All posts by Louise So

CTLE and other Random Thoughts about Professional Development

At GCC, I would have to say, without a doubt, that the CTLE is my “jam.” It is my go-to for training, for questions about Canvas, for how to design pretty email messages, for ensuring my syllabus is up to spec, and for designing new curriculum. Now that I think about it, I don’t know what I would do if we did not have this significant training platform available to us. So kudos to the CTLE gang!

I thoroughly enjoyed the carpool-karaoke-style-discussion about neurodivergence with Lisa and Beth. I’ll be honest, that is a new word for me and it was great to listen to two people talking openly about living with ADHD. I learned that empathy and scaffolding concepts are handy tools to have in your classroom. I enjoyed the creativity of the video recording and editing, and it reminded me that learning can happen in many ways. I appreciate humor because it breaks down many learning barriers.

In addition to attending conferences and webinars in the field of exercise and wellness, I find it critical to have a physical book to read and an audio book to enjoy in the car or during walks with the dog. I find that these books can be on any interesting topic ranging from autobiographies of rockstars, to historical fiction, to fantasy. My rule is that every other read should be about a topic that is related to health and wellness so that I can stay current. In summary, reading is critical for the brain and for learning in general.

The most important thing I do to help me be better at my job as a college instructor is that I make time for exercise. Exercise is medicine for the brain. If you don’t believe me, ask your Chat GPT to tell you all about BDNF.

In summary, call your local CTLE professional, listen to fun podcasts, go to conferences, read real and audible books, and move your body often!

 

My Journey to Higher Ed in a Tracksuit

This week’s Write 6 x 6 options were quite a struggle for me. My competitive nature was not going to allow me to skip this week. I am not an expert in neurodiversity or DEI, although I have had some exposure in my classrooms. I simply need to read those submissions coming in from my expert peers. So that left me with identifying a movie or TV show representing my journey to higher ed.

After much deliberation, Ted Lasso was where my mind rested.

While Ted Lasso travelled from the USA to England, I headed west from Ireland to the good ole US of A. While Ted was not actually a soccer coach, he used his knowledge of American Football to rally his fictitious British professional soccer team to success.

While I knew absolutely nothing about higher ed before crossing the pond, I took my experience of competitive swimming and a high school education and I figured out a path to a masters degree in Physical Education, and ultimately a lifetime of community college instruction.

While Ted had to adapt to a new language that was still English, I also experienced many humor-filled situations where a biscuit is not actually a biscuit!

I still scratch my head and wonder how I got here. I had two absolute career “no-nos” when I finished high school in Ireland. I did not want to teach and I certainly did not want to be a PE teacher. While I am not exactly a PE teacher, I am essentially teaching future fitness trainers and health professionals about how to safely and effectively prepare bodies and minds for optimal health and fitness.

When Ted left his family back home in the US for his big adventure, I felt his loneliness as he tried his best to fit in with new colleagues in a new culture. Ted wore his signature tracksuit to work on most days, and that is generally my attire, and has been since the the ’80’s.

I think I may just have stumbled upon an idea for my future novel.

Ain’t nothing to it but to do it!

 

Unconsciously Competent

I would like to present something that probably 90% of you already know about. But it was new to me when I heard it the first time. It’s called the hierarchy of competence. Like a progression of learning.

This revelation came to me when I was engaged with the Literacy Partner’s Project training in the summer of 2022, at Mesa Community College. The training introduced us to the notion of Threshold Concepts. These are ideas that we as discipline faculty know instinctually, but our students don’t seem to be able to grasp, despite the numerous ways we attempt to explain it to them.

The revelation for me was that from a faculty perspective, competence in a subject does not mean we are gifted in the ability to teach said subject matter. Oftentimes, we are so gifted that we don’t know what we know! One example is teaching using language or acronyms that people might not understand outside of our circle.

In college, my swim coach encouraged me to teach a swim class as a graduate assistant. “How hard can this be?” I thought. Translating how you unconsciously move your body into words is not quite as easy as one might imagine. At times I wanted to say “just do it, it’s easy!”

Fast forward about 30 years to my debut as a student in an adult ballet class…

Just kidding, that’s not me.

What I experienced was a master teacher teaching former ballet students, and ME! While clinging to the bar attempting graceful moves and other things I can’t pronounce, my mind drifted to my swim class at the GCC pool where swimmers come to me for guidance. I teach all levels…some cling to the ladder for dear life, some splash around in frustration, and others swim with ease while hoping for continued improvement.

What I realized was that I was being unconsciously competent as a teacher. It’s great if a student achieves the mastery of unconscious competence, but the teacher should not teach from that platform. I believe that it is more helpful if the instructor is teaching from the platform of consciously competent, or dare I say consciously incompetent?

Why? Two reasons. 1) We should assume the students are not understanding everything we say because some of what we say is coming from a place of mastery, and 2) because if the students see you as a master who does not have room to learn, they can not fully relax in your presence.

When I went back to teaching my swim class after humiliating myself through adult ballet, I came with a newfound appreciation for empathy and listening skills. Swimming does not come naturally to everyone, but everyone can learn to swim. When I can put myself in the shoes of a beginner, I can teach with a completely new and fresh mindset. If you are my student, I will learn from you. Life is a learning journey.

 

Effortless Perfection

My Audible “read” of the week is Susan Cain’s “Bittersweet.” One of the topics she discusses is about “effortless perfection.” She explains it as this unrealistic state we attempt to achieve in order to fool others into thinking we have everything under control and life is cool. Underneath, we are all “train wrecks!” Okay, I speak for myself…

Yup, I do that! I didn’t realize that it was a thing and I didn’t realize that I did it! But it made me laugh. I started to conjure up images of people that appear to be effortlessly perfect! In the swimming world, Michael Phelps comes to mind, effortlessly swimming the impossible butterfly stroke at superhuman speed. Then I think of the years of grueling training to which he has subjected his mind and body. His world fame came at huge price to his sanity. But he is an icon of this era.

Michale Phelps Swimming

I think of famous musicians who sing their hearts out on stage in front of audiences all over the world. Yet, I just have to tell my phone to play their song and it effortlessly plays across the airwaves, And I think to myself, how many times have they sung that song over and over and over? How many times do you think Mick Jagger has sung “Satisfaction?” How hard that must be to tour the world and be away from home for so long. How many hours spent rehearsing and perfecting?

I look around at my coworkers who show up with a smile each day, knowing that they are making a difference, while carrying a mountain of endless stress brought on by an attempt to keep home life and work life in balance. The resilience they display is mind blowing. And they come back the next day and do it again and again and again. They seem to do it with ease.

Why do we strive for effortless perfection? Go on, admit it! You do it too!


 

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.