We Will Survive: Acknowledging the Shift

By Dr. Donna T. Petherbridge, Associate Vice Provost, Academic Technology Innovation, DELTA and Assistant Teaching Professor, Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development


Sometimes, a little laughter is exactly what is needed, so I’m definitely finding humor in this instructor’s I Will Survive video for online teaching. This video has now been viewed over 2 million times; quite a few individuals must be relating to what he is feeling and experiencing!  

I will survive. We will survive. We are in this together. That’s what we keep telling ourselves, and each other, our work colleagues, our families, and our pets, and honestly, by this point in our teleworking lives, we might actually be talking to our couches or that box of Cheezits in the cabinet. I’ve learned a lot while telecommuting that I wish I didn’t know; for example, that it is 16 steps for me to walk from my work from home space to my refrigerator. I’ve also learned things that I plan on keeping as part of my routine when things get back to “normal;” for example, the cross-team/cross-organization agile collaboration that has been going on behind the scenes to support the University’s shift to remote teaching has been amazing, and while we all have collaborated before on projects and enterprise challenges, more intentional check ins and brainstorming opportunities with multiple campus entities has long term value.

Our current situation is indeed challenging. None of us started the semester with a pandemic response plan in our syllabus; of course, all of our syllabi have that little notation that the syllabus can be adjusted or modified as needed. But what a change!  And now, we are planning on getting our summer courses ready as remote teaching and learning experiences, and realizing that our shift to this online space is going to go on longer than we may have originally thought. Thus, reflecting on this shift is important. 

First, the mental and emotional shift to our routines in general must be acknowledged. I read an article recently that what we are feeling in some ways is grief, and I agree with that. Things have changed, and with change there is loss, and with loss there is grief. And that emotion is to be acknowledged and respected, because in so many ways, jumping into remote teaching, being physically distanced from colleagues, being at home trying to teach and work, parenting (or take care of parents), worrying about getting sick or actually knowing someone who is sick and being worried for them, and balancing everything now in front of us can be difficult. You may be experiencing this grief or worry or anxiety to some extent, as are your students. Depending on everyone’s unique situation, the truth of the matter is, everyone is uniquely impacted; everyone will have a different story of how this time feels to them. 

Second, the shift in changing how and where you are teaching, and how you are reacting to this change, needs recognition. A sudden shift to remote teaching was possibly discombobulating, and in some cases, felt (or may still feel) impossible. Or it may have felt (and still feel) exciting, challenging, and invigorating. Whatever you are feeling, you are probably not bored. I have been teaching an online class for 12 years, and it was still jarring to take that extra week of spring break time, adjust my syllabus, and change some previously required synchronous meetings to “optional, watch when you can” because of the impact the pandemic was having on my students, who are all adult learners now not only working from home, but homeschooling their children, or taking care of their parents, and/or experiencing shift changes as they are health care providers/EMS workers in some cases, and in other cases, are the front line instructional support staff for other institutions across our state (K – 16) who have suddenly found themselves responsible for getting entire curriculum online quickly, thus working long hours and applying what they are learning about Instructional Systems Design in my class very quickly to real life. If this adjustment was jarring for me as an experienced DE instructor, then what an experience for those of you who are instructors in face-to-face classrooms who are suddenly thrust into remote teaching!  Your work in doing this is to be respected and applauded, because what a lift. You should not feel bad about things not being “perfect.”  You should applaud yourself for trying and learning and experimenting. And you should know that people are here to help you, including DELTA, OFD, the Libraries, OIT, your college IT support staff, and your peers

Third, we are all cognizant of a shift to a “new normal,” but we are not sure exactly what that will look like. And that’s okay. We are going to continually need to be prepared to adjust as we respond to various public health directives that will impact how and when we open up our campus, and what the campus experience will look and feel like for us this summer, and this fall, and possibly into next year. I find that to manage this emotionally, I am trying to focus on the “to dos” that need to happen each day or a week at a time when I can, not getting too caught up in the “what-ifs” of the next month or six months when possible. And yet, in the back of my mind, I’m also a planner; thus, I’m working with my team and my colleagues across campus to consider how we help NC State navigate whatever comes next, and am also working with my family to figure out our own personal next steps (e.g. when is our son moving back to Wilmington for his senior year?  Will there be another hurricane that disrupts his schooling yet again? How and when do we move our daughter to Boston for graduate school? Who will look out for them if they get sick while away? Who is going to take the next shift in taking care of my elderly parents?)  These questions swirl around in my mind, and I’m sure that you, too, are having those kinds of conversations with yourself (if not others). 

Despite the tectonic plate shift we’ve experienced, along with the uncertainty of the moment, I hope that we can all find joy and opportunity, and lean into both the challenge and excitement of trying something new even with unanswered questions dancing around in our minds. We can look for an outlet, such as the creativity in writing a song to express our feelings, as did the instructor whose video is shared previously, or perhaps, find an outlet in the creativity of teaching at a moment in time when you are stretched beyond what you imagined was possible. We can reach out to each other to provide help, support and understanding. We can move from a remote emergency teaching mindset and reflect on what is working for us in this new reality, and we can continue to improve, adapt and change. We can, as my grandmother used to say to me, look for the helpers, and when possible, be the helpers as we navigate this new reality.