Tag Archives: education

Let’s Get Critical

Last year I went in depth on one of the most overlooked assessment tools, rubrics. My feelings and thoughts on that important tool have not changed, but rather than repeat myself this year I want to talk about a different type of assessment. Specifically, I want to talk about assessing the critical thinking skills of students.

The specificLightbulb critical thinking ability I have been working on is the ability to analyze and attack a strongly held personal belief. The idea being that a good critical thinker should be able to understand opposing viewpoints.

I have done this through a series of writing assignments in various forms over many semesters. The most recent iteration is a “Devil’s Advocate” series of assignments where students are required to write a defense of a personal belief one week and write a defense of the opposing viewpoint the next.

The reason I always do this type of assignment is because of my core belief that critical thinking is a skill that will be useful to students no matter their future profession. It is also a skill that is sometimes overlooked in the test-driven performance-centric world of secondary level education.

Think Outside the Box

A word of warning, these types of assignments do have issues that will arise and need to be planned for ahead of time. There inevitably is always a group of students who absolutely detest this type of work. I had a student go as far as claim I was trying to “force my liberal beliefs” on them through my position of power. That complaint didn’t go anywhere, but it is an example as to how difficult this can be for some individuals. It also is very insightful as to the ability of students to critically think.

I have only recently started to tabulate the data in any real form, and the number of students that are able to successfully “think from the opposing viewpoint” has varied over semesters. The one constant I have noticed in the last decade is that there is always a significant portion of the class (30-50%) that must change their topic or take a sarcastic tone to complete the task, which shows a lack of developed critical thinking ability.

No matter what the final numbers and assessment show, the need to reinforce critical thinking skills at the college level is, well, critical. There are elements of critical thinking that can be taught in any discipline or class, and if every course made an effort to include tasks that require critical thinking skills, the end result would be students who will be better prepared to handle the unknown, problem solve, and appreciate (or at least respect) the “other”.

Education prepares the workforce of the future, politicians, nurses, teachers, managers, everyone that has a job that requires more than a High School diploma. In a world of percentages, having the majority with a solid foundation of critical thinking skills will result in a better world for everyone.

Graduation Photo

If you have assignments that assess critical thinking, or have thoughts about critical thinking in the classroom, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail!

 

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.

 

 

Theoretical War of Theory

When pursuing my Master’s I enrolled in a summer course entitled “Theory of Education”.  For many in the class it was the kind of backward psychobabble  that bore little relevancy on actual classroom technique and management, focusing primarily on Behaviorism and Constructivism.

Theory Meme

It has now been well over a decade since those early days of learning, and I have only grown in appreciation of the experience gained during those few months.

Fear not, this will not be a summation of educational theory and delivery methods. I could not give any theory justice this far removed.  No, like any good learning experience it wasn’t what was said that impacted me so much, but rather what was done.

Although most of those taking part in the class checked out day one, there were a few of us interested enough to make the classroom dialogue interesting. All the other students were already elementary or secondary teachers attempting to shore up their credentials and bank accounts by adding a Master’s to their wall. I was still in my educational infancy, a TA at the college without much in the way of practical experience.

The professor was a devote Contructivist and every lesson seemed to have a tinge of personal bias. Excellent for me who had latched on to Contructivism, but bad for the other interested parties who had seen Behaviorism work in their early education classrooms. Many of our sessions ended up turning into debates, often heated and passionate. At one point, midway through the summer semester, a frustrated elementary teacher stood up and declared that she would never understand Contructivism, and that the instructor would have to fail her on the spot because she was a Behaviorist for life.

I was at full attention, expecting some witty retort and conversion right then and there. What I got was a life lesson that stuck with me more than all the academic and education theories crammed into my textbooks. He smiled, warm, friendly, his debate tone drifted away replaced by a Bob Ross jovial melancholy, and he said that was okay, that he respected her beliefs even if they weren’t his own, and he wouldn’t want her beliefs to change simply because of his.

More important than theory I had witnessed practical implementation of the the greatest skills higher education can instill; patience, kindness, and critical thinking.  The ability to accept that there are different views beyond your own, and even if you are in a place of power you should not attempt to convert opinions, but encourage personal discovery.

Beliefs may define an individual, but they are not the reason society succeeds. Kindness, understanding, and curiosity are what propel both education and mankind, allowing us to achieve great things together, no matter what theories we happen to follow.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Sleeper has Awakened

There are really two kinds of dreams, dreams we have for ourselves (personal goals and desires) and those we have for the world around us. But dreams don’t have to be these surreal or unobtainable goals, no matter how big they are. For those who enjoy viral internet trends, you may have seen a little gem with Shia LeBeouf giving an inspiring “speech” entitled, “Just Do It.” During the motivational and comically energetic rant he utters one very important line, “Don’t let your dreams be dreams.”

The dreams we have for ourselves usually involve work or family. On the surface they seem much more obtainable. For example, I often dream of working as full time faculty and finally being able to move on from ten years of working part time at multiple schools. I dream of raising a child with my wife and doing the best I can to provide the same support she has provided me ever since we started dating fifteen years ago. I’d like to think those are obtainable dreams. But dreams don’t come true if you fail to act on them, they require action. My adjunct work at GCC allowed me to start working towards some of my personal dreams. I have been given the opportunity (and even encouraged) to present at meetings, develop curriculum, and even help design entire courses. Those are all very real opportunities that serve as important and needed experience. I may not have reached my dream yet, but those opportunities acted upon are progressive steps.

The dreams we have for the world around us are usually far more reaching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be acted upon just like personal goals. My far reaching dream would be to live in a world free from prejudice and bias. When I lived in Detroit I was able to see firsthand how horrible and destructive those forces can be. I may just be an adjunct English instructor, but even from that position I can act on my dream to create that better world. By encouraging critical thinking, healthy debate, and empathy in the classroom, slowly but surely, one student at a time, the world becomes a better place through my actions. I can’t have an impact on everyone, but each student I do have a positive influence on creates a ripple, and those ripples may be felt around the world.

Image of water ripples
Surface Waves (c) wikipedia commons

So don’t just sit and dream, take action, even a small step. Let the sleeper awaken and watch the world around you slowly change into to the one you imagined and hoped for. Just do it.

 

The Strength of the Base of the Pillar

As adjunct faculty, our power inside and outside the classroom is like night and day. We are not full-time; our job is always at the whim of funding or enrollment. We don’t advise students or get the chance to participate in most staff meetings. How can someone with so little power have a positive impact on the workplace when they are, by most respects, the lowest member on the totem pole?

The answer is to use the position to your advantage. As an adjunct there is very little danger involved in sharing your ideas or asking questions. You have the advantage of avoiding workplace dynamics, the so-called “water cooler talks” or “he said she said”. As the lowest member on the totem pole, you have the advantage of being part of the team while also being outside of it. It is tough to make enemies as part time staff, so be brave. If you have an idea, go ahead and start talking it over with other adjuncts to see how it is received. If it goes well, suggest it to your advisor or department head. Making suggestions and taking an active part in trying to help those around you will help you shake any feelings of self-doubt you might have. Not all of your ideas might be used right away, but by sharing them, you are showing everyone that you do have ideas, and you do want to help. The other thing you can do is ask questions. You will find that most educators are more than willing to help you in your hour of need. Helping, after all, is part of what defines us as educators. Asking other adjuncts about their ideas or solutions is encouraging to them. When someone comes to you and asks for your help it shows that they have faith in you, that they trust your opinion. Trust and kindness often go hand in hand.

So don’t be afraid to share ideas and ask meaningful questions. By doing these two things a dialogue and community is created. Support others when you see them trying to reach out, and seek out support when you need to. By moving past your fear and realizing the impact you can have, even as an adjunct, you will encourage kindness and understanding in the workplace.

 

Finding Inspiration from Isolation

This year marks the three-year anniversary of my teaching solely online as an Adjunct Faculty at GCC. At first glance teaching from the comforts of home might seem like a win-win situation, but I can assure you there are many setbacks, each of which deserving its own article. The most obvious and problematic setback is that of isolation. I don’t get to see my students face-to-face unless it is via a rare Skype conference. I don’t get to have my treasured lunch outings with Gary or Andy. I don’t even get to participate in Assessment Day or Adjunct Appreciation. I am, by most respects, a ghost in a machine that sometimes sends out e-mails and makes videos to remind the world I exist.

So where do I find inspiration in such a situation? Fortunately, even behind a keyboard and monitor, there are those who have managed to help keep me improving my courses and teaching, and grading all those essays.

Although not a part of GCC, my wife’s support is essential to my improvement. She is a workaholic, a zealot for her career and passions, and a stickler for punctuality. Her work ethic and drive have, over the course of our fifteen years together, rubbed off. I do my best to seize what opportunities come my way now, one example being that I volunteer as an emergency substitute teacher at my community’s local school. When my schedule permits, I get to work with and teach children ranging from kindergarten all the way to High School seniors; it is a blessing, and something I would not have pursued if not for my wife’s example.

Despite being a solid twenty-hour drive away from campus, I still treasure my conversations with the faculty at GCC. This includes both full-time faculty and fellow adjuncts like myself. Alisa Cooper has been my bedrock ever since I left the desert valley. Her drive and curiosity about new and exciting technologies has prompted me to reform how I approach online learning, all for the better. During her time as my direct supervisor she pointed me in the direction of opportunities and helped me correct and learn from my mistakes. Thanks to her I am now a video fiend. I’ve started my own youtube series of power lectures, and made myself less of a digital phantom to my students by posting videos and voice overs regularly. This continued with Beth Eyres who took over for Alisa after “Dr. Coop” (#cooperize) moved to the CTLE. Beth has helped me feel like I am still connected to the English faculty and community at GCC. She often informs me about events that I can take part in from a distance, like this blog. Most importantly she has made me feel like a contributor. I have worked as adjunct for four colleges in my ten years as an educator and she was one of the first supervisors to make me feel like my opinion mattered. Helping to create and develop the online English 101 shell has been one of the best experiences of my career, and I have Beth and her faith in me to thank for that.

Inspiration, even in isolation, is not hard to find when you stay in contact with the right people. My family at home and my family at GCC continue to be the right people to help me improve and better myself every day.