Tag Archive: resilience

Smooth Seas Do Not Make Skillful Sailors

image                  Pic by Christophe Launay

Storms and rough seas come in many forms and are part of life.  With deep purpose and a clear vision, storms can be weathered together and rough seas will not throw us off course; in fact, they may embolden our resolve and hone our skills because we are resilient.

In the School of Education, Health, and Human Services (EHHS) at SUNY Plattsburgh, we pride ourselves on our deep sense of purpose where students are prepared in dynamic learning environments to work in careers where they will serve the diverse needs of others. This is a grounding purpose that does not waiver.  The most important resources we have to achieve this purpose are the hearts and minds of the faculty who educate our students, hearts that give in a way that help students discover their potential and minds that model critical thinking and inspire development of knowledge and skills.

We achieve our mission, our purpose, in EHHS through excellence in teaching and professionalism, while embracing inclusion and cultural responsiveness. These core shared values are the foundation for HOW we achieve our collective purpose. Additionally, our moral courage promotes progress and builds community though essential shared values including honesty, collaboration, social justice, respect and empathy.  Exploring the full depth and achieving the actionable qualities of these shared values is a pursuit that honors our commitment to lifelong learning and growth.

We know the future is promising as we graduate ethical and culturally competent students who will thrive in their careers and model excellence.  Rough seas will not deter us from our mission or obscure our vision.  Our graduates’ ability to champion the education, health, and personal growth of our global citizens makes the light rising over the horizon of our future brighter.  With each graduating class, we enjoy the warmth that comes with seeing students’ successes and are inspired by all they are doing to make a positive difference in our world.

Pic by Jason Frye


Image (2009). Retrieved March 8, 2017 from: http://www.gettyimages.com/photos/yacht-race excludenudity=true&sort=mostpopular&mediatype=photography&phrase=yacht%20race

Image (2017). Retrieved March 8, 2017 from: https://twitter.com/interior/status/850491714049626112

Beyond the Syllabus


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.


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


In our culture, learning to listen was not something that necessarily felt good because the process often came with some tone in phrases like, “Listen to me”  “Are you listening to me?” “If you would listen, you would know the answer” and many other phrases commonly used by caregivers and authority figures.  At school, most of us we were forced to listen while seated in rows of desks for hours on end.  Thankfully, pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning have improved and engage children in ways that motivate them to listen.

As we got older, we gained a deeper understanding of the power of listening, especially as we entered helping professions.  In our current higher education roles, listening is one of the most important skills we can practice on a daily basis.  Even though the title of “advisor” focuses on giving advice rather than listening, those who are known as good academic advisors at SUNY Plattsburgh are great active listeners.

We know good academic advising is critical to retention and academic success, a process that begins with good listening.  Steven Covey explained good listening as involving the ears, the eyes, and the heart.  With this wise perspective in mind, as we enter two weeks of academic advising, here are my Top Ten statements about listening:

  1. It shows respect for the other person
  2. Active listening provides a deeper understanding of someone and will improve your ability to advise.
  3. Listening holds the key to caring and opens the door to empathy; we know a higher percentage of our advisees are struggling emotionally compared to a few years ago. Don’t neglect the opportunity to ask advisees about their current emotional challenges.
  4. You can speak from deeper levels of the heart if you are willing to listen, levels where healing occurs.
  5. Your careful listening and encouragement for the other person to keep talking may allow for moments of self-discovery, some of which may be life changing. Simply saying, “tell me more” can be powerful.
  6. The other person’s life story will broaden your understanding of others.
  7. Your willingness to listen will build trust, something that may be needed more in the next meeting than the current meeting. Make sure you have some trust in the bank.
  8. Help your advisee know when to listen to her inner voice and when to ignore it. There are different inner voices to which our students can chose to listen, make sure they are listening to the right ones that speak of confidence, determination, resilience, and dreams.
  9. Asking thoughtful questions sets the stage for good listening.
  10. If you listen with your ears, eyes and heart, you will have the honor of your advisees remembering you as a good listener, and hopefully, someone who made a positive difference in their lives.

Bonus:  “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”  Alfred Brendel


EHHS Shared Values highlighted in this blog
Respect and Empathy
    Seek to understand before being understood
Listening to each other
Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues

Helping Students Achieve Goals
    Reaching out to struggling students
Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
Empower students to realize goals


Image (Sept. 28, 2010). Retrieved October 18, 2015 from http://perkettprsuasion.com/2010/09/28/the-art-of-listening-in-client-service/

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