Improving Course Success without Adding Content

As an instructor, I often feel that the end of a semester is both the most joyous and most disappointing time of the semester. I am able to reflect upon the positive achievements of those who have successfully completed my  course, but my mind tends to gravitate towards the students who were not successful. I find myself constantly thinking about what I could have done differently in the course and the measures I could implement that could positively impact student success. I have now concluded that it is not as much about changing the resources I am using to teach as much as how I am supporting students who are at risk of not being successful.

Continue reading

Mindfulness: the doorway to balancing life, occupation, and purpose

“Mindfuless is the practice of aiming your attention, moment to moment, in the direction of your purpose – that which defines you, sustains you, and gives your life meaning, direction, and fulfillment.   It is called mindfulness because you have to keep your purpose in mind as you watch your attention. Then, whenever you notice that your aim has drifted off, you calmly realign it.” (Frank Andrews) Continue reading

I Respect You, but first, Myself.

 

Stop by the iRespect table and take the iRespect Pledge between 11- 1 p.m. in the Commons from March 7-10, 2016. Join in on the movement to show your commitment to nurturing an inclusive NWTC.

My mind harkens back to Rodney Dangerfield who was an American stand-up comedian, actor, producer, screenwriter and comedian known for the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect!”

Continue reading

Summer 1:1 with all students

This summer (and last) I taught (fulltime) Intro to Biochemistry which is mainly taken by students in Nursing pre-program.  Most have not taken College 101 and I have been wanting to incorporate more mentoring and College 101 topics in this introductory course.  I cannot recall a semester when I am not asked to take late assignments or to rearrange an assessment for work- related reasons.  Each semester some students are very surprised by the amount of studying required for our class or the rigor involved.

Try as I have for many years to impart some of these truths, I decided about two years ago to meet with all students 1:1 so they could have an instructor who invites them to share and lets them know we are  willing to help them find answers to questions about NWTC.

I have noticed more interaction among the students after these meetings and I am sure that some meetings also save some students time and effort when they decide to clarify for themselves how to 'do school'.  
I find Starfish to be very helpful too, but not all students know how to use it.  
Sometimes it is easy to think students know where the library/ assessment center/ BATHROOM is located, but I find each summer that not all students have been here before or feel comfortable exploring on their own.   Many transfer students from universities have commented that they love the small classes and personal attention they receive at NWTC.

Everyone has Worth

It is graduation 2016, and we reflect on the significance of this culminating event.  This year, I am reminded of the gifts of knowing, learning, and becoming.  I am reminded of our College values.  Following is something I sent to recent program graduates:

Dear 2016 graduates,

We have spent tremendous time in one another’s company over the past number of years, in courses ranging from Accounting 1 to Payroll, Tax, and Managerial Accounting, and covering topics from basic debits and credits to complex statistical regression analysis.  You have mastered the technical and employability skills so necessary for your success in this field.  Yet, my wishes for you extend far beyond the campus and employment settings.

Do you recall when we discussed the difference between cost and price?  But how about worth?  This is not another accounting lesson, but a parallel to your lives and futures.  It is about one of our most important NWTC values:  Everyone has worth.  Know that each of you is inherently valuable and uniquely significant:  Linda’s good nature, Martha’s tenacity, Becky’s positive, quiet leadership, Sergio’s witty antics, Tanya’s no-nonsense style, Tracy’s gentle spirit, Patrick’s offbeat quirkiness, Nancy’s patience and care, and Jen’s beautiful smile and kind heart.

Transcending academics, maybe the most important knowing is knowing who you are; knowing your identity.  And maybe the most important learning is learning to honor your own merit in the choices you make and people with whom you surround yourselves.  And maybe your most important job is to discover your own humanity; your ability to love and be loved, in respecting others’ humanity.

I hope you value yourselves enough to intuitively protect your humanity and guard your consciousness.  I hope you respect yourselves enough to allow close to you only those who genuinely regard your self-worth and emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.  And, I hope you are able to embrace the divine worth of yourselves and others in all that you do.

I know I have had the complete privilege of teaching your classes, but I have also learned so much from you.  Thank you for lifting me up this past year and for making my job so very rewarding.

Take good care, and look after yourselves . . . you’re worth it!

Do you stir dull roots in your students?

“Hello Roger, Attached is my Errors of Perspective assignment.  I enjoy your class immensely because it challenges my deepest thinking where my passion is.  This passionate thinking will enhance my degree which is technology.  Thank you. Best Regards,” Chris

This unsolicited comment made by a student in my on-line Ethics class stirred my dull roots and helped me remember a poem by T.S. Eliot which is certainly timely as the snow swirls and twirls, so much so that school was formally closed today – a rare day indeed.

As T.S. Eliot reminds us in his poem, The Waste Land: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering earth in forgetful snow, feeding a little life with dried tubers.”

Another student’s dull roots were stirred by an assignment in my thinking critically and creatively course – the students were challenged to write a critical analysis on “Being a critical thinker.”  I liked Daniel’s final sentence: “Finally, school, ‘DEAR GOD, SCHOOL’, becomes a dumping ground for facts and tactics, but NOT a place to share ideas and grow your own thoughts as a person. The applications are never ending, and the benefits are life-long and too great to pass up.”

Become a Critic of Your Thinking Analysis —

(with his permission to share) Daniel Graziano wrote:

“It is no surprise to me that we, as people, tend to not think as effectively as we say we do. Our reactions are reflexive. We form our understanding based upon knee jerk, emotional reactions for which we have no real means of combating or adjusting.

Well…the untrained of us do anyway.

Seldom do we take a pick and sander to our thinking. It feels too much like work, and not the fun kind of work. It’s a picking of our own minds, and the flaws we have hidden ourselves from that we would rather forget ever existed. But what do we lose when we do not understand our mental processes? More importantly, what do we gain when we take the iron to the grinding wheel and evaluate and refine our mental habits? We gain a new, almost wondrous view of the world. Information stops being a collection of neat tidbits of knowledge, and starts serving as tools, and supports for the pursuit of truth and understanding. They are a sword against deception, a shield against fallacies, a first aid-kit for logical injuries, and a map for enlightenment and understanding the world around us. That’s what Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul said. They aren’t wrong when they wrote:

‘There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your                 circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. As a manager, leader, employee, citizen, lover, friend, parent — in every realm and situation of your life — good thinking pays off. Poor thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders         frustration and pain.’  (criticalthinking.org)

Think back to the times you made an egregious error, or did something incredibly stupid in your youth. Remember your parents standing over you and muttering the iconic phrase “what were you thinking?!” The entire paragraph outlines the value and application of thinking of thinking; not just thinking, but thinking CORRECTLY. We accomplish this by becoming a critic, and the harshest critic, of our thinking.

Good news, the process is easy to follow, but it takes months upon months, and even maybe YEARS of constant application to master. The process is asking questions to yourself like: “What is really happening in the situation?”; “Does the person in question want to take advantage of me?”; “Do I really believe what they’re saying to me?”; “Am I lying to myself when I say I do?” and so on.  Luckily, there is no shortage of instances in which one can practice and master these skills.

Vincent Ryan Ruggiero also offers a processes and techniques to analyze and respond to information in his book “Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking.” He offers strategies very early on. He suggests preparing before hand, if you can, leave your personal agendas behind, actively listen, and resisting the urge to interrupt. All of these tactics contribute to a sharpening of the mind, and creates a more receptive environment mentally for understanding.

What makes becoming critical of your own thinking so valuable is the constant and immediate benefit of perfecting these techniques. Arguments with significant others become easier to navigate and resolve. Difficult work situations boil down to one or two questions that need to be answered. Finally, school, “DEAR GOD, SCHOOL”, becomes a dumping ground for facts and tactics, but NOT a place to share ideas and develop your own thoughts as a person. The applications are never ending, and the benefits are life-long and too great to pass up.”

 

How do you stir dull roots in your students?  Try these:

Clarify your thinking

Leave your personal agendas aside

Stay focused

Actively listen

Resist the urge to interrupt

Ask questions and question your questions

Be reasonable

Seek resolutions

Universal Mythical Themes: A Plea for the Humanities

In myths and fiction there are about a dozen themes literature has wrestled with for thousands of years, transcending time, and stimulating our imaginations to challenge the fundamental issues we human beings struggle with.  We search for meaning and values that define us, sustain us, and give our lives meaning, direction, purpose, and fulfillment.  Hopefully, you and your students will ask –  “What in my life is reflected here?” Continue reading