All posts by Eric Leshinskie

Dogs and CATs

I’m a dog guy. I didn’t really know it until later in life. Our family had cats when I was growing up. I remember Frisky and Misty, but those memories are somewhat cloudy as I was fairly young. After I got married and moved to Arizona, my wife and I adopted our first dog, Virginia, named after the state in which we met. She was a beautiful black lab, but cancer took her from us too soon. She did get to both of our kids; however, she was not around long enough for them to have any vivid memories. But, after having Virginia, we quickly became a dog family. Flash forward to today, and we have three wonderful dogs at home. Hero is a loving, carefree Golden Retriever, who we have owned since he was eight-weeks old. We also have two yellow Labrador Retrievers, Ginger and Obi. Both are rescue dogs, and both are incredibly sweet and loving in their own way. Three dogs in the house is “a lot of dog” as we like to say, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I reflect on my love of dogs and my tolerance of cats, it conjures up some connections to our roles as educators. First, I believe effective teachers mirror some of the characteristics of dogs. When I come home from work, our three dogs are absolutely overjoyed to see me – a barrage of wagging tails, playful jumps, and flops at my feet. With a greeting like this, the worries and stresses of the day can quickly disappear. With teaching, I am always impressed with those teachers who provide that warm, positive greeting as students enter the room. Granted, I’m not sure we want teachers jumping playfully and flopping on the ground; however, students do respond positively when teachers take those brief moments before class to welcome them and to show excitement and gratitude that the student has come to class.

Second, dogs express an unconditional love and support of you, no matter the situation. I have met many teachers who have this unconditional love and support for students, the belief that all students can succeed. There may be times when students will let us down, possibly with the choices they make or with the effort they give. But, effective teachers have an unconditional and unwavering belief that all students can learn and achieve.

As an educator, I’ve grown to love cats too – but in this case, I am referring to Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). I was first introduced to CATs over a decade ago while working at the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI). My supervisor at the time handed me a copy of the Angelo and Cross foundational text, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. To this day, I still refer to this book as I interact with faculty during classroom observations. CATs are quick and easy informal strategies to measure student learning in the classroom. Some instructors at GCC have completely embraced CATs, using minute-papers or the muddiest point strategy to gauge how well students learned the content and objectives for the class session. My personal favorite CAT is the ticket-out. With this strategy, instructors provide students with a brief question or two at the end of class. Students must write their answers on a note-card or slip of paper and that is their ticket out from class. These informal techniques allow instructors to get a sense of what students learned from the class and what students may have missed, with the ultimate goal of providing additional instruction the next time the class meets or to even provide additional content in Canvas to fill in any gaps. These low-stakes, quick assessment strategies are an effective way to measure student learning and an excellent teaching strategy to help students to achieve.

I am a dog guy – there is no question about that. However, there is definitely a special place for CATs in my teaching heart as well.


Role Models Along the Way

I have thoroughly enjoyed the “6×6” challenge.  Writing these posts has challenged me to reflect in new and challenging ways.  Reading others’ posts has opened my eyes in an invigorating way.  I admire the creativity and insights of our family here at GCC, sharing their wisdom and sentiments in an open, thoughtful manner.

As I reflect on my final post, I thought I would share some of my role models that have helped me along my journey to GCC.  These are individuals who have impacted my life in many ways, both personally and professionally.

  • Mr. Regal, fourth grade teacher.  He was the coolest teacher; he made learning fun and made his classroom exciting.  He had that spark for teaching,  and that spark  made all of us at Schaeffer Elementary School want to come to school every day.  He taught me that laughter and joy are important part of work and life.
  • Mr. Sassaman, high school basketball and baseball coach.  He was a positive influence, showing me that hard work and discipline can lead to great success.  He was committed to helping all of the student-athletes and was passionate about our success.  He taught me that winning may not be everything, but practicing and playing the “right” way is.
  • Mr. Eicher, college advisor, Education Department, University of Richmond.  He was the wise sage, a retired school teacher and principal who helped me understand the value and role of public education in communities.  He helped me learn what it means to be a teacher and was instrumental in helping me get my first teaching job in Arlington, Va.
  • My mom.  She has worked hard for everything she has, and has always done so with compassion and care for others.  She always helps out those who need it, and has always been there to assist her family, friends, and neighbors, putting their needs ahead of her own.
  • My wife. She is one of the hardest working people I know.  She is dedicated to any organization where she works, and always does her job with tremendous professionalism and a positive attitude.  And, she does this while being an amazing mom to two great kids.  I admire her dedication and self-discipline to ‘get it all done.’
  • Finally – my kids.  They inspire me to be a better person.  They are such bright lights with big, open hearts.  I think I learn more from them then they learn from me. I do what I do to make them proud, because they make me proud each and every day

Making the Most of the Last Five Minutes

We have all been there as a student….the class is close to over; we start gathering materials, opening and closing backpacks, planning our escape as quickly as possible to the door to either run to a next class or sprint to the car to beat traffic.  As an instructor though, these final minutes of class are extremely valuable and we need to think of creative, strategic ways to use that time wisely.

As I wrote in my initial “6×6” post, the first five minutes of class are critical to establishing the purpose and tone for the day.  Similarly, the final five minutes of class are equally important to assess learning and establish expectations for the next class meeting.  Specifically, I believe the final five minutes of class are perfect to administer some type of classroom assessment technique (CAT) to determine, in a low-stakes, low-stress manner, if students learned the content for the day.  A resource I have used and shared with others with much success is “Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Instructors” by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross.  This resource includes how-to advice regarding implementing classroom assessment techniques into instruction to determine how well students learned material for the day.  The beauty of CATs is 1) instructors receive immediate feedback regarding student learning and 2) instructors can modify instruction based on the results of the assessment to better help students learn.  Personally, I have a few favorites.  I use “The Minute Paper” at the end of class and ask students to respond to two questions: What was the most important thing you learned during this class? And What important question remains unanswered?  I also use concept maps frequently, where students draw or diagram the connections they make between a major concept and other concepts they have learned in the class or throughout the course.

Although I’m more of a dog-lover myself, CATs (in this sense) are something I enjoy and try to keep in my bag of teaching tool tricks as much as possible.  And, they really help to make the last five minutes of class more worthwhile and meaningful for students.

For more info about CATs, visit:


Making a Small Difference with Faculty Observations

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my role at GCC is having the opportunity to observe and evaluate our faculty teaching in the classroom.  This evaluation occurs for our probationary faculty members and is a chance to see our talented faculty in action.

Although I do not proclaim to be a teaching expert (we can always grow as an instructor), I do believe I have some expertise to offer through my experiences teaching middle school and community college English courses, as well as my having completed over 50 evaluations in my four years at GCC.

This process is even more rewarding when I have the opportunity to observe a faculty member for a second time during his or her first five years.  This past fall semester, I observed a few instructors for the second time; I found this to be very productive as it gave me an opportunity to witness firsthand their growth as instructors.  In multiple instances, I observed faculty members intentionally modifying their teaching style to increase opportunities for student engagement.  I observed faculty members paying close attention to their movement and position in the classroom.  I observed faculty members strategically calling on a number of students to respond, to ensure students have equal voice during discussions.  And, finally, I observed faculty members using informal classroom assessment techniques to check students’ understanding of the day’s content.

By no means do I think those changes occurred because of direct comments I made or because of the evaluation summaries I wrote.  But, I do think these pedagogical changes occurred because those faculty members took the time to reflect on their teaching practice, something I hope I stress when I talk to faculty members’ after an observation.  Classroom evaluations are very meaningful for me; and, this process is even more gratifying when I have the opportunity to see the incredible growth and enhancements to faculty members’ teaching practices.


Becoming a Student Once Again

I recently made the decision to begin a doctoral program through ASU.  Earnign a doctorate has been a goal of mine for a number of years, but I always found reasons why the timing to start a program was just not right – new job responsibilities, young kids, cost, time, etc.  But, as many mentors in my life told me, “There will never be a perfect time,” so I took the plunge beginning last summer and what a journey it has been thus far.

I recall my first day of class last summer for our introductory course.  One word sums up my feelings that day – defeated.  First, I, along with my fellow students I was meeting for the first time, were locked out of the building where the classroom was scheduled.  Obviously, being locked out does not make you feel very welcome?!?   Second, our new professor began class asking us to refer to the responses that were due today.  Well, my heart sank as I had no idea what she was talking about but noticed many of my new classmates did.  I realized I made the mistake of not logging into Blackboard at the start of the week to review any assignments that were due for the first class.  So, in just thirty minutes, I found myself locked out of the classroom and already behind in assignments – let’s just say my confidence was a bit shaken.

I share this story for one main reason – becoming a student once again has helped me to better understand our students’ experiences and feelings.  I am currently doing well in the program (knock on wood), but I experience many frustrations with unclear assignments, bureaucratic hurdles, time management, and even at times, my own motivation.  Our students of course experience these same challenges, and most definitely, even greater challenges than mine.  But, returning to school has allowed me to experience what it is like to be a student again.  And, these experiences help me in my job to work with others across the college to better support our students.  Being a student is not easy.  Hopefully, we continue to develop support programs and services and create welcoming classroom environments that alleviate students’ fears and anxieties.  Or at least, hopefully we don’t lock them out on day one!


Keep It All In Perspective

This past fall, I had the pleasure of teaching an English 091 course for GCC.  I had a wonderful experience, and I am pretty confident that my students did too (at least, many indicated that on their end-of-semester classroom evals).

I learned a lot by teaching the course, but one interaction with a student stood out for me the most.  One Friday  morning, I was more tired than usual as I was up late the previous night due to my own schoolwork as I am also in a doctoral program.  As students walked into class, they could tell I was not my normal self, so I explained I am taking my own classes, had to stay up late to finish some work, and was still waking up this morning.

After class, I walked with one of my students back to my office since he had a brief assignment to complete.  This student had missed a few classes already in the semester, so I asked him how things were going and if he’s able to keep up with our early start time for class.  He proceeded to explain to me that he works the night shift from 7 pm to 3 am, and he tries to just stay up after his shift ends to do homework and come straight to class.  So, he missed a few classes as he fell asleep at 4 am, and was just not able to get up in time.

Well – that put things in total perspective for me.  I was a bit cranky that morning because I had only five hours of sleep, yet here was a student who had not complained once to me in the first few weeks and was coming to class with no sleep.  I was so impressed with his dedication and persistence.  More importantly, I was impressed with his grit; his ability to make the best of a very difficult situation and make his education a priority.

I am pleased to write that this student did very well in the course and enrolled in Eng 101 this spring semester.  Honestly, I think this student taught me more about keeping it all in perspective than I taught him about subject and verbs.



Making the Most of the First Five Minutes

I have the pleasure each semester to observe faculty from across all disciplines teach.  I look forward to these observations because it allows me to learn and grow as a teacher myself, seeing what is working well in our classrooms .  Some of the most successful teachers I have observed utlize the first five minutes of class to set the tone for they day and to excite their students about learning.  They accomplish this by:

1. Greeting students by name as students enter class.  A friendly, individualized good morning or good afternoon goes a long way to establish a positive rapport.

2. Thanking students for coming to class.  Many students have made a great sacrifice to be at GCC, so the recognition of them making the effort to be here can also help establish the positive learning environment.

3. Beginning class with a writing prompt to activate prior knowledge and set the stage for the learning ahead.  While taking attendance, one instructor has students reflect on a question or prompt that either reviews material from a previous class or the reading that was assigned.  Another instructor asks students to complete a practice problem while settling in.  In both instances, learning takes place as soon as students arrive.

4. Reviewing the objectives for the day.  Some instructors write the day’s learning objectives on the board; others verbalize to students what will be accomplished.  Either way, instrutors set the stage for students by indicating the goals for the lesson and what students will hopefully learn.

The first five minutes of class are valuable minutes to establish the positive classroom environment and to set the stage for the learning for the day.