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Teaching and Learning Now - A Year of Reflection and Communal Learning

Across the 2023–2024 academic year, a series of events will facilitate reflection on teaching and learning now—how educational contexts, practices, and priorities have changed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and how we can align our work with the needs and ambitions of current and future students. While the pandemic years occasion this reflection, many changes in student engagement and teaching contexts pre-date or transcend situations brought about by COVID-19. These too should be a part of how we take stock and look forward.

The reflective year launched in May 2023, when staff from the Dean of Students Office, Housing, the Academic Resource Center, the Counseling Center, and Diversity and Inclusion shared their insights about student well-being and needs. At that session, three primary areas of focus emerged that will guide much of our activity:

  • Connection and belonging as foundations for student learning
  • Supporting health and well-being, including trauma-informed teaching
  • Recalibrating boundaries, reevaluating policies

Tentative Schedule of Events

Belonging as Foundational for Student Learning: I Feel Included When…
Wednesday, Sept. 13 at Noon

As the academic year opens, faculty are invited to seek student input into what creates supportive community in their classes. Whether in a getting-to-know-you questionnaire, a group discussion, or a short, informal writing assignment, you might use a prompt like:

  • In class, I feel included when…
  • I know my contributions matter when…
  • A class becomes a community when…

At the reflection session, participants are invited to bring those insights into conversation with research on how belonging supports academic success and with Whitman’s own data about students’ sense of mattering and affirmation from the 2021 National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates.

Student Well-Being & Needs: Faculty Insights
Friday, October 27 at 3 p.m.

A complement to the opening May event, this session features insights from faculty who have distinct insights into student preparedness, work habits, and interests. Faculty attendees will be invited to share their observations about student engagement in their respective classes and research collaborations and to think together about how our work as educators should evolve.

Recalibrating Course Policies: Equitable Approaches to Structure & Flexibility
Late Fall Semester

Recent research suggests that high structure courses with required, low-stakes participation and homework leads to better learning outcomes for all students and especially for those traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Yet we also know that students have complex lives that sometimes get in the way of consistent attendance or completing assignments on time. This session will provide education about accommodations for absence and late work that are central to equity and those required by laws like the American Disabilities Act and Title IX. It will also provide strategies for balancing that flexibility with consistent structure that helps students succeed.

Trauma-Informed Teaching & Learning
January 11–12 from 9 a.m.–Noon

Facilitated by the Walla Walla-based Community Resilience Initiative, this workshop will discuss research related to neuroscience, epigenetics, adverse childhood experiences (ACES), and resilience. Participants will learn about identifying and responding to trauma with evidence-based resilience strategies, both building their self-awareness and becoming better prepared to work with students and colleagues whose trauma histories are often unknown.

The Art of Gathering

Anchored by insights from Priya Parker’s 2020 book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, this session responds to our need for connection and reflects on how to foster it in the classroom, meeting spaces, or campus events. While advocating for intentional, purpose-driven planning, it will address how we can honor neurodiversity and interrupt normative routines that maintain social privilege.

In-Time, On-Time, Out-of-Time

Although the academic calendar is cyclical, we often experience an academic year as a fatiguing race on a linear path. At this session, participants will reflect on the “stress calendars” experienced by the Whitman community, consider how we might nurture rest, pauses, and slow work during the semester, and play with other models for understanding how teaching and learning happen in time.

Relevant Resources

Provost and Dean of the Faculty
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