Sustaining You

Who makes you feel safe? Friends and others who know you are safe or some might say: home. When I think of people I trust and respect, this networks of friends, family, and inner circle at work are supportive, good listeners, and are honest with their advice. I do not want a nodding head and mere agreement. I want someone to listen and then comment–especially if we disagree or if the friend has something to add. Again, a big part of this is listening. Try to stay away from emotional vampires who just take, take, and take. These people are exhausting to engage with on an ongoing basis. I find that I am controlling my time more and putting more distance with the emo vamps, as those conversations are usually not two-way conversations.

Affirm the good relationships and spend time with the people who add to your day. Remind your network that they are important collaborators, friends, and people in your life. These people challenge you to be a better person and they deserve reminders that they are important. This makes me think of places where I feel at home or safe. I’m thinking of the places or things that add to my day. The smell of coffee definitely makes me smile, and then the taste, well. I love coffee. 

When I think of where I feel safe or comfortable, I often think of the classroom. As a natural extrovert, teaching feels like home. I am not referring to talking at my students, but rather leading, facilitating, and listening to them. I want the classroom to embody a place where we can discuss, challenge, disagree, and grow. Do not assume that I mean that I expect the classroom to not be a place of contentious conversation–it is. But, when I walk into a classroom to teach or to give a presentation, I feel like I am at home or in a good place that I am comfortable.

What caused this stream of thought? This quote from George Eliot, “Oh, the comfort. The inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person. Having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words. But pouring them all out. Just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”  Keep and nurture. Blow the rest away.

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5 Facts About Me

1.  I am committed to lifelong learning. I regularly read books outside of my area of education and training to learn and grow.

2. Related to number one, I am reading an array of books, magazines, and articles. I never leave the house or my office without something to read.

3. I have an irrational fear of zombies. My family and friends tease me about this. This fear does not stop me from reading zombie lit and watch terrible zombie movies. <This also didn’t stop me from buying a shirt about zombies liking us for our brains.>

4. My family centers me. Sitting around the dinner table or talking with them takes me to my happy place. As my kids get bigger I find that our conversations about life offer insight into the people they are becoming.

5. I will never get tired of working with students. The other day I shared an enthusiastic high five with a student, when I verified that he was ready to declare his major. This was his moment and we shared it.

 

Mentoring Graduate Students

I am assessing the last year and thinking about my mentoring of my Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Research Assistants (RAs). While I need them to grade and facilitate the tutorials, the other thing that I want them to do is learn. I am a firm believer in giving them ample opportunity to learn and lead. And, a major part of this is trying to get them used to project management and working with people. Another key thing is to help them have better work life balance. It is easy to get caught up in the “flexibility” of our academic jobs and to work all of the darn time.

One thing that I set up with my TAs is that any email sent on Friday at 5pm through Sunday is considered a Monday morning email. They are not on call to me and I want to have productive boundaries with them. I also set up with them the guidelines for responding to emails from me Monday through Friday and from my students. I think it is important to offer clear guidelines for working with me.

It was hard to let go and give more freedom for how they lead tutorials, but somehow this is easier for me. I have to trust them and that they will learn what works for the group of students in the tutorial. The art of letting go is important to offering the TAs a chance to get comfortable leading discussions and learning how to work with a supervisor. What have I learned? Some of my TAs are dedicated and others have different skill sets that will serve them well elsewhere.

My most successful TAs and RAs are the ones who take direction well, are organized, and think ahead about the course material or the project. These graduate students are generally more receptive to feedback and have a willingness to learn and do more. These particular graduate students take pride in the work and do not act like the job is funding—they treat the work, like a job. I am thankful for them.

Revisiting Course Experience Evaluations

During the term faculty are required to distribute university approved evaluation forms for students to fill out and these instruments field a wide array of responses. The campus where I work is moving to online evaluations and the reaction is mixed. Regarding student evaluation I have heard lots and have blogged about the evaluation process, but these are the most common responses that I have heard recently.

They are not qualified to judge me

It’s a popularity contest more than anything else

I don’t read them

They’re useful

I read them

I bury them

I learn from them

I don’t like them

The comments will turn into a RMPish experiment

I do not want to engage in the online versus paper evaluations for this post. Much of academic life is filled with judgment. We get assessed by our peers, by our department, reviewers of scholarly presses, others up the academic food chain, and by the government and public if you are at a public institution. Frankly, everyone is always weighing in about higher education.

We judge and assess student work, yet somehow we are uncomfortable with this singular act of student assessment of our course or courses. Why? Well, that is cause for a long post. Let me speak to how I have changed my feelings about them. I think that the official university evaluations are a mixed-bag. They provide feedback. Some of the feedback is useful and other feedback is interesting and at times not helpful. I am sure we have all had this experience with a peer review:
Reviewer 1 provides good feedback and you know that they read your chapter or article. Reviewer 2 has skimmed it and refers to some work that you cited, but the reviewer did not bother to notice this. Reviewer 3 did not read your work and really dislikes the topic and offers nothing that is useful beyond you wishing evil upon this person. . Reviewer 4 refers to his or her work and how this article offers nothing new, but there are a few helpful comments.

Student evaluations can work like this, too. However, the rub is that our departments use these evaluations to measure teaching effectiveness or prowess and at times the numbers and comments do not paint an accurate picture or maybe they do?! Perhaps your students really like you and like your courses and the evaluations offer this assessment. But, maybe your students dislike you or the material and the evaluations convey this. And, that is the problem. We need to assess the larger picture and the evaluations offer one part. This is why peer evaluation is also important. But, do not stop there. If your campus has a learning and teaching center, visit it. Take some workshops and avail yourself of the various opportunities and make sure that you add these workshops to your vitae in the appropriate area.

Teaching requires work and preparation and we have a tough audience. Our students are bombarded with distractions and if they are not interested in the topic I feel like I have to catch them. But, alas, no matter what I do, I will not catch all of them.

What does this mean for student evaluations, then? They are necessary. But, faculty can respond by reviewing them and reflecting. Do you need to mix things up? Is it time to have a trusted colleague do a peer review of your syllabus and lecture? Departments also have to invest in faculty and offer opportunities for professional development and insist that faculty work on their teaching dossier. I am biased here as teaching track faculty, but am resolute in my opinion that teaching takes work. I include a photo of Stress Paul, a rubber stress ball.

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Time Management: Todoist and Other Tools

I have previously blogged about how much I enjoy my job and offered advice for students and others about time management. Like most people I am juggling multiple deadlines, projects, and trying hard to get stuff done. How I have done this over the years has varied. Last Fall, I downloaded a few apps that worked like glorified lists and some were useful and fun.

A fun app that I used last Fall and for a short period of the Winter was Carrot. This app gamified my productivity and rewarded me with praise when I accomplished lots and punished me with insults, when I fell behind. Of course, I wanted the accolades and not the missives from Carrot. I see that there is a Carrot exercise app, but I have not interest in that. I have since deleted Carrot, as it was not really an effective app for my use at work.

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My productivity changed drastically by my immersion with Todoist. At first I was using lightly; however, I started to increase my use as I got more busy with the demands of teaching, administrative work, and service. Where was Todoist, when I was a grad student? I have talked about productivity apps with my TS 300 students, and students in my office and I keep on referring them to Todoist. It is important that I note that I am a Type A person and enjoy apps of this nature. Todoist keeps me organized.

What I like best about the Todoist is that I am able to manage projects with different deadlines, integrate the app with my Outlook, and look long-term at projects or deadlines. I also like the way in which I can prioritize or share projects. I am not using the priorities as much as a I did at the start; however, it is useful for me to track what I am doing and what is coming up for me. Did I mention that I also like the look and feel of the app? I’ve bought other productivity or list apps and used them for a day or a week, and most of them were not intuitive for me or aesthetically pleasing. Developers will smile here, as they think of the app experience. I need the app experience to work for me. For all of these reasons I am an evangelist for Todoist.

Finish the Term Strong

This post is all about suggestions for student success. As a former Undergraduate Advisor and an instructor, I am supportive of student success. I have one more week in the term and due date are looming, but I realize that many of my colleagues have one to two more months left. This post will speak to some suggestions for how students can finish the term strong

1. Go to class

2. Read the syllabus

3. Go to office hours

4. Review points one through three

Seriously, I am not kidding about the above as they are extremely important to student success. As I told a group of librarians today, I might as well say that the sky is blue; however, it is key to emphasize the obvious. There are moment when we need reminding about what is the obvious Beyond the absolute obvious, I also suggest that during the last part of the term that students manage their time well. Now is the time to focus on ending on a high note. It is to easy to finish with the best that you can do in that moment, but that will not make you stand out above the others. I encourage you to become a hermit during the last week or two as you write your papers.

What else can you do? You can visit your Writing Center and then ask if your professor is willing to chat about your draft or to review your draft. Please note that most professors will not copy-edit your draft. Please remember that your professor may have 30-400 students that term, so don’t be too hard on your professor if they are only willing to chat about your paper. If you have a Teaching Assistant, by all means go to her or his office hours. Own your education. Take charge and act like you care. Acting like you care about your education and success really does count for something.

My last words of guidance are about reading the assignments and following directions. I am always surprised and frustrated by the number of students who do not read the syllabus and think that this is not important. A student approached me recently saying, “This is a 12 point font.” I responded, “Yes, it is but it is not Times New Roman 12 and is a huge font. Please review my syllabus.” Following directions is the first part of an assignment and reflect attention to detail. Good luck with the last few weeks and your papers and final!

Graduation is a mere two months away and I can’t wait to sit on the stage and witness this momentous event. Until then, I send positive energy to my students as they wind down. Finish the term well!

 

 

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Five Things About Me

I haven’t done my Friday Fun Facts in a very long time, and it is not Friday. I thought that I would share five things about me that you may not know.

1. I worked at a Hallmark store and for a bank during most of my undergrad. One was the phone job, but both required that I work with the public. The Hallmark job enabled my obsession with great cards and post-cards. I try to send a card or two out every week to someone who has helped me.

2. I have consistently found good take aways from business management or business leadership books. Remember I have taught in the Social Sciences, Arts and Letters, or Humanities for my career, but I have found business books useful for project management and leadership.

3. I am the eldest of five siblings. And, most of what you know about eldest siblings applies. I’m not conservative, but most of the known characteristics applies and I tend to get along well with other eldest siblings. We gravitate toward one another.

4. I am an extrovert. I am more cognizant of my extreme extrovert traits and have to remind myself to dial it back, as I feel exuberant about my job and the things that I do. I think that the exuberance is amusing to my students and I am OK with that.

5. I love teaching. A switch goes on when I walk into the classroom—my classroom or another’s and I feel home. It sounds corny, but it is true.

The image is shared via @kmclellan I think I have his Twitter handle right.

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