Teaching

Care Team

The Care Team refers to a collection of professional staff, student assistants, and faculty joined in the cause of ensuring that EVERY student can succeed. 

The extraordinary efforts of the Student Success and Student Affairs team may include attention even to individual students, where academic progress is "charted" the way a medical team may keep records about health. 

If you submit a message to the Care Team via Canvas, you're a part of the team. That's especially true if you request information about how the student is faring after your referral.

Contact Care Team

A tool now available in Canvas labeled "Contact Care Team" provides an intuitive means for faculty to send a referral about a student to these Care Team professionals. When clicked, this tool will show a photo roster of students, with nearby fields to select the main reason for the referral (choices include Academics, Attendance, Writing, or Other), and a required field to describe the perceived problem at least minimally. Then faculty would click the blue "Notify Care Team" button to send off the message.

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Case managers will receive your referral and may ask staff members assigned to this student's Care Team to reach out to the student—examples might include RAs, student peer leaders, academic advisors, or tutors. Depending on the nature of your referral, you may not hear back about action taken with regard to the student, but the case managers within the Care Team will normally try to follow up with faculty members to the extent possible.

Students in Distress / SOCAT

Note that the Contact Care Team Button should be used for referrals of an academic nature. If there is a student in distress, experiencing emotional turmoil, or is a potential danger to self or others, you should contact SOCAT (the Students of Concern office) via the online referral: http://www.usf.edu/SOCATreferral - note that if there is an imminent threat of any kind, you should instead contact University Police at 911 to establish safety prior to submitting the SOCAT referral.

Often, a sudden drop in academic performance is an indicator of deeper problems. Faculty are encouraged to make a dual recommendation: one to the Contact Care Team button, and another to the SOCAT online referral. That is especially true if you have a gut feeling, even if you lack proof, that something may be amiss with the student.

The Ethics of Caring

When we demonstrate to students that "we care", we are creating a relationship that intentionally and by design crosses new boundaries. Instead of leaving students on their own, we are reaching out to them, perhaps even invading what they consider to be "their space" in the outreach. This creates the potential for mis-communication, mis-understandings, and injured feelings. So it's going to be important to think through carefully exactly HOW we are crossing new boundaries.

As instructor, you have the important duty of giving grades to students. But is that duty compromised in any fashion--even in subtle or unconscious ways--if you also learn things about the student by hearing back from the Care Team? Maybe the closest professional role to this Care Team concept is academic advisor. These folks have a clear ethical directive:

  1. Compassion
  2. Avoid or minimize harm
  3. Justice/Fairness
  4. Respect for Persons 
  5. Living up to our commitments

The Pygmalion Effect

Here's a definition of this teaching problem from Duquesne University:

The work of Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968), among others, shows that teacher expectations influence student performance. Positive expectations influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively. Rosenthal and Jacobson originally described the phenomenon as the Pygmalion Effect. "When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur." (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985) In terms of teaching, faculty who gripe about students establish a climate of failure, but faculty who value their students' abilities create a climate of success.

In other words, teacher expectations can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. This can be a teaching challenge (or an opportunity) all by itself, but the issue becomes even more pronounced when teachers have access to student records. The Pygmalion Effect is precisely the reason that college professors normally do not have access to student GPAs, let alone anything about the student's emotional state. Having any of those could prejudice the faculty member and make them grade the students differently:

Clinical Detachment

Of course, the modern world has precedent for this kind of thing, in the form of the medical field. Any time you see a doctor, that person has information about your past ailments, the health of your organs, and all sorts of things that are normally private. This same person with all this information might also see you undressed, so the degree of vulnerability we have as patients is pretty extreme. Doctors are humans too, but they don't react like regular humans in these circumstances. They have long cultivated a certain kind of clinical detachment. When they see parts of your body that are quite private, they mentally take on a new mindset (perhaps even a personality) that doesn't react or even observe anything from an emotional point of view. It's all logic, facts, and science.

It is conceivable that faculty members hearing info from the Care Team could similarly adopt a clinical detachment, and view students from a logical rather than an emotional perspective. The challenge is the same one that doctors face: while a "scientific/impersonal" demeanor can reduce embarrassment during a physical exam, doctors sometimes need to show empathy or else risk coming across as robotic, especially when delivering bad news. There has to be a balance between empathizing with students and maintaining an impartial distance.

The on-campus version of this could be something like an instructor having inside knowledge on the student, but compartmentalizing it so completely that it doesn't enter consciousness during teaching... almost like forgetting about it, so as to avoid the risk of treating this one student differently. On the other hand, perhaps keeping the information resident in memory is going to be necessary to effectively help the student, in which case the "poker face" of clinical detachment is going to be necessary. We need to find that golden mean, that Goldilocks balance of *just the right amount* of both caring and detachment.