Tag Archives: success

Changes that Lead to Student Success

After years of doing assessments and submitting the results before the end-of-term deadline, I finally realized I could actually be using the data. I have finally made some consistent changes that have led to greater levels of understanding and success in my classroom. Here are my top three.

Change # 1
Every single Exercise Physiology class starts with music and movement. Not just some classes when I feel like it. All classes. You might be thinking to yourself, “well of course, it’s an exercise class, why wouldn’t you be doing exercise with them?” I am teaching the science of exercise, so they are basically learning anatomy and physiology and how that applies to the acute and chronic adaptations to exercise. So, it is highly plausible that I could lecture for 75 minutes straight. Zzzzzzzz.

But no more! I have physical and visual evidence that my students are more engaged following a three minute bout of movement to music that will last for at least 30 minutes.

Change # 2
I have Included the arts in my sciences. I make my students draw pictures in their notes. The art lovers in class really enjoy this, and the non-artsy people appreciate that I bring coloring pencils and I teach them how to draw in a very simplified manner. I also give them visuals to think about to really break down the parts of their drawing. For example, the cell body of a neuron looks a lot like an egg after you have thrown it onto a hot oily frying pan. And the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) looks just like a lollipop.

It is much easier to review your notes when you have pictures depicting what your words are telling you. Just like I am more likely to read a textbook that has helpful pictures rather than all text and tables.

Change # 3
Less words on slides. I can actually watch their cortisol levels rise when I put up a slide that looks like it has 250 words on it. The serious note takers go into panic, wondering how they will ever jot down all these words. No matter how many times I tell them they have access to the slides, they still feel the need to write everything down, just in case it is on the test. So if you remove all that text and put down two key words that have an emotional impact, they are forced to think for themselves and jot down their own notes.

That is another opportunity to draw images on the board, give examples and simply explain the topic as it relates to their world. Then they give me their examples, we all nod in universal acceptance and we can move on to the next topic. Making an emotional connection will have a greater impact on memory compared to a slide full of words.

So just to recap: move to music for three minutes, encourage the arts, and post impactful words, not paragraphs.

 

Pride and Prejudice

After last week’s feel good story, this week is going to focus on the other side of the emotional coin: struggles and frustrations.

As an educator, there is a particular situation which can be extremely difficult and painful to deal with. That is entitlement.

Online course, end of the semester, grades due in 48 hours, inbox flooded with excuses ranging from computer malfunctions to ill pets, and in the digital pile of alibis one has several attachments. Teeth grind, palms clench, eyes close as the message opens:

“I was sick so was not able to hand in the last three essays, I have now completed them. Please remove the 0’s and update my grade. I need to pass this class to graduate.”

There are only a few options available in terms of response, and though limited, the repercussions are numerous.

If blessed with a deity-like ability to forgive, grade the papers, update the scores, and accept that by doing so, both syllabus policy and self respect are thrown out the window.

OR

Stand firm, say no, and accept that by doing so, both inbox and patience will be pushed to their limit by messages of vitriol and accusation.

As an educator, the reality is there is only one choice that maintains the integrity that is expected of the position.

Say no.

By doing so it will feel like the other tenets of education (kindness, understanding, and a desire to see every student succeed) are forced to the side like sediment from a river.

I promise they are not.

In education, scenarios like this will arise. They will be difficult, and that gnawing guilt those hate-filled messages leave is just a shadow on a wall, a fictional monster created by the fingers of a student who just learned some of the most important lessons of life.

Anything worthwhile must be earned, not given.

To be successful requires personal responsibility.

The earlier these lessons are taught, the easier they are to absorb. Have faith that once learned, the inevitable outcome is a wiser, better individual. That is what education is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Success or Failure?

“Did I pass?”, asks the student.

Testing employee responds, “Placement exams are not pass fail. Placement tests assist the college in making sure you are placed into the appropriate class. It looks like you placed into MAT 09X, ENG 101, and are reading exempt.”

“Can I take the test again?”

“Yes, students must wait 24 hours between the 1st and 2nd attempt and 3 months before taking the test a third time.”

“What can I do to improve my scores?”

“We have practice questions, an in-person test prep workshop, and a phone app that can help bring forward prior knowledge”

This is a common conversation that Testing Services employees have with students completing placement exams. We have the difficult job of being realistic & responsive, providing hope, and encouraging students to enroll in classes. In this moment a person is more than the results and course placement. In these moments students may be questioning their ability to succeed, wondering why they have so many college prep classes to take, or feeling defeated and rejected.

In this moment, Testing Services is more than just administering a test. We are human. We feel what the student feels. We wish the student met their goal. We want to see the student succeed. We want the student to know that GCC is here for them. We want to see the student come back for retesting, start classes, and persist. When we see a student struggle through a setback, it is a reminder that we are not defined by scores and numbers.

In these moments, we let the student know that we see and hear them. We let the student know there is hope. We manage our fears so they do not become the students. We stand strong, tall, and confidently. By doing this we respond to a challenge by providing support. We embrace our humanity.

Placement testing tells us what we know and what we don’t know. It helps students learn where to begin their college journey. Testing evokes feelings. Placement Testing is more than greeting a student, telling them where to place their belongings, selecting a computer or desk, setting up the exam, and printing results. Testing is a human experience.

 

 

Challenge + Support = Success

Someone once told me that you learn the most from your mistakes. Another wise person encouraged me to find my green lights. A third mentor brought these two words of wisdom together when she shared her expectation that we need to provide adequate support in challenging situations. Throughout my life, I will never forget friends, colleagues, supervisors, family, and faculty who help me live through and become stronger during emotional, financial, interpersonal, and intellectual difficulties.

The way support was offered varied based upon the people, my need, and our relationship. Sometimes it was a brief smile from a stranger when I was walking across campus. Other times, people supported me by telling what I needed to hear but didn’t necessarily want to hear in a kind and gentle way. Still others, helped me embrace my feelings which seemed to be getting the best of me. Sometimes it was about listening. Other times it was about solving problems or figuring out action steps. Regardless of what the person provided, I responded best when I knew why the person was responding to me in a particular way.

At the time I never really thought about how people decided to provide support. I have come to realize there are two different ways, the golden or platinum rule, to respond to others. From a very young age I was taught to treat others how I would want to be treated (the golden rule). This works best when someone is like me. Throughout life, there have been times when I thought I was supporting when I wasn’t. It was through these times I learned it is not about how I want to be treated, rather it is how others want to be treated (the platinum rule).

Looking back, I find myself relying upon the golden rule when I do not know the other person well. In these cases, it is easy to respond based upon how I would want to be helped. Sometimes it is scary to ask what another person needs. At times I have been uncertain on how to ask what a person needs. Sometimes I avoid asking about a need because I’m not sure I can respond. Still other times, I’m afraid to ask because I might identify the wrong need. So the golden rule is safer and works.

The platinum rule – while good in concept – requires connection, risk, trust, and sometimes getting it wrong. The platinum rule takes valuable time. With the platinum rule, I need to communicate my needs to others. I need to give others the space and time to share their needs. There will be times when I ask for something I cannot receive. There will come a time when I am asked for something I cannot do. In these cases, I will learn what is reasonable or doable. I will learn what I must do and how others help. When I am able to practice the platinum rule, I find that connection occurs, service improves, and relationships strengthen.

What will it be for you today? Gold or platinum? Testing Services recently adopted the platinum rule for our team. This means we have spent time defining workplace expectations, discussing individual & group needs and learning about the impact of the “office” on the team. It has taken time. It is an ever-evolving practice and conversation. Just when we think we know everything; new things come up. We are stronger because of the conversations, experience, and memories. We made the change because it provides strength in time of stress or challenge. When we work together, the load lightens.