What if your ability to keep your job was contingent on the success of your client?

Last week, during our weekly department meeting, I proposed this to my staff: What if your ability to keep your job was contingent on the success of your client? What if you didn’t get paid until your clients were happy and successful? What if every employee was responsible for their own salary?

Do you know how many students you would need to guarantee are successful each year? Just for illustration purposes, multiply your salary by 37% (that’s about how much of your paycheck comes from tuition). Now divide that number by $71 (that’s how much GCC gets from the District per credit hour); now take that number and divide it by 24 (that’s 12 credit hours per semester). That equals the approximate number of full time students you need to make sure are successful this year to equal your paycheck.

The point of that exercise is to ask this: If your job depended on those students staying at GCC, paying tuition and re-enrolling for another year, would you be more proactive in their personal academic success? Would you march them over to the Enrollment Center and personally see to it that they are enrolled and paid their tuition? Would you shepherd them through the process of financial aid? Would you ask how their grades are, escort them to tutoring, make sure they studied hard? Would you ask how else you can help them be successful?

While we have a duty to educate and raise up our students to be independent, contributing members of society, they are still, after all, our client. Meaning, they can take their tuition dollars elsewhere. They are paying for a service (an education) just like any number of us do at other establishments. And the first rule of customer service is to picture them with dollar signs on their forehead.

Marketing people are familiar with the old adage: If someone has a good experience, they might tell three people. If someone has a bad experience they will tell 11. Now, this was before social media! So go ahead and add a couple zeros behind those numbers to account for a mass online audience. This effects a student’s motivation to enroll a great deal.

Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. In fact, more than 37% of our students are here because of a friend or family member! Another 10% are here because of a relationship they formed with a recruiter. Another batch are here because our online community through social media. A successful, cared for, student is a happy student who is willing to tell others about GCC.

In all reality, that’s your paycheck walking around out there on campus. How many students are you responsible for? Would you serve a student as if your job depended on it?


Visioning: An Exercise

It has often been quipped that individuals are as afraid of speaking in front of an audience as they are of facing the IRS in an audit or the dentists’ chair. As with all true learning, public speaking needs rehearsal and practice in order to be accomplished in a captivating, coherent and convincing way.

There is a practice I have used (having been a speech teacher in a previous life) that has come to serve me well whenever I step up to the podium. (Yes, even seasoned public speakers get a case of the nerves from time to time). The practice is called visioning.

Borrowed from the sports arena, visioning entails seeing yourself as delivering that speech successfully before you ever say a word. Not unlike the great basketball player who “visions” himself sinking the 3 point shot, the successful speaker “visions” the speech to be flawless, articulate, teeming with great information and yes even humorous. The way I tell my students about it is to sit quietly in a chair an hour or two prior to the speech, close your eyes and actually “see” yourself from introduction to conclusion in delivering the speech. The act of “visualizing” success is tantamount to foretelling that indeed a successful speech is about to take place…from your words and your delivery!

The great Wayne Gretzy is often quoted, “You must skate to where the puck will be” and the same is true of speaking…you must envision yourself as the successful orator!


A Life Changing Event

When I was a student at MCC I worked in the tutoring center helping students with Math, Chemistry and German. I remember assisting several students but one in particular changed my life.

I was a Chemistry major at the time. All through high school I helped many of my friends with their homework and that is why I chose to work in the tutoring center when I got to college. I have always liked helping people. One morning while I was walking across the mall area at MCC on my way to class a female student, that I had been assisting regularly in the tutoring center helping her with math, screamed out my name and came running across the green grass at me. The mall of course was full of students changing classes. She came up to me and jumped in my arms. I was taken completely off guard. I had been helping her with math that she had a lot of struggles with. There was no relationship between us besides tutor to tutee. After she strangled me she said “I got an A on my math test! I got an A on my math test! I got an AAAAA!!!” I had never seen anyone so happy about a grade before in my life. That experience felt really great and I decided after that day that I would become a math teacher. As they say, the rest is history. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life and I have a student to thank!

Seeing ourselves

I like diversity, even though sometimes being with people who are very different from me can make me uncomfortable. It is the kind of uncomfortable that challenges me to grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a scholar and I appreciate that kind of uncomfortable. I am sharing that because I want to encourage all of us to go outside of our comfort zones when it comes to diversity because I think it benefits our students if we do.

One of the ways that faculty and administrators can go outside of our comfort zones is to have honest conversations about the racial diversity on campus among the faculty and staff. Personally I don’t think that trying to have the faculty and staff reflect the diversity of our student population is an ambitious enough goal. I think every student deserves to be able to encounter someone on the faculty and staff with whom they can identity.

As a student at The University of Oklahoma, I had two African-American professors. One of them was a psychology professor. She was a Princeton and Stanford graduate, and she was the most amazing person I had ever met (in fact, she is still the most amazing person I have ever met).  She inspired me to pursue my own graduate education. Meeting her was like opening up an entirely new world to me. I had not considered the possibility that someone like me could go to graduate school and become a professor until I met her. Now maybe I am unusual in that way (I know I am unusual in other ways) but I doubt it. I needed to see it to believe it, and I don’t think our students are that different from the way that I was as a student. Yes, I know, there are a lot more ways for students to be exposed to people who can model behaviors for them, there is all the information we can access on our tablets and smartphones, however there is no substitute for one-on-one contact with someone who can do more than just show us that it is possible to succeed. There is no substitute for having access to a real live person who can help us to learn the culture of the professional world.

There is no substitute for students being able to see themselves in us.



Knowing their Stories

Sometimes we don’t really know or understand the barriers to learning that some individuals experience in school. We might look at the ease of our own ability to organize our time, our belongings, our ability to read, write, study, type, make everyday decisions, socialize and converse among other people. We might tend to look on others and wonder why they don’t try harder, why they are in college, or wonder whether they will ever amount to anything.

Here are a small portion of students’ stories from my personal experience: (Names have been changed)

Amy volunteered to sit on a panel with other students with disabilities to share experiences with faculty and staff during a brown bag event. She began sharing when she was diagnosed with a learning disability during grade school and moved into talking about her high school experiences. All of a sudden she began to cry and ran out of the room. She shared with me later that as she was sharing with our group, the emotions and pain she experienced in K-12 began surfacing and her emotions got the best of her. She began to remember the childhood ridicule and how instructors would be impatient with her telling her to try harder. I hugged her and thanked her for her courage to share and that even in her reaction to cry and flee spoke volumes to the listeners.

Brad was the male lacrosse player who was diagnosed with ADHD. He confined in me that the school partying scene and expectations of the team camaraderie was getting to him and not a good contributor to focusing on academics. He decided to transfer back to his hometown college and commute from home.

Kert was a football player with a learning disability that cried in my office when we were discussing his academic standing and his learning struggles for that semester. What seemed so easy in high school was now so overwhelming to him transitioning to a residential college. The rigors of practice, workouts and games along with his reading difficulties was just so overwhelming.

Timothy was the veteran returning to civilian life only to return with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Wanting to move forward and obtain a college degree, he was hampered at times with the lingering memories of wartime experiences. He needed to sit at the back of the classroom so no one would be in the back of him. That really wasn’t good for his focusing to sit so far back but he needed to feel safe in the room full of strangers. He used to have a great memory and could retain information, but now this is more difficult and it makes test taking troublesome.

Carl had ADHD, anxiety and Asperger Syndrome. He needed to be in a separate room to take tests so that he could pace when dictating his responses to test questions. For long exams we would split the test in ½ so he could take a break and returned to complete the exam.

There are countless ongoing stories of students such like those mentioned above that seek higher education and we, as faculty and staff, have the challenge and the privilege to journey with them as they explore and move mountains to achieve their goals.

PS: Meeting with Carl often left me feeling really stupid. His passions were Shakespearean literature, the Beatles and an avid movie buff. Every time we met, he would quiz me on films or literature. Even the Beatle questions left me stumped since I had no idea what years each song was produced. I even grew up listening to the Beatles. I should have known the answers!


Big Lesson in a Small Moment

Last spring, I was leaving the college later in the afternoon on a Friday. Anyone who has stayed late on a Friday knows that there aren’t too many people around after about 3:30. About that time on this day, I realized I was a little late for picking up my son, so I added a dash of hurry as I crossed the north parking lot to my car. The lot was almost empty, open and still like a sea of pavement.

I tossed my work bag in the back seat, hopped in and pulled around near the Life Science building to head toward the exit. In the distance, I saw two young men at the fringe of the lot, near the Tech buildings, waving at me with both arms over their heads as if to hail me. I thought to myself, “Do they need help? If they need help, I’m going to have to refer them to security. I just don’t have time to help anyone right now.” But I turned the car in their direction.

They kept waving as I drove toward them. Finally, one guy broke into a run, heading straight for the car, leaving his friend behind him, so I stopped and rolled down my window.

“Hey! You’re driving with your trunk open!” he shouted. I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed. But I hadn’t. When I checked the review mirror, the view was indeed blocked by a sheet of silver.

At this point, he was nearing the car. “Do you want me to close it for you?”

“Sure,” I mumbled.


He slammed it shut, and I saw him in the rearview mirror waving amiably as I headed for 59th Ave. I waved thanks to him out the window.

The lesson for me at that moment was clear: we all need help even when we don’t know that we need help. The best I (or anyone) can do is let myself receive help gratefully when it comes–especially when it arrives before I even know that I need it.


Let’s Talk About Extra Credit

Extra credit seems to me to be one of those “teacher taboos,” one of those things rarely talked about openly for fear of being shunned forever or banned from the faculty lounge.

I believe you can meet the course competencies and requirements in the allotted class time AND ALSO engage and reward students through extra credit opportunities – but it takes creativity, control and discipline.

And ok, a tiny little bit more grading.

What’s an extra credit opportunity look like? Here are a few I use:

  • In composition courses, prewriting and invention are competencies, part of the writing process taught. But an extra credit opportunity BEFORE the prewriting assignment, where students share initial ideas about what they are going to write about with other students in a Canvas or other (safe and controlled) discussion forum, is an added (but useful) perk.
  • Peer review is another composition competency. I use a “standard” Word form with ten questions about drafts that students must complete. If students complete the peer review forms correctly, sufficiently, and on time, they can also submit an MS Word “Track Changes” red-line review (i.e. direct electronic markup) on the same papers for extra credit (and learn/practice a new technical skill they’ll potentially use in their careers).
  • F2F Creative Writing courses are often known for their “workshop” format, where writers openly analyze and discuss fellow student papers in a real-time circle.   In my online CRW courses, I have what I call “virtual workshops” at the end of each module: Students must complete the required writing process steps to participate — but the “virtual workshop” is a discussion forum at the end where they can (1) share their story with others in the class, and (2) get comments from/give comments to any other student in the class. Not every student MUST post their story, not every student MUST (or can) comment – but if they can and/or do, they get some extra credit points.
    • In my combined introductory and intermediate CRW courses, posting and commenting in the “Virtual Workshop” is optional for beginning students, but mandatory for advanced students. Look at all the cross-training and exposure that happens!

Where’s the “discipline” element in extra credit come in? You have to set up rules and regulations to make sure extra credit is actually a reward for good work and not an open path to grade inflation. Therefore, make your extra credit opportunities:

  • Meaningful.
  • Fairly difficult and/or challenging, above-and-beyond the expected norm.
  • An added opportunity, not a replacement for required assignments.
  • Not worth more than 5% of the total grade, so that extra credit alone can’t change a student’s letter grade.

For me, the most compelling reasons to use extra credit are:

  • Extra credit is a great motivator – human beings fall all over themselves to do something if they think they are getting something free or “extra.”
  • Extra credit soothes student fears and obsessions with grades – it helps them learn more “right stuff” more easily.
  • Extra credit gives students hope. Students (and other humans?) need hope to continue. When their hope dies, so does their confidence, their self-esteem, their motivation, and usually any chance at a passing grade and a better life.
  • Extra credit is a great way to judge initiative. In the last two weeks of a course, when students typically flood you with questions about what they can do to get a better grade, all you have to do is look back at the extra opportunities already given to see if they had the initiative and took advantage of what was already offered.  Makes it clear they, not you, are accountable.
  • Extra credit balances out all that extra work we instructors do to help struggling students that are performing below expectations — by rewarding those Type A students capable of and wanting to excel above and beyond.  “Catch people doing something right — and tell them.”

Extra credit? Let’s bring it out in the open and talk it over, exchange ideas. I’ll be in the faculty lounge, munching down cookies.


EXTRA (HAH! Gotcha): How do you do extra credit in Canvas? Set the extra credit assignment up like you would any other assignment (title, details, due date). But assign a point value of “zero.” That way, the points earned in the extra credit (specify the value in assignment details so students know and you don’t forget) is mathematically “extra” as well and computes correctly into the total course point percentage as “extra.”



And the Oscar Goes to….

On the heels of the Academy Awards, I was reflecting on our own “award winners” at GCC who are often unheralded for their tenacity and perseverance.  While attending the Arizona Academic All American awards ceremony last week, I met three such amazing students who were being honored with high academic achievement.  And like many Oscar nominees, the pathways they each encountered to reach this milestone were unconventional at best and complicated at least.  One of the individuals never thought college was in their future, having never graduated from high school.  Another was a non-traditional student who imagined the classroom would be filled with 18-year-olds and not conducive to a more life-experienced style.  Still another was bold enough to venture into a major where the prominent demographic was male.  In each case, these students climbed over rocks and traversed crater-like holes to achieve a GPA that qualified them for scholarships at one of the three public universities in Arizona.
We all know “potential All Americans” in our classrooms, walking down the courtyard, studying in our library.  They are dedicated but are challenged; they are accomplished if not introverted; they are reaching for a goal that no one thought they could attain and quietly and steadily making progress toward the goal…the degree or certificate that boosts them to the next level of success!  With small encouragement, these students too should be recognized for their accomplishments.  A word on their paper congratulating them on improvement from the last draft; full completion of a physics lab that had been particularly challenging; accomplishing the all-important verb conjugation that is a must in mastering another language.  While this progression may not be the stuff of fanfare, they are the significant steps as a student makes as they acquire the needed skills to continue to move forward.  
A Gaucho applause for the nominees and the academically accomplished winners!

Out with the old and in with the new! Part I

CINDY: The professional development opportunities offered by MCCCD are one of the greatest benefits of our work. During my fifteen years with the district I have attended many workshops, learned all I know about technology, attended a major conference each year, taken a sabbatical, and received summer and MCLI grants. A highlight of my career was being an MIL Fellow and my indoctrination into the scholarship of teaching and learning. Classroom research and reflective practice are now a normal and constant part of my work.

This year I was asked to be a PAR mentor and my professional development took a new and unique turn. On some days it takes place “across the hallway” with my colleague Sherry. Our dining room tables, the patio, a restaurant or two, and GCC patio tables have been the sight of serious professional development sessions, too! Inherently, “brainstorming and talking out ideas” with colleagues is how I best learn and plan for my courses, but somehow I think this relationship was also borne out of the adage “everything old is new again.” I say that because we seem to have similar training and experiences but working with Sherry has helped contemporize and re-energize my classes. In fact, I am finally parting with my mimeographed handouts and omitting or revising lessons (AND even posting them on Canvas! Thanks Sherry!)


Sherry: As I sat in a training listening to Chris explain the essential element of reflecting with my PAR mentor, I was laughing to myself because I am ALWAYS reflecting with my mentor, especially now that we are hallway buddies:) Cindy and I started our venture with our Supercharging 081 grant, which has led to incredible things. I remember my first semester where we had our RDG 081 students read Dracula, and she laughed because I added all the current pop culture vampire themed movies, television shows, and other books. She holds me accountable with her questions, and makes my own reflections define what outcomes I desire for my students.

The last two semesters we have been co-planning our CRE 101 classes. We have even implemented several co-teaching sessions, taking it a step beyond simple observations. Cindy has been a mentor that I can bounce ideas off of, ask numerous questions, make mistakes, disagree with, but most importantly she makes me feel like a valued and respected colleague. It is a give and take relationship….and the true definition of professional development in the sense that our collaborating leads to amazing teaching!!!!

Stay tuned for some specific examples of lesson transformations!!!!





Week 3 Stats for Write6x6

We have had continued success with Write6x6 at Glendale Community College. In our third week we were able to produce another set of meaningful, inspiring, enlightening pieces of writing – 18 total for week 3. We slipped a bit in number of posts, but the quality is still high. This week we wrote about professional development, fitness, student success and two administrators wrote about being a student then and now. Good stuff, and I expect a few more will come in over the weekend for Week 3. ParticipantsWe now have a total of 65 posts in only three weeks from 25 participants. We represent administration (8), faculty (10), adjunct (4), student services (3), administrative/business services (3) and other (2). Thirty total signed up, but 5 have not posted yet or are part of a team. For instance, Dean of Strategy, Planning and Accountability (SPA), Alka Arora Singh, has not posted, but her team has contributed 3 awesome posts about our student demographics and internships for students in their department. I’m a big fan of the team approach. We also have a joint post this week from two faculty who team teach, so 1 post for 2 people. Again team work is awesome.   Twitter Shot We are all unique in who we are and what we do on our campus, and sharing what we do, how we feel, how we make a difference and what we do for student success is the best professional development anyone can ask for. I look forward to each post each week and do my best to get others in the education community to read our blog. Just yesterday while at the Wired & Inspired conference in Vegas, I crashed Todd Conaway’s session on his 9x9x25 Challenge at the #eLearning2015 conference across the street. He was presenting to an audience of about 23 on his awesome idea to get faculty blogging at his college. This is the idea we stole borrowed for Write6x6. What’s really cool about this is other colleges across the country are also using Todd’s idea on their campuses. We have various renditions of it: It was fun listening to Todd, Dr. Karly Way, a Yavapai instructor, and Skyped in guest Mark Dulong from NMC talk about their projects. Thanks for inviting me to tag along Todd. Be sure to check out their blogs and read posts from their faculty and staff. And for a little extra entertainment, check out NMC’s video about their 4x4x16 Challenge in Michigan. You’ll be glad you live in Arizona after watching the opening scene.