This month, we feature Dr. Sarah Parry, a sessional instructor in academic writing and American literature in the Department of English Language and Literatures. Learn how developing and teaching a wellness curriculum intended to help students inspired Sarah to make changes that support her own health, as well as the wellbeing of her colleagues.
What are the central challenges you face in your role as faculty?
Sessional faculty face many challenges. We often teach many courses and work close to year-round, and our workloads can negatively affect our physical health, mental health and relationships. As well, contract work can be stressful as the prospects of long-term employment are uncertain. The lack of tenure-track positions can also result in low morale.
How do you manage these challenges?
With the help of the Student Health Promotion and Education unit, I developed a wellness curriculum for my first-year writing course. Though it was originally meant to help students, I have found that it helps me just as much! I use the text, Wellness Issues for Higher Education, which looks at stress, emotional health, exercise, diet, sleep and social and intellectual wellness, among other topics.
During the course, students develop and implement their own strategies for exercise, nutrition or time-management, and they write personal reflections about the changes they make to support their wellbeing. Some students use apps to monitor their social media use in order to create time for other activities. Others establish meal-sharing traditions or take yoga or other exercise classes.
I have learned how to sleep well as a consequence of teaching wellness and now swim three days a week. Taking the 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge was great, too. I am currently working to improve my social and relationship wellness by making sure I do something social once a week.
Can you offer any suggestions or advice for new sessionals or faculty to help them manage their time and work/life commitments?
I find it helpful to leave one day a week free for rest, even it it means getting up early on other days. I think it is a good practice to work no more than 60 hours per week in peak periods. The single most important thing I have learned is to maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle.
Are you involved in any specific initiatives and/or research that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
As part of UBC’s Healthy Workplace Initiative Program, I established a faculty wellness room for the department, where faculty can retreat for short stretch, exercise or meditation breaks.
I also initiated ergonomics education to help faculty promote their own wellbeing while marking and lecturing. It’s important for them to know about best practices such using a slant board when marking to avoid excessive neck strain and using an anti-fatigue mat when lecturing. As well, I contacted the UBC Ergonomics Program about creating some classroom ergonomics resources to help faculty promote their own wellbeing while marking and lecturing.
I am also a member of the Teaching and Learning Wellbeing Community of Practice, which advocates for policies and practices that improve student and faculty wellbeing. We hold several events at CTLT (Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology) every year. Faculty interested in joining us can contact Michael Lee, Gail Hammond or me at email@example.com.
Dr. Sarah Parry is a sessional instructor in academic writing and American literature in the Department of English Language and Literatures. She is chair of the Standing Sessional Committee and also serves on the Faculty of Arts Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee and the Teaching and Wellbeing Community of Practice design team.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Parry