Birdseye view of a latte with heart art drawn on top
HealthAugust 20, 2020

Taking time to enjoy some coffee!

By: Audrey Tolouian, EdD, MSN, BASW, RN, CNE
Feeling dazed and confused? Ready for a break? I know I was! The last semester was a challenge—moving all our courses online and having little direction on adapting to this new unknown future.

It has left the faculty overwhelmed, anxious, and a bit testy, only to prepare for summer session without a break. Now, think about what the students are feeling. During the last semester, they lost their clinical experiences, face-to-face access to faculty, and their sense of belonging to the student nurse community. Furthermore, they pick up on the faculty’s feelings, we project our unease onto the students, we have not been our extraordinarily talented and naturally confident selves, and the students can sense that.

The first few weeks after we came back from Spring Break, were pretty awful if I must admit. Lectures were put onto a virtual platform, which crashed, had unidentified people interrupting our courses, and would go slow due to heavy use. Online exams were compromised, students lost clinical time, and even the Sim Man himself was made virtual. Through all of this, the students were at a loss. I tried to disseminate information as quickly as possible, but this was not enough—the students needed more. Not only were they going to school full time, but they were also now taking care of their spouses and children full time. Then, they were told they had to become homeschool teachers, creating an atmosphere of overwhelming chaos! I started online virtual office hours and found the students were just really needing a space. They would log in to have some conversation, not always about nursing school. At this same time, a friend of mine had created a virtual Coffee Shop for his coaching business; I would watch the recording from afar-due to the time zone difference—as they gathered, drank coffee, and had a lovely time laughing and supporting each other. I was chatting with another faculty about how the students seemed to be struggling and were hankering for contact. She suggested implementing the virtual Coffee Shop idea into my class, and thus the “Coffee Shop” came to life!

On Friday mornings, I have a virtual session for my students to hang out in a semi-structured environment. Since I teach research, we talk about many things based on nursing research, dealing with self-care, mindfulness, and fun…but we do not talk about school. How it works is each week we have a Discussion Board topic that is self-care or mindfulness related, that starts on Monday. During the week, we post pictures and discuss the topic (in addition to assigned classwork since none of the Coffee Shop part is mandatory). Then, on Friday, we hang out and do an activity based on the week's topic.

The very first week, we chatted about stress relief since stress seemed to be the students' major topic. Many people posted about fitness, hiking, their pets, all things that they, themselves, did to relax a bit during this crazy time. We were learning about Covid-19, so people were anxious. And again, this conversation got me thinking about nurses and their lack of skills or the self-permission to help take time for their well-being.

So, I searched a bit more to find ways that the students could learn to take care of themselves while building some sense of community with their peers, albeit a virtual one. For the following week, I had my friend, a meditation coach, do a meditation. She logged in with us and led a guided meditation, helping us visualize being in nature and taught us some breathing techniques that we can use at another time. The students loved this. There was so much feedback about how nice it was and how good they felt afterward. One student called and said she wished we could have it every week, while another wrote to me about her experience and thanked me for developing a self-care skill that she felt she had been lacking. So, needless to say, we are having another session later this summer.

During one of the Discussion Boards the following week, one of the students mentioned that he was an artist, and used specific colors depending on his mood. This prompted a bit of research into color use and research studies. I found a few studies showing if students colored mandalas before exams, it helped increase focus on the exam, and they performed better. The next week we colored mandalas, and the students shared them on the discussion board. What was so amazing is that in addition, other students shared their art, and it created a nice week of people sharing art and talking about being creative. The students opened up and shared a deeper part of themselves and allowed others to see another side of them.

The following week, the MSN educator student mentoring with me got in on the action and decided to have a pet therapy week. Students “brought” their pets to class. It is amazing how people enjoy being engaged in the Discussion Board with pets. The students have dogs, cats, and we even have pictures of a turtle! It has opened a whole discussion on how the pets help keep people calm, make them laugh, and help them take their minds off school. The pictures show the personalities of the animals, and how special they are to the students.

These are just a few of the topics we have discussed in our Coffee Shop; we eventually have 12 or so topics as we finish out the summer. Overall, the students have given positive feedback throughout the past two semesters, saying that they enjoy the Coffee Shop time. It was such a hit on the Discussion Board the first semester that is has continued into this summer session with the synchronous activities. Each semester, it has evolved and will continue to grow based on student feedback and participation. I am continually getting emails and texts from my students thanking me for it. It has been a great way to get to know my students and have some fun with them while we are all having a challenging time in the virtual and real world, but this has helped maintain a sense of community. I have built better relationships with the students—by letting my guard down and relaxing with them, and we have learned a thing or two about each other that we would never have learned in a face-to-face environment. I have enjoyed the time with the students and learning new wellness skills, just as much as they have! So, take a break and grab a cup of coffee with your students—it is so worth it!

Audrey Tolouian, EdD, MSN, BASW, RN, CNE
Nursing Education Author, Wolters Kluwer Health
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