Tag Archive: relationships


Meaningful Micro-Moments: Elevating Excellence

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Courage

At the EHHS Community Gathering, I asked you to imagine the best possible academic learning environment.  When I asked you to imagine this, there were at least two avenues of thought that could have been taken.  One is student focused with an emphasis on the learning environment in the classroom and the other is the learning environment we create in departments and programs through interactions with colleagues that students feel when they come for advisement or for office hours; students clearly are part of both environments.

There are larger environmental contexts that influence learning too.  Many “isms” and societal issues are attached to the larger contexts.  I was in awe of some comments from Maya Angelou who recently was interviewed by Anderson Cooper about equality and what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream means today.  At the end of the interview, Mr. Cooper referred to a Time Magazine article in which Maya Angelou wrote, “Can you imagine if we did not have this undergirded hate, racism, sexism, and ageism; if we were not crippled by these idiocies? Can you imagine what our country would be like?”  Anderson then asked, “How can you answer those questions? Can you imagine?”  Maya Angelou said, “Yes, I’m brought to weep when I think what my country can be and will be when we develop enough courage to act courageously and with courtesy and respect for each other.  Just imagine, we wouldn’t have to say we are the most powerful country in the world, we will be the most powerful country in the world.  Not because we have might, but because we have right.”

Maya Angelou spoke about respect, the highest ranked shared value in our community.  When asked to imagine, as when you were asked to imagine the best possible academic learning environment, the theme of respect comes to the forefront.  Respect, in a larger context or in the context of a learning environment is central to success.  Below, please find the comments from all groups about creating the best academic learning environment.  All comments relate to the classroom.  Comments marked by an asterisk also are crucial for respectful interactions between colleagues in departments/programs to make ourselves and our students feel safe in our environments.  If we have the courage to put all of the comments into action, imagine the power of our Division to transform the lives of our students and ourselves.

Group 1

  1. * Trust between students and faculty
  2. * Availability and responsiveness
  3. Tell them we are there to help them with clear expectations from us
  4. * Flexibility
  5. * Open communication

Group 2

  1. Model respect for your students; clear expectations
  2. Create classroom rules (e.g., how to interact)
  3. * Practice active listening
  4. * Develop mutual understating about nurturing
  5. Develop safe learning environment
  6. * Be open
  7. * Provide Support
  8. * Open communication

Group 3

  1. * Non-judgmental
  2. * Mutual trust – relationship
  3. * Not afraid to make mistakes – constructive feedback while avoiding the negative
  4. * Support for exploration and experimenting
  5. * Establish mutual respect and a climate of trust
  6. Clear expectations and parameters
    1. Gradual progression
    2. Support throughout the process

Group 4

  1. * Provide support
  2. * Be available
  3. * Be visible
  4. Seek out professional development to ensure you are current with research-based best practices
  5. * Practice professionalism
  6. * Collaboration
  7. Learning communities
  8. * Don’t be a silo or
  9. Don’t have a closed door classroom
  10. * Communicate
  11. * Relate
  12. * Celebrate

Group 5

  1. Get to know your students
  2. * Respect
  3. * Safe to take risks – nonjudgmental
  4. Multiple ways to engage students – read the students and adapt to them
  5. Classes should make sense by relating to their life
  6. Planned flexibility

Group 6

  1. Know the students and understand why they are here
  2. Be open to students’ thoughts and ideas
  3. * Build relationships
  4. * Create an environment where we and they are involved
  5. [Encourage students to] have an open mind to their peers
  6. * Model the behaviors we hope to see
  7. Class has to have something meaningful to students
  8. * Establish how to give and receive feedback
  9. * Value mistakes
  10. Focus on whole learning  – reach all aspects of our students
  11. Understand the “beginners mind” – we must respect where our students are in their development
  12. Let our students know we don’t know everything and we can learn from them
  13. Promote creativity – allow them to wander around their thoughts and ideas

Bonus:  “…. courage comes from when we turn not from each other but toward each other and we find we do not walk alone, that’s where courage comes from.”  President Barack Obama (Speech on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington)

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