Category Archives: Write6x6

A Need and a Solution

Here we are again at the end of the Write6x6 journey. This season has been special for me. This is the first time I broke from the established narratives and the first time I have put real thought into comparing the two major aspects of my life, teaching and volunteerism.

That comparison evolved as I wrote it. I entered this process with very clear objectives and topics in mind. Although the core of what I wanted to get across remained, the examples, depth, and analysis ended up being different than I anticipated.

This process has been cathartic for me. Elaborating and reflecting kept me grounded during difficult decisions and aggravating political meetings. Generally, that is an accomplishment only my wife can boast about.

Meditation and Spirituality abstract image (c) pixabay
Maybe not THIS cathartic… but cathartic nonetheless.

Malleability, critical thinking, patience, and the capacity to care are all qualities that I feel educators have in abundance. Some of those characteristics don’t come immediately or naturally, at least to me, but I have been successful as a teacher for over a decade because I integrated those traits into my everyday life.

When I first entered the world of volunteerism, non-profits, and politics, I did not have the first clue how important those qualities would be.

Word Cloud of key terms throughout the series.
That looks like an apple right? This is not a Rorschach test…

Malleability is a four-letter word in politics. The thought process from those deep in that world is that if you give in, even a little bit, you are as good as defeated. “If you give an inch they will take a mile” is a phrase I have heard multiple times in the last year, but educators know people are not binary. Adaptation and evolution are the only reasons life exists on this planet. Malleability makes a person strong instead of rigid and easily broken.

Critical thinking was something I expected in abundance when I started to volunteer. I thought those in a position of power at least consider alternatives and other points of view. As an educator, I have dedicated entire weeks of semesters to critical thinking. I know that teaching critical thinking skills is common across all fields of higher learning, but I was disappointed to discover firsthand that not all degree-wielding graduates are educated. To my dismay, I learned that the abilities to consider other points of view and entertain higher level thinking are some of the first skills tossed aside once power is obtained. Like malleability, I have witnessed a twisted thought process that equates titles to absolution.

Patience is a skill that was learned for me as I developed as an educator. If I saw someone struggling or emotionally upset I would try to resolve it immediately. Often this process resulted in making the problem worse, or in some cases causing those I was trying to help to become distant. Being an educator taught me that taking action is important, but expecting immediate results is not. In fact, most issues of import can rarely be solved overnight. Quick fixes can be dangerous and lead to unintended consequences. Educators know this from experience, but that knowledge is not as abundant elsewhere.

I stated previously that the cornerstone to all of these traits is the capacity to care. Rather than repeat those thoughts entirely, I want to stress there is a difference between the appearance of caring and having the capacity to care. Educators know this firsthand. Teachers flunk students every semester who either do not have the skills or work ethic to move forward. They understand that by doing so they are helping, even if it’s not apparent to the student at first (or ever). The capacity to care is as much about saying “no” as it is saying “yes”. I hear the word “care” all the time at meetings, but simply saying the word just puts up an appearance. It takes action and difficult choices to show the capacity to care.

Image of watch in the sand (pixabay).
Try as we might, there are only 24 hours in a day.

Capacity can be a real hurdle. I have tried to encourage other thoughtful, patient, and caring people to volunteer, but the truth is there are only so many hours in the day. The capacity of time is a very cruel reality.

I understand.

Image from outlook calendar showing volunteer schedule.
A sneak peak at my volunteer calendar… who needs Tuesdays or Thursdays anyways?

All I need to do is open my calendar and look at the several hours of meetings I am dedicated to next week. At this rate, there is a real possibility that I won’t be able to keep up the pace of my volunteer efforts because of the time commitments. However, as a friendly colleague reminded me last week, Theodore Roosevelt had a quote for that problem as well, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.

I started my volunteer process as a member of an economic advisory group that met once a month for a few hours. That is a far stretch from the multi-meeting weeks I am in now, but it does show that there are opportunities out there for any time schedule.

Image from Strategic Plan kickoff meeting of short term volunteers.
An event I hosted to receive citizen input on city planning. It was two hours total of volunteering for those involved, and it made a world of difference.

Educators have all the traits that are needed in volunteers and public servants.

I can’t promise that getting involved will be energizing, fun, or financially rewarding. I can promise that, even in a short term or limited position, a difference will be made that wouldn’t have otherwise.   

Until next year, thank you for reading.

 

Student Motivation-Is It Possible?

For as tedious as it is to force reflection for my Individual Development Plan, I do find myself reflecting beyond the IDP on ways to offer improved experiences for students in the classroom. A few months ago, I signed up to join other faculty at one of Dr. Terry’s Student Success Listening Sessions. That day is fast approaching. Being the good boy scout that I am (actually I’m a country boy and participated in 4-H), I wanted to prepare my talking points to the four questions posed for discussion. One of the questions is: “what is the best way to achieve student success?”. (If I could, I would insert a ten-minute pause here as my mind pondered that question yet again.) I am sure if one asked 100 people that question, one would get 100 different answers. But no matter what answer each person gives, I hope that all faculty can agree that we want an actively engaged student body in the classroom. In fact, my answer would be student engagement is the best way to achieve student success. As a nascent educator, I thought I was engaging the students by introducing active learning activities in the classroom. As a slightly more experienced educator, I now know that active learning is only half the battle. My formal educational background includes a bachelors in business, a masters in business, and a PhD in business. Although this makes me a content-rich instructor, it does not make an expert educator. Therefore, I search for resources that provide insight into teaching and learning. One of my favorites is Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by E. Barkley. Barkley argues that students are only engaged when motivation and active learning overlap.

I can do learning activities all day long, but motivating students is the difficult part. Motivation is internal. Every person has their own incentives for being motivated to learn. How can one determine what motivates 125 students every semester? No worries.  There are some highly-researched theories that might help educators motivate students. This is one area where my business education background might be helpful. Any student of basic management theory has studied employee motivation. A modern theory of employee motivation is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. Expectancy Theory suggests that employees are motivated to perform when they value the reward to be received for performing well and there is a reasonable expectation that the reward can be achieved.  This same theory has been applied to students in an educational setting (Becker, n.d.). Becker posits that in an educational setting, expectancy is the degree to which students expect to be able to learn successfully if they apply themselves, thus expecting to get whatever rewards that successful performance will bring. Value is the degree to which students value those rewards as well as the opportunity to engage in the processes involved in carrying out the learning itself. Although motivation is internal and specific to each student, faculty do have direct control over emphasizing and providing the expectancy and value responsible for student motivation.

At the risk of this blog post sounding like a dissertation chapter, I will stop discussing theory and provide practical examples of how faculty can provide rewards that students value. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University provides the following examples. As I read these, I tally how many I am already using and ponder how to incorporate the others. I encourage all to do the same.

Deliver your presentations with energy and enthusiasm.  As a display of your motivation, your passion motivates your students. Make the course personal, showing why you are interested in the material. (relatedness)

Get to know your students. You will be able to better tailor your instruction to the students’ backgrounds, and your personal interest in them will inspire their personal loyalty to you. (relatedness)

Use examples freely. Many students want to be shown why a concept is useful before they want to study it further. Inform students about how your course prepares students for future opportunities. (relatedness)

Set realistic performance goals. Design assignments that are appropriately challenging in view of the experience and aptitude of the class. (mastery)

Be free with praise and constructive in criticism. Negative comments should pertain to particular performances, not the performer. Offer nonjudgmental feedback on students’ work, stress opportunities to improve, and look for ways to stimulate advancement. (mastery)

Give students as much control over their own education as possible. Let students choose paper and project topics that interest them. Assess them in a variety of ways (tests, papers, projects, presentations, etc.) to give students more control over how they show their understanding to you. (autonomy)

I found it interesting that as I read through these suggestions that each of them was practical advice on how to achieve the three components of self-determination theory—relatedness, mastery, and autonomy.  (I labeled each.) Self-determination theory is the basis of the Reimagine Teaching and Learning project that GCC is about to commence. I suspect those of us who may participate in that program will learn, discover, and implement more strategies to achieve student engagement through motivation and active learning.

Becker, B. (n.d.) A new meta-model of student engagement: The roles of student motivation and active learning. Retrieved from https://www.brettbecker.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/IICE-13-_Becker_-419_Camera-Ready.pdf

 

Iyanla Vanzant Says You Matter

7502b197610a52e13fcf9e3c753a636287f000a4aff0f21648a9780dc7ffed178d792954105314f7ce1494f2cc6447195d08dc5edd27b0fe7bd1aae706afd20f     Many people know that I love Oprah! I am of course subscribed to her podcast Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. Yesterday I listened to the episode: Iyanla Vanzant: You Matter. Iyanla Vanzant is a woman who helps people overcome some major issues on a show on OWN called Fix My Life. When I saw the title of the podcast I had to listen and I was not disappointed. It perfectly aligns with what I have been talking about for the past few weeks. If you get a moment to listen, check it out.

The statement that stuck out to me the most was:

“…we get our meaning and our mattering from our story and if we tell a story in a way that disempowers us we won’t know that we matter…..”

When she said this in the podcast it made me think. How many of our faculty, staff, and students have created stories in their heads that discourage and disempower them? Stories of discouragement and disempowerment prevent them from realizing that they matter. If their story includes people who tell them they are not good enough or that they will never amount to anything or that they are not good at reading, writing, or math, it will not only impact them but also the people who serve them. When I work with a student one on one and they express frustrations and are really tough on themselves I will think about what Iyanla says. What story are they telling themselves and what does it mean to them? How is it impacting them in the classroom?

How can we have stories that empower us and helps us to create meaning so that we feel like we matter? One way to do this is to pay attention to the people who are in your lives and what they tell you on a daily basis. Being surrounded by people who tear you down makes it difficult to build yourself up. Another way is to stop comparing yourself to others. I mentioned that in a previous post. We have a tendency of tearing ourselves down when we don’t feel like we measure up.

Iyanla Vanzant Says You Matter

7502b197610a52e13fcf9e3c753a636287f000a4aff0f21648a9780dc7ffed178d792954105314f7ce1494f2cc6447195d08dc5edd27b0fe7bd1aae706afd20f     Many people know that I love Oprah! I am of course subscribed to her podcast Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. Yesterday I listened to the episode: Iyanla Vanzant: You Matter. Iyanla Vanzant is a woman who helps people overcome some major issues on a show on OWN called Fix My Life. When I saw the title of the podcast I had to listen and I was not disappointed. It perfectly aligns with what I have been talking about for the past few weeks. If you get a moment to listen, check it out.

The statement that stuck out to me the most was:

“…we get our meaning and our mattering from our story and if we tell a story in a way that disempowers us we won’t know that we matter…..”

When she said this in the podcast it made me think. How many of our faculty, staff, and students have created stories in their heads that discourage and disempower them? Stories of discouragement and disempowerment prevent them from realizing that they matter. If their story includes people who tell them they are not good enough or that they will never amount to anything or that they are not good at reading, writing, or math, it will not only impact them but also the people who serve them. When I work with a student one on one and they express frustrations and are really tough on themselves I will think about what Iyanla says. What story are they telling themselves and what does it mean to them? How is it impacting them in the classroom?

How can we have stories that empower us and helps us to create meaning so that we feel like we matter? One way to do this is to pay attention to the people who are in your lives and what they tell you on a daily basis. Being surrounded by people who tear you down makes it difficult to build yourself up. Another way is to stop comparing yourself to others. I mentioned that in a previous post. We have a tendency of tearing ourselves down when we don’t feel like we measure up.

3 pounds of tofu between your ears

I love small books with big messages. Neuroscience, Buddhist thought, psychology, compassion, beauty, kindness…this book has it all. It’s organized in short, powerful chapters – each with a potent, instantly-usable message. Here are my random thoughts for today in random order…

Start with Chapter 2 and Chapter 17

Remember your GCC Library. We can get this book for you to check out.

Best Wishes to all the 6 x 6 writers. Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories and ideas.

 I believe: What is known must be shared, preferably for free…

 

A Capacity to Care

I want to make a disclaimer: This article will most likely lack the structure and finesse of my other blogs.

I originally had planned a different article this week with the same title. My goal was to do a full education/politics crossover next week with four critical traits. However, on Thursday I had a meeting that put today’s trait front and center. I am going to go with my heart and go more in-depth today than I had originally planned. I will include as many of my draft thoughts about caring as I can.

AZQuote image of Teddy Roosevelt quote "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care."
TR Quote 1 of 2 for the day. I often look to our 26th president when I am in need of inspiration. (C) AZQuotes

Every educator I have met that has been in the profession for an extended amount of time is caring by nature. Even for those that don’t know this first hand, it doesn’t take a great deal of research to find that almost all educators do what they do despite the financial and emotional toll that comes with the title of teacher. Those sacrifices are made with the intention of building up others every semester, every day, and every class.

The essence of education is a desire to make the world a better place and to empower others.

Ideally, anyone in a position of power should share the same goal, especially those in political power.

I spent the better part of the afternoon Thursday in a room surrounded by powerful regional entities: utility owners, ports, economic advisors, mayors, councilmembers, development directors.

I walked out of that meeting feeling frustrated, defeated, and depressed. I walked out questioning my volunteerism and optimism for the future.

Many of the conversations I witnessed at that meeting boiled people down to numbers, put profit over affordable living, and came across with a callous disconnect that broke my heart.

Image of money from pixabay
Currency has people on it. Close enough, right?

More than anything at this very moment, I regret not saying anything. I regret just listening and accepting the pecking order. I doubt anyone in that room would have listened to me. I doubt my speech would have been as eloquent and as well rehearsed as those I would have been opposing. Nevertheless, it would have been the right thing to do.

AZQuote image of Teddy Roosevelt quote "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing"
Sorry Teddy… I forgot. (C) AZQuotes

Others were silent as well, I would like to think that those in silence felt the same as me, but I will never know the answer.

When I sat down in front of my computer, wanting to talk about the capacity to care, of how it is reflected in everyone I meet in education, I simply couldn’t shake how I had just seen the opposite end of the spectrum.

I could have stuck with my plan and said some of these things in my closing next week. As important as the other traits I have discussed are, upon reflection, the capacity to care is the cornerstone. The vast majority of educators have open caring hearts. The vast majority of those I have met in positions of power do not.  Fortunately, the problem presents a solution: have more educators active in their communities and governments.

Solution over problem on chalkboard - pixabay
A Capacity to Care.
 

STUDENTS MATTER

 

 

Evaluations  I like student evaluations. Many dread them because of the anxiety of what students might say on a form, but I look forward to them. I encourage my students to complete them since they let me know how I’m doing. I let them know that their thoughts matter. I read every positive and negative comment on each evaluation form. I let them know that pay close attention to what they say because I am always striving to be better than I was the day before. To me, evaluations are all about helping me to improve.

I understand that some don’t share my view and that is ok, but they are needed, and I think that they are effective. What have I learned from my student evaluations over the past five years? The importance of having clear instructions and criteria for my assignments, providing deeper explanations for course content, slowing down in my lectures, having more of a variety of activities in my lessons, and not going off on a tangent during lectures (I have my soap box moments) =>). I’ve improved in most areas, I still go off on tangents. =>) I’m still a work in progress in this area. =>)

Evaluations provide feedback that helps us to improve, but they also inform us of the impact we have on our students. Feedback can communicate how much we matter to our students. For the past five years, I have been floored by the feedback I have received from my students. Some express an interest in the field of communication, some mention how they have been able to use what we learn in their lives, others enjoy the discussions and the activities we have in class, some have even said that they feel like I care about teaching and them.

As instructors, we never really know the impact we will have on our student’s lives. Evaluation season helps us improve and reminds us WE MATTER. I encourage you to take a moment to review past evaluations from students, chairs, deans, managers, supervisors etc. Ask yourself: How have I grown? How has my growth impacted others? How does my evaluation communicate my value and my worth to the people that I serve? I hope the evaluation review will provide you some information that will help you to see your room for growth and the impact you have on others.

Difficult daughters

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I love this poem. It sums up a lot of what I’ve learned in my 24 years as a Mom. My daughter and I are totally opposite in most ways. Since she was small, she has never ceased to amaze me with her contrasting attitude and I’m sure she feels the same regarding my differing ideas. Before she was born, I could have never imagined how unmatched a mother and child could be regarding temperament. I had rose-colored dreams of us being warm and fuzzy best friends. Where I got that idea, I can’t imagine – since my mother and I were certainly opposites as well. Is there a pattern here???

So this poem seemed to provide some clarity to this mother-daughter mis-match. All this unlikeness is OK…Jennifer is allowed to be Jennifer… I am allowed to be me…and my mom was allowed to be mean… uh…I MEANT…was allowed to be her

Actually, I feel liberated by the lessons in this poem. I am so much more comfortable with our opposing attitudes and choices. I wish my mom could have read this poem too. But then, she would have hated it…and I guess that’s OK too…that was her style…

(We were supposed to write about difficult people, right?)

This post is for you Mom! I Love You and I miss you,

Your Difficult Daughter who is the mother of your difficult granddaughter…

Lesson for Today:

Difficult Daughters…Maybe it takes one to know one…

 

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE

I could tell “Sally” was struggling. Fifteen minutes into the exam, she asked if we could make it an open book test. I said “no”. She hunkered down and got back to work. Another 15 minutes passed and she asked if we could make it a group exam. That window had passed. I said “no”. She got back to work. Then she asked specific questions about the exam problems. I gave a hint that I had hoped would point her in the right direction, but to no avail. The struggle continued. The 75-minute exam period was a long one, not only for her, but also for me as I watched everyone eventually file out of the room except for Sally. Alone in the room with time about to expire, she raised her hand and gestured me to the back of the room where she was working. I thought “finally, she is going to turn in her exam and leave.” As I approached her, I said, “Are you finished?” as I reached for the exam. She said “no” and clenched the exam to her chest. “What can I help you with?” I replied. She didn’t reply. She stared at me with a glare I could not interpret. I now know the glare was part curiosity, part mercy, and part insinuation. Slowly, painstakingly slow it seemed to me, she pulled the exam away from her chest, and there it was staring me in the face.

At this point in the story when I told my dean and my work wife about the incident, they both assumed she had exposed her bosom to me as an indication of exchanging sexual favors for a passing grade on the exam. They were wrong—but close. What was staring me in the face was a $100 bill attached to the exam. The intention was the same. At the time, I guess the going rate for an “A” on the exam was a hundred bucks.

I immediately explained to Sally that the offer was unacceptable behavior. She got the point and submitted the exam (after removing the Benjamin) and left. I reported the incident to my dean. I documented the incident and reported it to the dean of students.

I guess I can partially blame myself. As part of my self-deprecating humor in the classroom, I would always refer to myself as poor because I only earned a mere schoolteacher’s salary. I guess Sally missed the sarcasm and assumed her offer would be mutually beneficial. I have not used that joke since this incident.

I often wonder what would have happened had I accepted the bribe. Would another c-note appear every exam? Would Sally try this tactic in all her classes? Would I have sent the message that this was an acceptable method for conducting future business? I still wonder what kind of upbringing or environment led Sally to believe bribery was acceptable. I wonder even more why community college students are carrying around $100 bills!

In the end Sally turned out to be a pretty good student. When she applied herself, she did well. For the remainder of the semester, I pretended nothing happened that day which allowed us to carry on a relationship befitting a student and her instructor. On the inside I was distraught. To this day, that was the most uncomfortable I have ever felt in the classroom. I dreaded going to that class in fear of a repeat incident.  But time heals all wounds. I feel like I should have some profound learning experience from this incident, but I do not. Maybe I learned that one should expect the unexpected in the classroom. Maybe I learned that you cannot prepare for the unexpected. Maybe I simply learned that integrity is always the best response.  

 

Owning the truth

Challenges are part of teaching. Regardless of how many hours goes into lesson planning, difficulties will happen. The key to navigating rough water is owning the truth.

As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, one of the toughest lessons I learned is that I will not make everyone happy—it is impossible. Therefore, I try own my humanness.  

From day one, I try to be open about what others have to say and make it clear, I do not have all the answers. If I do not know the answer, I look it up; if I make a mistake, I admit to it and make it right.  This is such a simple philosophy, but it makes a difference.

Students quickly learn that by me being honest and owning my own mistakes, it makes me more approachable, especially when there are challenges.  And when those challenges arise, I make sure that if it is something within my control, I never hold the students accountable for it.

At the end of the day, how can I hold them accountable, if I do not publicly hold myself accountable?