Faculty: We Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup

ACUE-credentialed professor, Dr. Lindsay Wright, stresses the importance of self-care in order to be an effective educator.

Headshot of Lindsay WrightLike in other industries, many individuals in academia discuss their all-nighters or weekend work sessions almost as if they are points-of-pride. And had it not been for a series of family circumstances in recent years, Dr. Lindsay Wright, Ph.D., ACUE-credentialed associate professor and undergraduate program coordinator in the School of Child and Family Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), might have been one of them. 

But today, Wright is passionate about setting a different example, not only for her colleagues but also her students—one of self-care. That journey began in 2017 when Wright’s young daughter, Kaitlyn, was diagnosed with leukemia at 21 months. Wright, a busy professor who was currently going through ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices course, had to start setting boundaries for herself.

“It started shortly after my daughter’s birth. I took email off my phone so I didn’t feel pressured to respond to work emails immediately,” Wright remembers. “And then I had another wake-up call in the fall of 2017 when my daughter was undergoing treatment for leukemia. I had really let myself go—I wasn’t eating or sleeping well. I was driving 80 miles to and from the hospital a lot of weekends while I worked during the week, which is hard on a mother.”

When her daughter finished chemotherapy, Wright vowed to make a change and focus on her own health. She dubbed that time her “self-care spring,” which slowly morphed into self-care summer.

“I started a nutrition program, began exercising and lost 35 lbs,” Wright says. “But doing that meant I had to set boundaries with work. It was a real growth moment for me. I had been so focused on all the things I needed to do that I had to step back and look after myself.”

But it wasn’t until COVID hit in March 2020 that Wright started applying some of those self-care principles she was using personally on a professional level.

“I was always pretty rigid in my structure, but like with most things, COVID changed that,” Wright says. “I had an ‘a-ha’ moment during quarantine when I had to remember that not everyone is like me and tries to push through hard times. Life situations affect people differently. I changed the times of my assignment due dates to be on Fridays at noon because it works best for me, but I also tell my students that I’m happy to accept late work, as long as they communicate that to me within 24-hours of the assignment’s deadline, which they really appreciate.”

Trying new things to accommodate her students, while also prioritizing her personal time with family and friends, is important to Wright—and it’s something she tries to remind her fellow faculty members.

“Our jobs are stressful and the work is demanding, but to best serve our students, we need to set boundaries for ourselves,” she says. “As faculty, we need to be role models for our students and for one another. You don’t need to be working constantly to be successful in your career. The fact I’ve been able to earn tenure while setting personal boundaries is proof of that. At the end of the day, our jobs—while important—are replaceable. The people in our lives are not.”

Dr. Wright is featured in ACUE’s course Effective Online Teaching Practices. Watch a sampling of her contributions to our course:

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