Tag Archive: success

Smooth Seas Do Not Make Skillful Sailors

image                  Pic by Christophe Launay

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

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

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

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

Pic by Jason Frye


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

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


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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

Success: It’s No Secret


There are many people throughout history who have provided poignant comments about success.  Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  Booker T. Washington said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which [s]he has overcome.  Eleanor Roosevelt addressed success by saying, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”  Malala Yousafzai, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke of the success by saying, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.”

I’ve been reflecting on several aspects of success following the successful reaccreditation of six program areas in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services over the past three years.  The most recent was Teacher Education, reaccredited last week with no weaknesses or stipulations.  Counselor Education, Communication Disorders and Sciences, Nutrition, Nursing, and Social Work, along with Teacher Education, all had stellar reviews from site visit teams.  I could not be more proud.  Mediocrity is not an option for us, something that is true for each program in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services.

Success evolves from the collaborative work of many with a clear focus on purpose.  Our purpose, which is to prepare students for academic, professional and personal success, is clear and we meet this purpose daily with a commitment to excellence.  There are ways of being we have had to overcome to achieve this goal.  Robert Haas, a former CEO of Levi Strauss, cared about the values and culture of his company.  Sonnenberg (1993) shared Haas’s perspective on the importance of overcoming conditioned ways of being in order to be successful.  Robert Hass said it is, “difficult to unlearn behaviors that made us successful in the past.  Speaking rather than listening, valuing people like yourself over people from different genders or from different cultures or parts of the organization,  doing things on your own rather than collaborating and  making the decision yourself instead of asking different people for their perspectives.  There is a whole range of behaviors that were highly functional in the old hierarchical organization that are dead wrong in the flatter, more responsive, empowered organizations that we are seeking to become” (p. 18).

Success champions our ability to become an increasingly more responsive, empowered organization where continuous improvement promises an even stronger tomorrow.  This exciting perspective is one that requires continuous growth beyond older and possibly more comfortable ways of operating.  We must be willing to stretch beyond our conditioned comfort zones and conditioned behaviors to achieve our goals at the highest level.

There is a lot in the media today questioning the value of college.  I sleep well at night knowing our programs are giving students the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to make a positive difference on others’ lives.  Our ability to work together toward the focused goal of helping students be successful would rev up Henry Ford.  Our resolve to help students succeed would make Abraham Lincoln proud.  Our ability to discuss great ideas and to develop new programs would cause Eleanor Roosevelt to pause and take notice.  Booker T. Washington would appreciate how we have overcome and learned from obstacles and would be respectful of the way we face new obstacles.  As for Malala Yousafzai, we can strive daily to live up to the power of her words.

Bonus: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now” – Chinese proverb

EHHS Shared Values highlighted in this article:

Excellence in Teaching

Helping Students Achieve Goals



Howard, R. (1990). Values make the company: An interview with Robert Haas.  In Sonnenberg, F. (1993). Managing with a conscience: How to improve performance through integrity, trust, and commitment (p. 18).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Image (2004). Retrieved November 1, 2014 from: http://www.bloggang.com/viewdiary.php?id=moonfleet&group=218

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

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