Teaching & Learning Champions: Silke Morin
July 16, 2021
Meet Silke Morin, Assistant Professor of Biology!
by Alexa Haverlah, TLED Content Marketing Intern
Trial By Fire
Assistant Professor of Biology at ACC Rio Grande, Silke Morin, has walked in her students’ shoes. In January 2019, Morin started her internship for her master’s program in counseling, only to transition fully online once the pandemic hit.
She tells her students, “I know what you’re going through, I know what it’s like to be online only.” Morin graduated from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, with her second master’s degree in May 2020.
After a nine-year hiatus from teaching, during which Morin worked in academic publishing in Germany, Morin returned to teaching in higher education at ACC. Distance education tools such as Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, and Google Meet were new to her; plus, she needed to master the material for her Anatomy and Physiology classes.
“Trial by fire was a great way to get back into teaching,” says Morin. “If I can do this, I can do anything. I can teach in any environment.”
Morin began her career in education as a high school science teacher, a job at which she says she’s never worked harder. “You are everything. You’re the teacher, mom, cop, and the social worker.”
From the time she was in high school, Morin has been fascinated with the brain. As a junior taking Anatomy and Physiology, she remembers watching a NOVA series on the brain and thinking, this is it.
At Wellesley College, Morin studied Biopsychology. At the end of her sophomore year, she discovered she was going to have a baby.
Morin was on a path to attend graduate school when she found out she was pregnant again the week of graduation. Not wanting to start a program as a single mom to two small children, Morin took a year off and had her son.
Morin then went back to school to get certified as a high school teacher until she felt ready to start a graduate program.
Soon after starting her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, Morin realized she didn’t like research. “I realized I love teaching, I love talking about science, I love learning about science, but I don’t love doing science,” she says.
Yet she stayed in the program five years until one day she woke up with the thought, not another day. Morin compiled what she had accomplished so far for a Master’s in Neuroscience.
Brain, Body, Balance
Neuroscience, the study of the nervous system, fascinates Morin because she loves studying how our brains and behavior work in tandem. For instance, trauma, stress, memory, and emotions are all neuro-based, meaning they can and do impact our behavior, and vice versa.
Morin’s love of learning about mind/body connections translates to her passion for holistic wellness and integrative health, two comprehensive approaches to living a balanced life and reaching optimal health and wellbeing.
“I am convinced that our wellness is not just in the brain. We are not just these brains disassociated from the rest of our bodies. What we put into our bodies, how we use our bodies to do stuff, it all impacts our health and wellbeing.”
Meditation, journaling, and running every day keep Morin grounded while working full-time at ACC and chipping away at the 3,000 post-graduate hours she needs to become a fully licensed counselor.
“It’s been an incredibly challenging year,” says Morin. “But the skills I’ve learned, I bring every day to the class.”
Big Mental Health Energy
Skills like listening to and connecting with students are the foundation of Morin’s teaching. The first thing Morin focuses on is her relationship with students.
“If I can’t connect to students, if they can’t tell that I care about them as human beings, it doesn’t matter. The rest of it is irrelevant,” says Morin. Conversely, when students feel comfortable and connected, they want to come to class and learn from her and their classmates.
Morin builds an emotional connection with students by sharing about her life. She might come into class admitting she didn’t sleep well, such is life.
On a deeper level, Morin relates to her students because she’s experienced similar struggles, like juggling her studies and childcare as a single mom. Morin is grateful to have had a support network in Austin, especially her mom, who she relied on to help watch her two kids while she attended school.
Next, Morin asks her students to share. She asks them, how are you really doing? What’s going on? What are you concerned about? On Blackboard Collaborate’s virtual whiteboard, students can anonymously submit what’s worrying them.
Time after time, the same six concerns arise: money, time, grades, family, etc. Morin does this exercise to emphasize that students are not alone. We’re all in this together, the Whiteboard demonstrates.
When her students express their trauma to her- and many of them do- her approach is to talk about it and point them in the right direction if they need help. Morin feels fortunate to be working at ACC, where there are a wealth of resources and services available to students.
After the semester is over, Morin checks in with previous students via email to ask how their new classes are going and if she can do anything to help. Morin’s emphasis on her students’ mental health outlasts their time together in the classroom.
One of Morin’s favorite therapy books is The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Having spent over three decades working with survivors, the author reveals how trauma rearranges our brain’s writing, especially areas related to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust.
Through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness, play, yoga, and other therapies, Dr. van der Kolk demonstrates a way to reclaim lives without the use of drugs or talk therapy.
Being trauma-informed allows Morin to engage emotionally with her students, develop trust and build a relationship. “I feel like counseling is making me a better teacher,” says Morin. “It’s certainly made me a better person.”
Connect with Silke via email: email@example.com
Recommend a Colleague:
Teaching & Learning Champions are faculty and staff who contribute to student learning (Guided Pathways Essential Practice #4). We share their stories to celebrate their dedication to instructional excellence & innovation in a series of spotlight articles. #ACCExcellence
Do you know someone who is a champion of teaching & learning? Send their name & why you’re nominating them to TLEDcomms@austincc.edu.