Tag Archive: students


There were many moments over the past week that provided individual growth for colleagues, students, and me. While “individual” is emphasized, growth is something we often do together, especially through our relationships.

Curiosity also is a key ingredient for growth. When discussing Piaget, W.C Crain stated, “Children develop not because they are shaped through external reinforcements but because their curiosity is aroused. They become interested in information that does not quite fit into their existing cognitive structures and are thereby motivated to revise their thinking.” As professors, we know increasing curiosity with others opens the door to deeper learning.

Last week, curiosities were heightened before and during a “Teach In” that focused on social justice. We were invited to attend engaging sessions by faculty and a presentation by the keynote speaker, Dr. Jonathan Kozol, entitled, Savage Inequities: The Struggle Goes On. Some of the sessions were standing-room-only events. In a room filled beyond capacity, there were moments you could have heard a pin drop when Dr. Marco Turco was sharing Lessons From Apartheid South Africa, lessons based on his experience of living in South Africa during that time. Butterly Blaise and Dinai Robertson presented on, Intersectionality of Identity on a College Campus.  Group work around intersectionality engaged individuals from many levels of the college in conversations about assumptions and the absolute necessity of getting to know others on a deeper level. Think about this by expanding the metaphor of walking in someone else’s shoes and understanding that she/he has more than one pair of shoes. Many faculty and staff contributed to the success of the Teach In, creating a proud moment for SUNY Plattsburgh that was captured in a group picture by the pond.


Often, it is not an overpacked room with an expert speaker who helps you see the world in a new way or even a small classroom where individual growth might be easier to achieve, rather, it is one-on-one interactions. As a student walked into my office last week asking to drop a class, my intuition told me to ask, “How are you doing?” More than an hour later, the world looked different to both of us. I had a number of individual meetings with students over the past week where deep discussions lead to new understanding, renewed motivation, and steps to obtainable goals. I came away asking how we can be more intentional about taking time to do this individual work because it is imperative to the success of many students. While advisement provides a platform for these discussions, it is not enough to meet the day-to-day needs of our students.

Growing as a community of life-long learners, where we spend the extra time to do the individual work, for us and our students, ensures a brighter future for everyone. This is a daily approach to our work that can be energizing if done mindfully. This energy can come from a place of joy.


In The Book of Joy, a recently published book containing conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, there is a passage about helping others that says, “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.” Joy can be a powerful motivator for our collective work. So, here’s to another week where we have more opportunities to embrace and inspire curiosity in an inclusive learning environment and to create moments of joy from growth in ourselves, our students, and our learning community.

Bonus:  Here is the short video about intersectionality that was shown in the session mentioned above.  Please take the time to watch it if this is a new concept for you.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
– Lifelong Learning/Growth
– Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
– Social Justice
– Helping Students Achieve Goals
– Collaboration
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

Curiosity Image (n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: http://theconversation.com/curiosity-changes-the-brain-to-boost-memory-and-learning-32296

Group Picture: SUNY Plattsburgh Facebook

W.C. Crain (1985). Theories of development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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.

Leadership Skills: Hitting the Jackpot in Vegas


Developing Leadership Skills

I attended a TEDx talk recently at SUNY Plattsburgh by Dr. Steve Trombulak, Dean of Sciences at Middlebury College entitled, Reclaiming the Soul of Higher Education: Experiential Education for Sustainability.  Dean Trombulak spoke about an experiential summer program that embeds leadership skills in its curriculum.  Some of the skills he highlighted included:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Persuasive communication
  4. Negotiation
  5. Crisis management
  6. Idea creation
  7. Networking
  8. Empathy
  9. Ethical decision making
  10. Failing forward

Dean Trombulak talked about teaching these skills (find the full list here) as students participate in various learning activities related to sustainability.  Leadership skills are important because he wants students to, “have the tools to do something with that information.”  We often talk about our students acquiring the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be successful in their fields.  How often do we think about leaderships skills under the category of skills?  How much more effective would our students be in their fields if we placed a stronger focus on the development of leadership skills?

I was at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) conference in Las Vegas last week and was amazed at how many times the leadership skills mentioned above were part of the conversation.  Dr. Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York System, talked about employees of P-12 schools and higher education collaborating in new ways to achieve our common goals.  This conversation took place in a session on Striving Together; the initiative in our region is called North County Thrive.  Chancellor Zimpher emphasized failing forward by learning from each other’s mistakes as we make progress.  Another session I attended was for deans where the focus was on leadership skills most used by deans.  These included:

  1. Be Vigilant
  2. Remain calm
  3. Value relationships and others’ achievements
  4. Be strategic
  5. Provide guidance an coaching
  6. Plan ahead
  7. Seek help and learn from others
  8. Solve problems creatively
  9. Follow through
  10. Set limits
  11. Trust in yourself
  12. Persist
  13. Be prepared to deal with the consequences of difficult decisions
  14. Don’t assume

In a survey sponsored by AACTE of 110 deans, leadership skills were rated revealing several of the highest rated skills to be in the area of pragmatics.  The four highest-rated leadership skills included: follow through, vigilance, calmness, and relationships (Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S., 2016).   Additional leadership skills discussed by deans attending the meeting included communication, cultural competence, creativity, and vision.

After the conference concluded, I spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking/climbing in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with my lifelong friend, who is a math professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas; this is the same friend I have mentioned in most of the other mountain climbing stories on this blog site.

Red Rocks 1

The relative peace and desolation of the desert was welcomed after the cacophony of Las Vegas.  One of the topics we spent the most time discussing while hiking was the importance of reframing what we do as professors in a classroom to address leadership skills.  There were times we stopped and sat on boulders to enter into deeper discussion.  I told him about the TEDx talk by Dean Trombulak that focused on students learning leadership skills along with the content of a course.  I also detailed the leadership skills addressed in the deans’ meeting.  We discussed the development of our own leadership skills and the importance of good mentors.  Our discussion revealed many opportunities we have each day as professors, mentors, and advisors to model and teach leadership skills.

You can teach leadership skills:

  • as you have students collaborate in group projects;
  • as you discuss and demonstrate the importance of relationships, particularly with regard to developing cultural competence;
  • as you display empathy by asking students how they are doing beyond the context of the classroom;
  • as you assist students to “dig deeper” and persist with their learning;
  • as you talk with students about failing forward (learning from mistakes) in order to do better; and
  • as you provide guidance for students by helping them gain insight into leadership development.

The examples could go on and on, but I will let you examine the leadership skills provided above to develop additional associations to your own work.  We are responsible for deep development of these skills in ourselves if we are expected to model them for and teach them to students.  Imagine what we and our students will accomplish if we do this!

I don’t enjoy gambling in casinos, but I felt like I hit the jackpot in Las Vegas when coalescing thoughts on the mountain about deeper development and teaching of leadership skills.  I am happy to share the wealth with you.  Which leadership skills are you going to work on and teach today?

Bonus Picture:

Red Rock Canyon is part of the Mojave Desert.  This area is 17 miles west of Las Vegas.

Red Rock 3

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Excellence in Teaching
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth
  • Helping Students Achieve Goals

Learn Lead Image (2015). Retrieved February 28, 2016 from: http://edmundrichtoh.com/mlm-personal-development/how-to-develop-your-mlm-leadership-skills/

Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S. (2016, February).  Deans academy: Teacher prep and the importance of the dean – Part 1. Presentation at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Las Vegas, NV.

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/


There are a limited number of minutes in a semester, 158,400 as of today, and they seem to go faster this time of year.  It may feel like we have come “full circle” from the beginning of the semester where our aspirations were high and learning objectives were set, to the close of another semester where we race harder to fulfill the aspirations and objectives.  But, “full circle” does not really capture the reality of higher education, at least I hope not.

Each semester provides us with the opportunity for continuous improvement, a deepening spiral rather than a circle, that allows for exercising a growing expertise in developing our students into the citizens who will be responsible for our world.  Some may chose to go in circles, but the future depends on deepening spirals of continuous learning.  How can you set a trajectory that deepens this spiral for yourself and for your students?

If students know we truly care about them and are passionate about their learning, then they will remember more of what we model and say.  They also will be more engaged in their own learning process.  There are, of course, times when some tough love is needed and the ear of procrastination and laziness need a good twist, actions appreciated later by students who look back and attribute part of their success to you.

The spiral deepens on many pathways to the mind and a better future.  The heart’s path seems to be the widest and most direct.  It is on this path, best when traveled together, that critical elements of dignity are found.  I shared part of a TED Talk with you at the beginning of the semester by Donna Hicks that highlighted the essential elements of dignity.  I share these again, particularly in the context of the world for which we prepare our students.

  • Acceptance of Identity – when we honor someone’s dignity, we accept his/her identity.
  • Recognition – We give someone recognition of his or her unique qualities and way of life.
  • Acknowledgement – we make sure people feel seen, heard, listened to, and responded to.
  • Inclusion – The person feels a sense of belonging and a sense of community.
  • Independence – There is a feeling of freedom and a life filled with hope and possibility.
  • Safety – To honor someone’s dignity is to make sure s/he feels safe and secure. This includes psychological safety that prevents humiliation and feeling shamed or marginalized.
  • Fairness – Dignity requires fair and even-handed treatment [e.g., understanding dominance and privilege].
  • Understanding – We give someone the benefit of the doubt and seek understanding, especially from people we don’t naturally gravitate toward. We give someone space [i.e., suspend judgment] and time to explain his/her experiences.
  • Accountability – We are accountable for our behavior and must apologize when hurting someone’s dignity. Also, we all deserve an apology when someone does us harm.

Donna Hicks spoke to the power of dignity by saying, “Imagine for a moment if we honored these elements of dignity in our daily lives with the people with whom we come in contact.  Imagine what that would be like.  Imagine what our relationships would be like when everyone felt this way…seen, heard, identity was accepted, etc.  When we honor other people’s dignity, we strengthen our own.”

Collectively, the words of Martin Luther King Jr., the path to the mind through the heart, the need for occasional tough love, and the essential elements of dignity provide us with many tools to prepare ourselves and our students to make a positive difference in the world.  Recent headlines have highlighted racial tension across the country, loss of young lives due to hazing, and sexual assaults on college campuses; the list seemingly is inexhaustible.  It is more important than ever that we deepen our knowledge and strengthen the character of youth in ways that will result in a better world in which to live.  Characteristics that combat indignities, mindful dispositions if you will, are essential in addition to technical knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a profession.

The next two weeks will be filled with trying to fulfill aspirations envisioned at the beginning of the semester.  As you use your minutes wisely to engage students in deeper learning, make sure to touch the heart, maybe the ear, and the essential characteristics of dignity. Even in the remaining minutes of this semester, you can make a positive difference and touch the future through our students.


Mandela passion








Shared Values Highlighted:

  • Respect and Empathy
  • Excellence in Teaching
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth
  • Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
  • Helping Students to Achieve Goals
  • Professionalism
  • Broad-minded

Hicks, D. (April 4, 2014). Declare Dignity. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPF7QspiLqM

Image (May 28, 2014). Retrieved November 29, 2014 from: http://www.baylor.edu/multicultural/index.php?id=92821

Strength, Courage and Confidence


One of our shared values is to empower students to realize goals.  On the surface, this resonates well with our beliefs about the academic system.  Below the surface, it is important to explore multiple ways to achieve this important shared value.  We are challenged to empower students by helping them build inner strength, courage and confidence to realize goals.

Think back over your life and ask yourself where you derived your strength, courage and confidence to achieve goals.  Each of us would have different answers, but there most likely are common threads.  These may include:

  • Someone who believed in you
  • Friends who challenged you
  • Changing inner language to reduce or eliminate negative self-talk
  • Learning to pace yourself by setting small, achievable goals
  • Not listening to others who said something was not possible
  • Moving beyond comfort zones and perceived limits to explore what is truly possible
  • Seeing mistakes – yours and others’ – as opportunities to grow (e.g., compassion, dignity, and forgiveness)
  • Working with a team where you built on and learned from others’ strengths
  • Building on your strengths rather than focusing solely on improving weaknesses
  • Embracing your own talents/abilities rather than making comparisons with others’ talents/abilities
  • Not sweating the small stuff

Some challenges currently in front of students to reach the end of the semester successfully may seem insurmountable.  While faculty and staff feel this too at times, they have developed many of the positive strategies noted above to cross the finish line.

One of the more powerful things you can do over the next few weeks is to share encouraging words and positive strategies with students that will empower them to achieve their goals.  You have the power and insight to encourage deeper development of strength, courage and confidence in your students.  Never assume the students in your classes possess these important life-shaping characteristics, to the depth they could, without your support.


stronger than you think 2








Image (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014 from: http://www.voiceofassurance.com/

Image (2011). Retrieved November 16, 2014 from: http://lwoodyatt.blogspot.com/2011/11/promise-me-youll-remember.html

Ensuring Students’ Success

Student Success

A new academic year has begun!  Students have removed belongings from burgeoning vehicles to fill now burgeoning dorm rooms.  Parents and family members have entrusted their children with their hopes, dreams, and goals, to our hallowed halls of higher learning.  A cycle that repeats itself like the cycles of time; yet, each cycle is never the same.  Progress and change bring new perspectives and new approaches, even to the education of students.  Our students think, learn and process the world differently than students from even a few years ago.  We enthusiastically accept the challenge of growing and educating our students in ways that appreciate these changes and in ways that will ground them in the future.


At our beginning-of-the-year Community Gathering for the faculty of Education, Health, and Human Services, we examined how language in the field of education has evolved over the past 20 years.  We saw a current emphasis on problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, technology literacy, and personal and social responsibility.  While individual success is still lauded in our society, 21st century learning skills place a stronger emphasis on our ability to work together.  In the context of educating college students, theses skill areas provide lenses through which to view the ways we can enhance our teaching and our work together.


Our mission and vision are focused on academic, professional, and personal student success.  It is our responsibility to ensure that 21st century learning skills are embedded in our instructional approaches.  In addition, we know our shared values give us a strong foundation on which to do this work.


At the community gathering, small groups of professors participated in a fifteen-minute activity.  They were asked to agree on two strategies or approaches, for each mission/vision goal area, that can be used this academic year to ensure students’ success.  Here is what they said:


Strategies to Ensure Academic Success

  • Provide a safe learning environment with clear learning targets
  • Creating a safe environment where students can express themselves
  • Challenge and support
  • Meaningful, candid, frequent feedback
  • Balance quality with quantity feedback/data
  • Use student feedback to inform instruction
  • Use case Studies
  • Use case studies to developing higher thinking/critical thinking skills
  • Help them develop thinking patterns
  • Improve connections/relationships with students. Reduce distance – don’t talking at them
  • Increase application of learning. It’s important also to know the ‘why’
  • Use quick writes to gain a sense of what students are thinking/learning
  • Use analogies
  • Be consistent with expectations
  • Maintaining high academic standards (across the board)
  • Flagging students of concern early and addressing the concerns


Strategies to Ensure Professional Success

  • Engaging them experientially
  • Make connections with others – teach/mentor professional behaviors
  • Case studies
  • Challenge and support
  • Mentoring
  • Accountability
  • Demonstrate professionalism:
    • collaboration with peers
    • group work
    • receiving positive criticism
    • moving towards self-reflection
  • Being a good role model (i.e., professional organization standards)
  • Thinking holistically – this integrates authenticity and learning critical skills
  • Ask students to develop action plans/growth plans for professional growth
  • Ask students to attend professional meetings in their field in local, state and federal levels
  • Encourage active participation in professional conferences
  • Model/share our professional growth strategies
  • Continue to reinforce ethical standards


Strategies to Ensure Personal Success

  • Directing to resources on campus
  • Coaching in priority setting, value clarification – encouraging, guiding, communication
  • Challenge and support
  • Reflective writing
  • Model respect, empathy, and listen
  • Help students increase multicultural competencies
  • Being accessible and approachable
  • Build relationships
  • Find ways to connect with students outside the academic realm
  • Validate students as people
  • Get to know your students
  • Use a “Me bag” activity – bring in a bag of tangible items to indicate who you are
  • Learning targets
  • Giving students choices and helping them be accountable
  • Have one-on-one conferences that address students’ strengths and weaknesses. Students can help determine how to develop their strengths and address their weaknesses.
  • Identify long/short term goals as they work through program
  • Help students work through “issues” and concerns outside the classroom


I wish you and your students a dynamic, productive, and successful academic year!



Image (March 1, 2013). Retrieved August 31, 2014 from:  http://www.gallaudet.edu/Images/Academic/FYE/SSnewlogo2.jpg

And The Winner Is…..



Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a number of scholarship applications.  There are endowed, memorial scholarships that support deserving students.  These, as well as other scholarships, are often supported by benefactors who sit quietly in the background and enjoy supporting students who have overcome uncommon struggles to be successful.  Some of the amazing stories speak to a level of struggle many have never known due to privilege.  And yet, in the heart of these stories are students who have overcome struggle through flinching and unflinching determination.  Their tenacity is an excellent example of “Grit.”  The people who have been there for them when they flinched deserve some credit too.

Maya Angelou wrote about “overcoming” in a Facebook post on April 18th.  She said, “The idea of overcoming is always fascinating because few of us realize how much energy we have expended just to be here today.  I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for the overcoming.”  Truly, most of us don’t realize the struggles many of our students and their families have faced and currently face to be here today.  Reading some of their stories reminds me how important it is to be there for others and to support them; you never really know the depth of their struggles, but you can contribute to their success.  This choice of caring and compassion occurs when we pause amid the business of the day to ask ourselves if our focus is in the right place.  Research shows that caring people don’t always stop to help when they feel hurried or are running late (Darley and Batson, 1973).   The best of who we are takes the time to help and contribute to others’ wellbeing and success.

At the events where awards and scholarships are given, the deserving recipients often move to the front of the room with a variety of emotions that include joy, pride, gratefulness, and humility.  As they advance to the front, the spirits of their family and mentors follow them; visually, the one does not equate to the sum.  One of the most touching moments last week was when a student in the Education Opportunity program received a rarely-given honor.  Before the name was announced, there were stories of overcoming and a student in the front row began to cry tears of strength and gratitude.  Once the name was announced (she is a student in our Division), this student, wearing a black sweater, went to the front of the room to receive a pin as everyone stood and clapped.  With the pin in hand, she went to a woman in the audience who had supported her and asked the woman to place the pin on her sweater.  The person putting the pin on the student was emotionally struck by the moment, making it clear that the student receiving the award was not the only winner.  The audience members were humbled.

I look forward to attending more events in the coming weeks that honor our students.  I also know these honors go quietly to many people in the background who have supported award recipients.  In the end, if we take the time to help others, we all win.  Thank you for being there for our students and for each other.

Shared Values Highlighted: Helping Students Achieve Goals; Professionalism


Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2014 from:  http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-winner-revealing-award-results-image19239674

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C.D. (1973).  From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.

A Critical Key to Students’ Success


Advisement is a time when you speak with students in your office about their academics and their future.  We talk about transcripts, grades, and a schedule for next semester as long as it doesn’t include an 8:00am class.  Beyond discussing grades and planning, you have the opportunity to speak to the hearts of the students.  This requires holistic advisement where topics such as roommates, study habits, determination, partying, and long-term goals are discussed.  Over the years, I have seen some very bright students not be successful, and, on the other hand, I have seen some students be stars who are not at the top of their class and/or have difficult challenges in their lives.  You can think of a number of factors that may allow for success in less than optimal circumstances, but one sticks out above the rest and it is “grit.”

Treat yourself to watching this engaging 6-minute TedTalk by Dr. Duckworth who was a math teacher in New York City and now is a psychologist.

 Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth

What have been the top three things in your life that have taken the most determination, persistence, and grit?  How do we reinforce or help our students develop these qualities?  What would this discussion look like during an advisement/mentoring session?  As Dr. Duckworth said, it may be important to help students understand how the brain works and that learning from success and failure permanently changes neural structure; a process over which they have control.  Yes, there is a deeper nature-nurture discussion here.  Regardless, we have the privilege of being able to focus on the nurturing side of the equation with our students.  I’ve often told students that each semester is an opportunity to discover a new self because they learned so many lessons from the current semester about how to do things better next time; failure and not getting stuck in negative emotions is part of learning how to be successful.  Helping students learn how to push against perceived self limits by learning from successes and mistakes opens the door to unlimited opportunities.  Getting up every day and giving it your best takes more than learning, it takes grit.

Maybe the conversation that leads to discussing grit starts with a few simple questions.  For example, what has been the most challenging aspect of your studies/college?  How have you grown as a person due to this challenge?  If you were not successful, what did you learn that will allow you to be successful next time?  How has this experience changed the way you view yourself?

There are vulnerabilities and tender places of growth that can be addressed during advisement or during the mentoring process.  As professionals in academia, we occasionally have had conversations like this with students over the years, but maybe we need to be more intentional about it.  Your advisees’ success may depend on having this conversation, most likely more than once.

Bonus: What does it look like to have “group grit?”  Even with shared values and a clear mission that focuses on students’ success, the way a group works together when the going gets tough will result ultimately in the group’s success and students’ success.

Shared Value Highlighted: Helping Students Achieve Goals

Meaningful Conversations

Convergence Blog

An American philosopher, Tom Morris, when asked what mattered in life, responded by saying, “I believe everything matters.”  This is especially true of communication, it all matters.  When you come into my office, you see the abstract painting shown above on my wall.  This painting represents a conversation. The green and blue lines symbolize two speakers with multiple perspectives.  You will notice that the brightest colors are in the middle of the painting where the speakers multiple perspectives intersect.  These four brightly colored areas symbolize discovery and a deepening of understanding.

Our shared values contain a statement that came from Stephen Covey who said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  He also said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  One of my early mentors in the field of Communication Disorders and Sciences was Dr. Kenneth Burk, who used to say that listening well is hard work.  When people are “in the zone” of good communication, they listen and then ask questions that clarify or reveal more depth about what is being said.  After someone says something, it may take a few seconds to develop a good question.  Herein lies another important skill modeled by Dr. Burk, the ability to be comfortable with a few seconds of silence as meaningful questions are formed.  He knew the power of silence and was comfortable with it when forming questions and when waiting for responses.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist and a leader, I understand the complexity of communication and the extra effort needed to do it well.  The speed, tone, consonantal stress, nonverbals, and the right words all matter.  Maya Angelou once said, “Words are things, I’m convinced. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes, and finally, into you.  We must be careful about the words we use.” Whether it is with students or colleagues, it is worth the extra effort to bring your best self to the conversation by paying attention to the subtleties that expand horizons, heal wounds, or warm hearts..

Some conversations are difficult and may require courage.  The difficult conversations invite us to be mindful about the previously mentioned communicative subtleties.  This mindfulness preserves the dignity of all who are communicating or conveys empathy with others in clinical/practicum sites.  I challenge my graduate students each week with clinical scenarios where they practice coming up with the right words to respond to patients or parents; this is time well spent.

Good communicative interactions create positive energy.  We feel a deeper engagement with students and our colleagues as this happens and experience a warping of time where minutes evaporate quickly.  Those instances where we say, “Where did the time go?” provide an energy all their own.  You feel this energy, for example, when teaching classes where students are highly engaged or when communicating with colleagues where the sharing of multiple perspectives creates deeper understanding or new ideas.

The name of my painting is Convergence, a coming together if you will.  Thoughtful conversations empower our community to come together for the betterment of everyone so we can fulfill our mission of preparing students for academic, professional and personal success.  As in the painting, this is where you will find the brightest spaces.

Maya Angelou quote (2012). Retrieved February 16, 2014 from: http://jewishpostopinion.com/?page_id=1608

Covey, S. (1989 ). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.

Thomas V. Morris http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_V._Morris

Dr. Burk2
Dr. Kenneth Burk

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