What are the Three Worst Mistakes to Make in the Classroom?

I attended a webinar with the same title as this post. The webinar was hosted by Maryellen Weimer, the long-time editor of The Teaching Professor. She garnered the information for the presentation based on years of editing best practices in higher education andragogy. The title of this webinar caught my attention. Of course, I had to know if I was making any of the three worst mistakes. To get straight to the point, here are the three worst mistakes. 1) Letting content dictate instructional decision-making. 2) Making decisions about who can and cannot learn. 3) Instructional experience is the best the best teacher.

For as interesting as all three are, mistake #1 is the one which challenges me and interests me the most. The presenter indicated that faculty are so focused on covering so much content, and covering it so thoroughly, that they are missing opportunities for instructional design that could increase strategies for more and better learning. The presenter referenced a study by Bacon and Stewart (2006) titled How Fast Do Students Forget What They Learned in Consumer Behavior?: A Longitudinal Study. The study tracked an upper level consumer behavior course and determined that every student in the class had forgotten all the information from the course within two years. What?! My first reaction is “Why are we wasting our time as educators?” If everything we teach is soon forgotten, what is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of our profession? The presenter did go on to stress that she is not suggesting abandoning the teaching of content based on this one study. But she did advocate not being too bogged down by content that we, as educators, miss opportunities for spontaneous learning opportunities. For instance, if a student asks a question about something related to the current topic but the question is off course a bit, does the instructor address the question or tell the student that the topic is for a future conversation. The content-driven instructor will avoid the question and focus on the content of the day. An instructor not so driven by content will use the opportunity to promote important lessons about learning such as critical-thinking and problem-solving. They will use the content versus cover the content.

When I heard the presenter mention that faculty should use content to promote critical-thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills, I could not help but think about two recollections from this academic year. First, at a district-wide conference designed for career and technical faculty, I had the pleasure of hearing Trevor Spokes, Workforce Programs Manager from the Arizona Department of Office of Economic Opportunity, speak. He said that the “ability to learn might be the single most critical professional skill you ever develop.” Second, Dr. Terry has been encouraging us all to read a book by Joseph Aoun called Robot-Proof. In both cases, the sources are asking us to develop skills in students that will prepare them for jobs that may not exist yet, rather than prepare them for professions that are disappearing. Aoun suggests providing skills to our students that robots cannot perform. Rather than fill students’ minds with facts, acclimate them with a creative mindset to invent and discover. To do this, students will need data literacy to manage data, technological literacy to know how the robots work, and human literacy to communicate and design. I do not disagree with either of these sources. The challenge is to determine how to develop the needed skills. I believe providing facts are building blocks from which to build the desired skills. My job is to present the building blocks and then use that content to develop the higher order skills. How do we that? I am not certain, but now I have a goal. I know my students memorize terminology. I know they regurgitate facts back to me on exams. I know, based on teaching consecutive courses, they do not retain the information. My goal is to do as Weimar suggested and turn the mistake of being content-driven into a positive and use instructional design to drive the course. My goal is to get students to take facts and critically analyze them so that those facts can become useful information to guide managerial decision-making.

” Aim not to cover the content, but to uncover part of it.” Author Unknown


Things I take for granted

I missed the memo the first week that there were themes each week we could write about. When I saw this weeks theme, it started me thinking about how I have included students in my classroom and what inclusivity really means. Here are some of these thoughts (maybe a little scatterbrained 😉 )

In previous semesters I have had students with certain accommodations for their vision or hearing and it has sometimes been challenging to make sure that I actually accommodate them. I tend to talk fast when I teach, especially when it is a favorite topic. These students that have a hard time hearing were having trouble keeping up with me. I really had to slow down so that they could hear and understand what I was saying. For those students who had a hard time seeing, I had to make sure that I wrote legibly and chose colors that were easily able to see. I guess the point I am trying to make is that I had to stop and think about how I was teaching and how I could become better during my lessons.

Sometimes I think we take for granted what comes easily to us, at least I know I do. Whether we have difficulty seeing, hearing (or doing math), we all have our own story that can make learning or enjoying something difficult. I try to remind myself this and adapt my teaching to the needs of my students each semester. I believe this has made me a better teacher, but know there is always room for improvement 😉


Do You. Be You. You Matter.

In high school I remember this message very clearly: High self-esteem is everything. In high school, some of us rolled our eyes at the cheesy posters and videos preaching the importance of this message. Fast forward to our adult years and we find that all of that cheesiness is true. Self-esteem is connected to feeling like you matter. People with high self-esteem feel like they matter because they feel like they are a person of worth and value. People with low self-esteem may not feel like they matter because they don’t feel like they are a person of worth and value.

black-and-white-black-and-white-handwriting-760728   One of the many contributing factors to your self-esteem is social comparison (McCornack, 2016). Comparing ourselves to others impacts how we see ourselves. It’s our measuring stick. We use it to see how we size up against others. Social media has introduced society to the ultimate measuring stick. Every day we are inundated with posts and images of others we think are better than us, or are living the lives we want to live. Students see images of their friends graduating from universities, while they are here at the community college. Faculty see posts from colleagues who are getting published, being awarded grants, and obtaining Ph.D.’s. Staff see individuals getting promoted to higher positions in education and think to themselves, why not me?  We feel like if we are not famous, or doing anything significant that is on the level of Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey, that we are not important, that we do not matter, and that we don’t have value or worth.

There are two things that can be done. Number 1: Stop comparing yourself.  In the words of my colleague Michelle Jackson, “Stop comparing yourself to others! They are not you and you are not them. Be and do you. Enjoy it! Embrace it!” Number Two: Practice critical self-reflection to cultivate self-awareness (McCornack, 2016). Here are some critical reflection questions to start with:

1. What am I thinking and feeling about my worth and value?

2. Why am I thinking and feeling this way?

3. Are my thoughts and feelings accurate about my worth and value?

4. How can I improve my thoughts and feelings about my value and worth?

          The questions were adapted from a textbook from my course (McCornack, 2016)

Give it a try and see if it makes a difference. It has for me. =>)



McCornack, S. (2016). Reflect and relate: an introduction to interpersonal                 communication (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford St. Martin’s.

(*Note: I know my hanging indent is missing for my APA citation. =>) The struggle was real with the formatting. =>(    )


Wanna Dance?

Do you see yourself? Would you feel welcome in this group?

Diversity: Being invited to the party.

Inclusivity: Being asked to dance

(My invented definitions based on the words of Verna Myers)

While reading-up on the topic of inclusivity, I came upon the words of two of my favorite people, Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah. Here are some insights regarding the term inclusivity.

Thich Nhat Hanh described inclusivity with the verbs “accept and embrace.” This embrace idea connects with Verna Myers’ thought of dancing…close, personal, human…This made me think that inclusivity means not just letting someone in the door, but giving them a hug too. Also, these words suggest close, concrete actions and not just a “nice, far away idea.”

In a 2016 Time interview, Oprah revealed that she had dropped the word diversity from her vocabulary in favor of inclusion. She offered this reasoning, “the word that most articulates what we’re looking for is what we want to be: included. It’s to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made.”

So, when you hear about the term inclusivity- think of asking someone to dance. Think about parties you’ve attended. The people on the dance floor usually seem to be having the most fun.  


Look! It’s a Bird… It’s a plane… it’s an observation!

During their college years, students must – like it or not – become writers. They must begin to see like a writer, listen like a writer, feel like a writer, even smell like a writer. Uh… yeah…


And the first step to becoming a good (albeit temporary) writer…

Learn to observe.

I have my students complete weekly observing activities to get them accustomed to actively gather ideas for their writing. Every week, they must go out and make observations on a range of areas: the GCC campus, human behavior, food, animals, money, clothing, their major, and art, to name just a few.

I also share my own weekly examples; here are some observations I’ve made recently:

Smaller birds will attack hawks to keep them out of their area.

Just a few years ago, poke was virtually nonexistent in the Phoenix area – now poke restaurants are becoming ubiquitous.

Some panhandlers have come up with creative signs; I saw one that said, “I’m down to my last million – help me please!”

My students have discovered some “gems in the rough” of their own. For example:

Parents are more lenient than before.

When people have to present a project, they usually have something that they do. Like some people twirl their hair and others tug on their shirt.

Children usually act more hyper than adults but also are more honest than adults.

Some gems are rougher than others, but at least they’ve begun to hone their observing skills. And as students progress through college, they’ll continue to develop what Robert Ingersoll called the “Holy Trinity of Science”:  Reason, Observation, and Experience.

Then, the sky’s the limit. Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane…!


Inclusivity abloom

If you don’t think you have seen some good examples of inclusivity on the GCC campus, let me guide you.

Envision yourself rolling in a wheelchair to join your fitness friends in your daily workout. Imagine arriving at the GCC Adapted Fitness Center.

Your life may have been changed by a stroke or a car accident that suddenly rendered you paralyzed on one side of your body or from the waist down.

Inclusivity may not have been an issue for you before. Now it is everything. Now you crave the focused attention of the trained fitness professionals, the camaraderie of your “classmates,” and the ability to move freely using fitness machines designed to hold you upright, fit your wheelchair or an help you hold onto weights.

The physical, emotional and social benefits experienced in the Adapted Fitness Center often bring tears to my eyes. The life stories and experiences shared in this establishment are heart wrenching. I often ponder on the joyful moments and inclusivity that is experienced in this 400 square foot space of pure love and undeniable passion.

Each semester a new set of Exercise Science interns join the ranks of the Adapted staff. Each one of them is forever changed by the experience. They walk with a new sense of meaning and place in the world.

“I had no idea it existed,” I hear you say! “How exciting that we can make fitness accessible to students and members of the community who are living with physical limitations.”

If you know of someone who might benefit from the Adapted Fitness Center, direct them to the webpage.

Fitness is for EVERY body.


What Change May Come? Some insights and observations

This is my last full-time semester at GCC. In the fall, I’ll be teaching part-time for GCC and strictly online while pursuing a PhD program in Australia. The Australian government has granted me a scholarship with a stipend, and I won’t have to teach as part of my graduate work.

Needless to say, this semester has been different for me from prior semesters. This coming fall will be the first time since the fall of 1999 that I won’t be teaching English classes full-time face-to-face at the college level. For whatever reason, this knowledge of an ending coming has made me more cognizant of a few changes in myself as a teacher as this final full-time gallops away.

1) I am grading faster. I don’t know why. I’m a slow reader and have always been a slow grader. Perhaps knowing that the end is (sort of) nigh in the grading realm, I am motivated more than ever to reach it.

2) I am more patient with students. In the past, when a class hasn’t performed well overall on a given assignment, I’ve pretty much taken it personally and secretly brooded for days. This semester, I finally said, “Okay, that didn’t work.” And then we covered more material and techniques and I found and offered more examples, and then students revised and resubmitted their work.

3) I am less patient with students. I’m having a harder time than usual hearing the hard stories — the ones that cause our students illness and angst and oftentimes prevent their successes. I had one student who was sick with the flu for ten days and every class he missed resulted in an email from him with the blow-by-blow of his bodily suffering. Really, I would have been convinced had he just told me he wasn’t well. In this way, I feel helpless to help my students this semester in a way I haven’t before.  I think this might be because I can no longer imagine the big picture and how we all fit into it. 

4) I am more patient with myself. I have made some big decisions here in the past few months. What if I’m wrong? What if it’s not at all a good idea to leave my tenured position in order to pursue a PhD mid-life in a country I’ve never even visited before? What if? I have to trust myself. If I don’t, what good have the mistakes and successes of the first half of my life been for? Hard as it is, I’m learning to trust myself and to ignore all of the other worrying voices that suggest to me somehow that I can’t. I shouldn’t. I’m crazy if I do. 

5) And now 1-3 make sense to me. Because I have changed my relationship to myself, all other relationships shift, including the working relationships I have with my students. Though if I had known that moving to Australia would help me grade faster, I might have tried doing it sooner. 🙂 

6) I am noticing everything — the birds on campus, the later sunsets, the shift in temperature by ten degrees walking the dog at 6:30 in the morning. It used to be that when it was time to move on, I simply closed my eyes and jumped. But I don’t want to leave Arizona without having really seen it. I don’t want to leave Arizona without having really lived here. I want to move along as mindfully as I can and that means taking my time while I’m still here. 



What’s your favorite class?

Yesterday, in a meeting with a textbook publisher, a question was posed to those in attendance: What’s your favorite class? I started to think about how I would respond, and with each response, I started to realize they are ALL my favorites for varied reasons. I was stuck. How would I respond? Fortunately, my keen colleague to my right said, “What about your favorite one this week?” Ah ha! I could answer that properly.
My favorite class this week was my ENH295 Banned Books and Censorship class. It is taught in a hybrid format and is a concurrent honors/non-honors course. While each week offers rich discussion and thought-provoking inquiry, this week, students were discussing the role of YAL novels and their individual reading selections. One of the books a group read was also a selection that another student had read in a prior K-12 educational setting. She relayed to the class that in the previous instance, the book had a word in it that was considered inappropriate and was thus black-Sharpied out of every text. In our class, she told everyone that she never figured out what the word was. Fortunately, a peer had a copy of the text, and we conducted our own investigation to find the word. Did she find it? Yes! Though, of course, it isn’t appropriate to write here. We then discussed how much energy must have gone into censoring one word. My favorite classes to teach are the ones where my students are engaged and invested in the content. This week, one of those times was in ENH295.


Feedback frenzy

On two occasions recently, I was delayed in grading and returning papers & projects to my students. My usual policy is to return their quizzes, exams, etc at the next class period and/or posting them to Canvas by that time. This time it took me about a week in one case and an extra class period (2 days) in the second case. For the first, I actually sent a Canvas message to the class telling them not to stalk Canvas for their grade. For the second, I apologized in class.

As a student, it annoyed me to no end to wait interminably for review or grading of my work. I had put in a ton of work to make my submission as perfect as possible (heavily salted with perfectionism and “OCD”), and then I had to wait and see the teacher’s/professor’s response, so I prioritized this as one of the things I would always do: give prompt feedback on a regular basis.

That all said, both “apologies” started a flurry of verbal and email responses resembling – “No need to apologize. I’m still waiting for something I turned in on-line 3 weeks ago.” or “Do you realize how much in the minority you are in caring about getting our grades back so soon?” and “Thank you for warning me that I didn’t need to hover over the computer – you’re usually so fast that I literally refresh for hours after the test!”

It made me feel great that I was making them happy and keeping them relatively sane in a stressful college environment. Even if their grades weren’t what they hoped they’d be, they were still grateful to get that information ASAP. I was surprised and a little sad to hear prompt feedback isn’t a common practice. But on the other hand it was nice to hear how awesome I am. 🙂

[And that’s why my post is later than it should be. My post lost to finishing grading and going to 2000 meetings this week. LOL] . Have a great weekend!


2019 Finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

This year for GCC’s Write 6 x 6 I have decided to put together a series of posts based on the 2019 finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. I’ve chosen this topic because I always like to see what high achievers are doing so I can learn from them. My focus will be primarily on Academic Advisement and student support in alignment with Guided Pathways.

Every two years, the Aspen Institute selects ten community colleges who have improved student success rates and ultimately awards one with a $1 million dollar prize. This year’s winner will be announced in April.

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence recognizes exceptional achievements in four areas:

  • Student learning;
  • Certificate and degree completion while in community college and after transferring to a four-year institution;
  • Employment and earnings rates after graduation; and
  • Access for and success of students of color and low-income students.

Here are the Community Colleges in alphabetical order who made the list for 2019:

  • Alamo Colleges District – Palo Alto College – San Antonio, TX
  • Broward College – Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • CUNY Kingsborough Community College – Brooklyn, NY
  • Indian River State College – Fort Pierce, FL
  • Miami Dade College – Miami, FL
  • Mitchell Technical Institute – Mitchell, SD
  • Odessa College – Odessa, TX
  • Pasadena City College – Pasadena, CA
  • Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom – Lakewood, WA
  • San Jacinto College – Pasadena, TX

These are colleges I’ve wanted to explore but really haven’t had the time. I’m inspired by Write 6×6 and even though I am ridiculously busy, I know this is important so here I am …. writing to learn for myself and anyone else who wants to come along for the ride. All aboard for the Aspen road trip! Buckle up as we head for our first stop at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas.