Antione D. Tomlin

Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC

Associate Professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department

Anne Arundel Community College

Meghan MacNamara, MFA

Assistant Professor

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences

Within higher education, especially as faculty, sometimes we get caught up in the routines, checklists, and essential tasks as we prepare for another semester. While our time can be consumed with what we must do and how we must do it, we must also remember that we can bring creativity and autonomy to the process. Furthermore, we need to remember that we can shake things up and bring even more fun, excitement, and ease to our process. In this post, two higher education educators share some ways to shake up the start of the semester with some reminders of how we, as faculty, can survive and thrive in the beginning weeks of the new semester.

Tip 1: Foster Connection 

It is vitally important to be approachable at all points in the semester, but especially as a first impression. To accomplish this, I add a personal photo to my syllabus, something less austere than my forced-smiling, half-grimacing faculty headshot. Whether teaching face-to-face or fully online, providing an introduction that reinforces humanity can soften the classroom atmosphere. While my introduction email explains course expectations and allays students’ most frequent worries, it also gets personal. I might share that I was once an aspiring boxer, that I love coffee and gardening, or that I foster rescue dogs. Because teachers can be intimidating without meaning to be, and students can be hesitant to reach out with questions or concerns, reinforcing our shared humanity is important. Teachers can also make themselves less intimidating by giving students permission to make an authentic connection alongside course-related communications.

Tip 2: Embrace a Beginner’s Mind

After teaching for several years, it’s easy to forget how overwhelming the start of the semester can be for students, so starting the semester with a beginner’s mind can be helpful. For example, a first-generation college student might not know what instructors mean by office hours, so having an explanation in the syllabus can be helpful. I explain that it is time for students to drop in to discuss their progress in my course, questions, study tips, or favorite pastry recipes. I let them know that it’s their time if they want to use it, and they don’t need an appointment. The door is open, which is the first step to reducing anxiety, increasing success, and starting the semester on a positive course. 

Tip 3: Get Organized

While this may seem fundamental, organization of meetings, emails, classes, and self-care is vital to the start of any semester, be it Summer, Spring, Winter, or Fall. Getting organized can be something we take for granted, especially if we have been teaching for several years, or if we are teaching the same courses each semester. However, taking the time to get organized can help faculty get off to a great and productive start. Some strategies to get organized include setting time boundaries, as it is essential to establish working times and off times. Think about when you want to be “on” and when you need to be “off.” While you may have to deviate from this schedule or routine at times, it is crucial to have a plan. Additionally, we encourage faculty to honestly examine all they have on their plate and think about which things were added because you were voluntold and which were added because they fuel your passion and light up your core values. Being mindful of what you have on your plate and how you spend your time, energy, and effort can help you recognize when you need to make shifts that could prevent fatigue, burnout, and, in some cases, resentment of your institution or the field.

Tip 4: Ask for What You Need!

As educators, we are expected to provide the love, care, and support our students and colleagues may require or need. However, we sometimes forget that we must ask for what we need. We encourage you to find something that will serve as a structure and reminder to ask for what you need. If you do not permit yourself to ask for what you need, who will? When thinking about what you might need to feel supported and positioned for success, ask yourself:

  • What do I want or need more or less of?
  • What is helping me to honor my core values?
  • What is on my plate that brings me joy/What is on my plate that brings me challenge?
  • What is on my wishlist of resources this academic year?

Lastly, we encourage you to be mindful to ask for what you need from your colleagues, students, and personal social networks, too!

Have anything to add? Feel free to continue the conversation with us on Twitter: @TomlinAntione.

Authors Bios:

Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC is a tenure-track Associate Professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department at Anne Arundel Community College. Dr. Tomlin is also an ICF Certified Life Coach.

Meghan MacNamara, MFA is an Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences, where she teaches online asynchronous writing and medical humanities courses.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

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