All posts by Louise So

Is That It?

Audible, book, audible, book. That’s how I roll. Audible for walks and car, books for bedtime.

Ploughing through the pages of “Is That It?” written by Sir Bob Geldof, I am brought back to the eighties when Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Culture Club and The Police roamed the earth. These British bands who were the highlight of my teenage years were also the bands who got together to help Sir Bob on his mission to save Ethiopia from the ravages of famine.

Geldof takes us back in time to his sorrowful Dublin upbringing. The places and people bring me back to my Irish childhood, singing the songs of his band, The Boomtown Rats. You may have heard of “I Don’t Like Mondays,” “Banana Republic,” and “Rat Trap.” His distaste for his childhood and his disappointment for his homeland is quite evident in his lyrics. Disliked by many, his unique personality allowed him to pull together some of the most amazing music events of all time – Band Aid and Live Aid.

You are probably wondering how this autobiography has anything to do with my work here at GCC. Why am I not talking about books on fitness or wellness, like Spark or Atomic Habits? As it turns out, you can actually gain quite a bit of creativity and insight into your deepest thoughts when you stop reading about the “continuing ed” style material and completely deviate from your norm. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this in Big Magic…I think…maybe it’s time to read that book again.

I digress. What I am gaining from this book is courage. I am reading about a man who was beaten down by his father, his school, and his employers for a good chunk of his life. He beat himself down. But he had courage and he was not afraid of hard work once he had a vision. He was not afraid to speak his mind, even when he knew it was the least popular thing to say, and he spoke up to authority when something was clearly not right.

As I roll into the final two weeks before the not-so-annual (thanks COVID!) health fair, and go into my usual panic mode about what needs to be done and what cannot possibly be done at this point, I have to stop and think about the amount of planning, effort and coordination that Geldof did in a short amount of time to unite the world for Live Aid. He was driven by a crazy vision and he had the courage to bring it to fruition despite the odds.

I am grateful for the team of people who have supported this annual venture over the years. My vision is to see people embrace good health and to find support in the process. Everyone knows what they should be doing…walk more, eat better, meditate, sleep…and they know all the bad things that happen when they don’t…heart attack, stroke, diabetes, hypertension…but sometimes we need simple reminders and a little push from the experts…Fitness & Wellness, Nutrition, Nursing, EMT, Behavioral Health, Counseling, Psychology…

Please, please, please come to the Health & Wellness Fair on 3.23.23, 1-4 p.m., and bring five friends. I promise you will be rewarded in heaven!

Health Fair Flier

Getting Unstuck – Have You Been Here Before?

Thinking about songs that motivate…there are two that come to mind for very different reasons.

Cue Don’t You Forget About Me, by Simple Minds. Visualize getting into the zone, stepping up on the blocks to compete in the 200 yard breaststroke at nationals. Blood coursing through veins, muscles ready to fire and blast off the blocks into the water. The rush of water over the ears and the deafening sound of silence before emerging for air. The sound of the roaring crowd.

That song really got me fired up back in the day!

These days I seem to have a new anthem. When you have been around the same college campus for 20+ years, and 10 at another campus before that, you start to notice common themes in processes and behaviors.

When I first heard Pompeii by the band Bastille, I immediately connected with the lyrics:

“But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

As you reflect on that chorus, some of you may be nodding in agreement and some of you may be shaking your head furiously in disagreement. I am right there in the middle since, even though I am an optimist, I recognize that sometimes we do get stuck in our routines and our comfort zones, just like the unfortunate people of Pompeii who were frozen in time after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

In class today I helped my students through a SWOT analysis. They started by listing their strengths, then sharing and discussing what was valuable about them. Then we talked about their weaknesses, but rather than dwell on them, we discussed what opportunities and resources might be available to them to grow and evolve. We also talked about the threats, that seem like insurmountable obstacles.

Several students indicated how they were feeling “stuck” prior to the activity. Stuck in their own self restricting beliefs and other unconscious barriers. After the activity there was a new energy in the room. An eagerness to step out of their comfort zone and try something new…perhaps talk to a trusting person, or read a specific piece of literature to become more informed, or ask for a favor from a friend or family member.

The SWOT analysis is a great way to self reflect and possibly reignite the flame that may need a little help. Like shaking off that volcanic ash.
If you are feeling in a rut, listen to the ominous words of Pompeii and see if it speaks to you. 

“I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above.”

Are you ready to get out of the grey clouds and take some action steps for the campus that you love?


Risky Business

[I think I have more fun coming up with the title than writing the actual piece.]

For me, taking a risk means addressing your fears. Having courage.

Last week I let my fear hijack my motivations to write my 6×6 piece. I made the mistake of reading other posts before I finished mine and became overwhelmed by the incredible expertise and detail that was being portrayed by my peers. Self doubt set in, and before I knew it, I had started deleting paragraphs that no longer seemed “good enough.”.

So here I am, a day late, starting from scratch, but with a much lighter load, since I have removed the unnecessary pressure to finish by a deadline and follow the suggested guidelines!

I have decided that my sense of shame and disappointment for not living up to my usual standards is experienced daily in the classroom (and on Canvas, Zoom and Webex…) by our students. Despite what we may think about their apparent lackadaisical behavior, many of our students are stunted by their own negative self talk, made worse by the dreaded sin of procrastination. I have seen this happen so frequently over the past 30 years of teaching that I do not need a research study to back me up.

Negative self talk may include such notions as “I am not as good as my classmates,” or “my instructor knows so much more than me, so I am not going to say anything in class” or “I don’t think I can finish this work by the deadline, so why bother?”

Negative self talk is risky business. It can destroy a perfectly good opportunity for learning and life advancement. What can we say to our students that might boost their self efficacy? How important are the deadlines? How could we rephrase our guidelines? What if you could say one thing that could help a student muster up enough courage to get the job done without any self doubt? Would you be willing to take that risk?

I hope I don’t get scolded for my late submission! jk


Growth Happens!

There’s nothing like a good worldwide pandemic to shift us into a new gear. I personally feel like I have been shot out the other side of an intense 2-year sabbatical on life, technology and communication.

While I was floating around in the black hole following armageddon (March 2020), I picked up a few handy skills and lost a few unnecessary habits.

I have read quite a few personal and professional growth books, attended many online conferences and webinars, created many video lectures, discovered Apple Fitness +, signed up for and started a 9-month Health & Wellness Coaching training program, started craving human connection, and reflected deeply on best ways to connect with my students, coworkers, family and friends.

Here’s one of the Health & Wellness Coaching tools that helped me take stock of where I needed to grow in my life. The tool is called The Wheel of Life, and you use it to rate your level of satisfaction in various aspects of your life.

The Wheel of Life.
(Source: Real Balance Global Wellness Services Inc.)

Take a moment to rate 1-10 (low to high) your level of satisfaction with each of these areas in your life. Friends, family, significant other, career, money, health and wellbeing, personal growth and development, fun and recreation, physical environment.

Connect the dots and see if they form a big perfect circle. My guess is that if this wheel was on your bicycle, it would be a very bumpy ride! It’s great to be enlightened on areas that have been unintentionally ignoring.

While I was struggling with life balance and the necessity of nutrition, physical fitness, stress management and sleep, I had been ignoring the social dynamic of my life, on the other side of the wheel. Since I lean more toward introversion, I figured I was justified in enjoying my own company. It took a Health and Wellness Coach to point out that even introverts need the “connection injection!”

Since I have been making a strong personal effort on the social side of the wheel, the physical side of the wheel began to take care of itself. It wasn’t that I ignored it, it was just that I wasn’t so hyper focused on it. It was like taking the spotlight and shining in a sightly different spot.

If you are looking for a Health and Wellness Coach, GCC plans to start a nationally board certified program in the Fall of 2023. In the meantime, reach out to me for free coaching sessions! I would love to help you see the light shining on your life to enhance your personal and professional growth!


The Heart of the Matter

Have you ever been asked to do something you were incapable of doing, for the good of the institution and the students?

My first teaching opportunity outside of my graduate assistantship terrified the living daylights out of me. I was hired as the assistant wellness director at a community college in Kansas. A few days into my new role, I was told I would be teaching aerobics as part of my job, so I needed to get certified ASAP!

Cue “fight or flight response,” dilated pupils, rapid heart rate, dry mouth and sudden demand for oxygen. I was no Jane Fonda! I had zero prior practice in any type of dance movement or ability to move to music in a rhythmical fashion, and actually have two left feet!

Much training took place and I passed the certification test. Fast forward to the first day of class. Ten eager students stood in front of me, all decked out in brightly colored 1990’s spandex and high top tennis shoes. There might have even been a few headbands. They were ready to get their sweaty groove on and earn their fitness grade.

The basketball gym looked 100 miles wide and a million miles long. My eyes dilated and the bright lights looked like an alien spaceship landing behind my row of students. I was the alien. It was like an out-of planet experience. My heart was pounding and I have never felt such terror!

I started the music and began with the basic moves, creating a sequence and then repeating. I began to calm down and was encouraged by the smiles of freedom and movement on the students’ faces. I had taken my first big leap in my new career and despite the weeks of sleepless nights, I had done it! I had faced my fear with a pounding heart and was now challenged to take more risks.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a risk taker. But I have discovered through my 30 years of teaching, that if I want to get to the heart of the matter, I have to take some risks, challenge myself, and feel some fear and pain. I generally come out on the other side with a new vantage point and a new love for doing what I do every day.

What risks are you taking to spark your love of teaching? What choices are you making that are outside of your norm? What conversations do you have with yourself and your colleagues about what could be better? Get to the heart of the matter and see what is possible!


Difficult Situations

Some days I feel like I have everything under control, and some days I feel like I have been sucked into a vortex of everyone else’s problems that have suddenly become mine.

I do three things. Smile, breathe and listen. I know it sounds too simple, but it really helps!

Smile. Just a half smile, so you don’t scare people. The smile releases endorphins and tricks your body into relaxation. It gives a sense of personal control, a feeling of “I’ve got this!”

Breathe. Take a few deep breaths to connect your mind and body. As you breathe in, take your time and feel your belly rise. Allow your lungs to absorb the oxygen, and then exhale fully. Repeat three or four times and scan your body for tension as you breathe.
Breathing pulls you into the present moment and prevents you from dwelling on the past or fearing the unknown future.

Listen. The reason that there is a problem is because you don’t yet have a solution. The solution can only found when you have all the facts and you have listened to all perspectives with an open mind and heart. Listen to a variety of people that you respect so you can hear some non-biased perspectives. We generally listen with a filter or a specific lens due to our innate biases. You have to remove these roadblocks to gain a clearer understanding.

Take some time away from the situation and let your heart and mind get to work without your cognitive influences. Go for a walk, hike, bike ride, swim, lift weights, do yoga or pilates, nap, listen to music or just get a good night’s sleep.

Not all problems can be solved this way, but it is worth a try. It does not cost anything and it will help you build a positive habit that will help you in the future.


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.


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.


Top 5 Tips to Success in Learning and creativity

Do you ever get writer’s block? Do you sit down to take a test and your mind goes blank? Do you wish you were more creative? Try some or all of the following tips to enhance your learning and creative success.

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days! It is really about awareness and focus. Don’t let life happen to you, take control of your life and pay attention to your thoughts and your actions. Be present in everything you do. If you drift, bring your attention back to your breathing so that you can refocus. Notice your environment: the colors and shapes, the smells, the sounds, and the textures. Multitasking is the opposite of being mindful.

Exercise will enhance blood flow to the brain and build Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) which helps to grow new brain cells and connections. Exercise also helps us produce endorphins or happy hormones which relax our mind and help us build confidence and good mood. A quick walk or swim can do wonders for getting creative juices flowing!

Rest well by sleeping for 7 to 8 hours each night. Readjust your schedule to make this happen. If you don’t make it a priority, your body will find a way to make you rest, which usually comes in the form of illness or injury. A rested brain can focus better, remember better and help you to be creative.

Nutrition is a critical component because without planning we may not get the critical nutrients we need. Eat every four hours to avoid blood sugar drops. Eat whole foods rather than processed or refined foods to slow down the digestive process and control blood sugar better. Foods containing oils that are beneficial to the heart and brain include walnuts, avocados, and salmon. Two-thirds of your plate should come from plant foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables).

Build habits for future success! You are building habits every time you repeat a process, good or bad. We tend to have a lot of mindless processes that end up becoming automatic…we do them without thinking. Starting tomorrow, work on a simple habit that you would like to work into your routine. It could be as simple as waking up and saying three things you are thankful for about yourself, another person, and your environment.

The bottom line is that you have to take care of your mind and your body.


Bringing the Joy

I often joke about wanting everyone to be my BFF. In an idyllic world, that would be possible. Unfortunately, we have an invisible professional barrier that we need to keep in place so we can do our jobs effectively.

That said, we still need to build professional relationships with our students and our peers. I hope the following does not sound preachy in any way, because I need to work on all of it myself.

  1. Learn names
  2. Smile
  3. Bring the joy

Recalling peoples’ names is a difficult task for me sometimes, and when I see someone outside of a familiar location it is nearly impossible for me to remember their name. Unless…I write it down, repeat their name, and say something about them to someone else. I am the queen of sticky notes.

Some people are really good with names. I don’t know if it just comes naturally, or they practice some unconscious habits in the process of saving and recalling. I find that people are really impressed when you remember their name and are secretly disappointed when you don’t. I claim most of the responsibility for learning names, but if a student is practicing the camouflage-in-the-classroom technique, I blame them!

Each semester I learn between 50 and 80 new student names. When I think about that, I wonder how I ever survive a semester! Before a class begins, I print out the roster, study it, notice commonalities and differences, and practice pronouncing names. Once in the classroom, I begin with first-day introductions. I scribble notes feverishly, usually illegibly, and then draw a map of the classroom so I know where everyone was sitting. Any paperwork I collect, I will go through and alphabetize after class.  I do this with each of my classes.

When a student shows up at my office door or says hi at the Student Union for the first time, and they are not sitting at their designated classroom map location, I am typically stumped on their name! I listen and wait for clues in their conversation and hopefully can save myself the embarrassment of having to ask their name and which class they are taking. At the beginning of the semester it is not so embarrassing to ask, but after week four it is downright flabbergasting!

The students I do remember are the ones who ask questions in class and show a genuine interest in the subject matter. They are the ones that email me after class to ask questions, or have to take a makeup test. If I have three Mikes and three Marys in one class, then it will take me the full four weeks to sort them all out!

Smile. When I concentrate really hard on something, I am not smiling. I have my game face on. If I am desperately trying to remember a name, it is likely that I am not smiling. Strike 2! It turns out that when you maintain a half smile and belly breathe, you turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, get out of fight or fight mode, and turn on your pre-frontal cortex so you can actually begin thinking again. That’s a bonus!

When you smile at someone, you can change the course of their day and simultaneously affect the people they come in contact with. The ripple effect is insane! Imagine if everyone smiled at three strangers every day, and each of those people smiled at three more people and so on…imagine the impact!

Bring the joy. Let’s face it, we seek to be around people who make us happy. What can we do to ensure this? Well, smiling is a good start. Knowing people’s names really helps too. Using tasteful humor, even when things seem bleak can really help. If you know that you are about to face a difficult day and difficult decisions, it is good to plan ahead. Ask yourself “what would my best self do if xyz happens today?” “How will I bring my best energy to the people I engage with today?” Try setting a reminder on your phone that simply says “bring the joy” once every hour. See what happens!

So to recap: Remember names, smile, and bring the joy!

Good luck!