Category Archives: Write6x6


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.


“Bad” Teaching, “Good” Teacher?

In a previous Write 6X6 season, I wrote about my teaching heroes (Teaching Inspiration En Pointe and Just a Girl in Senior English). In those essays I waxed nostalgic about teachers who were undeniably “good.” Hallmark movies could be made about them all, “She had solid pedagogy” could be written on their tombstones.

So, I’m not sure why another set of teachers came to mind when asked this week, “Is there anyone in education you felt was exemplary in teaching, learning, or student success?” I’ve studied teaching for the last 38 years, and I know all the qualities that would be on the “good teacher checklist.” But sometimes teachers go off-the-good-book, so to speak, and their students can be all the better for it.

In my doctoral program, I took Research Methods in the Learning Sciences with a highly-respected and highly-introverted professor. She had a funny habit of curling up like a cat on a desk in the front of the room and lecturing from her scratching post podium. And as with all doctoral courses, Research Methods had a heavy reading load.

In one of the first weeks of class, we all filed in as the professor vaulted her tiny frame above us. She started class by asking, “What are your reactions to this week’s readings?” I don’t remember if we were all shy/didn’t do the reading/were still asleep from an all-nighter, but none of us spoke. She employed the good-teacher tactic of using wait time, and then promptly, but not unkindly, announced, “Well, if you all don’t have something to share, class is over.”

She matter-of-factly padded her way out of class, and we all just sat slack-jawed. What just happened?

The good-teacher checklist would dictate the professor should have offered scaffolded prompts to get us talking. She should have used encouraging words to help us take risks. But the effect of her walk-out was the same: We all came prepared to discuss the reading in every class moving forward.

Her strategy only worked because she knew her students. She knew we were a bunch of highly motivated (read: somewhat neurotic) PhD candidates. And when she wordlessly left the room, she communicated loud and clear, “You are responsible for your own learning!” I personally would never do the walk-out with my own students. But this experience reminds me of the importance of transferring the responsibility of learning to the student.

Another professor in the same doctoral program was a renowned qualitative scholar. It was amazing that she was still teaching 1) because she was world famous, and 2) she had a very interesting (read: strange) approach to teaching: She would sit in front of the room with notes she had handwritten in a big book and read them . . . verbatim . . . for over an hour . . . in each and every class! The good-teacher checklist would not be amused.

I don’t know how she did it, but she made it work. She would read for a bit, take off her glasses, and chuckle to herself about some aspect of what she just read. She was provocative – challenging all of us quantitative folks by saying our numbers had just as much potential for bias as the ethnographic methods she taught us. In her own little weird way, she roped us all in as she recited her notes class after class.

I would never straight-on read notes to my students and attempt to pass it off as teaching. But I am reminded that I don’t have to be the entertaining dancing monkey for my students that sometimes I feel compelled to be. I’m not sure any student ever stitched these professors’ names on a pillow, but I believe we all benefited from their unconventional (read: not research-based) instructional approaches. And this former-kindergarten teacher learned to have elevated expectations for college students who are ultimately responsible for their own learning.


Finding Balance: Knowing the Size and Shape of your Plate

Life definitely feels like these goats on a thin sheet of metal at times. You never know if you are going to stay up or come crashing down. One of the things that has greatly impacted my balance in a good way, is knowing the size and shape of my plate (the proverbial plate on which everything I do rests). Discovering the size and shape of my plate was a process for me and I had help along the way. 

During my probationary period, my wise mentor Polly Laubach realized I had a problem of saying yes to too many things. This “say yes” problem caused a major imbalance which had my plate running over. I felt like I was exceeding the size and shape of the plate I had to offer. Polly identified this problem significantly faster than I did which is one of the reasons she is a great mentor. She was paying attention to me and noted all the things I was doing. Polly’s remedy for this problem was simple, say no. Trust me when I say that we actually practiced saying no. She would run a scenario and provide me the opportunity to say no. We also practiced at the end of our meetings together which was a great way to help me practice saying no. 

I am going to be honest, I do not like to say no. Which is why I do not say no, rather I say:

  • What are the deliverables of the project? 
  • When do you see this project being completed?
  • What days and times would the committee meet? 
  • What are the expectations of the committee members? 
  • How often would you want to meet to complete this project?
  • How will the product we create or project we complete be used in the future? 

All of these questions have led me to being better at selecting which project, committees, and other opportunities I say yes to. 

Sometimes my balance might look like this where everything is balanced even if there are lots of cups or tasks or commitments but the important part is balance. Everyone’s plate is a different size and shape so take on what you can within your limits. 


My Inspiration

The love for learning, the love for inspiring, and the love for building a better tomorrow come to mind when I think about those who have been my superheroes and for those who I hope to become a superhero for in the future. 

My parents (AKA my superheroes) knew all along my destination was to make “going to school” my career. From the time I could remember, I would “play school” with my two younger sisters in our basement, using old workbooks and even having recess in the yard. Yep, the good ‘ol days of telling them what to do 😉 What I didn’t realize in those moments, was how gratifying it felt to watch my little sisters do something they didn’t think they could. 

Fast forward a few decades, all grown up but my family would say that I haven’t changed a bit.  They are my superheroes and the ones who gave me the inspiration to inspire others.  They are the ones who let me find the love for learning through my love for them. And, my nephews have become the ones that remind me why it is so important to make tomorrow even better than today. 

My hope is that we each find a way to appreciate the gifts of our superheroes and to maximize our talents. Superheroes bring their best selves each and every day and I couldn’t imagine a world without them. 


The Nature of GCC

Before you read any further, take a moment to watch this video with the volume on high. (You’ll thank me later.)

When asked, “What area or areas on campus hold a special significance for you?” my resounding response is anything outdoors! I have a distinct memory of feeling awe while touring the grounds as a new faculty back in 2019. I texted pictures of trees, plants, and rocks to my husband and children. “Aren’t I lucky to get to see this every day!”

Then along came COVID, which is really a story for another day. To be sure, when we all returned to campus the following year I was excited to see my students and colleagues. But, I was also gratified to return to views like this:

I strongly believe that how GCC tends to its natural environment is an important factor in how students feel about school. An enriched natural setting communicates to students that we care about them and that they are worthy of being surrounded by such beauty. It’s as if all the trees and plants envelop students in a metaphorical hug each time they step on campus.

Okay, did I go too far there? Maybe, but I’m a true believer in the healing powers of nature. For anyone who needs convincing of this, I highly recommend the book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams.

And when I snapped these photos this week, the sky was just showing off, don’t you think?


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!

I Feel Love

The one thing that excited me as a 7-year-old was the thought that I would some day be old enough to go to a disco like my older sister. My friends and I would chat constantly about the names of the local discotheques. “Mary’s” (St. Mary’s Rugby and Football Club) was one of the local hotspots. This was the late 70’s in Dublin.

ABBA was all over the radio and television. The kids were singing their songs, the parents were singing it, heck even the grandparents were dancing to it!

Circling back to 2024…To get my writing juices going for this week I decided to ask Alexa to play Donna Summer “I Feel Love” and also take advantage of ChatGPT, since I have been ignoring it up until literally this week! I asked for some 70’s era songs…I would have had to go to an actual record store for this data back in the 70’s…Anyway, this is what it spit out…

“Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees
“Le Freak” by Chic
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
“Dancing Queen” by ABBA
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson
“Y.M.C.A.” by Village People
“Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.
“September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
“Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind & Fire with The Emotions
“Night Fever” by Bee Gees
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
“I Feel Love” by Donna Summer
“Get Up and Boogie (That’s Right)” by Silver Convention
“Disco Inferno” by The Trammps
“Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward

These songs capture the energy, rhythm, and vibe of the disco era, which was a significant cultural phenomenon in the 1970s.

It totally left out John Travolta!!! I will never trust AI again!!!

When I think back to my 7-year-old self, I realize that I learned best when I shared stories with my friends, and this usually happened on walks to and from school or friends houses. It was exercise combined with talking!

Here in 2024, no student escapes my class without doing 20 squats or a comparable activity. If they are lucky, they will get some disco music to help them get in the groove!

The disco-era song that best reflects my approach to working with students is “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. “It does not sound very educational,” you say? Well, it’s all about passion. You have got to love what you do if you are going to spend a lifetime doing it. My job is to help my students find that love for learning and ultimately use that knowledge to help others with their health and wellness.

My students love to share their stories, so I always make time to hear about the things they do beyond the classroom and their future profession. We have such a vast array of hobbies and talents amongst our students! Their characters come alive when they tell their stories! I love to connect the learning material to their experiences and help them understand those difficult scientific concepts.

Other students are more likely to join in the fun when they see classmates sharing. The trick is to turn those stories into learning opportunities and close the learning loop. Students feel empowered when they are appreciated for who they are and what they bring to the classroom.

I want to see their passion. I want to feel the love.


The Robinson Room: A Place of Many Firsts

Ever since joining Glendale Community College, I have felt a comforting gravitational pull coming from the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Engagement (CTLE). As a first year faculty member, all of our First Year Residential Experience (FYRE) meetings were held in the Robinson Room and was where I bonded with the other new residential faculty for the entire year. In those meetings we were introduced to many faculty and staff across the campus and how their work impacts the college as a whole. This meant that even more firsts happened in this space in terms of learning about the college procedures, meeting colleagues, and how to navigate the campus. 

The CTLE provides many firsts for me with workshops and opportunities to grow. I was lucky enough to participate in the first Reimagine cohort which explored new teaching strategies and the support to take a risk in implementing the strategy of our choosing. I was fortunate to again have many first meetings with colleagues and learn new information in the Robinson Room. 

Yet another first came when I became a co-faulty developer for the CTLE. I have had the privilege of working with all the contributing members in the CTLE which has led to me being a part of enhancing the gravitational pull that is the CTLE. Over the last six semesters, I have enjoyed bringing new development opportunities in the form of The Pulse@ GCC, Cleaning Your Digital Life, FLEX Gym, and Tiny Tech Tips to our GCC campus community. This has provided me with a huge amount of joy since I am able to facilitate firsts for others across our campus. 

The most recent first I have had at the CTLE is once again in the Robinson Room. I attend the crafting group meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 pm to 2pm. This has allowed me to meet more faculty and staff across the campus and connect based on our interest in crafting which includes, but is not limited to, knitting, crochet, coloring, gem art, cross stitch, embroidery, and many more. 

Here are some of the pieces I have completed thanks to the assistance of Karen Conzelman

If you are looking for a place that specializes in helping you discover new firsts and try new things while meeting new people the CTLE is the place for you.  They are one of my comfort zones on campus and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to share them with you.


Walking the Trail

During the pandemic I was adjusting to a new leadership role, overseeing the North Campus, with very few people around. Most of us were jumping from meetings in a virtual day that seemed to never end.  Long days often filled with screen time, focusing on decisions about how to keep our employees safe, ensuring that learning was able to take place, and providing services to our students was no small task. The level of stress, demand on mental energy, and the anxiety of unknowns created leadership experiences that were not written about in books.  I remember vividly the numerous impromptu meetings scheduled to address “a new development.” 

Everyone’s world was changed as a result of the pandemic. While I learned that my work office was wherever I was and the comforts of routine and predictability were truly disrupted, I realized that my ability to persevere through these changes was rooted in a casual walk, along the back of the North Campus, on the short unpaved trail between the buildings and the open land. There were plenty of times I walked that trail so my eyes could readjust from the screen time.  There were plenty of other times that I used that walk to decompress about a situation, talk with a colleague, or just be in the moment. The North Campus trail became my symbol of connection- the connection to nature, to people, and to myself. During a time when connections were lost and replaced by virtual distance, the significance of the North Campus trail gave me the outlet that I really didn’t have elsewhere and will always have a special place in my professional journey.


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!