By Dr. Matthew Wheeler, Adjunct Associate Professor
All of our eyes are wide open, but what happens when the eyes are on you as the professor as students seek productive and safe places to share their emotions? As a professor of online learning for nearly a decade, it has taken time to realize that our global classrooms are more than a scholarly avenue to pursue a degree. Yes, our charge is to develop professionals willing and able to contribute to our institutions and communities; however, we are also vehicle for emotional development and discourse.
As I look around my classroom through the cameras and lens of our students, I see fear. I see frustration. I see anger. But I also see the need many students turning to me with an unspoken request of providing a safe environment to listen and share.
The tenants of emotional intelligence are not a new study. We realize that as we age and mature, our emotional intelligence grows where we are not only able to manage our own emotions, but we are able to help manage the feelings and emotions of others. The growth as a professor comes to light when we realize that our job is to close the books, albeit temporarily, and simply listen.
We have witnessed through the COVID-19 pandemic the comfort and security that comes from broadcasting behind a camera in our own homes. It allows us to be a little more vulnerable, more willing to share, and oftentimes further engaged in the dialogue. As an online professor, it can be difficult to manage these dialogues ensuring that scholarly and professional conduct ensues. Yet it is also up to us to facilitate this dialogue, seeking to share less of our own emotions and vantage points and donning a more Socratic style of facilitation.
Our students are gravitating towards our live sessions for the opportunity to not only share, but to listen to others with viewpoints that may even be contrarian to their own. Students need to be able to speak, to say the names and words that may feel awkward in other settings, and above all, be heard. As teachers, we need to embrace this opportunity with the realization that the emotional skills that can be developed through this time of crises could indeed be life changing – personally, professionally, as well as academically.
Organizations, including the Chicago Public Schools, are issuing helpful guidelines to aid educators in facilitating constructive dialogues and meeting this prevailing student need. This time of unprecedented sentiment is difficult for us all as emotionally charged, feeling human beings. As educators, we have accepted the responsibility to lead our students and manage our classrooms. Affording our students with an open, yet managed forum, may be the respite they so desperately need to move forward with their studies and continued societal contributions.