Category Archives: Write6x6

My Dream Class

One of my dream class to teach before I retire, hopefully, will be a class where I explore and share my experience with my students about studying abroad, while learning strategies to learn a foreign language. I would like to find a group of colleagues or students who will be willing to conduct an inventory, study the culture of the country for two weeks, and then travel to this country for 2 more weeks, and come back to the classroom to analyze what we all have learned. I believe this class could be called something like: Maximizing Learning Abroad. The 3 credits can then be applied to different fields like Humanities, Geography, History, Languages, etc. The experiences and knowledge, a person obtains while being abroad are countless. Among the most important are:
a. Immersing yourself in the culture and language
b. Have a better understanding and appreciation for the nation’s people and history
c. Sharpen your language skills
d. Get better career opportunities
e. Find new interests
f. Make livelong friends
g. Explore, discover and adapt
h. Sharpen problem solving techniques
This will be my dream class!


I Have to Get Out More–with Gratitude

For a few days now, I’ve been thinking about how to write this blog, what to write in it, whether or not to name names. Because we work with so many outstanding people, I’m afraid of leaving someone out. Because words fail sometimes, I’m afraid of not really truly conveying how grateful I am to work here at GCC. I mean the courses-through-your-body kind of gratitude. Surely, the climate here in the Valley of the Sun is grand, and it’s springtime, and life is gorgeously budding right now, filling the air with the sweetness of jasmine and orange blossom. It’s true that we have a library which boasts some unbelievably world-renowned artists.

But it’s not only the environment or the students, it’s the people–our co-workers–that inspire my gratitude daily. I’ve never in my life worked with people whose integrity is so high that it makes me check mine to make sure it’s equal. I’ve never worked with people who care so deeply about their co-workers while still being respectful of personal space. I have always enjoyed teaching and have been thankful that I found a place in higher education. Coming here four years ago from a smaller institution that was out of state, it took longer to get to know people and find my niche than I thought it would. But what I learned has been most important: it was worth the wait. The connections I have made here at GCC have been invaluable to me as a person and a teacher, allowing me to grow in so many ways.

The older I grow, the more things I learn about myself with clarity:

  1. I am a lifelong learner, and allowing myself to be one is vital to my well being.
  2.  I am an absolute introvert, only playing an extrovert when working with students and co-workers.  Work takes most of my extroverted capabilities, and I’m otherwise likely to avoid being social, especially during this past year when life has been more challenging for me personally.

This is how I realized these very essential things about myself in the fourth decade of my life: though working here at GCC where I have found so many opportunities to belong, better myself, and become the best me I can. I can take fitness classes and be supported by those whom I work with (thanks Louise and Margo!); I can attend Weight Watchers meetings right in the middle of my week and be supported by others who are endeavoring towards a similar goal as I have; I can take weekly Wednesday CTLE walks (thank you Dawna and Meghan!) and have interesting and fun conversations with co-workers while stretching my legs.  All of these opportunities have allowed me to grow in small but steady ways and, over time, to make meaningful connections with the people I work with.  I imagine that if I worked somewhere else I might eventually have these self-insights, but working at GCC has allowed me overt opportunities to find this clarity, and these opportunities come from you– those whom I work with and who are reading this blog. That is a mighty big gift to receive  from one’s co-workers and place of employment.

Tuesday of this week felt unseasonably cold for swimming, which is what I often do on Tuesdays at 11:30. I thought to myself: If you’re not going to swim, you better get out and get some exercise.  So I took a walking tour of campus. I made myself leave my office chair, go away from the virtual piles of papers waiting to be graded on Canvas, and walk out into the sunshine and 72 degrees.

As I walked about campus, I noticed all kinds of things I don’t notice when I’m rushing to a meeting or to class.  I noticed, for example, the tree that has fuzzy round blossoms that smell like peaches.  I was surprised by the line of cedar trees by the Fine Arts Center. And I kept running into co-workers who said hello, who gave me hugs, who greeted me with warmth and appreciation for my just being at that very place at that very time. Certain people whom I don’t get to see very often inquired about my well being with great concern and specificity (Mark V. and Lori W.) This is when I’m reminded that my introverted self is so at home here at GCC because I am welcomed and appreciated just for being who I am. I don’t know how an organization creates this environment. I don’t know how to replicate it. I just know that it happens here and that I get to be a part of it daily. I receive encouragement when I need it. I have support problem-solving if I need it. I have company for exercise and encouragement (with concrete opportunities) to pursue my passions–writing, creativity, and teaching. Take this blog, for example. Ben and Jerry’s aside, it gives me great satisfaction to contribute in this way to our community and also to read everyone else’s writing. And if I want to be quiet and just put by head down and work, I can do that too.

So this blog ends with immense gratitude. Thank you, each of you reading this, for being a part of the place where I get to learn and develop into my best self every day. Thank you for being caring co-workers.  Thank you for giving me, in just the three days I’ve taken to compose this entry, more meaningful experiences and interactions that I can even recount or record in writing.  But even if I haven’t mentioned them here, be sure that I have taken them all to heart.





The Dance General – A Story of Change

Here’s a story about “change” on many different levels.

Most of my students take my Art of Storytelling class because it is required, and they believe it will be the easiest of the required electives they have from which to choose. They usually come into class “suspicious” of the teacher. Who are they? What do they know? And unconsciously, “will I be able to relate to this teacher?”

In the first class of the semester, I begin by going around the room and asking each student to tell us “why” they are taking this class, aside from the fact that it is “required”. Most of them end up saying “because it is required”, and then I have to pull more out of them.

Then, I tell them about myself…
Here, I could list all of the things I have done, all of my accomplishments, degrees and accolades. I could also tell them, “I am the kind of person who…” and list all of my qualities.

Since I teach storytelling, I try to “teach” the topic by actually telling stories. (The video is a five-minute video recorded live at the Arizona Republic Live Storytelling – 9/15/2011)

Afterwards, I ask them what they know about me now, and do they think they will remember these things? My story “shows” them who I was, how and why I changed, and who I am today. It’s a more compelling way for me to introduce myself to them… as a teacher AND a person. And self-deprecating, humorous stories most always show people that you are “human” and have the ability to laugh at yourself.

This usually changes the way they think about the teacher who is leading the class…and the class itself.


Perfectionism … How it makes me much less than perfect

Nobody is perfect.

You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself.

Your biggest mistake is not making one.

I like to think I’m pretty good at teaching my own children and my students that the best learning happens when we make mistakes. I try to keep them from worrying about messing up, for really, one of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes.

Its hard to practice what I preach though. I think that as teachers, we are often expected to be perfect for everyone. We should set the right expectations, have everything organized just so, know everything there is to know (and then some) about the topic we are teaching, keep students engaged and interested, get everything graded ASAP, and etc. I think that’s why they say the work of a teacher is never done.

A few weeks ago, I heard a little thing on “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” where Neil deGrasse Tyson was answering trivia questions about Cosmetology (not Cosmology or Astronomy or Astrophysics). He answered the questions like any student would, eliminating the possible choices until he arrived at the one he thought was best. Well, he only got one of the three questions right – and he was chided about it (in good fun, of course).

This is how he responded:

“… had I gotten all three right… I would’ve learned nothing. But having gotten two wrong, I learned two things today.”

His response reminded me of something very important. It is by making mistakes that I become a better teacher. What can I learn when things don’t go as well as I expect? It’s all part of the journey. Each time I teach a class, I learn something new. That’s one of the great things about my job. Not everybody gets to do that for a living.

And nobody is perfect. So stop trying to be.


Education, breathing and humor.

Change can seem frustrating when you are on a roll.

Changes in technology, software, management, government, health, family, friends, environment, fashion, and even our own thought process. The list goes on.

Change is stressful, and how we handle change is key to the outcome of our mental and physical health. I want to share three solutions for handling the stress of change.

Education, breathing and humor.

Sometimes it seems easier to just crawl back inside our tortoise shell and live out our existence in peace.  The paper-based days were great until we learned that paper came from trees and trees give us oxygen. So off we trudged to CTLE to figure out how to use technology and not paper. The time investment in education always pays off in the end. If you can find the time…

Leadership changes have been off the charts for our district lately. It can be very discombobulating when you are being steered in one direction and you are just getting comfortable with the status quo when suddenly what was once normal is now history. My therapy for this is to take a deep breath and listen to all of the new perspectives. There is usually a bright side and some of it may not be seen for several years.

The biggest change for me lately has been getting accustomed to the outfits that my 5-year-old daughter insists on choosing for me every morning. For someone who is most comfortable in workout attire, wearing a skirt every day has been interesting. It draws many a curious question.

The hardest part is explaining the color schemes. Red stripes on top of pink flowers could drive someone into a nauseating delirium. Sometimes I have enough time to sneak back home to change before I drive to work, but last Monday I was racing against the clock. So off I went to work in my long sleeved red shirt, flowery pink skirt and black Nike shoes. Rose colored glasses would not have done it justice.

The one time I really wanted to go home and change, I could not, so I had to live with this fashion expression for a day. If you can’t laugh at a situation you would be a mental and physical wreck. Humor is good. I am glad that humor is part of the Irish way of dealing with stress and change. My sense of humor is my built-in superpower that I can take with me any where I go.

So if you are trying to find ways to cope with the stress of change, maybe one of these three techniques will suit your fancy.


Missing Frank

One reason why I love teaching at the college level is because every sixteen weeks or so usher in new classes, a new crop of students, and new possibilities. There’s not really time to get into ruts and coast.

Generally, too, I’m pretty flexible with change. New textbook? We’ll work it in. New course to teach in English? Why, yes, I’ll give it a go.

Some people fear change. What I used to believe I feared more than change were ruts. That said, I’ve had more than my dose of change these past seven months, and with these changes have come the proverbial lessons. However, I’m a life-long student, and, as such, I’m willing to learn.

My father died in July. While he’d been steadily declining for eighteen months, his death still felt unexpected. Since he’s been gone, my entire work life feels different. This was a surprise to me.

However, for my father’s entire career and my entire life time, he worked in higher education as both an academic advisor and an instructor. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended and worked at the university where he worked for over thirty years, Wayne State University, and received half off tuition. My professors were his colleagues, and I worked hard after underachieving spectacularly in high school. My dad was proud of me. I found my niche in the English Department, specifically in creative writing, and I worked on the literary magazine my senior year and did poetry readings about the Detroit area my last two years there. I also minored in anthropology and Spanish. As a social scientist who loved language himself, my choice of studies delighted him.

I continued on to graduate school, and for a little while after I graduated, I even went back to Wayne State and taught English 101 as an adjunct. My dad and I met every Tuesday at a Lebanese restaurant on campus for lunch.

My dad followed my career with great enthusiasm and interest. Even after I moved cross country, he called me at least weekly to check in. My working in academia was absolutely a common ground for us, a way of for us to connect on several levels: intellectually, professionally, even pedagogically. While I don’t think I ever took this connection for granted, I also don’t think I realized how profound it was until it was gone.

When the new academic year started this past August, I wandered around GCC’s campus feeling lost. Even though my dad lived back in the midwest, and I’d been teaching west of the Mississippi since 1999, I still felt his absence acutely. When I received my first full-time faculty position in northwest Colorado, he was so excited that he even helped me drive the U-Haul across five states to get there. When we pulled into the tiny town that sported a community college with dorms and one traffic light, so different than the Bronx he grew up in and the Detroit he worked in for decades, he pulled over on Main Street and said to me philosophically, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to pretend you’re in the Peace Corps.

With my father gone, I had no one to review the batch of new students with, the new semester’s classes, or my latest research or poetry project. At first, I couldn’t understand my own situation. How could a father’s absence feel so acute when daily he lived so far away? I not only felt lost, I also felt confused by my disorientation.

Obviously tbe degree of change varies, and some of how we respond to change has to do with the magnitude of it. When my father was declining and I thought about his being gone, I never considered what effect it would have on me professionally. However, the effect has been large and daily. What I realize only now is this: change, when it’s self-initiated, is a form of control. I can pick my new classes, and often, depending on the course, I can choose my textbooks. Although I don’t pick my course outcomes, I pick the curriculum that helps meet them. But certain changes, the kind we can’t at all control, bring loss and thus grief. And for me grief is the most mysterious of emotions–appearing and then lingering when least expected. This academic year has indeed been a lesson for me in change–the hardest kind. The kind, I guess, that makes me more independent and, inevitably, a stronger person. But it’s also the kind I wish I didn’t have to face.





And There They Went…

During my Lunar New Year Celebration, I could not recruit any international students to do the fashion show.  In an act of desperation, I asked my Spanish students to help me present some very fancy and beautiful Chinese outfits.  I was able to get 8 students who, for 25 extra points toward the class,  would go on stage and model.   I have never seen a group of 8 so excited about going on stage with some Chinese fancy outfits.  Only 4 were able to make it to rehearsal the night before the event, but the day of the event, they just knew what to do.  The 4 who had gone to the rehearsal instructed the other 4; and on stage, they looked like professional models.  I have attached some pictures for your enjoyment.  I learned that sometimes the most spontaneous actions come across as the most prepared, and rehearsed ones.  After I saw my 8 heroes on stage, I sighed and thought to myself, why worry so much about every single detail?  Life is too short!unnamed


Using Social Media to Collaborate and Spread Love

That title is so vague, right? Well if you’re reading, it worked. Next week is Open Education Week, and as part of the Maricopa Millions Steering team, I will be using social media to help share all the love for OER we have in Maricopa. My job is to organize the team to get our word out using the hashtag #openeducationwk. Let’s just say that is an impossible job, but I’ve got this. I have a great plan to make this work. So here’s what we want to happen. It might be similar to what you might want to happen in a class. We have 12 people on the committee. Everyone is responsible for writing at least one tweet and a blog post in one of these five areas:

  1. What is OER? 
  2. How do I find OER? 
  3. Faculty experiences developing OER,
  4. Faculty experiences with using OER, and
  5. FAQs.

We then want to tweet and post all that content using the designated hashtag. We’ll be using the same Twitter handle @MaricopaOER and posting to the same blog:, but having everyone logging in using the same credentials can get quite messy, plus you risk the chance of someone just messing the whole thing up. So I set up a shared Google Doc with all five categories and the names of those responsible for each category and then left a blank spot for each to fill in their contribution. Here’s an example below:

  • Faculty experiences developing OER – Sian Proctor, Alisa Cooper
    • Tweet
    • Blog/Email:
    • Tweet:
    • Blog/Email:

TwufferEveryone knows how to work in a shared document, so this step was a breeze. The team has been adding their tweets and blog posts to the document. Next I started scheduling the tweets and blogs posts to go out in a timely manner next week because no one person has time to be tweeting and blogging all day, every day for a week, right? So we used Twuffer to schedule our tweets to go out 2-3 a day for a week at 10:00 am, noon, and 2pm. Twuffer allows the Twitter user to compose a list of future tweets, and schedule their release. We have 14 schedule so far, and I had my work study student set all this up.

For the blog posts, we are using our WordPress blog, so there’s a feature in there to schedule blog posts. Just cut & paste the content from the shared doc into a blog post, add the appropriate title, tags, and categories and then choose the day and time you want it to go out. We’ll be posting blogs every day at 9:00am and noon if we get enough posts. That’s a hint if anyone from the steering team is reading.

Finally for an added bonus, WordPress gives you the opportunity to automatically tweet out your blog post every time you post. So what that means is when the blog posts go out an additional tweet gets sent too. The tweet automatically sends the Title of the post and a link for people to read it. I had to go in and add the hashtag for open ed week, so those tweets will be a part of our arsenal next week too. Below is an example of what auto tweets from a blog look like. This is from our Write6x6 blog posting to our CTLE twitter account. Our WordPress stats show that many people click through from Twitter to read our blog. That’s because of these auto tweets.

Tweet from Blog

So we’re all set for Open Ed Week next week. If you want to follow us or all the tweets about open education week. Click through to Twitter by clicking the links in the previous sentence. Or maybe you can think of a way to set something up like this for your students to tweet and blog together about a special topic in your class.


Two (Very) Brief Reflections on How We Bide Our Time

Leap day came and went in a blink. So did leap month. February escaped me.

What have I learned?

I have learned that if you get sucked into your routine, you won’t actually accomplish anything. You might think you have done something, but you have nothing juicy to show for it.

When you wake up in the morning, do you immediately reach for your phone, check your email and spend 20 minutes responding to other people’s agendas? Yup, me too.

Experts recommend that you take this time to look at your own personal and professional goals and decide which action item you are going to spend time on. Plan to be creative, solve problems and be energized by that awesome feeling of accomplishment.

I passionately read in Brendon Burchard’s The Motivation Manifesto, that if you want to slow time, you have to actually pause and reflect. I love this. It is so simple! Hold this moment for two extra beats to “amplify your senses.” You will begin to notice things that you never saw or felt before. Please enjoy this excerpt from p. 229:

“Do not breathe so quickly. Take in air for two beats longer.

Do not scan the room. Sense the room by gazing into each shadow and corner for two beats longer.

Do not merely glance at her. Look into her eyes and hold them for two beats longer.

Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.

Do not send the heartless note. Read it once more and spend two beats longer sensing the pain it may cause another.

Do not give a perfunctory kiss goodbye while juggling everything on the way out the door. Make the kiss count, make it firm and solid and true, holding the moment passionately for two beats longer.”

Tomorrow is March 1st. Another opportunity for new beginnings. Leap forward and try something that moves you to the next level of awesomeness!


Appreciations – Driven Home by a Sixth Grader

To the logical, pragmatic, no-nonsense, Type-A personality that I am, the concept of appreciations in storytelling (or teaching) was initially lost on me. It felt like a “nicey-nicey-fluff-give-them-positive-first-but-doesn’t-help-teach-them-or-move-them-to-change” process. Why not just tell them what they need to change? Enough of the touchy-feely stuff. Give them meat to chew on.

My first formal storytelling teacher kept giving people appreciations in class, no suggestions or critiques, just appreciations. And he really meant it too. It wasn’t just lip service. I thought this was OK for the first few weeks of class, but when was he going to get to “telling people how they need to change and improve”? As the weeks went on, I began to try to follow his lead. I was quite surprised to find that it was easy to find something to appreciate about every telling.

Then I attended a workshop with long-time teller and storytelling coach. He spoke of how his father gave him constant praise, even for the smallest things, from birth, and throughout his life. It made me think of my own father who could pick out the one mistake I made and focus on that negative aspect of my effort. It made me think about my eighth-grade teacher who embarrassed me in front of the whole class with his condemning critique of a book report I had written. It made me think of how I critique both others, and myself.

A small part of me, the therapist and a mediator, began to understand appreciations, at least on a psychological level. Reinforcing positive behavior helps people repeat that positive behavior. I began to make a change. I tried to “give praise” wherever I could. I was conscious of really looking for the positive aspects of what I saw, and letting people know what I appreciated about what they had done.

Then I met Anthony. Anthony was a cherub-faced sixth grader at a school I visited to tell stories and talk about storytelling. The students had already done some storytelling and the teacher wanted the class to demonstrate to me what they had learned. Anthony eagerly raised his hand and volunteered to be the first to tell his story.

He stood before the class and began. He was a little nervous, but told a good story. Oh, he paced back and forth and didn’t always face forward and look at his audience. And as he was telling, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Anthony was me!

Yes, I did see myself in that eleven year-old boy; eager, creative, excited, longing for acknowledgment and praise. I thought, how can I say anything negative about his telling? What good would that accomplish? I felt that even one tiny “constructive suggestion” might bruise his young ego and only send him into a labyrinth of self-doubt. And then the second wave came over me. Are our adult egos any less fragile than Anthony’s? I think not.

It was then that I began to understand appreciations on an emotional level. There have been adult students and colleagues who have said, “Just tell me the bad things.” I, myself have even said that in the past. And yet, behind the bravado that purports to be strong and only wants a critique, stands a delicate ego, deeply longing for praise and acceptance. And it is the praise and acceptance that supports their growth and learning.

So the next time that you hear someone tell a story, have a student give an answer, have a student try, I hope you see Anthony…
and then, perhaps, yourself… and then give an appreciation.