Tag Archive: goals

Decision for Excellence



The vision statement for our School of Education, Health, and Human Services at SUNY Plattsburgh contains a goal of our graduates modeling excellence in their careers. The path to excellence is not about perfection, but about continuous improvement and striving for excellence; walking this path is a decision that conveys a chosen attitude.  Achieving excellence happens during class time, during advisement and mentoring sessions, and during opportunities for leadership training. The path to excellence has many obstacles, including mediocrity, fear/anxiety, and lack of self-discipline. Here are a few topics and quotes you can share with students to help them manage these obstacles.


  • Help students define clearer short-term and long-term goals.
  • Make sure there are no mental health issues impeding motivation; ask about depression and anxiety and seek appropriate supports is necessary.
  • Ask, “In what ways are you currently accepting mediocrity in your studies?” “What is one thing you could do to overcome this?” Adapted from Randy Gage
  • Share with advisees that each semester they learn new skills to be successful, greater potential is possible for the next semester. The skills build on each other and evolve to make greater success in each new semester a possibility. Ask, “What are you doing now to develop these skills?”

Fear and Anxiety

  • The greater the distance between the “real self” and the “ideal self,” the greater the anxiety. Help students focus on acceptance of the current “self” with well-defined steps for meeting short-term goals.
  • Help students reframe some degree of fear or anxiety as a normal feeling if they are growing; we don’t grow when we are comfortable.  Discuss the difference between non-productive anxiety and productive anxiety.
  • Talk about expanding comfort zones, as described by Susan Jeffers, by “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” Courage is the key, a great topic for discussion.
  • “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” Eleanor Roosevelt


  • “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” Jim Rohn
  • “The most valuable form of discipline is the one that you impose upon yourself. Don’t wait for things to deteriorate so drastically that someone else [or a policy] must impose discipline in your life.” Jim Rohn
  • “Self-discipline is the ability to do what you think you should be doing rather than doing something based on how you feel.” Brendan Baker
  • In our society, things happen at increasingly faster speeds with greater connectivity. A conversation about delayed gratification is important (e.g., shutting off your phone and focusing for 30 minutes, not allowing yourself to check social media or email for 30-45 minute periods when studying, etc).

There are additional obstacles students face when they have made a decision for excellence such as roommate issues, financial concerns, and family problems; however, addressing mediocrity, fear/anxiety, and self-discipline during advisement and office hours provides a clearer path to success. Help students make a decision for excellence and let them know some lessons that have been on your path. As Sheldon Kopp once remarked, we are not gurus, we all are pilgrims on this path together.


EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Excellence in Teaching
    • Helping Students Achieve Goals
    • Lifelong Learning/Growth

Image (n.d.) Retrieved on March 18, 2017 from: http://refe99.com/quotes/excellence/

Gage, R. (n.d.). Fighting mediocrity. Retrieved on March 18, 2017 from:  http://www.randygage.com/fighting-mediocrity/

Jeffers, S. (2007). Feel the fear and do it anyway: Dynamic techniques for turning fear, indecision and anger into power, action and love. Santa Monica, CA: Jeffers Press.

Kopp, S. (1980). If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him: The pilgrimage of psychotherapy patients. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.

Rohn, J. (n.d.). The Key to Getting All You Want? Discipline. Retrieved on March 18, 2017 from: http://www.success.com/article/rohn-the-key-to-getting-all-you-want-discipline

Second Image (n.d.). Retrieved on March 18, 2017 from: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/ralphmarst104215.html

Reaching the Summit Together

False Summits

Above the tree line, in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, Andrew’s glacier rests with a small pond at the bottom.  Each carefully-placed footstep up the glacier is motivated by not slipping and sliding down into the rocks or the pond.  If you are a “flatlander” and have not spent enough time acclimating to the altitude, each step reminds your heart and lungs that you are in new territory.  As my climbing partner and I made our way up the glacier, the summit was in sight.  We avoided crevasses and made our way to the top, so we thought.

When we reached what we thought was the summit, the real summit loomed above us in the distance.  Reaching the summit would take a lot more effort.  It is at that moment of reflection when you have to determine if you have enough resources, mental and otherwise, to reach the real summit.  Will the summit need to be reached on a different day?  Is a new trail necessary?  Are there new skills that might need to be learned to reach the summit?  Is it possible a guide is needed? Is a higher self possible?

There are false summits in everyday life.  Here are three recent examples of false summits with a student, with a client, and with colleagues:

  • While working with a student last semester, the false summit was presented when the student thought sufficient effort and dedication were being given to reach a successful goal. When grades were given, that perceived amount of effort and dedication turned out to be a false summit.  Deep reflection, discussion of new study skills, and approaches to learning needed to reach the real summit took place over the winter break.  The student is on a new trail this semester, but as is often the case, reaching the summit is taking a lot more effort than what was originally believed to be necessary.  Guides will be a key to success too.
  • In the Speech and Hearing Clinic, I had a client who had been to many doctors in search of a diagnosis for voice and health concerns. Each visit, test, and ineffective medication, up to the point of my evaluation, presented as false summits.  While I was not legally able to provide a medical diagnosis for the client, I was able to serve as a guide to help the client move further up the trail to getting the answer.  Two students joined my in the evaluation and learned a lot about the diagnostic process.  Mentoring the students about the false summits and helping the client find the right trail provided insight for everyone involved.
  • I attended a diversity workshop recently, led by several national experts, who underscored some perceptions about our academic environment. SUNY Plattsburgh is a friendly, supportive college where people are willing to go the extra mile for each other; however, as with many institutions of higher learning across the country, there was a false summit by thinking this cultural belief permeated deeply into all groups on campus.  In other words, from the lens of the majority, a summit had been reached, but it was a false summit.  New tools are being acquired, new trails are being taken, and expert guides are being used to make sure everyone on campus can reach the real summit together.

There are common lessons on journeys from false summits to the real summits.

  • There is the lesson of perseverance. The determined path will lead to new lessons about the self and reaching the summit will provide a new view of the self.  Once on top, the view provides more summits on the horizon that invite life-long learning.
  • As educators, it is important to keep our skills honed to better guide our students. Talking about the trails is not enough; our students need to see that we are on our own self-actualizing trails.
  • We will climb higher together if we are willing to be guided as well as guide. The lessons we learn from each other will allow equal access to the summit.
  • There also is the lesson of the heart. While working hard in the thinner air of new territory, the heart beats best when accompanied on the journey by the hearts of friends and community members, and by guides who have traveled the trails to similar summits.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Helping Students Achieve Goals
  • Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth

False Summit Image (September 2, 2015). Retrieved February 15, 2016 from:  https://timbdesign.com/appalachians/

Andrew’s glacier (July 13, 2012). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/man-dies-in-fall-on-glacier-at-rocky-mountain-national-park

The Anatomy of Advisement


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/

Strength, Courage and Confidence


One of our shared values is to empower students to realize goals.  On the surface, this resonates well with our beliefs about the academic system.  Below the surface, it is important to explore multiple ways to achieve this important shared value.  We are challenged to empower students by helping them build inner strength, courage and confidence to realize goals.

Think back over your life and ask yourself where you derived your strength, courage and confidence to achieve goals.  Each of us would have different answers, but there most likely are common threads.  These may include:

  • Someone who believed in you
  • Friends who challenged you
  • Changing inner language to reduce or eliminate negative self-talk
  • Learning to pace yourself by setting small, achievable goals
  • Not listening to others who said something was not possible
  • Moving beyond comfort zones and perceived limits to explore what is truly possible
  • Seeing mistakes – yours and others’ – as opportunities to grow (e.g., compassion, dignity, and forgiveness)
  • Working with a team where you built on and learned from others’ strengths
  • Building on your strengths rather than focusing solely on improving weaknesses
  • Embracing your own talents/abilities rather than making comparisons with others’ talents/abilities
  • Not sweating the small stuff

Some challenges currently in front of students to reach the end of the semester successfully may seem insurmountable.  While faculty and staff feel this too at times, they have developed many of the positive strategies noted above to cross the finish line.

One of the more powerful things you can do over the next few weeks is to share encouraging words and positive strategies with students that will empower them to achieve their goals.  You have the power and insight to encourage deeper development of strength, courage and confidence in your students.  Never assume the students in your classes possess these important life-shaping characteristics, to the depth they could, without your support.


stronger than you think 2








Image (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014 from: http://www.voiceofassurance.com/

Image (2011). Retrieved November 16, 2014 from: http://lwoodyatt.blogspot.com/2011/11/promise-me-youll-remember.html

A Critical Key to Students’ Success


Advisement is a time when you speak with students in your office about their academics and their future.  We talk about transcripts, grades, and a schedule for next semester as long as it doesn’t include an 8:00am class.  Beyond discussing grades and planning, you have the opportunity to speak to the hearts of the students.  This requires holistic advisement where topics such as roommates, study habits, determination, partying, and long-term goals are discussed.  Over the years, I have seen some very bright students not be successful, and, on the other hand, I have seen some students be stars who are not at the top of their class and/or have difficult challenges in their lives.  You can think of a number of factors that may allow for success in less than optimal circumstances, but one sticks out above the rest and it is “grit.”

Treat yourself to watching this engaging 6-minute TedTalk by Dr. Duckworth who was a math teacher in New York City and now is a psychologist.

 Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth

What have been the top three things in your life that have taken the most determination, persistence, and grit?  How do we reinforce or help our students develop these qualities?  What would this discussion look like during an advisement/mentoring session?  As Dr. Duckworth said, it may be important to help students understand how the brain works and that learning from success and failure permanently changes neural structure; a process over which they have control.  Yes, there is a deeper nature-nurture discussion here.  Regardless, we have the privilege of being able to focus on the nurturing side of the equation with our students.  I’ve often told students that each semester is an opportunity to discover a new self because they learned so many lessons from the current semester about how to do things better next time; failure and not getting stuck in negative emotions is part of learning how to be successful.  Helping students learn how to push against perceived self limits by learning from successes and mistakes opens the door to unlimited opportunities.  Getting up every day and giving it your best takes more than learning, it takes grit.

Maybe the conversation that leads to discussing grit starts with a few simple questions.  For example, what has been the most challenging aspect of your studies/college?  How have you grown as a person due to this challenge?  If you were not successful, what did you learn that will allow you to be successful next time?  How has this experience changed the way you view yourself?

There are vulnerabilities and tender places of growth that can be addressed during advisement or during the mentoring process.  As professionals in academia, we occasionally have had conversations like this with students over the years, but maybe we need to be more intentional about it.  Your advisees’ success may depend on having this conversation, most likely more than once.

Bonus: What does it look like to have “group grit?”  Even with shared values and a clear mission that focuses on students’ success, the way a group works together when the going gets tough will result ultimately in the group’s success and students’ success.

Shared Value Highlighted: Helping Students Achieve Goals

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