Resilience and Empathy in the COVID Era
“As a teacher and a leader, I remind myself that the product of a university is the transfer of knowledge to others,” Meas Nearyroth, an assistant dean and lecturer of education at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, reflected in a recent interview. That responsibility has grown heavier over the past year, as COVID-19 forced a fast transfer to online learning and brought economic hardship to many faculty members and students. “COVID-19 has taught us that anything can happen at any time,” Ms. Meas said, and it has shown her that leaders need to be resilient as they help colleagues adapt to new circumstances.
Ms. Meas found the United Board’s five-part webinar series “Leading Through Crisis” to be a source of encouragement. “The webinars came at the right time,” she said, noting that the sessions led by Father Ben Nebres, former president of Ateneo de Manila University, and Joseph Zolner, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, were especially helpful. “Father Ben reminded us to take care of ourselves, so that we can help others” she recalled. “It’s so easy to forget to care for ourselves, but we must find space for ourselves, talk with colleagues we trust, and share with each other.”
Dr. Zolner talked about leading from the “head” – planning, reviewing data, revising budgets – and the “heart” – focusing on interpersonal relationships, helping each other. Ms. Meas examined these ideas through the lens of Cambodian culture. “Professors may need a lot of support but do not ask for it,” she explained, “because the tendency in Cambodian culture is to be silent and not complain.” For example, she knew that many faculty members were struggling to use technology for online teaching but were reluctant to ask for help. In this context, leading from the heart starts with small steps. “Faculty have to be invited to share their problems,” she said, “so when I greet them, I ask how they are, what is going on with them, and if help is needed.”
Comfortable with her own use of technology, Ms. Meas willingly shares her skills with others. An alumna of the United Board’s Whole Person Education Academy, she led echo training sessions in Cambodia on incorporating technology into whole person education. As a supervisor for the project CONTESSA: Contemporary Teaching Skills in South Asia, funded by EU Eramus+, she is piloting modules for online education. She knows it is difficult, in the COVID era, to ask colleagues to try a new approach to teaching or to invest time in career advancement and networking. Still, it is a time when the values of whole person education – such as empathy, compassion, and trust in others – can shine through, as educators lead from the head and heart, keep students at the center of their teaching, and tend to the emotional well-being of themselves and others.