• How to talk about social responsibility in a pandemic

    by Jessica Yarbro

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    To say that people are stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. The accepted social norms and values, like shaking hands or visiting the elderly, have gone out the window in an effort to stop the spread of disease.

    We’re navigating according to new rules, and as a result, decisions about how we behave and the choices we make have become more complex. Understandably, other’s actions are sparking strong emotions and reactions, sometimes referred to as “cancel culture,” making it difficult to talk about at home or in the classroom.

    As researchers, we turn to research to help guide our behavior and thinking. Social responsibility helps us be thoughtful about our actions, particularly our actions in relation to other people. We published a framework for social responsibility, based on the body of existing research, that can be used as a lens to understand human behavior in a complex situation.

    The dimensions of the framework can be used to spark an emphatic, non-judgemental discussion about making choices during a pandemic. We offer a suggestion for how to initiate a discussion with learners for each of the four dimensions:

    1. Multicultural

    Multicultural: Is knowledgeable about different cultural identities and sensitive toward cultural differences.

    Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e., decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s perspective or prior experiences might influence their decision to make a specific choice.

    2. Ethical

    Ethical: Demonstrates knowledge and awareness of ethical standards and issues and applies ethical reasoning and standards to make decisions in ethically ambiguous situations.

    Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e. decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s values could have influenced their decision to make a specific choice.

    3. Civic

    Civic: Is an informed and active citizen at the local, national, and global level and understands and acts on issues of local, national, and global significance.

    Example of how to engage: Have learners explore the role that the local, state, and/or federal government is playing in managing the pandemic (it can be in their own context or a new context). Learners could also discuss strengths and weaknesses for having a certain level of government managing response to the pandemic.

    4. Environmental

    Environmental: Is knowledgeable about current issues of environmental significance and is concerned about the wellbeing of the planet and engages in sustainable behaviors.

    Example of how to engage: Have learners explore how the COVID-19 pandemic, and human responses to the pandemic, could impact environmental and sustainability endeavors.

    If you want to learn more about how to teach social responsibility, a Pearson colleague discusses it in detail in this webinar.

    By taking time to teach socially responsible thinking and decision-making, you’re also helping your students develop a life skill that will help them navigate challenging situations in the future, whether daily decisions about climate change or even what career path to take.

    It is also a skill that is considered to be important for employees to demonstrate. Regarding hiring decisions, 81 percent of employers rated “ethical judgment and decision-making” as very important, but only 30 percent thought recent college graduates were well prepared in this area (this source and more listed here).

    For these reasons listed above and more, that’s why we have listed it in our framework for what makes someone employable and are working to embed how to teach social responsibility into our products to enable classroom conversations during normal, less stressful times.

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  • Wellness: 6 tips for taking care of yourself during this stressful time

    by Jessica Yarbro

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    Right now many of us are juggling working in a new environment, becoming a teacher for our kids, caring for our family full time and dealing with the anxiety that comes from living in the middle of a pandemic. We’re all feeling pretty stressed. Self-care is crucial for managing these negative emotions and being resilient.

    Here are six tips based on the science of learning to help you get through this:

    1. Look after your physical and mental well-being

    If possible, continue your current self-care practices since it is easier to stick to existing habits. However, many of us will have to alter or discover new ones.

    Here are some ideas if you are stuck at home for a few weeks:

    • Take care of your body by eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.
    • Work up a sweat with at-home or individual exercise activities by following workout videos on YouTube, using Fitness Apps for HIIT or strength training, or by hitting the pavement for a walk or run outside.
    • Practice relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. If you’re new to this, here are a few options to start.
    • Make time for appropriate activities that bring you happiness and joy. These might include cooking, listening to music, taking a warm bath, crafting, reading, or watching TV or movies.

    2. Maintain social connections

    For introverts and extroverts alike, the activities that are most important for promoting our well-being are inherently social, which can make this period where we are encouraged to be physically distant from our loved ones particularly difficult. It is all the more important to maintain our social connections, using technology to help us stay psychologically close.

    • Use the many different modes of communication at our fingertips – voice calls, text, social media. Video especially can make us feel closer.
    • Since interactions will not come up as naturally during this period, be more intentional about scheduling time to speak with friends and family. They will be excited to hear from you.
    • These conversations will be important opportunities to relieve stress by sharing your feelings with others. In addition, try to incorporate fun, play a game virtually or watch the same movie together.

    3. Create structure and a schedule

    Watching the news can make us feel a lack of control, which fuels stress. Control what you can and maintain as much normalcy as possible.

    • Develop a schedule and try to stick to your new routine. You can start with activities that support good eating and sleep habits, and fill in with both fun and necessary activities. Scheduling in regular opportunities for self-care can help us stick to those plans.
    • For those who are transitioning into remote work, maintaining a schedule can help ensure dedicated time for work while also protecting individual relaxation and family time.
    • Particularly for families who have young children home from school, maintaining a schedule may seem daunting. Be kind to yourself as you work through new processes and routines. Much of the benefit of the schedule comes from thoughtfully making one, not perfectly following one.

    4. Be a smart media consumer

    It is important to find a balance regarding media consumption. With situations changing quickly in a crisis, it is useful to follow the news in order to keep up-to-date. On the other hand, repeatedly viewing (often negative) news stories can increase stress and anxiety.

    Consider taking breaks from viewing the news, or schedule specific times to check the news. It can also be helpful to limit your media consumption to a few, trusted sites, which can help keep you from hearing the same information repeatedly.

    5. Seek additional help if needed

    During times such as these, it is completely normal to experience elevated levels of stress along with other negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration. If these persist or worsen and begin to cause significant distress or dysfunction, seek additional help.

    More specific warning signs include:

    • Persistent anxiety, worry, insomnia, or irritability.
    • Withdrawing from appropriate social contact.
    • Persistently checking for symptoms or seeking reassurance about one’s health.
    • Abusing alcohol or drugs.
    • Experience of suicidal thoughts or actions.

    Many therapists are transitioning to providing telemedicine so you get professional support without needing to meet in person. Find a therapist from a site like Psychology Today. Those with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with treatment.

    6. Practice empathy

    We are in many ways overwhelmed with information and recommendations and it can be easy to fall into the trap of judging others for their choices. But many are having to weigh financial concerns with public health and personal safety, and making difficult decisions.

    • Hanging on to judgment and anger at others can be counter productive. It can cause our personal stress levels to elevate and can break down the social bonds that are so important to weathering crises. Try to practice empathy by considering the perspectives of others. Understanding why someone has made a different decision from you can help you be more compassionate. Loving-Kindness Meditation can also support compassion and empathy. This type of meditation involves mentally sending kindness and goodwill to others. Read more here.
    • But also, don’t let trying to practice self-care stress you out. Do the best you can and be kind to yourself and others.
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  • 5 tips for being a leader in the virtual world

    by Jessica Yarbro

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    Being a leader can be challenging at the best of times, but even more so in a crisis situation like the current pandemic. Transitioning Survey findings from Pearson identified that people’s satisfaction with the work from home experience has declined: Only 82% of those in the US are currently satisfied with working remotely versus 93% in early March.

    But how do you lead well when you can’t physically meet with the people you are leading? Here are our tips for effective leadership in a virtual world

    1. Focus on inspiration and motivation, rather than just managing or controlling

    Motivating and inspiring leadership strategies are especially important when leading virtually because we lack many social cues and tools we usually use to influence others. Be more mindful and practice this.

    Examples of these types of strategies include:

    • Displaying ethical and inspiring behavior, taking a stand, and acting with conviction.
    • Supporting others and attending to their individual needs.
    • Motivating others by projecting a positive vision.
    • Supporting innovation and creativity.

    2. Be optimistic, but honest

    In times like these, people look to their leaders for hope, while also expecting honesty and transparency. This can be a difficult balance, when you might be experiencing personal stress and worry and often have to communicate bad news.

    We recommend:

    • Delivering information in a timely manner, and in a compassionate, caring, and straightforward way. Here is a checklist from the CDC on how to communicate in a crisis.
    • Giving others an opportunity to process the information, and a space to share their thoughts and experiences.
    • Finding opportunities for realistic optimism, pointing toward the future and highlighting ways that everyone can work towards it.

    3. Support trust and cohesion within virtual teams

    It can be challenging for virtual teams to develop trust and cohesion.

    As a leader, you can:

    • Set norms and processes around communication.
    • Encourage and schedule time for personal and social conversations as well as work discussions.
    • Include regular opportunities for video conferencing, which allows for much richer interaction.
    • Be a role model for these strategies.

    4. Provide frequent and explicit opportunities for coordination

    Because virtual teams have fewer opportunities to spontaneously interact and coordinate work, it is particularly important to provide clear channels and expectations for communication and coordination.

    Leaders play a key role in establishing these norms and expectations, such as:

    • Plan regular calls so that everyone in the group can share their progress.
    • Use instant message or chat functions to take the place of impromptu in-person meetings.

    5. Take care of your own mental health

    Leaders are not immune to experiencing worries, stress, anxiety, or sadness at times of uncertainty. In fact, you may experience a unique set of stressors, making it all the more important for you to take the time to take care of yourself. For strategies to do this, read our blog on wellness.

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