Tag Archives: Challenge

Gather Around the Coffee Mug

The significance of building relationships is often overlooked in education. As a teacher, it is easy to fall into that boss/employee relationship with your students. As a professor, it is easy to get the feeling that you are on your own, with little support outside of the occasional observation from a superior.


Fortunately there is an easy solution to both of these problems:

Coffee.

Cup of Coffee
You can almost smell it. (c) giphy.com

When I first started teaching I had a difficult time managing the classroom. Despite their classroom antics, I found they still would always say hello or try to strike up a conversation when I was on my lunch break having a cup of coffee.

Eventually this evolved into a post-class ritual: I would leave the class, go the to the lunch area, and have coffee. Those students who did not have a class to go to would join me. We would chat about things, sometimes English related, sometimes movies, and sometimes just idle banter.

As the semester moved on, my insecurities within the classroom started to diminish. I was more comfortable with the class, and they realized I was just as human as everyone else.

Fast-forward a few years and I found myself in a similar situation in the Adjunct Faculty Office. There was always a silence there, the room serving as a cross street as we sped to our various destinations. On the rare occasion a question or idea would come up, but it was far from a daily occurrence.

Busy intersection
Off to class I go. (c) giphy.com


The solution was to make things more personal, have a chat, offer that cup of coffee. It wasn’t long before I started having lunch and coffee with a few of my fellow adjuncts. At those short meetings I was able to discuss assignments, classroom management, teaching techniques, and various other topics that made me a better instructor and a better person. One person in particular, Gary, even encouraged me to pursue publishing my short stories after the topic came up during one of our lunch breaks. That one conversation had a major impact on my life.

So the final message I leave is this: Students are people. Teachers are people. We all have similar fears, desires, struggles, and pursuits. Discovering that bond in a structured environment can be difficult, but put a lunch or nice hot cup of coffee in the mix, and friendship is just around the corner.

 

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.

 

On Kindness

Practicing it won’t make you perfect but it’ll make you aware. We’ve all probably been taught at some point in our lives of its virtues, but have we examined its meaning? What does it mean to be kind? To understand, perhaps it’s best to know what it feels like to be treated in an unkind manner.  I’m pretty sure we can all remember the last time we felt like that.  But can we remember the last time we treated someone with kindness?  What were the circumstances under which we chose to act in a kindly manner.  And no, I’m not talking about patronizing manners or obligatory responses.  I’m talking real.  Right here and right now. Starting with today. We’re all too busy thinking and worrying about ourselves and “what’s in it for me.”  And in doing so we’ve missed the opportunity to respond to an overwhelmed student or coworker.  All because, if you please, we were thinking all about “me” instead of “them.”  We know what it feels like when we’re left to feel the sting of a perfunctory thank you or please. My challenge is this:  let’s think ahead and outside of ourselves. So the next time we’re in a situation which may require compassion, we think instead of how we can best be prepared to respond to a need selflessly and with compassion for someone in need of a kind act instead of an eye-rolling dismissal. You see to be kind, we must think of someone other than ourselves. That’s how I wish to be remembered. As an example of kindness.  We’ve been taught the lesson, but so have we learned?  What a difference kindness can make.
 

Challenge (Happily) Accepted

What fires your passion for your field of interest and reminds you of your role at GCC?

My answer… the 6×6 Challenge. My passion is writing and unfortunately, is not closely related to my role as the Coordinator of Fiscal Services. Participating in the 6×6 Challenge brought my passion for writing and my role at GCC a little closer. Any time there is an opportunity to write – office process docs, communication to the campus from our office, Maricopa Priorities – I happily volunteer. Writing for the 6×6 Challenge allowed me to bring out my creative side and gain valuable insights about my role at GCC.

 

Student Success (from a Fiscal Perspective)

How many times a day do you see, hear, or think about the phrase “student success”? It is our primary goal, our focus, and the driving force behind everything we do. What about when your job duties (including the “other duties as assigned”) do not bring you in direct contact with students? Can you still contribute to student success? The answer is yes.

This is something I think about often because we are frequently asked to report on how we promote student success and I have a job that does not bring me in direct contact with students. However, after reading some of my fellow bloggers’ posts, I found that I am not alone in my assertion that yes I can contribute to student success.

I promote student success by helping faculty members navigate the myriad of forms, processes, and systems we have in the fiscal world. When faculty members are successful at the non-teaching part of their jobs, they are likely to translate that feeling into a happier and more successful learning environment. In “Sincere Thanks from an Adjunct” Chris Krause says, “The positive feelings and willingness to help I have experienced outside the classroom spills over into my classes as well. Students are the direct beneficiaries of this. I can be more available and am more willing to advocate for them when needed, because I am happy and comfortable in the environment” (Write 6X6 Blog).

I promote student success by participating in the One2One mentoring program. This program allows me to share with students strategies I have used to overcome obstacles in obtaining a college degree or finding my way around campus or dealing with the pressures of family, job and college all at the same time. It gives me an opportunity to listen and learn what that student needs to be successful and offer guidance and reassurance that their goals are attainable.  Ladonna Lewis, in “Coming Out of the Closet,” says “We all have closets that we can come out of with our students when appropriate” and “Maybe we can just listen to them sometimes, and try to connect them with resources. Sometimes for students, just seeing that someone like them can be a college professor, or administrator, or professional, can help them see themselves achieving their goals” (Write 6X6 Blog).

I promote student success by identifying myself as an employee of GCC. When I walk through the Enrollment Center or across campus students routinely stop me and ask directions, how to work the computers, or where to get help with… you name it.  Every day I come to work there is an opportunity for me to make a difference, taking the time to stop and answer their questions (or find someone who can) is a little thing that can make a big impact. In “Feeling Disgruntled?” Ingrid Austin says, “Just remember that we’re here to make a difference and that everything we do should be done with pride, joy, and self-satisfaction because what we do matters.  It matters to the students who are out there making an effort to better themselves” (Write 6X6 Blog).

Finally, I hope to promote student success in the future by accepting the suggestion of President Kovala. In “Random Acts of Relief” she says, “… to pay it forward with these and any other great ideas to give our students the extra nudge to the finish line. Stopping a student on the sidewalk and simply asking how they are doing, or walking through computer commons or the Library and checking in with students as they are busily working on the computer. Better yet, when a student is in line at Grounds for Thought, offer to pay for their coffee. These small gestures go a long way to assure students know we care about them and their success” (Write 6X6 Blog).

 

Coke and a Smile

I’m a bit of a Coke-Cola nut and one of my favorite ads of all time is begins with, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”.   As a kid listening to that song I couldn’t think of anything nicer than to share my favorite beverage, sing, and do kind things for other people.  Yes, yes as a child you can see that I had some “coke bottle” thick, rose colored glasses, but really what would our campus look like if each of us were intentionally more kind?  If we started going above and beyond to spend our days showing kindness to each student, staff, faculty, and administrator we come into contact with, what would the possibilities be?  Would we see more smiles, more openness, and even more successes!721382f18bc997290421999a15d6cdfd

If you’ve taken time to read this post I challenge you (as I’ve challenged myself) to focus each day to be kind to those you encounter.  I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences over a Coke…on me.