Tag Archive: Respect

Light on a Darkened Path


Maya Angelou spoke of the tenacious human spirit in her poem And Still I Rise. Viktor Frankl wrote about a choice of attitude in stories about his experience in a concentration camp. Malala Yousafzai speaks about the importance of our voices when others attempt to silence them. Mother Theresa’s actions spoke louder than her words. There are multiple examples, historical and current, that bring light in times when you perceive a gathering darkness.

imageDouglas Abrams’ book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, contains dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The wisdom shared in the dialogues from one man who lost his country when exiled from Tibet and the other who was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, is sagacious, healing, and empowering. Here are ten quotes from the book:

“As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Dalai Lama

“Then after 1959, when I left Tibet, I started thinking, These people are just like me, same human being. If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.” Dalai Lama

“Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction. With a self-centered attitude, you become distanced from others, then distrust, then feel insecure, then fear, then anxiety, then frustration, then anger, then violence.” Dalai Lama

“If you really feel a sense of concern for the well-being of others, then trust will come. That’s the basis of friendship.” Dali Lama

“…the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Douglas Abrams

“But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically, you learn when something happens that tests you.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“If we can have compassion for ourselves, and acknowledge how we feel afraid, hurt, or threatened, we can have compassion for others—possibly even for those who have evoked our anger.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” Dalai Lama

“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Our collaborative purpose at SUNY Plattsburgh is focused on the success of our students. Doing this well during rancorous times in our country will take a mindful approach to modeling in words and actions. I wish each of you peace, purpose, and joy as we continue to create a caring community and world together.


Bonus: Maya Angelou shares the importance of words we speak in this 1 minute 27 second video.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Respect and Empathy
• Lifelong Learning/Growth
• Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
• Social Justice
• Broad Minded


Abrams, D.C. (2016). The book of joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. New York: Avery.

Light image (n.d.) Retrieved November 13, 2016 from: http://www.rabbisacks.org/the-road-less-travelled-published-in-the-islamic-monthly/

Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

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.

Reflection: The Connection to Our Future


When I was chairperson of Childhood Education and to this day, I hear the Teacher Education faculty speaking to their teacher candidates about reflective practice.  Great teachers, and professors, develop the skill and discipline of thinking about the lessons they just taught and how instructional practices can be improved.  There are always opportunities to update lessons and to create new activities that will inspire and bring deeper engagement with the material and other students.

What would it look like if we were able to engage in reflective practice as a community?  There were a number of forums recently where reflection led to plans for improved practice. There are powerful lessons from this semester for us to embrace and use next semester so we can enhance and improve our teaching and our community.  It is important that we be intentional about this work.

As a nation, it also would be nice if there was a better process for reflective practice.  Unfortunately, there are too many examples where this work has not been done and history seems destined to repeat itself in response to differences of race or religion, particularly when xenophobic feelings prevail.

Learn from History

Doug Skopp

Historians have a unique ability to reflect. When reading some Facebook posts the other day, I came across one from a historian who has my deepest respect, Dr. Douglas Skopp, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of History; also author of the amazing book, Shadows Walking.

Dr. Skopp’s words are powerful and eloquent whether in person, in one of his books, in a Facebook post, or an email.  Here is part of a comment he posted on Facebook when talking about refuges:

We live in perilous times.  As a historian, I know it has always been so.  The pages of our history books have always been written in blood and viciousness.  Historians of the future –if we manage to survive these current crises and the chaos and the destruction that currently will envelope us if we do not – will never run out of any grist for our mills, recording man’s inhumanity toward our fellow man.

Still, I hope we can somehow come to realize that only by recognizing our common needs, hopes and desires – food, shelter, security, peace, a life of freedom and justice for all – will we able to find ways to love and live in harmony with each other, all of us as a responsible, respectful human family.

These are the lessons wisdom brings from someone who is enlightened about humanity and is an expert on reflective practice.  As the semester comes to an end, it is important to reflect on our instructional practices and on the application of Dr. Skopp’s ending sentence as it relates to daily interactions in our departments and our EHHS community.  This also holds true when examining our institutional practices.  Dr. Skopp’s words resonate strongly with our shared values.

I am excited about providing opportunities for us to engage in reflective practice as a community during our community gathering at the beginning of next semester.  It is this collaborative work that will expand our ability to improve instructional and institutional practices and ensure our students’ success.  It is their success that will have a positive impact on our world.

Bonus: “Reflective practice is an active, dynamic action-based and ethical set of skills, placed in real time and dealing with real, complex and difficult situations.”  Jennifer Moon


Mirror image (Feb. 2, 2012)  retrieved on Dec. 6, 2015 from: https://www.healthylifestylesliving.com/enlighten-the-soul/law-of-attraction/autosuggestion-and-the-person-in-the-mirror/attachment/baby-kissing-on-mirror/

Signs Image (n.d.) retrieved on Dec. 6, 2015 from: https://www.facebook.com/TheAntiMedia/photos/a.156753707783006.14385.156720204453023/532128160245557/

Picture and Quote from Dr. Skopp used with permission.

Moon, J. (1999), Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice, Kogan Page, London.

Mr. Wilson

“In 1889 the New York State Legislature established in Plattsburgh a school for the education of teachers, the New York State Normal and Training School.  Two years later the first three students graduated from the institution that would one day evolve into SUNY Plattsburgh”  (2007 Middle States PRR report).  The motto for the college is, “A Proud Past, A Strong Future.”  I thought about our past and this motto in the context of an open forum I sat in last week that addressed an offensive cartoon published by an independent, student-run newspaper (i.e., There was no editorial role by a faculty member before the paper was published due to first amendment rights).  The paper wounded and exposed deeper wounds, some of which are caused by institutional racism in our society, and, as a result, has served as a catalyst for understanding and a call to action.  The standing-room-only forum was held by the Black Student Union, AKEBA, to discuss what happened.  So many things crossed my mind and touched my heart at the forum and I will share a few.

I thought about:

  • James Augustus Wilson (pictured above), who began his studies in teacher education at our college in 1898 and was the first African American to attend and graduate from our college. He was an alum who went on to get a second bachelor’s degree in divinity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and eventually worked with Booker T. Washington (Skopp, 1989);
  • LaVerne Baker, one of my mentors, who was one of two African American women to be the first to graduate with Ph.D.s from my alma mater, Wichita State University; if you have been in my office, you have seen her picture on my desk;
  • how Mr. Wilson and Dr. Baker would each define current events and what has and has not changed in the last 117 years;
  • my white privilege and the period of my younger life when I was naive to it, something that is the case for many young, white college students and on another level by others who are not so young in our community;
  • the voices from all underrepresented groups that need to be present to have a complete conversation about equality and social justice because there are differences in the struggles of each group (i.e., one group does not speak for all groups);
  • the young men of Delta Sigma Phi who I sat with at the forum as a faculty advisor, who have one of the more racially diverse groups on campus and a shared value of diversity –  I saw the pain in their eyes and felt it in their hearts;
  • how the members of AKEBA, the Black Student Union, modeled how to have difficult conversations that value the need to feel uncomfortable while maintaining everyone’s dignity; and
  • how I loved the gathering of diverse students at the forum, a sentiment that went beyond racial diversity, but hated the reason we were there.

That is a sampling of a few thoughts I had during the forum, but I also had another thought that night that centered on what I shared in our EHHS Community Gathering at the beginning of this semester.  It was during that gathering that I discussed the New Civil Rights Movement.  I highlighted words from Gyasi Ross, a Native American from the Blackfeet Nation who is an author, speaker, lawyer and storyteller.

Gyasi Ross

Here are the words I shared from Gyasi Ross (2015):

  • “If folks truly want to be allies then they’re going to have to get cool with uncomfortable conversations.”
  • “White folks don’t ever want to talk about race.  It will ALWAYS be jarring, it will ALWAYS be disruptive and it will ALWAYS be inconvenient. Yet, we have to do it.”
  • “If they truly wish to be an effective ally, then they should WANT to feel the discomfort that we feel when we’re constantly confronted with questions of race.”

There was a lot of discomfort felt over the past week, and this is a good thing.  Looking back, Gyasi Ross’ words were the most powerful words I shared at the beginning of the semester that have defined where we are now in the conversations taking place on campus.  I am pleased that the conversations have resulted in the actions detailed by our President that will enhance the caring environment we value at SUNY Plattsburgh.

I look forward to leaning into more discomfort and invite everyone else to lean with me because I know this is the place where we all grow.  We do have a proud past at SUNY Plattsburgh.  We also are engaged in conversations to know better and actions to do better that create a powerful present and a strong future.

Crucial Reading: This article from the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy is your opportunity to lean into the conversation with me: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Maya Do better 2

                                                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


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

Maya Angelou Image (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015 from http://www.azquotes.com/quote/394295

Middle States Commission on Higher Education Periodic Review Report (2007).

Ross, G. (2015): http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/08/13/22694043/guest-editorial-i-support-bernie-sanders-for-president-and-i-also-support-the-black-lives-matter-takeover-in-seattle

Skopp, D. (1989). Bright with promise: From the normal and training school to SUNY Plattsburgh. Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company/Publishers.




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/

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/

Our Shared Values


Shared Values

Fall 2010 was when the EHHS faculty developed categories for their first shared values document.  Spring 2011, faculty breathed life into the document by creating examples that represented how each category was demonstrated with colleagues and with students.  The Shared Values document was revised/updated by the faculty this semester at our Community Gathering.  It is an honor to serve as Dean for mindful professionals who aspire to create a work environment that honors our shared values.


Education, Health, and Human Services
Shared Values

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

Excellence in Teaching

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

Lifelong Learning/Growth

  • Participate in professional development (inclusive of student participation)
  • Require applied assessment of student learning
  • Provide students exposure to professional experts within the community
  • Create an environment in which active engagement and learning are valued, respected, and expected.
  • Inspire critical thinking that challenges the way things have always been done


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


Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals
  • Provide real-life professional experiences



  • Contact with the public – education and resources
  • Service learning
  • Help and support for local agencies
  • Model for students



  • Demonstrate ethical decision making/behavior across all settings
  • Dependability
  • Positive attitude
  • Appropriate boundaries
  • Being present
  • Make time to share and collaborate
  • Exhibit a strong work ethic
  • Earn respect of students, colleagues, and area professionals



  • Take a creative perspective
  • Out-of-the box problem solving
  • Be non-dogmatic
  • Embrace multicultural perspectives
  • Evolve



  • Creativity
  • Team-teaching
  • Divergent thinking
  • Drawing on diverse perspectives



  • Transparency
  • Openness about our limitations
  • Following through with our campus commitments: students, colleagues, college



  • Announce achievements
  • Celebrate success
  • Make time to celebrate success in the School of EHHS


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)

We’re All In This Together


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). 


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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