Hard Conversations and Learning Moments

election_day-flintRegardless of what dot on the ballot you filled in for president, if you are in higher education, you are going to be dealing with discontent at levels not seen in many years. To say that this last presidential election cycle was divisive is an understatement. But if you are an educator in a community college, you may be looking at faces in your classroom that barely contain an underlying current of fear and anger.

Healing is on the horizon. But there is also a valid mistrust of the president-elect based upon the campaign rhetoric that permeated our 24/7 news cycles, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and seeped into daily conversations with colleagues, friends, and neighbors. The conversations, post-election, are no less difficult. In some ways, they are even harder. Mistrust, disbelief, anger, grief, fear…all are understandable responses to the apparent upset of these election results.

The college is a community leader, and we, as educators – often while processing our own emotions – are supposed to be leaders for our students. How do we move forward from here? How do we act as role models for our students, demonstrating the values we espouse – of kindness, caring, tolerance, inclusiveness, encouragement, and love?

Perhaps it will come to some of us sooner than others. If your candidate was the winner, you’re probably feeling pretty stung about the charges of racism and bigotry and hate, wondering why people seem to be “sore losers.” It is important to not invalidate people’s feelings. Just as we do it in the classroom, we should recognize that affect is reality. People’s fears are real, valid, and evidenced by the same hateful rhetoric and even behaviors they’ve seen emboldened. If you are feeling stung, perhaps the work will be yours to explain to co-workers who express their anger and fear how you were able to see past this hateful rhetoric and support this candidate. Or, perhaps you will need to really listen and learn from them.

The college should be a safe place for these kinds of discussion. This is especially true in the classroom where polarizing issues can often derail a lesson plan in seconds. Creating a calm, mindful, respectful atmosphere where learning can thrive is our challenge and our charge, even if the lessons of the day have been shifted from creating conceptual illustrations on the meanings and lessons from specific TedTalks, to more current and urgent conversations on the recent elections and what that may mean to the daily lives of our students.

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Therapy Baby to the rescue!

So I wondered…what were educators doing? In my own classroom, the students led the way by sitting down for the last hour to chat and watch satirical videos from George Carlin and then a more thoughtful commentary from Stephen Colbert. An impromptu visit from my own grown daughter with my 11-month-old grandson helped lighten the mood. As this smiling little guy wandered about the room, moving from student to student, barely hanging onto grandma’s fingertips, it seems that, in the absence of a therapy dog, this therapy baby served us just fine.

But how were these post-election conversations being handled in other classrooms across the country? Here are a few examples from an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education titled “Lesson Plans After the Shock: How Instructors Treated Trump’s Win in the Classroom”:

A planned discussion about Emily Dickinson was scrapped by an instructor at Butte College in California, and replaced with an open and honest conversation about the election results and how people in the room were dealing with that. It became apparent that even though this was an English class, the instructor felt it would become her responsibility to have even more conversations about race and racism.

Yet another instructor was quoted as saying:

“I have to discuss it because it’s the elephant in the room, but it is what teaching is,” Ms. Gueye said. “Talking about things that are uncomfortable.”

In another article found in the Cornell Sun, titled “Professors Cancel Class, Responding to ‘Shocking’ Election Results,” there were a wide range of responses.

In one example, a professor of Asian, Near Eastern and religious studies cancelled her class because she could not trust herself to remain neutral or emotionally steady while giving a lecture on shifts from master narratives to radical ideologies in her Intro to Japan and Religion class. Yet that same instructor was able to utilize the botanical gardens on her campus to provide a space where students could demonstrate care for each other amidst the natural beauty there.

For another Cornell instructor, cancelling his second class of the morning after the election seemed appropriate in order to allow students the opportunity to listen to both Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and President Obama’s speech about a peaceful transition of power. For future classes, this instructor hopes to “engage in more critical discourse with students.”

And that’s just it. Our challenge as educator is to help put context to events, provide opportunities for safe spaces for discussion, and demonstrate the actions, qualities and values that help shape a civil society.

Even as we help our students cope with the outcomes, self-care becomes vital, as well. That’s challenging when also trying to offer authentic heartfelt support for those around you who are suffering feelings of trauma.

For the educators among us, I would like to ask you this: what strategies are YOU using in your classroom to address the seismic shift that the president-elect’s ideologies have brought?

Share your thoughts in the comments here. Comments are moderated and foul language or political rants will not be allowed. Thank you!

 

Tension, Misfires, Trigger Warnings & Civil Discourse

 

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It can’t be missed, the challenges of civility in everyday discourse that have been heightened by the current election cycle. But politics alone haven’t brought about the issues of discomfort in verbal exchanges in the classroom. The concept of the “trigger warning” has been around for a few years as a way of alerting students to conversations or course material that may lead to their discomfort, or even re-trigger some painful memories from a prior traumatic life experience. According to a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, some have used it as  “heads up” and a “basic courtesy” to the students in the room. Others claim that it is “political correctness run amok” and could actually inhibit deeper discussions in the classroom, hindering intellectual conversations, and create a shadow of censorship in the academic environment. In a backlash, the University of Chicago went so far as to inform incoming students:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces,’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

But the topic of trigger warnings is not alone in the conversation on creating spaces where challenging classroom and college discourse can make students uncomfortable. Embracing Tension in the Classroom was the title of a short article by Geniece Crawford Mondé in a recent issue of The Teaching Professor. In that article, Mondé describes the difference between positive and negative tension and how, by embracing the former, one can avoid the latter and create an engaging learning environment. Mondé goes on to use the term “hot moments” to describe the potential for discussions that can go off the rails leading to disrespectful and acrimonious discussions. By contrast, positive tension serves the learning objectives and is carefully guided, often built from reading material that sparks discussion. She suggests that the use of fictitious narratives can help avoid hot moments by “stripping an issue of its real-world status.”

Of course, the alternative challenge to educators is to help build a connection, empathy, and understanding of a subject, something that other educators have described as creating truly deep learning. Transferring that knowledge gained through deeper learning becomes a key 21st Century skill. How does one take their understanding of a pivotal historical moment and transfer that to a modern day situation? That is part of the conversation that happens in the classroom, and sometimes that conversation can be heated, the “hot moment” described by Mondé. The challenge is to identify the difference between a “heated” exchange and a “passionate” one.

But what, then, are misfires? From a pure communications standpoint, misfires can occur when an educator presents a behavior that undermines their own effectiveness in the classroom. We’ve all done it. We’re all human. There are behaviors, however, that we can modify to overcome the likelihood of misfires. Then, when one occurs, its impact is lessened on successful learning. Jennifer Waldeck suggests that our own attitude can project a lack of commitment to teaching that can undermine our effectiveness. Who wants to learn from someone who acts as if they hate being there? Verbal abuse, lazy behavior, and incompetence are just a few of the things she mentions as something we might be guilty of in the classroom. A student may even challenge an educator (or vice versa) with the refrain “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” And, of course, many educators are offended by a challenge to what a student may call “an opinion” in regards to course content or even grading and assessment.

So what is an educator to do? First… don’t take it personally. Take a deep breath. Make it a partnership with the student from the very start. You are on an educational journey, one that should be built upon a partnership of trust and respect. Encourage challenges and provide guidance on how to shape conclusions based on discerning research and reliable resources. Review your syllabus and the tone that you take in it. Is the entire document written in terms of a threat? Is everything negative and punitive? Sometimes, just rewriting the content in a way that frames the educational experience as a positive one can make all the difference. Do your projects have rubrics that are fair and understandable? Consider having the students take a stab at grading their own work. In my experience, given this challenge, they are often harder on themselves than I would be. And the end result is they have a renewed appreciation for how difficult your job can be when it comes to assessing a student’s work.

All in all, just put your best foot forward. Show students your passion for the subject, not your disdain for their lack of understanding it. Share your own stories of how you came to understand the material, your “ah-ha!” moments. Learn from your students, from every challenge, awkward experience, and difficult conversation. Remember that, in the end, you are the grown-up who can astutely guide the student as they navigate new knowledge and its impact on their life’s view. And you can do that in a way that helps them make their own discoveries and resolutions.

Remember also that, as you get older, the students get younger – their experiences grow farther and farther away from your own. Listen and learn from them. Ask them to provide the thoughtful insights connecting the material to their own experiences. Show that you are learning from them, too.

Trigger warnings can provide a heads up. Tension can be a useful tool in the classroom. And occasional misfires can happen. But challenging conversations can also provide amazing opportunities to create true connections that make learning more meaningful and longlasting.

 

Updated list of Professional Development Opportunities

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Are you looking for an opportunity to expand your experiences, knowledge and understanding of what’s happening in your field in the realm of education? Want to see what other innovations are going on in our field? Or do you have some great ideas you want to share on a larger stage with colleagues?

Visit our page of off-site professional development and conference opportunities for the latest list of activities from this month through 2017, with some advance notice on important conferences into 2018!

Read more!

Photo above: “1913 – Trying out the new assembly line”
By an unknown photographer, Detroit, Michigan, 1913

National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Bureau of Public Roads

Technology Tips from the CTL

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Starting this month, we’ll be sharing tech tips from our CTL Technology Consultants. At Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning, we host between 1-3 faculty each semester who are here to support their fellow faculty and staff with technology that can be useful to improving their productivity and effectiveness in the classroom and around campus. The post that follows below is the first in this series.

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From Paula Harris, CTL Tech Consultant and Nursing faculty:

Create a Signature Electronically to be used to sign Electronic Documents

Have you ever been asked to sign an electronic document (such as a pdf or doc) with your signature? If so, this Wired Wednesday is for you! There are a couple of ways that you can place your signature into an electronic document. You can create an electronic signature, save it to your computer, and then copy it into electronic documents. You can also use Adobe Acrobat Pro to include your signature in pdf documents electronically. I have developed step-by-step instructions to show you how to use both of these options.

  • Sign a piece of paper
  • Scan the signature, using your departmental copier, and email it to yourself
  • Save the document
  • Click on the “Snipping Tool” located in your Mott computer apps or a similar app on your PC (This snipping tool can be used to capture any screen image).
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  • Note: On a Mac, you would use Cmd+Shift+4 and then draw a marquee over the item you want.
  • Once the Snipping Tool is opened, click on the down arrow next to “New.”
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  • Choose the type of snip you want:
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  • Then click on the area surrounding your signature by holding down the left side of the mouse and dragging the box to capture the image.
  • Save your signature to your computer, by clicking on “File” and choosing “Save As”. Files can be saved as PNG, GIF files, JPEG, or single file HTML. You can also right click on your image and copy it. This will allow you to place it immediately into your electronic document.

How to Sign a pdf Document

If you have Windows 8 on your Mott computer, you have access to the Adobe Acrobat XL Pro.

  • Open the pdf document you need to sign.
  • Click on the “Fill & Sign Tools” located at the upper right hand area of the screen.
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  • Then click on “Place Signature”. You will then have the opportunity choose how you want to create your signature. Simply click on the radial button next to the option you want to use. Yo will have a chance to review your signature and then accept the one you like.
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  • After you click on accept, click on the pdf document where you would like to place the signature. The size of the signature can be altered by clicking on the corners of the text box by holding down on the left side of the mouse and dragging the corner until you reach the appropriate size.
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  • Save your changes and you are good to go!

Mott CTL Tech, Paula Harris, and the Multigenerational Classroom

Community Colleges are known for enrolling a wide range of demographics within their student body. This creates further challenges to faculty as we try to engage learners with a broader range of experiences in technology. In an article titled “Video: The Answer to Your Multigenerational Classroom,” Paula Harris, Mott’s CTL Technology Consultant and Associate Professor of Nursing, begins to address this question.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 3.07.13 PMRead the full article here in the special technology supplement to the March 21st issue of Community College Week.

Quick Takes

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Here are a few posts from other publications worth a quick read.

Too much email? Get a quick take on how to manage it from Profhacker at the Chronicle for Higher Education in their blog When We Should Reply to Email

But maybe you are interested in some distractions to break up your day. Here are some interactive cats for your entertainment. Check out Digital Distractions: Interactive Cats.

Do you need some more creative distractions that could help spark new ideas? Check out this story and video shared by Core77 on the fine craft of paper marbling.

Reflections on Dream 2016

 

hope_graphicLate last month, more than 2000 people descended upon Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency for the Dream 2016 conference, a forum where community college educators, administrators, researchers, policy-makers, and thought-leaders come together to share in the conversation that began with the Achieving the Dream movement. To say it was an inspirational event would be an understatement. For colleagues who have attended this in prior years, they warned me that it would be informative, overwhelming and inspiring. I was not disappointed. If there was ever a place where one felt part of a much larger mission, one that existed to help better mankind through the education of some of our most vulnerable and under-served populations, this was it.

Our learning lies in the telling of our stories.
~ David Price, Open: How we will work, live and learn in the future (quoted at Dream 2016)

Digesting it all has taken awhile. Like most of you, I’m sure, when you return from an academic conference that hits in the middle of a busy semester, you are running from the moment you return, catching up with all the important emails that required a more thoughtful response, answering questions and reviewing student assignments (if you also teach, as I do), refocusing on the backlog of reading needed for the next committee meeting. It can seem like a lifetime ago when you were there, among all those people who shared an excited commitment to the mission at hand.

Expand knowledge beyond the shores of wonder…
~ heard during one of the sessions, Dream 2016

And then you realize it… at least I did…that I was DOING the work that we were all talking about. As I would occasionally fall into the haze of recovery from travel or just plain mid-semester overload – you know, that feeling where you know there is something you should be doing but your brain is stuck in neutral – it would dawn on me as my next move was decided, that I was framing my responses in light of the lessons I’d learned from the many presentations I had attended at the Dream conference.

Transformative change requires three kinds of change at the same time: Structural, Process, and Attitudinal. And it must happen on multiple levels.
~ notes from presentation on iPASS, Dream 2016

Panicky students sent emails about assignments after two snow days fell on two consecutive Wednesdays that was then followed by Spring break. Taking a deep breath, I reflected upon the best way to diffuse their panic while making the best of the learning objectives for the course.

[We are] not just a community college, but THE COMMUNITY’s college.
~ Jim Jacobs, president, Macomb Community College, heard at Dream 2016

Over the next 10 days, I responded and reviewed and reassured students. I sent out pro-active emails and announcements from Blackboard. I offered to meet with students outside of class. I offered to look over their work in progress and provide feedback. And, for the most part, it seemed to work. About 1/3 of the class was ready with the several assignments that were due. And another third was nearly ready.

It’s important to remember the stories. People will forget the numbers (data). But they will not forget the stories. History can promote thought. But…humanity promotes action.
~ Wes Moore, author, speaking at Dream 2016

There were still those students who could not complete their goals to catch up over the Spring break in spite of the availability of technology to work on assignments, in spite of my availability to help guide them. There were other factors that challenged them – those life issues faced by many of our community college students that we often talk about. But we made a pact and set some new goals together, including new deadlines with high expectations while not leading these students out the door. I believe in them and let them know it. I believe each and every student can succeed to the best of their ability and potential. And I share that with them, too, so that they can begin to believe in themselves.

Change your lens…by addressing each student as a Dream Scholar.
~ Tamika Narvaez-Payne, Dream Scholar student from Bakersfield College

Hope is a powerful tool.