Category Archives: Write6x6

Who i am today

By Dr. Ashley Nicoloff and Dr. Krysten Pampel

About Dr. Ashley Nicoloff

Inspiring stories: Who or what inspired you to be who you are today in relation to your work at GCC? How did it impact you?

To quote Robert Frost “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.” I remember reading this poem in 12th grade English class and it really resonated with me. Since then, I have felt that some of my education decisions have diverged from the path that all of my friends took. My plan was to go to U of A for college. I would room with my best friend and we would have a great 4 years together. My plan didn’t quite work out as I had hoped, and my high school advisor told me about the Presidential Scholarship that I would qualify for at Glendale Community College. It was the only scholarship I qualified for (due to circumstances I would not understand until about 5 years later), and it seemed my only option. All of my friends were headed off to U of A, but I stayed behind to go to GCC. At the time, it seemed my life was in ruins, but with time and perspective, this decision to go to GCC would turn out to be the best decision of my life. 

I started GCC as a Psychology major, but had always had a passion for math and was going to minor in it. As my classes in Psychology progressed, I decided that it wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. It really wasn’t until Anne Dudley’s Calculus 2 class that I decided to change my major to Mathematics so that I could become a Math teacher at the college level. After I graduated GCC with my Associate’s I went to Arizona State to complete my Bachelors and Masters. There I met my best friend, who now has an office two doors down from me 🙂 (A.K.A. Dr. Krysten Pampel). I finished my degree and interviewed for GCC and the rest is history 😉 

I love that my college education started at GCC and that I get to work here and share the same passion with my students as my teachers did for me. Making that decision to go to GCC has impacted my life in numerous ways. To quote Robert Frost again “two roads diverged in a wood and I– I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”  I have this poem in my office to remind me that although life can throw you curve balls, usually everything turns out alright in the end.

The Road Not Taken 


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


F.A.T. Teacher

On being F.A.T.: A reflection on teaching and working with diverse groups of individuals.

“You are one of the most F.A.T. people I know,” Tricia said with a smile.  One of my colleagues was speaking to me about dealing with change in our university setting and how we could prepare for the new policies. Tricia was from the U.K. and a resident of Australia who had worked in Singapore.  She was a very experienced communications teacher. You can imagine my surprise at her claim that I was F.A.T., so I asked her what she meant.  

The F of F.A.T. stands for Flexibility.  In general, flexibility refers to how quickly one can react or respond to change, a willingness to adapt to events. This is the open mindset, the willingness to embrace ambiguity, the quick adjustment as the situation changes, and the attitude that is taken.  

Early in my teaching career, I was in a setting that was the perfect introduction to that flexible mindset. On Friday, I was given my schedule for classes that I would be teaching on Monday.  On Monday morning, I was given a new schedule and told that I would be teaching in completely different classrooms 10 minutes before my classes started; I had new rooms, new times, and new students.   I had a choice, I could get upset or I could accept that the situation had changed and move forward with a positive attitude. So, I went forward with a smile. 

In fact, that positive attitude is central to being flexible.  It wasn’t an easy start, but I felt much better about my reaction when I discovered that the reason for that sudden change had to do with a few classrooms no longer having electricity or windows and there had been a concern about snowdrifts entering the classroom.  In the end, I was grateful for the change and glad that I had gone about it with a smile. That flexibility meant less stress for me. I simply accepted that I had no control over the situation and chose to be positive in response. 

Years later, in another country and another position, when the same situation occurred and I responded with that positive mentality, my colleagues ended up asking me to be their interim department chair.  

The A stands for Adaptability.  Adaptability in this context is about behaving in uncharacteristic ways in order to effectively deal with situations or people.  My previous employer funded a training called “True Colors”, a personality training that encourages people to better understand themselves and their colleagues.   This program went over core values, needs, and communication styles in order to encourage better communication. In a company with over 45 teachers, only 3 of us were labeled as “Gold”.  Everyone else fell strongly into Blue, Green, and Orange. Gold personalities are generally not that adaptable, as they have a strong desire for order, rules, and authority. My personality test was so far in the gold that the other colors were mere slivers.  The communications coach said they had never seen anyone that far into the Gold category. He asked me how I could even function with all the changes that happened at my work. My colleagues were stunned at my color ‘reveal’.   

“You can’t be Gold, you are so diplomatic!  You never say anything bad about anyone and you are always smiling when people interrupt you or your schedule changes,” said Kyra.

“When I came into the office for the first time, you smiled and welcomed me and took the time to explain things to me, even though you were clearly busy.  You are the only reason I didn’t turn around and go back home!” declared Paul.

“No, it makes sense.  Whenever you are faced with a scheduling problem, you tend to offer choices of solutions.  Everyone else always asks me to solve the problem for them,” said Manar.

“When I needed to take longer with the students, you waited patiently for me to finish.  And, I cut into almost 20 minutes of your class time. But you didn’t complain, you just smiled and said “No Problem”,” said Jeff.

While my personality may prefer structure and order, being adaptable means being willing to understand where the other person is coming from,  being able to adjust to the situation through understanding. So, when my order was being interrupted, I continued to adopt a flexible, positive attitude and adapt to the changes that were presented. When my schedule was suddenly changed, I accepted that I had no control and moved with the situation.  When the technology in my classroom stopped working, I may have had a moment of panic, but I moved forward with quick thinking and adapted to the use of the dry erase boards instead. Being adaptable may mean working outside of my comfort zone, but I find that reaching out to others in that way simply helps. Situations are easier to solve, people are easier to work with. 

The T stands for Tolerant. Tolerance is accepting opinions and practices that are different from your own.  Embracing the interchange of cultures with varied interests. A willingness to listen to others’ points of view, even when you disagree.  

Did you know people of different cultures have very different comfort distances when having a conversation? Personal space distances are not universal. When I worked in central China, my students would come within 2 inches of my face to speak to me. I knew that this was a comfortable distance for them, while it made me very uncomfortable.  I learned to turn my body slightly so that my shoulder would face the students for my personal comfort because shoulder-distance is different than chest-difference with personal space. It was a challenge to me, but one that I learned to deal with and accept.   

When I worked in the United Arab Emirates, the school I worked for hired Canadians, Australians, the British, and Indians.  I was one of 2 Americans when I started at the college, a situation that lasted for more than 4 years of my 9 with the college.  I was also the only American in my neighborhood. I had a lot to learn and a lot to tolerate. From the camels in my backyard to the goats in my garden, from the rules about dress and public displays of affection to learning how to Morris Dance and participating in British Pantomime, I learned that being open to opinions and practices that were different from my own could mean temporary discomfort but more often led to acceptance, excitement, and contentment.  I wasn’t there to change anyone’s mind or make anyone change their ways, I was there to teach and learn. Being tolerant didn’t mean I had to agree, it simply meant being understanding and accepting that other people hold different beliefs than I do.  

Personally, I think that is part of what makes this world such an amazing place.  

On reflection, I am flattered that Tricia felt that she could label me “F.A.T.” with such confidence.  Each time I am approaching a new teaching methodology, a new educational technology, a new colleague, or a new group of students, I take a moment to consider what it means to be F.A.T. and hope that I can continue to be Flexible, Adaptable and Tolerant, both as a teacher and in life.

For this week’s graphic, if it doesn’t appear below try the link.


What’s Inspiring Me Now

     The best a teacher can hope for and try to encourage is for her/his students to go off and become successful and, someday, to check back in to report on that success. Is there a better feeling? It turns out, there is. I know because I'm experiencing it right now.

Social Media Plus

     Fortunately, because of social media, it's easier than ever to stay in touch with former students. And while there are many, many I get to see become successful by earning their bachelor's degree, a master's degree, or even a PhD--some have gone on to become college professors, have written textbooks, books, have started families, have become politically active--there are a couple who have been speaking to me via their social media presence in ways I'm less familiar with. They're inspiring me to be more thoughtful in my own life. They're encouraging me to consider their passions like I once did in the classroom, I hope, for them.

    One is Tarrin who was a student of mine in 2003-2004. She is a certified Spiritual Director. Tarrin has been popping into my life in various ways lately. I started following her posts that had spiritual messages. Then we ran into each other at the Santigold concert at the Van Buren. Shortly after that, I spotted her business card in my favorite coffee shop: Esso Coffeehouse and Roastery. And lately, I've tuned in for some of her Monday tarot readings on Facebook. I do believe in synchronicity, and I think our crossing paths is meaningful. I'm trying to listen to what messages might be helpful--and this is a challenge for me because of reasons that would make another blog post or 200. Regardless, I've been seeking balance, and Tarrin has provided some hope to me. 

     Another is Sara. Sara is a talented athlete from a team I coached in 2011. She has just started a business in personal training with a small home gym. Sara's business social media is filled with inspiring photos of women working out, encouraging messages laid over her business logo, and thoughtful words of encouragement in her posts. Folks, I'm not even there working out with her, and I am finding inspiration from her and what she's doing. I have made some changes in my life--also regarding balance--and I am crediting Sara partly for those changes. 

When the Student Becomes the Teacher 

     There is a trust between teacher and student, unspoken. Students become vulnerable and open themselves up to learning and, as part of learning, failing. The teacher is vulnerable when she tries her best but may also sometimes fail and fail in front of a lot of people. Or expose herself as a giant nerd. The list could go on. But I find myself listening better when as a student, I have that trust--trust in the expertise of my teachers and trust that they have my best interests in mind and want to see me succeed. Some of that trust I give to teachers immediately because I don't know them, but I trust the profession. Tarrin and Sara get all of the trust because there is a history and, importantly, a relationship. How powerful is the combination of trust, relationship, and inspiration in changing lives.

     It is truly a pleasure getting to learn from those I once taught. It really is the best feeling.

5 Lessons from Puppy Training

My partner and I recently rescued a sweet puppy who we eventually named Willow (It took about a week to come to that consensus). She was three months old and cute as can be! Like most any puppy, she spent most of her time being adorable, sleeping, and misbehaving. I have never met a dog who loves rocks and sticks more than Willow! When she would find a new rock or stick, our go to was to snap a picture not correct the behavior, so clearly we could not be trusted to be responsible to train her by ourselves. we decided that puppy class was the right fit for us. The following is a list of five lessons in no particular order from puppy class that are helpful reminders for all instructors:

1. Consistency Matters

I am not sure if I need to expand on this because I think we all know that this is true in the classroom but having a puppy has made it even more abundantly clear the need for consistent messaging. If we don’t say and do things in the same way then Willow is lost just like our students are if we fail to be consistent.

2. Praise/Feedback Must Be Timely

In puppy class, you teach a command and reward when the command is completed by acknowledging the behavior and rewarding it. You correct a misfire by redirecting the puppy to the behavior you desire and then reward and praise the when the desired outcome is completed. The praise/feedback or redirection must be timely to be effective just like feedback and grades for students must be timely to be effective.

3. Differentiate Instruction

When training a puppy you attach both a verbal command and a gesture to the desired behavior. You also scaffold more complex outcomes by building on more basic commands. Breaking ideas or lessons into more digestible pieces for students that can be built on to learn bigger concepts is important. We must also differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students by presenting information in a variety of ways.

4. Ask for Help

We could not have trained our puppy on our own due to our aforementioned affinity for rewarding bad behaviors. We needed the community of other dog owners and our dog trainer. Collaboration with others can only make us better teachers. We must discuss our shortcomings, our strengths, and ideas with others to benefit our students.

5. Have Fun

Puppies like students are a joy! Teaching and learning are fun!


Is it our job to teach students responsibility?

I may be a week behind (almost)… I blame login challenges. I think I’ve got it now.
I want to respond to the question about teaching students responsibility. I have been reading a lot of Aristotle lately for a philosophies of higher education course, and I feel like I’m seeing different sides to this concept–perhaps, different applications of ethics.
What is fresh in my mind is the idea that yes, we should be helping our students build character and prepare for “the real world” in as many ways as we possibly can. This means holding them accountable for things like turning in assignments, and getting them in on time. We should also hold students accountable for paying their tuition and fees and taking care of holds on their accounts, etc.
On the other hand, I feel like there are right and wrong applications of upholding this standard of accountability. At a recent day-long training session I attended, I heard from many different administrators from colleges all around our district about account holds, financial aid conditions and other related student finance issues. It seems that we have some policies in place that actually counteract or contradict our goals to increase student enrollment and better aide students in signing up for their class schedules. I understand we need students to figure out for themselves how to fund their education, but punishing them by dropping them from all their courses or not allowing them to add and plan a schedule for next semester based on some small library, lab or parking fine seems to me to be counter-intuitive to the greater goal, which is student success (whether that be defined as retention, completion, or the student’s individual, personal growth).
I’m neither an anarchist nor a lazy-student apologist, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite, either. I’m still not over the time when I was 17 years old and my math instructor at MCC dropped me from class on my 3rd absence,even though I was getting a B and had no missing assignments. I had paid for that class out of pocket, and getting dropped knocked me to less-than full-time enrollment and messed up my financial aid for the next semester. It was a hard and costly lesson to learn. I think of that moment every time I’m faced with issuing a W for non-attendance, and I try to reach out to the student before making that move.


Teaching Inspiration En Pointe

As I push my grocery cart through Safeway, a song from The Killers pipes through the speakers:

Are we human
Or are we dancer?

As a former dancer, I am forever intrigued by those lyrics. Why can’t we be both? This song brings me back to the early 80’s when I was a dance major in college. Picture leg warmers . . . an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt . . . a super-high ponytail on just one side. The movie Flashdance came out during my sophomore year. Yeah, I was a “manic, maniac!

After just two years of twirling in academia, though, I changed my major to education and went on to teach kindergarten through college for the next 34 years. Yet, who I am as a teacher now is greatly shaped by my college dance professors who embraced both their art and their students. From them, I learned the importance of consistency, enthusiasm, and genuineness in teaching – qualities I didn’t learn in any formal education course.

First, there was Sybil. She may have had a last name, but she was simply Sybil to us. She piled her white-blonde hair in a bun and her flowy scarves trailed behind her. Most humans walk to get from one place to another, but Sybil glided. Her interactions with her students also had that same smooth quality.

My personal tendency is not-so-much to glide as to sprint through the day. But, when I think of Sybil I slow myself down. My students have stresses of their own; there is no need for me to compound what they are going through. In fact, I now recognize what Sybil was doing was co-regulating with her students. In slowing her speech and deepening her breaths, she encouraged students to do the same without uttering a directive.

Sybil was consistent, which provided stability for all of us. She once advised us to “check your troubles at the stage door.” In other words, have boundaries between the emotional drama-du-jour and the work of being a dancer. In my teaching, I release my problems at the classroom door à la Sybil. I have a much better day as a result, and I can always pick up my worries again after class if I want. More importantly, my students have a steady force in me, too.

Then, there was Donna. Donna didn’t glide, she bounced. My visions of her involve her leaping, twirling, and smiling all the while. She was tiny with sassy-short hair, but it seemed like she could stop an oncoming train if needed. Her passion and strength were and are inspirational to me. I remember what it felt like to be on the other side of that enthusiasm, and it is something I strive to bring to my class every day (even when teaching my stats students about “failing to reject the null hypothesis”).

Finally, there was Patty. Patty defied the pressures to be uncomfortably thin as a dancer. Rather, you had the sense that she could really enjoy some good barbecue. But no matter, she could launch herself through space like no other. And she used her body to not only fly but to ground herself deeply to the earth. Patty loved dance, and she wasn’t about to let anyone tell her she wasn’t doing it right simply because of her size.  She was confident and true to herself, and this is something I strive to bring to my teaching.

To be sure, not all my dance teachers were inspirations. The professor who told me to lose weight when I was already thin. The TA who literally threw a book at me when I forgot to bring mine to class. The ballet teacher who ruled cruelly . . .

In all, I learned from my dance professors that the person who is the teacher is just as important as any teaching technique. Author Parker Palmer wrote, “We teach who we are.” Sybil, Donna, and Patty were the most human of dancers, and it is that humanity I want to bring to my teaching each and every day.

The post Teaching Inspiration En Pointe appeared first on My Love of Learning.

Future Focused: A Glendale Community College Value

Written by Dr. Krysten Pampel & Dr. Ashley Nicoloff

One of the top GCC values a faculty needs to be successful is being future-focused. When thinking of future-focused faculty some characteristics come to mind: (1) life-long learner, (2) the desire to stay relevant, and (3) willing to change things up in their teaching and mindset.

As defined by GCC, future-focused is enhancing innovative and forward-thinking perspectives and approaches to prepare students for evolving educational, workforce, and societal needs.

Faculty that attend to this GCC value might find themselves researching the changing trends in our student population. The GCC CTLE held a Summer Book Club where the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Dr. Jean M. Twenge (link to book) Faculty who employ this value might research their field or content to see the trends in the needs of business and careers associated to their field.

In order to shake up their teaching styles and meet the needs of our every changing student population, future-focused faculty might take the opportunity to participate in the Reimagine Project. The Reimagine Project takes faculty from every discipline (residential and adjunct) and leads them on an in-depth look at 5 different teaching strategies (problem-based, project-based, flipping the classroom, community-based, and learning communities).

Glendale Community College has multiple opportunities to help future-focused faculty grow and find success. Through those efforts, we as faculty can help our students gain a new future-focused view on their education and future careers. One of the opportunities is led by Dr. Gabriela Cojanu in the Business Information Technology Department. She has designed an Innovation Summit where students will learn about entrepreneurship, paths to innovation, and to share their ideas in a “Shark Tank” style competition for cash prizes! (link to flyer)


Hold on tight!

Hold on tight!

Tone:  I want to convey a sense of urgency while still sounding encouraging and helpful

Purpose: Persuade students to carefully consider their time availability to do well

Audience: Students who have registered for an eight-week accelerated hybrid ENG102 course.  I’ll also use similar information for next semester for ENG101.

Context: I was talking with Jackie Wietzke about the mortality rate in my ENG101 eight-week accelerated hybrid.  Students didn’t realize how much writing they would be doing in a short amount of time, and about half withdrew in the first week.  We were brainstorming the “if only they knew” ideas that might help them think about whether this class is a fit for them at this time.

Good morning,  You’re registered for ENG102, and I look forward to seeing you in just a few weeks.  You’ve successfully passed ENG101, and I know you want to do well in ENG102.  

Do you know that you’ve signed up for a hybrid?  I don’t want there to be any surprises. 

Here are some tips to help you prepare to be successful in our eight-week accelerated hybrid course format:

  • Review your work and personal schedule to ensure that you can attend ALL classes.  Students who miss class don’t catch up easily.
  • Identify thirty minutes a day EVERY DAY that you’ll be able to access Canvas and Google docs to read instructions, get feedback, and make a plan for your workload.
  • Be sure that you’re comfortable with the Notifications, Calendar, and other aspects of Canvas that help you stay organized.
  • Identify two hours FOUR TIMES a week that you’ll be able to work on rough drafts.
  • Identify thirty minutes a day FIVE TIMES a week that you’ll be able to work on short assignments.
  • You’re writing a research paper, and most students need an hour EVERY DAY to keep up gathering information.
  • Identify two hours EACH WEEK that you’ll be able to revise and edit your final papers.  These are worth 50% of your grade.

To learn more, consider visiting one of my accelerated classes sometime in the next few weeks.  We meet in HT2 157 from 12:00 – 3:15 p.m. You can talk to current GCC students who have figured out their own time management strategies for success.  

Many students decide not to do an eight-week format because they don’t realize how intense the writing requirements can be.  If that’s you, please withdraw ASAP as I currently have a waiting list of students who want to attend.


The Big Picture

As another episode of 6 X 6 begins, it is appropriate that we start with the topic of inspiration. If given the opportunity, this idea can momentarily draw our focus away from today’s to-do list and inspire us to look at the Big Picture.

From the Circulation Desk in the GCC Library, I have an amazing view of the Big Picture. If I pay attention, I can watch a preview of the future parading in front of me. It usually begins when a student requests a textbook at the Circulation counter. This simple encounter inspires me to imagine how many people this student will help in the future. For a few seconds, I think about what career she might pursue. The positive effect of this individual’s efforts to study at GCC could someday benefit countless others.

If I expand this Big Picture idea, I realize I play an important role in the GCC cycle of student success. My college experience started at GCC and involved countless hours of homework here in the library. As a student, I was primarily focused on my daily to-do list of assignments. At the time, I did not realize the ideas and inspiration I was developing at GCC would eventually lead me back to work in this building. Now I am proud to be part of the GCC staff. Today on this side of the circulation desk, I have a different to-do list and a more expansive view of the Big Picture. From where I sit, there is no shortage of inspiration.


Is It Our Job to Teach Students Responsibility in College?

I spend a lot of time each semester revising and updating my syllabus. Some say “a syllabus functions as a contract between you and your students.” So I feel it’s best to have my policies in place and make them clear for students upfront, so there’s no misunderstanding down the road once we’ve started. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty generous late work policy to help alleviate much of the stress that comes along with the unexpected emergencies that pop up during a semester, yet I truly believe that part of what I’m teaching my students is responsibility and how to properly deal with such situations. Having a strict no late work policy only teaches students that life truly does suck sometimes, and there’s not much you can do about it. My motto for students is “no one late assignment is going to kill your grade.” So suck it up, deal with your emergency, get your late assignment in, and accept the responsibility for it all and the late penalty. Move on. Emergencies don’t happen weekly.

My late policy for assignments and essays is 10% off for each day it is late, up to a week late. After 5 days it’s just a straight 50% off. After a week, the assignment or essay can not be submitted for credit. This policy does not apply to discussions or peer-review assignments, as they both require students to engage with one another, and you can’t really do that after the discussion has ended, so no late work for those. I give students several reminders about this policy and missing work. The day after the assignment is due, the assignment is given a 0, and I send a notification to students reminding them that they missed an assignment and what the late policy is. I encourage them to submit the missing work right away. Let’s go! You got this.

Generally this process and policy work out well; however, there are times when it just doesn’t. If students don’t understand or value the importance of being on time or submitting work on time, they make little effort to do so, especially if there are no consequences. If an assignment deadline is merely a suggestion, very few will submit it at that time. I gave students an option once. They could submit their essay drafts by Thursday, and if they did so, I would provide full feedback on the draft with which they could then revise the draft and submit the final draft by Mondy night. If they didn’t want that option, the final draft was just due on Sunday night. No feedback. No extra day. I got two papers submitted on Thursday, two surprisingly submitted on Friday (wasn’t an option), 10 submitted on Sunday, one submitted late on Monday, and two not submitted at all. All 15 papers submitted could have benefited from another round of revision, but only two got that opportunity.

The only way I can see to teach students responsibility is to provide clear expectations and consequences, hold them accountable for those class policies, and reward and praise them when they are being responsible. In the scenario above, the two students who took advantage of the opportunity to revise with feedback obviously did well on their final essays. Students don’t get that option anymore; it’s all built into the process, like a forced acquiescence so to speak. If drafts are submitted, feedback is provided and time to revise and edit is given. If they are not, points are deducted, minimal feedback is provided, and there is less time to revise and edit. Essay grades clearly reflect which path is chosen and hopefully, students are learning what it takes to write good essays as well as how to be responsible for their part in the learning process.