Category: Caring


Meaningful Micro-Moments: Elevating Excellence

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News consumption, whether through traditional means such as television and newspapers or more recent means such as news apps and social media, has been focused on many areas of conflict and strife within our country. There are multiple issues about which we care deeply. We can start to feel somewhat helpless in the face of circumstances over which we have little control; yet, your voice and contributions are important.  Regardless, you might want to consider a bad news diet.

Now, for the good news. Step back and ask yourself, “What do I have influence over during the next few weeks?” This perspective, one that is good to share with students, brings focus to the present moment where there is some “control.”  I believe this perspective is paramount as we move into the last few weeks of the semester, a stressful period in and of itself. There is a lot that can be done for yourself, your colleagues, and your students.

Yourself
It is critical for you to take care of yourself so you have the energy to care for others. There are the common statements of eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep; that’s a good start. There also are micro-moments during the day that can make a big difference too.

  • Take a short walk with a friend.
  • Get out your headphones and listen to your favorite song.
  • Read some highlights you made on your e-reader in a great book you read (the app is probably on your phone and the highlights are only several clicks away).
  • Pause, close your eyes, and focus on a few deep breaths.

Colleagues
There is a common thread of humanity that is important to remember as we choose to thrive over the next few weeks. This commonality can be the foundation for compassion and allow you to be someone else’s micro-moment.

  • Ask someone how s/he is doing while making eye contact and really meaning it.
  • Let colleagues know why you appreciate them – say it directly, leave a note, or fill out a Cardinal Cares card.
  • Ask newer professors if there is anything you can to do support them in the next few weeks, especially if this is their first semester.
  • Share something inspirational with someone in person rather than posting online.

Students
Our students have more responsibilities than they did even ten years ago. The demographic of our students has shifted significantly with a higher proportion of historically underrepresented students, first-generation students and/or low income students. There are meaningful micro-moments that can make all of the difference for these students and other students too as we approach the end of the semester.

  • Share the importance of getting organized and “setting the stage” for finals. Taking a few minutes each day to organize notes, study schedules, and responsibilities can put some free-floating anxiety to good use.
  • Speak with our students about self-discipline and focus. For example, encourage 30 minutes blocks of study without electronic interruption; neural pathways are better built when uninterrupted. Help them understand that now is the time to push what may feel like a personal limit around self-discipline, something that will result in new understandings of self and greater success in the future.
  • Students can push the boundaries of perceived capabilities, especially if you are there in an intentional way to encourage them. In addition to class, walk through the Flint Commons, the Learning Center, or the library and find a few students to encourage. All of our students must feel, on a deep level, that we believe in them.
  • Emphasize the importance of self care. Explain that the capacity for grit and determination can be increased with self care.

SUNY Plattsburgh has a caring community focused on students in excellent academic programs. This drew me here 25 years ago and continues to draw students and new faculty here too. Let’s take a few moments each day in the coming weeks to amplify our caring community because it will lead to higher levels of excellence.

Bonus:
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
– Respect and Empathy
– Helping Students Achieve Goals
Image (n.d.) Retrieved December 4, 2016 from:

 

Light on a Darkened Path

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Maya Angelou spoke of the tenacious human spirit in her poem And Still I Rise. Viktor Frankl wrote about a choice of attitude in stories about his experience in a concentration camp. Malala Yousafzai speaks about the importance of our voices when others attempt to silence them. Mother Theresa’s actions spoke louder than her words. There are multiple examples, historical and current, that bring light in times when you perceive a gathering darkness.

imageDouglas Abrams’ book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, contains dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The wisdom shared in the dialogues from one man who lost his country when exiled from Tibet and the other who was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, is sagacious, healing, and empowering. Here are ten quotes from the book:

“As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Dalai Lama

“Then after 1959, when I left Tibet, I started thinking, These people are just like me, same human being. If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.” Dalai Lama

“Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction. With a self-centered attitude, you become distanced from others, then distrust, then feel insecure, then fear, then anxiety, then frustration, then anger, then violence.” Dalai Lama

“If you really feel a sense of concern for the well-being of others, then trust will come. That’s the basis of friendship.” Dali Lama

“…the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Douglas Abrams

“But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically, you learn when something happens that tests you.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“If we can have compassion for ourselves, and acknowledge how we feel afraid, hurt, or threatened, we can have compassion for others—possibly even for those who have evoked our anger.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” Dalai Lama

“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Our collaborative purpose at SUNY Plattsburgh is focused on the success of our students. Doing this well during rancorous times in our country will take a mindful approach to modeling in words and actions. I wish each of you peace, purpose, and joy as we continue to create a caring community and world together.

 

Bonus: Maya Angelou shares the importance of words we speak in this 1 minute 27 second video.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Respect and Empathy
• Lifelong Learning/Growth
• Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
• Social Justice
• Broad Minded

References:

Abrams, D.C. (2016). The book of joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. New York: Avery.

Light image (n.d.) Retrieved November 13, 2016 from: http://www.rabbisacks.org/the-road-less-travelled-published-in-the-islamic-monthly/

Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

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There were many moments over the past week that provided individual growth for colleagues, students, and me. While “individual” is emphasized, growth is something we often do together, especially through our relationships.

Curiosity also is a key ingredient for growth. When discussing Piaget, W.C Crain stated, “Children develop not because they are shaped through external reinforcements but because their curiosity is aroused. They become interested in information that does not quite fit into their existing cognitive structures and are thereby motivated to revise their thinking.” As professors, we know increasing curiosity with others opens the door to deeper learning.

Last week, curiosities were heightened before and during a “Teach In” that focused on social justice. We were invited to attend engaging sessions by faculty and a presentation by the keynote speaker, Dr. Jonathan Kozol, entitled, Savage Inequities: The Struggle Goes On. Some of the sessions were standing-room-only events. In a room filled beyond capacity, there were moments you could have heard a pin drop when Dr. Marco Turco was sharing Lessons From Apartheid South Africa, lessons based on his experience of living in South Africa during that time. Butterly Blaise and Dinai Robertson presented on, Intersectionality of Identity on a College Campus.  Group work around intersectionality engaged individuals from many levels of the college in conversations about assumptions and the absolute necessity of getting to know others on a deeper level. Think about this by expanding the metaphor of walking in someone else’s shoes and understanding that she/he has more than one pair of shoes. Many faculty and staff contributed to the success of the Teach In, creating a proud moment for SUNY Plattsburgh that was captured in a group picture by the pond.

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Often, it is not an overpacked room with an expert speaker who helps you see the world in a new way or even a small classroom where individual growth might be easier to achieve, rather, it is one-on-one interactions. As a student walked into my office last week asking to drop a class, my intuition told me to ask, “How are you doing?” More than an hour later, the world looked different to both of us. I had a number of individual meetings with students over the past week where deep discussions lead to new understanding, renewed motivation, and steps to obtainable goals. I came away asking how we can be more intentional about taking time to do this individual work because it is imperative to the success of many students. While advisement provides a platform for these discussions, it is not enough to meet the day-to-day needs of our students.

Growing as a community of life-long learners, where we spend the extra time to do the individual work, for us and our students, ensures a brighter future for everyone. This is a daily approach to our work that can be energizing if done mindfully. This energy can come from a place of joy.

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In The Book of Joy, a recently published book containing conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, there is a passage about helping others that says, “The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Joy can be a powerful motivator for our collective work. So, here’s to another week where we have more opportunities to embrace and inspire curiosity in an inclusive learning environment and to create moments of joy from growth in ourselves, our students, and our learning community.

Bonus:  Here is the short video about intersectionality that was shown in the session mentioned above.  Please take the time to watch it if this is a new concept for you.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
– Lifelong Learning/Growth
– Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
– Social Justice
– Helping Students Achieve Goals
– Collaboration
Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

Curiosity Image (n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: http://theconversation.com/curiosity-changes-the-brain-to-boost-memory-and-learning-32296

Group Picture: SUNY Plattsburgh Facebook

W.C. Crain (1985). Theories of development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, the sun would rise and set with life-giving energy to seeds in a rich soil that were planted and nurtured with the sweat of my father’s brow and the faith in his heart. Faith that the sun would not bring days that were too hot and faith that passing clouds would release gentle rains. There was an optimal environment for growth that led to a bountiful harvest. There were years when drought or violent storms would destroy crops and bring times of sacrifice and rebuilding.

Over the years, the environment has changed and farmers have had to adapt with different types of seeds that grow disease resistant crops and irrigation systems that combat drought. Generations-old traditions have changed and creative adaptions have been embraced for farms to survive. This “way of the land” is similar in many ways to our academic environment and how we must adapt.

As we work with our students, we plant the seeds of knowledge and provide experiences that will result in optimal growth. The environment we create for growth requires the sweat of our brow and faith in our students as we inspire their best efforts. We nurture inner souls and challenge growth of the mind. Our collective efforts will make a positive difference for our students, their families and for our society if we do our jobs well. The students and our society are not the same as they were years ago and we, too, must adapt in order to survive.

The number of opportunities before us are endless as our adaptation results in revised and new curricula, new programs, and new delivery models. We cherish learning in our students, but also in ourselves as periodic storms in the education system come and go. These storms are represented by changes in enrollment, in budgets, regulation, and some might even say in pedagogy. These present opportunities that strengthen our will for the love of learning.

Over the last week, I attended three events where adaptation and change were focal points in the discussions. One was a gathering of North Country Thrive leaders along with Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY and Mary Ellen Elia, Commissioner of Education in New York State. The discussions targeted how our community can come together in better ways to support cradle to college/career development of students.

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Another event was a regional gathering of teachers, principals, superintendents, college faculty, and administrators who were lead by the Chancellor and Commissioner in discussions to address local challenges and opportunities, as well as improvement in our education system at the State level.

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Finally, I attended a How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion that was hosted by Black Onyx where deep and meaningful discussions were held about improving relationships between racially diverse students and students and faculty who are white.  Creating the best environments for education for everyone at all levels of the system will require new neuronal pathways to be developed, something that happens best with collaborative models, deep relationships, and persistent effort.

Each of the aforementioned events was powerful and transformative with ongoing work that will lead to positive changes; each event was attended in its entirety by President Ettling.

 Evidence of Success: SUNY Plattsburgh Alumns

There was evidence of great success over alumni weekend when I spoke with recent SUNY Plattsburgh graduates. Annette Romano (’86) National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), teacher at Niskayuna CSD and Co-Director, National Board Council of New York, was at the regional event with the Chancellor and Comissioner.

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Annette Romano (’86) on the left.  Also pictured is Amanda Zullo, NBCT chemistry teacher at Saranac Senior High School and recent recipient of an atward at the Whitehouse from President Obama for Excellence in Science and Mathematics.

Lateef Wearrien (’16), who is working on his Master’s degree at University at Buffalo in Student Affairs and Higher Education, led the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion.

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Edmund Adjapong (‘12) graduated with a degree in biochemistry and is currently working on his Doctorate at Teacher College, Columbia University; his words of leadership in the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion were powerful.  He also uses Hip Hop in the classroom to engage learning.

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Josh Modeste (’16), graduated with his BA (Biology)/MST in Teacher Education is currently teaching in New York City, was at the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion too. Seeing the success of these former students was rewarding beyond measure and represented a harvest that feeds the masses.  Each is a powerful agent of positive change in our society.

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Speaking with Josh Modeste is Randi Randi Weingarten, President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers.  She visited Sarah Hackett’s class last year.

As we work collaboratively to meet the challenges and opportunities before us and to create optimal learning environments for students to become positive agents of change, we do so with sweat on our brows and faith in our hearts for the bountiful harvest that is students’ success. Be the sunshine and the gentle rain.

Bonus: Here is an abstract from an article recently published by Edmund Adjapong:

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chancellor-an-maria                          Maria Veloz, Teacher Education major, with Chancellor Zimpher

 

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
–  Lifelong Learnning/Growth
–  Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
–  Helping Students Achieve Goals
–  Collaboration

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My profession as a Speech-Language Pathologist motivated me to deepen knowledge about people so diagnostic and therapeutic processes could be more meaningful and impactful for individuals I see in the clinic.  Deepening knowledge of others is important in my role as a professor and a Dean too. Dignity and respect are felt at a deeper level when other people feel like I “get them” and empathize with their journey in life. Over the years, my intentional reading and my work have given me greater access to the hearts and minds of people who experience life, on a daily basis, in ways that are different from me. Having done this work in the areas of ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, race, religion, and gender equality, I have developed knowledge that helps me understand multiple identities.  I understand the privileges I have and am motivated to keep learning so I can use my privilege to help others.

Over the past 8 months, I’ve taken an intentional journey to deepen my knowledge of what it means to be Black in America. While not the beginning of this journey, I decided to start a deep dive from a historical perspective in 1853 with Solomon imageNorthrup’s detailed account about being kidnapped as a free man and forced into slavery (I had not seen the movie 12 Years A Slave because I find some things too hard to watch). This was a powerful book that detailed the pain and indignity of what it is like when your body is not your own. Even today, some feel like their bodies are not their own due to societies inequities, particularly in moments of unjust authority. Consequently, the words from our national anthem “O’er the land of the free” do not have the same meaning for everyone in our country given unequal treatment.

I then read John Howard Griffin’s 1961 book, Black Like Me. This book details the journey of a white man who transformed himself in various ways to appear black. He imagetraveled through the Deep South in the era of Jim Crow and then wrote about the way he was treated due to the color of his skin. As was all too often true when reading these books, while historical, there were many statements that resonated today. One such statement in the book grabs the reader, “He cannot understand how the white man can show the most demeaning aspects of his nature and at the same time delude himself into thinking he is inherently superior. To the Negro who sees this element of the white man—and he sees it much more often than any other—the white man’s comments about the Negro’s alleged ‘immorality’ ring maddeningly hollow.” While it’s hard to believe what was happening in the country the year I was born, it’s harder to believe what is still happening now.

The next book I read (after a segue through Toni Morrison’s new book, God Help the imageChild), was Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2013 book entitled, Between the World and Me; he was honored at the Whitehouse last week, along with Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, as one of the top 25 disruptive leaders in America. The book was written as an open letter to his teenage son and shares the heart and soul of a parent who struggles with the fact that his child is growing up in a society where liberty and justice for all is something in a pledge, but that the pledge “rings maddeningly hollow.”

I am currently reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (2010). I have no words for how this book has transformed my understanding of our criminal justice imagesystem. The justice system in our country, in many ways, has been and currently is an injustice system. More of our citizens are in jail than any other country in the world. The significant increase is a result of The War On Drugs, an initiative that resulted in harsh mandatory sentencing. There was a disproportionate number of African Americans arrested as a result of this initiative. Alexander stated, “Studies suggest that white professional’s may be the most likely of any group to have engaged in illegal drug activity in their lifetime, yet they are the least likely to be made criminals.”

Once released from prison, not unlike the Jim Crow era, the individual is not allowed to vote or receive many benefits afforded other citizens – relegated to the all-too-familiar position in society as a second-class citizen.

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Given my life experience, what I’ve read in recent months, and what is happening in our country, you may appreciate I had a lot to think about when sitting on the steps in the Angell College Center during a protest with others holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Until there is equality, the phrase “all lives matter” “rings maddeningly hollow.”  I also was at the Black Lives Matter forum with more than 500 people in attendance. It was a powerful evening that represented SUNY Plattsburgh well. I care deeply about our students, as do the faculty, staff, and administrators who were at the forum. I particularly want students from groups that might feel marginalized to know we care and to know that I will continue to do all I can to make sure we have an equitable and just community in which to live and learn.

Bonus: This is an important article I shared with my faculty at the beginning of this academic year. It is entitled, “What Does A genuine Commitment To Diversity Look Like?

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
 Lifelong Learning/Growth
 Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
 Social Justice

References:

Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow. New York, NY: The New Press.

Coates, T. (2015). Between the world and me. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.

Griffin, J.H. (2010). Black like me. New York: NY, Signet.

Morrison, T. (2015). God help the child. New York, NY: Knopf, Borzoi Books.

Northrup, S. & Gates, H.L. (2013). 12 years a slave. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Cardinal Points image (Sept. 30, 2016). Photograph by Konrad Odhiambo.

Incarceration Images (n.d.) Retrieved October 1, 2016 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

The Foundation On Which We Stand

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New students entering Giltz Auditorium for the matriculation ceremony as faculty and staff cheer and clap.  Photograph by Konrad Odhiambo

Our students are moved in (often a Herculean family feat, both financial and physical), new students are matriculated and the first week of classes completed successfully. Now, we focus our energies on being the best learning community possible for our students and for us at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Our student-centered approach to education is supported by our shared values. The foundational values established by faculty members in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services are not collecting dust on a shelf; rather, we continually revisit our shared values to guide our work together. Today, I share student-centered thoughts and questions after each of our shared values.

Respect and Empathy
What is the best way to respect the backgrounds our students bring to our learning environments? 37% of our freshmen and 42% or our transfer students are from low-income families. There may be a need to be more flexible with rising scholars who are working several jobs, some of whom are helping to support their families. Here is a short commentary from The Chronicle of Higher Education that will provide more insight for you. Pay particular attention to the second recommendation: http://www.chronicle.com/article/What-Colleges-Can-Do-Right-Now/237589

Excellence in Teaching
What will you do this semester to learn one or two new teaching techniques you can use in class to engage students at a deeper level? I have learned numerous techniques from professors in Teacher Education. Don’t underestimate the ways in which we are resources for each other.

Lifelong Learning and Growth
It is important to consider how we are preparing our students to be life-long learners. How do you reinforce this in your classes? What skills and dispositions are needed by our students to do this successfully?

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
Almost 25% of our incoming students are from historically underrepresented groups. How are scholars and experts from these groups represented in your curriculum? Deeper connection and learning, in that order, will result from including diverse and inclusive perspectives in the curriculum.

Social Justice
There will be a number of forums and events on campus this academic year examining and supporting social justice. They often are held at the end of a long day, but I guarantee attending and listening to students’ voices will change how you see the world in which you were raised and will inform how you teach. I hope to see you there.

Helping Students Achieve Goals
When we hand out our syllabi, the goals are written for all to see. Take the time to do a “quick write” at the end of one of your classes to ask your students about their goals in your class and take a mindful approach to aligning your goals with their goals.

Professionalism
We are the models for professionalism for our students. We must never forget this fact, not even for one second.

Broad-Minded
I walked into the graduate class I am teaching this semester and said, “How do you want me to teach this class?” They stated they had never been asked this question before. After some discussion, they came up with a model they wanted to try. I said, “the information in this class is the medium throughout which I will teach critical thinking, problem solving, diagnostic thinking, knowledge and skills. The subject matter (voice disorders) is like clay to a potter and we can make many different types of vessels together.” We are all excited about the class.

Collaboration
What person or which offices could you collaborate with this semester that would strengthen your teaching excellence? Examples include the Institute for Ethics; The Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion; The Center for Teaching Excellence, and multiple offices in Student Affairs. Commit to a new level of excellence through collaboration.

Honesty
How can we best be accountable to each other in a way that promotes each person being his or her best self for our students? Don’t be a bystander.

Appreciation
Who will you acknowledge today to show your appreciation?

Please take a few minutes to review the EHHS Shared Values document. We are all responsible for creating a culture that supports learning and inspires us to do our best work together.

Bonus: Always remember that you are not just touching the lives of your students, but you are touching the lives of their current and future families. Use your privilege wisely.

Finishing Strong: Ten Tips

Finishing Strong Together

It’s “crunch time.”  There are two weeks remaining in the semester and there is much left to do.  As with other times of the semester, not everything will go as planned and difficult events will continue to occur in our students’ lives.  During this time, some say, “the egg shells are thin,” which may be a euphemism to patience, but it goes deeper than that.  Little difficulties can seem bigger than they are and big difficulties can feel apocalyptic.

Helping our students and others to “finish strong” is important.  Here are ten tips for helping others and yourself to do this well:

  1. Talk with students about balancing mind, body, and spirit; most probably know how to do this, so encourage them to take the time to do it.
  2. Ask students what they want to be able to say in two weeks about how they met end-of-semester challenges.
  3. Emphasize the importance of kindness, especially when things get difficult.
  4. Remind students that mistakes are part of everyone’s life and provide opportunities to grow.
  5. Encourage others to communicate with the person, not about the person, when there is conflict.
  6. Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues.
  7. Reduce anxiety by focusing on the present moment rather than the past or the future. “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” Eckhart Tolle
  8. Help students understand they are more resilient than they know by helping them discover deeper levels of determination through encouragement.
  9. Reframe challenges as opportunities – “Don’t limit your challenges, challenge you limits.” Jerry Dunn
  10. Take time to let your students know you care.

I wish everyone the best as we finish the semester and look forward to seeing you at awards ceremonies and graduation.

Bonus:

Longfellow Quote

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted in this blog

Respect and Empathy

  • Communicate with the person, not about the person, when there is conflict
  • Enter into differences of opinion and conflict with respect
  • Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Empower students to realize goals

References

Finishing Strong Image (n.d.) Retrieved May 1, 2016 from:    http://shatteringthematrix.com/profiles/blogs/the-butterfly-people#.Vya23tQrJdg

Longfellow Image (n.d.) Retrieved May 1, 2016 from:  http://quoteaddicts.com/topic/great-beginning-quotes/

listening

In our culture, learning to listen was not something that necessarily felt good because the process often came with some tone in phrases like, “Listen to me”  “Are you listening to me?” “If you would listen, you would know the answer” and many other phrases commonly used by caregivers and authority figures.  At school, most of us we were forced to listen while seated in rows of desks for hours on end.  Thankfully, pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning have improved and engage children in ways that motivate them to listen.

As we got older, we gained a deeper understanding of the power of listening, especially as we entered helping professions.  In our current higher education roles, listening is one of the most important skills we can practice on a daily basis.  Even though the title of “advisor” focuses on giving advice rather than listening, those who are known as good academic advisors at SUNY Plattsburgh are great active listeners.

We know good academic advising is critical to retention and academic success, a process that begins with good listening.  Steven Covey explained good listening as involving the ears, the eyes, and the heart.  With this wise perspective in mind, as we enter two weeks of academic advising, here are my Top Ten statements about listening:

  1. It shows respect for the other person
  2. Active listening provides a deeper understanding of someone and will improve your ability to advise.
  3. Listening holds the key to caring and opens the door to empathy; we know a higher percentage of our advisees are struggling emotionally compared to a few years ago. Don’t neglect the opportunity to ask advisees about their current emotional challenges.
  4. You can speak from deeper levels of the heart if you are willing to listen, levels where healing occurs.
  5. Your careful listening and encouragement for the other person to keep talking may allow for moments of self-discovery, some of which may be life changing. Simply saying, “tell me more” can be powerful.
  6. The other person’s life story will broaden your understanding of others.
  7. Your willingness to listen will build trust, something that may be needed more in the next meeting than the current meeting. Make sure you have some trust in the bank.
  8. Help your advisee know when to listen to her inner voice and when to ignore it. There are different inner voices to which our students can chose to listen, make sure they are listening to the right ones that speak of confidence, determination, resilience, and dreams.
  9. Asking thoughtful questions sets the stage for good listening.
  10. If you listen with your ears, eyes and heart, you will have the honor of your advisees remembering you as a good listener, and hopefully, someone who made a positive difference in their lives.

Bonus:  “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”  Alfred Brendel

 

EHHS Shared Values highlighted in this blog
Respect and Empathy
    Seek to understand before being understood
Listening to each other
Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues

Helping Students Achieve Goals
    Reaching out to struggling students
Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
Empower students to realize goals

 

Image (Sept. 28, 2010). Retrieved October 18, 2015 from http://perkettprsuasion.com/2010/09/28/the-art-of-listening-in-client-service/

“Are You A Senior?”

Move In Dan 2015

 

Nine days ago, I helped families move their children into the dorms.  The hopes and dreams of parents were expressed, sometimes in side conversations that went unheard by their children.  I purposefully have written “children” because as the parents of freshmen were speaking with me, it was as if the years and cherished moments with their children were flashing through their minds.  The parents, seemingly felt more deeply by some of the mothers, were leaving their babies in the hands of an academic institution with the trust that they would receive good care and a great education.  Having just dropped a son off at college the week before, these feelings were fresh in my mind too.

As I carried everything imaginable from refrigerators to bowling balls, I was inspired as I spoke with upper-class students about their studies and their goals.  The parents of these students were pros when it came to moving in with one mother saying, “This gets a lot easier over the years.  We have this down to a fine science.”  She joked about the unnecessary items they brought the first year.  This may best have been exemplified by another mother I saw trying to drag a huge bin toward a dorm that I soon found out belonged to a freshman.  I asked if I could help and she said, “No, I can get it.”  I convinced her to let me help and was shocked by the unbelievable weight of the bin; it was the heaviest of the day.  She spoke with an accent and told me she was from Poland.  The bin was too heavy to lift and she said, “Here, wait” as she opened the bin and removed several 20 pound dumbbells.  Her son, who had reappeared, and I then carried the bin up the stairs to the third floor of the dorm as mom followed with the weights. The whole scene seemed a little unusual to me, so I asked one of our faculty members from Poland about this and she said, “That is what good Polish mothers do, they carry the heavy load.  It’s part of our culture.”   That is one of many stories, in addition to the mother from NYC who sings at the Metropolitan Opera and gave me a demonstration of a vocal warm up before singing a few notes.  Her son did not see this, so embarrassment was averted.

At lunch, I sat with some parents who were tired from all of the moving and appreciative of the food provided by the college.  They told me about their daughter and their hopes for her.  On the other side of me were some students who told many stories about why they love SUNY Plattsburgh.

I had a goal of helping students move into every dorm.  One of the benefits of doing this was speaking with the RAs and RDs as they checked students into their rooms.  Many of the RDs are students in our Student Affairs and Higher Education graduate program.  I was proud of the job they were doing and impressed with their professionalism.

Helping with move-in day reinforced my belief that when we educate students, we have to imagine their current families and the generations before them that sacrificed for them to be in our classes.  We also need to think about the positive outcome receiving an education will have on the student and his/her future family.  It isn’t just one student sitting in our class, our generational responsibility is much bigger than that moment; yet, every one of those moments counts in our common purpose of providing the best learning environment and education possible for our students.

By 3:00pm, I met my goal of moving students into every dorm and had almost 18,000 steps on my Fitbit to prove it.  Meeting families, talking with students, and seeing many from the SUNY Plattsburgh community helping students, made for a rewarding day.

I did not tell people who I was as I helped them move unless they asked.  I typically introduced myself, after multiple trips, when everything was moved into the dorm.  People were surprised and grateful.  My favorite question from a family member before I introduced myself was, “Are you a Senior?”  The answer in my head that I didn’t give was, “I will be in 11 years.”

 

The Anatomy of Advisement

heart-and-mind

Sign-up sheets on seemingly-revolving office doors of faculty typify this time of year in academe when students are meeting with academic advisors.  Some faculty members may see this as a fairly routine event and hopefully few see it as an annoyance that interferes with other responsibilities.  I have always viewed advisement as an opportunity to make a positive difference in advisees’ lives.  Before an advisee comes to see me, I often contemplate on who I need to be to help or inspire the student to reach maximum success.  I consider if this were my child in college, with what type of adviser would I want her to meet?  What comes to mind is someone who is kind, who listens well, who pays attention to details, who is not afraid to have difficult conversations if necessary, and who can inspire ways to realize potential.  I even reflect on the characteristics of my best advisors who were so much more than advisors, they were mentors who modeled traits I wanted to develop.

It all starts with the feeling you get when advisees walk into your office.  I think back to an interview Oprah did with Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize Novelist.  The conversation was about parenting.  One thing Oprah said was, “The common denominator in the human experience is that everybody wants just to be appreciated or validated.”  In the conversation, Toni Morrison said, “It’s interesting to see when a kid walks into the room… does your face light up? That’s what they’re looking for…when my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or their socks were up…so you think your affection and your deep love is on display cause you’re caring for them, it’s not. When they see you they see the critical face…what’s wrong now? …Let your face speak what’s in your heart…it’s just as small as that.”

I met with an advisee last week and there was a midterm grade that needed some attention.  I validated him the second he walked into my office; I hope my face lit up.  He came prepared with a list of courses he needs next semester.  I went over the fine details of his academic plan that included counting general education requirements, appropriate number of upper division credits, major requirements, courses that would help him grow as a person and make him better in his job, and a number of other requirements that ensured he will graduate on time.  We were able to sketch out a plan for the next four semesters.  Then, it was time to take it to the next level where the heart meets the mind.

Mentor Parachute

We took the time to talk about dreams and aspirations.  We then talked about new study habits he could try that would allow him to reach those dreams and aspirations.  The conversation then went to daily living habits with friends and roommates and how these habits may be helping or impeding success.  We ended by me stating my belief in him to be successful and stating my door is always open if he needs anything.

There is so much more to the anatomy of good advising than making sure students meet major requirements and have 120 credits when they finish. Good advisement begins with the heart, moves to the mind, finds ways to connect the heart and the mind, and ends with the heart.  It is this holistic approach that presents an opportunity for advisees to feel their inner strength in ways they may have never imagined.  Create new doors of possibility in their minds and invite them to go through with heart.

 

EHHS Share Value Highlighted:  Helping Students Achieve Goals

 

Oprah and Toni Morrison (n.d.). http://www.momentsthatdefinelife.com/do-your-eyes-light-up-oprahs-life-class/

Cartoon (2015). Retrieved April 4, 2015 from http://www.trueyou.guru/category/mentoring/

Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2015 from: http://www.pearlsofresilience.com/your-mind-heart-the-reality-of-their-positions/

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