Things I Learned (TIL) Part One

I tend to not have New Year’s Resolutions, since I live my life by the academic calendar and have thought of the new year starting in September. But, 2019 is about change and I don’t have any big resolutions beyond continuing to be more mindful of my health. This post will speak to things I learned in my five years as an Academic Administrator and this is part one of likely a few posts.

At the university where I have worked, Academic Administrators (AA) are faculty and protected under the collective agreement; however, I learned that many of faculty colleagues did not know this and assumed that an AA was one of them. You know, the big, bad administration. I don’t like the us vs them discussion, but I realize why this tension exists. There are tensions on university campuses and in some departments the tensions are thick in the air. That said, for brevity I will number the TIL.

1. Human Resources (HR) staff are indispensable. I found the consultants, workshops, and array of resources critical. If you are managing people, you need to confer with the HR professionals for assistance. Faculty normally do not get trained on people management and this needs correction. Managing teams is hard work and you need to be thoughtful and strategic.

2. Collaboration is key. If you are serving a department, parts of campus or the entire campus in your AA role, you are going to collaborate with lots of people and you will need to get out of your former silo and be prepared for this new environment. Embrace it!

3. Listening. In my faculty role, I was used to being the guide on the side or sage on the stage. As an AA my role was completely different. I was part of the team and had to learn to hone my listening skills. During my tenure as an AA, I got a tattoo on my arm that reads: Listen Learn Lead. It was my mantra as a middle management leader on campus.

4. Leadership. I tried to be the kind of leader that I wanted to work for and that took work. Again, listening is key as well as the humility to learn. For instance, I learned that it is critical to support your staff. I have had to make tough decisions around staff that included firing, hiring, and writing staff up for their performance or lack thereof. I had to participate in an investigation of a staff member’s terrible mistakes and also guide and support other staff upon their return to work. Empathy is an important part of leadership as well as good communication.

5. Managing up. I have worked for two provosts and a few vice presidents and learned that there is a revolving door with upper administration. Managing up is hard work. There are strong leaders, weak leaders, and terrible leaders and I have had the pleasure in departments and as an AA working for all of the types. The worst ones are the poor communicators, who lack people skills. Trust me–they exist and managing up is exhausting with those type of leaders. Here is where HR is again helpful.

6. Save your emails and/or get things in writing. Unfortunately, this is a reality of the job. You do need to protect yourself and at times will need the proof regarding a statement. It could be great news or a colleague’s angry email. If you don’t have emails, then write things down after an interesting meeting.

7. If you’re unionized–seek counsel from your union. I learned the hard way that I should have had my first contract reviewed by our nascent union. But, now I know my union representative and President quite well and they have helped me lots during the last two years. I learned that at times new leaders will not refer to the collective agreement and make mistakes. It’s key to protect yourself and not feel like you’re a problem when you point out that they are in contradiction to the collective agreement. You are protecting your rights as an employee!

8. I also learned that the upper leadership is homogenous. As a feminist, woman of color, in middle management and upper management there are few people who look like me or come from a working class background. This is a problem. We can do better in terms of equity, diversity and representation. I am not saying that the upper management needs more Latinas; however we need more than words on paper or holding events. And, sure, we could use more wise Latinas! Mentoring is important, but that is for another post.

I am no longer an AA, as this particular category was disestablished and all of us have been transferred or re-classified as Faculty Exempt, Management Exempt or Regular Faculty. I will miss my former department–of which I was the founding director–however, going back to teaching full-time is no hardship! There is more to come and my story continues.

I finished Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, last week and then my best friend sent me this shirt. It fits. Go high!

Testing Out Different Apps

For more than a year, I have tested a several meditation or relaxation apps and websites. I have found that I am smitten with a few that are working for me. My favorite are: Headspace, Meditation Oasis, and white noise. The white noise I get from either Relax Melodies or my Nursal White Noise Machine that I bought via Amazon.ca.

I have had problems sleeping for more than a year and part of the issue was my anemia. Repeatedly I was advised to do yoga, meditate, and change my sleep routine so that I could ease into sleep. Some of the advice worked. I have tried numerous apps and websites, but Headspace and Meditation Oasis are my favorites.

I find that waking up, meditating and doing yoga works well for me. Then, I end the day doing some relaxation poses and more meditation. I prefer the Nursal machine’s ocean mode. With Relax Melodies, I have tried a few of the settings, but find that the underwater or ocean sounds are the most soothing for me. I do not have the paid version of Relax Melodies, but do have the premium Headspace account.

Which apps, sites or YouTube channels do you like for your meditation or relaxation routine? Please share!

Taking Care of Yourself

I have had issues with anemia during the last decade for an array of reasons and each time it’s come up and surprised me. I was never anemic during my pregnancies, but somehow anemia is my kryptonite. And, the two times I’ve been anemic I had no idea until I was exhausted and had a spate of illnesses.

I was referring to my illnesses as an Election Flu, since I had been ill almost every other month for more than a year. Somehow I was caught up in life and work and didn’t think that there was a pattern of illness and exhaustion. But, my family and friends kept reminding me that I was getting sick lots. I finally asked for some blood work and realized that my illness and exhaustion was from anemia. I am eating so many green leafy veggies that I think I am seeing green. Oh, and I’m eating more meat.

But, that is not the point. The point is that it’s important to take care of your health. Self-care is not a luxury. And, in the midst of the blood work and doctors’ appointments I had a few surprises. So, here I am taking better care of myself and finally sleeping better and feeling somewhat better. What I have been thinking about is that I am not going to take my health for granted. I am enjoying this tea from Silk Road and reading with my cuppa.

Yoga

I’m back to doing some yoga and does it feel great! I forgot how much I need yoga and stretching in my life. I also have taken to doing some active meditation. The thing that I like about some of the classes is that I’m seeing fewer flexy sexies and more regular practitioners.

As far as meditation, I have tried a few apps and will write about them at another time. I need to see which ones turn out to be the best fit for me. Sharing a photo of my cup of coffee.

A Few Things I’ve Learned

When I first started teaching, I was too nice. I had to establish better boundaries for deadlines, protecting my time, and protecting the learning environment of the classroom. Then, I swung to hard to the opposite side and was too strict and demanding. I’ve taught at four institutions and they spanned the gamut of a community college, comprehensive, and research one institution. What happened?

1. I caught a cheating ring in a class. All of the students submitted the same paper, but had moved some paragraphs around throughout the paper. They all earned a 0 on the assignment. One of the guilty students saw me in the library a few weeks later and bellowed at me, “You’re the reason I am not staring law school in September.” I knew most of the libraian staff and some came closer. While my heart was racing, I looked over and said, “You’re the reason you’re not going to law school in the Fall.” I walked away. This student was the only one who tried to deny that he cheated. The others dropped quickly and admitted it. Occasionally, I wondered if he did get into law school and if he’s a practicing lawyer. What I can say, he was a cretin. He was terrible to me and if I got treated this way today, things would play out differently.

2. I accepted any excuse for late work and was surpised to bump into deathly ill students in the campus pub, staffing a table, or at the gym. I soon realized that I needed to have a late policy that was more firm. But, I also didn’t like this “gotcha” culture with late work. I had to work almost full-time throughout my university experience and I’m sympathetic to work/life balance. Now, I rarely ask for proof. It’s just not worth my time or my students. The wording in my syllabus is firm, but in reality, I just want them to be successful and I don’t need them to go spend $25 on a doctor’s note.

3. I dress up for work and class. The first time I wore jeans to class at one institution a few of my students talked loudly about how I had jeans on and it was not professional. I had a nice blouse and blazer on and ignored their banter and started class. Fast foward almost twenty years and I still tend to dress up for class. But, if I could relive that time, I think I would have asked the two students to stay after class and chat about their comments. I wore jeans again, but in a more defiant way. I belonged in that classroom and in that institution even if there weren’t many who looked like me.

4. When I was pregnant and teaching, this opened up my eyes to the way in which my body was viewed as public property everywhere and how my body excited some and repulsed others. While lecturing the Cletus the Fetus moved its arm, and through the shirt the students could see an elbow and I thought a few students were going to pass out. Their eyes opened huge and they looked startled. It was quite funny to me. What I didn’t like, was the touching. I announced to the class that I did not want anyone touching my pregnant belly. It was uncomfortable. Imagine my surprise, when the chair of the Women’s Studies Department emailed me during the Western that a student had complained about this. The Chair supported me, but I still smirk that a student contacted the Chair and argued that it should be OK for her to touch my pregnant belly. It’s comical.

None of these scenarios took place at my current institution, but they all impacted me during those first five years of teaching. The biggest takeaway for me is that I am not here to police the students, to weed them out, to punish them or belittle them. I am here to ensure that they learn about the subject matter and during this time they’ll get a feel for the learning environment that I am in charge of and get a chance to think, write, and interact. This is simplistic, but this is one of several posts about what I’ve learned in two decades of teaching in Political Science, Women’s Studies, and Technology and Society.

Radical Self-Care

I practiced yoga with a new instructor and she wore a shirt that read “radical self-care” and it positively affected my practice. The ability to take care of oneself is often viewed as a luxury or even unnecessary. Self-care is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. And, at times self-care seems antithetical to academe. There is always another paper to read, write, or a meeting to attend. The vagaries of an academic life means that we often do not leave the office. Wait, maybe some do, but the rest of us do not do this well. 

Radical self-care means not apologizing for leaving work early. 

Radical self-care means that taking time to get better from an illness is acceptable. 

Radical self-care means setting boundaries. 

Radical self-care means that you don’t have to do everything. 

On Being Human: Teaching Expectations

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I’m about to embark on my 20th year of teaching. I cannot believe it. It seems like just a few years ago, I was a graduate student. But, it’s been more than a few years. I love teaching. One consistent thing that I’ve witnessed though, is that I cannot get sick or have a family emergency. A small percentage of my students, must think that I live under my desk and have a super immune system, but alas occasionally I do fall ill. When I do get sick, it’s a whopper of an illness. Oh, like whooping cough and coughing so hard that I pass out or a terrible flu strain for almost three weeks.

I have had an accident, family emergency, and illness affect my teaching life three times in the last twenty years. Each time this meant that I returned grading a bit later than usual. It also impacted my office hours or availability. I did not think that it was a big deal, as I was honest and clear with the students. However, each time it was clear that a group of students did not find my personal situation relevant and were quite brutal on the official student evaluations, that one rate your instructor who you love/hate site, and in office hours/email communication.

I know this might sound like a whiny post, and perhaps it is. I would like some breathing room, so that when I get really ill every seven years I can get back in the classroom and not have a barrage of negative feedback about how my illness impacted their ability to come see me or better understand the assignment that is explained thoughtfully in the syllabus. Professors are people too, and sometimes we get sick or are family members get sick. There, I feel better.

The image is from interwebs–Yik Yak. I’ve never used my iClicker as anything except its intended use. My use of it here is cheeky.