Fill the Right Cup: Revisit

cloudsinmycoffee

Ray Bradbury explained, “We are all cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” This metaphor works for me. And, I have taken care to surround myself with people who fill the cups, and not only take away from you. 

Which cups do you fill? Do you fill the cups of optimism, pragmatism, or pessimism? It is important to think about where you expend your mental energy. Thinking back to my grad school days there were moments when the pessimism cup was the cup that I filled and that was not a good thing, but those moments of overwhelm and impostor syndrome were intense. I have to thank my peer mentors and faculty mentors for helping me fill the other cups.

My networks helped me stay grounded during grad school. Sure, we had our moments when would complain about our workloads and our financial situations, but overall it was pretty fabulous to read, research, teach, and write for a living. My peer mentors were primarily from the cohorts ahead of me and to this day some of my closes friends are from my grad school days. I met both of my best-friends in grad school.

Related to this, peer mentors listened. The listening cup was overflowing and there are times when I miss that interaction–the ability to have long conversations. The cup that we need to keep filling is the listening cup. Listening is an important part of a supportive and honest network. As I am working with undergraduates through graduate students, I am thinking about the importance of them finding good peer networks. I am only one part of the puzzle and know that the rest of the puzzle must include peers.

I knew that at home I had support, and my friends and networks at work in the department and larger academic community helped me through my grad school days. Peer mentoring is invaluable and if your cohort does not feel supportive, seek out peers ahead of you for guidance or go outside of your department. This advice is appropriate for those of us years out of grad school, too. And, if you are years into your career remember to connect your students to other students and to other faculty. Expand your students’ networks–this is part of the mentoring or coaching process.

 Fill the cups! Confer, trust, connect, mentor, listen, and celebrate your success…and by all means surround yourself with your friends and family.

 

Review: danah boyd’s Work

Read More Books

First of all, author danah boyd does not capitalize her name, so this is not a typographical error. I have read her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (2014) a few times and I’m now teaching it in my Technology and Society 400: Technologies of the Future seminar. She does a great job of offering a thoughtful and respectful examination of teens use of social media. The big takeaway is that today teens use social media to socialize with one another. It is their social space.

She is not offering a wagging finger at youth about narcissism or technology addiction. Sure, she covers cyber-bullying and cyber predators, but overall she treats teens with socio-political agency and not as mindless victims to technology. She also speaks to the digital divide and the ways that youth use technology for important personal connection, and establishing their identities.

My students talked about technology use and addiction and one student noted that addiction is serious term and that we should be mindful of the use of the term. The student was correct, and we chatted about technology addiction. When I queried the class about how many sleep with their phones near their pillow, I saw many sheepish smiles.

This book provides a good opener to the seminar. I find it better to start off on a good foot and not jump right into doom and gloom about data mining, terms of service, and surveillance. That is for next week! Seriously, we are going to cover lots of material about technology and culture and very little condemns it. The class has a major project developing a mock up for an app that is needed on campus or in the greater community. Right now some students want to add to the current mobile app and others want to enhance Fitbits or other wearables for students. From my point–the future is bright.

boyd, danah. 2014. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Have: Yale U P.

Reflections: No Glares

Now that another term has almost ended, I can look over my shoulder at the previous school year and think reflect. Each year I reflect and try to learn from the previous year and then resolve to make some changes in the next year in the classroom, for my professional development or my ongoing efforts to mentor/coach students and peers. What did I do differently last year in the classroom, office hours or other interactions with my students? I resolved for more honesty. I was blunt. I was diplomatic, but more so, I was blunt. I am helpful and professional; however, I refuse to waste my students’ time with circular conversations. I do them no favors if I try to sugar-coat conversations.

What were the repercussions for me, if any? I heard more of these comments:
Thank you for being honest. I’ve never heard this before. Why am I almost done and no one has told me this? I didn’t know that this was plagiarism. Thank you for your time.

I did not have any incidents where someone stormed out of my office or a conversation escalated. If anything, I had meaningful conversations about assignments, interactions, writing, grad school, and other issues. As I have noted on numerous occasions, part of my job means that I have the good fortune to work with young people in the classroom or in my office. I love it. I would not trade this job for another as I get to teach, mentor, coach, and lead.

This last year I also thought more about my time. I strategically chose to focus my time differently. Part of it is that I had to, given a job change, but that is cause for a different post. I was not as available for extended office hours and the world did not fall apart. I expected a few day’s notice for extra appointments. What I am saying is that I established better boundaries for office houring and mentoring students. I had to protect my time thanks to the job change and I was working more. I managed my time effectively and accomplished more. And, at the same time I did not field complaints from my students. If anything, the change was better, as they commanded my full attention at times that were not pressed between meetings and I could listen.

My writing prompt for this post comes from a Swedish Proverb, “Fear less, hope more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less love more; and all good things are yours.” This last school year was filled with so much good and change. I welcome the change with a big smile and an open mind. The 2015-16 school year is half way through and I am in a great place. And, I’ll add that my little Grumpy Cat agrees and has her head on the desk!

Hacking the Classroom

Every instructor has likely walked into a room and thought, “Oh, no. How am I going to teach in this room?” The classroom might be in the basement and have no light or have more chairs shoved into it than it truly fits. I am used to hacking the classrooom and making it work. This might mean working with what I have and making the best of it. I have to walk and work the classroom and it is imperative that I have a place to move–to pace. 

I also need to see students’ faces. I am pretty good at reading a room and I need to see the ephiphanies or looks of boredom so that I can respond. I will ask students to not sit in the very back or if they must multi-task to do so in the back of the classroom. I try to set up the etiquette guidelines during the first week. I explain my expectations, then what they can expect from me. I have moved our classroom furniture, booked lab space for one day, and booked a different classroom for group exercises. I will do what it takes to the make the classroom ours, and make it work.  

The image below is from the National Forum on Active Learning Classrooms. We were using playdough to make our ideal learning space. 

 

Introspective Exercises

I am co-teaching a new course, Digital Skills for Your Career. Last night my slide deck consisted of a letter  in bullet point form to my 20 year old self. I shared with my students some regrets and points of reflection. It was blunt and at times humorous. My point was to help them with their exercises. Co-op and Career had provided them a venn diagram to fill out and for some of the students the exercise was a tough one. They needed to think about their skills, wants, and competencies. The exercise is all about introspection and self-promotion. It is not as easy as it sounds. 

And, their first assignment was due this week. We had asked them to curate a fulsome About.Me page, and in two weeks their LinkedIn URL is due. They worked away in pods chatting with one another about what is holding them back, and how to overcome self-doubt. 

Mentoring university students has taught me numerous things. One consistent issue is the uncertainty and the way it can stifle creativity, bravery, and happiness. My exercise in self-deprecation and honesty was to remind them that they are going to make mistakes and it is OK. We are three weeks into this course and I hope that they are enjoying it as much as I am. 

My photo of one of Co-op’s Slides. Thanks! 

Things College Professors Like

Let me start by saying that this is not an exhaustive list. And, this list is based on my experiences as a college professor, teaching assistant, and life-long learner. I also talk to other instructors in the college environment, as well as teachers in the primary and secondary schools.

1. Show up to class

2. Read the syllabus or course outline

3. Come prepared

4. Talk to us after class or in office hours. You are never bugging us when you want to chat about the course or materials. If you need another copy of the syllabus, ask for it. 

5. Plan your time accordingly for the assignments. We realize that you have other courses 

6. When you email us, please use complete sentences and the usual rules of writing. And, start of formal and use Prof. A or Professor. Some profs prefer the title and others will say it’s fine to use their first name.

7. Be open to the materials and course content. 

8. Get involved

9. Come to office hours

10. Review graded work with the prof to see what you can do better next time. <This is different than asking for more points>.

11. Have fun

Number 11 is about making connections between the materials and your other courses or events in the news. Overall, I want to see you engaged and it is a give and take situation. I cannot expect students to magically engage–part of it is my work. I need to make you want to come to class. I will do my part.  

 

Popular Instructors

I cannot believe that I am starting my 18th teaching year. I always start counting the years in September and this is 18. One of the things that I am mulling is what a popular instructor or popular prof means in academe. Does this reflect your enrollments? Is this term cast as a negative assuming that your course content is easy? I think the context mattters.

1. Hearing it from some colleagues it is clear that it cheapens your pedagogy and the depth of what you teach. 

2. Hearing it from students varies, but it is mostly meant as a compliment. 

3. Some colleagues clearly mean it as a compliment. 

Overall, my sense is that the so-called popular instructors generally enjoy teaching. I think that is the difference.