Recently, I have started listening to podcasts by Dr. Laurie Santos titled The Happiness Lab. I have enjoyed learning how our brains are wired to remember negative experiences over positive ones and how we can find happiness in the smallest things. This podcast has not necessarily had a profound impact on my class instruction rather on myself and the kindness I have toward the human condition.
The Happiness Lab speaks to the stress we put on ourselves and how that stress affects our bodies and minds. I have taught future elementary educators for the past 5 years. They are some of the most dedicated learners I have ever taught. However, they are also some of the most overwhelmed and self-critical students I have encountered.
By listening to The Happiness Lab I have learned how to create healthier habits within myself and I am sharing what I have learned with my students. My students exhibit the effects of stress and I have found myself suggesting and sharing information from the podcast. Through listening to The Happiness Lab, my desire to help my students has increased to areas outside of the course content.
I was so excited to start Write 6×6 last week. I was raring to go. Ready to put pen to paper. Super excited. And then I got the writing prompt. Whaaat! A song?
What song represents your career in education, your evolution as a teacher, or your approach to student success?
My enthusiasm was immediately crushed. I couldn’t think of a song. I mean how does Coi Leray’s “Players” have to do with my career in education? The lyrics constantly playing in my head, “Yeah, ’cause girls is players too…” Am I player? What does that mean? I can’t even think of another song, and this one is so not appropriate. Sigh.
It got me thinking though. How often do we crush our students’ enthusiasm in our classes? Does it happen on day one as Lisa did mine? Ha! Just kidding, Lisa. But truly does it happen at all? The biggest culprit I see is grades. Often with grades on those first few big assignments, a poor performance on the first few without the others in the grade book to weigh them out can be crushing. I often have students ask, how did my grade go from 95% to 72% overnight? Well, I graded something, and you didn’t do well. Crushed!
Students don’t always get the math, so seeing their grade drop drastically is not encouraging. So years ago I changed my strategy. I still crushed my students if they didn’t do well, but I introduced a policy to not only help students learn from their mistakes but also to keep them motivated and in the game. Assignments submitted on time and complete are eligible for a rewrite. They can resubmit the assignment within a week and earn a better score. Rewrites are optional, but they get feedback on the work and an opportunity to improve and learn. Canvas now makes this convenient for me to suggest rewrites with the Reassign button in Speedgrader.
I encourage them to submit a rewrite by giving them clear feedback using a rubric and comments on the assignment. Often times it’s a simple fix that students resubmit right away. Other times it’s a bit more involved. But the overall grade in the course bounced back up after a rewrite grade is entered, and hopefully, students are motivated to keep going unless, of course, they get stumped by a strange writing prompt and just give up without trying. Yep, I get it now.
I have been teaching since Fall of 2009 and the lyrics in Joy by Andy Grammer are a good representation of my evolution in becoming a teacher at Glendale Community College.
I vividly remember my first year teaching and the fear that sat with me on the daily. The weight of being a teacher cannot be articulated in a preservice teacher classroom. It is something you experience when you have students show up in your classroom on the first day of classes.
Doubt was a constant in those first years of teaching since I was building and creating curriculum with the hope that students would gain the knowledge they needed in order to be successful in the next class. This was a huge challenge and the pressure felt very high to help my students who were looking to move into STEM careers after high school were given all the tools they needed to achieve their academic goals.
In the Fall of 2011, I was accepted into a doctorate program which was a great opportunity but stretched me too thin. I felt sorrow when leaving high school was the best option for me to complete my doctorate degree and have a better balance in my life.
As a doctorate student I had very limited access to the classroom which kept me grieving the loss of leaving the high school classroom. The ways I connected with college students was significantly different than high school students. Over the years in my doctoral program, I started to change my perspective and found joy as I got closer to finishing my dissertation.
Pressure entered my teaching evolution when I found out I was pregnant. My due date and my dissertation completion were around the day. I also felt pressure in determining what I wanted to do for work after finishing my degree.
My husband has asked me what job I would take that would make it where I no longer taught at the community college at night. I was so struck by this question because I never realized how much I liked teaching at the community college. I knew that if I got any other job I would be in a constant state of jealousy for those working at the community college inspiring college students in the classroom.
As I applied for a full time position at Glendale Community College, I started to get excited but was told by many current residential faculty that it was normal not to get hired the first time you interview. I went into the interview still hopeful that I would be a strong candidate for the position. After making it through all three rounds, I started to let doubt creep back in which felt shameful since I had been warned that the first time you interview you rarely get hired.
I found joy in the June of 2017 when I received a call for Dr. Chris Miller, the mathematics department chair, offered me the job. I continued to find joy when I had my son, Olyver, at the end of September 2017 and again on November 3rd, 2012 when I defended my dissertation, successfully earning my doctorate degree.
I have been finding more joy ever since getting a position here at GCC, through the students I teach, the colleagues I collaborate with, and the opportunities for growth I have found.
A statement someone made recently jumped out at me. They said they rarely take risks. I was amazed. I consider myself a very careful person, but I often feel like my risks are the challenges I take on. Of course, I’m not talking about doing anything like this!
Perhaps it’s the definition of the word risk [enter student’s clichéd discovery of dictionary definition to make written assignment longer]. Wink
I see risk as a transition and an opportunity. Now, if the risk doesn’t have that element, I won’t do it. In some ways, we all take risks every day. There are certain risks I simply won’t consider, the consequences are just too costly.
Professionally, I was always taught to say ‘yes,’ if you want to work. People want to know that you will say ‘yes,’ when they ask. It saves time for those hiring. That’s a musician’s point of view. It’s the way you keep getting more opportunities – or, for those who prefer less formal constructs – How you get more gigs. Regrets, yes, certainly. I said ‘no’ to a really good opportunity, which was a risk, because I was just getting married (hence, already in the midst of a transition) and didn’t want to spend my honeymoon thinking about the project and risking the beginnings of our marriage… I’ll always think about where that job might have led. But see, once again, I keep going back to the positive-negative balance of risks.
And I’ll admit to some positive/negative possibilities. I’ve walked into a classroom and spoken completely ‘off the cuff,’ which is definitely a risk. It’s not that I hadn’t thought about it. I had. I know my subject deeply. Some of those have been my most inspired lectures, but occasionally, they have not. It’s a risk.
How about classroom management? I had a student who sat in the front row of class and never took a note. (This is a room that is set up as a lecture/recital hall, so down in front is noticeable.) In fact, he came in without anything – no books, no notebook, no pen/pencil or computer. Nothing. An instructor would assume he didn’t come prepared for class. And we’ve all had those students who obviously weren’t. Did I mention this was a long lecture format? The class was two hours and twenty minutes long. Should I say anything to him? He wasn’t disruptive, and he did well in the subject. One day he came in with a Rubik’s cube. I saw it, but chose not to say anything. As the lecture was finishing I just happened to look over at him. He subtly showed me his work by merely opening his hand. It was finished, and it was perfect. He hadn’t been disruptive to anyone, he didn’t show anyone else, I hadn’t been interrupted by what he was doing, but it allowed him to concentrate on what we were talking about. A risk, and a reward.
I could stop there, because it would be a great place to end – but I’m going to “risk” it and go heavy. As I mentioned earlier, we take risks every day. Driving, flying, walking down a set of stairs, saying something that you wish you hadn’t. I never discuss politics. I’ve gotten to where I rarely offer comments – especially to the entire world on any of those fronts.
But I’m going to include the world community and the risks people are facing today because we need to be talking about this in our classrooms. These are the ultimate risks because they are about basic human needs. This is not something that is happening somewhere else. It will ultimately affect us here. I was just reading an article about the fact that many Russians are also leaving their homeland, just as many Ukrainians are – except those who choose to fight. There is a general surge of people trying to survive with some semblance of their lives intact. In the article, the author referred to a family’s current residence, a shared room with three mattresses on the floor. The people had a roof, they had mattresses, a floor, running water, and they still had some money. They had been well-to-do so such living conditions would not have been acceptable in their previous life, but under the circumstances they knew they were lucky. They calculated the risk and felt they’d come out ahead considering the cost.
I first saw evidence of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s in Sweden. I ended up working with two Russian musicians as part of a Swedish quartet. There were interesting cultural flare-ups that surprised me. But like other recent mass emigrations, everyone was, and had been, fleeing for their lives. It’s amazing what we are willing to risk when we feel that we have little left to lose or too much to lose – our lives or our children’s lives.
In Estonia, ten years after the last Russian troops slowly left, I moved there, and in my research I learned more of Stalin’s ’round up’ of people. Sometimes there were lists, sometimes just numbers. ‘Take this number of people. I don’t care who.’ They disappeared or went to gulags. Often, no one ever knew whether they were killed outright or just never seen again. How can you live with that threat? I was part of an interview team to determine whether a young Estonian man would study in the U.S. when he talked about the importance of the NATO alliance to his country. I knew about NATO. It also meant, in couched terms, the U.S., from where funding came for this prestigious scholarship. I occasionally thought about NATO – but not to the extent that this young man understood it because the Estonians had few defenses against the Russians on their shared border. We, as Americans, have the luxury of a different point of view.
Before I sign off, I want to mention that moving people, their craft, their professions, their influences, and their cultures affects everything. It affects the arts, music, the humanities, science, technology, engineering, people, and even education. Would you stay or would you go? Ultimately, when we talk about risks, these are the most critical risks to discuss. I truly believe as educators everything we do counts, but we are also lucky that we can talk about risks that are so relatively ordinary when others face risks that are so tremendously devastating.
GROWTH: What lessons did I learn during the past two years of the pandemic?
RISK: Maybe you took a risk and failed big, but found a silver lining? Maybe you took a risk and something wonderful came out of it?
I just realized that the topics of GROWTH and RISK are totally embedded in my life right now. I’ve been feeling bad since I did not write a GROWTH post last week (Slacker). Now, I have the perfect opportunity to speak to both writing prompts in a meaningful, timely, soul-searching post. GROWTH and RISK.I am in the midst of intense personal growth because I took extreme personal risks. I’m sure the pandemic played a role in the timing of my fearful-yet-fearless, mid-life unraveling. Most of all, a simple question I read prompted some life-changing events in the past 6 months.
Why Die Wondering?
Another pandemic lesson…a profound one-liner: Jump, and the Net Will Appear
These two sentences hit me like a ton of bricks. Life after embracing this wake-up call has been both exhilarating and terrifying. I think two years of pandemic life pushed me to finally find my own voice and take a risk. Taking the risk- taking the leap – presented me with some long overdue opportunities for growth.
Jump and the net will appear.
I jumped. Finally. I faced huge personal issues I’ve been ignoring for over a decade. I jumped. And nets have appeared. But they are not Disney movie nets with a warm and fuzzy, happy ending. My decision to leap came with painful consequences for many people. They are not perfect nets. Perfect is the enemy of good enough. Searching for perfect plans and 100% certainty will not lead to growth. Growth requires risk. Growth happens when I’m ready to be good enough, not perfect. Growth happens after I leap and land in a new, terrifying net of possibilities and challenges. In the past, I avoided both growth and risk. Now, I’m embracing them. Some days, I can’t believe I finally jumped from my life of self-inflicted inaction into the net of new possibilities. I never imagined the pandemic could provide clarity and courage. But here I am. In the last 6 months, I’ve learned to ask myself new questions, too.
What would a brave person do? What would a confident woman do?
Obviously, we all have been changed by the pandemic. Personally, I decided not to yearn for the way things have always been. I realized I did not want to return to the status quo. The universal upset caused by the pandemic provided me with a frightening, personal call-to-action. The pandemic revealed a life-changing question: Why die wondering?
The negatives of the pandemic are abundant so I am going to stick to three of the positives I identified from the pandemic.
We are stronger than we know
During the pandemic we all had a hard time. I was reminded of a TED talk I watched with my Reimagine cohort. In this talk, Ash Beckham spoke about how everyone in their lifetime experiences hardship. This resonated with me since worldwide we were experiencing hardship. I know that not only am I stronger than I know but so are students, neighbors, colleagues, friends, and strangers. There is no doubt that the pandemic has altered all of us in some capacity but I am confident that we are stronger than we know.
We are more inventive than we know
March 2020 put us all in a “make-it-work” situation as we prepared to go fully online to support the education of our students. This event has propelled faculty and students to new heights of innovation. We have found ways to connect with one another, learn from each other, and be more flexible when things inevitably deviate from our intended outcome. I know that I am more inventive and flexible when things fall apart in my lessons and life. I have seen people around me doing the same thing. We are more inventive than we know.
I am more empathetic that I know
I have always struggled with the ability to empathize with students. Most of it comes from the more pessimistic outlook that I have that students are constantly trying to get out of completing the work for my courses. The outlook is bleak and gets me and my students nowhere. I have found that the pandemic has made me more empathetic in the sense that I am able to imagine how the student is feeling and thinking during times of hardship. This has helped me to implement a grace period on assignments and I weigh the students perspective on the issue they are facing before responding to them. My communication has improved through the pandemic and I know I am more empathetic because of the pandemic.
The pandemic has been unimaginable for all of us but I hope that you (all of you) can also see how amazing we have become by living through a pandemic.
Over Spring Break I finished reading Educated by Tara Westover. The memoir is about a young woman’s journey from her religious family to higher education. The book has several themes. There are areas that focus on identity, family, faith, education, etc. The book really resonated with me for several reasons, but the area that really resonated with me the most was the power of education in the author’s life and how it helped her to evaluate who she was and discover the woman that she is today. Her ability to go through this process is really due to her education inside and outside of the classroom.
A huge part of my identity revolves around education. Just like the author, I was able to discover who I am and who I wanted to be in life. My parents encouraged all of their children to get an education, they believed that they were the keys to success. I thrust myself into my studies and quite a few of the lessons I learned came from inside and outside of the classroom. As educators, we must never forget the impact the classroom has on not only our students and their profession but also who they are as an individual. The author learned a lot about herself inside and outside of school. Here are some things I learned about myself from my educational experiences:
I didn’t want to be a lawyer when I grew up. For the longest time I wanted to be a lawyer. We did a mock trial in high school and I realized, THIS IS NOT FOR ME. I played the lawyer and I choked. My heart was not in it. My heart is in teaching.
Hard work and belief go a long way. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I was not the best speech and debate competitor in college. I lacked confidence and some key skills. Over time I decided to up my work ethic and to really believe that I could do it. The end result, I have some championships under my belt and I’m proud of that accomplishment.
I’m a nerd and I’m proud of it. I love school, reading, studying, and watching and engaging in nerdy things like Game of Thrones. I have reaped many benefits and rewards from my nerdiness. I even include it in my lessons in the classroom.
Prayer and Coffee. Ever since high school, people have mentioned to me how they can’t believe how I get through the crazy business of life. I tell them that I get through it with a whole lot of prayer and a whole lot of coffee. Both came from my family. I grew up in a religious home and everything revolved around prayer. The coffee came from my mom, she loves it, I picked up the habit my senior year of high school and I have not let it go. Prayer and coffee are my lifeline. =>)
Life will hand you some serious lemons, make the best batch of lemonade you can, and drink a giant big gulp cup of it in front of life. I’ve drunk several big gulp cups of lemonade in front of life. I’ve done my best to make the best lemonade from some sour lemons in life. I’ve had uncertainty and struggles with school, work, and health, but I’m thankful that lemonade has come from that. I’m grateful.
The lessons learned are only a small portion of the things that have shaped me. All of the lessons learned, just like the author in Educated, have contributed to who I am today, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I am proud. I am proud of the leadership of GCC faculty and staff. Over the past few months I have seen faculty and staff courageously offer their thoughts and opinions of how to improve our district, campus, and our classrooms. The work of GCC faculty and staff have resulted in committees being created, campus calls to action, panel discussions, task force, etc. I wish I had the time and space to call everyone’s attention to several things that represent the sheer amount of tenacity, passion, and courage on our campus. I only have the time and the space to focus on one thing, so I will focus on the Reimagine Project.
The Reimagine Project is a project that centrally focuses on encouraging faculty to reimagine their classrooms with high impact classroom strategies. I am one of the individuals responsible for teaching our cohorts a specific strategy and assisting them with implementation in the classroom. The program was launched this academic year. The purpose of the project is to encourage faculty to try these strategies so that we can create the best learning environments that we possibly can for our students.
The Reimagine Project is daring to lead because they are addressing an important question from Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, which is: How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders, and how do you embed the value of courage in your culture? Brown proposes doing it through vulnerability, values, trust, and learning to rise. Participants have to be vulnerable, which means being open to the process and trying new things in the classroom that they have never tried before. The program also encompasses all of GCC’s values which includes learning and quality. Participants also have to trust themselves and trust the facilitators guiding them through the experience. Finally, participants have to learn how to rise because they may experience failure along the way, and failure is not completely negative, it’s actually a lesson in disguise.
Shout out to to Jennifer Lane and Meghan Kennedy for creating the nuts and bolts of the program. Shout out to the institution for the support. Shout out to the participants who are engaged in the program. Shout out to the leads for guiding the participants through the strategy. I dare everyone to follow in their footsteps and dare to lead in the places and spaces of their profession. If you are already Daring to Lead, I encourage you to keep leading in this way, because you are having impact in the work that you do.
I am someone who is inspired by so many different things in life. I was recently inspired by the Netflix Series Cheer. In what way? Well, that’s another blog post for another day.
The two consistent things that have inspired me the most are my former teachers and my mentors. Some of these individuals have played the role of both the former teacher and the mentor. Who I am today and the work that I do is representative of the key individuals who have crossed my path in education. Below you will find six lessons learned from teachers/mentors, that I apply in the classroom and my life.
Kindergarten Teacher: The only thing that limits you is your imagination. I learned this when we had green eggs and ham in class. We read the book and my teacher made it a reality. My little mind was blown and the food was delicious!!!!
4th Grade Teacher: No matter how behind you are, you can always catch up, you gotta work a little harder, but you can make it. I learned this when I transitioned from one school district that was lagging into another school district that was way ahead of where I was at. I caught up eventually, but it took a little bit of time.
High School Theater Teacher: Go against the grain and take risks. My high school theater teacher always had us involved in work that was not typical for high school students. We did Shakespeare (A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream) and Greek tragedy (Antigone) and adult work like A Few Good Men and A Lion in Winter. The same attitude was also placed in our speech pieces since he was our speech and debate coach. I also learned that, no one is above or below anyone else. We were taught to respect each other as actors and tech people. Everyone contributed to building the set, the production of the play, and tearing down the set. No one was allowed to talk down to each other or treat anyone as less than because of their “status”.
High School Multicultural Club Adviser: People are different, but there is so much that we could offer each other in this world if we would just take a moment to listen to each other and learn from each other. All we need to do is to get out of our own way. I am so thankful that I was a part of this club. In high school I learned about the importance of diversity and inclusivity. We also learned about the barriers of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, etc. I had the opportunity to serve as the President of the club and as a counselor for our multicultural camp Rammietown. The experiences I had then, still impact me to this day.
College Speech and Debate Coach/Mentor: The most successful people in life are those who combine talent with hard work. When I started speech and debate in college, I was not the most talented person. I lacked a lot of confidence and felt like I was pretty small compared to the big competitors on the team. Many came in with several titles and I had one. I was absolutely terrified in many of the practices I had my first year because I felt like I was completely exposed and that everyone could see my weaknesses on the team. Despite my insecurities, I kept working hard, while those who were naturally talented, just coasted on their talent. I continued to get better and eventually surpassed some of them. I eventually became a multi national and international champion. I discovered that I had some talent, but what separated me from everyone else was how hard I worked. I never want to be wasted talent.
College Professor/Mentor: Be excellent in everything that you do and how you live your life. I am a firm believer in excellence, it aligns with our campus value of quality. I try to strive for excellence in my personal and professional life. Like Oprah has said ” Excellence is the best deterrent to racism, sexism, etc.,” but it also brings me joy and pride. When people enjoy my work, I have joy and pride because I did my best work, and the end result is the most satisfying. My college professor is an embodiment of excellence. They taught me the importance of putting your best foot forward in everything that you do.
I have so many more that I could share. The list goes on and on. I’m sharing this because what we do in the classroom matters. As instructors we must never forget the impact that we have on our students. The list above shows the impact we can have on our students.
Many people know that I love Oprah! I am of course subscribed to her podcast Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. Yesterday I listened to the episode: Iyanla Vanzant: You Matter. Iyanla Vanzant is a woman who helps people overcome some major issues on a show on OWN called Fix My Life. When I saw the title of the podcast I had to listen and I was not disappointed. It perfectly aligns with what I have been talking about for the past few weeks. If you get a moment to listen, check it out.
The statement that stuck out to me the most was:
“…we get our meaning and our mattering from our story and if we tell a story in a way that disempowers us we won’t know that we matter…..”
When she said this in the podcast it made me think. How many of our faculty, staff, and students have created stories in their heads that discourage and disempower them? Stories of discouragement and disempowerment prevent them from realizing that they matter. If their story includes people who tell them they are not good enough or that they will never amount to anything or that they are not good at reading, writing, or math, it will not only impact them but also the people who serve them. When I work with a student one on one and they express frustrations and are really tough on themselves I will think about what Iyanla says. What story are they telling themselves and what does it mean to them? How is it impacting them in the classroom?
How can we have stories that empower us and helps us to create meaning so that we feel like we matter? One way to do this is to pay attention to the people who are in your lives and what they tell you on a daily basis. Being surrounded by people who tear you down makes it difficult to build yourself up. Another way is to stop comparing yourself to others. I mentioned that in a previous post. We have a tendency of tearing ourselves down when we don’t feel like we measure up.