Ten Minute Teaching Tips

A Little Light Entertainment and Some Education for Faculty

Live in Your Passion

September30

I read this quote from Simon Sinek over the weekend and was blown away by the simplicity and the depth of this idea. How often do we talk to people only to find out that they are ‘stressed’ or that we tell them that we are ‘stressed’? Is it just a saying or is it something a little more?

There is no doubt that in today’s society there are a lot of things going on and there is a lot of work to do, but when we are spending more of our time doing things that we do not care about then are we on a slippery slope to apathy and despair? I know for me, there are aspects of academia that I really enjoy, and there are some that you could say that I love. On the flip side, there are also a number of things that I detests in the academic world – meetings rank high on the list – however it is not all meetings. I enjoy creative meetings where the purpose is to fill a wall with ideas of better ways to do what we believe we should be doing. I detest meetings where we hear endless reports of some committee’s discussion about a topic. I could read that information in an e-mail.

Which adds stress and which fuels passion?

Even the way that we talk about stress and passion show us the difference and the innate desire to live in our passions more than our stresses. We ADD to our stress – we rarely seem to take away from our stress. Well we do, when we stop doing something. Remember that whole “Stop Doing” List that we have talked about before? Maybe we should stop ADDING to our stress or other people’s stress by stopping some activities that are not our passion. Maybe we should look at our colleagues and see where they are bound up with tasks that rob them of passion and maybe encourage them to let some stuff go. Maybe, before we send off that next e-mail, we should consider if what we are about to communicate is going to release someone into their passion or simply ADD stress.

When we talk about passion we talk about FUELING passion. We don’t talk about adding to passion. No, passion is something that consumes the fuel that we add to it. When we add time, it is consumed by passion. When we add energy, it is consumed by passion. When we add people, they can be consumed by passion, but more importantly they can be inspired by that passion and be released into a new area of passion themselves. Despite its consuming nature though, passion brings satisfaction. When you are walking in your passion, time goes by, resources are spent and passion’s response is a deep satisfaction with the outcome of the activity.

As I sit here this morning writing my thoughts and prepare for a meeting, I am reminded that the outcome of my meeting today should not be to ADD stress but to FUEL passion.

I just hope I can do that well.

Redefining Normal – Yes It Can Be Done!

September15

This morning I received an email from a frustrated faculty member and the line that stuck with me was, “I know that is how we do it here”. The sentiment was not a positive statement of a valid process of action, it was an acceptance that mediocre has become good enough at our institution. The realization that excellence is an apparent bar that is too high to attain has been reinforced time and time again by a broken infrastructure and laissez-faire attitude. The frustration that faculty endure over things like classroom technology not working or books not being available in a library should not be an accepted norm. There are areas in the academic realm that are solvable problems and there are some that require more effort and resources, but one thing that is simple is a change of attitude. We strive to push our students to achieve the best that they can achieve. We create learning environments that are pedagogically sound and promote learning and engagement – just so our students can reach their full potential. We demand excellence from our students – whatever their version of excellence is. We do not settle for mediocre. We require re-writes and revisions of poorly executed work.

If faculty put so much effort into creating the right environment for students then maybe we as faculty developers and those with the administration’s ear need to do more to ensure that the pieces the faculty need to create these learning spaces are in place – and they work when you turn them on.

I don’t know any colleagues who walk into a classroom and aim to be ‘mostly’ working. I don’t have any teaching friends who strive to achieve mediocrity in the classroom each time they step into it. They want to excel. They want to give their best and be their best. It is time that we fix the infrastructure, provide the right tools and support our faculty colleagues in their endeavors. The key word in “tech support” is not tech. Let’s make a change and put the right (working) tools in the hands of those who need them.

Mediocrity is not a goal – lets not aim for it.

Here We Go Again! This Time We Are INTENTIONAL!

September8

Can you believe it? According to my local pool, yesterday was the last day of summer and they will not be open until next Memorial Day! Who’s crazy idea was that? Well, for students and academics everywhere, that can mean only one thing. Its time for class to begin and intentional learning to occur. I use the word intentional  here because in reality learning occurs all the time, not just in the classroom. But, we have a new opportunity with a new group of minds to intentionally direct their learning. Lets not miss the opportunity.

This little play on words has been buzzing around social media for a couple of weeks, and while the humor may be lost on some, it is a reminder that the way that we use words is critically important. We have a new group of students who do not know our ways, do not understand the colloquial sayings that are so common place in our vocabulary, and so our first intentional engagement for this new year must be to establish a common language.

In all relationships, communication is key – and the relationship between our students and ourselves is no different. We need to be intentional this week about establishing our language, ensuring that everyone understands and reminding both parties of the responsibility that exists in the classroom.

As you set about this week, don’t enter a classroom without a clear plan, an understood set of objectives, a determined intentionality that this next session will be the best session that you can make it.

Remember, you are not responsible for filling every student’s cup, you are only responsible for emptying your own cup. Each student is different, you may fill some, but others will require being poured into by other faculty. Just go into your class today and empty your cup.

It’s all you can do.

A New Year, A New Space, Same Old You?

February4

I have held off from posting a regular blog to allow us some time to adjust to our new location. This semester we launched a new building, albeit a temporary one, as we embark on an adventure of deconstruction and reconstruction of main teaching space. The move, the build, the pieces that had to fall into place were immense but after a few weeks of classes, I think that we have settled into our new facility and are beginning to understand our new flow.

One thing that has intrigued me though about the move is that it seems that while we have this beautiful new facility with fresh pain, clean carpet and windows everywhere, I dont really think that we have created an ideal learning environment for our faculty or our students. As I walk the hallways of our new facility, I have heard multiple positive comments about the appearance, but I have heard few comments about the function. One of the key things about building a university space is that while appearance is great, if function is sub-optimal, then our learning experiences will suffer. Dont get me wrong, the new space is great for the simple fact that there are no obstructed views anymore, but is that all there is to creating a learning space?

I wonder what you have thought as you have begun to teach in this new facility as the honeymoon period has worn off. I wonder if you are beginning to see how simple redesigns could have enhance learning? I wonder if your ideas should be incorporated in the design of the learning spaces in our ultimate goal – new Ballston?

So how has it been? What would you change? What errors are we living with that we could avoid in the future?

Be Inspired By The Littlest of Things

December12

Well, today is the end of this Fall semester as many of us head into the last day of final exams, a weekend of grading and a Tuesday lunchtime deadline to submit grades and make the Registrar happy. After that, what will you do?

I want to encourage you to invest in yourself over the next two weeks. You have spent the past 16 weeks giving and giving and giving and that has probably left you pretty drained and running on empty. If you remain in that place and try to start the Spring semester with nothing in your tank, then you will not make it. You need to be replenished, to be refilled, to be recharged, to be inspired once more. I want to encourage you to look for inspiration in the littlest of things and dont miss every little opportunity to receive encouragement.

Last night, we took our two girls (age 8 and 10) to the Meyerhoff Concert Hall in Baltimore to see the Piano Guys. If you have not heard of the Piano Guys I have included one of their videos at the end of this post for your enjoyment. As we sat in the nose bleeds watching two men on stage, one playing piano (which my 8 year old is learning) and the other playing cello (which my 10 year old is learning) I noticed that both of my girls were captivated with what they were watching. It was such an awesome moment for me to think that this very evening could be the fire they need to continue to practice and get better at their instruments.

At one point, I was moved to tears (just a few) as I realised that my 8 year old was sitting with her little hand resting on my knee. I hadnt noticed it. It wasnt bothering me. It wasnt anything out of the ordinary. But last night it was different. I looked at those tiny fingers resting on my leg and watched as she moved each finger according to the notes she was hearing being played from the stage. Her gaze was fixed on the stage, her attention was captured by the music and her tiny fingers were slowly expressing what she was hearing as she mimicked the note playing she was witnessing.

I sat back, lost to the music and captivated by her fingers. My job as a teacher is shutting down for a week or two. My role as dad never switches off. This evening adventure that would keep my girls out way past their bedtime and make them cranky all day Friday was worth every future difficult moment just to see those fingers playing air piano on my leg. This was an inspirational evening for my girls – and my girl was inspiring me to create more opportunities that will inspire my kids and inspire my students. But I also realised that I need to slow down and be inspired by all the little things that I will see.

How about you? Will you take time this Christmas and be inspired?

I pray you will.

Journeys

December1

As we move into the final 11 days of classes – yes, that is right, we only have 11 more days of class before finals – I was reminded that for my students and I this past semester has truly been a journey. In August when we first met each other, there was that awkward getting to know you phase as each side tried to weigh up the other. I was looking for the best way to connect with them and to connect them to the material and I think they were looking at the best way to ensure they had an easy life by understanding how I operated. All in all it was a subtle little dance that set us on this 16 week road together. There have been highs and lows, there have been ups and downs but we have come along the same path together – and we can never change that.

How often do we miss the journey because our focus is on the end? Even the beginning of this thought had you looking at the end (11 days left) as opposed to looking at the possibility of adventure within the next 11 days. But please STOP! Don’t rush to the end and miss the joy of the journey. Today on social media I saw a number of people counting down to the end of the semester, or counting down to Christmas. My own children start our annual December search for the three kings as they journey around our house looking for the Nativity. You can follow that journey on my Facebook page if you like – https://www.facebook.com/jason.craig.140

Today, when you enter the classroom don’t focus on the end, focus on the time you have before you reach the end. Focus on the journey to the end. Focus on instilling as much passion for your subject as you can into your class so when the end of meeting with that class comes, the memory of the journey will remain with them.

The Devil is in the Details

November12

I had the privilege of speaking at a conference of faculty developers last week and was amused this week by some comments following the conference. The POD Network is a great group of people who love to stay connected through a list serve, and so after the conference last week you can imagine that the list serve was hopping this week. The amusing thing for me was the ever so small difference between two common greetings that were used by numerous writers. The first e-mail I read on the list serve this week started, “It was good to see so many of you last week at the POD conference …” which was a very warm greeting. The next e-mail I read on the same list serve was very similar, but didnt leave me feeling so welcomed. The author wrote, “It was good to see many of you last week at the POD conference …”

At quick glance, there is nothing different between these two greetings, but the omission of a tiny two letter word makes all the difference. As I read the second e-mail I began to wonder if I was one of the ‘many’ who the author deemed good to see? Maybe I was one of the ones who was not good to see?

In a profession that depends so much on the accuracy of communication, make sure that today, you choose every word with care. And be sure that you look after the little words – they can mean all the difference to your audience.

 

Fired Up By Failure

November10

Last week I was at a conference in Dallas for those involved with faculty development. One of the sessions was a “Lightning Talk” session with 10 presenters each giving a 5 minute Lightning Talk on their chosen subject. My subject was on embracing and using failure for future success. I thought I would share that talk with you today.

 

Lightning Talk – Fired Up By Failure

The story is told of Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld and hit TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, who attended a Yankees game in New York. His face appeared on the jumbotron and 50,000 people cheered. At the end of the game as they were leaving, Larry David and a friend heard a man shout out of a car window – “Hey David, you suck!”. One person, one negative comment. All the way home, Larry David focused on one person’s negative statement and ignored the adulation of 50,000 people. He succumbed to critic’s math. Critic’s math is simple – 1 insult + 1000 compliments = 1 insult.

How many of you suffer from critic’s math, how many of our faculty colleagues suffer from critic’s math where one negative comment on a course evaluation sends them into a tailspin doubting their ability. Well, it may not be that dramatic, but how many of them begin to slowly taper their courses to pander to their audience as opposed to challenging their young minds to stretch and grow?

How often does the fear of a negative course evaluation cause a colleague to fear a negative promotion and tenure evaluation? How often does that fear paralyze a professor into creating mediocre learning opportunities where creativity has been replaced with safe vanilla style sessions?

When did stepping out into the uncharted waters of creative presentations become so taboo that faculty set aside their gifts to ensure that a group of 18 year olds are happy? When did we become so afraid of failing?

I believe we need to challenge critic’s math. I believe that we need to reset the culture in our institutions where faculty are encouraged to take risks in the way they present information. Where they are encouraged to look for new pedagogies that engage their student bodies and effectively communicate the information they believe to be important. I believe that it is time that a faculty member who has not tried anything new, not experimented even once in the classroom should be challenged on their efforts.

Failure is not something to be feared, failure is something to be embraced. To be welcomed even. Failure is to be expected because failure comes when we attempt to do something that we have never tried before. Rather than constantly seeking to play it safe with our tried and true methodologies, maybe it is time that we stepped out into a new untested territory for the benefit of our students.

For many people, the idea of never failing is incredibly appealing, but in reality, all that it means when we never fail is that we have never pushed ourselves to the boundaries of our abilities and by doing that we have defined how effective we will ever be. We confine ourselves with our fear and our ultimate prize, our greatest accomplishment is that we become mediocre.  I don’t know about you but I don’t wake up each morning with the ambition, the desire, the drive to be nothing more than average. But, if I do not face failure and be fired up by the thoughts of learning from failed attempts, and creating something even more spectacular then average is all I can ever hope to be.

Failure should not defeat us, failure should not deflate us but on the contrary failure should excite us failure should ignite us to look for new solutions, new possibilities new horizons.

It was once said that if we aim at nothing we will definitely hit it, and similarly if we never try anything new then we will never fail. My challenge to you is to begin a cultural revolution at your institutions where failure is most definitely an option, but average is not. Let’s redefine what it means to fail. Failure for me is not trying something new and being unsuccessful, failure is never reflecting on why you were unsuccessful and repeating the same mistakes again and again. I think someone once called that madness, but who am I to judge?

But how do we address this? How do we correct a century of thinking? How do we create a culture where innovation is rewarded, where even the effort of trying something new is recognized? How can we help our colleagues see that the true value in things like course evaluations is not the score out of 10 a the bottom, but it is the challenge to improve, the challenge to create, the challenge to be brave and step into an unknown arena with our classes.

 

Failure is a catalyst for refinement. Failure is the engine that drives creativity to overcome obstacles. Failure is the beginning of change.

 

If you have not failed, then you have not tried. If you have not tried, then why are you in the position you are in? Who stole the passion and zeal that burned in your eyes as you sat across the interview table convincing the committee you were the right person for the position? Who robbed you of that “give it a go” attitude?

 

The fear of failure did.

 

As you return to your campuses next week, I implore you to start this conversation and to liberate your faculty from the goal of being average and release them to create, to experiment, to innovate – and then hold on for the ride because you never know where it will take you.

 

Thank you.

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet

November3

Friday night was Halloween and my delightful daughter came home from school and sung this little rhyme to me.

 

 

“Trick or treat,

Smell my feet,

Give me something good to eat”

So I cooked her some broccoli.

Apparently I had missed the whole point of the song. Despite its apparent request for nutritious food, it is actually a thinly disguised plead for candy. I guess the key thing to note here is the interpretation of the words “good to eat” and the difference in meaning that I took from that phrase as opposed to what an 8 year old might consider good to eat.

Somehow, our 20 something year old students are no better than my child when it comes to interpretation. Have you noticed those students who seem to have little ability to interpret the instructions that you provide but simply follow to the letter exactly what you wrote?

I recently set an assignment requesting specific information, thinking that the students would take the opportunity to expand on the information requested and provide it with context, or at the least some form of commentary. I was sadly mistaken. I wanted broccoli, they gave me a snickers – and not a full sized candy bar either – one of the nasty midnight dark chocolate snickers that are always left at the bottom of the candy bucket.

So how do we get what we want from our students?

We need to consider how they will interpret the requests we make and be sure that their understanding aligns with what we tried to communicate. I know that takes a little time, and you may need to explain a few times, but additional time on the front end of assignments will save hours of heartache and frustration on the grading side of the submissions.

Do For One

October27

Many people know the story of “The Starfish Thrower” written by Loren Eisely in 1969, but maybe not by that title. The abridged version is as follows:

Early one evening a man was walking along a beach when he saw a boy picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. The man asked the boy why he was doing this. The boy explained the starfish would die if left to the morning. The man asked the boy, “What difference will your efforts make when there are thousands of starfish on the beach?” The boy stopped and looked at the starfish he was holding and said, “It will make a difference to this one.”

This story has been quoted in some version for over thirty years, but I wonder if you ever looked at your students as the starfish on the beach? If you have ever seen a starfish washed up on shore you will realize that it is in a pretty serious situation. Starfish need the sea to survive. They need the nourishment that comes from the water, they need the protection that comes from the waves and they need to buoyancy to allow them to move.

Our students are often like starfish washed up on the shore – they are in danger of becoming overwhelmed.  They are under pressure of their workload and parental expectations and they are struggling just to grow up in this crazy world we live in.

You are the little boy walking along the beach. You can see the vast problem before you. You can see the dangers for your students, the pitfalls and the dire outcome for many.

You have a choice to make – TODAY.

You have a choice to look at the starfish on the shoreline and restate what was maybe said to you as a child when you asked for a cookie. “If I give you one, I will have to give your sister/brother one too” Do you remember that logic from your parents? From your teachers? Do you use it today yourself?

Who said you have to give everyone a cookie? Did they ask for one? No, they didnt. If you give me a cookie and I dont tell anyone, and you dont tell anyone then it will all be good, wont it?

I wonder today as you look at your students and see the struggles if you are paralyzed by the thought that you cant help just one, you have to help them all. I wonder if the size of the problem does not propel you forward but stops you in your tracks. I want to give you a little jump start – a little push today.

Do for one what you wish you could do for them all.

Do for one.

Pick up one starfish, pick one student, and throw them a lifeline.

You can help just one, cant you?

 

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