Back to Campus Pandemic Teaching
TAPP Radio Episode 73
Episode | Quick Take
Host Kevin Patton uses the analogy of circus animals adapting to new or misplaced props to help him prepare to move courses back to campus. A lesson on resilience is just what we need right now. Book Club: Southwick & Charney’s Resilience book.
- 00:54 | Back to Campus Pandemic Teaching
- 21:51 | Sponsored by AAA
- 22:41 | Resilience
- 30:51 | Sponsored by HAPI
- 31:55 | Book Club: Resilience
- 34:13 | Sponsored by HAPS
- 35:02 | Staying Connected
Episode | Listen Now
Episode | Show Notes
More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. (Steven M. Southwick & Dennis S. Charney)
Back to Campus Pandemic Teaching
Kevin uses his experience as a wild animal trainer in introducing sea lions, lions, and tigers to new furniture, props, and behavior as an analogy for how to get used to the new “pandemic teaching” environment as we return to campus. And, perhaps more importantly, how to get our students comfortable in the changed campus environment.
- Check out the Stealth board at: amzn.to/2X4Q3FI
Sponsored by AAA
A searchable transcript for this episode, as well as the captioned audiogram of this episode, are sponsored by the American Association for Anatomy (AAA) at anatomy.org.
Don’t forget—HAPS members get a deep discount on AAA membership!
Resilience is something on our minds these days, right? Kevin discusses and article outlining research in what helps us build resilience—and how we can help our students build resilience.
- What Makes Some People More Resilient Than Others (newspaper article) my-ap.us/2COBkIt
Sponsored by HAPI Online Graduate Program
The Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction—the MS-HAPI—is a graduate program for A&P teachers, especially for those who already have a graduate/professional degree. A combination of science courses (enough to qualify you to teach at the college level) and courses in contemporary instructional practice, this program helps you be your best in both on-campus and remote teaching. Kevin Patton is a faculty member in this program. Check it out!
- Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges
- by Steven M. Southwick & Dennis S. Charney
- For the complete list (and more) go to theAPprofessor.org/BookClub
- Special opportunity
- Contribute YOUR book recommendation for A&P teachers!
- Be sure include your reasons for recommending it
- Any contribution used will receive a $25 gift certificate
- The best contribution is one that you have recorded in your own voice (or in a voicemail at 1-833-LION-DEN)
- Contribute YOUR book recommendation for A&P teachers!
- For the complete list (and more) go to theAPprofessor.org/BookClub
Sponsored by HAPS
The Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS) is a sponsor of this podcast. You can help appreciate their support by clicking the link below and checking out the many resources and benefits found there. Watch for virtual town hall meetings and upcoming regional meetings!
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Episode | Transcript
The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music. Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the audio player provided.
This searchable transcript is supported by the
American Association for Anatomy.
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In their book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, the authors Southwick and Charney wrote, “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.”
Welcome to The A&P Professor a few minutes to focus on teaching Human Anatomy & Physiology with a veteran educator and teaching mentor. Your host, Kevin Patton.
In this episode I talk about returning to campus teaching, building resilience, and I have a new book club pick. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you know that I’ve been talking about ways to be effective in pandemic teaching since well, this last spring, from even before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. And before all the schools around us started being closed down as a public health strategy. Well, now we’re entering a different phase, which calls for yet another quick on our feet switch in our mode of operation, and yet another set of skills that we have to learn, and a new set of practices that we should adopt. It’s sort of like having to suddenly learn how to juggle five balls at once.
And now that we kind of have the hang of that, we need to switch to juggling three kittens and two flaming clubs, without hurting the kittens or ourselves or burning everything down around us. That new phase is what I call the, we’re moving-classes-back-to-campus-but-not-like-you-used-to-but-maybe-only-sometimes-but-definitely-moving-back-but-wait-the-numbers-are-getting-worse-so-we’re-not-going-to-tell-you-anything-for-sure-until-the-day-before-the-term-starts-but-don’t-count-on-anything-really phase. Or for short, the no-clue-what-to-do-phase. What the fall is going to look like as far as our teaching goes, has been on your mind, I know, and even on mine, and I’m not even scheduled for a class on campus for this academic year.
Having mulled this over for a bit, how I’d handle a return to campus…
something really hit me this morning that put things into a new perspective for me. But like many of my thoughts, it came to me in a really odd way. Every morning, before I do my daily Tai Chi forms, I do a variation of the plank exercise that involves in my case balancing on something called a stealth board, which is sort of like a little boogie board on top of a ball and socket joint.
So when I walked outside on this hot and muggy morning, I laid out the hot pink yoga mat that I inherited from my daughter, whose voice you heard at the beginning of this podcast. And I put my bright yellow stealth board in just the right position on top of that hot pink yoga mat. And then I set my red stripes Tai-Chi stuff up against the wall where it usually goes, and my mind suddenly went back to my morning routine back in the late 70s, at least during the summers. Back then I was an assistant sea lion trainer and it was my job to make sure all the brightly colored props and seats for the sea lion show were all set in their place just so.
So that bright, yellow and pink reminded me of that, because remember this was the late 70s and everything was brightly colored back then. As I also learned later in working with other wild animals, such as lions and tigers. If you don’t set all the furniture and other props in their usual place, exactly in their usual place, pandemonium could result and both animals and people could get hurt or even killed.
So it turns out that setting props is important. And then, now just bear with me for a minute, I know this is weird. That got me to thinking about how our classrooms are set up and that all the seats and other props in our classroom are going to be way different. How we enter and exit is going to be different. How we move and act while teaching has to be different. What we wear is going to be different. I know a tiger trainer who was killed when he wore a new costume into a performance without having first introduced it to his tigers. They freaked out and a tragedy resulted. I’ve had bad things happen myself when something was out of place by just a little bit. Animals often get used to a routine, and if you don’t introduce changes without a careful plan, then they can get confused.
And like we do sometimes when they get confused, that can turn into frustration, which can turn into anger and lashing out. Now we’ve seen anger and lashing out when people are asked to do things differently as they go out and about in society, right? So we know that happens with people too. And you know what? I don’t think confusion, disorientation, anger, and lashing out are going to be good for teaching or for learning. I’m thinking it could be way worse than Zoom fatigue that we’ve been dealing with already. As I’ve often said, “All I really need to know as a teacher, I learned as a lion tamer.” And pandemic teaching on campus is probably no exception.
Yeah, people and sea lions and lions are all different kinds of creatures, but there are a lot of similarities too. So even though environmental changes may affect a sea lion or a lion more than it does a college student, both feel some effects, at least some of us do. And of course each to a different degree. So what did I learn from working with wild animals that we can use to help our students and ourselves transition to whatever we end up doing in our classrooms whenever we actually do get back there? Well, first I learned that it all starts with empathy. Now, the thing about empathy that identifying with and understanding the feelings of others is that empathy can’t truly happen until we realize that another’s attitudes and feelings are not the same as ours. When working with animals a common, but sometimes fatal mistake, is thinking that their minds and emotions work just like ours.
Not only are sea lions different then lions, which are different then tigers. This sea lion is different then that sea lion, way different. As a teacher, I often catch myself looking at a particular student’s behavior as if they think and feel like I do. That they’ve had the same experiences and hold the same values that I do, that their brain is wired exactly like mine and processes information just as mine does. And that’s simply and frantically not true. None of us are the same as anyone other person. Before I started working with sea lions, or lions, or later elephants or any animal, I learned as much as I could about them ahead of time. Not just their known characteristics, but what other wild animal handlers had experienced with that kind of animal, or even with that specific animal if they had known that animal. And which strategies work and which strategies probably don’t work.
So I need to do that with my teaching. I need to find out about all the different challenges that my diverse students face. I need to know the teaching strategies, social strategies, and safety strategies that are likely to work. I need to be prepared way ahead of time with that and keep learning as I continue until I can truly have that deep and informed empathy. Helping my students cope with a very different classroom environment, it just isn’t going to go very far. Another thing I learned while working with wild animals is that besides empathy, we need compassion. Empathizing with a student, trying to understand or at least accept their feelings and attitudes only gets us so far if we don’t take that next important step toward compassion. Compassion has many aspects. But what I’m talking about here is that aspect of compassion that is, I don’t know, a sort of kindness or love that wants to lessen the suffering of others.
I think pandemic teaching in general, but pandemic teaching on campus in particular is going to really test the limits of my compassion for students. I’m going to be suffering in my new environment if I get there. Straining to be heard through my mask and put in a lot of energy into hearing student questions through their masks and around the plexiglass. And from a distance it’s going to take a lot of fortitude to move past that and be compassionate with my students. A lot of people think that the role of an animal trainer is to assert dominance over animals, to make them behave in certain ways. That’s not what effective animal trainers do really. What they do in real life is use empathy and compassion to connect with their animals. And that bond leads to changes in behavior in both the trainer and the animals. The same thing is true of teaching I think.
Some folks think it’s a matter of asserting dominance and laying out expected behaviors and trying to make it all happen smoothly, but that’s not likely to happen, because that approach just isn’t effective. What’s effective is building a culture of empathy and compassion and trust. Perhaps if we try to think about that, every minute of every class period we’ll do okay. Maybe thinking about that is better than thinking about how uncomfortable our mask is. It’ll get our mind off of the discomfort. It’ll get our mind off the unpleasantness and it’ll keep bringing us back if we consciously do that, if we think about trying to be empathetic and compassionate and gendering trust. Yet another thing that I learned as a lion tamer is that you really don’t want to go into an enclosure with a lion you don’t know. Because that means they don’t know you either.
And they don’t know whether you’re here to help them or to harm them, whether you want to play or you want to fight. So a lot of time is spent over the days and weeks before you go in with a new animal, using that empathy and trust to let the animal know that you want to help, that you want to play, not fight. You have to build trust. I think we can do that with our students. We can do that by reaching out to them by email or some other way before the class starts to let them know that you see yourself as a helper, to let them know that no matter what, you’re on their side.
To help them using your experience and judgment and being honest in a way that builds trust. But being empathetic and compassionate with a lion and even gaining its trust by trying to connect through empathy and compassion, never harming it and providing for its needs, isn’t going to stop the line from attacking you in frustration when everything goes topsy-turvy. Or even when you simply ask it to do something a little bit different from what you’ve done before.
The next thing that I learned as a wild animal trainer is that new props, new positions of props, new clothing, new behaviors, really new anything means to be introduced carefully. One thing we often did was to put that new thing just outside the practice or performance arena, or maybe just inside it, and then we’d let the animals sniff around and explore and maybe even play with it. Sometimes it took a long time for an animal to tolerate and then accept that new thing. Sometimes the animal quickly grabbed it and began playing with it or sitting on top of it or trying to chew it up or whatever. And sometimes one animal would back off the new thing while her sister would just run right over to it and play with it.
But the thing is, we were careful with the introduction, taking our cues from the animals, but we don’t have that luxury of planning out the introduction to a new campus environment. First of all, we’re not the lion tamers in that situation, not that part of the situation. In that case we’re the lions. Our lion den has been all rearranged for us. So the first step for us is to slowly introduce ourselves to our new classroom environment, not just waltz in the first day of class to discover things for the first time. If I’m in that situation I think what I’ll do is spend as much time as I can in my classroom, walking through every step I plan to take during a live class session. Any step I’m going to have to think it through. Maybe I’m going to play with the sanitizer dispenser so I get used to it. So I’m comfortable with it. So it’s not some new thing that I struggle with or I’m awkward with.
Of course I’m not going to chew on it like a lion would, but I am going to play around with it a little bit. I’m going to try my hand at sanitizing the surfaces I’d be expected to sanitize, figure out how long that’s going to take. I’d bring all my folders and clicker receiver, and other gear with me into that new classroom, or newly arranged classroom. I’d figure out how to use the media equipment and the whiteboard and the markers in this new condition. I’d see how far I can walk around when I lecture and when I discuss, and when I ask questions. For me, I often have to go all the way to a student to hear a question when they’re asking or the explanation that they’re offering. I’d have to work out how that’s going to work in this new environment.
And after I’m done doing that, I’d come back to that classroom and I’d do it again. Because I’ll not have played out all the possible scenarios, I’ll have thought of some more. And here’s another thing I learned as an animal trainer. And you may have heard this from me before. Practice, practice, practice. It’s going to be a mess, and quite possibly get someone very sick if we just walk in our newly upturned classroom without a lot of practice, practice, practice. Another thing I learned in lion taming is that it pays to plan for any possible scenario and also plan for impossible scenarios. Because when unexpected things happen, that’s not the best time to work out a good solution. Every lion tamer I know has action plans in place for the whole crew for different kinds of things that can happen. And when something unplanned happens, and I’ve experienced that more than once, one of those plans usually ends up being a good preparation for those weird events too.
So as we practice, practice, practice with our new classrooms, playing out some what if scenarios may not be a bad idea. What if there’s an earthquake? What if the tornado siren sounds? What are you going to do? What if a student throws up in class, or has a panic attack? That might happen, that one might be the very first thing on my what if list. Okay, so now it’s time for the lions, I mean, the students to come into our classroom. People often ask if I was scared being up close with lions, tigers, leopards, and other animals. And the short answer is, well yeah, sometimes, but mostly not. And that’s because I never got up close until I was prepared, well-practiced and already had a relationship with any animal that I approached. Apprehension about the worst case scenarios, or even just kind of bad scenarios, creates a fear of uncertainty that is not good for lion taming.
It’s not good for teaching. And our students who pick up that fear of uncertainty from us are going to find it doesn’t work for healthcare professionals either. So here come the lions, that is our students, into our arena of learning. Now here’s where we just hang out, let them practice with the sanitizer dispenser, let them check out the new sitting arrangement, let them ask questions, let them talk about how they feel in their new classroom. Tell them how you feel. Talk things through, don’t jump right into learning the content, just hang out for a while. Maybe a longer while than you usually do at the beginning of a new semester or a new part of a semester.
The reason it’s important to just hang loose for a while is to let everyone get used to the new situation. So let the anxiety subside a bit to increase the comfort level, to get used to the new furniture arrangement and the new props and the new behaviors. Because if we don’t, we’re going to experience greater stress than we need to. And our students may experience their anxiety too. And maybe things could escalate into panic or anger, or maybe things will just turn into shutting down the whole learning process. I’m thinking the best strategy is the lion taming strategy. That is starting with empathy, compassion, and trust building. And then a slow, slow, slow introduction to the new classroom environment and behaviors. And a lot practice, practice, practice before we start the actual learning of our course concepts. And then remember to keep that empathy, compassion, and trust building front and center at every moment, ready to stop everything and at a moment’s notice to support that student who needs it.
Or to gather our own self-support. In every class I teach online or on campus, I’ll do what I did during my animal training days. I’ll remind myself to savor the great adventure I’m experiencing. Even though there are elements of danger, moments of frustration, a lot of hard work and personal discomfort, the end result is that I’m doing good for my students and teaching A&P, I’m helping future health professionals who will eventually go to the front lines of healthcare to help even more people than I can imagine.
A searchable transcript and a captioned audiogram of this episode are funded by AAA, the American Association for Anatomy, who has a big curated list of anatomy education resources at anatomy.org. Just go to the resources tab and you’ll find it. You don’t have to be a member to access this directory. But you know, while you’re there, you might realize that being part of the AAA is what you want and what you need to support your professional role. And if you’re already a HAPS member, you can get a deep discount on AAA membership. So check it all out at anatomy.org.
I’m not as resilient as I’d like to be, but then I’m probably a little bit more resilient than I give myself credit for. But because I’d like to be more resilient during these times of great change, I’ve been keeping my eye out for things I can do to become more resilient, or bolster what resilience I’ve already managed to build. And I’d like to learn as much as I can about whether and how I can help my students build their own resilience. A few weeks ago I ran across an article in the New York Times by Eilene Zimmerman that I found to be really helpful. First of all, the article points out that we do not seem to have a certain amount of resilience built into us when we’re born. In other words, it’s not really a genetic trait exactly. It’s something that we use our genetic traits to build, or something that we don’t build.
The article also noted the research over the last 50 years has consistently pointed to the quality of our close personal relationships as a significant factor in determining how resilient we are. In this article she focused a lot on parents and other caregivers during our early years and how loved we feel in these relationships, goes a long way to build our resilience. But teachers too have a role in helping our students build resilience, not just preschool and K-12 teachers, but college faculty too. Experiences during the first 20 years of life seemed to be the most critical in building the skills that make up our character of resilience. And our undergraduate students are often in that age range. But even our older returning learners can benefit from feeling cared for and supported by us. It seems to me that if we overtly express our empathy, compassion, and love for our students and take meaningful steps to support them, it can have tremendous impact on student lives.
And that includes the kind of support they need to feel in order to weather bad times and tragic events and come out stronger on the other end. At this particularly stressful time, it may be more important than ever to be that supportive, loving person in the life of each of our students. What’s helped me with that is that in every interaction I have with students, I ask myself, “Am I responding in love?” And I also ask myself, “Am I being the kind of teacher I want to be?” There’s a lot in the article about ways to build resilience in ourselves too, it’s linked in the show notes and episode page. I’ll let you read it and think about it and see what you can take from it. But I don’t want to leave you just hanging there either. So here are a few things that the article lists as being common characteristics of highly resilient individuals. Things that I can focus on in my own life to help build resilience, and things I can perhaps model for students, perhaps consciously try to model for students, or encouraging students to help them build their own resilience.
So the first one is, have a realistic and positive attitude. This is the persona I try to adopt as a teacher already. I brought up the idea of our teaching persona many times in previous episodes. It’s those parts of our personality, character and demeanor that we want to bring to our teaching role and emphasize our focus on as we teach. So maybe if I keep focusing on being realistic and positive, it’ll help me and my students. Another characteristic of highly resilient people is they have a moral compass. That is, they have a highly developed sense of what’s good and right, and they use that to guide their actions. I think we can model that for our students when we explain why we value academic integrity so highly, and why that’s an important foundation for their professional ethics too. And why we’re careful to cite our sources and avoid plagiarism.
There are a lot of opportunities to model our moral compass and our use of our moral compass as we act as professionals with our students. Another thing is that people who are highly resilient also tend to believe in something greater than themselves. Whether it’s a religious belief, humanistic values and social ideals, some sort of spiritual life. If it guides their daily life, it can help them cope during difficult situations. I’m thinking that any emphasis that we can give to the greater good that will be served by our students as they work in their health professions or other careers, that can help them nurture their resilience, that can show them something greater than themselves that they can focus on and get comfort from. Not surprisingly I guess is that highly resilient people tend to be altruistic. You know, for our students their selflessness and concern for others may in some cases have been the reason that they first considered a health profession.
As I mentioned in a previous segment, I want to be that kind of teacher. And maybe I can do it in a way that helps model compassion for my students. Yet another characteristic of resilient people is that they tend to accept what they can’t change, and put their focus on what they can change. In other words, they look for the opportunities in difficult situations, rather than dwelling on and getting anxious about or frustrated with the aspects that aren’t in our control. I got to tell you, this is an especially hard one for me. I try though, I often fail, but I try. And I think if I keep trying, I’ll get better and better at it. Another thing about resilient people is that they’re part of a social support system. Besides family and friends I think being resilient as A&P teachers is enhanced by actively engaging in a professional network of other A&P teachers, not just to get support, but to give support.
That’s the value of a network for resilience. Happily we have a lot of options there. The American Association for Anatomy, AAA, and the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society, HAPS, are great networks to become engaged with. Not just sign up and send in your dues, but really engage and interact with people and build friendships. And there’s this podcast too. I’m here to support you. And I appreciate the support you’ve given me by sending in comments and recording book reviews and asking questions and telling other people about this podcast. Or about a particular episode, or about something that you learned while listening, or something that you don’t agree with and want to debate with somebody. That’s all supportive. When you call the podcast hotline, you benefit and I benefit, and at least a 1,000 other people will benefit. So let’s all learn to be resilient together, okay?
The free distribution of this podcast is sponsored by the Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction, the HAPI degree. As a faculty member in this program for many years, I’ve realized that our students end up with a continuing relationship with a close group of peers. For example, a few weeks ago I was invited to a Zoom meeting with some alumnus from a cohort that graduated years ago, but they still stay in touch and they still support one another. We need all the support networks we can get these days, right? Check out this online graduate program at nycc.edu/hapi. That’s H-A-P-I, or click the link in the show notes or episode page. There’s a new fall cohort forming right now, so you probably don’t want to miss the boat.
Well, I guess it’s no surprise, my new selection for The A&P Professor Book Club, there’s a book called Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. It’s written by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney. You know, as I prepared for my podcast segment on resilience, I kept running across this book, or sometimes just one or the other author everywhere I looked. So I said to myself, “Self, there must be something to this book.” So here I am in the virtual bookstore, looking at the description, the reviews, and even picking inside a bit.
And here’s what the publisher says about the book, “Resilience offers the ability to bounce back after encountering difficulty. This book provides a guide to building emotional, mental, and physical resilience by presenting 10 factors to help anyone become more resilient to life’s challenges. Specific resilience factors, such as facing fear, optimism and social support are described through the experiences and personal reflections of highly resilient survivors. These survivors also describe real life methods for practicing and benefiting from the resilience factors. As resilience is the complex product of genetics, psychological, biological, social, and spiritual factors, the authors investigate resilience from multiple scientific perspectives. They synthesize the latest literature on the topic and describe their own research on resilience and a quote from their interviews with highly resilient people.”
So yeah, I’m going to download it to my E-reader right now. If I can find the right button, let’s see. Uh-oh, I think that’s not the right button to download the e-book. Well, that’s okay, I’m resilient. I can handle this. I can handle this. Serenity now.
Marketing support for this podcast is provided by HAPS, the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society, promoting excellence in the teaching of human anatomy and physiology for over 30 years. There’s a whole series of virtual HAPS town hall meetings going on. Besides there being a lot to learn, it’s a great way to enjoy the resilience building benefits of having a network of support aligned with your teaching, your discipline and your optimistic but realistic attitude in the face of calamity. To find out more, go visit HAPS at theAPprofessor.org/haps, that’s H-A-P-S. You can find links to everything mentioned in this podcast in the show notes in your podcast app, or at the episode page at theAPprofessor.org/74. Hey, let’s keep our mutual support network going by calling in to the podcast hotline with your questions, your comments, your tips and ideas at 1-833-LION-DEN, that’s 1833-546-6336. Or send a recording or a written message to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll see you down the road.
The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.
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