All posts by Tiffany Hernandez


When asked about someone who I feel was exemplary in teaching, learning, or student success, I immediately think of my high school Political Theory teacher. His name was Jack Wallace. As high school seniors, we probably should have called him Mr. Wallace, but for some reason we just called him Jack. We loved that and I think he did too.

Political Theory was a seniors-only class that I had looked forward to attending since I started high school. Why? Because it was considered a “hard” class and my friends and I were overly competitive and loved an academic challenge. (Full Disclosure: Throughout high school, these friends and I were collectively referred to as “those smart kids who didn’t party” at a time when the Beastie Boys were encouraging all of us to “Fight for our Right, to Parrrrrtyyyyy!” We were Type A and nerdy and damn if we didn’t love a good political argument on a Friday night.)

As a student in Jack’s class, I was pushed academically, but I also felt seen and respected for wrestling with big, complex ideas. He didn’t deride us when we used rationale based on emotion or our parents’ ideals rather than independent, well-reasoned arguments based on research. He used humor to push us to challenge our biases and assumptions. He’d periodically and energetically shout out “Socialism is the halfway house to Communism!” and “America! Love it or leave it!” I knew he didn’t ascribe to either idea, but that was beside the point. He wanted us to interrogate our own viewpoints by developing a mindset of curiosity and critical thinking.

More than anything, I knew that I did not want to disappoint Jack. I deeply respected him because he designed his course in a way that showed he respected us. I pushed myself and I took risks by speaking up in class even though I was usually fearful of being wrong in front of my peers. Because of Mr. Jack Wallace, I know what it feels like to be encouraged and celebrated as a learner. As I look back on my years as an instructor, I hope that I was able to create a learning environment in which students could be academically challenged, feel safe enough to be vulnerable, and above all be celebrated for trying. Thanks, Jack.


We Are Family: My Problem is Your Problem

In preparing to write this week, I boogied down memory lane to find my song. While I didn’t really come of age in the 70’s (I’m an 80’s kid … Neon! Huge bangs! Who Shot JR?!), the songs from the 70’s were the soundtrack to my early childhood and set some wild expectations for what I thought adulthood would be like. As it turns out, I have far fewer groovy dance parties and bell bottom jumpsuits than I had thought I would.

I ultimately landed on We Are Family by Sister Sledge as a song that reflects my approach to working with students. I remember my sister and I dancing to this song in our family room with wood-paneled walls and orange shag carpeting. We were very cool. And what a wonderful way to live life… with the assurance that a group of people who love you, have faith in you, and also have your back. Consider these lyrics: “Have faith in you and the things you do; you won’t go wrong, oh no, this is our family jewel.”

In my first few semesters of teaching, I was focused on the content of my courses and how I would organize my lectures and exams. Over time, I learned that the course content was almost beside the point; students can access that content in other places. Building trust through relationship and creating a supportive learning environment was my biggest contribution to the success of my students. I am now convinced that teaching is caring.

How do we extend an Ethics of Care framework into the classroom? I’d love to explore this idea and learn from you in a community of practice at GCC. I’ll bring the fondue!

The Chair: A Lesson in Grace (and Gravity)

My journey to higher education was circuitous.  Prior to my first job as full-time faculty, I embarked on two entirely different career paths informed by two separate graduate school experiences and punctuated with nine moves across three countries, and four children thrown in for good measure.  In other words, it’s a long story.  A quicker story (you’re welcome) centers on the TV show that best represents my journey in higher education: The Chair. This Netflix series starring the magnificent Sandra Oh chronicles the first year of a newly elected English department chair at a small liberal arts college. 

Anyone who’s served as an academic department chair will recognize the story arc: The department’s first female chair begins the semester with big ideas, brimming with optimism for her department, students, and colleagues, and then literally and figuratively falls out of her chair.  Crises emerge immediately: Budget cuts with an expectation by administration to reduce faculty; Lack of opportunities for diverse faculty; Managing the fallout from an accidental but inappropriate classroom moment by a revered faculty member.  And did I mention the student evaluations that no one seems interested in reading?  And the ongoing struggle over faculty offices?  The Chair works through all of these challenges with humor but doesn’t shy away from the very real and often seemingly conflicting concerns of faculty, students, and college administration. 

When I became a department chair, I worked optimistically but also quickly realized that some days would feel conflicted as I navigated challenges with faculty colleagues who I admired and wanted to support, students who deserved a consistent learning environment in which they could thrive, and our administration who were trying to manage competing resources with transparency.  Sometimes we succeeded. Sometimes we fell short.  But thankfully, throughout my time as department chair, the most constant thread was grace.  Grace extended to frustrated colleagues.  Grace shared with confused or worried students.  And grace offered to me by all. 

Now I have a different role but I haven’t forgotten the healing feeling that accompanies extending and receiving grace.  I hope grace will be the thread that runs through our time here at GCC as well. 

And if you see me fall out of my chair, don’t worry.  I’ll be fine.  But also … help!


Learning something new as a mindset: GCC’s Culture of Inquiry

I am currently taking a course through MiraCosta College entitled “Fundamentals of Futures Thinking.”  One of the learning outcomes is to be able to articulate why futures thinking is important for my institution.  As I mentioned in my remarks during our Spring convocation, I’m deeply interested in the answer to the question, “what if technology breaks humanity’s way?”  What could we be, as a community and an institution, if we intentionally design our future so that every student will succeed?  Wouldn’t this also have a deeply positive impact on faculty and staff, if we were all empowered with the professional development and resources that we need to thrive?

“Futures thinking” necessitates a mindset of curiosity and innovation with a thread of empathy running throughout.  Creating this collective mindset, a culture of inquiry, will require us to build and then nurture an environment in which we routinely ask “what if?” and “what truly matters?” in communities of exploration and practice.    

What tools should we have in our professional development toolbox at GCC to facilitate this culture shift?  I mentioned two at our College Conversations session this week: Interest Based Problem Solving (also called Interest Based Negotiation) and Human-Centered Design.  Many of us have already engaged with IBPS as a foundational principle in our shared governance practice.  Recently, the Administration Collaboration Team (ACT) learned about Human-Centered Design and I’m hoping we can start offering this opportunity college-wide in the coming months. 

What other tools do we need to build GCC’s culture of inquiry?  Which communities of practice can we create?  I’m asking not rhetorically, but intentionally, to collect ideas and identify champions in this work. 

Drop me a note at or stop by my office (A-102) or catch me as we walk across campus or after a meeting sometime soon.  I’m ready to start this conversation.  Who’s with me?


Ode to the Yellow Legal Pad

My workspace in higher education has changed many, many times over the past 15 years. Just during my time as faculty, I moved offices seven times in eight years, if memory serves. I’m a fan of change, so each move presented an opportunity to learn about a new location on campus, meet new colleagues, connect with students in a different space, or get a new plant (spoiler alert: they all died… my condolences, plant world).  

One constant throughout all of this change, manifesting my love of putting pen to actual paper, is the Yellow Legal Pad. A note-taker’s dream come true! It’s a beautiful canvas, page upon page, awaiting all manner of thoughts, ideas, and big plans. Outlines, books to read, research topics to explore, quotes that resonated. Not to mention doodles (not every meeting can be riveting), grocery lists, and an occasional note to myself not to forget that thing I keep forgetting. I can work just about anywhere as long as I have my trusted YLP and pen by my side.  

The Yellow Legal Pad accompanied me through law school (I know, so predictable), my Ph.D. program, eight years of full-time teaching, and now many years of administration…ing. It’s my essential learning, thinking, and writing tool. I mourn for all of the never-to-be loved-by-Gen-Z Yellow Legal Pads. Maybe I’ll start a Gretchen Wieners-esque “make YLP happen!” movement.

In my current office, I have many new-to-me things, all lovely and deeply appreciated. I have a handful of ink pens at the ready. But none are more precious to me than the stacks of Yellow Legal Pads, both new and those already filled with notes to be revisited and reflected upon. 

I invite you to join me in admiration of the YLP. We can meet for coffee or lunch and share our joy in opening up a new pack, tearing off a sheet to roll into a ball and throw at the nearest trash can, or simply stacking them neatly as a reminder of the work accomplished and exciting work ahead. Here’s to you, YLP! And with that, I’m off to do that thing I would have forgotten but for you.