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Teaching and Learning at PolyU after the Disruption

23 Jan 2020

eLearning and Teaching

Teaching and Learning at PolyU after the Disruption

Teaching and Learning at PolyU after the Disruption

In recent months members of the PolyU community have experienced extraordinary situations. In the coming semester it is understandable that teachers and students may be returning to the classroom with a sense of uncertainty that can affect the learning process. Meeting with students again may present an opportunity to support them to develop new ways to appraise challenging situations and increase their resilience — skills that can serve them throughout their lifetimes.

In this newsletter, four tips are offered that are based on research and can be flexibly applied to different teaching contexts and styles. We encourage you to consider how these tips may assist you in your teaching in the forthcoming semester.

1: Nurture a positive learning environment

Multiple research studies indicate that students’ emotional state as well as the type of classroom climate fostered by the teacher have a direct impact on students’ ability to learn. Some of the strategies that teachers can use to nurture a more positive learning environment are to:

  • Be aware of their own behaviour and statements to avoid showing obvious preferences (or biases) for particular viewpoints or values.

  • Work to turn disagreements between students into new ideas relevant to the subject matter.

  • Establish ground rules for respectful conduct to create a positive climate for learning (see link below).

  • Facilitate discussions in a manner that welcomes a wide range of viewpoints and productive conversations within a safe environment (see link below).

This three-page appendix from the book How Learning Works entitled “What are ground rules and how can we use them?” presents sample ground rules for discussion and lecture situations. See pages 248-250 in the pdf available for free at

This three-page guide presents information to help teachers plan and lead difficult discussions 59/2010/06/02133830/difficult.pdf.

2: Increase resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Seligman, a clinical psychologist, talks about “building mental toughness” (2012, p.167). Seligman asserts having resilience is akin to psychological fitness which provides individuals with psychological strength. Tips on how teachers can encourage resilience in class include:

  • The teacher having good relationships with the students.

  • The removal of threatening learning situations such as shaming or embarrassing less well-performing students.

  • Ensuring that all students can feel self-efficacy through incremental achievements (which will be different for each student).

Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania) is the world leader in this area. This 6-minute TED talk on “Grit” (which describes a “growth mindset” and illustrates the importance of resilience) has been viewed more than 19 million times: passion_and_perseverance?language=en

Further information on resilience, full inventories and the Global Assessment Tool can be found at, a University of Pennsylvania website developed by the Positive Psychology Center

3: Support through listening and empathy

Psychology studies indicate that responding appropriately in a way that acknowledges feelings can help diffuse emotionally charged situations and begin to reduce tensions. Not responding is often interpreted as “not caring” and the person does not feel heard.

A survey of university students conducted in the USA shows that from the student perspective, it is best for the teacher to “do something” to acknowledge what has happened, and that often even small acts are appreciated (Huston & DiPietro, 2007). Consider the following:

  • It is possible to listen to a person, express empathy and respect their viewpoint without agreeing with the idea being expressed.

  • As teachers we can model listening to viewpoints that differ from our own, and also facilitate discussions between students that help them develop their listening, critical reasoning and problem-solving skills.

  • Giving recognition, acknowledgement, and endorsement are three ways of communicating that lead to a confirming (or positive) climate in our relationships.

  • Incorporate reflective listening techniques into your conversations and discussions. Establish reflective listening techniques as part of the ground rules for discussions between students in your subject (see link below).

This brief guide entitled “Teaching in Times of Crisis” describes specific simple actions teachers can consider taking with their students after a crisis:

This two-page guide provides bullet point tips on how to listen reflectively for the speaker and the listener: SBTUZY0Gc9hOtl/view

4: Consider possible scenarios and your responses

Our customary teaching practices and techniques may not be sufficient in unusual times. Think about new scenarios you may encounter with students and consider how you may wish to respond. Here are a few scenarios teachers have brought up:

  • A student asks you how you feel about the disruption/political situation (either publicly or privately)

  • Local students express prejudice/distrust of non-local students (verbally or non-verbally) and vice-versa

  • During a class discussion a verbal conflict begins to escalate between students

  • A student expresses doubt about the future and job prospects after graduation

There is no one “right” answer to any of these scenarios. But thinking about situations in advance will allow you to respond in a manner that is acknowledging the situation, diffusing negative emotions, and encouraging a return to focusing on learning.

This brief article on microaggressions has been written by the renowned expert Derald Wing Sue. Learn more about what microaggressions are and how to identify them: 201011/microaggressions-more-just-race

The tips and resources provided in this document are a collaborative effort of members of the Educational Development Centre (EDC), The International Research Centre for the Advancement of Health Communication (IRCAHC) and the Office of Student Resources and Residential Life (SRRL) of PolyU. We sincerely hope these tips are useful to you. If you would like to have a session facilitated on this topic for your department, please contact Josie Csete of EDC at


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series. Jossey-Bass. Available at How-Learning-Works.pdf

Center for Teaching (2011). Difficult Dialogues. Retrieved from

Center for Teaching (2001/2013). Teaching in Times of Crisis. Retrieved from

Cheng, I. Y. (2020). Reflective Listening. Lecture handout. Retrieved from 0Gc9hOtl/view

Duckworth, A. L. (2013, April). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Retrieved from power_of_passion_and_ perseverance?language=en

Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy: Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development, pp.207-224. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Positive Psychology Center (n.d.). Authentic Happiness. Retrieved from

Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. NY: Free Press.

Sue, D. W. (2010, November 17). Microaggressions: More than just race. Retrieved from 201011/ microaggressions-more-just-race

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