In Cat Puke and Making a Difference

 

How do I make a difference?

That’s a difficult question on a difficult day.
My day began this morning, early, when I stuck my elbow in cat throw up. Before I realized what I had done, I managed to rub the tender pink puke all over my black pants.

I changed pants and reported to my 8:30 a.m. ENG 091 class where I had to face my students with professionalism and aplomb. I had to keep in mind the new best practices I was learning for active engagement through the recent MCLI LearnShop in Scottsdale when all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Besides the cat puke, I have custody issues for my youngest son weighing on my mind. I am Out of Sorts. I do not want to be In Charge today.

I don’t know how I make a difference. I’ve been teaching at the college level for over twenty years now, and I still can’t answer that question. But here’s what I do know: that I *do* make a difference. It’s just really difficult to articulate how because my job is to arm my students with the necessary writing skills they need as they go out into the world. Once they’re out there, I only know what’s going on when they check back in, and that only happens every so often.

Still, I say this: teaching is an act of faith. To me, it’s as much an act of faith as taking Communion on Sunday or observing Lent. It’s as much an act of faith as raising one’s child to be the best person he can be and hoping it’ll work out when he or she is twenty-two and living in another city.

How I make a difference, I think, is by believing this, by believing that I make a difference, however it is that I do it. *What* I do doesn’t make nearly the difference that my mindset and belief allows me to make. That’s where the power is, and it’s where and how I make my decisions–through my utter belief in that which I cannot articulate. Professional development? Yes, please. A conference that takes me away from my family? Yes, please. An MCLI workshop that forces me to drive an hour in rush-hour traffic in a direction I never go in? Yes, please. I accept these opportunities for professional growth because even though I don’t know specifically how I make a difference, I know, deep down, that I do. And that’s what keeps me moving forward semester after semester, year after year, even on the rare days that begin with inadvertent submersion of my elbow into a pile of waiting cat puke.

The month I hated my job

 
Academia is an exceptionally satisfying and yet frustrating place to work. In no other industry can someone be so incredibly involved in guiding societal change while being so radically adverse to workplace transitions. Because of this, for four weeks, I found myself hating my job. I had not only run my ship ashore, I had lost cargo, sent passengers overboard and shredded the sails!

 

When I look back on that month of self-pity and consternation, I realize it was self-inflicted. My happiness and satisfaction is my problem. Relying on others to “shape up or ship out” so I didn’t have to be aggravated or have difficult conversations was unrealistic and irrational. Rather than allowing my ship to sink, I had to learn to cope, which led to leading.

 

First, though, I had to recognize the problem. It’s these down and out moments, that trusted colleagues come in handy. Given trust and permission, they gently point out the obvious: The problem was me. One such friend handed me a book about pride. Pride! Really?! Yes, really. As I read the book, I learned the difference between being proud and having pride. And damn, if I wasn’t indeed wrestling with that beast! I had no idea. To be proud of your accomplishments is one thing, but pride, at its root, translates to: I need to know it all, do it all, fix it all – without asking for help (mayday! mayday!).

 

It was time to cope. It was time to retire this ship called Pride.

 

Pride Point 1: Patching the ship. Gradually, like a slow erosion, I lost sight of what was my job and what was someone else’s job. My job, like most directors, is to steer the ship. Period.

 

My boss, the president, sets the coordinates for the destination. We head in that direction on our respective vessels. It’s my job to strategically get my ship to the destination with the resources at hand and provide the tools for my team to “get ‘er done.” In actuality, I was steering the ship, checking the coordinates, making sure everyone had their oars, making sure they liked their oars; and do they like their oaring partners? Oh, and are there holes in the ship? Where are the holes? Do they need to be patched? Do we have materials to patch? Who needs to do the patching? Guess what… That’s not. my. job.

 

It IS my job to make sure everyone knows we are headed in the right direction and watch for icebergs. It’s the supervisor’s job to let me know if there are holes in the ship, where the holes
are, and if we aren’t going to arrive to our destination on time. There are other people on campus who are experts in repair (when did I suddenly become a craftsman??). It’s the staff’s job to nudge one another and say, “What’s the problem? We are all rowing in this direction; why aren’t you?”

 

So, I finally let go. After four weeks of wondering how I was going to do it all, be it all and still get other priorities accomplished, I let go. I charged my staff with manning the oars. Handing over freedom was very… well…freeing.

 

Pride Point 2: Buy-in Blues. Academia has a wonderful phrase called “buy-in.” Frequently, I need to get buy-in from several groups of stakeholders before I move forward with a project. Most days that’s fine. Other days, somehow, I let it get to me. In general, most of my team’s projects and efforts are lauded and appreciated. But for a month, I let the naysayers get the best of me.

 

For a month, I spun my wheels trying to make sure everyone was on board this ship before it sailed. While it’s important to gather the people to the ship, some are determined to wave from the shore (or maybe they aren’t waving!) no matter the direction or outcome.

 

Gratefully, I serve under leadership that recognizes buy-in can occasionally be unfair; then they talk me down off the plank. I told my boss about the effort I had expended to communicate change, to rally the sailors, and head in a successful direction. Some people, no matter what, will never get on board. So, with my boss’ blessing, I let. it. go.

 

Pride Point 3: Forgetting gifts. Jobs are gifts (many of you may roll your eyes as you read this). That’s entirely easy to forget when the day comes to an end and I look like a wrung-out cat because I’ve spent countless hours juggling too many tasks with too few hours in the day. For a month, I hated my job because I took it all internally. What I had ceased to do was actually bolster my own sails.

 

I work with a truly fantastic crew. What I absolutely love is the camaraderie we have. How many people can say that? When did I forget I wasn’t alone in these day-to-day frustrations? These are the people who have supported and championed me for nearly 5 years. Together, we have experienced some harrowing moments, worrisome moments and embarrassing moments.

 

A year ago, when my sister was diagnosed with cancer, my colleagues were rallying not only for me, but for my sister – whom they had never even met. My team picked up my work duties, braced me from stress and sent gifts when I was out-of-state caring for her. The executive leadership stood in the gap for me, helping with copious paperwork, challenges and dilemmas. In that span of a year, I was given the gift of what it means to be a colleague instead of focusing on the daily grind. I let it all sink in and then I let. it. go.

 

Pride Point 4: Of mountains and molehills. It’s tiring keeping the fleet afloat all alone! Among the buy-in battle, forgetting gifts and patching the ship, I managed to convince myself all the molehills were actually mountains. I found myself exhausted trying to scale every single mountain. For a month I wasn’t just the champion of someone else’s fight, I took over their fight! Something inside me decided every issue was a cause for mutiny.

 

I was doing the very thing that drives us all nuts: Getting involved in minutia where I wasn’t needed or qualified (which essentially causes a mess due to miscommunication and conjecture). There’s a reason we have well-trained staff in a number of areas. So many times we get riled up over a perceived wrong, when in reality we don’t have the facts, the patience or the expertise. I readjusted my sails and remembered to trust others to do their job so I can do mine. Then, well, you guessed it: I let. it. go.

 

The perspective I grabbed was this: If I just remember we are all part of the same crew, rowing toward the same destination, my sail doesn’t feel so windless after all.

Sharing Success

 

Student Success is a frequent topic and a constant influence in higher education. It has a multitude of meanings stemming from a student’s idea of what makes them successful to administration gauging the rates of graduates from year to year. But what does Student Success mean to me or other staff members who are not involved in the decision making process and do not have frequent or direct interactions with students? How can you be a part of making students successful? For me it’s going the extra mile to help others when needed. Whether it’s helping someone navigate through our system over the phone or offering training sessions to other employees. Going that extra mile to assist someone promotes student success without directly interacting with students. GCC’s success is dependent on its members and if we can’t take the time to help each other when needed, then how can we be there for our students. Success can be contagious if only we can learn to share.

I believe in you.

 

6th grade. I don’t even remember her name, but my 6th grade teacher commended me on using the correct too (two/to/too).   It was at that point I felt that what I had to say (and write) in class mattered.  It set a standard for me academically; and I didn’t want to be less than what the teacher said I was (smart!).

I wish I could remember her name and thank her for believing in me more than I did.

Walk 1-4

 

After being in CPD150 Learning Communities with my counselor colleagues, I’ve learned that an important part of college success is connecting with others through campus activities.  I offer extra credit to encourage students to attend.  Here are two recent promotions:

Freedom Riders:  Could you get on the bus?  Thursday, February 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Come see another segment of the Created Equal Film Series.  The showing will be in the Student Union.  You may earn up to ten (10) extra credit points for participating in this event and writing a short summary/reflection.  You may upload your reflection to the Extra Credit assignment page in Canvas.

Extra Credit for Gaucho Spirit

Gaucho Women’s Basketball is coming to the end of their season and the following games will be played here at Glendale Community College!

Tonight vs. Scottsdale CC – 5:30 pm (WBB) & 7:30 pm (MBB)
Saturday, 1/31 vs. Pima College – 2:00 pm (WBB) & 4:00 pm (MBB)
Wednesday, 2/4 vs. Mesa CC – 5:30 pm (WBB) & 7:30 pm (MBB).

Women’s basketball is competing for a playoff spot, and has 4​th​ time player of the week recipient, Caitlyn Hetrick.

All games are FREE to GCC students. Just show your ID.

You can earn extra credit for coming out to show your support. Two (2) points extra credit per game. Take a photo of the final scoreboard or get something signed by a GCC employee AFTER the game.

Go, Gauchos!

 

Exercise is Medicine

 

Exercise is Medicine.  

There is no magic pill, except the kind that you see depicted in the image below.

whatsyourmed_forweb-01

Exercise is Medicine is a global initiative that was created by the American Medical Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. In a nutshell, they want doctors to recognize physical activity as a vital sign.  So next time you visit the doctor, don’t be surprised if you are quizzed on the amount of physical activity you are doing.

The value of this overarching message is everywhere around us. At the community college, it can be seen at every level of learning and it impacts every single one of us.  A healthy employee and a healthy student is the best recipe for college success.

Teaching: As faculty, are we taking the time to look after ourselves so we can serve our students at our optimal ability? SPICES stands for social, physical, intellectual, career, emotional, and spiritual wellness.  This is an ongoing journey, not a destination.

Learning: Students who engage in regular physical activity will benefit from improved selective visual attention (SVA), which experts agree is the key to learning.

Student Success: Regular participation in physical activity is a determinant of student success.  There are literally thousands of studies on this topic.

Trend Toward Inactivity in the Workplace: When we add online teaching and learning to our list of responsibilities, the amount of sitting time increases exponentially. In 1950, 30% of Americans worked in high-activity occupations. By 2000, only 22% worked in high-activity occupations. Conversely, the percentage of people working in low-activity occupations rose from about 23 to 41%.
Source: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/physical-activity-and-obesity/

Check out this infographic on Sitting is Killing You to see why inactivity is a concern for your overall health.

Do you believe exercise is important?  Please take the following survey.  The results will be shared in next week’s blog post.  Survey: My Benefits of Physical Activity.

See you next week!

 

 

Connection

 

While we often think of student success in academic terms like persistence, completion or matriculation, the real word to define student success is “connection.” Do you remember your college days when that one staff member (faculty, advisor, cafeteria worker etc) reached out to you in a way that none other had? Someone who showed a real interest in your talent, your progress, your life? In my case, it was David Langley, Director of Residence Life, who took me under his wing and with great encouragement, helped me to see the path in student affairs where my early career began. We all had one or more college staffer who went above and beyond to ensure that you felt important, had a plan and the support of the college through his or her voice. That is exactly what it is like for our students as well.

Each time a student tells me about their GCC story, it always involves someone who simply took an interest in their work, their plan, their struggles, their triumphs and nurtured them along the way because they wanted to, with no expectation of external reward. When a student feels they are cared for, it gives them the extra boost, the extra self- confidence, to complete the assignment, finish the course and move on to the next semester.

Showing you care about a student is the kind of overture that goes on every day at GCC. And we are known by the “high touch” reputation that only faculty and staff can demonstrate regularly. My words of advice are to keep it up and let it become contagious within your department, in the divisions and across the college so that each student will say with a smile,” I feel like I was SOMEBODY at GCC because they actually cared about me. “ CONNECTION!

Walk 1-3

 

Our Teacher Education Program has created a Canvas course as a communication tool.  Events are posted as Discussions.  Here is a recent one that I created:

Spring Teacher Education 101 Night: For anyone considering K – 12 teaching as a pathway to personal fulfillment! Tuesday, February 10, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Join your friends for an informative evening with experts from K – 12 school districts and a variety of teacher education colleges and universities.  You will learn new information to help you choose your transfer program.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
GCC Student Union 104E

Let others know if you’re attending by posting a response to this Discussion.  Bring a friend.  We’ll have snacks!

If you have any questions, please contact the staff in the Teacher Education Program. (Links to an external site.)

 

Milo and Dilbert

 

*Milo, a GCC F-1 visa student, stuck his head into my office in the international education program one day and said, “Can I see you for a second?” He closed the door behind him (an unusual act unless there is a highly serious issue to discuss) so I was expecting the worst. But instead, Milo asked, “What’s a Dilbert?” “A Dilbert?” I repeated. “Yes, a Dilbert. An American student over in the high-tech center just called me a Dilbert.” Unfortunately, it’s not entirely unusual for international students to consult me about matters of this nature (bullying, comments, teasing). Upon arrival in America, they must traverse a sometimes unfamiliar and hostile terrain. Of course, I knew of the cartoon character, and knew that to call someone a Dilbert was considered an insult. But how was I going to explain this one? Initially, I Googled pictures of Dilbert to show to Milo, and wouldn’t you know it? The very first image I clicked on downloaded a computer virus. I myself had just been Dilberted! Through Wikipedia, I ascertained that Dilbert is a “fictional character…who has a rare medical condition…utter social ineptitude.” But I also found out that Dilbert is a graduate from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering, and an employee with good ideas (though seldom pursued because “he is powerless”). Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams, penned, “Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can’t handle the truth.”** I learned that “Dilbert has a strong immune system and is therefore less likely to get sick than his co- workers. While in most respects weak and un-athletic, Dilbert is a skilled badminton player…Although he is an excellent worker, and does not stop trying, he acknowledges that this will get him nowhere.” Dilbert’s mother is an adept Scrabble player, and his father has been at a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat restaurant since 1986, where he intends to stay until he’s eaten all that he can eat. Ultimately, the international student and I discovered that Dilbert is an educated, employed and skilled man in excellent health who never stops trying. He has good ideas, and two parents (though, admittedly, one is absentee!). And though it turned out that being called a Dilbert was not the best thing in the world, it was also not the worst, and in the end, the cartoon character (sadly, Dilbert was eventually killed by a wild deer in 1990) acquired two brand new fans!

*Not the student’s real name

**The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions

Who is More Nervous on Test Day — The Teacher or The Students?

 

You’ve created amazing and interesting lectures, outlined clear objectives, assigned appropriate reading, used technology in creative ways, conducted review sessions – you may have even told the students what will be on the test. That should be enough to ensure they will succeed on test day, right?

Much to your dismay, scores were not what you had hoped. What went wrong? Do the students just not study, do they not care? What was missing?

After my first experience with this, I started looking into what could be done to identify the needs of the students better. This is where I began learning more about using informal assessment tools.

Informal assessment is a way of determining what students are learning and where they need more guidance by interacting with them without using a “test” or “quiz” to find that result.

I began by using the 321 Summary at the end of each class. It is a simple questionnaire:

  1. Write three things you learned today.
  2. Write two questions you have.
  3. Write one thing that was helpful today.

This tool provides feedback both ways – for students to assess how I did in helping them learn the material, and for me to answer any unresolved or confusing points. It also helped me learn what teaching style I should use for certain individuals to get the most from the lecture sessions.

Asking students to reflect on the class period and ask meaningful questions about it gave them the potential for better retention of the material. It also provides them with the opportunity to practice their critical thinking skills.

I generally use Canvas to respond to their questions before the next class. If there is a common theme in the questions, I know I need to spend more time on that in the next class.

As an Adjunct Faculty member, I do not have an office or office hours, and therefore, students really don’t have the opportunity to come and see me individually without making an appointment and finding a private place to meet. It’s been a great way for students to communicate important personal or other issues they have that would normally be covered during office hours.

I have found that by communicating with the students in this fashion, they become more comfortable with me and the class earlier in the semester, and I learn more about the students that can help forge a better experience for us all.

Oh, and by the way … The first semester I used this tool, average test scores went up by 8-14 percent. Students were surprised at how “easy” the test was. While the students didn’t realize they were being “assessed,” they were able to master and retain the material more effectively.

 

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