All posts by Roxanna Dewey

Conference Inspo

**I’m late to the writing party, but I’ll be adding more than one post this week.**

On the way to class today, I heard an eager, “Hi Ms. Dewey! Ms. Dewey! Hi!” One of my former students sought me out. Immediately, I recognized him with the nagging realization that oh boy, time flies, as it has been at least six years since he enrolled in my ENG091 class, then subsequently for ENG101. He is a veteran, and when he came to GCC initially, he struggled with navigating how the skills he learned and used as an innate leader in the military could integrate into his daily life as a civilian and student. I remember the chilling first lines of his narrative: “If death was a person, I would have shook his hand on October 1, 2009. During a combat patrol in Afghanistan, I was with my platoon of twenty men.” This morning, he wanted to let me know that though he had taken a few years off, he is back and here now to finish his degree. Little did he know that in the earlier part of this week I was finding inspiration in Seattle at the Innovations Conference with the League for Innovation in the Community College, so I couldn’t help but respond with, “Awesome! I think that’s what community colleges do. Our students come, they may have to leave to take care of things, but we are always here to educate them when they come back.”

It is nothing short of appropriate that I ran into him today, when I did, as yesterday, I flew home to Phoenix guiltily mulling over what I was going to write for my blog posts I’ve clearly been postponing. At the conference, the theme of innovation, of course, was ever-present in a majority of the sessions, along with the encouragement that though we are in precarious times in higher education, the importance of the community college remains steadfast. Roy Spence of The Purpose Institute and The Promiseland Project kickstarted the innovative insight with a quote from Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go where there is no path and leave a trail.” This is something, he asserts, we should be conveying to our students as we help them to find what they love to do. After a video of a Norwegian quartet crooning with a beautifully haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” he reveals this is what purpose in our work sounds like because: “Everyone needs to know the words to the song, listen to each other, stand up for when it’s your turn, and it sounds pretty awesome when we sing it together” (Spence, 2020). As community college faculty and leaders, we have a great song to sing.

Martha Kanter continued the message with news on College Promise juxtaposing some of the nation’s challenges like “99% of new jobs are awarded to workers with some college; the cost of college has increased times twelve over the past thirty years; students have accumulated 1.6 trillion in debt; fourteen percent of community college students are homeless” (Kanter, 2020). In Kanter’s keynote, we also heard from a young woman who spoke about her past as a homeless trafficking victim with an eighth grade education who could not speak at the age of 27. Ten years ago, she found an escape in attending community college and is now in a Ph.D. program and leads a non-profit in downtown Seattle. She gave immense gratitude to her community college instructors for changing her life’s trajectory, essentially for saving her life.

We live in challenging, uncertain times, especially in the community college when students have more options for higher education than ever before and are simultaneously facing increasing basic needs insecurity. Indubitably, the Innovations Conference was introspectively motivational regarding my current role and pedagogy. It seems we must remain optimistic, innovative, and continue to believe that, “In doing our work, our community colleges are building the real American Dream for our country” (Kanter, 2020). We will always remain relevant for our students and our communities.

Sleepless in Seattle!


Assessment and Evaluation

This is my Week 3. I’m behind.

Assessment and evaluation are not exciting words. Are they? Maybe it is the connotation surrounding the words. In twenty years of being an educator, the amount of essays I have graded must be in the billions. A hyperbole? Perhaps. Billion certainly feels like an accurate number sometimes. As a composition teacher, when I think of assessment and evaluation, I think of my students writing essays. It was not until I attended a conference about ten years ago when my view of assessment changed. The district I was working in, at the time, began assigning us to Professional Learning Communities. The definition of a PLC was a group of teachers at the same level, all the senior teachers for example, working together to create common assessments for all of the students. We would meet once a month. At some point, I became the Lead Senior Teacher. All of the PLC Leads were sent to a conference on Learning Communities and Assessment by Solution Tree. There, I heard inspirational solutions from Rob Marzano, Richard and Rebecca DuFour, and Anthony Muhammad. The culture of assessment presented was ground-breaking, research-based, and credible with real-world examples of proof. It made me want to change the world. Well, the assessment world. While I was exposed to definitions and examples of formative and summative assessment, the vital piece of information about assessment that I gleaned from the summit was a protocol of three questions to ask myself about evaluating students:

  1. What do I want students to know?
  2. How will I know if they learned it?
  3. What will I do if they do not?

To me, there was not a choice but to choose to incorporate this innovative way of thinking. Once I embedded the above into my pedagogy, there was no turning back. Of course, the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy is my guiding statement of always doing what is best for students; however, it could not be accomplished without assessing their learning by asking hard questions and being honest with the answers, especially with number three.


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.


Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

It is simple to say, “Be kind.” It takes more work to apply it. It takes even more work to synthesize it (Right, CRE Learning Community Colleague Sherry? I’m bringing in my Bloom’s here.). One way I think about crafting my skill of kindness is to think of myself, thanks to Carol McCloud’s work and my first grader, as either a bucket filler or a bucket dipper. A bucket filler is a person who practices kindness by proverbially filling people’s emotional buckets. The best way to fill a bucket is by being kind. Listen. Give a compliment. Show gratitude. Of course, the yang to this cheery yin is the gloomy bucket dipper. A bucket dipper is someone who empties other people’s buckets by saying or doing cruel things.

A moment of authentic kindness functions as a salve to soothe emotional shards of absolute grief, frustration, sadness, desolation. Despite this, research shows that our brains pack boxes of negative memories and associations, because of their impact, for safe-keeping more frequently than those that are positive. I believe that seconds of genuine kindness can reverberate, sink in, sponge through the bones eventually attaching themselves to our long term memory, and begin to overlap or push over and supersede the negative.

At the end of the day, we are in the work of helping people and doing what is best for students. When you have the choice to fill or dip, I hope you decide to fill and pass it on.


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Reflection from 2/2

From Thursday, 2/2/2017:

This morning, the woman who collects tuition for my son’s school made the discovery of a four inch gaping hole lined with the fringe of shredded fabric on the side of my skirt, “You have a HUGE string hanging off there! Do you want me to cut it?” Of course, this was after leaving the house, dropping kids off, and stretching my brain into work mode. On the drive in and after the discovery, instead of listening to news and attempting to decipher whether it is fake or not, I went into existential mode in thinking about how the more life piles on, the less we have to care about the significance of not noticing a ripped skirt in the scheme of things. I mean, really, how could I have dressed myself and not noticed such a glaring wardrobe malfunction? Did it matter? How is it that the older I get, the more I am forced to “not sweat the small stuff” due to pure circumstance?

It is something I was ruminating about, and then as it tends to happen, serendipitously, of course, after me crudely attempting to mend the gash with a makeshift sewing kit, two brief moments emerged to reaffirm my thoughts.

A returning student of mine stayed after class to let me know that in his previous life, he was a government official who use to care for the special needs population in his community. In class, we have been discussing identities, stereotypes about our identities that society makes, and embedded arguments that perpetuate the assumptions. His family had to leave their homeland in 2008, and they came to the United States with nothing. Nothing. After his narrative of displacement, he continued. Radiating with pride, he says, “We had nothing. But today, today, you know, I have three daughters. All three of my daughters are college graduates from GCC and GCU with nursing degrees.”  He makes sure I know that the lessons his family learned from their hardship are the reasons his daughters are so successful today.

Moments later, I was signing out of the computer, crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s in leaving the classroom ready for the next instructor. “Hi Mrs. Dewey,” chimed someone. It was a familiar someone and one of my highly motivated students from ENG091 and ENG101. Last semester, she enthusiastically signed up for the CRE101 and ENG102 Learning Community, but on the first day, she was not there. It was not like her to disappear, so here and there, I would wonder if all was alright in her world. As it happens, this semester, she is working three jobs while taking her prerequisites to get into the nursing program. Visibly, ENG102 would not work with her packed schedule. She wanted me to know that she would be back for ENG102 in the forthcoming semesters and wanted to check in so I would know what happened.

Tiny yet grandiose moments like this happen every day in my work here.Tiny because they are small in duration. Grandiose because every time they happen, I gain new insight, clarity, and perspective on all that small stuff.


It Takes a Village

Names have been changed.

I do not know that I, as an individual, make a difference; however, I do believe that WE, as a college, make a difference because we care, and we work hard to make one. “It takes a village […]” the African proverb teaches. The difference that we make is quantifiable in the success stories of our students. Through their success, the measurable difference becomes a bit more tangible. Here are a few of mine.

In my first semester as a faculty member at GCC, I had an 8:00 a.m. ENG102 class scheduled in LA107. In that class, I had Hercules, Heidi, Hunter, Jessica, Edgar, and 19 other students whom I would remember if I saw their faces. T used to sit in the back left corner of the room. Small in stature, she wore glasses and braces, but they did not mask her insecurity when it came to her writing skills, nor did they mask the fire that T possessed for achieving her goals. She was intelligent, persevering, and inquisitive.  What I admired about her was that she never let up with her questions until she received the answer she was looking for. She was always diligent in her work, reading, revising, proofreading, rewriting, until her final product was A worthy. As I grew to know T over the course of the semester, I also learned that T is a fighter and that she had been on her own in the United States as a young teenager, leaving family behind in Guatemala, without knowing any English. She came to the United States to have surgery to help correct a congenital bone malformation in her leg. After my class ended, I would see her on campus, mostly studying for Chemistry, but she continued to check in with me in her next semesters, and about her search for scholarships to continue her educational dreams. She was unsuccessful in obtaining the Dorrance scholarship, but I wrote her another recommendation for Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. This fall, I received this email from T:

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