Tag Archive: Professor


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:

 

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.

Equity and Grit: Our Responsibilities

Goals

Two years ago, I wrote about “grit” in a blog entitled, A Critical Key to Students’ Success that included the above graphic.  I encouraged instructors to find ways to have discussions with advisees by exploring challenges and supporting growth.  Grit is a perfectly fine concept and we each apply different levels of it in our lives to achieve goals.  Some of us have to work harder than others in certain areas due to not winning a genetic lottery that would allow ease with learning a skill or body of knowledge.  There are additional barriers to consider beyond innate ability, which would result in a third frame in the above graphic where the person does not have a bike.

My understanding of grit has deepened by looking through the lens of equity.  Aisha Sultan, in her article, The Limitations of Teaching ‘Grit’ in the Classroom stated, “The transformative potential in growth mindsets and social-emotional skills such as grit may be more applicable to students whose basic needs are already met.”  The author quoted Tyrone Howard, Associate Dean for equality and inclusion at UCLA, who stated, “The conversation about growth mindsets has to happen in a social and cultural context, because cultural, institutional, and historical forces have an effect on individuals.”  He also said, “We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them.”

Equity-vs-Equality-300x168

There are mindsets and belief systems so deeply ingrained in systems that the dominant culture is often blinded to their presence; Robin DiAngelo’s article and video  have helped us bring this into focus.  As professors, we see grit and determination as essential tools to success in college and often help our student discover deeper levels of these personal qualities to be successful.  We are invited by cultural shifts, however, to step back and examine this belief system through the lens of equity and to develop approaches that increase students’ success.  We have the opportunity to use our privilege by giving a hand to those who are reaching for it.  I am proud of the ability and professional development I have observed in many EHHS faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh over the last academic year to support students’ success.

We understand there are students who have not had the advantages of others.  Reflection on this deepens our understanding about how inequity affects the learning environment.  If there were equity, students would enter your classrooms with potential reserves of grit you could tap and develop equally to improve learning.  This is not a current reality in our society and results in several questions when considering an increasingly diverse student population.

  1. Does our academic system have the right supports in place to bring as much equity as possible to the academic learning environment?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to help us recognize our “blind spots” related to equity?
  3. What is a professor’s responsibility in the classroom to both equity and equality?
  4. How do we best guide students who are not successful, even when there are supports for equity and when fairness in the classroom is evident?
  5. What responsibility does a professorate from the dominant culture have to reexamine and evolve teaching approaches to meet an increasingly diverse student population and society?

Society’s playing field is not level for many groups within our society, but supports across the college and within classrooms can help mitigate inequity and support success.  This is a collective responsibility that will afford students better access to and use of grit.  The closer we get to this higher standard, the closer we come to accessing the true potential of all professors and students.

Bonus:

Liberation

    EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Demonstrated awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Courage to discuss sensitive issues and “sit with discomfort”
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Social Justice

  • Recognize social justice issues
  • Advocate to enhance social change
  • Enhance community responsibility/social responsibility

References

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3 (3) pp 54-70.

Sultan, A. (2015). The limitations of teaching ‘grit’ in the classroom. The Atlantic Journal. Retrieved  April 17, 2016 from: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/12/when-grit-isnt-enough/418269/

Goals Image (n.d.) Retrieved April 17, 2016 from:   https://www.pinterest.com/aalaa_xx/paths-to-success/

Equity image (Oct. 2015). Retrieved April 17, 2016 from:  http://groundswellcenter.org/october-from-the-director/

Liberation Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2016 from http://www.storybasedstrategy.org/uploads/4/5/4/4/45442925/1193727_orig.png?653

 

 

Leadership Skills: Hitting the Jackpot in Vegas

 

Developing Leadership Skills

I attended a TEDx talk recently at SUNY Plattsburgh by Dr. Steve Trombulak, Dean of Sciences at Middlebury College entitled, Reclaiming the Soul of Higher Education: Experiential Education for Sustainability.  Dean Trombulak spoke about an experiential summer program that embeds leadership skills in its curriculum.  Some of the skills he highlighted included:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Persuasive communication
  4. Negotiation
  5. Crisis management
  6. Idea creation
  7. Networking
  8. Empathy
  9. Ethical decision making
  10. Failing forward

Dean Trombulak talked about teaching these skills (find the full list here) as students participate in various learning activities related to sustainability.  Leadership skills are important because he wants students to, “have the tools to do something with that information.”  We often talk about our students acquiring the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be successful in their fields.  How often do we think about leaderships skills under the category of skills?  How much more effective would our students be in their fields if we placed a stronger focus on the development of leadership skills?

I was at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) conference in Las Vegas last week and was amazed at how many times the leadership skills mentioned above were part of the conversation.  Dr. Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York System, talked about employees of P-12 schools and higher education collaborating in new ways to achieve our common goals.  This conversation took place in a session on Striving Together; the initiative in our region is called North County Thrive.  Chancellor Zimpher emphasized failing forward by learning from each other’s mistakes as we make progress.  Another session I attended was for deans where the focus was on leadership skills most used by deans.  These included:

  1. Be Vigilant
  2. Remain calm
  3. Value relationships and others’ achievements
  4. Be strategic
  5. Provide guidance an coaching
  6. Plan ahead
  7. Seek help and learn from others
  8. Solve problems creatively
  9. Follow through
  10. Set limits
  11. Trust in yourself
  12. Persist
  13. Be prepared to deal with the consequences of difficult decisions
  14. Don’t assume

In a survey sponsored by AACTE of 110 deans, leadership skills were rated revealing several of the highest rated skills to be in the area of pragmatics.  The four highest-rated leadership skills included: follow through, vigilance, calmness, and relationships (Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S., 2016).   Additional leadership skills discussed by deans attending the meeting included communication, cultural competence, creativity, and vision.

After the conference concluded, I spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking/climbing in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with my lifelong friend, who is a math professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas; this is the same friend I have mentioned in most of the other mountain climbing stories on this blog site.

Red Rocks 1

The relative peace and desolation of the desert was welcomed after the cacophony of Las Vegas.  One of the topics we spent the most time discussing while hiking was the importance of reframing what we do as professors in a classroom to address leadership skills.  There were times we stopped and sat on boulders to enter into deeper discussion.  I told him about the TEDx talk by Dean Trombulak that focused on students learning leadership skills along with the content of a course.  I also detailed the leadership skills addressed in the deans’ meeting.  We discussed the development of our own leadership skills and the importance of good mentors.  Our discussion revealed many opportunities we have each day as professors, mentors, and advisors to model and teach leadership skills.

You can teach leadership skills:

  • as you have students collaborate in group projects;
  • as you discuss and demonstrate the importance of relationships, particularly with regard to developing cultural competence;
  • as you display empathy by asking students how they are doing beyond the context of the classroom;
  • as you assist students to “dig deeper” and persist with their learning;
  • as you talk with students about failing forward (learning from mistakes) in order to do better; and
  • as you provide guidance for students by helping them gain insight into leadership development.

The examples could go on and on, but I will let you examine the leadership skills provided above to develop additional associations to your own work.  We are responsible for deep development of these skills in ourselves if we are expected to model them for and teach them to students.  Imagine what we and our students will accomplish if we do this!

I don’t enjoy gambling in casinos, but I felt like I hit the jackpot in Las Vegas when coalescing thoughts on the mountain about deeper development and teaching of leadership skills.  I am happy to share the wealth with you.  Which leadership skills are you going to work on and teach today?

Bonus Picture:

Red Rock Canyon is part of the Mojave Desert.  This area is 17 miles west of Las Vegas.

Red Rock 3

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

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

Learn Lead Image (2015). Retrieved February 28, 2016 from: http://edmundrichtoh.com/mlm-personal-development/how-to-develop-your-mlm-leadership-skills/

Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S. (2016, February).  Deans academy: Teacher prep and the importance of the dean – Part 1. Presentation at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Las Vegas, NV.

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

Beyond the Syllabus

Resiliance

Think back to times in your life when you learned the most about yourself, others, or an area of study.  Most likely, there was someone, or many people if you were lucky, who supported you and encouraged you on the path of learning and helped you learn how to struggle.  There may have been times when you wanted to give up, but someone was there to help you build resilience and help you realize that there were unimaginable possibilities in your life if you would ______. I’ll let you fill in the blank.

I’ve had the honor of speaking with SUNY Plattsburgh students recently about the alchemy of personal characteristics and life-approaches that could turn into gold in the future.  The discussion often starts with saying each student’s future is unknown, but doing the right things now will place her/him at the doorstep of opportunities that cannot yet be imagined.  I often challenge students’ thinking in the conversation by saying that there is no way of knowing the true self without moving beyond comfort zones and struggling beyond perceived limits of discipline, determination, and inner-drive.  The right friends and mentors are crucial to this process too.

Another powerful statement I use with students is, “It would be fascinating to see who you could become if (add something about discipline, determination and/or inner drive here).”  This statement about an “unknown self,” is followed by emphasizing the importance of accepting and appreciating the “current self.”  This allows for growth without creating anxiety about the current self; greater anxiety is felt by students who tightly embrace an idealized self that is far from the real self.

The mixing of concepts such as an “unknown future self” and “appreciating the current self” is the alchemy; a combination of characteristics/approaches that lead to unimaginable possibilities.  There are other powerful, life-changing combinations of characteristics and approaches you can consider introducing to your students that will help build resilience and opportunities such as:

  • Passionate curiosity as related to deep learning without dependence on a professor to feel passionate about a subject
  • Strength/Ego/Confidence balanced by humility
  • Being “comfortable” vs. learning how to struggle well
  • Maintaining dignity when faced with hurtful comments from others
  • Creating a safe psychological space in which to have difficult conversations – critical to do at any institution of higher learning
  • Caring and the importance of letting/helping others struggle (detailed in a story below)
  • Any “ism” and truly appreciating others’ lived experiences
  • Self-discipline to focus without electronic distraction
  • “The way it has always been done” and creativity
  • Time management and creating your own deadlines that are before actual deadlines

These select characteristic and approaches (you can add many more to this list) are rarely found in a syllabus; yet, they may be the most important things your students will learn in order to be successful.  While knowledge and skills for a profession are paramount, the most important, powerful, and engaging approach you can have as a professor is caring beyond what is on the syllabus and helping students acquire personal characteristics for success.  If our students are to develop resilience so they can end up on the doorstep of opportunity, then we must care deeply enough to support how they learn to struggle.

Bonus:  Here is a powerful story I often share with students about the importance of struggling.  For students in a helping profession, it is particularly powerful because they must learn how and when to let others struggle rather than rescuing them.  The story is a variation of an old story with an unknown author. My rewrite of the story uses gender-neutral language.

Butterfly

A child and a grandparent would often explore the woods behind the child’s house when the grandparent came to visit.  One day, they found a chrysalis (cocoon) hanging on a branch in a tree and the grandparent told the grandchild, Casey, about caterpillars and butterflies.    

Early the next morning, following a very windy night, Casey went out into the woods and the branch that held the cocoon was on the ground.  Casey was concerned and decided to help.   Casey ran back to the house quickly to get scissors and walked back to the fallen branch.  The cocoon was cut open carefully and a sort-of-butterfly emerged.

As the butterfly came out, Casey was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. Casey continued to watch the butterfly expecting, at any moment, that the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. Casey knew in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.  Neither happened and the sort-of-butterfly stopped moving.

Casey quickly went back to the house where the grandparent had just sat down for a cup of coffee.  Seeing how upset Casey was, the grandparent placed Casey in the safe space a grandparent’s lap could provide.  The upset child told about finding the cocoon on the ground and about being worried that something would step on it.  Amid tears, the explanation included the scissors and helping the butterfly so it would not get hurt, only to end with the sort-of-butterfly’s stillness.

At that point, the grandparent hugged Casey and said not everything was told during the previous day’s walk about how butterflies come to be.  Casey was told that given what was known from the previous day, the right thing was done, but there was something else that was important to know.  The grandparent explained that butterflies were SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, a butterfly’s struggle to push its way out of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly.

Casey thought for a moment and told the grandparent if another cocoon were ever found on the ground, instead of cutting it open, it would be hung back in the tree because it couldn’t do that by itself.  The proud grandparent talked about caring for others, helping them do things they could not do themselves and the importance of struggling to gain strength.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals

 

Tree Image (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/296533956690357754/

Butterfly Image (June 17, 2014). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  http://alphynix.tumblr.com/post/89080465377/thatscienceguy-as-children-were-taught-the

A House is Not a Home

SUNY Plattsburgh sign

At the end of life, and for those who are wise during life, material possessions have little meaning.  There is a wisdom that sees into the soul of the self and the souls of others where true meaning is found through relationships.  The title to this blog comes from an old song.  It struck me last week that it applies to some of the recent strife around the country at various colleges and universities about equality and how some students feel living on their campuses including our own.  While institutions of higher learning have many facilities to enhance the daily experience of students and faculty, what really matters is the depth of our relationships.  This is what brings true meaning, passion and purpose to life; it’s what makes our college a home for our students.

Those of us who work at the college feel it is our academic home, often spending more “awake time” on campus than in our homes.  Our students make the college their home for long periods of time.  What kind of home do we want to create for all of our students?  What can we do to make our campus a home in the truest way, where people are comfortable with and celebrated for being themselves?  The answers to these questions will create a positive academic learning environment that will inspire maximal learning for all students and a positive work environment for all faculty.

Learning new information in multiple forums on diversity over the past few weeks was intellectually enlightening and often moved the heart, but unless the information is incorporated into our daily lives through deeper relationships, the heart will not experience long-lasting change.  This speaks to the importance of our relationships, to the importance of pushing beyond comfort zones and to the importance of creating opportunities for people to come together in new ways.  It also means taking advantage of many opportunities that already exist to enter into new groups and conversations.  Embracing new relationships with others who are not like you, colleagues and students, is a privilege afforded to everyone on campus.

Plaza

Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” While it is important not to wait, the work of bringing diverse groups closer together is work we all must do as individuals and as a community.  How will our students be prepared to work in an increasingly diverse world if we don’t do this?  The sculpture of two people shaking hands in the Amity Plaza represents friendship between the US and Canada.  I like to think that the sculpture’s meaning can be expanded to symbolize a coming together, an amity of all people on campus from diverse cultural backgrounds.

While we must all come together as a community to improve equity and a sense of belonging, it is crucial to know that it is not the responsibility of those from underrepresented cultures to change the dominant culture.  Robin DiAngelo, author of the journal article entitled White Fragility that was shared in my last blog wrote, “Since all individuals who live within a racist system are enmeshed in its relations, this means that all are responsible for either perpetuating or transforming that system. However, although all individuals play a role in keeping the system active, the responsibility for change is not equally shared. White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people (Derman-Sparks & Phillips, 1997; hooks, 1995; Wise, 2003)” (p. 66).  If you are part of the dominant culture, your privilege will not excuse you from doing this work, especially if you feel no responsibility to help. If you are part of a non-dominant culture, your help will be needed.  The opportunity exists for dominant and non-dominant allies to come together and develop approaches to lead the way.  As a community, we must create a psychological space where it is safe for all to grow together.  President Ettling believes SUNY Plattsburgh can be known as the model for doing this work well and I agree.

We all have a responsibility, if we are going to live and work well together in our academic home and the home of our students, to go deeper and do more.  After attending multiple diversity forums and Safe Space training over the past few weeks, this responsibility has taken on renewed meaning for me.  It is from my place of privilege that I did not know about the inequities and the depth of our underrepresented students’ feelings; this also is true in relation to our LBGTQ students.  It is reasonable to say that many did not know and some still may not believe, but it is true; defensiveness and denial cannot dispute the facts.  What is our responsibility to make our house a home?  What will you do today?

A few suggestions from your colleagues for things you can do:

  1. Complete a two week rotation (4 classes) in INT303 A or B Examining Diversity through Film
  2. Start a book reading group linking the messages in the book with current day occurrences. DuBois’ “Souls of Black Folks” is an example of classic literature that could garner some worthwhile discussion.
  3. Attend a CDPI Film Series film and WRAP Session
  4. Attend Safe Space training (Coming to EHHS faculty in the spring) or become a Safe Space trainer
  5. Form a group of professors who are used to having difficult discussions in class and develop a best practices document and some training through the Center for Teaching Excellence.
  6. Do a quick write in class where students share a few of their struggles and ways you can be supportive.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

Respect and Empathy

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

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Demonstrated awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Courage to discuss sensitive issues and “sit with discomfort”
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Social Justice

  • Recognize social justice issues
  • Advocate to enhance social change
  • Enhance community responsibility/social responsibility

Amity Plaza Image (n.d.) Retrieved November 11, 2015 from:  http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/suny-plattsburgh-2849/photos

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3 (3) pp 54-70.

Plattsburgh Sign Image (Sept. 28, 2010). Retrieved November 11, 2015 from: https://vimeo.com/102794142

 

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/

Passion Yeats

Linking our mission of preparing students for academic, professional and personal success with our passion to do this work provides an amazing sense of purpose.  At the EHHS Community Gathering, our mission was examined along with perception, perspectives, multicultural competencies, conflict management, wellbeing, and passion.  We examined results from a study by Delaney, Johnson, Johnson, and Treslan (2010) entitled Students’ Perceptions of Effective Teaching in Higher EducationRegardless of face-to-face or online format, students said the most effective teachers were identified as being respectful, knowledgeable, approachable, engaging, communicative, organized, responsive, professional, and humorous.  It was rewarding to see that the majority of these characteristics are linked to our shared values and previous group work on reflective practice.

The passion for what we do and the effectiveness of our purpose deepen when mindful steps to promoting wellbeing are taken.  Better approaches to conflict management were presented and Information from Gallup on wellbeing was shared.  I asked you to imagine how the learning/work environment would feel and what we could accomplish if students and faculty were all happy.  To punctuate the moment, I shared a video that was made by Howard University students to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCD4gBNOD28

Building on the positive energy from the video, faculty member were asked to write answers to three questions about passion and then to discuss answers with other members of their program/department; a special thank you to the Counselor Education faculty (and a few guests) for embracing the spirit of happiness by dancing at the beginning of our group activity.  The positive energy in the room was incredible.   Below, everyone’s answers have been organized into common themes for each question.

What drove your passion for getting into your field?

  • Having an impact; helping people; making a difference
  • Caring for others
  • A Teacher (two were inspired to be better than bad teachers they had)
  • Experienced care from someone in chosen profession
  • Passion for children
  • Family influence
  • Life-long learning
  • Childhood dream

What drives your passion in your current position?

  • Seeing/helping students learn; grow; be successful;
  • Learning from or working with colleagues; collaboration;
  • Scalability (teaching a few who will have a positive influence on many)
  • Create positive change in students/clients
  • Strengthen profession
  • Share love of learning
  • Fulfilling a childhood dream

How will you best use your passion for the growth of our students?

  • Model it (sharing own excitement, encourage, engage, inspire)
  • Reflect/improve my teaching/ effective teaching
  • Nurture and challenge
  • Listen/be accessible
  •  Develop relationship/community
  • Respect students
  • Respond with care/caring

The responses above provide give a peek into the depth and breadth of foundational perspectives that created and drive the passion of professors in the EHHS Division.  The topics we addressed during the EHHS Community Gathering, if embraced fully, will allow us to create a dynamic and fulfilling learning and work environment where we can achieve our mission/purpose with passion.

Image (2010). Retrieved February 2, 2014 from: http://picturespost.blogspot.com/2010/12/incredible-fire-art.html

We’re All In This Together

community-cropped

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). 

References

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  http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/confronting-toxicity/

Wheatley, M. (2011, June 7). Authority on Leadership in Chaotic Times. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgabFLvMB5I 

Image (2012). Retrieved May 5, 2013 from: https://www.canwestpropane.com/images/default-album/community-cropped.jpg

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