Vicariously Dreaming

 

This week is all about dreams, and I wanted to break away from the abstract big-picture view I normally go with and talk about something personal to me.

Several years ago through the glories of the internet I befriended a young man named Danny who, like me, was passionate about writing. Very quickly I realized he had a gift for wordsmithing, poetry, and editing that all surpassed my own. From that common love we became what would be the digital equivalent of pen pals. We share stories, poems, and ideas, and the edits that ensue always seem to produce much higher quality work for both of us. It remains a symbiosis.

Over the years I started to get to know Danny on a more personal level. Like me, he suffered from asthma but, unlike me, his asthma continued into adulthood and served as a constant source of hospitalization and medical bills. Like me, he has a wonderful sibling who serves as friend as much as kin  but, unlike me, whose father is an evangelical minister, politician, and pillar of the community in which he resides, Danny suffered through multiple negative parental figures.

Danny enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, initially pursuing a similar English degree to the one I had pursued during my Bachelor’s. It was at this point that I started to give Danny advice on more than just writing. In him I saw limitless potential and the same drive and passion for writing that I had as an early college student. I was a much wiser man than I was in college and had clear hindsight on all the poor choices I made during my academic career that impacted my professional and personal life down the road. I encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunities that came his way and, although I believe he would have made the same decision in my absence, he eventually became a writer and an editor for Odyssey. With that accomplishment he conquered one of my greatest regrets from my own schooling, failure to have meaningful writing experiences outside the classroom. As he continued to write more insightful articles he built up a portfolio and a reputation for quality that even my current resume would be jealous of.

Even though Danny is only ten years my junior, I began to understand what it was like to have a son to feel pride in someone else’s accomplishments. To see him grow in skill and confidence seemed more rewarding to me than it was to him. Without knowing it, Danny was purging all the demons of my past mistakes through his own achievements. It was a wonderful feeling, but I was unaware Danny was still dealing with his own demons. Thankfully, unlike me, he would face those demons down on his own instead of through someone else.

In 2017, Danny came out to the world in a lovely article. I had known for a short period of time before, but I could tell it was a struggle for him to admit it even to me, the professor who loves to talk about how important it is to appreciate other points of view and will rant for an hour about critical thinking skills.

In 2018,  Danny will be receiving the prestigious McKibbin Medal upon graduation and is on the precipice of making some major life decisions, but I can honestly say no matter where his life leads he is already a wiser, stronger man than I could have even dreamed of being at his age. I am truly thankful for the inspiration and confidence he has given me by simply having the courage that he has.

Danny,

Thank you for helping a middle aged professor dream again.

Now go conquer life.

 

 

If I build it, will they come?

 

I didn’t select a line from “Field of Dreams” just because this week suggests we write about our dreams. I mean, how obvious.

But I’ve been pondering lately over how I can best support our faculty and their professional development. For a long time, the model with Centers for Teaching and Learning is to provide workshops and training so that faculty can learn new technologies and new teaching skills and apply these in their teaching practice. We tend to hope that if we build it (a new workshop), they (faculty and staff) will come.

If you build it they will come

But all the Maricopa CTLs are feeling the diminishing attendance, whether in person or online. Our event attendance looks like Kevin Costner wearing disgruntled face,  standing in an empty cornfield.

Film still from Field of Dreams

I don’t have much of a dream for improving the situation, mostly because the things I can do are limited by time and budget constraints. Sometimes it’s hard to balance supporting the smaller, more immediate needs for help with a big picture approach. I wonder how I’m going to find my way to a fresh path, one where I can help you grow rather than just helping you out of a pinch.

I’m not sure I’m making a lot of sense. But I’m glad you’re hanging with me through the discomfort of my own incoherence. If you are still reading. 😉

I’m a maker. I make things. Hopefully, engaging things. I’m getting ready to try something new, though I’m not sure what it will be yet.

But I need you.  My dream for today is that one person might read this and then talk to me about something that frustrates you, or something you need. One person might want to collaborate and try a new thing or make a new thing. That would help me build a thing I know you’ll like.

And if I build it, will you come?

 

Week 4: The “One Thing,” and How to Influence Assumptions

 

Data is a powerful thing: It can confirm our assumptions as well as confound them, as in the story I shared in WEEK 1.

WEEK 2 empowered us upon learning that, when it comes to students choosing YOUR classes (and thus GCC), leaving choice up to chance is not our only option.

In WEEK 3 we covered how reputation is the most important factor in influencing people’s choices, and the importance of making our achievements public to enable people to make informed choices.

This week, let’s talk about your face.

Face Facts: Numerous published studies provide countless evidence to support the fact that, when viewing a photo of a stranger’s face, it takes us less than a second to formulate an impression .

Assumptions about the character of the person pictured are formed quickly.  One Princeton University study published by the Association for Psychological Science is a great example:

“Willis and Todorov conducted separate experiments to study judgments from facial appearance, each focusing on a different trait: attractiveness, likeability, competence, trustworthiness, and aggressiveness.” The results? Of all the traits, trustworthiness was the one participants assessed most quickly.

We cannot escape the fact that photos influence choice, so we will harness this fact and use it to our advantage.

Fear not – the good news is, people want to see trustworthiness and competence in your face, not a glamour shot.

Consider the following photos of these notables: Albert Einstein, Delores Huerta, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Conrad Wolfram.

    

The reasons for not wanting to post a photo:
  • I’m not photogenic.
  • I don’t like the way I look.
  • My face will break the camera.

 It’s not about vanity. It’s about character. It’s time to embrace the powerful sway your photo can have upon a stranger’s choice.

The employee bio page is the most underestimated tool available to you. A photo of your face, backed up with a personal quote, your areas of expertise, and a list of your achievements works to establish YOUR personal reputation while raising GCC’s reputation.

By doing this “One Thing” you enable the public to make an informed decision to choose… you.

WEEK 4 Homework: Because you are your own worst critic, your homework is to recruit friends and family to help you sort through photos of yourself to find one that captures the characteristics of trustworthiness and competence. The photo chosen by others just may surprise you.

For tips on how to choose a photo, read Lydia Abbots’ 5 Tips for Picking the Right LinkedIn Profile Photo.

If you can’t find a photo, a GCC photographer is available.

Come back for WEEK 5: The “One Thing” Before and After

“You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

Seeking Time-Turner

 

A time-turner, for all of you who have not read the Harry Potter book series, is a device that allows the wearer to travel back in time.

(http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Time-Turner)

As you can see it is also very fashionable. Hermione used the time turner to attend classes that occurred at the same time during her third year at Hogwarts.

If I had the chance to use a time-turner regularly, like Hermione, I would use it to research more at the community college level. Since completing my Ph. D. last semester I have missed researching classroom interactions. I find that between teaching full-time and being a new mom, I am stretch pretty thin when it comes to time.

I would love to have more time to improve our students mathematics classroom experience through research. I have colleagues in my department with NSF grants that fund their research and I am in awe of them teaching full course loads and conducting research.

This is where the time-turner would come in handy. I would teach my classes but then be able to turn back time and be in my office hard at work creating and implementing a research study of my design. I would also write journal articles that will help spread my findings to the community college and greater mathematics education community.

The benefit would be the chance to help mathematics instructors improve their teaching and in return help students in their mathematics classrooms achieve a better understanding of the concepts.

Since I will have to live without a time-turner for the foreseeable future, I plan to find some stability in my teaching load and work/life balance.

My current goal is to survive this first year as a residential faculty member with an overload and enjoy being a new mom. In the next year, I am planning to join one of the research groups that is already in my department. This will allow me to dip my toe back into the research pool. Eventually, I would like to be the one awarded an NSF grant to conduct research here at GCC.

Dreams Start With Good Habits

 

Dreams…I want to be a better writer. Thanks to Write6x6, I get to practice. I want to be a better public speaker. When are we starting Speak6x6? Who needs Toastmasters when we have everything we need right here at GCC?!

I have learned that there is no such thing as work/life balance. I would say madness is a more appropriate term than balance. I have been reading Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits so that I can continue to function effectively at home and at work. Brendon shares in detail the habits of high performers, and gives clues about how anyone can work on these specific habits to become a “rockstar.”

I can only dream, right?

Well, good thing this week’s writing is focused on dreams!

I have dreams for my students too. We know the data about our students. They arrive underprepared and with no idea how to be successful. But they have a dream…a college education.

Here is what Brendon shares that can help you, me and our students:

  1. Clarity – set an intention for who you want to be and how you want to interact with others. For example, if, in my heart, I want to be helpful and kind, I repeat these words to myself when a student or coworker enters my office. If I am about to enter a meeting room, I decide what kind of energy I hope to bring into the room and how it will effect others. This is a great message for many of our students who often do not see how their demeanor can affect others.
  2. Energy – time to improve your mental, emotional and physical vibrancy! This starts with nutrition, sleep and exercise! Open your refrigerator and your pantry and rate yourself the foods you see. You will eat what is readily available. Don’t like it? Either toss it or take non-perishables to the GCC Food Pantry! Start afresh! Take a nutrition class and learn the basics of healthful eating! Go to bed on time and wake up early so you can do 30 minutes of exercise and stretching! If you stay up late, you tend to eat more junk, wake groggy, and are less likely to want to exercise. So sleep!
  3. Necessity – are you bringing your A-game to work and home every day? You are here to serve students’ needs, right? What is your level of motivation? Are you really giving it the same level of motivation that you did when you started? Or are you just going through the motions. When is the last time you asked yourself “why am I here?” and “am I doing what I am supposed to be doing to effectively serve others?”
  4. Productivity – how is your time management and project planning ability? When do you strategize and actually get real work done well? Are you in offense or reaction mode? Do you check your emails first thing in the morning and start working on other people’s priorities? NEVER start your day by checking emails. Put the phone down! Get out of bed, stretch, exercise, read a good book, spend an hour strategizing and working on a favorite project, THEN check your email in a 20-50 minute time block. Then get up and walk around and chat with students or peers! Bring your good intentions to every interaction.
  5. Influence – let’s face it, nothing gets done if we can’t convince people to take action. If they don’t trust you, they will not go to bat for you. We need to show patience, compassion and availability to others before we can ever expect others to do the same for us. Relationships take time to build. Being a great role model and asking lots of questions is a great place to start.
  6. Courage – are you living your passion? Do those around you know what your dream is? Have you ever taken a step into the unknown even if it scares you? Live your truth, take risks, and share your voice a little more every day! If we live in fear of judgement, we can never expect to grow!

I hope these six guidelines will help guide you on your dream journey! They are great reminders to all of us!

 

Dogs and CATs

 

I’m a dog guy. I didn’t really know it until later in life. Our family had cats when I was growing up. I remember Frisky and Misty, but those memories are somewhat cloudy as I was fairly young. After I got married and moved to Arizona, my wife and I adopted our first dog, Virginia, named after the state in which we met. She was a beautiful black lab, but cancer took her from us too soon. She did get to both of our kids; however, she was not around long enough for them to have any vivid memories. But, after having Virginia, we quickly became a dog family. Flash forward to today, and we have three wonderful dogs at home. Hero is a loving, carefree Golden Retriever, who we have owned since he was eight-weeks old. We also have two yellow Labrador Retrievers, Ginger and Obi. Both are rescue dogs, and both are incredibly sweet and loving in their own way. Three dogs in the house is “a lot of dog” as we like to say, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I reflect on my love of dogs and my tolerance of cats, it conjures up some connections to our roles as educators. First, I believe effective teachers mirror some of the characteristics of dogs. When I come home from work, our three dogs are absolutely overjoyed to see me – a barrage of wagging tails, playful jumps, and flops at my feet. With a greeting like this, the worries and stresses of the day can quickly disappear. With teaching, I am always impressed with those teachers who provide that warm, positive greeting as students enter the room. Granted, I’m not sure we want teachers jumping playfully and flopping on the ground; however, students do respond positively when teachers take those brief moments before class to welcome them and to show excitement and gratitude that the student has come to class.

Second, dogs express an unconditional love and support of you, no matter the situation. I have met many teachers who have this unconditional love and support for students, the belief that all students can succeed. There may be times when students will let us down, possibly with the choices they make or with the effort they give. But, effective teachers have an unconditional and unwavering belief that all students can learn and achieve.

As an educator, I’ve grown to love cats too – but in this case, I am referring to Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). I was first introduced to CATs over a decade ago while working at the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI). My supervisor at the time handed me a copy of the Angelo and Cross foundational text, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. To this day, I still refer to this book as I interact with faculty during classroom observations. CATs are quick and easy informal strategies to measure student learning in the classroom. Some instructors at GCC have completely embraced CATs, using minute-papers or the muddiest point strategy to gauge how well students learned the content and objectives for the class session. My personal favorite CAT is the ticket-out. With this strategy, instructors provide students with a brief question or two at the end of class. Students must write their answers on a note-card or slip of paper and that is their ticket out from class. These informal techniques allow instructors to get a sense of what students learned from the class and what students may have missed, with the ultimate goal of providing additional instruction the next time the class meets or to even provide additional content in Canvas to fill in any gaps. These low-stakes, quick assessment strategies are an effective way to measure student learning and an excellent teaching strategy to help students to achieve.

I am a dog guy – there is no question about that. However, there is definitely a special place for CATs in my teaching heart as well.

Effective Assessment and Reflection

 

I think effective assessment has a lot to do with reflection. Writing instructors often ask students to reflect on work they’ve completed. This helps spark insight about existing strengths and which areas could benefit from further development. It also allows them to consider the amount of time and effort they put into the assignment and how that shaped the outcome. I think assessment can and should be the same way for instructors. Assessments, for me anyway, are tools that are fluid and often change between semesters. I think many of us are always trying to perfect each assignment, so it tests the competencies we want students to demonstrate and also engages them enough to facilitate effective writing. If my students fare poorly on some aspect of an assessment, whether that’s an in class activity, or something more elaborate like a 750 word paper, I typically ask myself what I might have done differently. Should I have covered the concepts invoked in that problematic section more thoroughly in class? Are the assignment directions for that part of the paper confusing? Or is this just a particularly challenging concept that students need multiple exposures to across several assignments before they really perfect it? Sometimes I might even make changes to the assessment itself. Is the thing I’m looking for mission critical in terms of the competencies students need to demonstrate or is it something I do just because I’ve been doing it that way a long time?

I try to ensure my approach to student learning is evidence based. Certainly that means I like to try to keep up with current literature on teaching and learning, but that also means looking at the evidence from the students themselves. My experience with GCC students has been that, on the whole, they are quite hardworking and, if you give them a sufficiently stimulating assignment prompt, they’ll put in substantial work despite the many outside pressures they and most other community college students face (work, family obligations, etc.) — I once had a student that rollerbladed to my 10 am class because his car broke down, but that’s another story. Given that experience, I tend to look for alterations and improvements I can make if a substantial portion of students are struggling with a certain aspect of an assessment. Please don’t read this as “dumbing things down” or “making the assignments easier.” That would be an awfully reductive interpretation of what I’m trying to get at here. The competencies are the competencies. The rubric is the rubric. Effective teaching is about finding ways for as many students as possible to find success in demonstrating those competencies so they can find success here at GCC and beyond.

Lemon Lavender Cookies…

Last fall, I found myself teaching on campus for the first time since Spring 2010. As prepared my lesson plans for the semester, I searched my old files and sent the online course I’ve been developing for over a decade back to its beginnings. Reincorporating all the in-class activities and instruction that are lost in the online format reminded me just how much online students are missing out on.

Yes, online courses offer students opportunities that didn’t exist when I started teaching. They can work full time and still attend classes. They can stay home with their kids and attend classes. They can care for sick loved ones and attend classes. Online classes offer students with certain challenges, like PTSD, the ability to learn without fear.

Yet, our online students are missing out. They are missing out on getting to see us face to face. On seeing examples worked out in front of them. On being able to work with groups in class–to gain understanding that might be explained by a peer just a slightly different way that finally clicks. On the hands-on activities that illustrate concepts that are difficult to explain online.

Likewise, we are missing out, too. We are missing out on getting to know some amazing students. If they don’t feel connected to us, they might not feel safe sharing what is going on in their lives. We miss out on getting to be a part of the campus culture with our students–to hear what is important to them. And we miss out on things like lemon lavender cookies made by a longtime chef who is studying to become a nurse.

While we find ways to bring more connections to our students–connections with each other, with us, with the course content–we can acknowledge both the benefits and the frailties of online learning. And, hopefully, that knowledge will help us to mindfully create a better experience for our students.

What’s In a Name? What I Wish, Part II

 

What is in a name? Connotation weighs more than denotation. My son is currently in middle school, and any child in his school will tell you that words matter. It’s about at that point in life that we humans learn that lesson if we have not learned it sooner.

I struggle with the word ‘assessment’ mostly because it seems to call attention to something that teachers are doing all the time, and in calling attention to it, it suddenly feels weird. It’s like how normal teaching can be until you realize that you have had a string of mucus laying alongside your nostril for the entire class period. That happened to me last week. It was such a good class until I got back to my office and met my horror. Suddenly, it wasn’t a good class at all, all for a lack of self-knowledge and a tissue. I wondered why someone hadn’t told me that I needed to wipe my nose. Then, I realized I hadn’t asked. With assessment, it’s true you often have to ask to see if you’re getting the results you want.

Notice that I don’t say that I struggle with assessment. I don’t. I only struggle with the word, and, since I am a word person,  that matters to me.

I would say that when I’m teaching I’m assessing every moment. I am reading my students’ faces, their body language, I am listening to what they say and what they don’t say — every gesture and utterance can be a clue when you are teaching for determining how the moment/the lesson/the material can be done better. Then, of course, you can also ask, and oftentimes, I do.

I wish assessment could be called ‘what we are all learning with some specific details’. But I expect that’s too long a phrase. I wish it could be called “overt questions with answers about learning.” I wish it could be called, “check point of understanding.”  I wish it could be called “measuring student growth.” Or, “measuring instructor growth,” as it’s that, too.  I wish it could be called anything but ‘assessment.’

 

A Fly on the Wall

     In my previous classroom, I kept a fly swatter in the shape of a flip flop. The students loved it and often volunteered to take out any annoying, flying anything that happened into the classroom. And there was much excitement and cheering and relief at the death of these little creatures. So I know to wish to be a fly on the wall on campus is a potentially dangerous risk. I would be willing to take on the risk, though, because the benefits would be great. Note: This scenario assumes I could then switch back to myself as teacher and not have to live out the rest of my life as a fly.

     I know that "fly on the wall" usually has connotations of wishing someone could observe something secretly, that there would something scandalous gained from listening in on a private conversation or watching some tantalizing situation. I am not using the phrase in that sense at all. Were I to be a fly on a wall, it would be purely to observe and gather an intel of sorts. I would be more like a tiny thief. In fact, if I could, I would choose to be a fly on the wall of every classroom on campus.

     I would take notes on a tiny pad of paper with my tiny mechanical pencil. Additionally, I would listen to every word uttered and then watch the reactions of the students, studying their faces to gather data on how they perceive the information or tasks. I would visit all classrooms regardless of discipline, and I would listen to the voices of hundreds of teachers.

     Ideally, at the conclusion of my life as a fly on the wall in classrooms across campus, I would be able to return to my previous life as a teacher. But I would be a new and improved teacher, a beautiful pastiche of all the best of each teacher on campus.

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