Tag Archive: University

Excellence in Teaching


Excellence in teaching requires us to ENGAGE students in the learning process.  It also requires a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, a pursuit that deepens the knowledge we can share, as well as deepening our knowledge about approaches for helping students learn.

There was a time when PowerPoints were engaging because they were “bright and shiny” compared to overheads; however, the phrase “death by PowerPoint” is common in our vernacular these days for a reason. I remember when I was an undergraduate student and “dyed in the wool” lecturing professors would bring in their notes that had yellowed over the years. Back then, I used to wish they would at least put some Liquid Paper around the edges to make the notes look new; this was before computers when a fresh set of notes could be printed with the click of a button. PowerPoints don’t yellow, but if sound effects occur when text appears on the screen, that’s a hint of yellowing. If slides are still being read to students in class, that may be a technique that is yellowing if overused.

When I taught a graduate voice disorders class last fall, I experimented with a flipped classroom model. Students read assignments and slides before class. Clinical cases were presented in class and in the voice lab and therapy techniques were practiced. The students helped me find my balance by requesting I review highlights from slides they had access to on a course management system, Moodle in this case. After 25 years of teaching, this felt like one of the best classes I have taught. Students were engaged more deeply with the material and feedback was positive.

Since teaching that class, I’ve been reading a book loaned to me by the Chairperson of Expeditionary Studies entitled, Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014) that details better ways to help students retain material over longer periods of time. There are approaches to learning I would change the next time I teach based on information in this book. For example, I would place exercises on Moodle that required more retrieval of course content and I would increase quizzes and formative assessments in class. A few key points from the authors include:

“Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skills from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention”

“Effortful retrieval makes for stronger learning and retention.”

“After an initial test, delaying subsequent retrieval practice is more potent for reinforcing retention than immediate practice, because delayed retrieval requires more effort.”

“Repeated retrieval not only makes memories more durable but produces knowledge that can be retrieved more readily, in more varied settings, and applied to a wider variety of problems.”

Life-long learning by instructors and a willingness to try new approaches to engage students while teaching are crucial to achieving our highest shared value of Excellence in Teaching. It’s no coincidence that someone from Expeditionary Studies loaned me a book on learning so I could explore new territory for supporting students’ success. I am grateful to be in a community with colleagues who embrace this ongoing work.

Ask a few colleagues to share their most engaging teaching techniques with you this week. I suspect it will be an enlightening conversation.

Bonus: “Trying to come up with an answer rather than having it presented to you, or trying to solve a problem before being shown the solution, leads to better learning and longer retention of the correct answer or solution, even when your attempted response is wrong, so long as corrective feedback is provided” (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, p. 101)

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Excellence in Teaching
• Lifelong learning



Brown, P., Roediger, H., & McDaniel (2014). Make it stick. Cambridge, MA: The Belkbap Press of the Harvard University Press.

Image (n.d.) Retrieved on February 12, 2017 from: http://www.newspakistan.tv/high-fructose-diet-harms-brain-genes-study/

Light on a Darkened Path


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

A Dean’s Road Less Traveled



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.


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.


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

• 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

• 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

• 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

• 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

• 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

• 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

• 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


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.

The Lecture: What Are You Willing to Risk?


Faculty members at SUNY Plattsburgh, as at other institutions of higher learning, are professors, full/part-time lecturers, and adjunct lecturers.  These titles conjure up images of experts in their fields standing in front of students, speaking and professing (AKA: lecturing). Lecturing commences with the hope of being inspiring enough to keep students engaged for three hours each week for 15 weeks.  The reality of doing this in our short-attention-span-society is challenging, even for the most engaging speakers.

I recently read a post from The Teaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer (2016) entitled, Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  She shared the results of a survey from 275 faculty members in the area of economics who reported that, “they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time.”  She wrote about continuing reliance on lecturing in many fields and resistance to changing other aspects of the profession including course design, approaches to testing, assignments, and grading.  There are, of course, some who have become comfortable with change and they embrace new approaches that have a long-lasting impact on students’ learning.  These reflective teachers use a continuous improvement model and are always seeking new, effective teaching approaches through workshops, the Center for Teaching Excellence, collaboration with colleagues, and reading.



I tried new approaches to teaching after discussions with colleagues that were inspired by reading Ken Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do.” I  became much more democratic and involved my students in decisions about how they wanted to learn material.  I changed the way I used class time and took a different approach to testing with help from The Center for Teaching Excellence. Hanging around with professors from Teacher Education also gave me a few new teaching techniques.  Changing my approach to teaching was a huge risk in my mind because I had high ratings on my Course Opinion Surveys.   I was comfortable with lecturing – something I later labeled, “Death by PowerPoint” after changing to approaches that required deeper engagement by students.  I knew I was presenting the information my students needed to be successful in clinical settings with clients.   So why change?

The students had changed.  They had grown up in a world where they had immediate access to information.  No card catalogs, no waiting weeks for research articles to arrive, and reduced time standing at copiers to make information from the library mobile; now, it’s all just a click away.  These students obtained and worked with their information in new ways compared to the recent past.  I had made many of these changes too, but started asking if my progression of change matched changes in their way of learning.  Another reason was based on the question, “Given all of the tools available to me, what teaching approaches would have the greatest long-lasting effect on deep learning?  I became much more interested in how my students thought about course content rather than learning a lot of content.  I knew they might forget some of the information I taught them, however, they had instant access to information; they didn’t have instant access to good thinking.


Is it time to consider new titles for those who teach in higher education?  In the K-12 environment, we still have teachers, an honorable title that encompasses more than lecturing and professing.  Notice the blog I quoted earlier that came from “The Teaching Professor.”  When considering teaching, there are a few questions to ask.

  • What risks need to be taken to employ new teaching strategies that maximize learning and are you willing to take the risks?
  • What teaching environment would encourage the willingness to take risks with new teaching approaches?
  • What are the best ways to take student learning objectives from a Master Course Outline and backplan learning for students with varying abilities? How do we assess these learning objectives to ensure learning has occurred?
  • What role might project-based or case-based learning play in curriculum design to promote deep learning?
  • What if you lectured for half or even one quarter of class time and planned activities to engage active learning the remainder of the time? If you did this, how might students gain information about content in ways that don’t require as much lecturing?

There are so many possibilities these days that provide good answers to these questions.  The bar of change that must be jumped is set by a willingness to take risks.  The beauty of making this jump in higher education is that you don’t have to do it alone.

Bonus:  As Dean, I have spent many hours over the last month reviewing faculty evaluation files.  One of the things I appreciated was when someone shared a self-reflective statement that addressed how a new approach did or did not work in class.  What I appreciated most was the vulnerability shared when something did not work and what would be tried next time; this is where wisdom is born.  Evaluation files, to me, are about growth, not judgment and this is what supports an environment in which risks can be taken.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
Excellence in Teaching
Lifelong Learning/Growth

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weimer, M. (2016, February, 3) Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  [Web Log Post].  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/why-are-we-so-slow-to-change-the-way-we-teach/

Lecturing Image (April 27, 2012). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  https://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/change11-cck12-is-lecturing-the-cream-of-teaching-at-the-mercy-of-learning/

Teaching Excellence Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from: http://academics.lmu.edu/cte/

Fish Image (February 19, 2013). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/02/19/four-risks-you-need-to-take/#761d40044d36

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.

Beyond the Syllabus


Think back to times in your life when you learned the most about yourself, others, or an area of study.  Most likely, there was someone, or many people if you were lucky, who supported you and encouraged you on the path of learning and helped you learn how to struggle.  There may have been times when you wanted to give up, but someone was there to help you build resilience and help you realize that there were unimaginable possibilities in your life if you would ______. I’ll let you fill in the blank.

I’ve had the honor of speaking with SUNY Plattsburgh students recently about the alchemy of personal characteristics and life-approaches that could turn into gold in the future.  The discussion often starts with saying each student’s future is unknown, but doing the right things now will place her/him at the doorstep of opportunities that cannot yet be imagined.  I often challenge students’ thinking in the conversation by saying that there is no way of knowing the true self without moving beyond comfort zones and struggling beyond perceived limits of discipline, determination, and inner-drive.  The right friends and mentors are crucial to this process too.

Another powerful statement I use with students is, “It would be fascinating to see who you could become if (add something about discipline, determination and/or inner drive here).”  This statement about an “unknown self,” is followed by emphasizing the importance of accepting and appreciating the “current self.”  This allows for growth without creating anxiety about the current self; greater anxiety is felt by students who tightly embrace an idealized self that is far from the real self.

The mixing of concepts such as an “unknown future self” and “appreciating the current self” is the alchemy; a combination of characteristics/approaches that lead to unimaginable possibilities.  There are other powerful, life-changing combinations of characteristics and approaches you can consider introducing to your students that will help build resilience and opportunities such as:

  • Passionate curiosity as related to deep learning without dependence on a professor to feel passionate about a subject
  • Strength/Ego/Confidence balanced by humility
  • Being “comfortable” vs. learning how to struggle well
  • Maintaining dignity when faced with hurtful comments from others
  • Creating a safe psychological space in which to have difficult conversations – critical to do at any institution of higher learning
  • Caring and the importance of letting/helping others struggle (detailed in a story below)
  • Any “ism” and truly appreciating others’ lived experiences
  • Self-discipline to focus without electronic distraction
  • “The way it has always been done” and creativity
  • Time management and creating your own deadlines that are before actual deadlines

These select characteristic and approaches (you can add many more to this list) are rarely found in a syllabus; yet, they may be the most important things your students will learn in order to be successful.  While knowledge and skills for a profession are paramount, the most important, powerful, and engaging approach you can have as a professor is caring beyond what is on the syllabus and helping students acquire personal characteristics for success.  If our students are to develop resilience so they can end up on the doorstep of opportunity, then we must care deeply enough to support how they learn to struggle.

Bonus:  Here is a powerful story I often share with students about the importance of struggling.  For students in a helping profession, it is particularly powerful because they must learn how and when to let others struggle rather than rescuing them.  The story is a variation of an old story with an unknown author. My rewrite of the story uses gender-neutral language.


A child and a grandparent would often explore the woods behind the child’s house when the grandparent came to visit.  One day, they found a chrysalis (cocoon) hanging on a branch in a tree and the grandparent told the grandchild, Casey, about caterpillars and butterflies.    

Early the next morning, following a very windy night, Casey went out into the woods and the branch that held the cocoon was on the ground.  Casey was concerned and decided to help.   Casey ran back to the house quickly to get scissors and walked back to the fallen branch.  The cocoon was cut open carefully and a sort-of-butterfly emerged.

As the butterfly came out, Casey was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. Casey continued to watch the butterfly expecting, at any moment, that the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. Casey knew in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.  Neither happened and the sort-of-butterfly stopped moving.

Casey quickly went back to the house where the grandparent had just sat down for a cup of coffee.  Seeing how upset Casey was, the grandparent placed Casey in the safe space a grandparent’s lap could provide.  The upset child told about finding the cocoon on the ground and about being worried that something would step on it.  Amid tears, the explanation included the scissors and helping the butterfly so it would not get hurt, only to end with the sort-of-butterfly’s stillness.

At that point, the grandparent hugged Casey and said not everything was told during the previous day’s walk about how butterflies come to be.  Casey was told that given what was known from the previous day, the right thing was done, but there was something else that was important to know.  The grandparent explained that butterflies were SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, a butterfly’s struggle to push its way out of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly.

Casey thought for a moment and told the grandparent if another cocoon were ever found on the ground, instead of cutting it open, it would be hung back in the tree because it couldn’t do that by itself.  The proud grandparent talked about caring for others, helping them do things they could not do themselves and the importance of struggling to gain strength.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals


Tree Image (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/296533956690357754/

Butterfly Image (June 17, 2014). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  http://alphynix.tumblr.com/post/89080465377/thatscienceguy-as-children-were-taught-the

The Power of Potential

potential unlock

Some of you have heard me tell the story about a disheveled student named Miguel, who I first had in class 16 years ago.  I was going to counsel him out of the CDS major until I had a fateful meeting with him.  During the meeting, I sensed potential in him and as we talked, I challenged him to discover his potential.  It turned out he was exceptionally bright.  What followed was remarkable.  Over time, we performed several research studies together, presented at national and state conferences, and published together.  After graduating with a Master’s degree, he worked at a hospital in New York City and also had a private practice on the side.  Eventually, he went back to school and earned a MBA and became the Director of Business Development at Aetna Insurance.  Now, he is Director of Market Development for AmeriHealth Caritas.  He is highly successful and has a beautiful family.  I always think of Miguel when I am working with students and considering their potential.


With Miguel at the 2005 ASHA Convention in San Diego , CA

I met with another student named Miguel last week in my role as faculty advisor for a new values-based fraternity on campus named Delta Sigma Phi; check out the link because it might surprise you. As I was talking with him, I considered his untapped potential and tried to find words that would challenge him to discover it.  At the end of our conversation, I thought there is little else more important in the day-to-day operation of an institution of higher learning than to be able to tap the potential and support the maximum development of our students.  These mentoring moments where you deepen curiosity for what is possible are crucial to our students’ future.   How do we inspire, engage, deepen curiosity, challenge, and motivate our students to discover their potential?

Last spring, I talked about unlocking students’ potential at our community gathering.  One of the things I said was, “If students can’t feel your passion and your courage, the path to their potential will be impeded.”   They also must feel your belief in them, even when they are making mistakes and learning challenging lessons.  How do you show passion for your material and show your belief in students during day-to-day interactions?  Are you helping them discover their potential in a way that will create a future that might be hard to imagine?  How do you rationalize what is and is not your responsibility when it comes to helping students develop their skills and discover their potential?

You may ask where the wellspring of energy is to do this important, selfless work.  We all find it in different places, but one of the purest sources is found in the way our students inspire us once we help them dig deeper into their potential.  There is a positive energy at the source of inspiration that can move mountains.

One of the resources we have on campus at SUNY Plattsbrugh to help students develop their skills and discover their potential is The Claude J. Clark Learning Center.  Karin Killough, Director of the Learning Center, recently gave a great presentation to the College Council.  During the presentation, she introduced several students who are tapping into their potential and are helping others do this too.


Francine Frances

Francine Frances talked about being a biology major with minors in chemistry and music; she said she has a music minor because she likes to be well-rounded.  Her goals include going to medical school and eventually running an organization that builds schools and hospitals in third-world countries.  If you heard her speak, you would be inspired and would believe it is possible.



Mike Kayigize

I also was inspired last week by Mike Kayigize, the academic chairperson for Delta Sigma Phi.   He has lived in many places around the world and has an amazing perspective on life and the world.  He wants to accomplish goals that will have a positive, global impact.  I also enjoyed our discussion about academics.  My conversation with him was inspiring to say the least because there is great potential in this young leader.


Jake Pasa

Another student who inspired me last week is Jake Pasa, President of Delta Sigma Phi. I am inspired by his insights and his innate leadership skills.  We have great talks about leadership and examine approaches to achieve meaningful goals in a values-based organization.  He demonstrates the adage, “Good leaders are also good followers.”  His leadership will make a significant, positive contribution to developing the foundation of Delta Sigma Phi in the coming year.

Those are a few of the examples where I found inspiration with students recently.  The wellspring of energy is sitting before you in your classes and in student organizations.  You access the source of this energy by helping each student discover his or her potential.  If you do this, as many of you know, you will be inspired and will have even more energy to make a positive difference in the lives of students.

I posed the following enduring question to you at a community gathering, “What responsibilities do we have for ourselves, for each other, and for our students, that will allow all of us to maximize potential?”  The inspiration I received last week will have me working harder to respond to this question with my actions.  I know more positive, fulfilling energy lies in the answers for all of us.

What You Can Do Today: Help students discover a curiosity for what might be possible and help give them the courage to pursue it.

Shared Values focused on in this blog:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Model passion and professionalism
  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to students’ needs

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals

The Potter’s Perspective



Pot 1

During my last semester of college at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, I took a studio course in pottery.  I fell in love working with clay.  The class was over too quickly and I graduated.  Several years later, after earning a Master’s degree at Wichita State University, I went back to Oklahoma to work as a Speech-Language Pathologist at a community clinic that was next to Phillips University.  I did this so I could study pottery with my previous professor, Dr. Paul Denny.  Over time, I became a night assistant in the studio and helped others learn how to throw and construct with clay.  As payment, I had access to all the clay I could use, glazes and multiple firing techniques.   My art was only limited by my imagination.  I sold items at art shows and many believed I would be a professional potter.

When teaching students to throw clay on a wheel, they must first learn to center the clay as the wheel spins; this is harder than it looks, particularly with larger amounts of clay.  Once centered, there is a process called “coning” where the potter raises and lowers the centered clay.  This process aligns the platelets in the clay.  The clay body is only about 50% clay; the rest is made up of other materials like flint, grog, sand, and feldspar.  These particles are large relative to the size of clay particles. Coning the clay by raising and lowering it three or four times aligns the particles in a spiral pattern.  When the potter creates a vessel, alignment of the particles allows for increased stability as the clay is raised and allows the potter to create a taller vessel that can be shaped well.

Throwing Clay 1

Coning the clay

I have often thought back to the days of throwing clay and the importance of aligning the particles within it before throwing a large vessel when contemplating shared values and their importance in an organization.  Just as alignment of the particles allows the potter to throw a more substantial vessel, alignment of shared values allows an organization to achieve bigger goals.  While creativity will define the legacy of a potter’s work, innovation will define the legacy of an organization.

The School of Education, Health, and Human services at SUNY Plattsburgh has had its shared values in place for five years.  Please take a few moments to read through the shared values again and find ways to honor them as we progress through the semester.  As we have matured with these values, one thing we have been able to do is develop many new academic programs.  Our vessel is larger than it used to be with the addition and revision of numerous undergraduate and graduate programs.  A mindful alignment of shared values and a pursuit of innovation will provide amazing opportunities for all of us and our students as we engage in our mission of helping students to be successful.  Let me know if you need any help with centering and coning.


Below is one of my favorite pieces.  It is an abstract representation of a mountain range.  The base was thrown on the wheel and represent layers of the earth.  The rough area above the layers represents uplifting forces that create mountains.  The clay above the rough area was hand-constructed with veins and holes that represent veins of minerals and caves.  The clay was rolled with burlap and strings to add texture.  You can see the mountain range on top of the vessel.  This piece was covered in iron oxide rather than glaze and fired at cone 8 (2,305 F) .  It is 26 inches high with a base that is 35 inches in circumference.  The first one of these I tried to make exploded in the kiln, but that is another story.

Mountain Pot

The Anatomy of Advisement


Sign-up sheets on seemingly-revolving office doors of faculty typify this time of year in academe when students are meeting with academic advisors.  Some faculty members may see this as a fairly routine event and hopefully few see it as an annoyance that interferes with other responsibilities.  I have always viewed advisement as an opportunity to make a positive difference in advisees’ lives.  Before an advisee comes to see me, I often contemplate on who I need to be to help or inspire the student to reach maximum success.  I consider if this were my child in college, with what type of adviser would I want her to meet?  What comes to mind is someone who is kind, who listens well, who pays attention to details, who is not afraid to have difficult conversations if necessary, and who can inspire ways to realize potential.  I even reflect on the characteristics of my best advisors who were so much more than advisors, they were mentors who modeled traits I wanted to develop.

It all starts with the feeling you get when advisees walk into your office.  I think back to an interview Oprah did with Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize Novelist.  The conversation was about parenting.  One thing Oprah said was, “The common denominator in the human experience is that everybody wants just to be appreciated or validated.”  In the conversation, Toni Morrison said, “It’s interesting to see when a kid walks into the room… does your face light up? That’s what they’re looking for…when my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or their socks were up…so you think your affection and your deep love is on display cause you’re caring for them, it’s not. When they see you they see the critical face…what’s wrong now? …Let your face speak what’s in your heart…it’s just as small as that.”

I met with an advisee last week and there was a midterm grade that needed some attention.  I validated him the second he walked into my office; I hope my face lit up.  He came prepared with a list of courses he needs next semester.  I went over the fine details of his academic plan that included counting general education requirements, appropriate number of upper division credits, major requirements, courses that would help him grow as a person and make him better in his job, and a number of other requirements that ensured he will graduate on time.  We were able to sketch out a plan for the next four semesters.  Then, it was time to take it to the next level where the heart meets the mind.

Mentor Parachute

We took the time to talk about dreams and aspirations.  We then talked about new study habits he could try that would allow him to reach those dreams and aspirations.  The conversation then went to daily living habits with friends and roommates and how these habits may be helping or impeding success.  We ended by me stating my belief in him to be successful and stating my door is always open if he needs anything.

There is so much more to the anatomy of good advising than making sure students meet major requirements and have 120 credits when they finish. Good advisement begins with the heart, moves to the mind, finds ways to connect the heart and the mind, and ends with the heart.  It is this holistic approach that presents an opportunity for advisees to feel their inner strength in ways they may have never imagined.  Create new doors of possibility in their minds and invite them to go through with heart.


EHHS Share Value Highlighted:  Helping Students Achieve Goals


Oprah and Toni Morrison (n.d.). http://www.momentsthatdefinelife.com/do-your-eyes-light-up-oprahs-life-class/

Cartoon (2015). Retrieved April 4, 2015 from http://www.trueyou.guru/category/mentoring/

Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2015 from: http://www.pearlsofresilience.com/your-mind-heart-the-reality-of-their-positions/

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