Category Archives: Write6x6

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.

Deal With It!

I don’t know about you, but I find interpersonal conflict to be a difficult issue to tackle.  My first instinct is to ignore the problem and be like an ostrich – stick my head in the sand and hope the unresolved issue of conflict will just go away naturally.  Of course, I’d like to shrug it off and “let it go,” but in order for me to let go of the conflict, I must first deal with it.  And to deal with it I must address it.  Therein lies the difficult part – my part.  I find it most effective to address the issue in conflict directly with the person I’m having the conflicting issue with.  Yes, that means communicating with the individual in-person and not through an email or a text.  In this way both sides are able to communicate verbally and it allows for the use of body language.  I’ve gotten my feathers ruffled on many occasions by misinterpreting written word only to realize later that it was a simple case of misunderstanding on my part. For issues on which there seems to be no resolution, I’ve found it helpful to employ the assistance of a neutral third-party.  By following my own advice, however, I’m usually able to handle difficult issues best by dealing with them directly and timely.  In other words, I just deal with it!

 

Difficult Times

As I have been contemplating this weeks topic I’ve decided to write about an event that happened in the Math Department many years ago.

The discussion about textbook selection came up in a department meeting. The discussion got a little heated. In the next meeting after this initial discussion several members, in my opinion, did not act that professionally. After that second meeting there was a definite split in the department. Thus, I figured that bringing in a specialist would be the best course of action. Several folks disagreed with me about bringing someone in to help. But fortunately I managed to win the day on that. As it turned out that was one of the best choices I could have made. We had several meetings as a department with this person, from District, leading the discussion. At the end they had managed to bring us back together. The waters had been smoothed and we had come to a majority decision that exists to this day. BTW, not the decision I preferred 🙂

I share this event here because I learned how important it can be to have the right people along side you when difficult times come upon you. Don’t be afraid to seek out experts as needed. My 2 cents worth.

 

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!

 

 

Dream It, Do It!

I’ve never had a problem dreaming.  I’ve had a problem doing.  Somehow, in some ways, my dreams have gotten placed in between never, never land and the land down under.  Oh, mind you, my dreams have been big.  Larger than life itself, perhaps.  But dreams they’ve been.  I’ve managed to hold myself spellbound as I set about doing the things necessary to untangle my intricately spun web.  Things like holding my head high despite several tries and remembering to take deep breaths before attempting to accomplish the next unnecessary feat.   Dreaming I love and dare to do, it’s the undoing of the not doing that I have trouble with.  It’s hard to remember the very necessary lesson of not being too hard on oneself and to be aware of encouraging and inspiring moments that occur in some of the most simplest moments of our lives.  Moments when we’re not dreaming but fully awake.  I’ve had to learn to listen with my head and now always my ears.  To understand that others see ourselves differently than we think they do.  That’s when I know my dreams are being realized and I’m fully awake.  When I hear the words of encouragement spill forth from the mouths of more than one person throughout a given day.  It’s the small moments that help me realize that my dreamy state of mind can be achieved just a little bit, slowly one day at a time.  That’s when I know that I’m dreaming it and doing it.

 

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!”

 

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.

Don’t Forget the Good Ones!

A coworker referred her neighbor to my swim class and I learned something from the experience that I should already know, but apparently I had been slacking on.

If someone does something correctly and they do not need corrective feedback, they still need feedback.

The neighbor, as it turns out, is an awesome swimmer.

In a class of 12 swimmers, it is impossible to have eyes on everyone at all times, so generally, the ones that need the most help are going to get the help first, and the ones who can swim well are given more trust to take direction and practice the skill.

My coworker reported that her neighbor didn’t think she was doing very well in my class, as I had not given her much feedback.

The light bulb went on. Awesome swimmers don’t know they are awesome swimmers unless you tell them they are awesome and then tell them EXACTLY why they are awesome.

Ever since that learning experience, I have been practicing my feedback skills with the highly skilled individuals. One technique I have found very helpful is to have them demonstrate a skill for their peers. It is such an ego boost for the student to be the role model for the group.

Assessment and evaluation is a continuous process. It does not just happen at finite points in the semester. It is a process that is woven throughout the length of the course, and every student should feel the drive to improve in relation to their own level of success.

So, in our efforts to help the beginners, we also must boost the experts.