March 6 Day 363: COVID Practices Part I

Exactly a year ago today, the University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce announced classes would be offered remotely for the final week of Winter Quarter 2020. We had three days notice to adjust. The initial plan was a deep clean, a few weeks of remote engagement, including a “soft start” to the Spring quarter, and we would return when it was safe. I suppose that still is the plan but it hasn’t been deemed safe yet. Much has transpired since then.

It goes without saying that COVID has impacted our lives both inside and outside the workplace. The two questions foremost on my mind are ‘What do I want to retain from my COVID practices moving forward?’ And ‘what do I let go from my previous practices?’ I purposefully titled this post with Part I because I am sure this is a topic I will need to come back to again and again. Here are some initial thoughts.

To Retain:

  • Mask wearing. When displaying symptoms of illness but not feeling sick enough to stay home, I intend to wear a mask in public. I do not want to infect my students, colleagues, or strangers. I don’t particularly like wearing a mask but I have such a nice collection now, it makes sense to keep using them.
  • Intentionally creating teams to build community. Random teams are easiest to create—especially when a class first meets. But letting students reflect on their working styles and matching like-minded folks makes teams work smoother.
  • Flexibility and compassion. This past year, there was plenty of illness, injustice, and political shenanigans to add to the struggle of adapting to and focusing on remote learning. Faculty were urged to be accommodating without explanation. Initially worried that some students might take advantage of the leniency, I saw how it helped many students ask for assistance without shame.
  • Assessment that focuses on concepts rather than answers. I have been the Queen of Oral Assessment over the past year. I really like it. There is a real difference between superficial knowledge and deep understanding. Standard test questions have a hard time distinguishing the two. But talking to the students about the material really makes the distinction clear.
  • Regular writing and reflection. This blog has helped keep me sane—even if I find myself staying up too late at night to complete a post. WordPress rewards me with notifications of how many days in a row I have written. I find it very motivating. I have never really journaled before and I intend to continue the practice. Maybe not in such a public way. We’ll see what the future brings.
  • Growth mindset. I cannot count the number of times remote teaching or presentations did not work out as planned. My audience/students and I approached each instance as an adventure and we problem-solved together. Adaptability, an open mind, and the willingness to be publicly wrong go a long way to getting out of unplanned situations.

To Let Go:

  • Needing to be in control and the stress that comes along with that. See Growth mindset above. I will learn how to properly delegate and practice delegation more.
  • Prioritizing work over everything. I know its clichĂ©, but by prioritizing work I have ignored the well being of myself and my family. I love my family and admit that my work-life balance is frequently in disequilibrium in favor work. Time to change that for the better.
  • Conventional homework and its associated grading. Yes, the only way to improve at mathematics is by doing mathematics. But I do not believe students ever read the comments that I painstakingly add to their written work. Feedback is essential for improvement, but why does the feedback have to come from me? I need to build a step for peer feedback then allow for revisions before I ever read their submissions.

That’s a start for now. So let me ask you, what do you want to retain from your COVID practices ? And what do you need to let go from your previous practices?

Image is a screenshot of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center COVID dashboard map on March 6, 2021. Compare it to the same site on November 17, 2020.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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