All posts by Tiffany Harvey

AHHHHH, Perfection!

I learned to use perfection as a way to survive life.  Perfection is exhausting.  Perfection is impossible.  Perfection leads to denial, shock and disbelief.  Perfection limits success.  Perfection was how I was rewarded, noticed, and regarded.  Perfection limited my ability to successfully navigate difficult situations.  Using perfection to navigate difficult situations increased my stress level, reduced my self-worth and confidence, and interfered with relationships.

Ahhh, connection!  Connection acknowledges our frailty, vulnerability, and humanness.  When I allowed myself to connect during difficult situations, I gained strength, knowledge, and support.  Connecting is scary.  Connecting means I may be rejected.  Connecting means I have limitations.  Sometimes I didn’t know how to connect.  I didn’t know what to say, how to act, or how to fulfill expectations.  Connection meant I wasn’t alone.  Connecting is healthy and helpful.

The dilemma of perfection and connection happens on a daily basis in Testing.  It is easy to celebrate success.  It is easy to praise perfection.  It can be hard to connect through disappointments.  Connecting in the imperfect moments builds strength.  Connecting becomes difficult because we may be unsure of how to connect, the other person may reject attempts to connect, or we see our pain, fear, and insecurities in others.

Connecting, whether with ourselves or with another, is human.  I feel successful when I have connected with at least one person.  Connecting is easier when I build rapport, express empathy, and know my limits.

Rapport becomes crucial because it leads to trust, respect, and confidence.  In Testing we must establish rapport quickly.  This video describes strategies we use to connect with students.  Students who are anxious, disappointed, elated, satisfied, and content.

We compliment rapport with empathy.  In most cases, we are not taking the tests.  So we are not always feeling what the student feels.  We can acknowledge, accept, and validate the student’s feeling(s).  It is in these moments we connect through differences.

I am human too.  I have limits and needs.  I connect better when I am energized, refreshed, and focused.  Sometimes, difficult situations means I have to reflect.  I need to understand the impact on me.  Once I know the impact, I can take steps to recover, recharge, and rejuvenate.  As a Testing team we are working on creating this space in our department.  When the demand is high, it is easy to neglect ourselves and serve others.  It is in these precise moments, when we need to take time for us.

 

When you wish upon a star

From a young age I was asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  As with most, my answer changed regularly.  Then high school came.  At this point, I had to decide upon a dream.  Then college started, I was encouraged, maybe even expected, to make my dream a reality.  At this point, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor.  I grew up in a small town.  I loved school.  I was a certified nursing assistant in our small rural hospital.  I started college by majoring in psychology with the intent to apply to medical school.

Then life happened. College started.  I joined clubs, continued working to finance my degree, made friends, and my interests changed.  I stuck with my dream of going to medical school through the end of my sophomore year.  This is when I learned I could work in a college for the rest of my life.  Somehow this dream took priority over my dream of being a doctor.  Some may say I gave up on my dream.  Others know dreams change as we change.  So did I give up?  Did I find a new dream?  I’m still not sure.

In America we grow up being told we can be anything we want to be.  In reality, our choices lead us closer or farther away from our dreams.  We make choices based upon what is important to us.  Some days I know I choose work over learning sciences.  Other days I think I did not have this choice.  If I gave up on work, I would have been homeless.  I, like so many college students, financed my own college education.  Thankfully I had a scholarship to cover tuition.  I needed money for housing, food, and books.  Some may ask, “well why didn’t you just borrow money?”  I can honestly say that I thought I would need to wait to borrow money once I got to medical school.  So I didn’t want to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a high level of debt.  So my dream changed.

Looking back, I know that my story is not much different from others.  We can dream a good dream.  We are told to dream big.  Dreams provide hope and inspiration.  When we reach our dreams we develop a sense of satisfaction, confidence, and pride.  Letting go of unattainable dreams is hard.  It is especially hard when we are raised to believe anything is possible.  The reality is that each dream comes with choices.  Sometimes we do not realize the sacrifices that we will have to make along the way for our dreams to come true.  I’m incredibly grateful for the mentor who allowed my dream to change with grace.  When we change dreams it shows strength and courage, not failure.  I’m so thankful that I did not have a mentor questioning my capacity to become a doctor.  Rather I had a mentor that recognized my interests changed.  Today I’m grateful that I made this change.  Now I get to see students live their dreams and change their dreams.  I hear stories about persistence, success, and change.

So far, I have talked about big dreams.  Dreams, wishes, and goals can also be small.  I see this regularly in Testing.  We have students who are coming in for the third time to get reading exemption or the student trying to qualify for the presidential scholarship or a student wants to reduce the number of college-prep classes they need to take.  It is a good day when we get to celebrate these successes.  These little dreams help them move closer to achieving the big dream.  In this moment, we get to be a part of the journey.  It is through my story of the big dream that I understand the value and importance of little dreams.  I need several little dreams to happen for me to reach my big goal.

 

 

 

Success or Failure?

“Did I pass?”, asks the student.

Testing employee responds, “Placement exams are not pass fail. Placement tests assist the college in making sure you are placed into the appropriate class. It looks like you placed into MAT 09X, ENG 101, and are reading exempt.”

“Can I take the test again?”

“Yes, students must wait 24 hours between the 1st and 2nd attempt and 3 months before taking the test a third time.”

“What can I do to improve my scores?”

“We have practice questions, an in-person test prep workshop, and a phone app that can help bring forward prior knowledge”

This is a common conversation that Testing Services employees have with students completing placement exams. We have the difficult job of being realistic & responsive, providing hope, and encouraging students to enroll in classes. In this moment a person is more than the results and course placement. In these moments students may be questioning their ability to succeed, wondering why they have so many college prep classes to take, or feeling defeated and rejected.

In this moment, Testing Services is more than just administering a test. We are human. We feel what the student feels. We wish the student met their goal. We want to see the student succeed. We want the student to know that GCC is here for them. We want to see the student come back for retesting, start classes, and persist. When we see a student struggle through a setback, it is a reminder that we are not defined by scores and numbers.

In these moments, we let the student know that we see and hear them. We let the student know there is hope. We manage our fears so they do not become the students. We stand strong, tall, and confidently. By doing this we respond to a challenge by providing support. We embrace our humanity.

Placement testing tells us what we know and what we don’t know. It helps students learn where to begin their college journey. Testing evokes feelings. Placement Testing is more than greeting a student, telling them where to place their belongings, selecting a computer or desk, setting up the exam, and printing results. Testing is a human experience.

 

 

Challenge + Support = Success

Someone once told me that you learn the most from your mistakes. Another wise person encouraged me to find my green lights. A third mentor brought these two words of wisdom together when she shared her expectation that we need to provide adequate support in challenging situations. Throughout my life, I will never forget friends, colleagues, supervisors, family, and faculty who help me live through and become stronger during emotional, financial, interpersonal, and intellectual difficulties.

The way support was offered varied based upon the people, my need, and our relationship. Sometimes it was a brief smile from a stranger when I was walking across campus. Other times, people supported me by telling what I needed to hear but didn’t necessarily want to hear in a kind and gentle way. Still others, helped me embrace my feelings which seemed to be getting the best of me. Sometimes it was about listening. Other times it was about solving problems or figuring out action steps. Regardless of what the person provided, I responded best when I knew why the person was responding to me in a particular way.

At the time I never really thought about how people decided to provide support. I have come to realize there are two different ways, the golden or platinum rule, to respond to others. From a very young age I was taught to treat others how I would want to be treated (the golden rule). This works best when someone is like me. Throughout life, there have been times when I thought I was supporting when I wasn’t. It was through these times I learned it is not about how I want to be treated, rather it is how others want to be treated (the platinum rule).

Looking back, I find myself relying upon the golden rule when I do not know the other person well. In these cases, it is easy to respond based upon how I would want to be helped. Sometimes it is scary to ask what another person needs. At times I have been uncertain on how to ask what a person needs. Sometimes I avoid asking about a need because I’m not sure I can respond. Still other times, I’m afraid to ask because I might identify the wrong need. So the golden rule is safer and works.

The platinum rule – while good in concept – requires connection, risk, trust, and sometimes getting it wrong. The platinum rule takes valuable time. With the platinum rule, I need to communicate my needs to others. I need to give others the space and time to share their needs. There will be times when I ask for something I cannot receive. There will come a time when I am asked for something I cannot do. In these cases, I will learn what is reasonable or doable. I will learn what I must do and how others help. When I am able to practice the platinum rule, I find that connection occurs, service improves, and relationships strengthen.

What will it be for you today? Gold or platinum? Testing Services recently adopted the platinum rule for our team. This means we have spent time defining workplace expectations, discussing individual & group needs and learning about the impact of the “office” on the team. It has taken time. It is an ever-evolving practice and conversation. Just when we think we know everything; new things come up. We are stronger because of the conversations, experience, and memories. We made the change because it provides strength in time of stress or challenge. When we work together, the load lightens.

 

Picking the best path

As I sit here writing, I’m remembering a time when I had to make a decision without fully understanding my choices.  I remember feeling anxious and unsure of how it would turn out.  I recall trusting others with valuable information to help me process the decision and learn about my options.  In some cases, it was empowering when I was able to make a positive decision about my path with the help others.  Even with all the information and best support, sometimes I still made a bad choice for myself.

Looking back, I wonder how others decided if I should be given the chance to make the decision or if they should make the decision for me.  It would be my hope that others allowed me to make a choice when they felt I would be empowered and successful.  I hope that when it has been noticed that multiple individuals struggle with the same choice I was offered, the expert would make the choice for us.  Now that I think about it, it must be hard for experts to know when to make the choices for others or give the choice to me.  Offering too much choice too soon is harmful.  Limiting choice unnecessarily is hurtful.  So how do we decide?

In my experience, my capacity to make an informed choice depends on the complexity of the options, consequences of the decision, and my confidence in the expert.  If the options are complex, the consequences are significant, and I trust the expert more than myself, I would want to the decision to be made for me.  If the expert makes the options easy and the consequences are low, it seems like giving me the choice would be empowering.  As with everything, what may be best for me may not best for everyone.  I can see how it would be hard for an expert to evaluate in the moment if a choice should be given to or made for me.

Every day in the GCC Testing Center, we are balancing the right for individuals to choose how to complete their placement exams.  Students have choice on whether to take all exams at once or split up the Reading, Writing, and Math placement exams up into different testing sessions.  Students have the choice on the order they take the exams.  These choices may influence the outcome.  It is difficult to blame these choices on the course placement outcome.

In the past, we gave students a direct choice on which of the 3 math placement exams to take.  We found that students struggled understanding the options for the math exam.  We knew about the struggle because we frequently had to repeat the question in different ways, explain our terminology, and still received looks of confusion and bewilderment.  So now we make the choice for students (everyone starts with the moderately difficult exam and goes up or down based upon their answers). We made this change to reduce the possibility that the selected exam artificially lowered course placement for a student.  We knew this change may increase the testing time for students who needed to take 2 exams.  We decided the increase in testing time was worth it because the results would lead to more accurate course placement.  Accurate course placement is the most important goal when we test incoming students.