Faculty Matter Tips page of the CFD website, and share your own thoughts and ideas on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog by commenting below.

Faculty Matter Tip #29: Helping students pull things together – Writing a letter to a future student   

One of the themes running through many of our Faculty Matter Teaching Tips is the notion of setting up one’s courses so as to enable students to be intentional about their approach to their academic work. The goal is to lead them to “engage” more thoughtfully and actively, to reflect constructively on challenges they encounter, and to “own” their academic trajectory.

As you set the stage for the end-of-semester push, it can be useful to include opportunities for students to think about your course content overall, as well as what they have done to succeed in mastering it. One activity that has been implemented by at least two SJSU colleagues I know of is to have students write anonymous letters to hypothetical future students in the course. Prompts might include the following – or other questions you think might be helpful:

  • What, in a nutshell, was this course about?
  • What was the most interesting part, for you (the letter-writer)?  Why?
  • What did you learn about yourself, from taking this course? (About you as a student?  About your interests?)
  • How might what you learned in this course apply, to your future studies or to your life outside of SJSU?
  • What advice do you have for someone about to embark on this course? Be specific here – why have you selected these recommendations?

Both faculty members mentioned above have compiled the letters they have gathered over several semesters. They frequently share some of them with students at the start of each semester, to get the new cohorts off to an informed and inspired start.

You can read all previous tips on the Faculty Matter Tips page of the CFD website, and share your own thoughts and ideas on the comment link below.

Download a PDF version of the tip: FMTT29

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #28 – Revisiting the plan for the last few weeks of the term: What to do if we’ve fallen a bit behind.

As we get closer to the end of the semester, many of us realize that we have fallen a bit behind, and the “something will have to give” if we are to get through everything we’d planned to cover.  This Teaching Tip is designed to help you think through how to handle such a turn of events in your classes, should it arise.


Clearly, there is no single “right answer” to the question of what we should do. Strategies we entertain will need to:

  • consider how critical remaining topics are to achieving the learning objectives of the course and to preparing students for courses that build on its content; and
  • maintain the coherent threads that have lent coherence and structure to the course.

In a recent study of students’ perceptions of the “ideal” professor, the authors report that their respondents placed the greatest value on instructor clarity. Ability to communicate the relevance of the material, command of the subject matter and responsiveness to students and their needs and a sense of humor were next in importance.[1] Findings such as these caution us to be careful that we do not sacrifice those elements of our teaching that permit students to find what we are saying and doing clear and easy to follow, as we speed up or omit treatment of our course content.

Speeding up and spending less time on remaining material than we had initially intended may, indeed, enable us to at least touch on everything. And omitting topics or time-intensive instructional activities may enable us to make up time. However, such solutions often result in fewer opportunities for discussion and student-centered in-class activities, and less time spent on preview and review of material. In so doing, we may be cutting out precisely those elements of our teaching that permit students

  • to reflect on what we are teaching,
  • to monitor their understanding (or points of confusion), and
  • to engage with the material in ways that are meaningful and effective for them.

So what should we do? First, reassess our plan for the course intentionally, weighing the likely impact of the changes we are about to implement and create a revised course plan. Second, be sure to follow through with students – making sure class notes, study guides and other learning supports we may have already shared with students reflect the revised agenda. Third, make a note for ourselves about why our initial time estimates were off, and whether circumstances were special this semester, or whether we should bear this in mind as we plan for the next time we teach the course.

Please add your own strategies using the comment link on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter.” We also invite you to peruse other Faculty Matter Teaching Tips at your leisure.

[1] Goldman, Z. , Cranmer, G., Sollitto, M., Labelle, S., & Lancaster, A. (2017) What do college students want? A prioritization of instructional behaviors and characteristics. Communication Education, 66:3, 280-298.

Download a PDF version of the tip: FMTT 28

Faculty Matter #27: Helping students take the reins – Providing “feedforward” 

In this Teaching Tip, I share a construct articulated by Dr. Manju Banerjee, an internationally-recognized expert in higher education teaching and learning: the notion of “feedforward.”  Her point is fairly straightforward:  In addition to providing feedback – about the strengths and problems with students’ work as we return it to them once we have graded it, we should also consider ways to help students figure out how to adjust their studying as they go forward with future assignments. What should they do, do more, do differently, or not do, as they manage their time, as they study, as they assess their level of mastery of course material, as they review for tests, as they write and so on?

You might apply this concept in the written comments you provide to students, or in conversation during office hours when students come in to check on their standing in your course.

As you plan how you might provide this guidance for your students, consider two suggestions:

  • Be concrete: If a student’s writing was unclear, for example, help them identify easy-to-implement strategies to check for clarity next time: “There were a lot of good ideas in your answer, but I also found I lost the thread a few times.  Next time, you might want to try reading what you wrote out loud to yourself, and see if it sounds clear and complete to you.  That should help you check to see if you are saying what you intended to say.” Simple, easy to do, no special materials or technology required.
  • Let them “own” the idea:  Once you offer your advice, have them think about how they could do what you suggest. “Yeah – I could print my answer out and read it, and I could underline the places where I think it doesn’t make sense, or where I think I should add something or change the wording.”

At your leisure, we invite you to skim through previous Faculty Matter Teaching Tips.  Please add your own strategies using the comment link on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty.

Download a PDF version of this tip: FMTT27

Faculty Matter Tip #26: Helping students to make – and act on – plans for next semester

Yes, the fall semester is still in full swing, but it is also “registration season” for Spring. Many students have a clear idea of the classes they need or want to take, but others could benefit from some guidance.

In some aspects, registering for classes for upcoming semesters is a fairly technical matter: Students need to know what they must take to continue making progress toward their degree, and they must follow the university’s registration processes.  In other aspects, registering for classes presents a wonderful opportunity for students to reflect upon what they are learning and what they want to know more about as they prepare for life “after SJSU.”

The purpose of this Tip is to help you identify a few very easy and quick ways you might help in this process, as part of your regular classroom interactions with students.

Read Faculty Matter Tip #26.