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.


Manager: The Art of Watching & Listening

I know that my official title is Director; however, I do lots of managing. Managing of people, expectations, small to large projects, and managing my performance. Part of managing is not talking, but watching and mindfully listening. My issue is that I have to be present in the office to interact with staff, and some weeks I live meeting to meeting. The way I manage my time is with Outlook and I plan my meetings weeks in advance to carve out time to meet with my staff.

I have given everyone a copy of Thanks for the Feedback. This is for me, and for my staff. I have found that giving my staff tools to communicate with one another and me is is important. We had our annual retreat and what a difference a year makes. This retreat was important to establish the team mission, communicate, and also look forward to what is next for the team.

A good manager or leader needs to plan, watch, listen, and lead.

Grading and Offering Helpful Advice

I have large classes and this means lots of grading for me and my team of Teaching Assistants. I do not have Teaching Assistants for all of my courses, though. What I will say is that grading offers an interesting moment. That moment when you can assess if a student has: followed directions, read the material, organized her/his ideas well, and attempted to do the assignment in a timely fashion. Grading, though, is not about the student. It is about the work. And, this is where things get complicated.

Most of us take issue with people evaluating our work. It’s tough. The evaluation can make you squirm or sit taller in your chair. I’m cognizant of this, when I mark papers. There are moments, when I want to say: you totally kicked ass with this assignment. But, alas, that is not appropriate or even helpful. I might offer something like, it’s obvious that you have spent time thinking about the materials and have successfully articulated your analysis. Then, there are those moments, when you just know that a student did not have enough time to complete the assignment or did not manage his/her time well and you weigh what you need to say. I take no pleasure in offering critical commentary about student work. In most instances, I will offer that the assignment or paper did not meet the requirements. I try to avoid using the word: you. You is personal. The student reads it in a different way.

I have witnessed many students turn the to the last page for the grade. I was the type of student who read page by page the comments and if the grade was on the first or last page it did not matter. I wanted to get the feedback. I tweeted the other day that I was marking and was attempting to balance three things.

1. Firm    2. Fair    3. Compassion

These three things are important to me. The mark can influence a student’s assessment of their work, but also of the class, and the department. Maybe I’m thinking too much about this. But, I really do think that the feedback is important. Even if the assignment is just terrible–feedback is important. When the assignment is a failure, I do ask the student to come see me. I want to know what happened and if I can help. No student wants to earn the F. Usually there are extenuating circumstances and this is when I can offer guidance and compassion. Grading is not easy. I provide my first year students with a paper checklist, so that they can remind themselves of each component. This is a useful exercise for them, but even so it will not translate into 100% of the students using it or using the checklist properly. I continue to mark and think about the marking or grading process.

For my Teaching Assistants, the grading process is similar. I know from talking to them that some take the grading personally. They only want the students to succeed and feel a sense of frustration, when the students do not do well. They say, “I reminded them of this in tutorial. Why aren’t they following directions.” And, then, they are very proud when a student does well. Grading can seem so subjective at times, but ultimately it is not. We have our grading rubric and the grade categorization and explanation from the university. We know what we are looking for and we hope to find as many strong assignments as possible. In the interim, we plug away at the grading and offering useful commentary to our students.

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Reminder: Breathe

Mid-terms are about to begin and I’ve been struck with a few things. I can announce things in class, send messages via our on-line learning platform, hold office hours, and attempt to hold G+ Hangout office hours. But, there are those moments when students just do not pay attention. It’s not yet important, as the assignment or exam is weeks away. Then, snap, suddenly everyone needs me. I had to remind myself of a few things in the last week.

1. Keep the hockey schedule in mind. Some of my students are avid hockey fans and my office hours cannot conflict with the game.

2. Remember that instructors need to remind students. They are taking three to five other courses and have multiple deadlines and are juggling so much. The majority will need the reminder. Move on.

3. Be more patient around this time of the term. Students will appreciate the patience and the last thing they want is for you to chastise them. Really–do I need to put any emotional energy in chastising students? No. I have other places to expend my energy.

4. Related to the previous point, I need to also be more available the week of the mid-term. I am also juggling multiple projects, but my first job is teaching and I know that this week my students need me.

This short  post really serves as a reminder to me–patience, compassion, and support. These are the three things that I must have this week. Wishing all students good luck on their mid-terms. And, sending an extra deep cleansing breath to other instructors, mentors, and ancillary staff who work with students. Ommmm!

These post its work for this week!

These post its work for this week!

Continuing the Conversation about Guilt: Academics on Academia

I’ve enjoyed my conversations with Liana Silva. Her last post really touched me and troubled me. I was not frustrated with Liana, but with the truths she spoke about the ways in which academics allow the constant blurring of our work and personal lives. She made me look into the mirror and think about my work and the infamous to do lists that I keep. I spent all last week thinking about guilt. The guilty way I feel when I think about my day and the constant struggle to get all the tasks completed.

There is always a paper to write, assignments to grade, lectures to work on and other work. Then, add to that projects, publications, and service in the department, faculty and wider campus. The reality is that most academics do not work a 40 hour work week. No, we work easily work 50-60 and during the crunch periods more than this. And, this doesn’t include all the time responding to emails or thinking about the job. Alas, we do not get to bill by the fifteen minute increments!

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