Tag Archive: student success


Light on a Darkened Path

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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

References:

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

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Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, the sun would rise and set with life-giving energy to seeds in a rich soil that were planted and nurtured with the sweat of my father’s brow and the faith in his heart. Faith that the sun would not bring days that were too hot and faith that passing clouds would release gentle rains. There was an optimal environment for growth that led to a bountiful harvest. There were years when drought or violent storms would destroy crops and bring times of sacrifice and rebuilding.

Over the years, the environment has changed and farmers have had to adapt with different types of seeds that grow disease resistant crops and irrigation systems that combat drought. Generations-old traditions have changed and creative adaptions have been embraced for farms to survive. This “way of the land” is similar in many ways to our academic environment and how we must adapt.

As we work with our students, we plant the seeds of knowledge and provide experiences that will result in optimal growth. The environment we create for growth requires the sweat of our brow and faith in our students as we inspire their best efforts. We nurture inner souls and challenge growth of the mind. Our collective efforts will make a positive difference for our students, their families and for our society if we do our jobs well. The students and our society are not the same as they were years ago and we, too, must adapt in order to survive.

The number of opportunities before us are endless as our adaptation results in revised and new curricula, new programs, and new delivery models. We cherish learning in our students, but also in ourselves as periodic storms in the education system come and go. These storms are represented by changes in enrollment, in budgets, regulation, and some might even say in pedagogy. These present opportunities that strengthen our will for the love of learning.

Over the last week, I attended three events where adaptation and change were focal points in the discussions. One was a gathering of North Country Thrive leaders along with Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY and Mary Ellen Elia, Commissioner of Education in New York State. The discussions targeted how our community can come together in better ways to support cradle to college/career development of students.

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Another event was a regional gathering of teachers, principals, superintendents, college faculty, and administrators who were lead by the Chancellor and Commissioner in discussions to address local challenges and opportunities, as well as improvement in our education system at the State level.

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Finally, I attended a How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion that was hosted by Black Onyx where deep and meaningful discussions were held about improving relationships between racially diverse students and students and faculty who are white.  Creating the best environments for education for everyone at all levels of the system will require new neuronal pathways to be developed, something that happens best with collaborative models, deep relationships, and persistent effort.

Each of the aforementioned events was powerful and transformative with ongoing work that will lead to positive changes; each event was attended in its entirety by President Ettling.

 Evidence of Success: SUNY Plattsburgh Alumns

There was evidence of great success over alumni weekend when I spoke with recent SUNY Plattsburgh graduates. Annette Romano (’86) National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), teacher at Niskayuna CSD and Co-Director, National Board Council of New York, was at the regional event with the Chancellor and Comissioner.

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Annette Romano (’86) on the left.  Also pictured is Amanda Zullo, NBCT chemistry teacher at Saranac Senior High School and recent recipient of an atward at the Whitehouse from President Obama for Excellence in Science and Mathematics.

Lateef Wearrien (’16), who is working on his Master’s degree at University at Buffalo in Student Affairs and Higher Education, led the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion.

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Edmund Adjapong (‘12) graduated with a degree in biochemistry and is currently working on his Doctorate at Teacher College, Columbia University; his words of leadership in the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion were powerful.  He also uses Hip Hop in the classroom to engage learning.

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Josh Modeste (’16), graduated with his BA (Biology)/MST in Teacher Education is currently teaching in New York City, was at the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion too. Seeing the success of these former students was rewarding beyond measure and represented a harvest that feeds the masses.  Each is a powerful agent of positive change in our society.

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Speaking with Josh Modeste is Randi Randi Weingarten, President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers.  She visited Sarah Hackett’s class last year.

As we work collaboratively to meet the challenges and opportunities before us and to create optimal learning environments for students to become positive agents of change, we do so with sweat on our brows and faith in our hearts for the bountiful harvest that is students’ success. Be the sunshine and the gentle rain.

Bonus: Here is an abstract from an article recently published by Edmund Adjapong:

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chancellor-an-maria                          Maria Veloz, Teacher Education major, with Chancellor Zimpher

 

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
–  Lifelong Learnning/Growth
–  Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
–  Helping Students Achieve Goals
–  Collaboration

A Dean’s Road Less Traveled

 

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SUNY Plattsburgh: Delta Sigma Phi fall 2015

Early in the fall of 2015, amid the tsunami of daily emails, I read a subject line from a student that said, “Delta Sigma Phi Advisor Search.” The email was not a widely-cast net, it was to me. The fraternity’s President, Jacob Pasa, wrote about a “new fraternity” and was asking that I consider being their advisor. As Dean of Education, Health, and Human Services, this initially felt like it might be incongruent with my daily role at the college; it also was foreign to me because I had never been in a fraternity and knew little about them. Regardless, I always keep an open mind when venturing into new territory, so I decided to investigate. Complementing this investigation was a statement I made to other administrators within the last year about the need for a stronger connection between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. I responded to the email with questions and received answers that piqued my curiosity. As a leader, I wondered what I might contribute and responded by saying I would meet with the Executive Board.

The Executive Board meeting revealed a collection of bright, diverse members and someone from the national organization who professed a values-based organization. The unchartered fraternity was in its first semester of formation and felt like a yet-to-be-driven new car with a manual that had been cracked open a few times. I took the “manual,” The Gordian Knot, home and read it from start to finish. I also read all of the information on the National organization’s web site. Based on my experience at the Executive Board meeting, on my reading, and on discovering that the fraternity was founded in 1899 on the principles of diversity and inclusion, I started envisioning the possibility of being an advisor. Maybe this was yet another opportunity to get back on ground level with students, a must for administrators who are making decisions that affect students’ daily lives.

As a Dean, however, I still had many questions that centered on time commitment, expected roles, strategic planning, organizational structure and goals related to becoming chartered. These questions were answered in face-to-face meetings with the fraternity’s president and a representative from the national organization, whereupon, I committed to be an advisor.

I began attending Chapter and Executive Board Meetings once each month. Upon request, members sent me an introductory bio so I could know each of the 31 members. I established advisor goals focused on academics, leadership, and members. I met with the chapter’s president each week to discuss leadership.  I also met with other advisors of sororities and fraternities once each month and gained a deeper understanding of Greek life. Interaction with a new group of students and with more employees on campus provided additional times where collaboration and community felt important.

While I made my decision to be an advisor with 100% commitment, I still had concerns as an administrator due to others’ stereotypical perceptions of Greek organizations. What I learned about Delta Sigma Phi didn’t fit the stereotypes; however, I had lingering “what ifs.” There were several bumps in the road over the academic year that required additional attention, problem solving, support and nurturing, all of which are expected in the daily life of an administrator.

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Following the 15th Annual Fraternal Awards Ceremony on April 17th, 2016

By the end of the academic year, there were many collaborative efforts by this group of dedicated students that led to great successes.  Delta Sigma Phi established their shared values and defined what these looked like inside and outside of the fraternity (provided at the end of this article). They had the highest GPA of all fraternities for both semesters. Members installed hundreds of smoke detectors in local homes as part of their community service for the Red Cross. There was a true sense of brotherhood in this diverse/inclusive organization that was apparent in meetings and in study areas; they serve as a role model for our current, seemingly-fractured society. They received awards at a ceremony for all 22 fraternities and sororities that included: Emerging Leaders, Excellence in Diversity, Excellence in Brotherhood, as well as a Service Initiative Award. I humbly received the Advisor of Excellence Award. imageThat same week, the national organization for Delta Sigma Phi sent a representative to let the members know they met all requirements to receive their charter. This coming Saturday, there will be a formal ceremony and banquet for members and their families at the Valcour Inn and Boathouse celebrating the chartering of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi.

Being an advisor for Delta Sigma Phi at SUNY Plattsburgh has been rewarding. I was given the privilege to make a positive difference in the lives of students, one of the top priorities in my daily work. The bridge between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs was strengthened. Most importantly, I now see my advisement for Delta Sigma Phi as congruent with what I do on a daily basis to provide a positive model and a positive learning environment for developing current and future leaders. I am grateful for my fraternal journey on a road less traveled by deans and encourage others, regardless of their position at the college, to consider additional ways to strengthen the bridge between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs; I know a number of you are already doing this work.  Dedicating yourself to the service that strengthens this bridge will support our whole-student approach to education and our commitment to students’ success.

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Delta Sigma Phi’s Executive Board from left to right: N’Faly Kaba, Treasurer;  Jeffrey Perez, VP for Recruitment; Mikiyas Molla, VP for Membership Development; Mike Kayigize, Vice President; Pat Mancino, Sergeant at Arms; Eric Paige, Interfraternity Council; Will Hodge, Secretary; and Jacob Pasa, President 

Bonus: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”   Mahatma Gandhi

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
*  Helping Students Achieve Goals
*  Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
*  Service

______________________________________________________________

Delta Sigma Phi
SUNY Plattsburgh Chapter
Shared Values

Brotherhood
• Communication
–  Lending an ear to a brother in need
–  Able to speak openly/freely with each other
• “Staying hungry” and never becoming complacent as individuals or as a fraternity
• Consistently challenging one another (course attendance, study habits, grades)
• Treating all members with the same respect
• Genuine friendship
• Helping each other
• Having each other’s back and looking out for each other
• Maintaining confidentiality
• Deepening unity through shared values
• Attending social/academic events
• Meeting outside of formal events
• Being Reliable

Respect
• Inside Delta Sig
–  Understanding each other and treating all members with the same respect
–  Demonstrating openness for different perspectives
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Helping and taking advice from members of other organization’s
–  Socializing with members of other organization’s and making friends

Accountability
• Inside Delta Sig
–  Adhering to bylaws and respecting standards board
–  Holding each other to a higher standard using a brotherly approach rather than an
authoritative approach
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Responding quickly to situations involving our brothers
–  Seeing the betterment of our brothers as their time progresses as members of
Delta Sig

Diversity
• Inside Delta Sig
–  Valuing diversity and inclusion
–  Life-long learning about diversity
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Having events that focus on diversity
–  Being an example to the community

Service
• As seen inside Delta Sig
–  Being committed to community service
–  Showing that we do care
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Showing we care and investing our free time
–  Raising awareness and supporting the Red Cross

Open-Mindedness
• As seen inside Delta Sig
–  Always being open to new ideas and growth
–  Learning from each other
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Modeling diversity and inclusion as a student-leadership organization
–  Attending events and demonstrating we are not an isolated organization

Growth
• As seen inside Delta Sig
–  Pushing each other and ourselves to be Better Men
–  Deepening our collective sense of purpose
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Setting high standards and striving for success
–  Striving for growth in all of our shared values

 

The Foundation On Which We Stand

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New students entering Giltz Auditorium for the matriculation ceremony as faculty and staff cheer and clap.  Photograph by Konrad Odhiambo

Our students are moved in (often a Herculean family feat, both financial and physical), new students are matriculated and the first week of classes completed successfully. Now, we focus our energies on being the best learning community possible for our students and for us at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Our student-centered approach to education is supported by our shared values. The foundational values established by faculty members in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services are not collecting dust on a shelf; rather, we continually revisit our shared values to guide our work together. Today, I share student-centered thoughts and questions after each of our shared values.

Respect and Empathy
What is the best way to respect the backgrounds our students bring to our learning environments? 37% of our freshmen and 42% or our transfer students are from low-income families. There may be a need to be more flexible with rising scholars who are working several jobs, some of whom are helping to support their families. Here is a short commentary from The Chronicle of Higher Education that will provide more insight for you. Pay particular attention to the second recommendation: http://www.chronicle.com/article/What-Colleges-Can-Do-Right-Now/237589

Excellence in Teaching
What will you do this semester to learn one or two new teaching techniques you can use in class to engage students at a deeper level? I have learned numerous techniques from professors in Teacher Education. Don’t underestimate the ways in which we are resources for each other.

Lifelong Learning and Growth
It is important to consider how we are preparing our students to be life-long learners. How do you reinforce this in your classes? What skills and dispositions are needed by our students to do this successfully?

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
Almost 25% of our incoming students are from historically underrepresented groups. How are scholars and experts from these groups represented in your curriculum? Deeper connection and learning, in that order, will result from including diverse and inclusive perspectives in the curriculum.

Social Justice
There will be a number of forums and events on campus this academic year examining and supporting social justice. They often are held at the end of a long day, but I guarantee attending and listening to students’ voices will change how you see the world in which you were raised and will inform how you teach. I hope to see you there.

Helping Students Achieve Goals
When we hand out our syllabi, the goals are written for all to see. Take the time to do a “quick write” at the end of one of your classes to ask your students about their goals in your class and take a mindful approach to aligning your goals with their goals.

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

Broad-Minded
I walked into the graduate class I am teaching this semester and said, “How do you want me to teach this class?” They stated they had never been asked this question before. After some discussion, they came up with a model they wanted to try. I said, “the information in this class is the medium throughout which I will teach critical thinking, problem solving, diagnostic thinking, knowledge and skills. The subject matter (voice disorders) is like clay to a potter and we can make many different types of vessels together.” We are all excited about the class.

Collaboration
What person or which offices could you collaborate with this semester that would strengthen your teaching excellence? Examples include the Institute for Ethics; The Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion; The Center for Teaching Excellence, and multiple offices in Student Affairs. Commit to a new level of excellence through collaboration.

Honesty
How can we best be accountable to each other in a way that promotes each person being his or her best self for our students? Don’t be a bystander.

Appreciation
Who will you acknowledge today to show your appreciation?

Please take a few minutes to review the EHHS Shared Values document. We are all responsible for creating a culture that supports learning and inspires us to do our best work together.

Bonus: Always remember that you are not just touching the lives of your students, but you are touching the lives of their current and future families. Use your privilege wisely.

Reflection: The Connection to Our Future

reflective

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

References

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.

The Final Weeks

Graduation Success

The academic year is coming to a close as we do all we can to ensure the academic, professional, and personal success of our students. Projects, assignments, internships, field work, and finals are the typical territory where we support and inspire this learning. In the focused moments of the final two weeks, there is a range of emotions from lessons learned to great accomplishment.  Professors can take great pride in the growth they have inspired in their students; the students will probably need a few weeks after it is all over to reflect so they appreciate the depth of their growth.

There is an overriding sentiment I always consider amid the various struggles necessary to accomplish end-of-the-semester goals that comes from Maya Angelo who said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  This is only partially true in an academic environment, at least I hope, if lectures and learning experiences are engaging.  In academe, we strive for students to remember what they learn.  Have you ever wondered what was most memorable from your course?  David Head (2011) wrote an article for Inside Higher Education entitled, What Do Students Remember?, where he discussed what students remember.  He used an interesting one-point, extra-credit question on his final exams to explore this, “What one thing from the course did you find most memorable? Explain why.”  It may be interesting to try this question on final exams with your students.  Regardless of their answer, however, they will always remember how you made them feel.

As we move toward finals, and toward graduation for some, there will be many ceremonies and celebrations.  It is an honor for us to attend these events.  There are several supervisor appreciation events I am honored to attend where students and supervisors speak publicly about their appreciation for the lessons learned during internships.  At another event, there is formal participation by family members as students are honored for their success.  There are many additional events that highlight students’ success where families are present to value the moment.  These accomplishments by our students, sometimes amid great struggle and sacrifice by themselves and their families, are valued and celebrated.  It is during these celebrated instances of students’ academic, professional, and personal success when I am thinking, “This is why we do what we do.”

Bonus: There are successes and challenges with colleagues over the semester too.  What answers would you get if you asked your colleagues, “What one thing from our interactions this semester did you find most memorable?  How would the answers inform what we do next semester?

Shared Values Highlighted:

Helping Students Achieve Goals – Empowering students to realize goals
Appreciation – Celebrating success

 

Head, D. (2011).  What do students remember? Retrieved May 3, 2015 from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/03/01/essay_on_what_college_students_remember

Image (2011). Retrieved May 3, 2015 from  http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/660062/d4f410d13e/287518461/7b0c53c445/

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/

The Power of You

Dr. Baker

Recently, I was at my Alma mater, Wichita State University in Kansas, where I gave a speech on Leadership.  I spoke about developing shared values, perception and perspective, and conflict management.  Before the speech, I took a few moments in a quiet room to focus on some of the points I wanted to make.  The story of our shared values is a powerful one and I was excited to share how we developed them and how they are used.  As I prepared, I read over the following quote from Christine Feldman’s book, Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World, that was to be shared when discussing perception and perspective.

By nurturing compassion, you also take responsibility for your own heart and mind.  Each one of your actions leaves an impression on the hearts of others.  The clarity or confusion, the love or resentment you cultivate inwardly makes its mark upon the world.  Every single thing you think, speak, or do has consequences and creates ripples of effect.  Understanding this more and more deeply, you learn to take care with your thoughts and actions (p. 56).

Finally I reviewed information about conflict management in groups.  This would be the most substantive part of the speech that I later found out hit home for many; if you work with other people, there will be conflict.  Planning ahead for how to have conflict is one of the keys to success.

After reviewing all of the major points, I headed to the theater-style auditorium to speak with people who were gathering and to give my speech.  As I got out of the elevator and rounded the corner, to my shock and amazement, there stood Dr. LaVerne Baker; I’ve told you our story before in my blog entitled, Are You an Advisor or an Advisor-Mentor? (As a reminder, she was one of my professors when I was an undergraduate student.  She also was the first African-American woman to graduate from Wichita State University with a Ph.D.).  I was awe-struck and had tears of joy and gratitude in my eyes.  The full strength of her amazing spirit was standing in front of me with a smile that lit the room.  We have communicated in recent years, but I had not seen Dr. Baker for more than 30 years.  There she stood as radiant as ever.  It took my breath away.   I honored her during my speech and said I would not be there that day had it not been for Dr. Baker and that is not an exaggeration.

Following my speech, the interim dean of Wichita State’s College of Health Professions went up to Dr. Baker and asked her how she recognized my raw talent all of those years ago.  She smiled and gave her quite little laugh and told him, “It was mighty raw.”  That was true and I am thankful she had faith in students’ potential.

My relationship with Dr. Baker exemplifies the positive use of power and privilege we all have to make a difference in students’ lives.  Cristina Feldman’s words quoted above capture the depth of the approach that will build our students’ belief in who they can become.  This is something we cannot afford to forget as we finish the last two weeks of this semester.  It may get harder to honor these words with the stress that comes with the end of the semester, but it is one of the most important things we can do.  Take a deep breath, focus on our purpose, and take a balanced approach that affords a few extra minutes here and there to share supportive words with our students.  If you do this well, there will be students who will remember what you did for them more than 30 years from now.

Shared Values Highlighted: Helping Student Achieve Goals; Professionalism

Feldman, C. (2005). Compassion: Listening to the cries of the world. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press.

Let Me Introduce Myself

Introduction

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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