Tag Archives: writing

The Professor and the Politician

This is my third time doing a six-week blog for Write 6×6. In previous years, I focused on the prompt and sort of went spur of the moment with what I talked about with very little connection or theme between posts. I wanted to shake things up a bit this year. Over the next six weeks, I am going to take an in depth (or at least as in depth as six blog posts allow) look at the skills that teaching develops and how those skills can be useful in other arenas. Before I get into specifics, I need to provide a little context…

author and wife dancing at wedding
The happiest day of my life

Those who know me know that my life has undergone some significant events in the last half decade, starting with my marriage to my partner of (now) 17 years. In 2017, the first year I participated in Write 6×6, I was still in the process of adjusting to life in a new area and trying to get both my physical and emotional well-being on track. Life’s track is more like a roller-coaster and finding any sort of balance was near impossible, but through the ups and downs I began to find bits and pieces of a better version of myself.

Moving forward to 2018, I had become active in my local community by serving as a member, and eventual chair, of the Economic Advisory Board. That volunteer service forced me to expand my knowledge of web design, photography, videography, content creation, and marketing. The reason I say expand is because being an online instructor had already provided me with a base knowledge in most of those areas. My skills as an English instructor specifically became invaluable when I was placed on the Planning Commission. This may come as a shock (/sarcasm), but how laws and municipal code are worded can have a major impact on their effectiveness (and legality).

Snip of Municipal Code
Boring essay? Try legalese…

In Summer of 2018, the unexpected happened. One of our local council members had to retire for health concerns, and I was appointed to fill the vacancy. It was both exciting and horrifying at the same time. As a teacher, I have always striven to see the good and promote the best in those around me, and that effort was almost always reciprocated in kind. I discovered in my time as a volunteer the political arena had the potential to be a much uglier experience, even with the best of intentions.

Image of author and Mayor shaking hands after appointment.
The smile hides the fear of my appointment.

Without going into specifics, I will say that both my excitement and my fear have been justified on multiple occasions. Outside of the support of my amazing wife, the thing that has kept me from drowning in the stormy seas of politics has been the experience and skills I acquired over the last dozen years of teaching. Over the next few weeks I want to elaborate on those skills and why they are so important and underrepresented, and exactly the sort of skills communities need. I hope that maybe (just maybe) in the process I will encourage fellow instructors to get active in their communities as well.

Best case scenario: I succeed.

Worst case scenario: I educate.

It is a win-win.

 

School Lunch

The major downside to being an online instructor is the lack of meaningful interaction. Outside of a few e-mails, I rarely have a conversation with fellow faculty. Most of those are usually related to development of course materials or help with a student or technical issue.

When I taught face to face there was a fellow adjunct, Gary, who was in a similar situation. Twice a week I would walk into the adjunct office to find him sitting there at his laptop, cup of coffee in hand, smiling and commenting on the various comings and goings. Wearing a baseball cap and shorts, he made it clear he was just there to socialize. Looking back, I now understand and appreciate that longing he had to simply associate with a group of peers.

Sadly, I can’t come in a few times a week like he could, but what I can do is stress how important it is to do so if you are able.

Gary and I ended up having lunch a few times and talking about everything ranging from education techniques to our shared interest in writing fiction. I credit him with giving me enough courage to finally self-publish my first short story. Fast forward five years and I now have several short stories published, and am working on putting together a collection. Those lunch time conversations, and Gary’s need to socialize, were the main catalyst for me stretching myself to accomplish more than I would have otherwise done.

You never know how people you meet will influence you, it won’t always be positive, but more often than not in education it will be. Despite having various backgrounds, I find that most educators are open minded and friendly by nature (it is one of those unspoken requirements of staying in the field).

So, as I sign off for the last time this year, I wanted to leave everyone with a message of encouragement. Find a fellow teacher and go have lunch. Talk about ideas, education, hobbies, interests. Appreciate every moment of it, because whether you realize it or not, that ability to connect is not a given, and who knows, it may even help you become a better version of yourself.

 

 

WEEK 5: The “One Thing,” Before and After

Welcome back to Week 5 of “The One Thing You can do to Raise Enrollment,” a six week “how-to” series.

Let’s review the steps so far:

Week 1: Google yourself.
Week 2: Quotes – their power to connect.
Week 3: How to get a rep.
Week 4: Your face.

Are you working in higher education because you want to effect positive change in the world?

Are you unhappy with declining enrollment?

People shopping around for colleges and classes have more access to more information about you, and your competitors, than ever before.

Would you describe yourself as helpful?

What if there is one SMALL thing you can do to make it easy for students to choose you (and thus GCC)? The employee bio page is by far the most under-exploited opportunity available to intentionally connect to students during the decision making process.

Providing students with what you want them to know about you works to develop positive preconceptions about you. Conversely, do nothing and you risk falling off your potential students’ radar completely, and losing them to a competitor.

The “One Thing” is deceptively small, yet powerful.

How it works: When students can relate to what they see and read on your employee bio page, they feel immediately connected to you.

(Before we proceed to the “Before and After,” my apologies to Marty Reker. We have never met. You were randomly chosen to be a part of this process because your name appeared in a recent college press release.)

Marty’s employee bio page BEFORE:

Marty’s employee bio page AFTER:
These elements compel students to choose you. But why?

These elements work to build not only your reputation as a competent instructor, but also builds the perception of a shared identity between you and the reader. Feelings of having a shared identity holds a powerful and influential sway over the reader.

Robert Cialdini is recognized as one of the top authors in field research on the psychology of influence. In his most recent book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, he shares newly published research results: people develop powerful feelings of unity the more they identify with you. “Anything that is self-connected gets an immediate lift in our eyes. Sometimes the connections can be trivial but can still serve as springboards to persuasive success.”

When thinking about what to put on your employee bio page, don’t be stiff – be relatable.

So, after 5 weeks, you now know almost everything you need to know about the “one thing” you can do to influence the student decision-making process, raise enrollment, and raise GCC’s reputation in an increasingly crowded marketplace: Take control of the persuasive, engaging power of the employee bio page.

Now what?
Come back for our final installment in WEEK 6: Now what? The “One Thing” and the final step.

Make sure you’ve done your homework:
Week 2: Quotes – their power to connect.
Week 3: How to get a rep.
Week 4: Your face.

 

Vicariously Dreaming

This week is all about dreams, and I wanted to break away from the abstract big-picture view I normally go with and talk about something personal to me.

Several years ago through the glories of the internet I befriended a young man named Danny who, like me, was passionate about writing. Very quickly I realized he had a gift for wordsmithing, poetry, and editing that all surpassed my own. From that common love we became what would be the digital equivalent of pen pals. We share stories, poems, and ideas, and the edits that ensue always seem to produce much higher quality work for both of us. It remains a symbiosis.

Over the years I started to get to know Danny on a more personal level. Like me, he suffered from asthma but, unlike me, his asthma continued into adulthood and served as a constant source of hospitalization and medical bills. Like me, he has a wonderful sibling who serves as friend as much as kin  but, unlike me, whose father is an evangelical minister, politician, and pillar of the community in which he resides, Danny suffered through multiple negative parental figures.

Danny enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, initially pursuing a similar English degree to the one I had pursued during my Bachelor’s. It was at this point that I started to give Danny advice on more than just writing. In him I saw limitless potential and the same drive and passion for writing that I had as an early college student. I was a much wiser man than I was in college and had clear hindsight on all the poor choices I made during my academic career that impacted my professional and personal life down the road. I encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunities that came his way and, although I believe he would have made the same decision in my absence, he eventually became a writer and an editor for Odyssey. With that accomplishment he conquered one of my greatest regrets from my own schooling, failure to have meaningful writing experiences outside the classroom. As he continued to write more insightful articles he built up a portfolio and a reputation for quality that even my current resume would be jealous of.

Even though Danny is only ten years my junior, I began to understand what it was like to have a son to feel pride in someone else’s accomplishments. To see him grow in skill and confidence seemed more rewarding to me than it was to him. Without knowing it, Danny was purging all the demons of my past mistakes through his own achievements. It was a wonderful feeling, but I was unaware Danny was still dealing with his own demons. Thankfully, unlike me, he would face those demons down on his own instead of through someone else.

In 2017, Danny came out to the world in a lovely article. I had known for a short period of time before, but I could tell it was a struggle for him to admit it even to me, the professor who loves to talk about how important it is to appreciate other points of view and will rant for an hour about critical thinking skills.

In 2018,  Danny will be receiving the prestigious McKibbin Medal upon graduation and is on the precipice of making some major life decisions, but I can honestly say no matter where his life leads he is already a wiser, stronger man than I could have even dreamed of being at his age. I am truly thankful for the inspiration and confidence he has given me by simply having the courage that he has.

Danny,

Thank you for helping a middle aged professor dream again.

Now go conquer life.

 

 

 

On Writing and Teaching Writing

As I set out on the 6 x 6 challenge, I’m confronted by the same rhetorical considerations as any First Year Composition student and any writer, really. I must ponder who is this piece of writing for? What do I want the writing to do? And, like our students, my composition of this piece was nearly derailed by the obstacles of everyday living. And so, that’s the purpose I’ve happened upon, for this entry anyway: I want to share this odd idea I have that a) our students aren’t that different than we are and b) our students might be trying harder than we think they are. B is going to take more up more than one entry as it relates to a more broader philosophical approach that I call strengths based learning.

When I saw the email from the CTLE about Write 6X6, I was interested in participating but fearful I wouldn’t be able to carve out enough time to submit something every week and a bit intimidated at the idea of a group of quite accomplished professionals being my audience for each entry. Of course, this is exactly how most of our English writing students feel. They want to become scholars, learn, and contribute to our college, but they’re not sure they can keep up the time commitment and, for all too many of them, they’re not sure they belong. I can think of all too many examples to support the latter point. Here’s one: Just two days ago, I did a peer review in my Developmental Writing class. The class seemed quite invested in their discussion of each other’s work, and two were still talking after class ended as I erased the boards and packed up those whiteboard markers that are such a vital part of my English professor ethos. I cleared my throat a little more loudly than I meant to and the students both quickly apologized. Surprised, I realized they thought I was trying to give them some kind of hint to wind up and leave. I told them that far from trying to hurry them, I appreciated their concern for each other’s work and their desire to finish the conversation they were having.

When I left, I thought that perhaps part of the problem is they saw the classroom as mine, when in reality it’s theirs. They are the ones who pay the tuition, and, in turn, we instructors are paid to provide a service to them. Feeling comfortable and safe is a vital foundation for the learning process. While I do consciously cultivate this in the classroom – via learning and using students’ first names quickly, talking with them before and after class, acknowledging the effort they put into every classroom interaction and assignment, etc. – this made me realize we have to do more to make students realize the college belongs to them. They need to feel the same sense of ownership across the entire campus that I feel in my office. They should feel like scholars, integral parts of the educational apparatus, not visitors or worse, intruders. Perhaps this is one of the reasons participation in campus activities is related to completion. If you’re connected to other students, an organization, a building you visit to watch an event, you belong. Continue reading On Writing and Teaching Writing

 

Challenge (Happily) Accepted

What fires your passion for your field of interest and reminds you of your role at GCC?

My answer… the 6×6 Challenge. My passion is writing and unfortunately, is not closely related to my role as the Coordinator of Fiscal Services. Participating in the 6×6 Challenge brought my passion for writing and my role at GCC a little closer. Any time there is an opportunity to write – office process docs, communication to the campus from our office, Maricopa Priorities – I happily volunteer. Writing for the 6×6 Challenge allowed me to bring out my creative side and gain valuable insights about my role at GCC.