Thursday, May 13, 2021
As relayed by Elizabeth Bernstein in an article entitled "New Ways to Calm Pandemic Anxiety," psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer suggests "two surprising strategies to combat [worry]: Curiosity and Kindness. Bernstein, E., Health & Wellness, Wall Street Journal, p. A10 (Mar. 2, 2021).
Let me say at the outset that I am plagued by anxiety, stress, worry. I won't go into the gory details but, at its heart, I suspect is a sense that I don't quite fit, don't quite measure up to what it takes to serve as an educator, and that someday I will be found to be lacking. I suppose I often label my successes, to the extent that I see them, as just the products of serendipity and good luck.
I suspect that many students also feel that way. Unsure about how to succeed in law school, on the bar exam, or on job interviews, students often try to mold themselves into someone who they are not. In short, they act the part, which only exaggerates the worries, not realizing that law schools admitted them, not for the purpose of sculpting them into robotic works of mechanical lawyering, so to speak, but rather as creative, curious, compassionate people aspiring to do great things for others by serving others in the midst of some of their most difficult moments.
For me, anxiety is a product of not giving myself the liberty to be myself. For our students, it's not giving them the platform and opportunity to let them shine, to succeed even when they make mistakes, to work out with them their own path forward, to help them develop their own sense of place and perspective and voice in the law. In short, I sense that many students feel disembodied and disempowered in the midst of their law school experiences. The remedy - empowerment.
Let me make this concrete. What might this look like for academic support educators?
Let me ask you a question first. Before the "zoom-age," tell me about your office. What's it look like? How is it structured? What do you share and make visible to your students?
For many, I suspect that the office looks a bit like a jailhouse interrogation room, cold and inhospitable, squaring off in direct face-to-face accusatory positions, student sitting across from teacher, often in a low set chair, with the teacher in a high backed chair.
In this world of online teaching and conferencing, I suspect that "zoom" accentuates the face-off posturing of the traditional office meetings with enlarged faces and less opportunities to glance away, pull back, and facilitate conversation with non-verbal signals.
In the physical world of coaching, I coach. What I mean by this is that, when I met with a learner, I get up out out of my chair, move in front of my desk, welcome the person to my office, and move to a circular table, set with two chairs, with each of us facing the middle of the table. In that way, we can focus together, for example, in reviewing exam results, by placing exam answers where we can both read them and work through them together.
As Dr. Brewer -referenced earlier in this blog - indicates, curiosity and kindness are two of the most important perspectives that we can take in order to help turn the anxieties of our students into positive concrete actions for improved learning, well-being, and growth. Id.
One way to help our students in dealing with their academic anxieties is to center our activities with them as adventures together in learning to learn, curiously and with compassion. And that can start with just how we position ourselves with them. Rather than as adversaries or critics, we can work with out students to be problem-solvers together. That's a great way to help overcome anxiety, both for our students and ourselves, too. (Scott Johns).