This time of year professors are grading, organizing the most pertinent information for the last class, and preparing to give final exams.  Support staff members are dedicated to helping the whole operation run smoothly. Students are completing projects, finishing assignments, and preparing for finals; some are preparing to graduate.  The well of motivation may seem almost dry for some, which results in additional trips to the well of discipline.  Even with appropriate discipline, the compressed collection of events and responsibilities can start to feel chaotic as we race toward the finish line for this academic year. 

Margaret Wheatley has written and spoken a lot about chaos.  She says that when there is chaos, people and organizations operate best when they have a good set of values and that the values are best when centered on community.   Margaret Wheatley (2011) said, “Whatever is the problem, community is the answer” (Check out the YouTube link in the reference).   This is critical at the end of the year when feelings of stress and chaos from multiple goals and responsibilities are felt at a deeper level.  If we let negative feelings rule rather than focusing on our shared values, then there is a risk of toxicity in the learning/work environment.

As professionals, we are all called upon to be leaders as we model for our students and honor the values that make us good community members.  With this in mind, I share some questions from Dan Rockwell (2013) who stated that exceptional leaders focus on the “how” and not the “what” when confronted with the potential for toxicity.  His suggested questions are:

How are we connecting?
How do we support each other?
How does the team feel?
How is respect expressed?

These are excellent questions that are aligned well with the shared values of our community.  A positive academic learning environment and work environment depend on how we answer these questions.  This is the time of year when we need to connect more deeply to support each other’s success.  Respect and empathy are our top shared values.  As a reminder, here is what we developed together:

Respect and Empathy

  • Seek to understand before being understood
  • Listening to each other
  • Share what is most important
  • Share our challenges as well as our successes
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness, acceptance of perspectives
  • Embrace diversity of opinions

Focusing on the values of respect and empathy provide good insurance against toxic dumping in the workplace and academic learning environment.  One of the ways we can define success over the next two weeks is if we are able to honor this work together in our community.   

Bonus: “The hopes and dreams of youth are in our hands; their goals and aspirations are shaped through their encounters with us.  Positive memories of teachers are reserved for particular and special people: the teacher who touched your heart, the teacher who understood you or who cared about you as a person, the teacher whose passion for something…was infectious and energizing” (Ayers, p. 17). 


Ayers, W. (2010). To teach: the journey of a teacher (2nd ed). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Rockwell, D. (2013, May 3). Confronting toxicity: Toxic environments are the result of tolerating toxicity.  Retrieved from

Wheatley, M. (2011, June 7). Authority on Leadership in Chaotic Times. Retrieved from 

Image (2012). Retrieved May 5, 2013 from: