Tag Archive: Finals


Meaningful Micro-Moments: Elevating Excellence

image

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:

 

The Final Weeks

Graduation Success

The academic year is coming to a close as we do all we can to ensure the academic, professional, and personal success of our students. Projects, assignments, internships, field work, and finals are the typical territory where we support and inspire this learning. In the focused moments of the final two weeks, there is a range of emotions from lessons learned to great accomplishment.  Professors can take great pride in the growth they have inspired in their students; the students will probably need a few weeks after it is all over to reflect so they appreciate the depth of their growth.

There is an overriding sentiment I always consider amid the various struggles necessary to accomplish end-of-the-semester goals that comes from Maya Angelo who said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  This is only partially true in an academic environment, at least I hope, if lectures and learning experiences are engaging.  In academe, we strive for students to remember what they learn.  Have you ever wondered what was most memorable from your course?  David Head (2011) wrote an article for Inside Higher Education entitled, What Do Students Remember?, where he discussed what students remember.  He used an interesting one-point, extra-credit question on his final exams to explore this, “What one thing from the course did you find most memorable? Explain why.”  It may be interesting to try this question on final exams with your students.  Regardless of their answer, however, they will always remember how you made them feel.

As we move toward finals, and toward graduation for some, there will be many ceremonies and celebrations.  It is an honor for us to attend these events.  There are several supervisor appreciation events I am honored to attend where students and supervisors speak publicly about their appreciation for the lessons learned during internships.  At another event, there is formal participation by family members as students are honored for their success.  There are many additional events that highlight students’ success where families are present to value the moment.  These accomplishments by our students, sometimes amid great struggle and sacrifice by themselves and their families, are valued and celebrated.  It is during these celebrated instances of students’ academic, professional, and personal success when I am thinking, “This is why we do what we do.”

Bonus: There are successes and challenges with colleagues over the semester too.  What answers would you get if you asked your colleagues, “What one thing from our interactions this semester did you find most memorable?  How would the answers inform what we do next semester?

Shared Values Highlighted:

Helping Students Achieve Goals – Empowering students to realize goals
Appreciation – Celebrating success

 

Head, D. (2011).  What do students remember? Retrieved May 3, 2015 from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/03/01/essay_on_what_college_students_remember

Image (2011). Retrieved May 3, 2015 from  http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/660062/d4f410d13e/287518461/7b0c53c445/

The Heart and Soul of Teaching

Heart 3

Over the past five years, I have had the privilege of interviewing many people for teaching positions.  Hearing their life experiences and perspectives always is enlightening and often inspiring.  Their application packets typically contain a document detailing their teaching philosophies.  Theorists are often mentioned and the multiple ways in which students can learn and we can teach are discussed.  I always pay close attention to whether the applicant is student-focused rather than self-focused.

A recent example from popular media that demonstrated being student-focused came from Kyle Schwartz, an elementary teacher in Denver.  She passed out Post-it notes to her elementary students with a sentence to be completed that read, “I wish my teacher knew…”  As you may have seen, there was an amazing response to what the children wrote.  Many of them read their responses aloud in class, something Ms. Schwartz said created a deeper sense of community.  There were statements that often spoke to their struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Teachers across the country now are using this approach with their students and using the information to guide ways to better teach their students.  This approach by Ms. Schwartz speaks to the heart and soul of teaching.   Her holistic approach is a good example of heart, something else I look for in job applicants.

Make a difference John-F.-Kennedy

 

A recent applicant’s teaching philosophy addressed the holistic perspective of the learner; it was a student-focused philosophy with heart.  This applicant spoke to educating the whole person and stated, “…this type of learning depends on the creation of a space where adult learners can bring their experiences into conversation with the content.  Effective teaching offers a holding space for crisis in one’s assumptive world.”  Powerful discussions can challenge believe systems and cause disequilibrium; this is in addition to any disequilibrium that may already exist due to a student’s life circumstances.  As we come to the last weeks of the semester, instances of disequilibrium experienced by students get amplified under the pressure and stress of finishing the semester.  The disequilibrium provides powerful teaching moments that can help students improve problem solving, inner strength, persistence, and ability to push beyond perceived limits (AKA grit).  Are we seizing these teaching moments in our day-to-day interactions to help our students improve their grit?

The job applicant who sparked the idea for this blog quoted Henri Nouwen (1997) to support the position of working holistically with learners.

Teaching means the creation of the space in which the validity of the questions does not depend on the availability of answers, but on their capability to open us to new perspectives and horizons.  Teaching means to allow all the daily experiences of life such as loneliness, fear, anxiety, insecurity, doubt, ignorance, need for affection, support, and understanding, and the long cry for love to be recognized as and essential part of the quest for meaning.  This quest, precisely because it does not lead to ready answers but to new questions, is extremely painful and at times even excruciating.  But when we ignore, and thus deny, this pain in our students, we deprive them of their humanity.  The pain of the human search is a growing pain (p. 99).

The first sentence of the quote is powerful by itself.  The whole statement by Nouwen poignantly reminds us about the complexity of learning where the inner-self struggles with growth, thus leading to more questions.  In our standardized test society, our students may be more used to focusing on answers than questions, something that can result in greater struggle.  We know for some of our students, if not all, the path to the mind is often through the heart.  This is a path that allows for the persistence necessary to explore unanswered questions.

As we come to the end of the semester, we are faced with our own struggles to reach goals and meet student learning objectives.  As you focus on completing the semester, please take time with your students to “check in” and see how they are doing.  Not a “How are you doing?” with an expected, habitual, socially-polite response of “fine,” but a sincere inquiry into their well-being as they approach the end-of-semester challenges.  This holistic approach respects students’ hearts and souls.  It also will improve their ability to learn and discover deeper levels of grit.

Bonus:  Imagine if you handed your college students a Post-it note that said, “I wish my professor knew….”

EHHS Shared Values Addressed:
Respect and Empathy
Excellence in Teaching

 

Nouwen, H. (1997). Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader. R. Durbank (Ed.). New York, NY: Doubleday.

Image (2013). Retrieved April 19, 2015 from: http://br1ana01.deviantart.com/art/Flaming-Heart-352586111

Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2015 from: http://emilysquotes.com/one-person-can-make-a-difference-and-everyone-should-try/

Faster Isn’t Always Better

Mindful Speed

It is that time in the semester where one week remains before finals.  There is a temptation to pack more information into the last week compared to previous weeks just to get material covered.  Students are feeling overwhelmed by finishing projects, papers, and by getting ready for finals; faculty feel the pressure too.  The element of motivation is critical for students and faculty amid the frenetic pace that can consume the academic culture this time of the year.  Will going faster result in students knowing more?  Intuitively, we know the answer even if we are motivated to provide as much information as possible to our students.  This is a good time to focus on our shared value of engaging students and on finding a renewed sense of motivation to complete the semester by giving our best effort.

As many of you know, Margaret Wheatley is one of my favorite leadership authors.  In a five-minute video where she discusses motivation, she says, “We need to develop new eyes through which to see our experience and we need to be much more engaged to learn from our experience and to develop those new eyes.”  She spoke about leadership teams that keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result by going faster; this doesn’t work well.  She said the missing element for increasing motivation is not speed, but people’s engagement.  Transferring this into the world of academia, we can understand that the depth of our motivation is found in the positive engagement we have with each other and our students.

Consider again the question in the first paragraph.  Based on our shared value of engaging students and on what Dr. Wheatley said, it may be best to “develop new eyes through which to see our experience.”  In essence, the amount of information conveyed is not as important as the depth to which we are able to engage the students with the information.

I wish you and your students well as we finish this semester.

Bonus: Reminder of what students say engages their learning.

Wheatley, M. (2013).  Co-creating possibilities.  Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.letgoandlead.com/meg-wheatley/

Image (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2013 from: http://www.santabanta.com/sms/quotes/life/74/?page=6

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