Presence as a Gift

This quote reminds me what a gift mindful listening is. I refer to being present and communicating. We are all so busy and giving the gift of our time is a real present. This is really about the gift of mindfulness when we are with others. Are you a good listener? Are you present when you are with your loved ones, friends, and co-workers? I remember one of my professors from my undergraduate days could never be bothered to actually look at me or near my direction during office hours. She was too busy doing her mail and putting together her next lecture. I never felt like I had her attention. I learned something from those visits to her office, though.I learned that I would never do this during my office hours. I am present.

I have my limits and know what times of day that I am best for better listening or office hours, for instance. It is important to know when you are productive for the work that you need to do. As much as I would love to have my office hours one day a week, like some of my friends, I just can’t do that. I need about an hour or hour and a half at tops to focus, listen, and help. Then, I need to take care of the paperwork from the meetings, and get to the next task. I feel that I can offer my full presence two to three designated times per week and then for appointments as needed another hour in the week. Now these are the sort of meetings where I am working with my undergrads. I’m not referring to meetings with my graduate students or colleagues.

I attend lots of meetings based on sitting on different committees and I have to say that it is easiest to be present with the focused or organized meetings and most of the university meetings have an organized agenda, which I really appreciate. When the Chair of the meeting leads effectively, the meeting is more successful. One colleague from the Law Faculty would also time the different points on the agenda. These organized meetings kept all of us present. I wish that I was able to follow suit with this tactic, but overall, I learned lots from her. She was present and made sure that we all were present at our meetings.

Thinking of friends and presence is important, too. I really need to feel like the friendship is mutual in order to be present and give my attention. I can recharge after a great coffee or lunch with a good friend and I hope that they feel the same way. And, of course, I try to be present at home with my family. How do you focus? How do you stay present? One easy tactic is to keep the technology at a minimum or to have technology breaks. I will do this with girlfriends, a social media break when we all spend 2-3 minutes checking in or we agree to no phones. My family keeps me on track: they ask me to unplug. How are you mindful?

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Honesty Redux

This post just ran on UVenus and Inside Higher Education and I want to share it here on my personal blog. Saying that honesty is important almost feels like stating the obvious, but in practice it can be quite complicated.

A few weeks back I was chatting with a friend and she asked what my New Year’s Resolution was. I paused and thought about how I do not really believe in these sorts of things, but then realized that my resolutions are formed in late August or September, prior to a new school term starting. Last year my resolution was to continue to make mentoring my mandate. This school year my resolution was for honesty. Now, this honesty works both ways. I mean to continue to offer my honest, helpful comments to my students, mentees, and graduate students who I supervise or coach as my Teaching Assistants. But, it also means that I expect honesty.

What has this meant this last term? I have not responded to emails that crossed the line. I have set up face to face meetings with colleagues or students who sent the email to discuss the matter at hand. Life is too short to not communicate clearly and if I have the opportunity, I would rather clarify an issue face to face. This policy has worked like a charm. I have felt clarity with an honest conversation where all parties really come from a place of “I” and not “you”. I think I have to thank the Human Rights office and the two committees that I have sat on for the last year and a half for the foresight and tools to make me a better communicator and also expect the same from my students and colleagues.

In terms of my blogging and social media visibility, this has also meant that trolls exert no power or emotional energy for me. I am not saying that they took up that much space before, but now they take up zero space. I easily ignore them and move on, and this is quite freeing. I have used this place of honesty as a way to forge productive energies. I do not think that trolls are practicing honesty. No, the keyboard warrior is actually a coward. I have previously heard that I am blunt or brutally honest, and I think that these assessments have been fair. However, I do think that this resolution of honesty is different for me and my interactions with students.

I no longer circle around comments and waste time trying to not offend and choose my words ever so carefully. There are moments when you really cannot find something positive to say about a student’s work. This does not mean that I lack compassion or do not try to help my students perform well.  I offer constructive, honest comments and if this means that I state, “This is not your best work. This is sloppy work. You did not review my syllabus closely.” I will say it. I have said it. The reactions from students have varied and I know that one student thanked me profusely for my honesty. His next two assignments were stronger, and during the holidays he sent a nice thank you note. I was clear that he had not submitted his best work and that I expected more from him. I have told my mentee that I expect her to participate more in class—that she does not get a free pass—no favoritism. Guess what—she started talking more. I raised the bar, and many students responded with better work.

Sure, there was a student or two who noted something to the effect of, “I’ve never had a professor be so forward or speak to me this way.” My response was that I was sorry that no one had taken the time to be honest. I do not live my life by the students’ comments on sites about professors—see I won’t give them a shout out. I prefer to see the student do well, try harder, and graduate. I am not in the department to make friends. I am mentoring students and this includes honesty.  The year is halfway over and I will continue with my resolution of honesty. I really believe that the vast majority of my students appreciate it. Some of them might realize it a year or so later–and their cards or emails are a testament to the importance of honesty.

Fri Fun Facts: Student Protocol

For my Fri Fun Facts, I want to speak to student protocol. I include a section in my syllabi about student protocol in the classroom, office, and communication (email, FB, Twitter, etc). The first point I should acknowledge is that I think it’s important to learn students’ names. I want them to know that they are more than student identification number in the class. And, frankly, I like calling them by their first name, when they raise their hand or saying hi to them on campus. They are part of the community.

I do have expectations for their interactions and will bullet point some of the points here.

1. Please come to class on time. It’s distracting when a stream of students enters the classroom or lecture hall late.

2. Don’t talk during lecture or presentations. Raise your hand if you want to share something, but your chatter distracts your peers around you and me. I will zero in on the conversation and first wonder if my zipper is down. Then, I wonder if I wasn’t clear and suddenly I am not paying attention to the subject at matter. You get the hint.

3. Treat email or non face to face communication with me in the same manner that you would act/talk during office hours. When you send a note, please address me and sign your name. Remember that I have several hundred students and advisees.

4. Come to class prepared. This means that you should do the reading.

5. Review the syllabus at the start and end of the week, so that you know where we are and when assignments are do. If you email me and the answer is on the syllabus, please note that I will re-direct you back to the syllabus.

6. Remember that you are an adult and you are responsible for noting deadlines/due dates and being responsible for yourself.

7. Be polite to your peers in the classroom. Occasionally you might disagree with a statement. Don’t attack the student. Try to discuss the issue at hand.

8. Respect office hours. If you catch me in the hallway with a question about your mark or the material, this is appropriate for the time I’ve slated for office hours. I might be on my way to a meeting (I have lots of these) and will suggest we meet during office hours.

9. Respect my time. Coming to office hours 10-30 minutes ahead of time is not appropriate. It might be my lunch time or the time that I’ve slated to prep for class. I’m always amenable to staying after office hours, but my door will open on the hour for the office hours.

10. Email me and you’ll always get a response within 24 hours. As a matter of face, often considerably faster than that. Please do me the courtesy back and respond within 24-36 hours, if a response was needed.

11. Remember that I’m here to help as your professor and one of the Undergrad Advisors.

12. Always be more formal and refer to your instructors by their last name–until they suggest otherwise. I prefer Prof. A, but Dr. Aragon or Prof. Aragon is fine.