The Wise Choice Process: Proactive or Reactive

The wise choice process is an exceptional tool to use with struggling students. If you are not familiar with this process, it is introduced in the text On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life by Skip Downing.

The Wise Choice process has six steps:

  1. What is my present situation?
  2. How would I like my situation to be?
  3. What are my possible choices?
  4. What’s the likely outcome of each possible choice?
  5. Which choice(s) will I commit to doing?
  6. When and how will I evaluate my plan?

My first experience with utilizing the wise choice process was with a student after they had stopped persisting for a time and had returned to class. In other words, I was using the process as a reactive tool after a student had already experienced the consequences of making poor choices.

The more I considered the wise choice process and what it represented, I decided to utilize the process as a proactive exercise earlier in each semester.

During the first week of each course, I now ask my students to consider any “fork in the road” they MAY encounter during the semester. This could be transportation concerns, financial hardships, loss of childcare, assumed difficulty with the academic rigor of the course, etc.  I then ask the students to work through The Wise Choice Process making a plan for addressing their circumstance – in advance! As part of that plan, they are provided with a copy of all available students services and are asked to include at least one student service they could utilize to aid in their situation.

Note: the purpose of this activity is to encourage the students to make a plan for how they will respond in advance of the hardship actually occurring. I have found when a student has a plan for how to deal with a possible “fork in the road” in advance, they are less likely to be thrown off course when the circumstance happens, then if they had made no plan at all. Additionally, is a circumstance does cause the student to get off course, they generally stay off course for a shorter period of time.

Understanding Student Motivation

When I first landed in teaching more years ago than I care to admit, I believed that it was my responsibility as an instructor to motivate my students to be successful. It didn’t matter whether they were the star football player, dreading writing an essay in English Composition I, or a GED student who had a poor, prior educational experience. I believed their success had more to do with my teaching and the classroom atmosphere I created than with their efforts. After all, if I did my job, the students should want to do their best…right? Well, not always!

This mindset, though heartfelt and well meant, was naive at best. As you can image, there have now been many times, when despite my best efforts, students failed a test, a course, or even stopped persisting altogether. After all, we have probably all heard the cliche, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”

It wasn’t until I was introduced to the concept of On Course that I began to understand more about student motivation. In his text, On Course Strategies for Creating Success in College and Life, Skip Downing defined motivation with the formula V x E = M. “In this formula, “V” stands for value…”E” stands for expectation…In a nutshell, the V x E = M formula says that you level of motivation in college is determined by multiplying your value score by your exception score.” In other words, the more a student values their education and expects to do well, the higher their motivation will be.

Yet, I have found that it does not always follow that a student who has a high degree of motivation will be successful. Why?

Several years ago, a team member and I began discussion our observations on this topic. We noticed that many students came to NWTC very motivated. They valued their educational opportunity; they even expected to do well. By all accounts, the student appeared like they will be successful. However, several weeks into their course of study, they would stop persisting, and if they did return, they would not do so for weeks or often months. When students did return, we usually found that they had encountered a substantial “fork in the road,” that had thrown them off their projected course. (If you think of a student’s educational experience as a race course, then this experience was a very high, seemingly insurmountable hurdle.)

In that discussion, we made modifications to the motivation formula. Our result was V x E = M/ Current Circumstances. In explanation, if the circumstances were greater than the motivation than the student would stop persisting. If the motivation was greater than the circumstance, the student would stay the course. The most common circumstances usually involved unexpected financial situations, inadequate childcare, a change in work schedule, or the perception of outside familial obligations greater than that of their own education.

Every student responds differently to circumstances. This response is influenced by many factors – family background/beliefs, socioeconomic status, physical and mental health, acceptance in various degrees of social relationship, and one I have only recently learned about – the presence or absence of traumas in a person’s life.

Even when a student takes personal responsibility for their response to an undesirable circumstance, the outcome is not always positive. To use an On Course example, there are times when an escalator stops. Though I can’t control the circumstance, I need to take responsibility for myself and walk up the stairs. However, what if the escalator was an elevator? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be able to climb my way out of an elevator shaft, no matter how motivated I was. I would be pressing the “HELP” button – several times over!

Thankfully, NWTC has many options when it comes to the “HELP” button in the form of student services. The sooner we can connect students to these services, the more likely it will be that their motivation will overcome their current circumstance. I have had the opportunity to see some of these services in operation, and they truly do make a difference in many students lives.

So, how can you motivate your students? It starts with creating a welcoming  environment in your class where students feel safe. Then, listen and observe. When something doesn’t seem right – ask. Then, connect or refer students to the proper service.

Student success really does take a village, and thankfully, we have a pretty great one!




Ice Breaker, Crushed Ice, or Melting Ice?


How do I know you, let me count the ways? On the first day of class, ice breakers are a way of breaking the tension and creating an atmosphere of familiarity and commonality.  One of the more used ice breakers would be an exercise like BINGO where everyone is in motion to have his or her card signed by finding someone whose favorite color is blue, or born in February, or likes country music.  At best, an ice breaker exercise is superficial and non-threatening, and does break the ice. Continue reading

Diversity, breeds Tolerance and Inclusivity

After my ethics classes are finished for the day,  I summarize what we have discussed and/or completed in class for the sake of review, continuity, and if a student was absent who could then review the content discussed in that class.  In addition to summarizing each class, I add quotations that reflect the diversity of various belief and philosophical systems which are fundamental to ethics to further enhance good choices and right behavior whether one believes in a higher power or not.  Continue reading

Need a gender-neutral greeting for a group?

As you are planning your first day of class, start out in a way that makes all students feel valued and included.  Joan Klinkner and I attended an amazing conference this summer on Gender Creative Early Learners.  Our keynote speaker Jess Dallman shared this business card with the group.  Instead of saying Ladies or Men etc try a gender neutral term or phrase like “Good morning everyone,” “And for you”  or “Welcome in today.”  This is a simple change to making everyone fee valued and acknowledged.

The vision for the future:

This 193 acre property located at W9711 Butternut Road, Gresham, WI is presently for sale by owners. The property consists of a completely gutted 28 room mansion, and lies along the pristine Red River with hundreds of feet of river frontage, 60 plus tillable acres, and a sacred sight with deep historical roots in this region.

Here are the essential components of this initiative:

  • A team of Leadership students under the direction of Andrew Clark, Leadership Development Instructor in the College of Business, NWTC, has undertaken the feasibility of property renovation, and in conjunction with Whitewater-Gresham Estates, LLC, is developing a long-term operating agreement with the owners to oversee and manage the project and the property.
  • To rehab the mansion, and to make the payments of the land contract, a high-end, ecologically appropriate campground would be developed, featuring gate, welcome center, asphalt roads, sewer, water, 60 amp service to:
    • 34 – ½ acre campsites @ $10,000 a year site lease
    • 21 – ¼ acre campsites @ $6,000 a year site lease
    • 10 – 1/10 acre campsites @ $2,500 a year site lease
    • 26 – tent campsites @ $110 per night
  • The cost to develop the full campground structure is estimated to be approximately $900,000

Nontoxic and Natural – Earth Day – April 22, 2018

“Here is calm so deep, grasses cease waving…wonderful how completely everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent of us. The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our very being, making us glide and sing.” John Muir

Here is a sample of one student’s responses to the “Save the Planet” assignment for an Introduction to Ethics class – in honor of Earth Day, April 22, 2018. Continue reading