There are a limited number of minutes in a semester, 158,400 as of today, and they seem to go faster this time of year.  It may feel like we have come “full circle” from the beginning of the semester where our aspirations were high and learning objectives were set, to the close of another semester where we race harder to fulfill the aspirations and objectives.  But, “full circle” does not really capture the reality of higher education, at least I hope not.

Each semester provides us with the opportunity for continuous improvement, a deepening spiral rather than a circle, that allows for exercising a growing expertise in developing our students into the citizens who will be responsible for our world.  Some may chose to go in circles, but the future depends on deepening spirals of continuous learning.  How can you set a trajectory that deepens this spiral for yourself and for your students?

If students know we truly care about them and are passionate about their learning, then they will remember more of what we model and say.  They also will be more engaged in their own learning process.  There are, of course, times when some tough love is needed and the ear of procrastination and laziness need a good twist, actions appreciated later by students who look back and attribute part of their success to you.

The spiral deepens on many pathways to the mind and a better future.  The heart’s path seems to be the widest and most direct.  It is on this path, best when traveled together, that critical elements of dignity are found.  I shared part of a TED Talk with you at the beginning of the semester by Donna Hicks that highlighted the essential elements of dignity.  I share these again, particularly in the context of the world for which we prepare our students.

  • Acceptance of Identity – when we honor someone’s dignity, we accept his/her identity.
  • Recognition – We give someone recognition of his or her unique qualities and way of life.
  • Acknowledgement – we make sure people feel seen, heard, listened to, and responded to.
  • Inclusion – The person feels a sense of belonging and a sense of community.
  • Independence – There is a feeling of freedom and a life filled with hope and possibility.
  • Safety – To honor someone’s dignity is to make sure s/he feels safe and secure. This includes psychological safety that prevents humiliation and feeling shamed or marginalized.
  • Fairness – Dignity requires fair and even-handed treatment [e.g., understanding dominance and privilege].
  • Understanding – We give someone the benefit of the doubt and seek understanding, especially from people we don’t naturally gravitate toward. We give someone space [i.e., suspend judgment] and time to explain his/her experiences.
  • Accountability – We are accountable for our behavior and must apologize when hurting someone’s dignity. Also, we all deserve an apology when someone does us harm.

Donna Hicks spoke to the power of dignity by saying, “Imagine for a moment if we honored these elements of dignity in our daily lives with the people with whom we come in contact.  Imagine what that would be like.  Imagine what our relationships would be like when everyone felt this way…seen, heard, identity was accepted, etc.  When we honor other people’s dignity, we strengthen our own.”

Collectively, the words of Martin Luther King Jr., the path to the mind through the heart, the need for occasional tough love, and the essential elements of dignity provide us with many tools to prepare ourselves and our students to make a positive difference in the world.  Recent headlines have highlighted racial tension across the country, loss of young lives due to hazing, and sexual assaults on college campuses; the list seemingly is inexhaustible.  It is more important than ever that we deepen our knowledge and strengthen the character of youth in ways that will result in a better world in which to live.  Characteristics that combat indignities, mindful dispositions if you will, are essential in addition to technical knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a profession.

The next two weeks will be filled with trying to fulfill aspirations envisioned at the beginning of the semester.  As you use your minutes wisely to engage students in deeper learning, make sure to touch the heart, maybe the ear, and the essential characteristics of dignity. Even in the remaining minutes of this semester, you can make a positive difference and touch the future through our students.


Mandela passion








Shared Values Highlighted:

  • Respect and Empathy
  • Excellence in Teaching
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth
  • Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
  • Helping Students to Achieve Goals
  • Professionalism
  • Broad-minded

Hicks, D. (April 4, 2014). Declare Dignity. Retrieved from

Image (May 28, 2014). Retrieved November 29, 2014 from: