Tag Archive: professors

Innovation, Adaptation, and Change


Our students maneuver the world in ways that are astonishing.  Rapid innovation that allows them to access, share, store, and manipulate information with increasing speed has been almost dizzying for digital immigrants who must be intentional about adapting these changes to the learning environment.  Electronic modes of communication have evolved from the time of Samuel Morse and Alexander Graham Bell to now with individual and group texting for students who prefer to text rather than talk; Morse would probably be happier about this than Bell.  Further, increased bandwidth has allowed the evolution of video conversations to multiple people participating from a distance with near-in-person communication; imagine what Bell would have thought about this!

In education, we organize educational material in course management systems with increasing bells and whistles and even adapt the learning environment by engaging students in classes with thoughtful use of the technology they carry to access the world.  Increasing access to information and the cost of higher education have resulted in many of our students coming to SUNY Plattsburgh with a significant number of college credits they earned through dual enrollment programs; some of the courses were taken online.

We are challenged with the need to innovate, adapt, and change as many students come to us with increasing technological skills and with curricular needs that may fit into a three-year model rather than a four-year model.  We must remain intentional about adapting ways students access the world into our pedagogy.  We also must be aware of gaps that result from overuse of technology and help our students develop good interpersonal skills that occur face-to-face, especially when it comes to managing conflict.

All of this provides context for a few questions that can be framed in our shared values:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Given our commitment to academic quality, what ways must we innovate, adapt and change to meet the educational needs of our current students?
  • As more students come to college with greater numbers of general education credits, how do we adapt our traditional curricular models to ensure students leave with what we value in a college education given our commitment to liberal arts?
  • What are the best approaches for supporting students who have not had the privilege of AP courses, especially those who need some remedial support, graduate from college in four years?


  • How do we build stronger bridges between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to collaborate in a whole-person approach to students’ development?
  • What are the best approaches to strengthening face-to-face communication skills across the curriculum?

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • With increasing numbers of racially diverse students who enrich the academic learning environment, how do we as individuals and members of a complex system need to adapt to improve communication, pedagogy, and an overall supportive campus culture/climate/community?
  • With appreciation for cultural differences in family involvement, what are the best ways to improve communication with families of our students?

Our ability to innovate, adapt, and change will chart a successful course for our future and the future for our students.  Exploring creative approaches together is exciting and focuses our energies in the right places.



First image (September 27, 2016). Retrieved on April 23, 2017 from: https://m.yourstory.com/2016/09/book-review-innovation-is-a-state-of-mind-innovation-is-good-business-but-it-can-also-be-good-life-new-book-gives-creative-tips/

Second image (March 11, 2009). Retrieved on April 23, 2017 from: https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/hblowers/innovation-quotes

Excellence in Teaching


Excellence in teaching requires us to ENGAGE students in the learning process.  It also requires a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, a pursuit that deepens the knowledge we can share, as well as deepening our knowledge about approaches for helping students learn.

There was a time when PowerPoints were engaging because they were “bright and shiny” compared to overheads; however, the phrase “death by PowerPoint” is common in our vernacular these days for a reason. I remember when I was an undergraduate student and “dyed in the wool” lecturing professors would bring in their notes that had yellowed over the years. Back then, I used to wish they would at least put some Liquid Paper around the edges to make the notes look new; this was before computers when a fresh set of notes could be printed with the click of a button. PowerPoints don’t yellow, but if sound effects occur when text appears on the screen, that’s a hint of yellowing. If slides are still being read to students in class, that may be a technique that is yellowing if overused.

When I taught a graduate voice disorders class last fall, I experimented with a flipped classroom model. Students read assignments and slides before class. Clinical cases were presented in class and in the voice lab and therapy techniques were practiced. The students helped me find my balance by requesting I review highlights from slides they had access to on a course management system, Moodle in this case. After 25 years of teaching, this felt like one of the best classes I have taught. Students were engaged more deeply with the material and feedback was positive.

Since teaching that class, I’ve been reading a book loaned to me by the Chairperson of Expeditionary Studies entitled, Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014) that details better ways to help students retain material over longer periods of time. There are approaches to learning I would change the next time I teach based on information in this book. For example, I would place exercises on Moodle that required more retrieval of course content and I would increase quizzes and formative assessments in class. A few key points from the authors include:

“Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skills from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention”

“Effortful retrieval makes for stronger learning and retention.”

“After an initial test, delaying subsequent retrieval practice is more potent for reinforcing retention than immediate practice, because delayed retrieval requires more effort.”

“Repeated retrieval not only makes memories more durable but produces knowledge that can be retrieved more readily, in more varied settings, and applied to a wider variety of problems.”

Life-long learning by instructors and a willingness to try new approaches to engage students while teaching are crucial to achieving our highest shared value of Excellence in Teaching. It’s no coincidence that someone from Expeditionary Studies loaned me a book on learning so I could explore new territory for supporting students’ success. I am grateful to be in a community with colleagues who embrace this ongoing work.

Ask a few colleagues to share their most engaging teaching techniques with you this week. I suspect it will be an enlightening conversation.

Bonus: “Trying to come up with an answer rather than having it presented to you, or trying to solve a problem before being shown the solution, leads to better learning and longer retention of the correct answer or solution, even when your attempted response is wrong, so long as corrective feedback is provided” (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, p. 101)

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Excellence in Teaching
• Lifelong learning



Brown, P., Roediger, H., & McDaniel (2014). Make it stick. Cambridge, MA: The Belkbap Press of the Harvard University Press.

Image (n.d.) Retrieved on February 12, 2017 from: http://www.newspakistan.tv/high-fructose-diet-harms-brain-genes-study/

The Foundation On Which We Stand


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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


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/

The Cost of Class Time

Lecture Cost

Have you ever thought about per hour rates students are paying to sit in your classes?  To compute this for a typical undergraduate student, you have to take 45 contact hours for a three-credit course x 5 classes per semester = 225 hours x 2 semesters = 450 total hours divided into the tuition rate; graduate would be 360 hours based on 12 credits per semester.  Using this formula, cost per hour of class time based on current tuition rates would be:

SUNY Plattsburgh In-state Out-of-state
Undergraduate $14.38 $36.26
Graduate $30.19 $61.69

Of course, the cost formula is not really this simple, but it makes a point about the monetary value of instruction time for students; payment for exceptional advisement and mentoring during office hours also can be considered.  For most classes, hundreds of dollars are on the table, so to speak, when a professor walks into the room.  Do students realize how much money is wasted when they skip a class?  Do professors think about how much money is being paid for a class if it is cancelled?  What if full payment of a professor’s salary was determined by ratings of teaching excellence?

From our Shared Values:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Clear expectations
  • Model passion and professionalism
  • Timely feedback
  • Effective assessment tools
  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to students’ needs

We strive to uphold our shared value of Excellence in Teaching, as stated above, with passion.  Bringing deep value to teaching has been an ongoing quest for me.  This is motivated in part by the responsibility students in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services will have for making a positive difference in the lives of those they will serve.  With this in mind, I share something I read last week entitled, Five Types of Quizzes That Deepen Engagement with Course Content, by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, that can bring additional value to the classroom.  She presents five approaches:

  • Mix up the structure
  • Collaborative quizzing
  • Quizzing with resources
  • Quizzing after questioning
  • Online quizzes completed before class

Take a few minutes to read about these techniques (click here) and try one you have not used before.  Once you do, let me know about the outcome.  There are many ways we can bring value to the classroom.  Let’s make sure the value students receive far exceeds the “dollars placed on the table” at the beginning of each class because not only are we touching their lives, we are indirectly touching the lives they will touch in the future.

Bonus: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image (February 23, 2015).  Retrieved April 3, 2016 from: http://pbrnews.com/recommendations-for-raising-tuition-effectively/

Weimer, M. (2016, March, 30) Five Types of Quizzes That Deepen Engagement with Course Content.  [Web Log Post].  Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/five-types-of-quizzes-deepen-engagement-course-content/

The Lecture: What Are You Willing to Risk?


Faculty members at SUNY Plattsburgh, as at other institutions of higher learning, are professors, full/part-time lecturers, and adjunct lecturers.  These titles conjure up images of experts in their fields standing in front of students, speaking and professing (AKA: lecturing). Lecturing commences with the hope of being inspiring enough to keep students engaged for three hours each week for 15 weeks.  The reality of doing this in our short-attention-span-society is challenging, even for the most engaging speakers.

I recently read a post from The Teaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer (2016) entitled, Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  She shared the results of a survey from 275 faculty members in the area of economics who reported that, “they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time.”  She wrote about continuing reliance on lecturing in many fields and resistance to changing other aspects of the profession including course design, approaches to testing, assignments, and grading.  There are, of course, some who have become comfortable with change and they embrace new approaches that have a long-lasting impact on students’ learning.  These reflective teachers use a continuous improvement model and are always seeking new, effective teaching approaches through workshops, the Center for Teaching Excellence, collaboration with colleagues, and reading.



I tried new approaches to teaching after discussions with colleagues that were inspired by reading Ken Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do.” I  became much more democratic and involved my students in decisions about how they wanted to learn material.  I changed the way I used class time and took a different approach to testing with help from The Center for Teaching Excellence. Hanging around with professors from Teacher Education also gave me a few new teaching techniques.  Changing my approach to teaching was a huge risk in my mind because I had high ratings on my Course Opinion Surveys.   I was comfortable with lecturing – something I later labeled, “Death by PowerPoint” after changing to approaches that required deeper engagement by students.  I knew I was presenting the information my students needed to be successful in clinical settings with clients.   So why change?

The students had changed.  They had grown up in a world where they had immediate access to information.  No card catalogs, no waiting weeks for research articles to arrive, and reduced time standing at copiers to make information from the library mobile; now, it’s all just a click away.  These students obtained and worked with their information in new ways compared to the recent past.  I had made many of these changes too, but started asking if my progression of change matched changes in their way of learning.  Another reason was based on the question, “Given all of the tools available to me, what teaching approaches would have the greatest long-lasting effect on deep learning?  I became much more interested in how my students thought about course content rather than learning a lot of content.  I knew they might forget some of the information I taught them, however, they had instant access to information; they didn’t have instant access to good thinking.


Is it time to consider new titles for those who teach in higher education?  In the K-12 environment, we still have teachers, an honorable title that encompasses more than lecturing and professing.  Notice the blog I quoted earlier that came from “The Teaching Professor.”  When considering teaching, there are a few questions to ask.

  • What risks need to be taken to employ new teaching strategies that maximize learning and are you willing to take the risks?
  • What teaching environment would encourage the willingness to take risks with new teaching approaches?
  • What are the best ways to take student learning objectives from a Master Course Outline and backplan learning for students with varying abilities? How do we assess these learning objectives to ensure learning has occurred?
  • What role might project-based or case-based learning play in curriculum design to promote deep learning?
  • What if you lectured for half or even one quarter of class time and planned activities to engage active learning the remainder of the time? If you did this, how might students gain information about content in ways that don’t require as much lecturing?

There are so many possibilities these days that provide good answers to these questions.  The bar of change that must be jumped is set by a willingness to take risks.  The beauty of making this jump in higher education is that you don’t have to do it alone.

Bonus:  As Dean, I have spent many hours over the last month reviewing faculty evaluation files.  One of the things I appreciated was when someone shared a self-reflective statement that addressed how a new approach did or did not work in class.  What I appreciated most was the vulnerability shared when something did not work and what would be tried next time; this is where wisdom is born.  Evaluation files, to me, are about growth, not judgment and this is what supports an environment in which risks can be taken.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
Excellence in Teaching
Lifelong Learning/Growth

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weimer, M. (2016, February, 3) Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  [Web Log Post].  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/why-are-we-so-slow-to-change-the-way-we-teach/

Lecturing Image (April 27, 2012). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  https://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/change11-cck12-is-lecturing-the-cream-of-teaching-at-the-mercy-of-learning/

Teaching Excellence Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from: http://academics.lmu.edu/cte/

Fish Image (February 19, 2013). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/02/19/four-risks-you-need-to-take/#761d40044d36

The Power of Potential

potential unlock

Some of you have heard me tell the story about a disheveled student named Miguel, who I first had in class 16 years ago.  I was going to counsel him out of the CDS major until I had a fateful meeting with him.  During the meeting, I sensed potential in him and as we talked, I challenged him to discover his potential.  It turned out he was exceptionally bright.  What followed was remarkable.  Over time, we performed several research studies together, presented at national and state conferences, and published together.  After graduating with a Master’s degree, he worked at a hospital in New York City and also had a private practice on the side.  Eventually, he went back to school and earned a MBA and became the Director of Business Development at Aetna Insurance.  Now, he is Director of Market Development for AmeriHealth Caritas.  He is highly successful and has a beautiful family.  I always think of Miguel when I am working with students and considering their potential.


With Miguel at the 2005 ASHA Convention in San Diego , CA

I met with another student named Miguel last week in my role as faculty advisor for a new values-based fraternity on campus named Delta Sigma Phi; check out the link because it might surprise you. As I was talking with him, I considered his untapped potential and tried to find words that would challenge him to discover it.  At the end of our conversation, I thought there is little else more important in the day-to-day operation of an institution of higher learning than to be able to tap the potential and support the maximum development of our students.  These mentoring moments where you deepen curiosity for what is possible are crucial to our students’ future.   How do we inspire, engage, deepen curiosity, challenge, and motivate our students to discover their potential?

Last spring, I talked about unlocking students’ potential at our community gathering.  One of the things I said was, “If students can’t feel your passion and your courage, the path to their potential will be impeded.”   They also must feel your belief in them, even when they are making mistakes and learning challenging lessons.  How do you show passion for your material and show your belief in students during day-to-day interactions?  Are you helping them discover their potential in a way that will create a future that might be hard to imagine?  How do you rationalize what is and is not your responsibility when it comes to helping students develop their skills and discover their potential?

You may ask where the wellspring of energy is to do this important, selfless work.  We all find it in different places, but one of the purest sources is found in the way our students inspire us once we help them dig deeper into their potential.  There is a positive energy at the source of inspiration that can move mountains.

One of the resources we have on campus at SUNY Plattsbrugh to help students develop their skills and discover their potential is The Claude J. Clark Learning Center.  Karin Killough, Director of the Learning Center, recently gave a great presentation to the College Council.  During the presentation, she introduced several students who are tapping into their potential and are helping others do this too.


Francine Frances

Francine Frances talked about being a biology major with minors in chemistry and music; she said she has a music minor because she likes to be well-rounded.  Her goals include going to medical school and eventually running an organization that builds schools and hospitals in third-world countries.  If you heard her speak, you would be inspired and would believe it is possible.



Mike Kayigize

I also was inspired last week by Mike Kayigize, the academic chairperson for Delta Sigma Phi.   He has lived in many places around the world and has an amazing perspective on life and the world.  He wants to accomplish goals that will have a positive, global impact.  I also enjoyed our discussion about academics.  My conversation with him was inspiring to say the least because there is great potential in this young leader.


Jake Pasa

Another student who inspired me last week is Jake Pasa, President of Delta Sigma Phi. I am inspired by his insights and his innate leadership skills.  We have great talks about leadership and examine approaches to achieve meaningful goals in a values-based organization.  He demonstrates the adage, “Good leaders are also good followers.”  His leadership will make a significant, positive contribution to developing the foundation of Delta Sigma Phi in the coming year.

Those are a few of the examples where I found inspiration with students recently.  The wellspring of energy is sitting before you in your classes and in student organizations.  You access the source of this energy by helping each student discover his or her potential.  If you do this, as many of you know, you will be inspired and will have even more energy to make a positive difference in the lives of students.

I posed the following enduring question to you at a community gathering, “What responsibilities do we have for ourselves, for each other, and for our students, that will allow all of us to maximize potential?”  The inspiration I received last week will have me working harder to respond to this question with my actions.  I know more positive, fulfilling energy lies in the answers for all of us.

What You Can Do Today: Help students discover a curiosity for what might be possible and help give them the courage to pursue it.

Shared Values focused on in this blog:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Model passion and professionalism
  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to students’ needs

Helping Students Achieve Goals

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

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/

Destiny and the Power of Collaboration


When we think about destiny, it typically is in the context of an individual.  Words and phrases such as “fate,”  “meant to be,” or “the stars were aligned” are heard when referring to destiny.  There are different cultural contexts related to destiny with themes of an internal or external locus of control; some believe they control their destiny and others do not.


As a leader, I think about internal and external risk factors that must be managed to reach goals regardless of or in addition to one’s belief about locus of control.  I also contemplate the destiny of groups.  One approach to shifting or strengthening the winds of destiny is to improve how we collaborate.  This is a 21st century learning skill we identified in our recent community gathering.  We know our students are expected to have this skill if they wish to be successful in today’s job market.  What is the relationship between collaboration and destiny?


It is hard to think of any successful person who achieved significant goals without the help of others, both family and non-family.  The success of an individual is based on multiple collaborative efforts.  When thinking about our students, there are many people in their lives, at home and on campus, who help them push beyond self-perceived limits to achieve a destiny some never imagined to be possible.  The more we align our individual and group efforts across campus (collaborate) for the common goal of students’ success, the more powerful our impact will be on their lives.


While these are things I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks, I have mainly been focused on how members of academic departments work together with a mindful eye toward what is best for students.  I’ve attended several meetings where it was clear that strong individual beliefs were held in check so the group could move forward with plans that will improve students’ learning.  We recognize that while some believe their way is best, strong individual perspectives can keep a group stuck.  My predecessor used to say that it is about alignment, not agreement (i.e., not everyone in the group will be able to agree, but we can align ourselves to common goals).  This approach appreciates diverse perspectives, and at the same time, helps loosen the grip of rigid individual views.  Ultimately, this collaborative approach shifts and empowers a group’s destiny.


What is the destiny of your group?  How well are individuals aligned to meeting common goals?  What internal and external risks must be managed in order to achieve the goals?  What collaborative skills could the group learn that would help achieve a better group and student outcome?


The Dean of Library and Information Services shared a powerful document with me last week entitled, Seven Norms of Collaboration: A Supporting Toolkithttp://opi.mt.gov/pub/pdf/RtI/Implement/ExploreB/SevenNormsToolkit.pdf     I encourage you to examine this document and to use it as a discussion topic in a department meeting and in class with your students.  What would it look like for us to hold each other and our students accountable for the seven norms of collaboration?


Some of our students’ best learning will come from us modeling and being explicit with the collaborative approaches we use.  Mindful attention to the ways we collaborate changes the course of group destiny and, consequently, the individual destinies of our students.


Shared Values addressed in this blog include:

  1. collaboration;
  2. challenging students to create connections and follow passions; and
  3. drawing on diverse perspectives.

Let Me Introduce Myself


How would texting behavior look if the same social rules used while texting were used in face-to-face communication?  Examples include the person appearing to talk anytime he/she wanted, a lack of introduction if the person is not in your contact list, a lot of interrupting, agrammatic speech, and no need for eye contact.  Oh, you would have the ability to place the other person on mute or vibrate. 

Recently, I have wondered about the degree to which current forms of electronic communication (texting and posting in social media) influence poor pragmatics during in-person interactions.  Here are two possible examples from situations that occurred last week:

Example 1:   I was standing in a doorway of a professor’s office having a serious conversation.  With the speed of a walking text message, a student, who looked professional because he was dressed in a suit, squeezed by me as he entered the professor’s office without saying, “pardon me.”  He then sat in a chair next to the professor’s desk and looked at the professor.  The only thing missing was the chime heard when a text message arrives.  There was no eye contact with me and seemingly an expectation that the professor would turn her attention immediately to him.   At that point, the professor asked if the student would like to be introduced.  What followed was not very professional either.  This student certainly looked professional, but his behavior was not.

Example 2:  I was standing in my office when a student just walked in my door, held out a paper and said, “Can you sign this?”  There was no knock and no introduction.  This student was not in my “contact list” so I had no idea who he was.

I started wondering more about these behaviors from their origin to the unflinching ease of occurrence.  It may sound cliché from an older person, but “I certainly was not raised that way.”  There seems to be a dearth of appropriate social pragmatic ability by some in a generation where the “rules” of electronic communication via texting or posting in social media have seeped into everyday interactions.  There is a sense of immediacy that nullifies polite communication. Both of the students in the examples above are in professions that require a high level of professional communication.  What is our role?

We can help students acquire knowledge and skills in our professions, but if we don’t help them acquire or refine appropriate social pragmatic skills (some would say manners), then they will not be as successful as they could be.  For me, the poor interactions from last week solidified a new level of responsibility I feel for making sure students have these skills.  I will be looking for these teachable moments and will be using more direct language to help students build social skills that are more professional.  It might sound something like this, “Let’s take a moment to talk about being a professional.  I noticed _______.  In this circumstance, a professional would ______.  Let’s try it again.” 

Good social pragmatics cannot become a lost or diminished skill for students in professions where professional communication is required.  We must provide our students with the social skills necessary to be good citizens and to acquire good jobs.  If this is to happen, then it is important to guide the development of professional communicative interactions.  Excuse me, I just got a text. 

Bonus: Here is a great article on introduction protocol http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201003/forgot-my-name-your-competition-didnt

Image (2010). Retrieved April 7, 2013 from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201003/forgot-my-name-your-competition-didnt  

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