Category Archives: Faculty

Shhh! … Listen!

My 4 year old son is taking karate. He is a proud white belt with three stripes. Last week he earned a big orange “Awesome” sticker. The instructor singled him out of about 20 kids for being the best listener. He was so proud of his award and has been telling everyone about it!

Fast-forward to Write 6×6, week six. The grand finale. How do I foster relationships at work, home and at play? Honestly, I don’t know. Well, I think I might know…

My father was an engineer. Engineers are known for their lack of communication skills. They are straight talkers and only if you ask them. Mostly they are introverted and prefer to keep to themselves. He is still pretty set in his ways, but has softened a lot over the years.

I got 50% of that gene. That, along with the fact that I swam four hours a day in secondary school. I had no social life except for the three minute breaks between sets and when the coach gave us a “social kick” set. I did not have much training in the way of building relationships.

Fortunately my mom was good at it and through my observations, I learned to relate to people from all genders, ages, races, cultures, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. She passed away in January, and the piece of my heart that is still functional wants to honor her talents.

I like to observe people. The people who I relate to the best are listeners, not talkers. I can’t do idle chatter very well. I need my conversations to be meaningful, where I walk away with a little piece of that person’s positive energy and life vision and they with mine.  I like being present with people and really understanding their motivations and how they, in turn, relate to others.

Back in the karate studio, the teacher asks the group how many ears they have. “Two,” they shout! “And how many mouths do you have?” “One!” they shout. “So you should listen twice as much as you speak!” he reminds them.

I like to listen. Especially to people who appear to be unhappy or grumpy. Grumpy people are grumpy because people have stopped listening to them. Ignore the grumpiness and really listen! You can learn a lot!

Listen to learn. Listen to understand. Listen to be kind.

Stop talking and really listen.

Shhh!

 

Is It Time for Happy Hour Yet?

That’s a pretty relevant question. It is Thursday, and the To-Do list is fairly long. So why not shirk all responsibility for 30 minutes or so and blog about happy hour? Sounds good to me. Happy hour is the obvious choice for this week’s writing prompt for Write6x6Building Relationships. How do you build relationships with faculty, staff, and students on campus? How important are these relationships to you?

First, I’m going to point out the obvious. There will be no happy hour with students, but everyone else is fair game. It’s the perfect way to build relationships. When I left South Mountain Community College 8 years ago, one of the pluses on my Pro/Con list for leaving the college was building relationships and community. I have some wonderful friends at SMCC and built some long lasting relationships, but not many of those relationships went beyond the boundaries of the college. I just felt like if I was going to spend 6 hours a day with people, I should be friends with those people outside those boundaries – at least some of them. So I left. I felt like a bigger campus, more people would open up those doors. And I was right. I went from having 6 faculty in my department to 40. There might have been more at SMCC if I counted the Reading faculty, but I didn’t really know of any of them. But you get the idea.

Everyone is busy, and teaching schedules can be chaotic. It’s difficult to build relationships when you never see the people you work with. So I made it a habit of walking the halls and spending time in my office beyond the required 1 hour office hour, just so I could connect with my peeps. After a while, I quickly learned that I was never going to get much work done when I was in the halls of 05. I spent my time there popping into offices, talking with colleagues, answering questions and generally just chilling.  It was a great trade off. Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, as there were plenty of closed doors in the hallways.

But there are also many happy hours. Meeting up off campus allows for people to feel free, be more relaxed, and open up a bit more about how things on the job are really going. It gives us all a chance to problem solve together and brainstorm ideas. But it also builds stronger relationships. I work with a bunch of awesome people who travel to conferences for professional development together, submit proposals for grants together, work on projects together, and of course, attend many happy hours, dinners and gatherings in our own homes together. We’re just one big kumbaya song.

The Lesser of Two Weevils

If you were forced to make a choice between two difficult situations, which would you choose? The lesser of two weevils, of course.

I don’t know about you guys, but I am faced with this type of decision nearly every day.  I could come up with a million examples.

For me, it always involves my ability to see into the crystal ball and guess the future outcome of a situation based on past errors in calculation. Generally it is impossible to avoid regrets, so you have to figure out which is less torturous to the most people involved.

Here is my formula for difficult situations.

  1. Consider my own sanity and wellbeing first and foremost. While this may appear selfish at face value, everyone else is ultimately affected if you become insane and unwell because of your decision.
  2. Consider others’ happiness and wellbeing. It is nice to see people smile and get their way. I have young children, I know this. But if there is a valuable lesson to be learned in the process, sometimes the bandaid will do more harm than good. Always consider the long term outcome.
  3. Consider kindness. If you are not kind in your delivery of your decision, regardless of the level of cruelty, it is your lack of kindness that will come back to bite you in the end. Always deliver gently.
  4. Consider who else is affected. If my family is affected in a negative way, it is a deal breaker. My family comes first.
  5. Consider the 4 agreements (Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take it personally, Don’t make assumptions, Always do your best). All communication should be routed through these four agreements. Everything that has ever gone wrong in my life has been a result of my choice to ignore one of these.

Every difficult situation should be handled differently based on the circumstances. There will never be a perfect formula. We learn from our past mistakes and make better decisions as we get older and wiser.  But we can still make bad decisions even if we are old and wise!

Consider the formula, choose the lesser of two weevils, and take that giant leap of faith that you have made the best decision given the circumstances!

 

 

“Miss, did I do OK?”

“Miss, did I do OK?”

This my least favorite question, not because I don’t want to give feedback to my students, but because the question itself often reveals that the student has not yet connected with the purpose or the outcome of the work we’re doing.  I see this especially from my dev ed English and reading students.

My goal is to help students understand the assessment tools we use so that they can gauge their own success and understanding.  Without such independence, they won’t be able to increase their reading and writing proficiency to the level demanded by our college courses.

Two tools I use are the SPUNKI prompts and a self-assessment checklist.

The SPUNKI prompts are used to help students talk and write about what they read.

  • S I am surprised that . . .
  • P I’m puzzled by . . .
  • U I found it useful that . . .
  • N It was new learning for me to know . . .
  • K I already knew . . .
  • I It is interesting to know . . .

Source: On Course Workshop  accessed June, 2016

The self-assessment checklist below helps reading students see growth in their own use of our literacy tools.

My Reading Report

Comprehension Pre-test _____ Comprehension Post-test _____              Gain  _____

Vocabulary Pre-test _____ Vocabulary Post-test _____
Gain _____

My TP vocabulary book ________________________

Highest Newsela Lexile _____   Average Newsela Lexile _____

My Reminders for Active Reading
(20 minutes a day minimum)

Before:

  • Predict
  • Activate prior knowledge

During

  • Summarize
  • Make connections
  • Check for understanding
  • Take notes

After

  • Evaluate what I learned
  • Revisit my predictions

Once students complete the checklist, they can participate more fully in a conference with me about their own learning.  This discussion is a precursor to a final reflective essay focused on their mastery of the course competencies.

By the time they’re finished, I want them to be able to say “Miss, I did well, and here’s how I know that.”

 

Utopian Dreams

A perfect world.

Where everyone is happy, everyone gets along, laughter and smiles abound. Wine and chocolate everywhere.

Alarm clock blares.

Reality check. Life is not and will not ever be perfect. We will get sick or injured, family and friends will come and go, we will run out of money, we will see many failures.  And that is okay! So how do we make our lives most effective and efficient despite all of the distractions and barriers to success? How do we achieve the elusive work-life balance that everyone craves?

A long time ago in a professional development workshop, the presenter started with “fill in the blanks…I will be happy when ___________.” So everyone shouted things like degrees, houses, cars, kids, vacations, etc. But those were the wrong answers.

“I am happy now. ” That is the correct answer.

If your happiness is placed somewhere off in the far distant future, then you will never be happy, because you won’t reach it in a single day or week, and once you reach your goal, you will set another distant goal that will send you off into even more discontentedness.

So, if you have a special dream, smile and be excited for the process that will take you there. Be happy now, in your imperfect world, find the joy in little things, and learn to laugh at the obstacles, breathe, expect failure, laugh at that too, and when your dream does come true, you will have learned happiness in the process, intensifying the ecstasy.

I had a dream that this post would be a lot longer and more detailed, filled with inspiration for all. But seriously, who has time for that?!

 

Please Don’t Listen To Me!

What would you love to be able to do to improve yourself in relation to your job or to change your job? What are your dreams for improving your job, work/life balance and/or efficiency in your work?

What a question! Glad I’m not in an interview and this is my question!

My dream would be that the students all did their part. I feel very confident that if every one of my students did the homework all the time and asked question when uncertain and came to class always that very very few of them would not pass. We spend so much time and effort on talking about, researching, experimenting, dreaming up, new ways to teach and explain material and structuring curriculum and and and, but our student success rates change only slightly. When I begin a semester and I’m talking with the students the first day, it reminds me of the comic routine “Bill Cosby Himself”. It was a standup routine he did years ago. One of the stories he brings up is the kids “night” routine. He states that if the kids would just mind Mom there wouldn’t need to be any “beatings” tonight. If any of you have never seen this, you must. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I feel this way at the start of every semester. “If you students would just follow my advice you wouldn’t have to take me, again!”

 

Dream on…

Yes, we are singing again and again (you probably missed the second one because it is on another blog!).

Dream until your dreams come true…and you get to do some cool things on campus with your colleagues.

Yeah, so that one was a bit off melody! 😉 No disrespect!

I am not going to write about my dreams. Nope. I won’t be writing about lofty dreams of peace, or the elimination of poverty, or even meal times that don’t include my kids complaining about “vegetables again.” I am not going to do that. That discussion is worthwhile, but that is not what Steven is telling me to write about, and right now, I’m listening to Steven.

Dream until your dreams come true. In other words, don’t give up (thanks for that translation, Captain Obvious!). We can talk all day about how cool it would be to have virtual reality glasses in every classroom, or give every new student a brand new laptop when they enroll, or how great it would be if faculty members from all corners of campus regularly attended workshops in the CTLE, but we can’t go that big all the time. Don’t get me wrong, those are fun conversations to have, and sometimes they are useful or necessary; however, they tend to lead no where because often no first step is taken.

Really BIG first steps are scary. So are chocolate covered sardines.

source

Both happen. We may not know how, and we may not know why, and sometimes we may not like it, but sometimes BIG dreams do come true. And the coolest thing about it is that those big dreams come true the same way those “regular” dreams come true: take the first step. It doesn’t have to be a big step just because it is a big dream, it just has to be a step. We just have to work towards those goals one step at a time; we just have to dream on.

 

 

Getting to know you…

Sing with me (again)!

Getting to know all about…your colleagues

source

So a couple of weeks ago, the new group of GCC Residential faculty (lovingly referred to as the FYRE group) embarked on a tour of GCC that each of them partially lead. The “FYRE Guided Tour” is an opportunity to show off the different areas of campus where each member of FYRE works on a regular basis. Instead of parading the FYRE group around campus with me posing as the all-knowing tour guide, I created an opportunity that helps build community and connection between the group, while also learning about different programs and resources available to students.

I personally have learned quite a bit about GCC from the three FYRE Guided tours I have been on, and I know many of our new faculty have enjoyed learning about their colleagues and the campus at the same time. I mean, think about yourself and how well you really know what is happening on our campus. Even if you know of many of our programs, there is a good chance you have not seen some of the interesting, hands on learning opportunities many of our faculty create on a regular basis.

I am sure most of you know we have a fantastic nursing program, but have you actually seen the simulation lab that our students learn in? Have you seen the capabilities the mannequins have? Do you have any idea how the faculty that teach and operate these simulations plan for and pull off these lessons? Wow! Check out some our very own GCC students running through simulations.

Or did you know we have a Children Lab (or know what one is for that matter)? In our Child and Family Studies department, there is an active daycare that is part of the learning environment for our students. Through a two-way mirror and an intercom system, GCC students are able to observe the behavior of children in the daycare and analyze the way the childcare professionals interact, teach and play with the kids, all while the professor connects theory to practice. Awesome!

There are many other programs and resources on campus besides these two, and as I mentioned already, many of us know of them, but  unfortunately, we don’t really know them.

We haven’t really seen the materials, the labs, and the behind-the-scenes rooms (full of costumes and rocks and chemicals and plastinated body parts and props and fire engines and grand pianos and toys and boom mics and pinned insects and Corvettes) all over campus.

We know the people who work in these fields, who have dedicated countless hours planning and prepping, and we love catching up with them in the common areas of campus, but we often haven’t seen them in their domain, which means we don’t really know what our colleagues do here at GCC.

Is this a missed opportunity? Might this be the clue we’ve been searching for in our quest to tear down (or at least connect) the silos? It could be, or it might just be me wishing we could all see more of the inner workings of different departments and different disciplines. Anyone game to host an “Open Department” someday?!


Humility + Assessment = Success

I have always been fascinated by assessment, unfortunately I know not everyone shares my feelings on the subject. I have had colleagues who consider it a dirty word. They dread the thought of it, and treat it as just another hoop to jump through when the time comes to participate.

A pre-test here.

A post-test there.

A journal reflection.

Or the ultimate avoidance, just saying a regular class assignment is, in fact, assessment.

Unfortunately, those who avoid confronting the challenges of assessments are not helping with the end goal, to improve student education through meaningful analysis and feedback.

The reason that some fear to participate in a group assessment and decide to take a solo route is that assessments are looked at as inconvenient or difficult; however, these approaches often overshadow efficient strategies for approaching this dilemma, strategies that which rely on one, simple trait: humility.

I love my standardized rubric for essays. It isn’t perfect, but it is consistent, and students appreciate that. The rubric is based off of one that is required to be used in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. That system consists of 16 colleges and every writing instructor uses the same rubric for their essays. I was lucky enough to see that rubric be initially implemented as well as its evolution over the last decade into its current form.

Now there was significant pushback when the rubric was first forced upon the faculty. Arguments ranged from “but I don’t grade essays with a rubric” to “my rubric is already better than this one”, but top to bottom it was adopted.

It is difficult to adjust teaching habits, but understand that a standardized rubric doesn’t change the way we teach, it simply unifies the way we grade. In that way, a standard rubric is even less intrusive than requiring a specific assignment for assessment.

So what is gained from using the same rubric for every essay?

Starting on the class level, it is easy to get a snapshot of student’s skills improving (or not improving) over a semester. It also allows the teacher to see if the class as a whole is struggling in a specific area (I’m looking at you point of view slips). This lets allows class needs to be addressed on a holistic level through lectures. I do this with my youtube series “English Power Lectures”, but setting aside 15 minutes when essays are handed back to address major problems does the trick as well.

When multiple faculty start to use the same rubric the assessment becomes that much more valuable. Now trends can be seen over a much larger group of students, it is also possible to see where one class struggles and another doesn’t. With this knowledge, teachers can share techniques for dealing with that particular issue. This is the beauty (and truly the purpose) of assessment. It serves as a common tool and focal point that can start an analysis, conversation, and implementation of course wide improvements.

Now implementing something district or even school wide is difficult, so start small. Talk to a group of fellow faculty (or adjunct faculty) and do your best to develop a rubric that works for multiple assignments or essays. Use that rubric in a course and compare notes. It won’t be perfect, but assessment can always be improved upon. It may be difficult to unify your grading techniques with others, but remember that teaching isn’t meant to be a solo endeavor. Instructors are stronger as a community, and students will benefit from that community. All it takes is a little bit of humility.

 

Evaluation Plan for Faculty Can Be Fun. Really.

© Laura Strickland/MyCuteGraphics.com

So I’m a member of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) committee again this year. As a member of this committee, I have agreed to be a mentor for a probational faculty member that needs to comply with the RFP requirements. When I heard about these new requirements for probationary faculty, my first thought was, thank goodness I’m not probationary. I don’t want to have any part of that. Well, it turns out no one can really escape PAR. Even us old residential faculty, as all the newbies are required to have mentors. And with so many new faculty, pretty much everyone who is not new is a mentor.

The Maricopa Community College District implemented this new peer assistance and review model (PAR) for probationary faculty about 4 years ago. Faculty are considered probationary for 5 years. Under this new model, probationary faculty are assigned a residential faculty mentor to help guide them through the process to becoming residential (tenured). As part of the PAR, probationary faculty have the opportunity to document their professional growth, mentor evaluation, administrative evaluations, and student evaluations in a Google Sites template.

I actually ended up with two pretty awesome mentees. Both are excellent teachers and fun to work with. The best part is they make being a mentor fairly easy. I’m going to share my recent evaluation of one although evaluation isn’t quite the right word. It was more of an observation with feedback. Evaluation indicates the making of a judgment about the value of something; assessment. I’d like to believe all teaching has value, and it’s really not up to me to judge someone’s value or their teaching. I like to observe and then give feedback. Lucky for me what I’ve observed has always been inspiring.

Recently I sat in on an after class review session and the room was full. My first observation was how does that happen. Students stick around for a study session after class? The whole class was engaged. They were divided into groups of 2-4 and it appeared that they each had an assigned topic to cover. As the instructor called on each group, students were prepared with their information. Some reading from notes or slides; others reciting information from memory. My mentee was encouraging and peppered the whole class and group members with questions. Students volunteered answered. Whether they were correct or incorrect, they each received the same kind feedback that the answer was correct or incorrect. It didn’t seem punitive if the answer was not correct. Someone else was just called on to provide a different answer. The whole session was positive and encouraging. I was inspired, and I wasn’t even a student in the class.

It’s really good to see good teaching, but the best part is there is no one way about it. Every instructor brings her own touch to the classroom, and we can all learn by observing how others get the job done. Turns out that this whole PAR thing might not be such a bad thing after all.