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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2020)

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Leveraging Teaching and Learning to Cultivate Resilience in Challenging Times

By Katie Linder, Kansas State University 

Figure 1.  Pathway through Misty Woods 

Those teaching in higher education are facing unprecedented challenges in 2020. Moving courses online at a moment's notice, responding to a range of student technology needs, dealing with the distraction and requirements of a public health crisis for ourselves and our students, and engaging with social justice efforts are just some of the activities that required more of our time and attention in the last several months.

It is hard to pause in the midst of all of this change. Higher education seems to be evolving under our feet, and there is a sense that if we stop, we will fall behind. We are right in the middle of something that has not slowed down and seems to only ramp up as the fall term gets closer. Instructors, administrators, and students are all running to keep up with a train that left the station at warp speed.

Figure 2.  Clock at 3:25 

And yet, during this time of immense change, it is important to stay connected to our motivations for why we do what we do. We need to understand how our values are reflected in the actions that we are taking, and how what we choose to prioritize aligns with a broader understanding of how we are sharing our gifts and talents.

Taking time to reflect on the deeper meaning behind our actions also has the benefit of strengthening our capacity for resilience so that we can stay motivated to keep going in challenging times.

Resilience is our ability to mentally, physically, and emotionally renew ourselves during and after difficult or traumatic experiences. It is the ability to shift from an alert, on-guard response to a calmed, cohesive state. Resilience is also the capacity to transition from a perspective of immediate survival to a forward-thinking and positive imagination for the future. Resilience allows for both safety and connection to be re-established after those things have been removed or threatened.

We are now in a time where we need resilience more than ever. To help you and your students engage in this resilience development, here are three activities to consider:

A Moment to Reflect

Figure 3. Reflection in Nature 

First, take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself the following:

  • As you think about your own COVID-19 coping experiences, what are some of the resilience mechanisms that you have turned to?
  • What are some of the resilience mechanisms that your students have turned to?

We all have natural resilience coping mechanisms that we turn to in times of stress. These might include a connection to nature, spirituality or religion, art and music, creativity, relationships with humans or animals, or our ability to help others.
  • Thinking about your experiences in the last several months, what has been the most helpful for you? 
  • What have you heard from your students has been the most helpful for them?
Next, you can ask yourself to think about any silver linings that have come out of this experience for you. 

  • In particular, what are one or more takeaways that you have from the last several months related to your professional identities and/or skills? 
  • What are one or more takeaways that you have from the last two months related to your personal identities and/or relationships?

Consider talking through these takeaways with a friend or family member and seeing what kind of response they have to these questions. You can also use these questions in the classroom to help your students reflect on their experiences to build resilience.

Trauma-Informed Pedagogy and Values-led Education

Figure 4.  Laptop, Smart Phone, Pens, and Sticky Notepad

Second, explore trauma-informed pedagogy and values-led education. Trauma-informed pedagogy offers a focus on healing and the validation of ours and our students’ lived experience. There are a number of strategies that create this focus including the following:
  • Developing a sense of safety through an emphasis on predictability and structure;
  • Cultivating trustworthiness and transparency through consistent and frequent communication;
  • Providing opportunities for peer support through the ability to connect with peers and you as the instructor in multiple ways;
  • Offering opportunities for collaboration and mutuality through a focus on relationship-building and care; and
  • Allowing for empowerment and choice through giving students a range of ways that help make learning meaningful through independence and autonomy.
All of these actions help to create a more values-led educational experience. By asking students what they value, and then integrating what they value into their educational experiences, we help students to make purposeful connections between their values and what they are learning.

Of course, this kind of environment also helps us to make purposeful connections between our values and what we are teaching and researching.

Taking a moment to reflect on our values that connect to our work and education can help our students (and us) to:
  • Be motivated when we experience a challenge;
  • Prioritize teaching and learning in relation to other responsibilities and obligations;
  • Make decisions about how to pursue teaching and learning (i.e. choosing a major, choosing a modality, etc.); and
  • Feel confident about what to do with what we are learning through our present and past experiences.

It is highly likely that you are already practicing many of these principles in your classroom already. When you think about trauma-informed and values-led educational principles, what are you already practicing in your classroom that aligns with these ideas? What do you want to implement more?

Questioning your Mindset 

Figure 5.  Bookshelf of Books 

Third, question your mindset. Mindsets are established sets of attitudes and beliefs that shape our thoughts, actions, and feelings. Many of us have encountered the literature on growth and fixed mindsets, but there are a lot of other kinds of mindsets that our students (and us) may be bringing into the classroom.

Mindsets are built on assumptions, or when we take an unproven thought and decide that it is true. Assumptions can also be things that we take for granted. Assumptions are important to explore because they often impact our perspectives and the actions that we take.

Especially now, when many of us are challenging to incorporate new technologies, new forms of engagement, new assessment practices, and new ways of communicating and forming communities with our students, we may find ourselves with some limiting mindsets about our situations.

Take a moment and consider some examples of mindsets (assumptions, attitudes or beliefs that shape actions) that you see in your classroom. What mindsets are you used to encountering the classroom? What new mindsets have you encountered in recent months? What mindsets are your students bringing? What mindsets are you bringing?

Here is a simple activity to help you and your students to explore your positive and negative assumptions:

Choose a negative assumption that you have about yourself or your current situation. Then, do the following:

  • Explore the perspectives that arise from that assumption.
  • Write a list of the actions (or lack of action) that would be taken from that perspective.
  • Note the results that would come from those actions.
  • How would those results reinforce the original assumption?

Now, choose a positive assumption that you have about yourself or your current situation. Then, do the following:

  • Explore the perspectives that arise from that assumption.
  • Write a list of the actions (or lack of action) that would be taken from that perspective.
  • Note the results that would come from those actions.
  • How would those results reinforce the original assumption?
  • How do your actions and results change when positive assumptions are in place?

This kind of activity can help students to identify mindsets that they might be experiencing and explore their assumptions. They may also be able to shift their mindset by identifying assumptions they might be making that are negatively impacting their actions. This shift in mindset can lead to a change their actions, which may result in them experiencing better results with a new mindset.


Each of the above activities serve as starting points for students to heal and share their experiences during and after difficult experiences. They allow us to design environments that are caring and community-focused. They offer students ways to connect their larger values to what they are learning so that they are motivated to keep going. And, hopefully, they provide opportunities for more and deeper connections between your students, their peers, and you as their instructor.

About the Author 

Dr. Katie Linder serves as the executive director for program development at Kansas State University Global Campus.

Her email is  
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