Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Days 12-18: Frantic Catch-Up

Despite how this might look, I'm actually challenging myself by forcing a one-word answer for each of these prompts I need to catch up on.

Day 12: How do you envision your teaching changing in the next five years?

Day 13: Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis.
Google Sites

Day 14: What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

Day 15: Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Day 16: If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

Day 17: What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

Day 18: Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a "teacher is a ______."
Match (as in lights a fire)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 11: The Best Part of the Day

There are studies that review the best time to drink coffee, try for a baby, exercise, eat, sleep, and what hours during the day are typically the most productive.

Has there been any study on the best part of the day for a teacher?

I have a feeling the smart alecs would say something about the beginning moments of a Friday afternoon, when the entire weekend is in front of you and you can leave the stress and anxiety of the classroom for a couple of days. The mushy types might try with something about the early morning moments before any students have even arrived, the coffee is still hot, and you can close out the last-minute preparations in the stillness of an empty classroom.

My best part of the day? Smack dab in the middle of "the moment." Teachers know what that is. That moment in of a discussion when a really solid point has completely hit home, and you've just realized it. And you take it and run with it. The students are better than understanding what you're trying to tell them; they're buying it, allowing it to become part of their thinking, and using it to rethink about all the things they've learned before.

Depending on the students, this usually happens to me about once a class, once a week. This week, my 4th-year students - who are taking my class as part of their last three classes before they graduate from the program - gave me that moment. These are evening students, so I'm teaching them some brain-busting writing skills between 7:30 and 9:30 at night, after most of them have been at work all day. On the first session of this class, most - if not all - of these students came to me to express the stress and pressure they're feeling at this point in the sequence, and how this class ultimately is the bridge, the answer, the key to their graduation. We were talking about the beginning stages of research that they'll need to do to write their capstone paper, a business proposal. We talked about how research is often particularly difficult for technical education students because it's not linear. A few students gave me a skeptical look, so I elaborated more: the best research will propel, narrow, and direct more research. How ever I said that idea must've struck the magic chord. Each pair of eyes staring back at me in silent contemplation looked like a mix of dumbfoundedness and delight. They were almost angry that it had taken so long for someone to tell them these things.

That is the kind of moment that keeps a teacher teaching for a lifetime; the kind of moment that sends chills down your spine and back up the back of your neck. I felt my cheeks flush and my heart flutter, and all I could do was stare back at them and try and gauge what they needed to hear next. Even the recounting of these kinds of moments rekindles those chills and elicits a coy smile. It's also the hardest part to quantify and prove to policymakers and stakeholders when they start asking about value in education and teacher quality. There is no other way to describe that gut feeling that everything those students thought about research prior to that moment was now changed, moved, even obsolete.

For me, the best part of the day can't be pinned down to a particular hour. In fact, the spontaneity of moments like these is motivational. I strive for moments like these, so I push and push to see if I can make one happen. I look forward to those moments all day long, and that keeps me positive, engaged, focused, and on a constant lookout for opportunities to make my work better.

And if a moment doesn't appear, there's always 3:25pm on Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 10: 5-4-3-2-1

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 9: A Big Accomplishment

The professional world is full of small, hidden, sometimes undiscovered corners. When we list out common jobs, it's often doctor, lawyer, teacher... But there are as many jobs out there as there are ways to describe them.

I've written before about my calling to be a teacher beginning when I was very young, and I was set on being a high school social studies teacher all the way through college. My first full-time position was teaching 11th and 12th grade social studies, and I scoured the job postings for another position when I lost that job. I tend toward the stubborn side of consistency and commitment, so anything other than middle school or high school social studies simply wouldn't fit. When I earned my K-12 reading certificate, I a few more titles became acceptable, including the one I was eventually hired for.

What I found was that teaching can be so much more than a classroom. While my primary focus remains teaching my classes, my biggest accomplishment has been finding the corners. I teach reading and writing in post-secondary technical education. Technical education itself is a corner, post-secondary technical education is even more hidden, and literacy in post-secondary technical education is almost non-existent. Part of my job also includes learning support, so not just teaching post-secondary technical students how to read and write, but filling in the gaps as well.

These are areas that need research and development badly, especially in the face of issues like college readiness, developmental education, the skills gap, unemployment, the rise of manufacturing, the exponentially growing role of technology and its increasing complexity, and the true value and role of college in our society. I've started my investigation - computer networking students need very strong vocabulary skills; the ability to use text features is essential for automotive students - and I'm excited to continue to bring light to these corners of the education world.

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 8: What's in Your Desk Drawer?

My Desk Drawer
This is my desk drawer: a representation of the major traits found in my work style. Primarily, my drawer is a haven for organizers. Small sticky notes and flags are used to direct me to the best stuff from the pages and pages and pages of material I hungrily consume in preparation for class, a meeting, or a support document. Staples, unstaplers, small paper clips, big paper clips, and paper clips with tags represent a unending struggle to organize the mountains of loose paper that shuffle across my desk, from assignments to meeting notes to resume drafts. Traditional pushpins and faker magnetic pushpins speak of the growing number of to-do lists, status lists, reference lists, phone lists, schedules, and contact information I have posted around me.

And there are items that representative the ironic conflict I struggle with: my cheap side and my hoarder side. My monster of a 32GB flash drive - purchased for me by my previous manager for a simple project, one that would never take up 32GB - holds the backup files to my backup file. The miscellaneous freebies I've acquired along the way - a manual pencil sharpener, a teeny bottle of hand sanitizer, a tape measure - that I rarely use in the classroom but like to have "just in case."

My favorite part of my desk is the collection of things that clearly took a very skilled wordsmith to come up with its name. So skilled, in fact, that I don't know what it's called at this moment. The unstaplers. The magnifying cards. The mysterious thingy still in the plastic wrap. The plastic strip badge snappy things.

There you have it. A complete mix of items to organize the chaos of a teacher's life down to color-coded perfection, items that have harmlessly satisfied my hoarder/frugal tendencies, and items that make me laugh at the intriguing, and pleasantly distracting, "what IS this?" quality every time I open the drawer.

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 7: Most Inspirational Colleague

I was hired for my current teaching position by a manager who is almost a carbon copy of my mother-in-law. This might seem terrifying at first, but I have an excellent relationship with my mother-in-law, not least because I admire her ability to be direct and authoritative in the name of helping someone while remaining respectful and careful. I spent the first fifteen years of my life dealing with the occasional wrong order or forgotten extra at a restaurant; this was likely out of a combination of fear and my tendency to 'take a hit' in favor of neutrality and calm. My mother-in-law, however, effortlessly calls the waitress over, calmly explains this is the wrong dish or that she had asked for that, and thanks her pleasantly when the correction is made. This is painfully representative of how I spent my K-12 years as well. Horrified at raising my hand to ask a question, I spent many nights sobbing in frustration and pleading with my dad for a few more practice problems before dinner. 

So when I became a teacher, I knew that classroom management would be the first area I needed to concentrate on. My first few teaching gigs provided a "baptism by fire" method of practice, and I felt pretty confident by the time I applied for my current position. Now, though, this professional confidence and assertiveness is applied outside my classroom. While my mother-in-law provided a personal example, my former manager taught me those lessons in a professional setting. As with any business, the specific lessons were tainted with some negative politics, many of which she was directly involved in. Nevertheless, the central theme that she wove throughout those lessons was this: it's OK to use professional advancement as a means of developing as a teacher. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should complement each other. My former manager purposefully assigned each member of our team a project that would advance the mission of the learning center and develop us as educators, but also provide potential for advancement and recognition within the institution. 

Teaching can be such a selfless calling, and teachers easily turn into martyrs ("I just got to your e-mail now - sorry, I've been leading a help session for the last three hours!") or burn out so quickly that there simply isn't any energy left for holding ground in a situation outside the classroom, let alone seek opportunities for advancement or leadership. Professionally, I keep an eye open for these kinds of opportunities, and I find marked improvement in my own teaching and in my own self-confidence. 

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 6: A Good Mentor

As a teacher, I'm more comfortable in the role of the mentor, not the men-tee. Personally, mentorship is very much a professional growth area because it's difficult for me to admit what is implied by the need for a mentor. Mentorship means I need to admit that I don't know everything, which is terrifying since I take great pride in and prove my value by doing my own homework, figuring things out for myself, and then creating a product that meets my own high standards. 

I don't think I'm alone either. Many of my fellow teachers - co-workers, community members, teacher peers - seem to take a similar approach. For some of those fellow teachers with more experience, there is another dimension: "I've been teaching this way for ___ years and it's seemed to work fine. I don't need a mentor." That stigma attached to the outward expression that a teacher would like a mentor is, for a lot of us, a stinging bruise to the ego. 

But my definition of a good mentor fits within this developing acceptance of a need for mentorship. A good mentor is the best mentor when she doesn't even realize she's a mentor. That mentorship is almost invisible. This is important because the difference between a mentor and a teacher is this: a teacher is very plainly in front of the classroom for the purpose of guiding and inspiring, while a mentor's best lessons are those that are not explicitly taught. And for those of us still working to accept that part of our professional growth, seeing another teacher as a mentor without making it known can help scaffold that acceptance. 

What's more, a good mentor relationship is be beneficial for both sides. Just as an essential part of teaching is continuing to learn, a mentoring relationship should be one in which both parties are able to feed off of the development of the other. Furthermore, just as good teaching means more than just duplication and repetition, a mentor is not one to be merely copied as a template, but rather inspired by each other. 

This can be a rather tall order for a single mentor-mentee relationship. In I Shouldn't Be Telling You This by Kate White, I read about a suggestion particularly for female professionals: have a personal board of directors. This is a group of professional women in your life, each of whom can provide mentoring in an individual facet of one's professional development. I find this to be a relatively non-threatening way to spur my own growth since there's no need to notify these members of their status in any more specificity than "Hey, when I have a question about classroom discipline, would you feel comfortable talking about that with me?" My "board" includes an expert in the area of formal education credentials (Ph.D.? Ed.D.? another M.A.?), business relationships, leadership development, and, of course, instruction. 

In fact, I imagine that mentor standing in the back of my room for every lesson I teach. I imagine her reaction as she reads each lesson plan, her feedback to assignment cover sheets, her body language as she sits in the back of my room during class discussion. She's one more way I keep myself accountable. 

One of my best summer reads was Mindset by Carol Dweck because it sparked the area of professional growth I need to work on next. Personally, I make a conscious effort to have a "growth mindset," especially in the hopes that this mindset will be acquired by my sons. But in teaching, I still have a hard time accepting "areas of improvement." The suggested "board of directors"ideas has proven to be fulfilling and invigorating, and I advise any young professional to try it out. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 5: Describe Your Classroom

Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom and describe what you see -- and what you don't see that you'd like to.

Because I work in post-secondary, the ability I have to 'decorate' my classroom is pretty limited. My classroom is used by a couple of other teachers, for meetings, and it's usually the first stop on the "Million-dollar walk" our institutional advancement team gives to donors. But I have been able to make some improvements that have increased its functionality. 

My classroom is on the corner of our building, which is +100 years old, brick, and is slowly melting into the swampy earth beneath it. The building has had numerous additions jigsawed onto it, so there are staircases that only go to this level, doorways to closets that were offices, and levels that only run half the length of the building. The stairway to HR is on the other side of my office, and there's even a large glass window to see to it, but I need to leave the Center, walk past the bathrooms, through the Hub, and enter the "Heritage Hall." Pieces of historical treasure - a photo, a worksheet from 1914, a textbook from a program that no longer exists - are scattered throughout the building, testament to the role the institution played in the creation of formal technical education (our first president, Charles Prosser, is known as the father of vocational education; the college's namesake made his money through a staple Minneapolis company) and in partnership with the appropriate industries. 

The learning center, which houses my classroom, was built in place of the main office about 10 years ago. In fact, the storage closet in my office was the original vault, and there is a sort of secret passageway to the original main entrance on the far side of the Center. We're the most recently updated part of the building, so the decisions of earlier decades - brick over a part of the window to save energy, cinder block walls and solid doors, shop lights - don't get (much) in the way of things like air movement, natural light, or feng shui. 

The dimensions of my classroom, along with a giant bump in the middle of the front wall, make it so my students need to sit away from the glass door and half-glass wall. This is wonderfully conducive to a modified "U", perfect for authentic classroom discussion (not the kind where the teacher calls it discussion and it's really lecture) and group work. 

I am sort of embarrassed to admit my favorite part of my classroom: my five full-size whiteboards. A few years ago, I discovered that I was going through a few packs of sticky chart paper and accompanying markers a semester. And I needed to throw away all the used paper, and make sure students were actually writing on the work tables instead of the wall (so the markers didn't bleed through), and then make students shuffle through the rows of work tables to post their papers instead. Whiteboards were an investment, but my team came to a point in the budget cycle where we had some money we wanted to spend. A rare instance in my life, I got up the courage to ask my manager if she would approve the purchase, coordinated with receiving to have them all brought up, and scheduled our maintenance student workers to come up and install them. 

I use them at least once a class period, for all of my classes. They have been invaluable for teaching how to "draw out" a topic for thoughts, to organize thoughts before they actually go in sentences, and to revise a sentence for agreement or development. Students learn from each other, and they can see my feedback on others' work. 

In a way, the combination of the history behind my classroom and the improvements I've made in the name of collaborative learning reflect my teaching philosophy almost completely. Being able to foster organic learning through curiosity, intrinsic value, and collaboration in an environment that is rich with story and representative of the time our institution has spent becoming an integral part of the technical education community and partners with the industry is incredible. I look forward to being a part of the continuing, growing history through my work in this classroom. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 4: For the Love of Teaching

Day 4: What do you love the most about teaching?

Call it my work style, my sign (Libra), or my personality, but I've always been a balancer, a middle-grounder, a neutralizer. I neither excelled nor bombed in the sports and activities I participated in when I was younger. I don't consider myself exceptionally intelligent, but I know I'm not anywhere near unintelligent. In most areas of my life, I'm competent, but not a master; knowledgeable enough to have the basic idea, but not so much to call myself much of an expert. 

Except in teaching. Teaching is the one area of my world that I feel like every part of me was made for. I am confident in my ability. I'm comfortable saying that I'm good enough to be able to really push my own limits and challenge my skill. I love being able to learn new things and ignite students' thinking with it (hence the name of the blog). I love how complex it is and - this feels really selfish to say - how it gives me a chance to really take off, be a great example, inspire other teachers, and lead the pack. I say it feels selfish because teaching is supposed to be a selfless, thankless job; I find it to be almost the opposite. 

Teaching fits with this balance theme as well, especially where I'm at right now. My current classroom is the perfect platform to give me the freedom I need to exercise my own control and creativity, yet still have a larger objective to work toward and answer to. I can move between independent learning and large-group discussion. Teaching, for me, is the perfect blend of physical movement and focused desk work; working with people and working solo; working with adults and working with students; business and, well, not business. 

When I was three years old, I decided I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be able to draw on the chalkboard in Sunday School. As I got into elementary school, I made my own grade books, asked for old textbooks, had my mom buy a couple flip-top desks from a garage sale, held "school" on our days off (how exciting to be able to bring my pretend class to music at the actual time I had music in my class!), and gave lessons on the chalkboard for hours. 

Now, I'm in a position where my educational background and fire for teaching is in the minority. Most of my co-workers are content specialists, giving up a job in the industry to teach or using teaching as a way to make something of their field. Not many of my fellow faculty members have had much in the way of teacher training, and it's certainly not on the forefront of their minds. 

And so it appears that I have a rather large, although unspoken, opportunity staring me in the face. There are new balances to strike, and I'm totally in for the challenge. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 3: "Observation" Improvement

In my family, there is the actual time that is set and there is "Teresa time," which is approximately 10-15 minutes later. We joke that if you want to meet at the restaurant at 6pm, tell Teresa 5:30 so she's there 10 minutes early. Fortunately, most of my girlfriends run on the same clock. When five of us set up to meet for book club at 3pm, there's usually only one of us actually there at 3pm. The other four show up sometime between 3:10pm and 3:30pm.

Estimating time is a weakness of mine, as well as other members of my family. My poor mom used to sit in the car, with it running, anxious and furious because church started at 10:30am and it was now 10:15am and my sister and I were still getting ready. Then she'd get even more anxious and furious because we'd finally hop in the car at 10:20, completely confused by how 10 minutes early could be 5 minutes late. (My mom has since at least stopped calling me in the morning to check if I woke up early enough to leave on time, but hints of that anxiety pop up once in a while when we need to make an airport run or have an appointment.)

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 1 & 2: Goals, Technology

To promote reflective teaching, the staff at TeachThought have created a list of prompts for teachers to respond to in their blogs throughout the month of September.

Day 1: Goals for the School Year | Day 2: Technology
I'm a do-er. I have a dozen lists posted in my office that hash out the detailed tasks of each project I've got going on, many of which I initiated myself. I have a daily to-do planner on my desk. I am a faithful user of the "Tasks" feature on Outlook. I go through a stack of sticky notes in a week. I have an entire notebook dedicated to ideas that hit me as I talk to my co-workers and read the Daily Lumina articles. So when it comes to my classroom, I like to come up with new in-class activities and projects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ask and ye shall...

Every semester, I get at least one student who constantly asks for help, but won't follow it. For one reason excuse or another - I already tried that, I can't do that because... - the same student who reels me in throws what I offer right back in the lake.

Ry Rivard's article "Consultants' best case scenarios rarely reality" from Inside Higher Ed strikes up a conversation that isn't generally part of the regular cycle of griping in post-secondary, but it's definitely one with some deep implications about the state of affairs.

The article refers to a new study from the Education Advisory Board analyzing the cost-reduction efforts suggested by outside consultants. The first takeaway is that although the colleges involved did see savings, the study reports, those savings were far less than what the consultants projected if their recommendations were adopted. The second is that the savings came from the same two places: procurement and organizational redesign. In other words, buy less stuff and Six Sigma the workforce.

What gets me is the statement from Barry Swanson quoted in the article:

“The key to making a consultant-assisted project work doesn’t lie with the consultant; it lies with the university.” (emphasis mine)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

If Education Took the DiSC

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released a report called Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation

Instead of a test for innovation, I think we should give Education the DiSC

First, some housekeeping. My uncles were giving me grief the other weekend for blogging about the same topic over and over (I believe "one-trick pony" was the exact term...), so I'm hoping to use enough jargon to weed them out before I start in:

Pedagogy. Metrics. Assessment. Correlation. Critical thinking. Active learning. Maker movement. BYOD. Competency-based education. Intrinsic motivation. Growth mindset. 

There, that oughta do it. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hurry Up and Wait

As Randal Graves says in the classic Clerks: "This job would be great if it wasn't for the [bleeping] customers."

Higher education has done things a certain way for a long time, and that's been acceptable because most of the students could work with it. But the changes in student population, coupled with the lofty goals set for college graduation and ever-increasing requirements to enter the job fields that pay a living wage, require us to rethink some of the assumptions we've been able to make in the past.

This is an issue because, as we continue to figure out how to help students be more successful in college, the answer becomes more and more evident. We just have to hurry up and wait. 

In California, a 2-year degree takes more like 4 years. Why? Sometimes, students need some advising to make sure they take the right classes. Sometimes, colleges can't offer the classes that students need when students need it because of budget cuts.

Sometimes, students need to take care of business first. There are numerous articles about developmental education and how ineffective and detrimental the added time is for students. The most prominent is Complete College America's 2012 Time is the Enemy, which states:
Time is the enemy of college completion...The longer it takes, the more life
gets in the way of success.
That doggone life gets in the way of everything.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Things First

One of my favorite parts of Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is "Habit 3: Put First Things First." I read this book for one of my introductory education classes, and my professor used the demonstration in which there is a large jar and several different sizes of rocks. She first put as many large rocks as could fit, and asked "Is there still room?" We said yes, so she put as many of the next-largest sized rocks as could fit, and asked again if there was still room. She did this all the way until we'd gotten to pouring sand and then water into the jar. 

The first lesson my writing students get is on subjects and verbs because once a writer can pick those out, most of those other pieces (commas, modifiers, verb usage, structure) fall into place. We practice "sentence sifting" - a challenge to students to "sift" a sentence down to the three most important words. 

In other words, take care of the most important things first and the rest will find its place. 
This is a lesson we seem to forget in higher education. 
If we break down higher education to the three most important words, the ideal sift is "Faculty teach students." 

I'm not sure this is the case if we take a look at the hot topics in higher ed. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Who ARE you, online student?

If, as many surveys indicate:

why is our solution to make education quicker, less structured, and more removed?

Times Union/Siena Research Institute poll conducted earlier this month turned up a wide variety of opinions about education in upstate New York. Some were contradictory and some were nuanced, but there was near-unanimity on one point: Our schools need to do a better job of giving students the job skills to survive in the modern economy. [emphasis mine]
This article from Times Union is suggesting that the results of this poll indicate that respondents value skills more than a college degree, specifically the kind of skills you might acquire at a technical college. The article goes on to say:
...there will always be jobs that require skill and training but not necessarily a college degree. 
Others in the education field say that some high schools simply want to be able to say they send their students off to four-year-colleges. That's the kind of thing that looks good on rankings of schools.
But now students are taking note of programs offered by BOCES offices, or career-focused schools that can serve as pipelines to the job market; others provide actual workplace experiences.
Hmm. So is the real problem that we aren't graduating students with degrees? Or that we aren't putting a quality education behind that degree?  It seems that we place the responsibility for the quality - the "what" and "how" - of an education on the instructor and the curriculum. That would leave technology's job to help out the graduation rate - the "how," "when," and "where."  

There's one question we often ignore: WHO?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Elephants in the Coffee Shop

The announcement today that Starbucks Will Pay For Employees To Complete College (Minnesota Public Radio News) has gotten plenty of coverage, and for good reason. The rising costs of college, the shrinking number of college students who finish or who start and stop, and the "is college worth it?" question needed a fresh, positive component. But is this the answer? 

It's a very nice start. But no. 

However wonderful it is to see a company willing to substantially invest in the education of its employees, especially without any obligation to those employees, this still won't address all the elephants in the coffee shop. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

An Odd Agreement

Usually, an opinion written by the owner of a for-profit education business would completely turn me off. But this public comment from former Washington Post CEO Don Graham to Education Secretary Arne Duncan prompted a few thoughtful nods. Although I don't agree with everything Graham writes, the predicted effect of regulation on colleges is worth talking about. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

From All Sides

One of my co-workers brings something invaluable to her classroom: perspective. Her greatest strength is her ability to explain difficult, complex math concepts to struggling students because her own struggle allows her to see where the potential blocks are. I imagine that academic and "student" skills associated with success in school were not a struggle for many college decision-makers. As a result, it may be more difficult for some administrators to understand what those struggles are or what is needed to overcome them. The approach to the issue of remediation in college, then, becomes misdirected.

Yet another example of how out-of-touch some decision-makers are made an appearance in the Journal-Sentinel article "Regents: Are students in remedial classes set up to fail?" The article summarizes what was discussed at the Board of Regents meeting for the University of Wisconsin system, particularly on the function and responsibility of post-secondary for students who need remediation before beginning college-level classes. Although there are several points that are a relief to hear come from such a high decision-making level, I can't help but notice how much isn't being included.

The essential question is not, as the article says, "Why are these students drawn into [college] with so little chance of success?" Instead, the essential question is "What do these students need in order to be prepared?" There are as many answers to that question as there are college students currently enrolled.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Accountability Can Be Good

My work style pegs me as one who uses feedback and recognition to find meaning in my work. Some, like author Lauren Stiller Rikleen, might attribute that more to the fact that I'm a Millenial. Whatever the root cause of it is, that feedback and recognition holds me accountable to what I do. If I were a college, I'd be a horrible employee.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Faculty: The Missing Voice
The power of questions is one that is severely underutilized in higher education, if only because of who we're asking those questions.

As a review, it's the people - specifically, the instructors - who ultimately make a student's college experience successful or not. After all, they're the ones teaching the class, evaluating labs, submitting the grades, bringing in industry, and carefully guiding students through their academic plan. We know that improved academic performance ultimately leads to improved student retention and graduation. Who better to know how to improve the classroom?

It turns out the faculty aren't even being asked.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ms. Angelou Knows the Answer

Yesterday, we learned of the passing of one of our time's greatest wordsmiths, Maya Angelou. The quote here is one of my favorites from her. How curious that I also came across an intriguing new approach to higher education that uses the same principle.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Why, What if, and How of Teacher PD

It's the end of the school year, and that might mean we have time to address some pretty tough questions. If you're a faculty member like me, you get about a week to catch your breath, submit final grades, and finally read that article you've had open for the past month. For many of us, summer is a chance to reflect, make changes, and move forward. This is at the same time exciting and daunting, so where do we even start? 

Monday, May 19, 2014

An Equitable Investment

Why do students attend college? It's worth posing this question to both students and colleges. Colleges and students might answer similarly: to learn more about what the student is interested in so he/she can use that knowledge to get a better job. Rephrase the question - what do you expect to gain from this education? - and there may be a difference. 

And where does this fit in the midst of what seems to be an unending debate about if college is worth the rising price of tuition, how to handle growing student debt when graduates are still struggling to find jobs, and what to do about low completion rate and the job skills gap? 

This is a worthwhile discussion to have since we instructors are now, more than ever, obligated to hold up our end of the deal. If college is now spoken of and treated as an economic investment in which the skills we're teaching are expected to have a market value, then faculty are responsible for redefining what "learning" means in a college classroom. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Insiders & Outsiders
Way too often, I find myself shopping online for books. I love knowledge, and I often fill up my cart with books I want to read...only to exit out of the window after realizing that the amount of money I will have spent to buy them will not come close to matching how much time I have to read them. 

But that's what I was doing this morning, and put Mindset: The New Psychology of Success [Kindle edition] in my cart. I sighed heavily as I realized how many books were lined up ahead of it, and closed the browser. 

And then found an article, Who Gets to Graduate? -, as the subject of an e-mail I received as part of a listserv I subscribe to. Who is mentioned in that article...but Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset. Whoa.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Let the Commencing of the Commencement Commence!
I love the idea of using education to further improve society and create a more just, enlightened society. And I love the idea that every human, no matter the background, can benefit from an education to do just this. But in a challenging economy - where, as Monica Hesse from the Washington Post writes, "qualified workers can't find jobs, and jobs can't quite final qualified workers" - higher education is charged with doing more.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Redefining "Finished"

When are students finished with college? 

My personal circle is filled with old college friends, and many of us are finishing or have earned our masters' degrees, and some have begun or even earned a Pharm. D. or Ph. D. The finishline for us was not necessarily the end of a bachelor's program.

The discussion around student retention and college completion has turned to those students who enroll in college but don't finish, and what value that enrollment had for them. This is a terribly overdue conversation that post-secondary has been avoiding for a long time. Generally, we think of the finish line as the end of a program and a degree. Colleges like that model because then we feel that our students have been through the educational wringer, and there's tuition dollars to speak of. But is that truly where students stop? Or need to stop? 

I came across this article the other day from the Brookings Institution: Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad? . It's an intriguing piece that brings up a worthwhile point: if workers with some college earn significantly more than those with no college, is it worth it to finish a degree? There's little doubt left that, even as tuition and fees rise and financial aid capacities shrink, investing in a college education will pay off. But if a worker can increase his/her earnings with even one semester of college, what motivation is there to continue through the end of a degree program? Or, is there enough to entice a student to earn a degree? This is an especially important question to consider for those students with risk factors - which comes down to most students in any institution that's not a 4-year university.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Meeting Students at the Door

Meeting Students at the Door | Buckets & Fires Blog
Image from
As I've written before, Dr. Daniel Chambliss has found that what makes college a positive experience comes down to the people students interact with. We've also covered how successful colleges know and appreciate the students who walk through their doors instead of constantly search for better students, as told in Joann Soliday and Rick Mann's great book. This means that it is even more important for colleges to recognize who is coming through the door, and to have the right people available to meet them. This is especially the case for students attending technical college. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Microwave Nation: Technology & Education

For a while now, I've used the term "microwave" to describe or define a situation in which a problem exists because someone/everyone wants the simplest, fastest solution that requires the least amount of thinking and energy. 

In other words, we want to be able to pop a problem in the microwave, hit the button, and make it better at super-fast speed. Anything more than 30 seconds is too long, and we don't want to take a lot of brainpower to figure out which buttons to push. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Redundancy of "Teacher Leader"
Designating a teacher as a "teacher leader" is sort of like calling something a "final completion" or that you'll "repeat the directions again." There has been plenty of talk about empowering teachers with the tools they need to implement the new standards and boost student achievement. What a fabulous idea!

In fact, we should have been doing this all along. We know that leadership takes time and intense discipline to develop, yet we expect teachers to effectively 'lead' their classrooms on limited prep time (let alone time for meaningful professional development). 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Magic of College?
The article Asking the Tough Questions (AACC 21st Century Virtual CenterAACC 21st Century Virtual Center) includes a synopsis of the twelve questions posed by The SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends, & Strategies in their document "12 Important Questions for 16 Community College Leaders." As all good questions do, these twelve questions raise more questions. Most of my questions percolate because I can't help but notice a dichotomy between some of the original questions. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Warm Blankets in 2-Year Programs

The New York Times article What Makes a Positive College Experience? gives a few of Dr. Daniel F. Chambliss's answers to some questions about how to make college a positive experience. The short story is that what really matters comes down to one element: PEOPLE.

He suggests things like living in a dorm your freshman year, joining a club or sport, and signing up for classes based on the teacher rather than the content. These are all wonderful ideas if you're a traditional student attending a 4-year university. In fact, as a graduate of a 4-year university, I can attest to the difference doing all of these things can have. 

But what if you attend a community/technical college, and the campus doesn't offer residency? Or you attend as an adult and don't need residency? Or your small 2-year program just doesn't allow enough semesters to get to know that many teachers? Or your college's student body can't support many - if any - clubs or sports to join? Or you work almost full-time to pay for school, have a family at home, or your class schedule is so tight that you simply don't have the time to participate in anything? 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Education as a "Filter"

Because of the discussion around how expensive college is, the actual worth and ROI of a college degree has also popped up, like this one:

Why Education Spending Doesn't Lead to Economic Growth - Businessweek

The article talks about education as America vs. the rest of the world, but there's an interesting finding that is worth looking at on a national level: 

What explains the limited impact of increased education on economic growth? A possible answer is that education acts as a filter rather than an investmentrecent study (PDF) in Italy found that test scores had a significant impact on the earnings of employees—but none on the earnings of self-employed people. One interpretation of that result is that schooling signals persons with intelligence and ambition, rather than actually imparting or indicating skills that make them better at their jobs over the long term. Signaling helps as a screening tool for employers, but makes no difference to people who work for themselves. Presumably, they already know how smart and ambitious they are.  [Emphasis mine]
The value of an education, then, is not necessarily content. This reminds me of the Chinese proverb "Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself." Many students in my office looking for resume help need a little reminder about what employers are actually looking for in a candidate - the ability to learn, the work ethic to take on challenges, the motivation to innovate, etc. Many developmental education students find the true value in the processes that become habits during the sequence more than the refresher on fractions or commas. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Sibling Rivalry - "Why Job-Seekers Pick For-Profit Colleges" (CCS)

There is undoubtedly some sibling rivalry between for-profit colleges and, well, the rest of the education world. It seems that educators - and education as a field - is very protective and territorial. Maybe this is because teachers are accustomed to knowing almost everything and having the answers; maybe this is because teaching as a profession feels 'watered down' when parents, lawmakers, and even students claim to be able to do the job; maybe this is because the teacher's ability is being questioned in light of disappointing test scores and reports about college- and career-readiness. 

So when an educational institution isn't shy about the fact that they are in the business to make money (instead of pretending like money isn't the primary goal, like many post-secondary institutions), educators may get a little reactive to reports like this:

Community College Spotlight | Why job-seekers pick for-profit colleges

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Have we covered the fact that college is expensive and student loan debt loads are outrageous enough yet? 

It is understandably frustrating when a student graduates from a 4-year university only to find a job that barely pays enough to cover the subsequent student loan payments. But there are a few assumptions in this situation that merit some further questioning. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

College for All - including students with special needs

I was very glad to find this article pop up in my ListServe folder this morning: 

The article is from, and speaks to some of the most frustrating issues a post-secondary instructor can face. 

Teachers in K-12 (at least in Minnesota) are required to include training in special needs as part of their license renewal, and are held to 504 plans and IEPs, ideally with support and collaboration from the special education team. On top of that, the instruction and curriculum in a K-12 classroom can be adapted to a student's special need pretty readily; in fact, the trend seems to be that this is expected for each individual student...but that's another post. This adaptation is possible since licensed teachers have built an instructional toolbox from which they can choose the appropriate method. 

Monday, March 17, 2014


There has been a lot of talk recently about how influential "grit" is in education. The latest attention has been given by NPR: Does Teaching Kids To Get 'Gritty' Help Them Get Ahead?

In higher education, we see a lot of students start in August guns a-blazin', find their first frustration or plateau out in September, and then simply stop showing up for class by October. It has been a major struggle to figure out why this happens and what colleges can do to at least delay it until the first semester is finished, if not bend over backwards so it doesn't happen at all.