Category Archives: student success

The “One Thing” and it’s Not Bragging

Welcome back to Week 3 of “The One Thing You can do to Raise Enrollment,” a six week “how-to” series.

Study after study has produced empirical evidence to support the fact that reputation is the most important factor influencing people’s college and class choices.

Without a strong reputation, colleges are unable to attract the resources necessary to build an effective educational environment. Institutional reputation attracts everything from the best professors and research talent to philanthropic donations and star students. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team, and in education, that means investing in the best academic brand,” writes Joseph Torrillo, vice president of Reputation Management.

As employees, we cannot sit back and passively place our hope in the power of the marketing department alone to define and manage our institutions’ reputations. Why? Because no amount of marketing can trump a personal experience with a brand.

I love this definition: Brand equity “is the intangible asset of added value or goodwill that results from the favorable image, impressions of differentiation, and/or the strength of consumer attachment to a company name,” writes Michael Belch and George Belch in their book,  Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective. (if this were a paper, the attribution would read, (Belch and Belch p. 56) …go ahead, makes me giggle a little, too.)

When a student has a good experience with a GCC employee, a curious thing happens: The student does not say, “I love that GCC employee named Lupe.” No, the student says, “I love GCC.” A single good experience with a single employee packs a powerful boost to GCC’s overall reputation. Suddenly someone is singing praises of GCC to their friends, family, and strangers on social media.

However, experience is a double edged sword. When a student has a bad experience with a GCC employee, it’s not the employee they heap coals upon, it’s the overall institution.

Last week you spent some time writing a few statements that speak to your personal humanity.

This week your task is to… take a deep breath… list your achievements.The purpose of this task is to make public any information that enables students to make an informed decision to choose you.

“If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted.” – Francis Bacon

The simple act of listing your areas of expertise and accomplishments in your Employee Biography page serves to significantly elevate GCC’s reputation on a local, national, and international scale.

It’s not bragging.  You ARE the secret sauce in GCC’s reputation! You have a history of proud moments, achievements and accomplishments that needs to come up in a google search.

A bio page with secret sauce includes naming your areas of expertise, credentials, a personal quote, and some information that reveals your humanity and proudest moments.

Here is an example:

Name: John Doe
Credentials: AAS Computer Science; M.A.Ed, Ph.D.
Areas of Expertise: Curriculum design; Community Partnerships

Personal Quote:  “I got my Doctorate at Yale University, but I identify more with the students who come to GCC.”

Bio: Four generations of my family have come to GCC to get their degree and come back to teach or to serve here. Ask me why we love GCC and I’ll tell you – everywhere you look are caring, compassionate, and smart people who want to help you succeed.
I am proud to be a part of GCC’s legacy of helping the next generation move forward in acquiring the education and skills that will bring them closer to their dream job.
My part in helping students involves…
My proudest moments are…
My contributions have… [been recognized, rcvd awards, resulted from specialized training, earned degrees, been published, been in the news, led to grant funded…]
I don’t believe my degrees define me – I only earned my Doctoral degree to be a better teacher, so I tell my students to call me Mr. Doe. I look forward to the start of each semester. Meeting the next generation of students is like unwrapping a present: What wondrous potential lies inside!”

Teach others how and what to think about you, and it forms a reputation in their minds for GCC as well. Take this time detail what you offer – leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that not only are you are a devoted educator, but you are a nice person to boot.

Reputation wields compelling, persuasive, influential power.

Your homework this week: Begin listing the ingredients that make up your particular secret sauce. These may include your personal areas of expertise and scope of services, awards, thesis topic/description, published works, patents, specialized training, published news about you, your motivation, what inspires you, the thing(s) you love most about what you do, and…

…(at least) one thing you want to be remembered for should you drop dead tomorrow. 

It’s Presidents’ Day weekend, established in 1885 to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln whose reputations for honesty and integrity still inspire us today.

This weekend, carve out some time to work on defining YOUR enduring reputation. Then come back next week for Step 4: A Picture is Worth a 1000 Likes

 

Week 2: The “One Thing” and its Powerful Sway

Did you complete your Week 1 homework assignment? If not, take a moment to search for your name on gccaz.edu, click on your employee bio page, and make a note of any information that uniquely reflects your own personal humanity.

When it comes to class enrollment, do you leave it up to chance? You have a lot to offer, and are a passionate educator. But students don’t know this about you ahead of time. What if you could influence students before you even meet them?

Studies show that when it comes to choice, a good reputation is king. To influence a student’s choice in which class (or college) they enroll, we must increase perceived reputation. Reputation is a fragile thing, and a student’s initial experience plays a critical role in the decision-making process.

This brings us to the old adage, “you only get one chance to make a good first impression.” A first impression is critical to reputation, and Step Two is all about taking control of the timing of that first good impression.

Timing, they say, is everything.

So, the “one thing” you can do to influence the student decision-making process, raise enrollment, and raise GCC’s reputation in an increasingly crowded marketplace is to teach others what to think about you before you even meet.

I am going to show you how to not just make a good first impression, but a viscerally good first impression, using your employee bio page. During the decision making process, students check out who is teaching a class – why? They are looking for clues  for who to choose. The purpose of this blog series is for you learn how to make it easy for student to choose you, and thereby GCC. When you are done with your bio page, students who view it will “get” you. I have done random checks of comparable faculty at NAU, ASU, UofA and GCC. The sad fact is that very few instructors have posted any information on their bio page beyond name, email, and office hours.

As a result, students turn to sites such as RateMyProfessors.com to help them make a decision. The problem with these ratings sites is that other people are defining your reputation for you – and influencing reader choice. Remember, reputation is a fragile thing.

Consider the following:

“I grew up in a poor family, and I identify with the struggles some of my students have.” – Dr. Carlos Nunez

When I first read that quote, a picture of who this man is immediately formed in my mind: Genuine. Sincere. Empathetic. Successful. When I met Dr. Nunez, I quickly became aware that he was all this and more. He was courageous in and out of the classroom, and we all miss him, bless his soul.

Quotes – we love them. We share them, post them, tattoo them, frame them and hang them on our walls. We love quotes because quotes resonate with something deep inside of us. Quotes inspire us. Quotes give us hope. Quotes make us laugh at ourselves and life. Quotes make us cry with empathy. Quotes rally us together.

But the greatest power of a quote is that it connects us to each other’s humanity.

Your homework is to write a compelling introductory statement that reflects on a particular aspect of your personal journey through college. Here are a few examples to get your juices going:

  • “Juggling work, family, and college was hard, but I wanted a better life.” (inspires resilience).
  • “The first time I looked through a microscope I saw my future.” – (conveys vision)
  • “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. College helped me find my passion.” – (inspires hope)

Experiment writing statements that uniquely reflect your own personal humanity.

“It’s not up to chance, it’s up to you.” ― Rob Liano, Author and Business Speaker

Come back for Week 3, Step 3: The “One Thing” and It’s Not Bragging.

 

 

Habit and the Art of Behavior Change

I just realized that the theme for this week is “culturally relevant.” So I had to stop and take a look at the draft I had saved to see if it could be salvaged!

As it turns out, EVERYONE is talking about behavior change, so that makes it cultural, right?

I have set over a million goals that I failed to accomplish. How ’bout you?

Don’t you find it frustrating, for example, when you realize you are consuming too much chocolate-covered anything, set a goal to quit, and find yourself back in the cookie jar within 24 hours.

Not being perfect myself, I feel I am in a good position to share my method for success. It all lies in the thought process. I treat every day like a training session for the future and I am not obsessed by my goal. I do become slightly obsessed by the process, however,  until it becomes autonomic.

Most of us see someone we wish to emulate, figure out what they do, and try to do exactly what they do. This is like going from zero to 180 in 3 seconds and wondering why the car’s engine is all over the highway.

Repetitive, deliberate baby steps with only the baby step in mind, not the outcome, is the path to mastery.  Each deliberate baby step is a training session for your future mind. In the future, when the baby step becomes a habit, you will look back and be thankful that you remained true to each and every session. They weren’t hard sessions, but the were consistent. The foundation was being laid for the day when you were ready to take it to a new and more challenging level.

How do you know you are ready for the next level? It is when you get out of bed in the morning and you no longer have to convince yourself of the benefits of your goal despite the hardships. It just is.

It’s like the act of brushing our teeth. We don’t slowly walk up to our toothbrush, weighing the pros and cons of tooth brushing, struggling through every brush stroke. We don’t think to ourselves about how we can avoid it or what else we could be doing that is more fun. We just do it because it is part of the morning and evening ROUTINE that WE have created for ourselves.

Tooth brushing actually became easy because it is a short bout of activity with tremendous benefits. Can you think of anything in your life that you can do in short bouts that can bring you tremendous benefits, allow you to build a habit over time, and create a foundation where you can step it up when you are ready?

I can.

You can.

Your students can.

 

Mindfulness in Everything

I thought the word mindfulness was a little overused and overrated. And then I started abusing the word myself. In the classroom, in meetings, with my friends, with my kids.

I have actually boiled it down to the one thing that could save us all from ourselves. If something is going wrong in your life, you are likely on autopilot. Handy for planes. Bad for most people…unless you are a really good habit builder.

Too much body fat…eating mindlessly.

Too little sleep…surfing (internet, TV channels) mindlessly.

Depressed…wishing mindlessly.

Anxious…fearing mindlessly.

I think we just do things because it’s the way we have always done them, never questioning why. Always on autopilot.

Mindfulness is about being present and focused on people and the world around us. On our thoughts, on our food, on our lessons, on quiet, on noise, on smells, on textures, on colors, on tastes and on how we feel about it all.

The mind is powerful and controls our body and ultimately our health. If you are having a hard time getting focused, start with your breath. You’ll will find stillness there and will eventually be able to expand your areas of focus.

I encourage my students to touch, feel, hear, see and question as they are learning. I encourage mindfulness in the classroom because it teaches the student to learn in new ways and reach surprising new levels of comprehension.

 

Making an Entrance

In my heart of hearts, I genuinely want those around me to succeed, and I take pleasure in watching them do well as they develop. I’d rather help people work out their problems than tell them what they need to do. I don’t consider any of those things character faults, but very early in my teaching experience I learned that certain actions can be confused with weakness. Weakness in the classroom leads to problems that are not easy to correct.

To say I was nervous on my first day in the classroom would be an understatement. I made the mistake of not wearing an undershirt, and my  light blue dress shirt was a drenched dark mess by the end of the 45-minute period. I imagine I seemed as ridiculous as Sir James Martin from Love & Friendship:

That lack of self-confidence and abundance of nerves  lead to problems throughout the rest of the semester. I found out very quickly that if a classroom doesn’t respect you as a person, they also will not respect your lectures, your grading, or your discipline.

That was a difficult semester, but as time went on I gained confidence and my nerves subsided. This lead to better relationships with my students and more success in the classroom. Year to year things improved incrementally. Eventually though, something happened.

Image of Luke from Star Wars about Overconfidence.
Ah George Lucas, your horrible dialogue rings true.

With my nerves fully at bay, my inner-nice guy came out again. With it, the entire catalog of issues I had in my early years started to manifest themselves again. Why?  Because while my students may have liked me, they did not respect me.

So here we are at the heart of the lesson folks: Respect is key. Respect should always be in the back of your mind when standing behind that desk. Whether it was nerves or being “Mr. Nice Guy”, I lost the respect of my students, and with it, full control of my classroom.

It wasn’t easy, and I still make mistakes, but I have learned to balance my kind demeanor with the responsibilities of being an educator. I found that I can still joke, have fun, and be myself, as long as students know I am serious about my job.

The most effective method I have found to encourage a healthy classroom dynamic is to start off strong. I like to make my first week of class filled to the brim with activity. I like to give students things to do, show them the gamut of what is to come: a journal, a discussion, a short essay, a quiz, and a reading. I do it all, because it lets students know that the primary goal of my course is for them to learn. If we end up having fun in the process, that is a bonus.

The classroom is a world with its own environment, dynamics, and life. It has the power to evolve and overtake you if you let it. Start off strong, confident, and focused, and that classroom will turn into an environment that encourages both learning and respect.

 

 

 

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.

 

I Made My Mentee Cry

It all took place while I sat at the  car dealership waiting for my 2006 Mazda 3 to get repaired.

I didn’t mean to make her cry.

But she inspires me and she needed to hear it.

This set a thought process in motion that inspired me to write. GCC Faculty work very hard and are incredibly dedicated to student success. We really don’t hear enough about them and their stories that are so inspiring, so I will share one.

As a PAR Mentor, I was reviewing her hybrid 101 course, specifically looking at a series of videos she had created about exercise motivation and adherence. She designed the videos so the students could “chunk and chew” the information for the module. Each of the seven videos were about seven minutes long. Just enough time to engage a student and maintain their attention.

She didn’t have to do this at all. She could have easily said “read the chapter, take notes, and take the quiz.” But she didn’t. She saw a need and an opportunity and she went for it, despite all of her other responsibilities as full-time faculty.

She knew the students could play these videos over and over as a listening tool while driving or exercising, or to watch while sitting at the computer after school. She knew the students would appreciate the extra effort she made.

Do you know how long it takes to record, edit and upload a seven-minute video? It takes a lot of time and love. She did this seven times, and then created quizzes to go with the videos so the students would know if they really understood the material.

Our faculty do a lot of behind-the-scenes work that they don’t boast about. They do it because of their passion for teaching and ensuring the students are getting what they need for success.

So, go ahead and make a faculty member cry.  You might get a quote like this:

“Oh my goodness! You just made me cry! I cannot thank you enough for your kind words and encouragement. You have lit a fire under me to work harder and give more.”

 

Repairing the Damage

I’ve always loved reading and writing. Throughout most of my education, it was never particularly difficult for me to complete English assignments, even if I wasn’t particularly engaged. I wrote the assigned essays with relative ease, even if I didn’t care about the topic, because I liked having my opinion heard. I read the books I was given, even if I hated them, because I loved reading. Reading and writing came easy to me, and I took it for granted everyone else was the same way.

Of course, it helped that I had teachers that encouraged my interests and skills. With the exception of one teacher: Mrs. Michelson, sixth grade Language Arts teacher. To this day, I don’t know what I had done to aggravate her, but she seemed to have it out for me. She actively discouraged my point of view on matters discussed in class, to the point where I stopped raising my hand or speaking up entirely. Further, she often criticized my assignments as having “too many details” or being “too long;” she only marked the issues and never gave me any praise on what I had done well. Nothing I submitted to her was good enough for her approval, nothing I said was worthy of leaving my mouth. My voice was stifled, my opinions outright discouraged. I learned to hate English class, and perhaps would still to this day had it not been for my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Ms. Smith.

When I decided I wanted to be an English teacher, it wasn’t because I was thinking of all the supportive and wonderful English and Language Arts teachers I had had throughout the years, or all the encouragement I had received to pursue my dreams. Instead, I thought of all the burned out teachers my friends and I had witnessed over the years. I thought of all the negative experiences inside of a classroom. I thought of Mrs. Michelson. Of course I wanted to emulate the teachers who had inspired me, but more than that, I wanted to be the teacher who undid the damage of the bad teachers, the burned out teachers, the teachers who had simply stopped trying. I never wanted my students to feel the way I did in that sixth grade classroom, and in other classrooms in high school and university.

That’s why I do what I do. I like teaching English here at GCC because it gives me the opportunity to begin reversing the effects of the teachers who had wronged my students, who didn’t make them feel that they were worth listening to. I do my best to engage my students in a multitude of ways, to get them to think critically and then transfer those thoughts onto paper. The writing is usually rough and needs a lot of work, but it’s a start. The goal is to have them not necessarily “master” writing by the end of the semester, but gain confidence in their own abilities and in their own voices. They may not leave my class at the end of the semester loving reading or writing, but they see the need for it in the college and university environment. What’s more, they feel that they deserve to be in the higher education classroom.

 

I work here for the view…

As a student, I fell in love with the GCC experience. The first day I stepped on campus in 2007, I felt like GCC wrapped its arms around me. I sensed tremendous positive energy here. Everyone at GCC wanted me to succeed. The mission of this organization was crystal clear. Student success. I remember walking around campus, gazing up at the picturesque palm trees set against the blue Arizona sky. Walking from one class to another, I was in heaven. What a view…

I was a first generation college student who came to GCC full of hopes and dreams. I was new to Arizona and eager to make things happen as I began a new chapter in my life. During my first week of classes, I made 2 important purchases: a rolling book bag and bifocals. Being a 42 year old college freshman presented a few challenges. I quickly discovered that my books were too heavy and the print was too small…

With my new glasses and book bag, I began to understand the meaning of “life-long learning.” GCC was my dream come true…I was hooked. No book was too heavy…no print too small…

Fast forward to January 2017. Today, I’m honored to be part of the GCC Library staff. I work here now! I’ll never forget the success I felt as a student. My education at GCC was mind-expanding and life-changing. As an employee, I want to contribute to student success and help others live their best lives.

As a new employee, I’m still walking around campus at lunchtime, gazing at the palms against the blue sky and continuing to feel the joy of GCC. I guess you could say I work here for the view…

 

Appreciations – Driven Home by a Sixth Grader

To the logical, pragmatic, no-nonsense, Type-A personality that I am, the concept of appreciations in storytelling (or teaching) was initially lost on me. It felt like a “nicey-nicey-fluff-give-them-positive-first-but-doesn’t-help-teach-them-or-move-them-to-change” process. Why not just tell them what they need to change? Enough of the touchy-feely stuff. Give them meat to chew on.

My first formal storytelling teacher kept giving people appreciations in class, no suggestions or critiques, just appreciations. And he really meant it too. It wasn’t just lip service. I thought this was OK for the first few weeks of class, but when was he going to get to “telling people how they need to change and improve”? As the weeks went on, I began to try to follow his lead. I was quite surprised to find that it was easy to find something to appreciate about every telling.

Then I attended a workshop with long-time teller and storytelling coach. He spoke of how his father gave him constant praise, even for the smallest things, from birth, and throughout his life. It made me think of my own father who could pick out the one mistake I made and focus on that negative aspect of my effort. It made me think about my eighth-grade teacher who embarrassed me in front of the whole class with his condemning critique of a book report I had written. It made me think of how I critique both others, and myself.

A small part of me, the therapist and a mediator, began to understand appreciations, at least on a psychological level. Reinforcing positive behavior helps people repeat that positive behavior. I began to make a change. I tried to “give praise” wherever I could. I was conscious of really looking for the positive aspects of what I saw, and letting people know what I appreciated about what they had done.

Then I met Anthony. Anthony was a cherub-faced sixth grader at a school I visited to tell stories and talk about storytelling. The students had already done some storytelling and the teacher wanted the class to demonstrate to me what they had learned. Anthony eagerly raised his hand and volunteered to be the first to tell his story.

He stood before the class and began. He was a little nervous, but told a good story. Oh, he paced back and forth and didn’t always face forward and look at his audience. And as he was telling, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Anthony was me!

Yes, I did see myself in that eleven year-old boy; eager, creative, excited, longing for acknowledgment and praise. I thought, how can I say anything negative about his telling? What good would that accomplish? I felt that even one tiny “constructive suggestion” might bruise his young ego and only send him into a labyrinth of self-doubt. And then the second wave came over me. Are our adult egos any less fragile than Anthony’s? I think not.

It was then that I began to understand appreciations on an emotional level. There have been adult students and colleagues who have said, “Just tell me the bad things.” I, myself have even said that in the past. And yet, behind the bravado that purports to be strong and only wants a critique, stands a delicate ego, deeply longing for praise and acceptance. And it is the praise and acceptance that supports their growth and learning.

So the next time that you hear someone tell a story, have a student give an answer, have a student try, I hope you see Anthony…
and then, perhaps, yourself… and then give an appreciation.