All posts by Paul Moore

A Need and a Solution

Here we are again at the end of the Write6x6 journey. This season has been special for me. This is the first time I broke from the established narratives and the first time I have put real thought into comparing the two major aspects of my life, teaching and volunteerism.

That comparison evolved as I wrote it. I entered this process with very clear objectives and topics in mind. Although the core of what I wanted to get across remained, the examples, depth, and analysis ended up being different than I anticipated.

This process has been cathartic for me. Elaborating and reflecting kept me grounded during difficult decisions and aggravating political meetings. Generally, that is an accomplishment only my wife can boast about.

Meditation and Spirituality abstract image (c) pixabay
Maybe not THIS cathartic… but cathartic nonetheless.

Malleability, critical thinking, patience, and the capacity to care are all qualities that I feel educators have in abundance. Some of those characteristics don’t come immediately or naturally, at least to me, but I have been successful as a teacher for over a decade because I integrated those traits into my everyday life.

When I first entered the world of volunteerism, non-profits, and politics, I did not have the first clue how important those qualities would be.

Word Cloud of key terms throughout the series.
That looks like an apple right? This is not a Rorschach test…

Malleability is a four-letter word in politics. The thought process from those deep in that world is that if you give in, even a little bit, you are as good as defeated. “If you give an inch they will take a mile” is a phrase I have heard multiple times in the last year, but educators know people are not binary. Adaptation and evolution are the only reasons life exists on this planet. Malleability makes a person strong instead of rigid and easily broken.

Critical thinking was something I expected in abundance when I started to volunteer. I thought those in a position of power at least consider alternatives and other points of view. As an educator, I have dedicated entire weeks of semesters to critical thinking. I know that teaching critical thinking skills is common across all fields of higher learning, but I was disappointed to discover firsthand that not all degree-wielding graduates are educated. To my dismay, I learned that the abilities to consider other points of view and entertain higher level thinking are some of the first skills tossed aside once power is obtained. Like malleability, I have witnessed a twisted thought process that equates titles to absolution.

Patience is a skill that was learned for me as I developed as an educator. If I saw someone struggling or emotionally upset I would try to resolve it immediately. Often this process resulted in making the problem worse, or in some cases causing those I was trying to help to become distant. Being an educator taught me that taking action is important, but expecting immediate results is not. In fact, most issues of import can rarely be solved overnight. Quick fixes can be dangerous and lead to unintended consequences. Educators know this from experience, but that knowledge is not as abundant elsewhere.

I stated previously that the cornerstone to all of these traits is the capacity to care. Rather than repeat those thoughts entirely, I want to stress there is a difference between the appearance of caring and having the capacity to care. Educators know this firsthand. Teachers flunk students every semester who either do not have the skills or work ethic to move forward. They understand that by doing so they are helping, even if it’s not apparent to the student at first (or ever). The capacity to care is as much about saying “no” as it is saying “yes”. I hear the word “care” all the time at meetings, but simply saying the word just puts up an appearance. It takes action and difficult choices to show the capacity to care.

Image of watch in the sand (pixabay).
Try as we might, there are only 24 hours in a day.

Capacity can be a real hurdle. I have tried to encourage other thoughtful, patient, and caring people to volunteer, but the truth is there are only so many hours in the day. The capacity of time is a very cruel reality.

I understand.

Image from outlook calendar showing volunteer schedule.
A sneak peak at my volunteer calendar… who needs Tuesdays or Thursdays anyways?

All I need to do is open my calendar and look at the several hours of meetings I am dedicated to next week. At this rate, there is a real possibility that I won’t be able to keep up the pace of my volunteer efforts because of the time commitments. However, as a friendly colleague reminded me last week, Theodore Roosevelt had a quote for that problem as well, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.

I started my volunteer process as a member of an economic advisory group that met once a month for a few hours. That is a far stretch from the multi-meeting weeks I am in now, but it does show that there are opportunities out there for any time schedule.

Image from Strategic Plan kickoff meeting of short term volunteers.
An event I hosted to receive citizen input on city planning. It was two hours total of volunteering for those involved, and it made a world of difference.

Educators have all the traits that are needed in volunteers and public servants.

I can’t promise that getting involved will be energizing, fun, or financially rewarding. I can promise that, even in a short term or limited position, a difference will be made that wouldn’t have otherwise.   

Until next year, thank you for reading.

 

A Capacity to Care

I want to make a disclaimer: This article will most likely lack the structure and finesse of my other blogs.

I originally had planned a different article this week with the same title. My goal was to do a full education/politics crossover next week with four critical traits. However, on Thursday I had a meeting that put today’s trait front and center. I am going to go with my heart and go more in-depth today than I had originally planned. I will include as many of my draft thoughts about caring as I can.

AZQuote image of Teddy Roosevelt quote "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care."
TR Quote 1 of 2 for the day. I often look to our 26th president when I am in need of inspiration. (C) AZQuotes

Every educator I have met that has been in the profession for an extended amount of time is caring by nature. Even for those that don’t know this first hand, it doesn’t take a great deal of research to find that almost all educators do what they do despite the financial and emotional toll that comes with the title of teacher. Those sacrifices are made with the intention of building up others every semester, every day, and every class.

The essence of education is a desire to make the world a better place and to empower others.

Ideally, anyone in a position of power should share the same goal, especially those in political power.

I spent the better part of the afternoon Thursday in a room surrounded by powerful regional entities: utility owners, ports, economic advisors, mayors, councilmembers, development directors.

I walked out of that meeting feeling frustrated, defeated, and depressed. I walked out questioning my volunteerism and optimism for the future.

Many of the conversations I witnessed at that meeting boiled people down to numbers, put profit over affordable living, and came across with a callous disconnect that broke my heart.

Image of money from pixabay
Currency has people on it. Close enough, right?

More than anything at this very moment, I regret not saying anything. I regret just listening and accepting the pecking order. I doubt anyone in that room would have listened to me. I doubt my speech would have been as eloquent and as well rehearsed as those I would have been opposing. Nevertheless, it would have been the right thing to do.

AZQuote image of Teddy Roosevelt quote "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing"
Sorry Teddy… I forgot. (C) AZQuotes

Others were silent as well, I would like to think that those in silence felt the same as me, but I will never know the answer.

When I sat down in front of my computer, wanting to talk about the capacity to care, of how it is reflected in everyone I meet in education, I simply couldn’t shake how I had just seen the opposite end of the spectrum.

I could have stuck with my plan and said some of these things in my closing next week. As important as the other traits I have discussed are, upon reflection, the capacity to care is the cornerstone. The vast majority of educators have open caring hearts. The vast majority of those I have met in positions of power do not.  Fortunately, the problem presents a solution: have more educators active in their communities and governments.

Solution over problem on chalkboard - pixabay
A Capacity to Care.
 

The Mother of all Virtues

Patience can make or break a teacher; consider the following examples:

  • The first time a student struggles while others want to get through the assignment
  • The ever-evolving battle of classroom management
  • The realization that three years of lectures are now obsolete and need to be remade
  • The endless forms, regulations, training, seminars, webinars, assessments, observations, and reviews
  • The implementation of new technology that is routinely phased and replaced
  • The grind from tutor to adjunct to associate
Hands gripping puzzle pieces.
We’ve had one assessment, yes… but what about SECOND assessment?

Much like a nurse without crisis management skills, the realization will quickly set in that an error in career choice was made if an educator lacks patience.

Teacher writing on board with student texting in foreground.
Cell phones in class… Breathe in… Breathe out…

Teachers may not always feel patient. I know I have lost my patience during trying moments, but no other career path exemplifies the concept of patience better than education.

Time itself slows for an instructor. Where many jobs provide tasks to be completed in a week or day, educators live in a world of semesters. This is a world where careful planning is followed by laborious execution and capped off with in-depth assessment.

Sand in an hourglass.
Looks to be half past midterm.

It is fitting that the mother of all virtues is the most important trait for the mother of all other professions.

Continue to be patient, my friends.

 

The Mark of an Educated Mind

The ability to think critically is the most important tool education can provide. It is a universal skill that is advantageous regardless of experience, background, or future ambitions. It should not be a surprise that one of the few common themes between my three years of writing for Write6x6 is critical thinking.

Since I transitioned to online teaching, there has been one series of assignments that I have continued to incorporate into all my courses. It starts as an entry-level writing assignment where I first give students carte blanche to defend a personally held belief. Next, the students summarize their defense into a discussion post and then play devil’s advocate with other students’ submissions. The final stage is writing a defense of the opposing viewpoint to their original work.  The overall goal is to introduce students to the concept of understanding, without adopting, differing opinions.

A favorite quote of mine comes from Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”. I felt, and still feel, these assignments put that wisdom into action.

The assignment originated from a journal prompt I gave before doing a lecture on critical thinking in my face to face courses.  In those courses, the students were able to get a full lecture of context before they were challenged to “put on someone else’s shoes”. The online assignments evolved into a background to a larger module of materials.

Without the face to face lecture to provide specific context, I received some impassioned pushback when I first started using the series of assignments. I still have an e-mail archived away from a student who accused me of pushing my personal political bias on them for making them write an opposing viewpoint on the issue of abortion. This was, of course, the topic the student had chosen to defend in their first assignment.  I will say it was one of the more heated and accusatory letters I have ever received from a student.

The letter probably had the opposite impact the student hoped for. It serves as a continual reminder to me that critical thinking skills are the true definition of “educated”. I have since added more context to the assignments, but I have every intention of keeping a similar assignment early on in every course I teach for the rest of my career.

I plan on elaborating more on the need for critical thinking in politics in my final Write6x6 post, but the need expands well beyond politics and permeates the fabric of our society. The first and last lines of defense for critical thinking are educators, so find your battlefield and dig in.

 

To bend WITHOUT BREAKING

Several years ago, I had a student at GCC who taught me that a major difference between success and failure as an educator is malleability.

Stock photo of a reed bending in the wind.
“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

― Confucius

When I received the notification that I would have an American Sign Language interpreter in my class for the first time, I was excited. My mother is also an educator, currently in administration, but taught ASL early on in her career. When I was a child, she could not afford a babysitter and frequently brought me along as she taught late night ASL college courses. I never learned sign language outside of the alphabet or how to ask and answer basic questions, but was excited to make use of what little I knew from my mother’s teachings from twenty years earlier.

Childhood photo of Mr. Moore
A very young Mr. Moore…

Overconfidence leads to cruel reality checks. I was not prepared or capable of communicating with my student without the help of the interpreter. The interpreter was very kind about my attempts, but I had to give up on using any sign language as to not create confusion. I quickly reverted to my default teaching method, which is high energy and high speed.

After the first few writing assignments, I knew something was wrong. It was obvious that the lessons and lectures were not getting through. The reality is that I was the one struggling and not my student. I had become rigid in my methods after three years of teaching the same curriculum and using the same PowerPoints, videos, and handouts. Those methods were directly leading to an obviously gifted student failing my course. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not want to adapt, I defended my stubbornness by telling myself that I should keep doing the same thing I had always done because change would hurt the rest of my class.

My student’s first essay broke through that stubbornness. I still remember her conclusion on how the deaf still hear the music of life. There were grammatical, mechanical, and formatting errors aplenty, but the poetry of her language revealed passion and talent. I could tell she was upset when she saw the grade. After class that day I sat down with her, pointed out her gift for language, and did my best to encourage her. Once she left, still downtrodden, I had a conversation with her interpreter. They confirmed everything I already knew I was doing that was making learning more difficult.

I needed to slow down the speed at which I went through lectures, re-work my materials, and dig for relevant videos with subtitles. I won’t say it was a perfect transition, but over time my methods improved and the entire class, not just one student, benefited. She ended up passing that course, and the next level course after it.

Image of the entrance to High Tech 2 on the Glendale Community College Campus
Home to the CTLE and one of my favorite locations on the GCC Campus: HT2

One day, a semester later, I saw her in the curved glass hallway in the HT2 building on campus. She waved me down and walked up with a contagious smile. Without her interpreter the conversation was a bit awkward, but I had learned if I spoke slowly enough she could lipread incredibly well. After a short update on her coursework, she thanked me for helping her pass English. It is hard to put into words, but her genuine excitement created a memory I still treasure now. I was able to reply with one of the few signs I did know: “Thank you”, and that was the last time I saw her.

I like to think that she is now nearing a decade into her career in art design. If I could, I would elaborate on my final words to her: “Thank you for making me realize that malleability isn’t a bad word, that sometimes we have to bend if we are to evolve into a better version of ourselves.”

Animated image of "Thank you" in American Sign Language.
Thank you!

 

The Professor and the Politician

This is my third time doing a six-week blog for Write 6×6. In previous years, I focused on the prompt and sort of went spur of the moment with what I talked about with very little connection or theme between posts. I wanted to shake things up a bit this year. Over the next six weeks, I am going to take an in depth (or at least as in depth as six blog posts allow) look at the skills that teaching develops and how those skills can be useful in other arenas. Before I get into specifics, I need to provide a little context…

author and wife dancing at wedding
The happiest day of my life

Those who know me know that my life has undergone some significant events in the last half decade, starting with my marriage to my partner of (now) 17 years. In 2017, the first year I participated in Write 6×6, I was still in the process of adjusting to life in a new area and trying to get both my physical and emotional well-being on track. Life’s track is more like a roller-coaster and finding any sort of balance was near impossible, but through the ups and downs I began to find bits and pieces of a better version of myself.

Moving forward to 2018, I had become active in my local community by serving as a member, and eventual chair, of the Economic Advisory Board. That volunteer service forced me to expand my knowledge of web design, photography, videography, content creation, and marketing. The reason I say expand is because being an online instructor had already provided me with a base knowledge in most of those areas. My skills as an English instructor specifically became invaluable when I was placed on the Planning Commission. This may come as a shock (/sarcasm), but how laws and municipal code are worded can have a major impact on their effectiveness (and legality).

Snip of Municipal Code
Boring essay? Try legalese…

In Summer of 2018, the unexpected happened. One of our local council members had to retire for health concerns, and I was appointed to fill the vacancy. It was both exciting and horrifying at the same time. As a teacher, I have always striven to see the good and promote the best in those around me, and that effort was almost always reciprocated in kind. I discovered in my time as a volunteer the political arena had the potential to be a much uglier experience, even with the best of intentions.

Image of author and Mayor shaking hands after appointment.
The smile hides the fear of my appointment.

Without going into specifics, I will say that both my excitement and my fear have been justified on multiple occasions. Outside of the support of my amazing wife, the thing that has kept me from drowning in the stormy seas of politics has been the experience and skills I acquired over the last dozen years of teaching. Over the next few weeks I want to elaborate on those skills and why they are so important and underrepresented, and exactly the sort of skills communities need. I hope that maybe (just maybe) in the process I will encourage fellow instructors to get active in their communities as well.

Best case scenario: I succeed.

Worst case scenario: I educate.

It is a win-win.

 

School Lunch

The major downside to being an online instructor is the lack of meaningful interaction. Outside of a few e-mails, I rarely have a conversation with fellow faculty. Most of those are usually related to development of course materials or help with a student or technical issue.

When I taught face to face there was a fellow adjunct, Gary, who was in a similar situation. Twice a week I would walk into the adjunct office to find him sitting there at his laptop, cup of coffee in hand, smiling and commenting on the various comings and goings. Wearing a baseball cap and shorts, he made it clear he was just there to socialize. Looking back, I now understand and appreciate that longing he had to simply associate with a group of peers.

Sadly, I can’t come in a few times a week like he could, but what I can do is stress how important it is to do so if you are able.

Gary and I ended up having lunch a few times and talking about everything ranging from education techniques to our shared interest in writing fiction. I credit him with giving me enough courage to finally self-publish my first short story. Fast forward five years and I now have several short stories published, and am working on putting together a collection. Those lunch time conversations, and Gary’s need to socialize, were the main catalyst for me stretching myself to accomplish more than I would have otherwise done.

You never know how people you meet will influence you, it won’t always be positive, but more often than not in education it will be. Despite having various backgrounds, I find that most educators are open minded and friendly by nature (it is one of those unspoken requirements of staying in the field).

So, as I sign off for the last time this year, I wanted to leave everyone with a message of encouragement. Find a fellow teacher and go have lunch. Talk about ideas, education, hobbies, interests. Appreciate every moment of it, because whether you realize it or not, that ability to connect is not a given, and who knows, it may even help you become a better version of yourself.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice

After last week’s feel good story, this week is going to focus on the other side of the emotional coin: struggles and frustrations.

As an educator, there is a particular situation which can be extremely difficult and painful to deal with. That is entitlement.

Online course, end of the semester, grades due in 48 hours, inbox flooded with excuses ranging from computer malfunctions to ill pets, and in the digital pile of alibis one has several attachments. Teeth grind, palms clench, eyes close as the message opens:

“I was sick so was not able to hand in the last three essays, I have now completed them. Please remove the 0’s and update my grade. I need to pass this class to graduate.”

There are only a few options available in terms of response, and though limited, the repercussions are numerous.

If blessed with a deity-like ability to forgive, grade the papers, update the scores, and accept that by doing so, both syllabus policy and self respect are thrown out the window.

OR

Stand firm, say no, and accept that by doing so, both inbox and patience will be pushed to their limit by messages of vitriol and accusation.

As an educator, the reality is there is only one choice that maintains the integrity that is expected of the position.

Say no.

By doing so it will feel like the other tenets of education (kindness, understanding, and a desire to see every student succeed) are forced to the side like sediment from a river.

I promise they are not.

In education, scenarios like this will arise. They will be difficult, and that gnawing guilt those hate-filled messages leave is just a shadow on a wall, a fictional monster created by the fingers of a student who just learned some of the most important lessons of life.

Anything worthwhile must be earned, not given.

To be successful requires personal responsibility.

The earlier these lessons are taught, the easier they are to absorb. Have faith that once learned, the inevitable outcome is a wiser, better individual. That is what education is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Let’s Get Critical

Last year I went in depth on one of the most overlooked assessment tools, rubrics. My feelings and thoughts on that important tool have not changed, but rather than repeat myself this year I want to talk about a different type of assessment. Specifically, I want to talk about assessing the critical thinking skills of students.

The specificLightbulb critical thinking ability I have been working on is the ability to analyze and attack a strongly held personal belief. The idea being that a good critical thinker should be able to understand opposing viewpoints.

I have done this through a series of writing assignments in various forms over many semesters. The most recent iteration is a “Devil’s Advocate” series of assignments where students are required to write a defense of a personal belief one week and write a defense of the opposing viewpoint the next.

The reason I always do this type of assignment is because of my core belief that critical thinking is a skill that will be useful to students no matter their future profession. It is also a skill that is sometimes overlooked in the test-driven performance-centric world of secondary level education.

Think Outside the Box

A word of warning, these types of assignments do have issues that will arise and need to be planned for ahead of time. There inevitably is always a group of students who absolutely detest this type of work. I had a student go as far as claim I was trying to “force my liberal beliefs” on them through my position of power. That complaint didn’t go anywhere, but it is an example as to how difficult this can be for some individuals. It also is very insightful as to the ability of students to critically think.

I have only recently started to tabulate the data in any real form, and the number of students that are able to successfully “think from the opposing viewpoint” has varied over semesters. The one constant I have noticed in the last decade is that there is always a significant portion of the class (30-50%) that must change their topic or take a sarcastic tone to complete the task, which shows a lack of developed critical thinking ability.

No matter what the final numbers and assessment show, the need to reinforce critical thinking skills at the college level is, well, critical. There are elements of critical thinking that can be taught in any discipline or class, and if every course made an effort to include tasks that require critical thinking skills, the end result would be students who will be better prepared to handle the unknown, problem solve, and appreciate (or at least respect) the “other”.

Education prepares the workforce of the future, politicians, nurses, teachers, managers, everyone that has a job that requires more than a High School diploma. In a world of percentages, having the majority with a solid foundation of critical thinking skills will result in a better world for everyone.

Graduation Photo

If you have assignments that assess critical thinking, or have thoughts about critical thinking in the classroom, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail!