School Lunch

The major downside to being an online instructor is the lack of meaningful interaction. Outside of a few e-mails, I rarely have a conversation with fellow faculty. Most of those are usually related to development of course materials or help with a student or technical issue.

When I taught face to face there was a fellow adjunct, Gary, who was in a similar situation. Twice a week I would walk into the adjunct office to find him sitting there at his laptop, cup of coffee in hand, smiling and commenting on the various comings and goings. Wearing a baseball cap and shorts, he made it clear he was just there to socialize. Looking back, I now understand and appreciate that longing he had to simply associate with a group of peers.

Sadly, I can’t come in a few times a week like he could, but what I can do is stress how important it is to do so if you are able.

Gary and I ended up having lunch a few times and talking about everything ranging from education techniques to our shared interest in writing fiction. I credit him with giving me enough courage to finally self-publish my first short story. Fast forward five years and I now have several short stories published, and am working on putting together a collection. Those lunch time conversations, and Gary’s need to socialize, were the main catalyst for me stretching myself to accomplish more than I would have otherwise done.

You never know how people you meet will influence you, it won’t always be positive, but more often than not in education it will be. Despite having various backgrounds, I find that most educators are open minded and friendly by nature (it is one of those unspoken requirements of staying in the field).

So, as I sign off for the last time this year, I wanted to leave everyone with a message of encouragement. Find a fellow teacher and go have lunch. Talk about ideas, education, hobbies, interests. Appreciate every moment of it, because whether you realize it or not, that ability to connect is not a given, and who knows, it may even help you become a better version of yourself.



Advice for Difficult Situations

“Good advice is rarer than rubies.” 
Salman Rushdie, East, West

First of all, I don’t think I’m that great at handling difficult situations. But I know I’m getting better as I get older. This is a good sign. The fact that I’m getting better also informs my advice on dealing with difficult situations.

Difficult situations can be anything–challenges with work colleagues, the death of a student, troublesome neighbors. I would argue that we only get better at dealing with difficult situations by actually having to experience difficult situations. This is what I imagine anyway. Maybe there is some training that exists somewhere that I don’t know about that would have better prepared me for all the difficult situations I’ve faced.

I think one of the most difficult situations I faced was when a student committed suicide. The days and weeks after in that classroom seemed pointless. And, it was hard to deal with my own grief while trying to be wise for my students. But nothing could have prepared me for how to deal with that situation except its happening.

This doesn’t leave much room for advice. It reminds me of the time I went camping with a friend who

had been praying for more faith. And then on that camping trip we were plagued with some wild animals in our camp all night. I panicked, and so did she, but she gained more faith, or at least she better have.

My only advice, really, is to know that difficult situations will come and to be present. Instead of letting it weight you down, try and float on it. Imagine a sea where you’re floating on your back. You’re there, but you’re not drowning.


Ripple Effect

How cool. I found my inspiration for this post at the Library Circulation Counter…my happy place…LOVE IT! A student just checked out a few cookbooks. As he left, I said, “Enjoy those.” He stopped and turned back toward me and his face lit up as he explained his plans to transfer to a culinary college next semester. He elaborated on how his major has changed and his dream is to cook for professional athletes. His enthusiasm was heartwarming. This one-minute exchange totally underscores my mantra: What we do today matters.

I strive to celebrate everyday moments wherever and whenever possible. Daily interactions with students at the Library Circulation Counter provide a constant opportunity to live in the moment and just be present with the individual in front of me. I try to imagine the ripple effect of the learning that takes place every day in our library. Maybe the culinary student will get an idea from one of those cookbooks that will help him in culinary school. Maybe the medical students who check out the Biology and Chemistry textbooks will one day help me or a family member. Each time I check out a nursing or biology/chemistry textbook, I feel a sense of gratitude knowing that another generation of helping professionals are hard at work. Imagine how many people these students will help in the future.  I try to remember my intention to be present in the moment and look for a joyful moment.  Avoiding auto-pilot makes it possible to engage with the person standing in front of me and look for an opportunity to connect.

What we do today matters. Looking for positive and meaningful connections in everyday transactions allows me to feel joy. It’s my own version of Stop and smell the roses.


6 x 6 Connections

I’m always telling students in my college success classes how important it is to make connections.  Research shows that students who make connections in college – including with other students, instructors, a career interest, or a club – are more successful as evidenced by higher gpa and improved retention/graduation rates.  Those connections are important even after you’ve graduated…and been working for decades.

I have maintained a relationship with a student I had in CPD150 three semesters ago (we’ll call her Maria).  One assignment in our class is to register for the following semester. I helped Maria choose her classes based on how she was doing in her first semester and her career interests.  Turns out we got over-excited about her first semester success and she failed two classes her second semester. She re-enrolled for the following semester, but given her lack of a clear career goal starting talking about taking a break from college.

Still Maria perseveres and we continue to meet.  She’s gotten a job on campus and developed a relationship with an academic advisor.  This time around, I took my own advice of using the connections available by suggesting Maria and I meet together with the advisor to help Maria choose classes for Fall.  The advisor is one I talked with when she was a student and so we already have great rapport for working together.  Together, the three of us came up with an academic and career exploration plan that Maria expressed excitement about and with which we are all on board. Hopefully, with this new plan, Maria will improve her gpa and stay in school until she finishes a credential.

I’m so grateful for the connections I have with colleagues on campus as well as with students. In my small way, I hope those connections make the world a friendlier, more educated, and more peace-filled place!


WEEK 5: The “One Thing,” Before and After

Welcome back to Week 5 of “The One Thing You can do to Raise Enrollment,” a six week “how-to” series.

Let’s review the steps so far:

Week 1: Google yourself.
Week 2: Quotes – their power to connect.
Week 3: How to get a rep.
Week 4: Your face.

Are you working in higher education because you want to effect positive change in the world?

Are you unhappy with declining enrollment?

People shopping around for colleges and classes have more access to more information about you, and your competitors, than ever before.

Would you describe yourself as helpful?

What if there is one SMALL thing you can do to make it easy for students to choose you (and thus GCC)? The employee bio page is by far the most under-exploited opportunity available to intentionally connect to students during the decision making process.

Providing students with what you want them to know about you works to develop positive preconceptions about you. Conversely, do nothing and you risk falling off your potential students’ radar completely, and losing them to a competitor.

The “One Thing” is deceptively small, yet powerful.

How it works: When students can relate to what they see and read on your employee bio page, they feel immediately connected to you.

(Before we proceed to the “Before and After,” my apologies to Marty Reker. We have never met. You were randomly chosen to be a part of this process because your name appeared in a recent college press release.)

Marty’s employee bio page BEFORE:

Marty’s employee bio page AFTER:
These elements compel students to choose you. But why?

These elements work to build not only your reputation as a competent instructor, but also builds the perception of a shared identity between you and the reader. Feelings of having a shared identity holds a powerful and influential sway over the reader.

Robert Cialdini is recognized as one of the top authors in field research on the psychology of influence. In his most recent book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, he shares newly published research results: people develop powerful feelings of unity the more they identify with you. “Anything that is self-connected gets an immediate lift in our eyes. Sometimes the connections can be trivial but can still serve as springboards to persuasive success.”

When thinking about what to put on your employee bio page, don’t be stiff – be relatable.

So, after 5 weeks, you now know almost everything you need to know about 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: Take control of the persuasive, engaging power of the employee bio page.

Now what?
Come back for our final installment in WEEK 6: Now what? The “One Thing” and the final step.

Make sure you’ve done your homework:
Week 2: Quotes – their power to connect.
Week 3: How to get a rep.
Week 4: Your face.


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.


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.










Reprogramming the Video Game of Life

This week’s topic is about dealing with difficult situations. Here are my thoughts.
1. Breathe.
2. Perspective. It’s just a giant video game and it can end any time you choose to switch off or reprogram the game.
We all have the ability to reprogram the video game of life.
I often hear people saying that we are living in trying times and that the world has gone crazy. My dad, who turns 88 this year, constantly reminds me that nothing has really changed. He has lived through World War II and all of the craziness of the 20th Century.  Dad insists that the only thing that has changed is that we are getting QUICKER access to MORE news and EVERYONE’S opinion.
I hear things like “people nowadays are more divided.” What does that mean? Is that someone’s opinion after spending an hour reading commentary on a social media post?  Maybe people have always had differing opinions?
I was driving home in the rain on Tuesday night after my evening class, thinking that I was really tired of the rain. It had been raining for most of the day. It was cold and damp and made for dangerous driving conditions. Everyone I spoke with on Tuesday was ready for the rain to stop.  I could easily come to the conclusion that “people are really affected by the weather these days.” Maybe people have always been affected by the weather?
When it comes to difficult situations, we have many choices in how we react. We do not have to react with the masses.  We can make up our own mind about what is going on in the video game of life.
If we allow a situation to make us angry to the core, that is a choice. We could also choose to ignore it, but that may not help deal with the problem. I believe it is optimal to examine the problem from all sides, removing bias and ego, and seek to learn all perspectives. Take a seat at the proverbial table and simply listen for a while. No judgement.
Getting emotionally upset about a difficult situation leads to a release of hormones that are not kind to the body over the long haul. Cortisol, for one, helps the body lay down fat cells. I do not want any additional assistance with accumulation of a spare tire!
I also do not need a constant supply of adrenaline. Let’s save the adrenal glands for the saber-tooth tiger events. Constant stress wreaks havoc on the brain, seriously affecting cognition and memory.
Armed with this health knowledge, I CHOOSE not to get emotionally involved in difficult situations. I do not let matters of the mind wreak havoc on my body.  Instead, I seek to offer compassion to others who may be suffering due to the same problem. If you listen and allow people to talk, you can help break down barriers and lighten the load for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make a personal observation that “everyone seems to be united, compassionate and caring these days.”  Reprogram your video game of life so that you get the best results for all players.
Difficult situations seem less difficult when viewed through the rose colored lens.
That’s how I choose to see it.

New Faculty Jitters

It is hard being the “new kid.” I had forgotten what it was like to fear sharing my thoughts with other and this has led me to re-learning a lesson about being myself.

For the last 4 years, I had been apart of graduate school cohort. All the members of this cohort started the program at the same time. We had the opportunity to grow and develop together. We quickly relied on each other as a way to survive in our graduate program. In this cohort, I was able to speak my mind and have very little fear of offending someone or feeling like my opinion was not valued.

Starting at GCC this last semester was exciting and nerve-racking since I would be the “new kid” in the department. Upon joining the department, I found that everyone was nice and willing to assist me if I had a problem with students or needed help with resources. I automatically felt relaxed and welcomed. But I still did not feel comfortable sharing my thoughts with others for fear of being ostracized. The problem with being the “new kid” is wanting to fit in.

I wanted to feel like a member of this new department. However, I started to feel disconnected and moody since I had been keeping my thoughts to myself.  I had to tell myself that I am still allowed to have an opinion even if the rest of my department does not agree.

So for the last three weeks, I have been sharing my thoughts and opinions with others in my department. I do not believe that I have offended anyone and I am feeling more like a contributing member of my new community.

This first year at GCC has reminded me that I like who I am and my thoughts matter. Regardless of wanting to fit in, I need to share my thoughts in order to be a valuable member in my department.



Last week, I dreamt of getting ahead on my grading. I dreamt of Spring Break coming. I dreamt of sleeping a little extra on the weekend. I dreamt of the conference I am going to next week and did a bunch of mental organizing to begin to get ready. And then what I didn’t imagine happening happened:

What happened instead is I got sick. I came down with a sinus infection that left me feeling like an anvil had replaced my brain. The last sinus infection I had had a few years ago felt, instead, like an athlete wearing cleats was standing on my face. Because I didn’t immediately recognize the anvil symptom, having remembered only cleats in my face, it took me five days to realize I needed medicine. I thought I only had a cold. Needless to say, recovery has been slow. Instead of catching up on my grading, I’m falling behind. Instead of sleeping, I’m coughing and caught in that weird place you go when you try to sleep but you’re sick and on meds — that place of anxiety and strangeness that isn’t everyday life but also isn’t really a dream world.

I didn’t just fall behind in grading. I fell behind in my blogging. I fell behind in my house-cleaning. I simply fell behind. I’m still behind.

What I have mostly found myself doing this unexpected time, and it’s been over a year since I’ve not felt well, is letting myself just be sick. I’ve made two pots of homemade soup. I bought extra tissues. I canceled classes. And when I let myself feel guilty and tried to go back early this past Tuesday, I regressed and missed two more work days here at the end of the week. So then I went back to letting myself not feel well.

During this time of going through life with an anvil in my head, oddly enough, I have mostly been thinking about the imagination. How powerful it is! Time and again, it saves us. It helps us understand. It helps us to be understood. When the Tele-doctor asks over the phone, “What are your symptoms?” I can say, “There’s an anvil in my head.” And we both understand what I mean, and he knows I need antibiotics. I have been thinking about how imagination allows a sick person to imagine feeling better. To imagine sun on a cloudy day. To imagine a less insane world. To recall the woods and a peaceful retreat I had over winter break while right now living only yards off of busy Bell Road. This type of imagining, at least for me, gives way to hope. When I hope, I can feel better. When I hope, I can heal. When I hope, I can dream again and again fantasize about getting ahead on my grading.

This time of not feeling well has unexpectedly given me the gift of reflection. It slowed me down smack dab in the middle of a galloping semester so I could have some moments of quiet and gratitude. Rather than concentrating on how behind I am, I am, instead, dwelling in gratitude. It’s seems a strange place to be with an anvil in my head, but here I am.


Dreams Are Never Lost

A glass desk, mahogany shelves in an office working with adolescents helping them find ways to improve their thinking and manage their emotions. I was one of the few who never changed majors and found my pathway or purpose. I followed, what I thought was my dream to be a psychologist. After several degrees, a job working in a residential mental health facility with juveniles in Colorado, and the edifying gratitude knowing that I had impacted the lives of teens who everyone else thought didn’t stand a chance in the world, I was living my dream!  I was making a difference.

Fast forward a few years, a move back to Illinois to be with family changed my pathway. All of those stories about my clients in Colorado became memories of my past. Where did the dream go?  Why did I let it go? In the desire of needing employment, my youngest sister who attended the local community college told me that maybe I should go be a teacher. Why not? I could teach Psychology. So, I applied and the department chair took a chance on me- a stranger to the classroom as a teacher. I thought to myself: I loved school, I did great. I can be a teacher.

My first day of class in the community college as an adjunct faculty- a disaster. Every expectation I had of myself as a student was reflected in my syllabus that was clearly not aligned to what my students needed. It was that moment, I realized… I could influence these students to become psychology majors, I could be that teacher they remember who changed their pathway in life, who helped them fulfill their dreams. It wasn’t about just doing APA style and taking final comprehensive exams, but about helping my students learn how psychology can make them a better mother, a better employee, a better person. But, what about my own dream?  It was my experiences in the community college classroom that made me never look back at those stories from Colorado as a loss of what could never be. My experiences in the classroom and working with students drove me to become even more passionate about influencing others.

Throughout the last 17 years, I thought I lost my dream. The time to be a psychologist was over and the time to be a faculty member and leader in a community college emerged. I never dreamed of being a faculty and I never dreamed of helping lead a community college. It was stepping into the classroom as faculty that reshaped my dream- being a psychologist was an outcome of my dream; being a faculty member was an outcome of my dream. They share in common a sense of influence and compassion to give back. So, my dream- the one that I am living now is the continued opportunity to shape student’s minds, influence their success and foster an environment that makes a difference! In essence, the dream has never changed!