Wellbeing in the (remote) learning Environment

In February 2020 the MRFA’s PD Committee hosted a session on Wellbeing in the Learning Environment. There were several useful takeaways from this session which members may find value in considering now while working from home. The full session event notes are available online and a summary of key takeaways, some adjusted slightly for the remote work environment, are provided below.

Workload Considerations

Barriers to Wellbeing

One of the biggest barriers to wellbeing for faculty is workload expectations.

Contributors to Wellbeing

  • Flexible work hours and work-life balance
  • Supportive leadership
  • Collegiality and a sense of community
  • Access to wellness-related resources and services
  • Access to relevant PD

Stress Coping Techniques:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Talking with family/friends (This can be beneficial for faculty. However, if you need to constantly talk to everyone about your stressors this does not help. It is good to have a specific amount of time and specific people to speak to and then move on. Don’t dwell on stressful situations and do not vent continuously.)
  3. Spending time alone

The Eisenhower Box (Workload Management)

The coping techniques, above, do not address what is causing the stress – too much to do and not enough time. You can manage this by prioritizing your time. Critically appraise what you are doing: “Do I need to email, can I make a call or do we need to meet? Does it need to be a meeting, or can we do it in a better and more time efficient way?”

Potential facilitators for faculty wellbeing

  • Human contact in meetings and wellbeing *Turn on your cameras when possible*  (this helps to address isolation)
  • Diversity of tasks in the day
  • Online Social Activities – connect with and get to know each other as human beings who care about what we do and care about our students
  • Consider joining a Company as these are very helpful as well.

Consider how you can best navigate your work without burning out.

  • Focus on what you can control and what gives you nourishment: Look at the good work you are doing and the good work your department is doing and ensure your work is recognized. Beyond that, there is nothing you can do to impact the outcome, so there is no value in stressing about it.
  • “Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait” Gratitude Practice (Emmons & Stern, 2013) Keep a work gratitude journal – at the end of each day write three things that you are grateful for at work. Then at the end of the week read through them and focus on the value you are bringing to your community.
  • Assess new opportunities before agreeing to them, and say ‘no’ when needed
  • Ensure you have adequate support networks in place – reach out if you are feeling isolated
  • Focus on what drives you and motivates you as a Teacher, Scholar and MRU Community member. Focusing on creating a good learning environment for our students can contribute to faculty members’ sense of wellbeing in the ‘classroom.’ The following are some tips that came up in the discussion and further resources are linked below.
    • In the online environment – be kind to yourself. Do not expect perfection in your recorded lectures and do your best to find creative ways of managing workload. (for more information refer to the PD Session in Remote Delivery held in Fall 2020)
    • Teaching is very performative – it is important not to rush.
    • Related to wellbeing and space is taking the time to make yourself enthusiastic – trying something new in the classroom, focusing on what you are conveying that may be exciting for the students.
    • Try to care about your students and get to know them:
      • They appreciate you knowing their names
      • They appreciate you remembering the work that they do
      • Make sure they know you care
      • When you do not value your students you feel less personal value and connection to what you are doing as a teacher.

Postural Health at Work

Roll Squeeze and Tuck

To establish good posture at your desk, set a reminder for every 20 minutes to do a roll, squeeze and tuck:

  1. Roll your shoulders up and back
  2. Squeeze your blades together and down to your bum (engaging the muscles bellow your shoulder blades)
  3. Tucking your chin and stretching up your neck

Other Tips for Postural Health at Your Desk:

  • Keep your elbow close to your body when controlling you mouse (this will ease strain on your upper back)
  • Raise your seat (your hips need to be level with your knees and not lower than your knees to reduce hip and back pain)
  • Double screens – if you primarily use one screen then use that one and place it in a primary location. You do not want to continually be looking in between screens.
  • Get out of your chair on different sides of the chair during the day.
  • Switch up the angle of your back rest

Tips for Postural Health during Meetings:

  • Provide breaks in the meeting
  • Allow people to change sides (make a mental note to sit in different locations in meetings)
  • Permit people to get up in meetings
  • Move in your seats – march in your seat, do hip stretches

General/Other tips for postural health

  • Change allows muscles to have a break and reduce fatigue of your muscles. Take a break and go for a walk: this doesn’t have to be a big time commitment – just put on shoes and go for a walk.
  • Take a moment when you sit at your desk and roll, squeeze and tuck and do a stretch
  • Do wall squats with a tennis ball and move it around problem spots on your back (Wellness Services Video on Tennis Ball massages)
  • You can also use a ball in a meeting and hold the pressure on a trigger point until it releases 
  • Use a shepherd’s hook to relieve muscles (Wellness Services Video on shepherd’s hook)
  • Inactive positions for a long period can cause pain when standing up. To reduce this pain, change your leg position when sitting:  straighten your legs, swing your legs etc. and/or go for a walk 
  • Use the technology we have to set reminders for yourself to check posture, stretch, walk etc.
  • It is a good idea to hold up your smartphone/device higher so you are not looking down at it constantly.
  • There are filters for blue light on computers and you can get glasses that filter out the blue light  

MRU Faculty Benefits

Faculty Health and Dental Benefits

There were many positive changes to faculty benefits in January 2020. Review your plan benefits at Sunlife.ca and get in touch with Cindy Hamonic if you have questions.  Remember to access EFAP – Homewood Health for Counselling, Life Smart Coaching and other supports. Call Homewood Health at their toll free number (1-800-663-1142) or check out the website (find the link on MyMRU / Employee tab)

Other Important Points

  • Faculty with medical conditions requiring accommodations in the workplace should contact Heidi Peterson.
  • Faculty needing a new desk or chair to support ergonomic health at home should apply for reimbursement through their PD Allocations. This is not normally an allowable expense but these requests are currently being approved due to remote work conditions.
Links for Further Information