Tis the season, for me at least, of haunted houses and scary movies. I like to engage in what psychologists have recently termed recreational fear. This is the fun of being scared. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Sarah Rose Cavanagh applies this research to the classroom. She argues that there are four pedagogical lessons we can learn from haunted houses.
We never go into haunted houses alone. In times of anxiety and threat we tend to find safety in others. The same holds for the anxiety produced in learning environments. Creating collaboration opportunities with classmates and communal class environments can enhance learning.
Pleasurable arousal happens when we are scared, but not too scared. Cavanagh calls this “pleasurable disquietude,” and it's the appropriately uncomfortable spaces in our classrooms and disciplines that allow students to progress to the next level in their learning.
Fear and motivation have physiological similarities. As instructors we can harness student anxiety to move them forward and deepen their learning.
Finally, we grow stronger by facing our fears. Students must confront challenges in the classroom in order to grow. So instructors need to provide appropriate challenges for them.
Cavanagh provides some nice examples of what this might look like in our classrooms. Teach well, and enjoy spooky season!
Devon Price, a social psychologist (they are the best!) and author of the book, Laziness Does Not Exist, reminds us that we don’t have to “earn our right to exist. We're fine and beautiful and completely lovable when we're just sitting on the couch just breathing.”
This quote made me think of my colleagues (and students) who are doing some heavy lifting post-Hurricane Ida and in Surge 4 COVID to keep up with their courses, advise their students, and be insightful in committee meetings. It’s a lot, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of “if I am not working this very moment, I am not _________ (successful/effective/professional/committed/worthy). You fill in the blank. But that kind of thinking leads to burnout (or as I describe in a previous post of mine, job-related depression).
In fact, Price argues that feeling “lazy” shouldn’t always be viewed as a deficit; instead, it might be your body telling you that you need a break!
So find time to do just that. Take a break, slow down, enjoy some nature, savor some you-time. Do this to model it for colleagues who look up to you. Do this to model it for your students (who feel like they aren’t really studious unless they are stressed out). Do this for your friends and families who care about you. But mainly, do it for yourself.
NPR’s Life Kit has some good information about avoiding burnout and other topics related to well-being. I highly recommend you check it out. You can subscribe and get their newsletter delivered right to your inbox.
Even in a typical academic year (which this one was not) we tend to burn our candle at both ends as we work our way from August toward graduation. I don’t know if you have felt it, but I have certainly felt the increased pressure of keeping up the past few weeks—letters of recommendation, student advising, and wrapping up goals for the academic year have all made demands on my time.
Burnout, a concept studied psychologist Christina Maslach since the 1970s, doesn’t just mean we are overwhelmed and exhausted (though exhaustion is at the core). It also includes becoming cynical about our work, which in higher ed can lead to "phoning it in" to our classes, complaining about our students or colleagues, and disengaging from our institutional missions. (Salvagioni and colleagues provide a thorough, empirical review of the physical and psychological consequences of burnout.)
However, there is recent evidence that what we have called burnout might actually be a form of job-related depression. In a meta-analysis, Renzo Bianchi (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland) and colleagues looked at evidence from from 12,417 participants in six countries and found that characteristics of burnout were more strongly associated with depression than they were with each other. The implications of this data? Burnout is something that both institutions and faculty should take seriously.
If you are feeling physical or emotional exhaustion or cynicism, I encourage you, in these last fews weeks of the semester, to engage in some of the following that work for you.
Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits.
Give yourself permission to invest in you own good health. Yeah, you have a lot to do, but none of that work is going to get done if you are too ill to do it.
Balance work and play.
Be sure you have downtime and take breaks to do things you find truly joyful. In the academy our work is never truly "done." It's up to us to set some boundaries.
Take a daily break from technology. Need I say more about this? Take some time each day to completely disconnect and perhaps even look at a tree.
A conversation between Lisa Schulte-Gipson and Elizabeth Yost Hammer on teaching, learning, and resilience.
Lisa received her BS from Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA). She attended SUNY Albany where she earned both her MA and PhD in Social/Personality Psychology.
Lisa has worked at Xavier University since 1993 and she is the Keller Family Foundation Professor of Arts and Sciences.
Throughout her tenure at Xavier she has served both the University and Department in many capacities, currently serving as Chair of the Psychology Department and as the Faculty in Residence for Service Learning at CAT+FD
Her current research focuses on both the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and positive psychology (specifically as related to enhancing well-being among students).
Elizabeth Yost Hammer is the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development and a Kellogg Professor in Teaching in the Psychology Department. She received her Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Tulane University.
A conversation between David Kreiner (University of Central Missouri) and Elizabeth Yost Hammer (XULA) on the science of time.
David Kreiner is Chair of the School of Nutrition, Kinesiology, and Psychological Science at the University of Central Missouri, where he has been on the faculty since 1990. He completed a B.A. in Psychology and Ph.D. in Human Experimental Psychology at the University of Texas-Austin. He teaches courses in General Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, and Advanced Statistics. Research interests include cognitive psychology, particularly in language processing and memory, as well as scholarship on the teaching of psychology. He often collaborates with students on research projects and has co-authored publications and conference presentations with undergraduate and graduate students.
Elizabeth Yost Hammer is the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and a Kellogg Professor in Teaching in the Psychology Department. She received her Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Tulane University. She regularly teaches Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, and Freshman Seminar. Her research interests focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and she has contributed chapters to several books intended to enhance teaching preparation including The Handbook of the Teaching of Psychology. She is a co-author of the textbook, Psychology Applied to Modern Life. Dr. Hammer is a past-president of Psi Chi (the International Honor Society in Psychology), and served as Chief Reader for Advanced Placement Psychology. Her work in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching includes organizing pedagogical workshops and faculty development initiatives. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, and the Professional and Organizational Developers Network.
Following up on our workshop from last semester, Jeffrey Davis has an interesting take on time management in Psychology Today.
The more you shape time in ways that are flexible and artful instead of rigid and managerial, the more your mind actually looks forward to certain times of day, certain Mind Time Zones. Your experience of time shifts. Your experience of your mind shifts.
But what's the science behind the hype? After scrounging though these articles for data (without success) I went to the presumed source, Tracy Alloway's personal website. Unfortunately the only reference there to either Twitter or Facebook seems to be a collection of links, which point to the articles cited above.
At this point I'm beginning to feel like I'm running in circles.