School of Nursing professor Tomeka Dowling in class
Dowling, president of the Virginia League for Nursing, on a classroom moment that left an indelible mark on her students - and herself.

[At a Center for Teaching Excellence event this spring, assistant professor Tomeka Dowling was asked to share a single moment in her teaching in which she knew without a doubt that her students' lives were forever changed. Following is the story prof. Dowling offered as part of a "Power of Moments" event May 15.]

"As the program coordinator and a professor for the RN to BSN program, I am amazed at the level of dedication our RN-BSN students have in returning to school to earn their bachelor's degree all while balancing full-time employment as RNs and the ongoing demands of family obligations.

"This past fall, one of these students experienced the challenge of losing a parent unexpectedly, and voiced that she wasn't sure if she would continue in the course or program as school was the least of her concerns at this moment in her life.

"At this moment, I had to make a decision: Do I go on with class as usual (as I have a packed agenda), or do I step out of the role of professor and support the student?

Assistant professor Tomeka Dowling on the 'Power of Moments'

"Even though I tried to convince the student that we, her School of Nursing family, was here to support her with flexible options to complete the semester as well as the program, she wasn't convinced that she would continue. The following week, I found her sitting in the classroom alone staring off, with tears streaming down her cheeks. I asked to call someone to drive her home, as she was not in any condition to stay for class or to drive home. She begged to stay in class as the class was her only constant, stable environment as she was planning to bury her parent within two days.

"At this moment, I had to make a decision ... do I go on with class as usual (as I have a packed agenda), or do I step out of the role of professor and support the student?

"That day, of course, I chose to be a nurse first to my student. She needed me as her advocate. With her permission, I shared that she'd lost a parent with the rest of the class. Fellow students were able to shoulder the sorrow with her in a manner in which only perhaps nurses can do: nurses always rally around each other. They took the time to hug, cry, sit in silence, and provide a listening ear to the grieving student. We resumed class after 30 to 40 minutes to offer support, pay respects, listen, and connect.

"This is a story I shared to remind all of us, as educators, that we must first recognize powerful moments while also recognizing when the moment is bigger than us, and our agenda. The story also shows that we as teachers must, too, meet our students where they are academically, personally, and professionally."


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