Listen, Learn, Lead: Tattoo Origin

I was promoted almost five years ago. I was leaving the classroom full-time to run an academic service department that serves all of campus. This meant that I was going to lead a new department that was reorganized from two previous departments. I took the promotion with verve and through myself into my new job. I was thankful that I was still in the classroom, but not as much as before.

One of my peer mentors supported me through this transition and I still remember a meeting with him. We were chatting about the process and this would have been several months into the job. He looked at me and offered that I needed to listen more. I can’t remember his words verbatim, but they were something like this. “You need to listen. You need to learn.” We chatted and the overall tenor was that I was not a professor in the room, but part of this team working toward the same goal. I needed to act like I wasn’t in a classroom environment. We chatted some about the meeting’s content and I left his office.

I mulled his comments and my mantra became: Listen. Learn. Lead. I was set on leadership to the point that I was not thinking about listening. I was learning lots, but thanks to his feedback, I was listening more. Now this doesn’t meant that professors don’t listen. Don’t Learn. Don’t Lead. I needed my mindset to include more listening. I’m a hard extrovert and I’m known for my energy. But, I wasn’t always a good listener. I spent the next year thinking of this mantra and doing my best to listen actively.

When I got my second tattoo more than a year ago, I had Listen Learn Lead placed on my inner left arm. My right wrist has Mentor. And, yes, I did use Times New Roman. My former students will smile at the font name, as it is my preferred font. I used the Maple filter for the triple L. The Mentor is fresh from the studio and that is why it’s raw looking.


If you’re anything like me, you don’t really like having someone tell you that you need to relax. So, I will not tell you to relax, but I will say that I am still in a post-vacation bliss. I took a family vacation last week and am almost through the first week back at work. What did I learn? 

I like vacations. And, I need to take more occasional tech detoxes. I had an unplanned tech detox thanks to problems with my Smart Keyboard. I was able to read Twitter posts, but not reply or type. That pretty much meant that I wasn’t on Twitter that much. I didn’t travel with my laptop and I ended up reading several books and caught up on some magazines and Netflix series. I also made lots of memories with my family and had ample opportunity to sleep in and do very little. It was perfect. 

It’s great to be back at work. And, I am looking forward to my next vacation, which will be more of a staycation. I have included a photo from my vacation. I had my first cup of coffee most mornings on this deck. 

Kindness in 2017

Be kind to yourself. Make this your mantra for 2017 and beyond. This is not my suggestion for a resolution, but perhaps a suggestion for thinking about the importance of self-care every darn day. Do not give into the need to prove you are worthy. You are. You are enough. Do not think that you need to list or proclaim how busy you are. We are all busy. You are important. We know this. Be kind to yourself and in turn to others around you. Kindness and compassion begins with you. A new term begins for me and my students. Don’t forget kindness.

In 2017, treat yourself well. Take moments to balance yourself so that you can function. Remember that you are happier and more centered when you have a positive outlook about your life and the way that you treat those you encounter. Kindness is contagious and is not just about you. We can be our own worst enemy. Be a friend. Don Marquis noted, “The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race.” Do not be an obstacle to your own happiness and success. Be an asset. This short post is not filled with platitudes. No, it is a reminder about the importance of kindness. Think about what you want. Happy New Year! Think about your super power for the year! I am sure flying would be great or being invisible would be awesome to awkward, but I want a super power that helps me and others. Kindness will work. Compassion will work. Empathy will work. OK, those are superpowers.


Welcome to the New Term!

looking at a book

Today was one of those days. I saw two families driving on the wrong side of the road. I also saw lots of parents with their kids walking around the bookstore and other parts of campus. The families looked happy. And, if anything, the incoming student looked excited. I want to welcome all of us to a new term.

The new term means a fresh start for all of us. I am looking forward to meeting my new students and colleagues. I was lucky enough to meet lots of new faculty at a few events in August. The new term is the perfect time to move forward with good intentions. The new term is the start of something precious. Yes, it’s precious. The clean slate is a good time to start new habits and try to keep to them. I am thinking about what I want this term. What do you want for the new term?

Teaching as Mentoring


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Last week I blogged about Lessons Learned, when a class does not go well. This post picks up where I left off, but focuses on my best teaching experience to date. I love teaching. I view it as a form of mentoring and learning that works both ways. I learn from my students, and I have ample opportunity to work with them as they read and engage with the course materials, their peers, and me. Mentoring is important to me and this class offered lots of mentoring moments.

Last Fall I taught a new course for the Technology and Society Program, Digital Skills for Your Career and the course was amazing. I need to clarify, I co-taught with an awesome person and she helped make it successful. The students were also open to the material and learning. We also had colleagues from Career and Co-op  lecture about planning for your career trajectory, resume tips, and LinkedIn tips. The thing is that we had lots of exercises and group work for the class.

The students started off with putting together an page, where they could think about who they are and what they’d like to share. The course was also meant to have them think about being in control over their digital footprints. They also had to populate a LinkedIn profile well, blog, and then give a presentation about themselves and something that they’re interested in as their final project. There was also group work during class sessions.

We had a wide array of guest speakers from government, media, technology, non-profit, entrepreneurs, and other educators. Everything fit in well and our office hours were quite busy with the students. The student feedback unofficially and officially (student evaluations) was extremely positive. What worked well is that we allowed them to be vulnerable. We talked about vulnerability and we saw that thinking and planning was frightening, and they needed a space to do this. We graded them on their writing, depth of analysis, and public speaking. Overall, the course was awesome. Several of the students shared that they were recruited via their LinkedIn profile, and others used the class to think about what was next for them.

I am teaching the course again, and by myself this time. We are going to read Tom Rath’s Strength Finders and Sheryl Sandberg’s Leaning in For Graduates. I also have lots of articles about using social or digital tools wisely. Overall, I am looking forward to the class, and I hope that this next cohort of students are as excited as I am.

Lessons Learned

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I have had two outlier terms in my teaching career. And, one was in the last year. When things work well, you feel like every damn thing is in order, and you want to pinch yourself. In a similar way, when things begin to go wrong you want to stop and fix them, but they continue to slip out of your reach, it feels like a train wreck. Well, I had a term like this and I’m looking back, so that I can look forward.

I used some new materials, had some strong personalities, and did my best. Well, things did not go as planned, and I need to do a few things. I need to own it. I need to move on. But, right now I am reviewing things. What could I have done to make things better? I know it was not just the books, the students, and me. There are always more factors at play when a class is mediocre. I pride myself on how much I enjoy teaching, as I view it as a form of mentoring and I find teaching fulfilling. And, when things go offside, I feel responsible.

I chose a few new books in order to push my class to read about debates in the field. If I could go back, I would have chosen one new book. The material was provocative enough to cause uncomfortable feelings, debate, and a good measure of animosity between the students, and some directed at me. It is far easier to teach the usual suspects. So, there is a part of me that stubbornly thinks that I would not change the books. I did explain that the material would push the students and that they should feel uncomfortable, but it was not enough. From the papers, I could read that a handful of the students did not like the book or both books. Now, whether or not I had a deep reflection about the content is a different story, but I did hear about the materials vocally. “I want a different book suggestion, since I cannot relate to this one.” I did not give the student another book option.

Course materials are important and I reviewed several books and was really happy with the overall syllabus and assignment. I can reluctantly admit that I would not teach both new books again. One did not work. I won’t name it, as it will do a few things. It will make the students realize that I am talking about their class, and it’s likely better that they not know which of the courses I am referring to in this post! Well, on their own, both books are intellectually engaging or problematic. I do not want to teach perfect books, as that is too darn easy. What else would I have done differently? I think I would have noted that this course had fewer readings and pages of work due to me, than previous terms. From reviewing the evaluations, it is clear that some of the students thought that I was asking them to do too much work. I was not.

The good news here is that I take each class as a learning experience. While teaching feels like it comes easy to me, it is good to know that I will still have an off term. It is good for me to reflect on the course. And, I am not a rock star every term. I have been fortunate to have so many awesome courses and experiences–this year reminded me to be humble! And, the few unhelpful evaluations say more about the student, than they do about me. Thanks for reading the post. I’d appreciate any feedback you have about awesome or crappy terms. We all have them.


Thinking about Learning Spaces

Almost one year ago, I attended the National Forum on Active Learning Classroom conference held at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It was a truly amazing conference! Between the Society for College and University Planning and this conference, my head is going to explode with all the great information that I heard. The good news is that I feel validated. Validated for my teaching style and the disruption that I cause in the classroom and with my educational technology use.

I understand from my friends and colleagues in many departments that their classroom is everywhere. They teach online and I tend to veer toward a blended or flexible format. I might have two sessions of lecture/discussion style, lab time or online/group learning time. The reality is that learning spaces exist in and outside of the traditional classroom and we need to make sure that we are supportive of the variety of teaching modalities. Likewise, our students are used to making virtually any space a learning space and we need to remember this as we plan space on campus.

One little takeaway was the artful way that the facilities office has suggested that students clean up after themselves. This is the way to encourage students and does not rant or nag at them, which they dislike. And, I cannot blame that. Many colleges are moving to recycling centers outside of classrooms to encourage sorting your garbage and recycling. I took lots of photos at the conference and there are some other great posters in the rooms. 


U of MN classroom

The conference was small with about 250 attendees and the group was mixed in terms of facilities staff, administrators, and faculty.  However, based on my interactions, it seemed like there were more faculty at this conference. The faculty shared a common interest–dedication to teaching and learning. It is refreshing to interact with large groups of people dedicated to teaching and learning. We talked lots about flipping the classroom and the importance of active learning spaces. The photos below are from the conference sessions. All of the sessions were held in active learning spaces. I have more to say, and this is just one post. Look for more about this topic, and I have more below the photos!


A year later I can say that I have learned lots about learning spaces that are planned and found. The first thing is that students will help you “break” a classroom in ways that you may not have thought of during the planning. For instance, we have writable wall space, but did not make every last inch writable. Guess what? Some creative students assumed that every last inch was writable. Yup. If some of the space is writable, you need to make it all writable or have those fancy stickers or posters on the wall noting it’s writable space.

Another thing that I have learned is that a flexible classroom space will not work for every instructor. I fielded requests for four different lecterns. The rooms had one lectern, but there are “favorite” types of lecterns. In short, once a space is remodeled you must expect a year or two of testing, breaking, and consultations in order to assess what worked well or what needs improvement. Overall, working on a committee that is trying to make the face to face classroom space better is a rewarding work.