Lessons Learned From Pandemic Teaching: Failing, Pivoting, and Resilient Pedagogy

by Alexa Haverlah, TLED Content Marketing Intern

Dr. Brinda Roy, Professor of Composition and Literary Studies at Austin Community College (ACC): Cypress Creek Campus, says she fell in love with the mission of ACC to provide multiple opportunities for people to improve their lives through education and skills training. 

Failure isn’t bad, Roy insists, because failure can get you on the path to success. 

“You can change your life and it’s okay to fail,” Roy said. “Come back as many times, we’re here for you.”

After more than twenty years at ACC as an adjunct and full-time professor, teaching is still Roy’s passion. Roy has even told her husband and two kids they’ll have to wheel her out of the classroom one day. 

“I’ll be doing this until the day I die,” Roy said.

Roy came to the U.S. from India after accepting a full ride scholarship to Rice University for her Ph.D. in English. She says her experience as an immigrant and a woman of color make her personally and professionally invested in issues of EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion). 


Built-In Belonging

One way Roy models inclusivity in the classroom is through her curriculum. “Inclusiveness isn’t just a document that says, ‘You can’t be rude,’” she said.

Roy has her students read across multiple genres from a diverse array of authors so that they see the value of different experiences and of their own.

For one assignment, students read the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and are asked to think about it in the context of their lives. Roy asks, How have you benefited from the UDHR? What story does it tell or not tell, as a humanistic document? Roy then pairs the UDHR with a short story by Native American writer Sherman Alexie as well as articles from NPR on how the UDHR has failed to make space for indigenous voices. 

Storytelling is a way for us to bridge differences, Roy says. In her classroom, analysis of these texts go beyond themes and symbolism – they spark discussions of the broader social, political and personal implications relating to social justice, politics, policy, and more.  


Resilient Pedagogy

Roy had been teaching distance education classes for about seven years before the coronavirus pandemic, but she says she had to reset her expectations and check her privilege after realizing her students didn’t have equal access to the technology she was asking of them for learning.

“Pivot is seriously my least favorite word, but it’s really central to how I view my pedagogy now,” Roy said.

Last year, while reminding students of free Wi-Fi at ACC Highland and food pantries around Central Texas, Roy wondered how other institutions were addressing a serious lack of “emotional bandwidth” among students.

Roy discovered resilient pedagogy, developed over the course of the pandemic, which advocates for versatility, flexibility, and change in the classroom. 

“[It’s] teaching that can withstand disruption,” Roy explained, while maintaining the integrity of course outcomes. 

Under resilient pedagogy, Roy has modified her assignments to be versatile, open-ended and student centered. For instance, Roy has changed how students participate in discussion boards after noticing that students are very sensitive to each other’s feelings and reluctant to “rock the boat” by disagreeing with their peers. 

“We learn from dissension,” Roy said. “It stimulates conversation and pushes the text further.” 

Students want to learn how to disagree without being disrespectful, so Roy shows examples from previous classes that demonstrate how to ask questions to learn from others and yourself. 

Students must choose at least two other students with different interpretations of the text and ask them questions. This Socratic style of discussion compels students to defend their stance and understand that there can be multiple, divergent ways of viewing the same idea, Roy says. 

“They can’t just say, ‘I hate what you said,’” Roy said. 

Unlike the echo chambers common in social media, students must use evidence-based reasoning and writing when producing their own analysis of the text on discussion boards. 

Resilient pedagogy encourages faculty and students to adapt to change and persevere through uncertainty. With change a constant since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Roy says her resilience is one of the most valuable qualities she’s learned about herself over the last two years.

“We cannot be wedded to one way of doing things,” Roy said. And after trying things that don’t work, we ought to see our failures as necessary opportunities on our paths moving forward. 

There are many resources to learn more about resilient pedagogy, including this interview with Josh Eyler, Director of Faculty Development & Director of the ThinkForward Quality Enhancement Plan at the University of Mississippi. Or you can ask Brinda yourself via email at broy@austincc.edu


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.