Category Archives: GCC Students

Habit and the Art of Behavior Change

I just realized that the theme for this week is “culturally relevant.” So I had to stop and take a look at the draft I had saved to see if it could be salvaged!

As it turns out, EVERYONE is talking about behavior change, so that makes it cultural, right?

I have set over a million goals that I failed to accomplish. How ’bout you?

Don’t you find it frustrating, for example, when you realize you are consuming too much chocolate-covered anything, set a goal to quit, and find yourself back in the cookie jar within 24 hours.

Not being perfect myself, I feel I am in a good position to share my method for success. It all lies in the thought process. I treat every day like a training session for the future and I am not obsessed by my goal. I do become slightly obsessed by the process, however,  until it becomes autonomic.

Most of us see someone we wish to emulate, figure out what they do, and try to do exactly what they do. This is like going from zero to 180 in 3 seconds and wondering why the car’s engine is all over the highway.

Repetitive, deliberate baby steps with only the baby step in mind, not the outcome, is the path to mastery.  Each deliberate baby step is a training session for your future mind. In the future, when the baby step becomes a habit, you will look back and be thankful that you remained true to each and every session. They weren’t hard sessions, but the were consistent. The foundation was being laid for the day when you were ready to take it to a new and more challenging level.

How do you know you are ready for the next level? It is when you get out of bed in the morning and you no longer have to convince yourself of the benefits of your goal despite the hardships. It just is.

It’s like the act of brushing our teeth. We don’t slowly walk up to our toothbrush, weighing the pros and cons of tooth brushing, struggling through every brush stroke. We don’t think to ourselves about how we can avoid it or what else we could be doing that is more fun. We just do it because it is part of the morning and evening ROUTINE that WE have created for ourselves.

Tooth brushing actually became easy because it is a short bout of activity with tremendous benefits. Can you think of anything in your life that you can do in short bouts that can bring you tremendous benefits, allow you to build a habit over time, and create a foundation where you can step it up when you are ready?

I can.

You can.

Your students can.

 

Mindfulness in Everything

I thought the word mindfulness was a little overused and overrated. And then I started abusing the word myself. In the classroom, in meetings, with my friends, with my kids.

I have actually boiled it down to the one thing that could save us all from ourselves. If something is going wrong in your life, you are likely on autopilot. Handy for planes. Bad for most people…unless you are a really good habit builder.

Too much body fat…eating mindlessly.

Too little sleep…surfing (internet, TV channels) mindlessly.

Depressed…wishing mindlessly.

Anxious…fearing mindlessly.

I think we just do things because it’s the way we have always done them, never questioning why. Always on autopilot.

Mindfulness is about being present and focused on people and the world around us. On our thoughts, on our food, on our lessons, on quiet, on noise, on smells, on textures, on colors, on tastes and on how we feel about it all.

The mind is powerful and controls our body and ultimately our health. If you are having a hard time getting focused, start with your breath. You’ll will find stillness there and will eventually be able to expand your areas of focus.

I encourage my students to touch, feel, hear, see and question as they are learning. I encourage mindfulness in the classroom because it teaches the student to learn in new ways and reach surprising new levels of comprehension.

 

Simple, not easy

Since my hero Austin Kleon writes in bullet points, I think I will too. Here are a few thoughts about dealing with difficult situations in a positive way.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

  • The Four Agreements is a tiny book filled with enormous wisdom.
  • Take Away Message: Don’t take anything personally.
  • “Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about me.” Great quote from Chapter 3, page 48.
  • Avoid the urge to be right and make everyone else wrong.
  • Bottom Line: In a difficult situation, don’t take it personally because everyone lives in their own reality. Their anger is about them, not you. Even if they say something ugly, that’s their ugliness. Don’t make it yours too.

Unconditional Positive Regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers.

  • Try to accept and support others without passing judgment.
  • Starting from a point of unconditional positive regard will probably improve any situation.

If all else fails, lighten your mood.

  • Imagine your current difficult situation is happening in a sitcom.
  • Think about a silly sign. Here are a few examples:

 

Flipping the Classroom, One Video at a Time

The “flipped classroom” is all the buzz lately. I really like the idea of it, and I have tried to get students to prepare ahead of time so we can do interactive activities during class. In addition to this, I assign projects that require students to apply the knowledge from their study.

Last summer, my ACE students were struggling with an activity and asked for more time in class to do the project. I obliged, with an agreement that they would have to watch the lectures outside of class. I spent the better of two afternoons recording the lectures using Screencast-O-Matic and Power Point slides. They were not perfect, but they worked, and the extra in class time to help students apply the material was awesome!

Last week, as we were working on an in-class activity about the atmosphere, one of my students remarked, “I wonder what it would be like to be a storm chaser!” Many others responded, and a great discussion ensued (I love when that happens!). I do know a storm chaser, in fact, she is a former student – and I even have had her come as a guest speaker before. So I contacted her, but unfortunately, she is now working a “real” job, and cannot get away during my class time. The next best thing is to make a video of her presentation.

…Here I go, trying out something I’ve never done before. Oh, wait, isn’t that professional development?

This time, instead of talking over Power Point slides, I thought it would be more engaging if my speaker could do her talking in front of a green screen and then display her photographs or video behind her. Lucky for me, the CTLE can help with that. I met today with Cheryl Colan to learn more about how it’s done, just to see if it is a doable project. We had so much fun! I even made a video of myself with instructions for my speaker about what she should prepare when we are ready to film. It took about an hour to film and publish the very short video. I even put one of my own storm pictures behind me. Here I am, finishing up the recording (Cheryl suggested I put this picture in my post):

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The CTLE has a recording room, complete with green screen, computer loaded with the right software, camera and microphone, special lights, and even a teleprompter. Cheryl also told me that when you reserve the recording room, you are also reserving her services – that way she is available to help you through the process.

I definitely learned something new today! I know this video will probably be the only project of this kind for this semester, but little by little, I might just end up with a collection of them.

 

Healthier, Happier and Smarter

Have you read Spark yet? It gave me goosebumps.

The book basically justified my persistence for the past 30 years in the field of Fitness and Wellness. Exercise is not just about getting fit, looking good, preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and the like. It helps keep you smarter!

I finished this book on a plane flight to Dublin last summer, on my way to see my family, but more specifically, my ailing mother who is suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The book highlighted many of the mental health issues we deal with, including Alzheimer’s, ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and addiction. And guess what? Exercise outscores medication in every case. It may not replace it for every case, but it certainly is a great complement to treatment.

It turns out that exercise is like Miracle Gro to the brain. It promotes the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which causes neurons to grow! It was only discovered in 1990! Since then, neuroscientists have been studying it like crazy. Exercise lays down the foundation for our students to learn.

In his book, Ratey devotes an entire chapter to the “Learning Readiness PE” program in Naperville, Illinois. These high school students are outsmarting their Japanese and German counterparts on the TIMMS test! You can find out more in this video!

It is my intention to make a difference in the lives of our community college students, faculty, staff and administration by raising awareness about the importance of movement throughout the day.

Just yesterday, the following bill was passed in Senate (SB211). I read it excitedly to my students this morning! Positive change is finally happening at the national level!

“A program of physical activity (i) that consists of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year available to all students in grades kindergarten through five and (ii) with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year available to all students in grades six through 12. Such program may include any combination of (a) physical education classes, (b) extracurricular athletics, (c) recess, or (d) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of implement such program during the regular school year.

…That the provisions of this act shall become effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.”

Elementary schools and high schools will finally see the benefits of more movement on the brains of the students. I hope we can continue this trend at the community college level. It is critical to the success of our students.

Source: Ratey, J. J. (2012). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company.

 

Life is Not a Multiple Choice Test

… well I suppose it can be, if you know what the choices are. In many cases, however, the available choices are not fed to you. There is no bubble sheet to fill in. It’s up to you to figure it out with no hints from a prompt.

Many of our younger students have been tested to death. One thing is for certain, they are comfortable with multiple choice options.

Last semester, I told my students that I was assigning a final project instead of a final exam. They begged me for a multiple choice test instead. To their credit, I had assigned a large number of projects throughout the semester, so I caved and wrote a final exam for them.

I do believe, however, that a degree means more than regurgitating facts. There are a number of other skills employers expect when they hire someone with a degree. I think these skills are learned through the college experience as a whole.

I came across this list of traits that we really cannot measure with tests today:

Whether or not we use multiple choice tests for factual knowledge, I believe the experience of going to college and completing practical application projects helps develop these characteristics.

Next time I work with a student who is frustrated, doesn’t like group projects, writing assignments,  or has roadblocks and other issues in the way – I will come back to this list, for no matter what a student’s major is, these skills come along with it. And we all get to contribute to that!

 

 

I’ll miss you when you’re gone

Most of us who work as teachers find that working with students is the most important reward of the job. I believe it is beneficial to build some kind of relationship with each student in the class to help determine how to best to meet individual learning needs. These relationships are build over the course of the semeseter – and all to often, they end after final exams.

On the first day of a new semester, I often wonder how I will make the class have a cohesive camaraderie, and if it will live up to the one I taught the previous semester, or in previous years. People are often quiet and shy, and are not showing their true colors yet.

I spend a bit of time getting to know them by hanging out before and after class, providing comments on work turned in, walking around and interacting with small group discussions, sending emails regarding missed assignments, and offering help whenever its appropriate. In some cases, students will offer information about themselves – like work scheduling, family obligations, and outside activities. This gives me the opening to talk with them individually about more personal things.

Right around mid-semester, things start gelling, and people are talking and interacting. I know all the names in the class, and I generally know a little bit about each student other than just their student life. They also seem to be more comfortable with each other, and are more willing to contribute in class. The begin forming community.

By the end of the semester, the students genuinely enjoy being with each other. I have bonded with them, and we have a thriving community atmosphere. Often, as we are wrapping up for the semester, I might mention that we only have 2 or 3 class sessions left, and some students are visibly disappointed – and I am too.

Once the class is over, I miss the students. It seems like I only have them for a short time, and I want to know how they’re doing, and what they’re up to.

I am always so happy to run into former students at the college, or in the community. I saw one student in the enrollment center one day, and she emailed me later expressing her difficulty scholarship funding. I was able to share her story with the right people, and she was able to get what she was promised – and it made it possible for to continue going to school. Another group of my former students coordinated their schedules, and are purposefully taking classes together this semester.

Our time in class is short, and I have memories of many students long after the semester is over. I often wonder if our impact on students is limited to the time we have them in class. I know they have impacted me. I would love to see some comments on how others have retained contact with former students.

 

The Energy Enigma

It’s a weird thing about energy. It’s hard to capture. At the end of a hard day at work, it can completely evade us. On most Friday evenings, I think it gets buried in the sofa cushions with all of our lost articles.

We have all learned that energy cannot be created or destroyed. So where does it go when we are searching for it the most? Maybe there is a different formula for the type of energy we are all looking for?

Would you believe me if I told you that energy could be created by expending energy?  i.e. Energy begets energy. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it. How can I create energy if I don’t have any?

Personal example: Today I came home from work after eight hours of interviews, which consisted of sitting in a chair for most of the day. My energy meter was hovering around “empty,”  in the red zone. I had 20 minutes of free time before going to pick up the children.

I had a choice: I could melt into the sofa for a 20-minute nap (sounds delicious); or I could put on my running shoes and go run around the local park. I’m not much of a runner, but the weather was so nice and the park looked so inviting. I opted for the run.

Miracle of miracles! My energy meter was back in the green zone, and I was back in action and singing songs with the kids in the van. My brief exercise session also gave me the energy to write this blog before the Friday night deadline and fully engage with my online classes for the evening.

When you repeat this type of behavior on a regular basis, you come to rely on a brief exercise session to get your energy back on track. In fact, a brief exercise session can function just like a cup of coffee in the morning, but the benefits are far greater and last a lot longer.

There are hundreds of personal testimonials and research studies to be found on this topic.  Here is just one such post that I enjoyed reading.

If you are up for a challenge, try replacing your morning coffee with an apple and a brisk walk. I guarantee you that your energy meter will soar! (I triple dog dare you to write a blog about your experiences.)

week3photo1
Photo “borrowed” from Dr. Alisa Cooper.

p.s. I know you have an apple in your office if you have been keeping up with your Write 6×6 blogs!  :O)

 

 

Success is not just from attending class!

Community college life can certainly have its share of fears, accomplishments and yes, even set backs. It really can be a worthwhile endeavor if you find your niche in “college life”.  For some it may take only a few weeks and others it might take longer; however, the most important task “I feel” is to find your niche, that place that just feels right. If you seek out a club, find one. If you want to join an organization, do so. If you need a mentor, seek one out. If you want or need to find a job, then the career center on campus will help you find one. You really should find social circles in which “you the student” can feel like a valued participant. If you do one or more of the above mentioned things, your success rate has or will rise.
 

Being a GCC Ambassador

It’s pretty cool when you are recognized off-campus as a GCC employee, especially when you aren’t wearing your Gaucho Gear. We go through the internal process of:

  1. Why is that person staring at me?
  2. Do I know this person? Should I know this person?

Then they say, “You were my _____ teacher at GCC!” and then I think:

  1. Wait, what am I wearing right now, do I look presentable?
  2. How did they do in the class?
  3. How nice that they remembered me and their experience at GCC!

So then I get over my fears of being caught at the grocery store in sweats, with no make-up, and actually settle in to learn about where  they are in life and what they are doing currently.

This is the most rewarding part.

As much as it’s healthy to carve out a piece of your life just for you, when you live, breathe and believe in higher education, it is hard to separate that part of your life. Whether we know it or not, we are all ambassadors for GCC. I had this conversation about seven years ago with Rick Watts (you might know him) as we felt so strongly about the honor and privilege of representing GCC when outside of work hours.   Jim Reed and I frequently celebrate these occurrences, as this is a huge source of pride for Jim (I know, really!).  I love to work with people who feel this is a career with benefits beyond pay and who understand the impact they can make – these are my fellow ambassadors!