Stress: Permission Granted – Kyra Jones

3016549999_02e1883f93_mWith upcoming academic milestones, children’s birthday parties, trips to conferences, and the usual daily grind, I have been feeling a lot of stress lately. This became evident to me on the day I served Eggo waffles for dinner. At the time, I thought, “I just need to feed everyone and I don’t have time to think about what to serve for dinner”. If you know me, you know that this is a complete shift in personality. I am the woman who shops at local food co-operatives, buys organic whenever possible, and thinks about what I feed my family and where it came from. I enjoy making healthy and satisfying meals for my family and myself and I take pride in knowing where my food comes from. At the time, serving Eggo waffles didn’t seem like a big deal and it isn’t – my family can survive one day eating a suboptimal meal. But as time passed, I noticed small sacrifices like this in other facets of my life and wondered if my inability to effectively manage stress was causing me to give up on things that are part of my identity. 

This is when turned to Google. I searched for tips to reduce stress and came across the usual suspects:

  • Work off your stress with exercise such as jogging or yoga
  • Set realistic goals
  • Get enough sleep

These were all great ideas, but I knew deep down that these tips wouldn’t necessarily solve my root problem. Missing a yoga class I had scheduled to try to decrease my stress would likely do just the opposite – add more guilt and stress to my life. I had to decrease my own stress. I had to learn to say no to things when my plate was full.

Upon this realization, I began to think about my students. Many students have a lot of things going on in their lives in addition to their course work. Even if a student is stressed, there are many instances in which students do not have the opportunity to say no. Deadlines come and go, and students do their best to keep up. I did this as a student, and I always thought it was ok to make sacrifices because “one day” I would be done school and I could do what I want to do then. That is when I would enjoy my life more, once “this” stress was over.

I was naïve. “One day” never comes, because when one stress is over, another stress begins. I realized that giving my students advice in the form of ideas they can use to manage their stress may not be effective enough. By giving my students a list of things they can do to mitigate stress, I was making stress seem abnormal and using the tips would mean admitting to feeling this “abnormal” sentiment.

With this in mind, I decided that one of the most important things I can do for my students is to give them permission to feel stress. Stress is something that tells our bodies and mind that we have taken on too much, that we need to slow down, that we need to rest. A list of ideas to manage this feeling can seem like I am minimizing or trivializing this perfectly normal feeling.

I want my students to know that stress is normal. I want to tell my students that no matter what they accomplish and achieve, if they realize these goals but sacrifice their identity to do so, it may not be worth it. This is your life – all of the things that fill up your day, even the stressful things, are a part of your life. Each day is a day you only live once. Decreasing stress may involve prioritizing events and responsibilities – easier said than done. I hope that by emphasizing that stress is a normal feeling, students will more readily admit to feeling stress and hopefully through this admission, take action to manage their stress. I hope by giving students permission to pay attention to their mind, body, and mental well being, I can help them avoid their own personal Eggo waffle scenarios and enjoy living life fully each day, even during stressful times.

Navigating the Pitfalls of Peer Evaluations – Kyra Jones


Having students work as a team for summative and formative assessment can be challenging, but implemented thoughtfully, it can be highly beneficial to students. Teamwork allows an instructor to pose more difficult problems that encourage deep learning. Group work can also be an effective way to engage students in a large class as well as prepare students for the workplace. Despite these benefits, group work can be challenging to implement.

One tool that can help group work succeed in a classroom is to incorporate peer evaluations. Peer evaluations help to provide a key benefit of group work in the classroom: teaching students how to give and receive constructive feedback. Peer evaluations provide a method to keep students accountable for their contributions to the team’s task, can help reduce group conflict, and lead to a more evenly distributed workload amongst group members. Finally, this tool can help alert instructors to conflicts in between group member. Peer evaluations have many benefits, but like group work, using this tool effectively takes careful planning.

First, the expectations of the students in the team setting must be communicated clearly and directly. Students need to be aware of the criteria by which they will be assessed and use to assess their peers. It is also essential that instructors formulate expectations that are realistic and align with the course objectives. It can be helpful to involve the students in creating the peer evaluation criteria and designing procedures surrounding peer assessment. This can motivate students to take the process seriously and address student anxiety surrounding group work. Students take more control of the peer evaluation criteria and process, promoting validity and reliability of the peer assessments.

It is also important to have multiple peer evaluations during group assessments. This allows students to develop clear expectations of their responsibility as a group member and gives students who under-perform, especially those who do not realize the are not meeting their peer’s expectations, a chance to improve.

Additionally, we need to provide students with the tools and skills to give and receive constructive feedback. Giving constructive feedback is not a natural skill and many students have not had the opportunity to participate in peer evaluation.  One method to introduce students to this process is through demonstration, looking at a journal article or other work as a class and providing constructive criticism. Further, the class can work together to restructure examples of inappropriate feedback to create constructive comments. This skill that takes practice, which further exemplifies the need for multiple formative peer assessments throughout the project.

In my view, one of the most important aspects of implementing a peer evaluation system is to take into consideration your own teaching style and goals for the class. One model of peer evaluation may work for one instructor, but this model may be ineffective when implemented in your classroom. As with all teaching tools, it is important to tailor peer evaluation models to your own personality, teaching style, course, and institution. Being a good teacher is something we all strive for, but it is important to be a good teacher in a way that reflects who you are.

Peer evaluations can be a tricky component of group work, but with diligent planning and consideration, this tool can make group work a more realistic and successful exercise in the classroom.

Aggarwal, P. & O’Brien, C.L. (2008). Social Loafing on Group Projects: Structural  Antecedents and Effect on Student Satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Education, 30(3), 255-64.

Cestone, C.M., Levine, R.E. & Lane, D.R. Peer Assessment and Evaluation in Team-Based Learning. In Michaelson, L.K., Sweet, M., Parmelee, D.X. (Eds.), Team-Based Learning: Small-Group Learnings Next Big Step (69-78). San Francisco: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.