Which way is Change?

Wechange_sign1 have all experienced change: change in our surroundings, change in circumstances, change in thinking, change in appearance and change in attitude.

I’ve never quite fully understood how some people can easily embrace change and can adjust their lives while others get shaken up or experience meltdowns. Change can be actively chosen and created by self, part of nature or brought about by others without our permission or control. Even when we actively make a decision for a change, we may find out it was harder than expected and not so much fun to muddle through.

For me, significant changes in my life included marrying, giving birth to children, balancing college and raising children at the same time, experiencing empty nest syndrome, starting new jobs, sudden death of a love one, adjusting to a spouse retiring, and moving across country and leaving a home and friends of 25 years.  All of these events made my life different than the day or weeks or years before.

Change occurs during my job here at GCC, I experience change on a daily basis. Every day is different. Different students and situations are the springboards for different types of actions and conversations. It isn’t necessarily affecting my personal lifestyle but sometimes it could affect a change in my attitude, both positive and negative.

Our DRS office will be experiencing a significant change in location soon. In fact, there are several offices that are experiencing a change of location. While some staff may not be happy about the changes, others are excited for stability and a place they can call home.

So how can we best handle changes in our lives that throw us off balance and rattle our nerves? We can go in the direction to pray for peace, understanding, or healing of the spirit and mind. Begin to look for the silver lining in our change. Carol Dweck, the Stanford University psychologist and author of the Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, discusses 4 steps for someone to get out of a (words italicize are my own)    Fixed mindset (Woe is me, nothing will change, I’m no good) to a Growth mindset (yes this might be bad but what will I learn from this change/challenge? What can I do better? ).

Step 1: Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.” (I call it the negative and defeated voices)

Step 2: Recognize that you have a choice. (I get to decide what to listen to and believe about myself or circumstances. I get an opportunity to change the way I think and believe about my situation or myself)

Step 3: Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice (My change or situation may not look good but I will learn to find positive things about it)

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action. (Whenever negative, defeat thoughts and actions occur, identify it for what it is and then translate those to positive thoughts, speech and action)

I would encourage you to learn more by going to http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html



I love change.

I went to four colleges (PC, Texas A&M, Galveston College, ASU) over five years for one degree. And that included three different degree programs (Marine Biology, Maritime Engineering, Justice Studies).   My Master’s is in a completely different field, my EdS in another, and heck, I may even go back to Law School!

While @ ASU for my undergrad, I lived in four different places (Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Scottsdale, Mesa) in two years.   I love the chance to find new grocery stores, new restaurants, new running routes. I love white walls that I can make my own. I change cars every two years. I change bags with seasons. I love change.

My hairdresser loves me because every two months I like something different; color, bangs, layers, you name it – I’m open. It’s hair. It will grow back/out/in/over.

My diet; that I don’t change. I have found what works for me and I love it. I may change the vegetables on my salad, but otherwise, that’s not an environment that’s conducive to change. But food is my fuel that allows me to go after everything else with such a healthy passion and to have the energy to change. So I don’t mess with my fuel.

When you find what works for you; stick with it. But if something doesn’t work or doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid of something better.  When you’ve learned what you needed to learn with a given situation, accept the learning and move on to learn something else! Whether it’s a relationship, a hobby, a life lesson or even a degree! Change = learning = growth = evolving!


Let’s Talk Evaluations…Self-Evaluations, That Is

I am an adjunct English instructor, so during any given semester, I am grading all the time.  My friends and family tease me about this often.  I usually shoot back at them with one of two retorts: “Quiet! I’m trying to go fast enough here to make $2 an hour!” Or, more often: “I haven’t found a way yet to teach people how to write better with a multiple choice test – until I do, I’m stuck grading papers!”

Much research has been conducted and much has been written and argued about evaluations – I won’t go into all that here, but the takeaway to me is that good evaluation of what actually needs to be learned and incorporated into the student’s “tool box” is very hard to do right or well.

Most “tests” and even essays simply don’t cut it.

So in my classes, I incorporate what I call a “Lessons Learned” essay at the end of each module.  I don’t call it a “self-evaluation,” or students probably wouldn’t do it.  But that is exactly what it is: A “reflection” essay on what the students learned about the writing process and/or about themselves in the last module we just spent several weeks of their lives on. In short, students review what they did to produce their latest final paper or project, ask themselves what worked for them and what didn’t, and then tell me whether or not they were “successful”– and support their answer.

In good essay form, of course.

I don’t limit the content (say, to peer review or prewriting or outlining or any other step) because, how do I know what they learned?  This keeps the evaluation open-ended and lets the students be “response-able,” i.e. able to respond to their fullest extent possible.

This is a sneaky way, perhaps, to get students to become critical thinkers, to turn their thoughts inward, to analyze what they did, to place some value on their actions, to decide which are important enough to include in a paper, and to present their ideas in a proven and tightly-controlled manner.

It works better than any test I could come up with, and it is more often than not very gratifying to watch them grow.

In addition to the “Lessons Learned” essay for each module, I also require a “Lessons Learned” essay for the course.   I assign a final exam from students using the same method as the “Lessons Learned” assignments for each module – the final requires more words (500 versus 250 minimum) and covers a longer time span (the length of the course versus module).  The final essay is again an open-topic essay, and students can use their books and/or any previous “Lessons Learned” essays they want.  Once more, students must take themselves through the process of brainstorming, listing, analyzing, choosing and prioritizing points to present in their essays.  And present them in good essay form.

In preparation for this final essay, I have students write their own “My Writing Process Today” essay in the first week or two of class, where they present (as honestly and openly as they can) the steps they go through when they are given an essay assignment – one that often entails panic, stress, tobacco products and junk food, but one that sometimes also includes  music and sharing with family and friends and otherwise getting themselves into a “good spot” to write.

Almost everybody at that point talks about procrastinating and doing the final work the day the assignment is due (tendencies we work to eliminate throughout the course).  Their final essays are often a comparison of their individual process in weeks 1-2 with their process in weeks 16-17.  They talk about such things as prewriting, outlining (who knew?!?!), peer reviews, and growing confidence in themselves as writers.

I’m not a research or educational scientist, and have no data on hand to prove this – but something tells me open-ended self-evaluations like these help students make the material presented and practiced in class their own, and that they’ll use those “lessons learned” themselves more readily in the future than those that take tests or simply write the required reports.

But if anyone has that multiple-choice test I’m looking for — the one that teaches people how to write better without actually doing any writing — please let me know.

I could use a break from all that grading!



To Change or not to Change? That is the Question.

The topic this week is change. For me just having to write something regularly is a change. Give me a math problem and my eyes light up and I get excited. Ask me to write and it is like when I go to Joann Fabrics with my wife. I get drowsy and lose energy immediately upon entering the story. I think people have these two reactions when the discussion turns to change. They are either excited about the prospect of changing something (fixing it) or dread it, thinking here we go making my life more difficult again. It seems that sometimes change is pursued because someone is trying to justify the necessity for their job position. But, at other times, change is sought in order to fix something that isn’t working as well as it should. Of course change also occurs when leadership changes. In many areas there are several processes that can get the job done well, it is just a matter of choice.

What I think is important, is to remain objective. Listen to each new proposed change and analysis the merits of the change. Can it improve what is done? Will things be more efficient? Will it make work more difficult? Does it involve more paperwork and is it important enough to warrant that? Will it add or subtract from the budget? Is it proposed because someone had too much time on their hands? To be honest to you, the reader, I hate the term disruptive innovation. It sounds like a term made up by a “glass half empty” kind of person. We should use the term Constructive Innovation! Sure you are destructing something that exists when you change, but let’s be more positive and talk about how it is going to make life better. If it won’t make processes better we shouldn’t be changing.

Bottom line, don’t let people change stuff just for change sake. Analysis the proposed change, decide its merits and then get behind it or challenge it and use facts to support your position.


Teaching vs. Learning: Something I Learned

      I can’t recall the particular moment that I learned this.  More than likely the discovery came over time and, like most things we learn, once we learn it, there’s no unlearning or going back.  What did I learn?  That just because I taught it, it doesn’t mean they learned it.  You might be thinking Duh. Believe me, I wish I could have learned this very early in my career, but teaching has really changed over the last 25 years because students and our world have changed.  And I never learned this in my education classes when I was in college.  This was something I learned out of experience and probably a change in state standards, but it did take awhile to sink in.  When it did, my practice changed.
     Now, I teach composition, so there is a significant skill based component to that course.  It’s built for teach, formative assess, reteach and clarify, formative assess, remediate with a few students, assess.  It’s built for returning to concepts, so that the competencies are revisited and revisited, and by the end of the course, students can really bring research and synthesis and citation and format all together to create something of which they can be proud.
     “I taught that” was replaced with “my students learned ______.”