Pedagogy and Activism in Fall 2020

Hello AC readers! Though I’ve been playing a behind the scenes role all summer, its been a while since I (Kelsey) have posted.

In the time since my last post for the AC, spring and summer crumbled into fall, I moved (back) to Montreal, and I got hired for a limited term teaching appointment. So. I’m teaching full time again. Which is great! I’m thrilled to be back in a classroom. Even a virtual one. And also ….

I need advice. So, I thought I’d mix up format and address this advice to Kim. You’ll find my post first and Kim’s ever-helpful response below!

A picture of The Beatle’s singing “Help I need somebody” because it represents my emotional state: peppy but underpinned by something ominous (Kelsey)

Kim, I need help.

As we all know, COVID-19 has fundamentally and indeterminately altered the post-secondary teaching landscape. The scope of these changes vary by location. Some institutions remain predominantly in-person; others combine in-person and online activities; others are totally online. The mix is unprecedented. As is the volume of online courses. As is the experience of our students, who are suddenly navigating full-time online learning. As is our workload which now incorporates any possible combination of synchronous, asynchronous, side-ways synchronous teaching methods.

And I’m having a hard time locating pedagogical activism in the muddle.

The online learning technologies are all … fine. They work. (Except, you know, when they don’t). But they’re hard to pedagogically-activist-hack. Zoom, for example, can accommodate lots of users but it also curates and curtails polyvocality: the mechanics are explicitly designed to highlight the loudest speaker. And, the truth is, meetings breakdown if multiple people speak at the same time.

Also, I weighed my workload, and it came out to an actual tonne. I’m currently teaching three brand new (to me) undergraduate courses. I’m also still researching and publishing, doing community-based work, being a friend and family member, and generally living. This would be a lot in a regular year. I know that. But, the online piece is like the ghost from The Haunting of Bly Manor (which you should totally watch by the way): invisible, constantly hovering, threatening to pull me under at any moment

A computer screen filled with numbers and failure.

Then, there are my students: cameras-on (sigh of relief), cameras-off, sound accidentally on – partner/mother/roommate yelling about dinner in background.

They’re (mostly) really trying. And also, many of my students are obviously struggling. Which, of course, they are.

And, I keep walking out of live sessions, asking myself, “What are we doing here?”

I want to be clear: I’m not anti-online teaching. That would be like opposing the invention of the wheel. Like it or not, online teaching is going to be part of the post-secondary landscape moving forward. And it has plenty of advantages for both students and teachers.

But, I am struggling to locate the activism in this new environment.

And so I turn to you, Kim Solga, creator of the Activist Classroom: How are you doing it? Where is the activism in your classroom in fall 2020?


Dear Kelsey,

I find your thoughts above so… familiar. I’m with you. Not literally, but for sure:

we. are. in. this. all. together.

(Does it help to know that I’m drinking a martini on a Thursday evening while writing this? Well I am.)

Right now, for me, it’s all about surviving. The learning curve is so steep – and for some of us, out of university for 20 or so years or more, the memory of having to learn under the gun is so steep!!! – that the win feels like making it to Friday.

I’m very much unlike you right now in that I’m teaching only one course, and it’s a course I know well—even though it’s C-E-L (ha! Rhymes help with COVID – Trump assures us). But the reason I’m teaching only 0.5 is that I have a course release to support my research… which…

Is. Not. Happening.

But the “free time” I’ve lucked into means the class I’m teaching under these wacky new circumstances is manageable. And it means I’m actively learning from it. Over the last six weeks I’ve started to notice some silver linings, and your thoughts above have prompted me to think about these in the context of our space’s operative adjective, “activist”.

SO: here are thought on a few of my recent “activations”.

Our students see us. They usually see us as flawed human beings messing up the Zoom, and that is actually ace. The thing about all being in this together is that we really are; this is hard for them, it’s hard for us, and the more visible we make the labour, the easier it is to have a frank (and relieving, usually) conversation about what’s going on, and how much work it takes, and who is doing that work.

The class I’m teaching is about theatre beyond theatre: it features an introduction to performance studies, applied theatre, and performance activism for undergraduate students. This term we are partnered with the City of London (Ontario), the CityStudio initiative, and a course in Community Psychology, investigating ways to combat anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in our city.

To say this is weird over Zoom is an understatement, but the big benefit of the Pandemic-as-usual is that we talk regularly about what happens which the poop hits the fan.

This was driven home for me last Tuesday, when our Zoom Room, joint with our fellow stakeholders AND hosting guests to speak to Black Lives Matter, went apocalyptically dumpster fire. My colleague in psychology and my TA desperately tried to save the day while I jumped into the fray to “teach” the class that… I hadn’t prepared because GUESTS were coming to speak. It was so tiring and, I thought, wretched—until one of my students came to office hours to tell me she thought it was a terrific class, and that I had done a very good job under really hard circumstances.

That made me recognize that, just as I see her struggling through the quagmire, she sees me too, and sees the work we are all doing. Best of all, that class turned out to be great after all because, in the wake of #techmeltdown, we managed to have a great conversation about who was included, and who excluded, as a result of the adjustments we’re all having to make because of COVID.

How often do we see one another’s work, call it out, recognize its contours for real? How often do we really recognize, really see, the work done by the invisible majority who keep our world running “smoothly”? That sounds like activism to me.

Grades don’t matter. Support matters. I’ve become a less and less stringent marker over the last 15 or so years of full time teaching. The reason is simple: I see the work students are putting in (see above!) and I want to reward it.

Why can’t you get 100% on an English Lit essay when you can on a Physics test, if you’re really good? Why indeed. I began just scaling up to compensate a while back, knowing my students were competing with kids judged under very different frameworks for university-wide prizes.

Recently I’ve begun crafting ways to give students real marks for genuine effort. In the class I’m teaching right now, for ages there has been an assignment that asks students to weigh in on a weekly “prompt” with a paragraph or so of thoughts, links, images, videos, etc, representing serious engagement with the problems at hand. Sometimes these prompts come from our weekly readings, and sometimes from a real-world application of those readings; after students do five of these (out of about 10 or so opportunities), they get an extra 10% “free” (it’s like getting 100% on an assignment worth 10% of their grade).

I’ve been worried about this in the past, because it “inflates” final course grades, but now I am not worried at all. Getting up, dressing self, feeding self, making it to the asynchronous lesson, doing the asynchronous lesson, and then responding to the prompt is real-ass work right now! I want my students to get these “free” marks for actual retail effort! I want them to know that the trying, if the response isn’t perfect or even all that correct, is still worth something proper. So much so, in fact, that I upped the “free” to 15%, plus bonus opportunities.

We are half way through the term right now, and my spreadsheet reveals that the majority of my students are on track to grab all 15% “free”. This means students who might otherwise read as “mediocre” because they’ve not yet learned the ins and outs of critical nuance, or aren’t that great with a semicolon, are going to end up looking pretty darn good at the end of this thing. It’s a leg up that might not otherwise have been supported to reach the next tier.

That also feels like activism to me.

Prep also doesn’t matter. If you have to pitch it, or wing it, just effing go for it. My biggest revelation so far thanks to #COVIDtimes and #Zoompocalypse has been this. If the poop does actually hit the thingy, who cares? We are screwing up like talented home handyfolx and that’s fine because there’s no playbook for this; we’re making it up.

I’ve had a few occasions where carefully crafted class exercises have gone super sideways thanks to tech screw-ups, and I just decided, let’s laugh about it. And you know what? The students laughed with me, not at me. (Learning how to laugh when shit goes wrong and then coping and carrying on with the work anyway seems to me a terrific lesson to take away from university and into life.)

I suspect there are a few of us right now who are working really hard to make the video lectures perfect, the tech in the synchronous lectures perfect, the impossible perfect. That’s a natural inclination for folks like us, who went to grad school because university looked like a “real world” we could super handle.

I once knew how to make a perfect video lecture but I’ve long forgotten, and my copy of the software I used to make it is majorly out of date. I decided in August I wasn’t up for re-learning.

Instead, I chose to put my usual “flipped classroom” prep (lots of 2-minutes free writes and “watch this video then think about it for 5 minutes” stuff) online as the asynchronous hour of our three hours together, and then to follow up only on that prep during our synchronous time together. So far, it’s worked. Students are engaged, whether in the live room or in the Zoom room (I’m teaching hybrid). This means prep takes me minimal time, and the two hours we have *actually* together each week can be spent talking about what we’ve all been previously exposed to and had time to think about. It’s not as much as I’d normally “teach”, but I think it’s more valuable, and as the term progresses I’m putting less and less into these lessons, knowing the students are feeling more and more overwhelmed.

We’re prioritizing talking about how we are doing, and what it means to be just “good enough” sometimes, rather than the perfect we’ve been taught to strive for. I suspect that, if I’d had the chance to have such a conversation in a class when I was an undergrad, I would have called that #activism of a kind, too.



Charlotte Canning Interview Part 2

As promised, here is the second half of my chat with Charlotte Canning. Last time, we talked about her (amazing-sounding) grad course and the value of teaching reflection. In the second half of the chat, we delved into public pedagogy, the value of making mistakes, and some of Charlotte’s favourite resources.

KB: What does it mean for you to be a public-facing, activist, teacher?

CC: Until graduate school, my life as a student was all in private schools. So, I didn’t have the public school experience as a young person. Having taught at UT for a very long time now, I am one hundred percent committed to public education. The kinds of diversity of students that we have — not just stuff that we work so hard on like class, race, sexuality, gender but also the experience of first generation students — that’s astonishing to me. It’s not an experience I thought about until I came to a public school.

It forces me to think about important questions: What does it mean to teach and have a public responsibility? What does it mean in terms of being citizens of the state? In terms of access to our work or the kinds of things we should be doing? 

Also, because we’re a state institution, we have a relationship to things like public disclosure laws and open records. Most of what we do is findable by the public. Our salaries are public. We have a very specific relationship to the First Amendment [which addresses freedom of speech, religion and assembly] that our colleagues at private schools don’t have. We have a lot of leeway in terms of speech which is really significant. Sometimes, it makes life more difficult but it’s really valuable. Being in a public institution is something of a gift. At times, it can be frustrating, but at the end of the day, thinking about education as a public good is a profound responsibility.

KB: How does your investment in feminism intersect with your pedagogy?

CC: Feminism is where I came from with all of this. I think about identities. Thinking about access and privilege is crucial to me as a teacher. I have a wonderful colleague in the School of Education, Dr. Richard Reddick. We did a video together on diversity statements for faculty. He came out of a school teaching background. When he came to speak to my students we were talking about privilege, and he’s an African American man, and that he always felt like he had it, when it came to diversity and inclusion. He always felt good. He felt focused. Until one day, he was working with a researcher about gender in the classroom. She observed his teaching over a considerable period of time, and she presented these statistics to him that he called on boys more than he called on girls. He was shocked and appalled, and he fixed it right away. In telling that story, what I heard him say to students is: don’t assume that because you’re savvy in one way that you are in all the ways.

I always say, if you set yourself up as the master and authority, then you can only be threatened when you make a mistake. But, since you’re human, the mistake part is inevitable, so you might as well start off with a sense of collaboration and a sense of learning and changing. So, when those things happen you can easily fold them into the experience for the students rather than it being a barrier, or an embarrassment, or having a detrimental impact with your relationship with the students. I don’t know whether that’s deeply feminist, but it feels very feminist to me. Certainly, thinking through how to create as diverse a pool of teachers out in the world as possible is incredibly important to me.

KB: What is the best pedagogy resource that you’ve pointed students towards?

CC: I change it up a lot every year. I have this secret passion for the history of universities. So, one of the things I have students read is Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University.  It gets them thinking about teaching in higher education as something that has a history and a context and isn’t just the way it is because that’s the way it is. I want them to think of it as a construct that evolved in a certain way over time, and that their ability to change or intervene in that construct exists. It didn’t come from the sky.

I also really like James Lang’s Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. The premise of the book is that it often takes years to make new courses and to create relationships between courses, if you’re ever able to do that at all. So, he asks: What can we do tomorrow to make our classes better? I find that really helpful. It’s changed my teaching.

For example, he presents compelling evidence that small quizzes everyday are a great way to help students with retention and ownership of the material. I used to be against quizzes but the way he lays out the research converted me to the idea that giving students multiple ways to recall things is going to help them learn and retain that knowledge. I return over and over to Paulo Freire and bell hooks. I consult Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia constantly.

KB: Any final thoughts?

CC: The final thing I’d like to share is an exercise I developed a few years ago for my university teaching class. I get intensely nervous every time I do it, yet the students respond well.

I have a midterm. I don’t tell them what the midterm will be. I always say, Just review the materials of your notes and you’ll be fine.

For the “midterm,” they have to draw a scenario from a hat. They read the prompt aloud and then they have one minute to think. Then, they have to start talking. And I take notes while they’re presenting. Then, they take the prompt home and have four or five days to write about it and evaluate what they chose to do in class. It gives them a chance to think through what they would’ve done, if they’d had time to prepare.

The scenarios are always real scenarios that I or someone I know has encountered. They range from “a student says something racist in class” to “at the end of the semester having to leave office hours before seeing all the students after no one has come for all those weeks” to “students who express transphobia to a student whose drugs fall out of their pocket.” So, a huge range of possible scenarios.

After we’ve done the midterm, I tell them that the thing I don’t know how to teach them is that so much of pedagogy is thinking on your feet. As you know from being an actor, or whatever, the more you train on your feet, the more likely you are to do a good job of it. So, they get these scenarios totally randomly.

‘Sure, but can you THINK on your feet?’

The students have all said positive things in class about it. They are usually very anxious at first because they worry about getting it right or wrong. But, I always say that one of the points is that there isn’t an easy or obvious right or wrong. We have to rehearse.

Then, we have a class where we talk about the experience of taking the midterm. I identify for them which of the prompts were ones that actually happened to me, and I talk about how I handled them. I emphasize when I did a good job and when I didn’t. A couple of them were from my first year of teaching, and, in retrospect, while I didn’t do anything wrong, I was not as adept as I would be now.

One of the things I really struggle with teaching teaching is: how do you teach the intangibles? You can teach someone how to structure a syllabus or to think about a  lesson plan. But, when you’re live in the room with the students, you need to be able to be adept. So, you can’t just think about the content. You also have to think about how you act in the moment and how that will or won’t be efficacious for learning.  I think that’s the hardest thing to teach. So, what I do in the class is try to help them think about the speed bumps or scary moments, so that they know if they don’t get it one hundred percent right, that’s okay. You can come back. You can talk to the students again.

Teaching in the Times of COVID-19 Part Two: Tips for Adapting to Online Teaching

I have been sitting at my computer on and off for several days immobilized. Everyone is home, so we are searching for a new routine, a new sense of balance and ways to fend off the quiet panic we feel. As Spring Equinox passed yesterday, almost unnoticed, it was hard to see it a symbol of light and life, and new beginnings.

And yet, with social distancing, I already see creative changes in my children that give me hope. My 13-year-old has been teaching himself new songs on piano and guitar, baked dessert for everyone, and entertained the other children (we are a self-isolation pod with our next door neighbours) for hours – all self-initiated. While it is a time of worry and fear, I am thinking about ways to take this opportunity to nurture creativity and develop new ways of learning.

I have been sitting at my computer on and off for two days immobilized. Everyone is home, so we are searching for a new routine, a new sense of balance and ways to fend off the quiet panic we feel. As Spring Equinox passed yesterday, almost unnoticed, it was hard to see it a symbol of light and life, and new beginnings.

And yet, with social distancing, I already see creative changes in my children that give me hope. My 13-year-old has been teaching himself new songs on piano and guitar, baked dessert for everyone, and entertained the other children (we are a self-isolation pod with our next door neighbours) for hours – all self-initiated. While it is a time of worry and fear, I am thinking about ways to take this opportunity to nurture creativity and develop new ways of learning.

Kelsey’s previous post provided a great overview of resources for teaching in the times of COVID-19. As I drink coffee with my husband ( who is preparing to teach his classes online for Vancouver Film School and UBC’s BFA Theatre program, we ponder what more might be helpful to instructors of theatre and performance classrooms who are suddenly tasked with transferring face-to-face classes to online experiences. Here are our best thoughts:

1. Use this time as an opportunity to teach useful career skills.

  • how to record effective self-tapes (for auditions or otherwise)
  • how to record a voice demo
  • how to set up a home recording booth or video area
  • how to write a blog post
  • how to create a short promotional video
  • how to create a slick online slide presentation
  • how to effectively facilitate a group chat

2. Consider creating imaginative online activities.

Brainstorm with your classes. Here are some fun ideas:

  • Create collaborative work (writing, filming, podcasting, music). Have one person start a project and pass it on for others to add to. It does not have to be high tech! Here’s my friend and I learning harmonies to a song at a distance:

3. Make use of the many livestream broadcasts going on.

These include play readings, concerts, film festivals, dance classes etc. I don’t want to overload readers with examples, but a quick google search with produce many hits. While livestreams don’t replace face-to-face experiences, they may help achieve the elements of unpredictabiity, surprise, and perhaps even communion that are unique to liveness.

4. Make use of new and previously existing online databases

Many resources have now been made available for free. Here are a few theatre-related resources that might come in handy:

  • Journal Databases like JSTOR ( have expanded their public access sections which might be useful to acting schools without institutional subscriptions.

 5. Allow yourself to do what is reasonable and achievable to finish up courses           in progress.

We all want to deliver good value to our students, but it is not reasonable to adapt an entire course to a slick online format. Here’s a thoughtful resource by Rebecca Barrett-Fox (don’t be put off by the title): “Please do a bad job of putting your class online.”

We’ll get through this together with, I hope, with kindness and generosity. Now for another learning opportunity, here are a variety of 20 second selections of Shakespeare for hand washing:

Interview: Charlotte Canning

At the beginning of 2020, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Charlotte Canning, professor in the Performance as Public Practice stream and Head, Oscar G. Brockett Center for Theatre History and Criticism at the University of Texas Austin’s Department of Theatre & Dance. We had a lively, fascinating, conversation about pedagogy, teaching-teachers, and teaching as public practice. The first part of the chat is below, with the second part to follow next week!

Dr. Charlotte Canning

KB: Can you introduce yourself? What’s your current position, and what sort of teaching do you do?

CC: I am the Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Professor in Drama and have been on the faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin since 1993.

One of the courses I teach is “Supervised Teaching.” This is a very bland title and an inaccurate description of the class. The class itself is really an introduction to teaching for graduate students. It’s required by the university. In our program, it is a very important part of our core curriculum because we invest very heavily in teaching as a mode of public engagement for scholars. We talk a lot about the scholar-artist-citizen-activist. Teaching is absolutely, in our opinion, central to that formulation.

It has really been an important course for the Performance as Public Practice students. Although, I should point out, it’s not just our students in the class. It’s for any graduate student in the department. That’s terrific, because it means we’ve got folks in the room who are coming from a range of disciplines. Unlike in, say, the history department, where everyone will teach history of some kind, when I taught it in fall 2019 I had playwrights, actors, dramaturgs, scholars and so on. So, you’re really having to think about pedagogy in certain kinds of holistic and heterogenous ways.

KB: Wow. I have attended several different graduate programmes and have never experienced that kind of a class. From the student’s perspective, what’s the feedback back been? What’s most useful? Least useful?

CC: I’m not sure what they think is the least useful. They’re too savvy to say that to me! But, from their comments, what I get is that one of the things they really value is the part of the class that they call the “micro-teach.” For the micro-teach, you submit a lesson plan for an entire day and then you teach ten minutes of that lesson plan to the class.

In Performance as Public Practice, this course rotates between three of us who teach it, depending on yearly schedules, etc. We share the same syllabus but each tweak it every time we get it. This year, I had the students work on creating a rubric for evaluating teaching. This was, in part, to demonstrate how, even though they’re useful, in a way, rubrics don’t really work. The exercise of creating it, using it, and then evaluating it was enormously helpful. It helped the students see that you do the best you can when you’re designing a rubric and then, in practice, you see what you should’ve valued and didn’t.

A randomly searched general essay marking rubric because … oh rubrics.

So, for the “micro-teach”, we had the rubrics that the students created plus colleague evaluations. I took notes as they taught. I evaluated the lesson plan and the self-evaluation they did. So, the feedback they got back was really comprehensive and, I think, really valuable.  They would love to do it twice but unfortunately there’s just not enough time in a semester to do the micro-teaches twice.

KB: What do you focus on in your feedback to these students?

CC: I try to do it in the context that we can all learn how to do this. Nobody was born knowing how to teach despite all the sentimental claptrap that’s out there. So, with each student, I push hard for them to think about how they can be an effective teacher. What, exactly, do they have? What do they bring to the table in the classroom that is very much theirs? Within each situation, I try to figure out how to support the direction in which they’re developing. I’m really lucky in that I’ve never taught the class where the students aren’t 100% committed. So, I’m never saying anything completely negative in my feedback. It’s more, “Take this and keep going” or “Don’t be afraid to do it, that was great.”

KB: What have you learned from teaching teachers?

CC: I don’t know what the teaching version of an editor is called, but in the same way that teaching writing makes you a better editor, I think teaching to teach — teaching teaching, you might call it — makes you a better teacher. That’s certainly been true for me. My syllabuses and assignments have gotten clearer and sharper. Teaching teaching makes me pause more often and be less sure  of myself – in the right way! Not a lack of confidence, but in the sense of being willing to stop and say, is that the right reaction? Is that what we should be doing? And, if the answer is no, it doesn’t undo me. I don’t feel like “oh my God, now I’ve done something terrible.” It’s like, “oh, okay, yeah, this needs to change.”

I have this story I tell. A few years ago, I was team-teaching a class with a colleague. It was online. We were doing a unit on acting. In the middle of it, we said, “Everybody stand up.” As we did that, I suddenly thought, “We have 700 students, we don’t know if all of them can stand up.” It gave me pause. We were ableists. But, it also made me ask: What do we mean when we ask the students to stand up? What do we mean theoretically? What do we mean in terms of what we expect to happen? I realized it was a physical coming to attention. It was about shifting the circumstances.

If I hadn’t made that mistake, I wouldn’t have truly thought through what I meant by “stand up” or confronted my ableist bias. That’s the kind of analytical skill that I’ve gained as a teacher by teaching teaching. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to think that through as well if I hadn’t had to be in front of students and talk about teaching all the time.

KB: I love that story. I feel like some of my best reflections have come from moments of breakdown. Those moments, while sometimes uncomfortable, have forced me to question myself: What was I trying to do there? What did I actually do? What’s the relationship between those two things. 

CC: Right! In this case: how do you shift the circumstances without depending on a single type of physical action? Is the physical action even the point?

KB: And, of course, it’s not.

CC: That was a great moment in terms of me thinking through what am I trying to do and why. That kind of reflection and evaluation is what I’ve got from teaching teaching.


Don’t forget to check back next week for the second half of the interview, in which Charlotte and I chat about public teaching, feminist pedagogy, and books!

On Parenting and Academia – Part Two

On Parenting and Academia – Part Two

As promised, here is the second half of our new Writer in Residence Julia Henderson’s post on parenting in academia!


Thanks to those who reached out to me in response to my last (Feb. 24) post!

I was a little nervous to admit my struggles balancing work and family. However, hearing from others has reinforced for me how often we think we are the only ones having difficulty finding balance, but in reality, there are many others are also feeling divided, overtaxed, less-than-perfect, and hesitant to admit it.

In my previous post, I tried to think about the value parenting adds to scholarship and teaching. Nonetheless, there is still the ever-present role conflict that accompanies being a parent and an academic.

So, this week I follow-up with some practical advice geared toward surviving the combined pressures of parenthood and academia. These tips may seem like common sense, but most of them I personally had to learn by failing forward.

Though these suggestions originated in thinking about parenting, I hope some of them might be applicable to others who have high non-work demands on their time, and increased likelihood of unpredictable events throwing off their schedules. I am thinking, for example, of academics caring for elderly parents, scholars with pets that need unexpected care, or people with personal health challenges themselves.

Thanks again to Heather Fitzsimmons Frey, of McEwan University, and Katrina Dunn of University of Manitoba for contributing their ideas to this post. Thanks, too, to Melissa Poll, Postdoctoral Fellow at Simon Fraser University, for her thoughts.

Hot Tips for Surviving as a Parent in Academia:

1. Invest time (and money if you have it) in a good childcare situation (this also goes for pet care or eldercare). It can make your life a LOT easier to have daycare at your institution or in your home neighbourhood. Put your child on waitlists as early as possible. Melissa Poll reminds us that, especially for scholars in contingent positions, childcare can be difficult to afford. She has found it helpful to make friends with other parents and exchange child care. She also recommends, if you can, to ask relatives to help out when you’re approaching a particularly busy time. Relatives love you and your children. They want to see you thrive.

Julia Post 12

My youngest son’s daycare graduation last June!

2. Try hard to eat well and get enough sleep. Sounds simple! In reality, it can be a big ask. Heather Fitzsimmons Frey puts it well, “I cannot teach, do research, or parent when I haven’t had enough sleep. . . my children remind me that a lack of sleep is not sustainable.

Julia Post 14

Pictures taken on the same day before and after a long nap
(okay, I also used makeup and a filter in the second one, 
but they really were taken on the same day 🙂

3. Make the most of the time you do have. Melissa Poll provides some good examples: “Multi-task. Listen to keynotes, audio books, or academic podcasts while doing the laundry or cleaning that strange stain on the rug. Work when you know your kids will be asleep for a while, whether in the early morning or after bedtime. Make the most of short intervals of free time. Send one email. Mark a paper.”

4. Schedule a specific prep time for your classes and stick to it. Don’t over prepare. The last time I taught Intro to Theatre, I experimented with giving myself a 2.5-hour prep time for a 1-hour session (including responding to student emails and reviewing reflections). It worked very well and my evaluations did not suffer.

legos tully_0-2

Kim recommends pattern teaching prep models: they are a time and life-saver.

5. If you and your partner are both post-secondary instructors, try to organize your schedule so both partners do not start teaching first thing in the morning on the same day. It will make school and daycare drop-offs much less stressful. I find starting work at the same time is fine as there can still be minor flexibility, but starting to teach at the same time creates a cyclone of stress. I try to put a flag in my calendar about 3 months before the start of a new term to work this out with my colleagues (of course this timeline will vary depending on your institution).

6. Have a system for sharing your family members’ schedules. My husband and I both keep Gmail calendars and share them with each other. It saves time as we can quickly check the other’s schedule without having to ask. They also sync with all of our devices. Sharing shopping lists also saves a lot of time and helps with lunches – my family uses the app Our Groceries. My hungry 13-year-old can add things to the list when he finishes them off (which happens often)!!

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My family’s shared shopping list

7. If possible, assert your parenting needs to your administrative staff and Chair. However, give yourself a break for feeling intimidated about doing this too: the more junior you are (especially if you are precariously employed), the more hesitant you might feel to make too many requests. You can always consult your faculty association if you are unsure about what a reasonable request might be. In my case, my husband has worked at his institution much longer than I have at mine, so he is the one to ask for flexibility like shifting his work schedule to accommodate the teaching times I am assigned, or taking time off for sick children.

8. One of my favourite bits of advice, compliments of Katrina Dunn, is: “Only sign your kids up for activities with waiting rooms that have really strong Wi-Fi signals.” This is brilliant. Not only will your kids be happy, you can do work while you wait for them!

9. Take your kids to shows. Get their opinion and perspective. Don’t be afraid to put a TYA show on your syllabus. Take your pre-teen to adult theatre. Talking about theatre with your kids is great practice for class.

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My kids on the set of Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver produced by United Players of Vancouver, and directed by my husband, Adam Henderson (my older son saw the show)

10. Have a workspace that is your own. Make it pleasant, desirable, inspiring. Have it filled with things that bring you joy, and are free of your family’s randomly deposited possessions (aka clutter)! Also keep extras there of key items you might forget (glasses, deodorant, toothbrush, medications, phone charger, pens etc.)

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Julia’s favourite office work space!

Finally, with 2020 off to a viral start, my top hot tip for right now: what to do when the flu (or anything flu-like!) strikes. Illness is a real concern if you have young children or if you are caring for anyone immune-compromised (which can often be the case with elderly parents). If students are sick, I ask them to video-chat or phone me instead of coming to my office.

I also have an advance plan for last minute emergencies. Such a plan might include the following:

  • Knowing who you can call if you need a last-minute replacement;
  • Having a backup lecture you could give in your sleep and sub-in if necessary;
  • Creating a reserve, self-directed online module to assign if you need to cancel a class. This could be one that you could sub into any course. (A good example is the assignment I discussed in my previous post, which asks students to design the cell phone of a character in the play they are currently reading.)
  • Work on what moves you. Take a pass on the rest. (Thanks for this reminder Melissa Poll!)
  • When possible and reasonable, be flexible with students – so they will also be flexible with you.
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Now I’m off to let the dogs out, get the after-school snacks ready, check-in by phone on my mom, and then return to a little marking – all while wearing my physio-prescribed leg band to improve my core-strength so my feet hurt less!

Whether you are an instructor who is considering becoming a parent, are in the thick of parenting, have emerged on the other side, or simply want to understand the parent-academic better, I’d be happy to hear your comments, questions, and advice!

If you don’t have children but find some of this advice useful, let me know too. Let’s work together to find ways to improve and refine our teaching while still maintaining our personal health and well-being.

Thanks for reading!