Category Archives: reflection

The Three P’s of Inspiration

     Alisa Cooper--If you have not had the opportunity of learning from Alisa, you're missing out.  A true mentor, Alisa has taught me not just directly when I have a question, but also by modeling her own courses which she generously lets me look at and materials she lets me borrow.  She has inspired me to "Alisa-Cooper-my-courses," a phrasing I'm sure she doesn't like.  I feel like my online and hybrid courses get better and better because I have her models to follow.  Her level of achievement pushes me to work harder. Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks, and I'm learning a lot of mine lately from her.

     GCC Students--Every day when I walk into my classrooms, I am reminded that our students are here to improve themselves.  I save many of them in my memory--those who have really impressed me with their grit and courage, those I see a semester or two later who are still truckin' and sometimes telling me about their upcoming graduation.  I see Mary*, a single mother who started out doubtful and questioning her decision to attend school and make a life change, who is now closer than ever to her goal of becoming a nurse.  I see Nick*, a veteran, who is looking to start a second career after gaining the degree he needs.  I see Tammy*, a student who lived in foster care as a child and now wants to advocate for changes to the system. How could I not be inspired?

     Family--Now I know that my family is not at GCC, but they strongly inspire me to be the best employee and teacher I can be when I'm at GCC.  My brother, a strong advocate for public education and an assistant superintendent, struggled in school as a child.  He has since outpaced me in getting two master's degrees and a doctorate degree. He has worked harder than just about anyone I know,
Holly and Andrew
and he inspires me to work hard.  Likewise, my wife continues to challenge herself, taking on new leadership roles and job experiences, stepping into unfamiliar territory. I admire her and learn more from her than any other person. She is apt to take risks and courageous to the point that sometimes I am just in awe.  She left a cushy classroom gig to enter administration and then left her familiar, safe district to lead a high school in a new district.  Her example inspires me to take on challenges that I might otherwise say no to.

     What do they all have in common?  Possibility.  Passion. Permission.  Their work and achievements demonstrate what is possible.  Their passions buoy them to the next achievement.  Unwittingly, they inspire me to say "Yes" to the Universe and its challenges.

*Names have been changed.

Professional Development and Reflection

     I have always been a reflective learner and thinker.  When I began teaching, I had a long drive to and from work, and I used that 45 minutes to think on the day and its lessons--my lessons--and how students had learned or become engaged.  So when reflecting became a mandatory part of our teacher portfolio each year, I thought No problem.  This is amazing.  And did I ever reflect.  I liked knowing that the person who evaluated me was getting to see such a valuable piece of teaching that was beyond the reach of a classroom observation.  And I'll just say right now, this is one reason why [NERD ALERT] I like writing my IDP.  I want my colleagues and evaluators to know more about my teaching.  Reflection is a critical part of teaching that takes place all behind the scenes.
     And this takes me to professional development.  I've always liked professional development, including the time we played with marbles or had to put on skits and even the time I had one of my most embarrassing moments with all the English teachers in the district present.  Nope, not getting that one out of me.  But the key to professional development, for me anyway, is having time to process all the learning, to really anchor it in with my current knowledge and understanding.  I'm sorry to say I haven't always had that time.  I'm lucky to have been able to work in two districts that so value professional development and really lucky that the second one allows me more time to do the reflecting.
     So when I attended Mary and Jennifer's LearnShop on Friday--Developmental Education: Teaching Learning Strategies and Critical Thinking--I was happy to get time to think and reflect during the time there, on the drive home, and over the course of the weekend.  I already applied what I learned to one of my courses.  As my friend Alisa Cooper said, "Learning is my passion...[and]...I want to learn new things."  I will continue to take advantage of as much professional development as I can and, if able, share it with people who want to hear about it.

Professional Development: What have you learned lately?

One of my best sources for professional development is peeking over the shoulders of my colleagues.  No, I’m not a stalker.  Specifically, I

  1. Sub for absent colleagues. I can really see how their courses connect with mine.  For example, today I was with a RDG091 class.  I can see what I should be doing in RDG081 to prep my students as well as see how their work leads up to CRE101.  I can also see different ways of delivering the content, whether it be in class or through Canvas.
  2. Tutor in the Writing Center. I am able to experience a wide range of writing expectations across our campus, and I always get good ideas about assignments and rubrics used by my colleagues.  I also stay in practice with having to explain things in a new and different way.
  3. Review online courses using the Gold Standards. Some of my best “ah-has” have come when I look at the modules or feedback strategies or resources contained in my colleagues’ awesome courses.  What good ideas we have here!  It really stretches me when I go outside of reading or education to see the way others view the world of Canvas.

I get so many good ideas every week that I’ve had to create Google docs and Google mail labels to capture everything.

My greatest personal growth lesson recently has been to implement just one or two things at a time.  Once I’m comfortable, I go to my files and find something else to add.


Making a difference. Difference. Different.

Making a difference.
When I think of all the people I encounter, I realize they all have made some difference in my life:
  • My colleagues challenge me to rethink my practice. They do so in a lot of ways but one way is simply by sharing their own practices. They share difference.
  • My spouse shares an insight from her readings, and I learn something new and make a slight adjustment to my thoughts about life and how we live it.
  • My friends share themselves and time with me, further encouraging me to be present and not bury myself in work.
     If I turn this around and think about the difference I make as a teacher, simply due to the volume of students I have had pass through my classroom, I realize the potential for making a difference is dramatic.  If my math is right, I've taught about 4,000 students.  Now that's no Taylor-Swift-Twitter-numbers, but I've also spent 45-180 hours with each of these people. And if I taught them more than
one semester or year or coached them, add even more hours to that.  That is a lot of time being present with someone.  It's hard not to make some kind of difference in all that time. In the smallest way possible, I hope to make a difference in teaching my students how to write. But what they take from these efforts of mine will vary.  A couple weeks ago, I ran into a student from last semester who thanked me profusely for helping her during that class.  She assured me that she felt really good in her current class because of all that I asked her to work on.  I was surprised when her eyes welled up with tears, and I thought, Wow, she took way more from my class than I could ever plan for.   In a more personal way, I try to recommend my students for items they may find personally interesting.  I've sent two returning students over to Debbie to discuss the honors program, and both of them are now taking honors courses.  I like to recommend scholarships to students and even assist them with their applications if needed.  I've written countless letters of recommendation, most recently for a student who wants to participate in a Study Abroad.  Even when students are not successful, I believe what I have written about them has the potential to make a difference in how they perceive themselves. I think I make the most difference in people's lives in my role as a teacher, but all of this "difference" spins out of relationships.  Relationships matter, and they give us a chance to become more reflective and to grow in knowledge and experience.

IDP: Reflections on Student Evaluations


In addition to the qualitative and quantitative department measures, two years ago I added a pre-post assignment dealing with students’ expectations for the class. I got this from one of the student success articles I read. Students respond to three prompts that tell me about what they look for in a good class, a good teacher, and how they view their role in the whole learning process. The rankings of x/10 indicate how well the reality at the end of the semester matched the expectation they set in their first assignment. They also add additional comments.

I find these pre/post assignments to be especially helpful when students do not rate me as satisfactory or higher in the course evaluations. For example, in the Fall 2015 EDU220 course evaluations, five or six students responded with less than satisfactory in several areas. The student evaluations are typically done with three weeks left in the semester. When I drill down into students’ comments at the end of the course, I’m pleased that overall I met their expectations (see attached pre/post First Assignment). In talking with my EDU students in particular, many of them need the entire set of course experiences to feel confident about their ability to serve English Language Learners.

Because most of my courses deal with students’ confidence in their own abilities, I continually focus on ways to help them relax, have fun, and see their own personal growth.  My daily challenge is to build relationships that are strong enough that they are willing to take risks and learn new things.


Role Models Along the Way

I have thoroughly enjoyed the “6×6” challenge.  Writing these posts has challenged me to reflect in new and challenging ways.  Reading others’ posts has opened my eyes in an invigorating way.  I admire the creativity and insights of our family here at GCC, sharing their wisdom and sentiments in an open, thoughtful manner.

As I reflect on my final post, I thought I would share some of my role models that have helped me along my journey to GCC.  These are individuals who have impacted my life in many ways, both personally and professionally.

  • Mr. Regal, fourth grade teacher.  He was the coolest teacher; he made learning fun and made his classroom exciting.  He had that spark for teaching,  and that spark  made all of us at Schaeffer Elementary School want to come to school every day.  He taught me that laughter and joy are important part of work and life.
  • Mr. Sassaman, high school basketball and baseball coach.  He was a positive influence, showing me that hard work and discipline can lead to great success.  He was committed to helping all of the student-athletes and was passionate about our success.  He taught me that winning may not be everything, but practicing and playing the “right” way is.
  • Mr. Eicher, college advisor, Education Department, University of Richmond.  He was the wise sage, a retired school teacher and principal who helped me understand the value and role of public education in communities.  He helped me learn what it means to be a teacher and was instrumental in helping me get my first teaching job in Arlington, Va.
  • My mom.  She has worked hard for everything she has, and has always done so with compassion and care for others.  She always helps out those who need it, and has always been there to assist her family, friends, and neighbors, putting their needs ahead of her own.
  • My wife. She is one of the hardest working people I know.  She is dedicated to any organization where she works, and always does her job with tremendous professionalism and a positive attitude.  And, she does this while being an amazing mom to two great kids.  I admire her dedication and self-discipline to ‘get it all done.’
  • Finally – my kids.  They inspire me to be a better person.  They are such bright lights with big, open hearts.  I think I learn more from them then they learn from me. I do what I do to make them proud, because they make me proud each and every day


I love change.

I went to four colleges (PC, Texas A&M, Galveston College, ASU) over five years for one degree. And that included three different degree programs (Marine Biology, Maritime Engineering, Justice Studies).   My Master’s is in a completely different field, my EdS in another, and heck, I may even go back to Law School!

While @ ASU for my undergrad, I lived in four different places (Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Scottsdale, Mesa) in two years.   I love the chance to find new grocery stores, new restaurants, new running routes. I love white walls that I can make my own. I change cars every two years. I change bags with seasons. I love change.

My hairdresser loves me because every two months I like something different; color, bangs, layers, you name it – I’m open. It’s hair. It will grow back/out/in/over.

My diet; that I don’t change. I have found what works for me and I love it. I may change the vegetables on my salad, but otherwise, that’s not an environment that’s conducive to change. But food is my fuel that allows me to go after everything else with such a healthy passion and to have the energy to change. So I don’t mess with my fuel.

When you find what works for you; stick with it. But if something doesn’t work or doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid of something better.  When you’ve learned what you needed to learn with a given situation, accept the learning and move on to learn something else! Whether it’s a relationship, a hobby, a life lesson or even a degree! Change = learning = growth = evolving!


Being a GCC Ambassador

It’s pretty cool when you are recognized off-campus as a GCC employee, especially when you aren’t wearing your Gaucho Gear. We go through the internal process of:

  1. Why is that person staring at me?
  2. Do I know this person? Should I know this person?

Then they say, “You were my _____ teacher at GCC!” and then I think:

  1. Wait, what am I wearing right now, do I look presentable?
  2. How did they do in the class?
  3. How nice that they remembered me and their experience at GCC!

So then I get over my fears of being caught at the grocery store in sweats, with no make-up, and actually settle in to learn about where  they are in life and what they are doing currently.

This is the most rewarding part.

As much as it’s healthy to carve out a piece of your life just for you, when you live, breathe and believe in higher education, it is hard to separate that part of your life. Whether we know it or not, we are all ambassadors for GCC. I had this conversation about seven years ago with Rick Watts (you might know him) as we felt so strongly about the honor and privilege of representing GCC when outside of work hours.   Jim Reed and I frequently celebrate these occurrences, as this is a huge source of pride for Jim (I know, really!).  I love to work with people who feel this is a career with benefits beyond pay and who understand the impact they can make – these are my fellow ambassadors!



Gong Xi Fa Cai, pronounced “Gong Hey Fat Choy” in Cantonese, means Happy New Year.  It’s a phrase that I learned early on as a small child.  One of the very few and most important phrases my mother taught me in her maiden language.  She’s from Hong Kong and even though she’s been in the states for over 40 years, Chinese New Year is still the most important celebration for my family, it even trumps Christmas and Easter!

This is not surprising though as China considers this their most important holiday.  In fact, it’s also the longest holiday spanning 15 days total!  Every year is celebrated on a different day since the holiday is based on the ancient lunar calendar, which translates to sometime between January and February.  The tradition started as early as the 14th century B.C. and is still celebrated traditionally today even though China adopted the western calendar.  This year is the year of the sheep although you may hear it being called goat or ram as well.  Since the Chinese language has so many different translations all are used depending on the region you are in.

My family observes several traditions and superstitions which are both hilarious and heartwarming.  These tend to include a very large dinner with only very close friends and family, not washing your hair, cleaning before the New Year, and sleeping with money under your pillow.  My mother will cook traditional dishes including a whole steamed fish, shrimps & scallops, bok choy, sea moss, black mushrooms and other favorites.  The significance in these dishes range from long life to prosperity for the new year. Lucky money is given to all the children for luck and good fortune.  The money is placed in highly decorated red envelopes and then given on both the eve and day of the New Year.  We place the envelopes under our pillow and open them the next day.  I still look forward to my envelope every year!

If you get the opportunity, wish someone a Happy New Year.  It is such an important event to Asians and has so much meaning and tradition associated with it that I’m sure you’ll get a smile in return!!


Educating the Whole Person

Educating the Whole Person

Depending on what brings you to work every day, this may mean something different to each of us. Counseling, Advising, Teaching, Coaching…..  What does this mean to you, and how do you help to make this happen? This post is less of a one-sided submittal, and intended to be more of a two-way exchange (or larger conversation).

Do you feel our job as community college educators, coaches,  and leaders is to ‘educate the whole person’?  Or, should we stick to the traditional ‘Three R’s’ mindset? And, why do you feel the way you do?

According to our last CCSSE & SENSE surveys (2011), over 76% of our students report never working with instructors or faculty outside of class assignments, 33% report never discussing career plans with their advisor or instructors, and only 50% of students reported discussing ideas from readings or class with others outside of class often.

Faculty & staff interactions provide an opportunity to educate the whole person, but my question is: if we buy-in to that premise, what can each of us do better every day to make that be a true statement?

I’m hoping we hold this discussion as a daily reminder of the importance of EVERY.SINGLE.INTERACTION. with our students and the impact we can make in educating the whole person.

Your turn………