Co-Teaching Part II: Is Co-teaching Always a Good Idea?

This is part two of a two-part post on co-teaching. In the first post, Kim reflected on the importance of getting to know your collaborators in co-teaching projects. Here, research fellow Stephanie Dennie reflects on co-teaching best practices.

All hands on deck for co-teaching.

I’ve been working with Kim since fall of 2021 as a graduate fellow, supporting her and a colleague (Leora Swartzmann) as they try to build a co-teaching relationship across two related classes in two different faculties. This post reflects on what I’ve learned about best practices in co-teaching so far as part of my work with Kim and Leora.

A few things about me, perhaps, to get us started. I’m a doctoral candidate in the department of Classics at Western University. I teach and have taught both here and at Brock University, I have a passion for learning about teaching and learning in higher education – especially how creativity and interdisciplinarity fit into that practice.

In Classics I study the political, social, and cultural history of Sparta. My dissertation focuses on the use of social memory in civic performances to support the ruling families of Archaic and Classical Sparta. I’m very into how words and stories about the past, invented or not, are used for a particular benefit, nefarious or not, in the present, historical or not.

A picture of Stephanie

In my work with Kim, I mostly conduct research, perform administrative/organizational tasks, and observe. What am I observing? Kim and Leora, coteaching undergraduate students in theatre studies and community psychology in a class that has a community engaged learning component (CEL, Western calls it). This is not your average coteaching adventure, mind you, given that Leora’s class is a third-year, full credit course run over both the fall and winter semesters and Kim’s class is a second year, half credit course run in the winter term only. Additionally, the courses have their own course codes, syllabi, assessments, and classrooms. Highly unusual, indeed.

Interdisciplinary coteaching: What is it? Well, coteaching it is an educational process in which at least two instructors, sometimes more, participate in the planning and execution of a course.

The interdisciplinary aspect stipulates that this cotaught course, at its core, has an interdisciplinary focus, meaning the topic of the course is freed from the disciplinary bonds that so often bind us and opens the students (and instructors) up to different disciplinary approaches to a shared topic; ‘inter,’ a Latin prefix indicating reciprocity of some kind, often translated to mean ‘between,’ or ‘among,’ and disciplinary, the adjectival form of discipline, derived from the Latin noun disciplina meaning both learning/instruction and training/discipline (i.e., in a military or athletic context). So, inter-disciplinary, also an adjective, describes the noun it is paired with, here coteaching, meaning that the coteaching is characterized as participating in reciprocal instruction between/among different categories of learning/instruction/training.

The web of interdisciplinarity

What does it do? Interdisciplinary coteaching challenges both instructors and students to think outside of their own “area of expertise” to consider the interconnectedness of the phenomenon that is life happening around us right now. It also asks students and instructors to be curious in a broad sense that often makes us uncomfortable largely because of learned stigmas that inherently devalue other disciplinary perspectives or methods of knowing.

Throughout the last eight months of research and observation I have been seriously thinking about the practice of co-teaching. How do you do it effectively and equitably? I have begun to devise something I am rudimentarily calling the 5 Ws of co-teaching. Yes, I am going back to primary school when I first learned about how to analyse a story. My teacher said you need to identify the five Ws – who, what, when, where, and why.

One of the things I have encountered in my research and observations is that there is a great deal of optimism about coteaching – as well as enthusiasm – but there is little understanding of how to channel that into an effective coteaching relationship that is not formed anecdotally. For example, Leora and Kim met and began working together out of happenstance, not really thinking about, nor needing to think about at the time, what it meant for them to engage in a coteaching practice together.

The short, but key, questions

Thinking about the five Ws can provide a good starting point when considering whether or not to coteach, or in troubleshooting existing coteaching partnerships.

Who: starting interdisciplinary co-teaching partnerships

Partnerships are hard and coteaching requires a good one. Unfortunately, it is not enough for the instructors to be enthusiastic about coteaching for the cotaught class to be a success. You need a partnership that has a strong foundation in teaching and learning that you have actively developed. Some have suggested speed-dating.

Two horses drink from their water bar. One might muse, an archaeologist and a mathematician walk up to a bar…

At one university they had all the instructors who were interested in coteaching attend a speed-dating session in which they met to determine if they had a pedagogical and social ‘spark.’ Then, those who matched with one another, had extended meetings in which they discussed their approach to teaching, pet-peeves in the classroom, assessment strategies, how they thought about their relationship with their students, how they dealt with disruptions in the classroom, and the list goes on and on.

If they still wanted to see one another after this process, they might then consider problem-solving strategies and how they would navigate the differences they would inevitably encounter given their different approaches to teaching and learning so that the experience would be good for both them and the students.

All this is to say one does not simply walk into a co-teaching relationship.

That being said, some do. (Kim and Leora did! Yikes!) And that means it is important to, when possible, re-evaluate the coteaching partnership and ask these important, fundamental questions about pedagogical approaches and teaching philosophies. (Facilitating these discussions is another thing I do in my work with Kim and Leora.)

Working together already means that you have a foundation upon which you can build strategies to manage the differences that have already emerged. BUT, you must talk about the differences to understand their origin – this is where the magical growth for instructors happens, so don’t skip it.

Why and What: why is interdisciplinary learning in THIS CLASS important and what is it going to bring to the course that wouldn’t already be there in a more conventional format?

In order for a cotaught class to be successful, meaning the instructors and students both benefit, the instructors need to be able to clearly articulate an answer to the above question. Interdisciplinary learning will provide something new to a course, but most students report that the purpose of the partnership for their learning in the course needs to be explicit and do something novel for their learning.

We certainly encountered this for ourselves this term. The students felt uncertain about how the disciplinary knowledge of each instructor contributed to the outcomes of their individual courses. Again, Kim and Leora face an additional challenge in that their courses do not run simultaneously (meaning one is a full year and the other is one term) and they are administratively separate (i.e., separate course codes, syllabi, assessment, etc.).

To navigate this challenge, what we learned is the importance of clarity and to some extent uniformity for the students. The resources for both classes, we realized, need to have some overlap that reflects a clear reason for the partnership that works for both groups of students. It isn’t about explaining the partnership through the disciplinary perspective of each group, it’s about communicating a universal purpose to the students, period. And, most importantly, the purpose of the interdisciplinary learning needs to bring something unique to the table for the students – if the students in the class can get the same result without the coteaching/interdisciplinary aspect, then the course is missing the mark.

When and Where: Your classroom or mine?

Maybe you are interested in coteaching, and you have found the perfect partner who doesn’t think like you and doesn’t teach like you, but you feel confident you have developed great strategies for navigating those differences. Also, you have a great topic and have articulated why it is important to do and what it will bring to your students’ learning experience. Great! The only thing left is when and where?

Resource management

The biggest challenge, even more so than the time it takes to properly plan and prepare for co-teaching, is the institutional limitations that hinder and often prevent instructors from engaging in this enriching experiment. If you are not both full-time tenured faculty members, it is unlikely you will be able to engage in coteaching without some serious challenges. Most publications regarding interdisciplinary coteaching begin and end by emphasising the benefits versus the limitations of the institution to realize those benefits.

This is one of the biggest limitations Leora and Kim face in their coteaching. I have seen it in the organizational aspects of the course: the very fact that the courses are two separate courses shows this. There are time constraints due to the way courses are traditionally divided in the university’s scheduling system, there are limitations to funding and, again, the time needed to properly prepare a course of this nature requires more institutional support.

Bottom lines

While observing Kim and Leora in their interdisciplinary coteaching and conducting a literature review on co-teaching best practices and interdisciplinary learning I kept thinking the same thing, “Wow, co-teaching seems so great, but is it always a good idea?”

The short answer is: absolutely not!

– Spongebob happily presents my simple response, No! Absolutely not! with a rainbow.

Why? While research on coteaching in general and coteaching across disciplines specifically demonstrates that there are several benefits for both students and instructors, there are also serious challenges. For instructors, successful coteaching takes a great deal of planning and reflection. The process can be uncomfortable and makes you seriously question your own teaching style and philosophy. You cannot simply be willing and enthusiastic; it is an emotional, intellectual, and laborious commitment.

This is a somewhat pessimistic note to end my reflection on, but it is of the utmost importance to realize that although research shows that interdisciplinary teaching and learning has enormous benefits for both instructors and students, it is the institutions themselves and their organization that limits us most from tapping into the great potential that is coteaching.

This is precisely what makes participating in coteaching an act of activism in the classroom: it doesn’t fit the institutions model of knowing and, therefore, it is difficult to do, but I think we should still do it with the caveat that we push to be able to do it the right way and for the right reasons, not just because we want to.

On deadlines and what to do about them

Last week was reading week at my institution. Mostly, my inbox was refreshingly quiet. But, in the smattering of student emails I did receive, there was a common theme: deadlines. What, precisely, was required before the deadline? What are the penalties for a missed deadline? Could I extend the deadline? So. Many. Questions. About. Deadlines.

Except for one my larger courses, the classes I teach involve essay- or project-based evaluation. So, the last six weeks of term are brimming with deadlines: proposal deadlines, group work deadlines, final project deadlines (oh my)!

A scrabble board with students’ least favourite word: “deadline”

For the last few semesters, I have been progressively flummoxed by what to do with deadlines.

The vectors of my problem are thus:

  • Deadlines are a necessary of writing projects. Whether submitted for evaluation or publication, writing projects need to be completed—and ideally sent into the world—at some point.
  • Deadlines are a centrifugal force in the operations of a university calendar. Application deadlines! Deadlines for course withdrawal! Deadlines for grade submission! So. Many. Deadlines.
  • Every writer, everywhere on the planet, has failed to hit a deadline at some point. Okay, maybe, not every writer. But, most writers. Because, writing processes are amorphous. And, for many folks, writing is balanced alongside the rest of life. Which means: deadlines missed.

And, in my role as a university teacher, all these issues bump into one another. So, setting and enforcing deadlines turns out to be part of the evaluative aspect of my job – whether I like it or not!

Charlie Brown expresses Kelsey’s precise feeling about deadlines.

And here’s the thing: except for some of my professionally oriented classes—where writing to deadlines is part of the curriculum—being able to submit work on time often is often separate from the course’s learning objectives.

Knowing this, I have occasionally wondered: Is there an alternative?

Is there a different, better, way of handling due dates?

Then, I remember one of my early experiences as a teaching assistant.

The professor in charge did not believe in deadlines. Work was assigned throughout semester and submission times were suggested, but students did not have to submit any work until the end of semester. I thought: What a radical —or at least interesting— idea!

In practice, not so much. For starters, a cluster of students received no feedback during semester. On top of that, several students left all their work until the end of the course and then ran out of time to complete it, resulting in them failing a very passable class.

One could argue—as the professor did—that this was the students’ fault. They should have managed their time better! Which, yes, sure. But, students exist in a neo-liberal schooling system, where they are expected to divide their energy between multiple courses that are not at all coordinated alongside the rest of their lives. So, of course that deadline-less work gets pushed back! And, also, you know: it’s not great pedagogy to give students zero feedback or grades throughout semester.

Knowing that I need to have them, I have experimented with various deadline strategies over time:

  •             I have tried firmer deadlines with stricter penalties.
  •             I have offered students the opportunity to choose between deadline dates.
  •             I have reduced or scaled late penalties.
  •             I have given students a built-in grade period between deadlines and penalties.
  • I have offered a “late token” for the semester.
  •             I have tried very hard to reduce the shame around late submissions.

Thus far, I have found that policies that are too strict over-emphasize the importance of hitting deadlines and cause undue stress.

Policies that are too flexible, on the other hand, tend to get ignored, which eventually leads to marking build up for me it also put students in a precarious submission when university-wide grade submission deadlines come into play.

Currently, I have landed on a system that combines several of these strategies. I offer a built-in grace period on all submissions. I also have a scaled penalty system wherein marks are deducted more significantly near the deadline but are reduced as time goes on.

I also have a generous accommodation policy that supports student and helps them distinguish between unforeseen, or reasonably challenging circumstances, and poor time management.

Light green accurately reflects how Kelsey would grade her own deadline performance

But, deadlines are still causing me problems.

In one of my project-based classes—where hitting deadlines is part of the learning objectives—students complete a writing assignment which is, then, edited by their peers.

Because of the state of deadlines more generally, I’m having a heck of a time communicating the difference between deadlines. Because, let’s be honest: in both the classroom and outside of it, some deadlines matter and other do not.

At university, most work will receive a grade … eventually. This is the same in the professional world, where many missed deadlines don’t have real world effects, beyond annoying someone. (Consider, for example, how infrequently academics hit writing and editing deadlines!)

Don’t tell my students, but the secret of deadlines is that most of them don’t actually matter

That is not the case in this class. Editors need work to complete projects, and the class moves quickly because there is lots to do.

“These deadlines,” I say, motioning at the syllabus exaggeratedly. “Do matter. Because they impact someone that isn’t the teacher.”

The students nod seriously. And then several students submit their work late. Which: sighs.

The missed deadlines are throwing some roadblocks in the class, which is making extra work for me.

At the same time, as semester rolls onward, there does seem to be progress.

On this last round of assignments, I had more than one student commit to submitting work to their peers but ask me for an extension in terms of my evaluation of that work. This suggests that they are beginning to be able to differentiate between different types of deadlines.

So, even though its rockier than I’d like, perhaps allowing students to experience practical—rather than evaluative—effects of missing due dates is contributing to their learning.

And it leaves me wondering if building in practical dimensions to work submission might better support students writing processes more generally.

As per usual, any thoughts on how you handle deadlines are most welcome!

Self-Doubt Sneaks Into the Classroom

As I was teaching yesterday, I glanced out the window and noticed snow falling from the sky.

“Something winter this way comes,” I announced to my class. They looked out the window with end-of-term-tired eyes and nodded.

The first snow of winter fell while Kelsey was teaching, which was surely some kind of metaphor.

I took the pause to check the little clock on the corner of my computer screen: still over an hour left. Would my plan for the rest of the class be enough to fill the time? I flicked through my lecture notes and performed imaginary math in my head: short lecture plus group activity plus class-wide conversation equals ….

Then, I noticed the students looking at me expectantly: the burst of wonder of the first snowfall had worn off. I dropped the math and picked up the lecture.

Time: ever the menace.

This is not the only time that I’ve got myself calculating time this semester. This fall, more than any other, I’ve found myself haunted by the ghost of teaching near-future. “Are you ready for class?” she whispers nervously. “Are you sure you have enough material?”

I’m not a teaching veteran like Kim. But, I’m not new anymore either. Why am I pestered by these thoughts now?

“It’s because you’re a little out of field,” I’ve told myself. Which is true. Even though I’m very qualified for my current course load, I haven’t taught in some of these subject areas in years. And, sure, I taught all of my current courses on zoom last year. But, this year is different: I’m in person; the time slots are longer, and there are LIVE HUMANS in front of me.

For most of the fall, this was my answer. But, as I asked myself this question after the first snow of winter, another thought crossed my mind: it’s because you’re scared of being found out.


Even in scrabble, it feels like doubt should have a higher word score.

I have been around long enough to know: that’s the voice of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome—the nagging feeling of doubting capacity and feeling like a fraud at work—has become something of a buzz word in the last ten years. And, its worthwhile to think critically about the term.

As Ruchika Tulshy and Jodi-Ann Burey argue, “imposter syndrome” is often used in relation to women and people of colour. The reasons for this, the authors suggest, are largely systemic and the solutions, therefore, should also target systems and structures.

Nevertheless, the concept helped me identify a specific kind of doubt, one that crept unnoticed into my pscyhe. And, it’s the unnoticed part that I find the most discomforting. Because, as a rule, my inner narrator is positive or neutral. Sure, I can lapse when I’m stressed but generally my conscious thoughts are constructive.

So, rather than thinking “I’m not capable of doing this” or “I’m a fraud,” I’ve been casually organizing a chunk of my teaching life – extra prep time, constant in-class stress – around feelings of fear and doubt.

My self-doubt, it turns out, is sneaky. She has burrowed beneath my conscious thoughts, where she can influence my actions

Self-doubt tip tip toeing into my body.

Which: of course! I KNOW that one of the most impactful manifestations of power is when it hides itself within bodies so that thoughts and actions appear naturalized. And even though I think and talk and teach about power and bodies all the time, I forgot that systems of power don’t only effect abstract bodies, they impact MY BODY.

The good news is, that, precisely because I teach and talk and think about power so frequently, I have a toolkit for counteracting power structures.

I’m currently working on re-orienting my actions and habits by resisting the urge to do more prep, by being okay with “not perfect” classes, by encouraging more participating from students. And, in doing a bit of digging, I found some of Kim’s old posts, which offer great insights (and some cross-temporal emotional companionship) on these subjects.

For our next post, we’ll feature one of these older posts.

In the meantime, I’m going to do a little searching, to see other not-so-helpful-feeling have burrowed their way into my actions so that I can do the work of promptly exhuming them.

Back to School: A Report from the Field

Most falls, “back to school” is an overused slogan used to sell pencils and autumn-toned sweaters. This year, it describes my actual teaching situation: I am back to teaching in-person in a classroom for the first time in nearly two years.

Returning to nursing school? Keys to success - American Nurse Today
“Back to school” means back to in-person for Kelsey this year.

I cannot say that the transition back into a classroom was entirely smooth. A perfect storm of seasonal allergies, some acid reflux, a cold, and projecting my voice in front of A GROUP OF CO-PRESENT HUMANS resulted in me losing my voice. Like truly: no voice. Given that I’ve been speaking nearly continuously since I uttered my first word (“dog,” much to my mother’s chagrin), the no voice thing was a shock to my system.

Other than my voice-loss, however, in-person teaching went relatively well. Below, I detail some of my observations from the first few weeks back.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Before last week, I hadn’t been in a room with 70 people (the size of my largest class) since March 2020. I had anticipated that being around so many people might be a bit discombobulating. And, it was … for about three minutes.

Then, everything promptly felt very normal. This was representative of my experience overall the first two weeks. Yes, the students were adjusting to being back in a classroom, but, overall, they were keen to listen, ask questions, and engage. The lessons flowed, more or less, according to plan. Not one projector worked how it was supposed to.

Teaching 2021: the apex of hand sanitizer stations.

Indeed, other than the masks and the sheer volume of available hand sanitizer, I found that teaching in-person in 2021 felt very similar to teaching in person in 2019.

Some teaching strategies are more easily executed in-person

I appreciate the many digital tools available for various forms of group work and collaboration. I also know that online, hybrid, and blended teaching models have lots to offer and are here to stay. But I’m going to come out and say it: some things are easier and better in person.

Group discussions are significantly easier to prompt and manage. Small group activities, particularly those involving props, work better in-person. And class management — being able to assess how long students need to complete an activity; being able look out and see confused or bored faces; being able to notice a student’s raised hand mid-lecture — is, quite simply, much easier.

I will say, however, I miss zoom’s help with names. Having each student’s name permanently attached to their sternum (or wherever the bottom of their zoom frame lands) is really very helpful!

Students raising actual, rather than virtual, hands in class? What a thrill!

What you think about modes of delivery is strongly influenced by your own personal circumstances

Three years ago, if you’d asked a random professor, student, or administrator what they thought about hybrid, online, and blended teaching delivery options, you would probably have been met with a shrug or a blank stare.

Today, everyone has an opinion on modes of delivery. And I’m finding that most people’s opinions are based on their individual circumstances.

Students who work full time tend to prefer hybrid, online, and blended models. As do students and faculty with heavy care responsibilities or extended commutes to work. Folks who live near campus, have been isolated for much of the last eighteen-months, or identify as extroverts, on the other hand, tend to appreciate in-person classes.

Opinions on delivery models tend to stem from the deeply personal.

The fact that people prefer models that fit their own needs isn’t revelatory, of course.

But, I do think it’s noteworthy a lot of the arguments for and against different delivery models begin from the individual and extend to the collective rather than the other way around.

And, I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little worried about this trend. Of course, personal experience connects individuals to communities. But, also, what’s best my life isn’t a good gauge for assessing teaching and learning strategies more broadly. I’m hoping that as the Fall speeds along, the conversation might begin to change to focus on collectives and communities.

Systems are still very good at incorporating change into their frames

I teach three classes a week: one Tuesday, one Thursday, one Friday. I began to lose my voice after the Tuesday class. I was hoping that it would come back before Thursday, but it was not to be. So, Thursday morning, I made the decision to move my first class to zoom, where my students could turn up the volume on their devices and I wouldn’t be tempted to shout. This was, I thought, an upside to pandemic teaching: more flexibility and accommodation options, for both students and teachers.

Proving the perseverance of my optimism, I again hoped my voice would be better Friday morning. It was not. In fact, it was worse. I had to strain to speak, and even then, the sounds were thin and squeaky.

I debated whether to cancel the class. But, I hadn’t given the students much notice and cancelling when I could zoom felt like poor form. Also, I was once a fairly high level athlete who was told by many a coach to “tough it out” and play through illness and so I’m very bad at taking sick days. And, you know, I’m in a limited term appointment and am not super keen to draw attention to myself for cancelling last minute. So, I decided to hold the class on zoom.

My voice barely made it to the end. And, even though I drank my weight in honey-lemon tea and refrained from talking for the weekend, my voice was still hoarse the following Tuesday.

It's all about Sick Time.” - Cardinal Services
Sometimes, taking a day off is important.

The truth is: teaching on Friday made my voice worse, and I should have cancelled class.

This made me aware how easily systems adapt to integrate new tools and strategies into their logics. On the one hand, online teaching can create flexibility and accommodation for individuals. On the other hand, it can also discourage folks from taking days off because you can zoom-in from almost any circumstance, can’t you? But, not taking sick days serves the logic of the institution. Rest and healing are required for the health and wellness of students and teachers, as humans.

Despite the voice debacle, I’d say my first two weeks back in a classroom were good. And, they also helped me identify that I’d like to direct some of my activist teaching energy toward the systems that are shaping the “new normal in teaching” in, and after, the era of covid.

The Labour of Kindness

AC Readers, the unthinkable has happened: We have made it to December 2020! Theoretically, I knew this was possible. Likely even. But, practically? Practically, I wasn’t so sure. And yet: here we are. Go team! And also: Let’s collectively commit to collapsing when the marking is done, shall we?

Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek collapses on a bed. She is all of us.

In the meantime, I had something happen last week that made me think about kindness and pedagogy.

Two weeks ago, my wallet vanished. I first noticed its absence on a midday work break walk. I reached my hand into my coat pocket, where it usually hangs out, but it wasn’t there.

“It’s probably in the apartment,” I thought. And then I forgot that thought because: 1. 2020 and 2. I had to teach right after my walk.

Later that night I went out to get ice cream (see: 1.) but was foiled: no wallet. I searched the apartment. It was not in any of the obvious places. Nor was it in any of the not-so-obvious places (why I thought I might have put it in the oven, I know not). After some deep reflection, I deduced that I’d lost it and/or it had been stolen, or on my way home from a nearby bakery.

This was deeply annoying and a huge hassle. But, after having my wallet stolen during my week-long compressive exams (thanks, world), I knew what to do. I cancelled the cards and then proceeded to have a short meltdown.

Actual footage of me in my wallet metldown.

Four days later, I accidentally stumbled upon a Facebook message from a stranger in my inbox (in the rarely checked “new message requests folder”). A human being had found my wallet! I replied to her message instantly. The next day, she messaged back. Having not gotten a hold of me, she dropped it at our local police station. An hour later, I visited the station and got it back – all money, cards, and crumpled receipts still there.

Faith in humanity: restored!

And I can’t help but think about all the steps she had to take to make this happen. This woman, a complete stranger, found my wallet on the street. She picked it up (in the middle of a pandemic), looked at the cards, searched me out on the Internet, wrote me a message in my first language (which was not her first language), and then when I didn’t reply right away she physically brought my wallet to the police station.

Her actions reminded that we often frame kindness as a moral act (it is the good or right thing to do) but forget the labour of kindness.

This thought has haunted my last few weeks of teaching.

Fall 2020 has been a kind of call to kindness in colleges and universities across Canada (where I’m currently teaching). Teachers have asked for kindness and understanding as we struggle to figure out technology and navigate online, blended, and in-person models on the fly. Students, drowning in the changes, are practically begging for kindness as they struggle with a truly weird and hard semester. Institutions are dolling out compassion and kindness in extended winter breaks and various student concessions. (Or so the email titles and headlines tell me.)

But what does kindness look like, exactly?

Certainly, flexibility and concession can be kindness. But they aren’t always. Let’s take a benign example: the deadline extension.

I’ve offered course deadline extensions this semester and in the past. And it’s usually met with sighs of relief from my students. But course-wide extensions (as opposed to individual concessions) can be unkind for the students who managed their time well or who consciously prioritized my class over another class or life responsibility. They can be uncharitable to students who have less wiggle room to miss the deadline near grade submission time. They can be unhelpful if they extend an assignment over a holiday break, meaning the students risk not taking time off.

Sometimes, actions that appear kind actually redistribute labour: by extending a deadline, I take the labour of setting and holding an expectation (first conceived during course planning and then performed in the class itself) and transfer planning and scheduling work onto the students.

The same is true, but even more amplified, at a structural level. I’m glad that post-secondary institutions are trying to support the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of staff, faculty, and students through concessions and extended holidays. Especially this year. Yet, I can’t help but feel it would have been kinder to make these decisions earlier. Could the winter break have been extended in the summer, as part of the planning for the year? Could concession policies have been integrated from the outset of the semester, at an institutional level? Would this, perhaps, have intervened in stress and crisis in advance of onset, thereby lessening their impacts?

To be clear, I think the fact institutions are acknowledging mental and emotional health is a good step. And remaining flexible and adaptable is the ethical, and kind, move in the circumstances.

But there is something to be learned from the fall semester: sometimes being kind is located in taking on, holding, and performing work.

As I begin to prep for my winter term courses, I’m actively brainstorming strategies to hold and perform the labour of being kind by doing the work in advance. Here are some ideas I’ve brainstormed so far:

  • More “choose between these two deadline” type scenarios, where students can meet the learning objectives of submitting assignments on-time while also selecting scheduling that best suits the broader parameters of their lives.
  • Deadlines with built in wiggle rooms (in the form of “late tokens” for example).
  • More in-class time to work on final projects, supporting the meeting of deadlines.
  • More advocacy for course-wide “off-ramp” options for students that are in crisis (such as an option to not write a final paper or exam but with the caveat of a maximum possible grade, for instance).

I will keep brainstorming, and update as is fit.

In the meantime, I hope everyone experiences the labour of someone else’s kindness, as I did with my wallet – now safely back in my pocket.