Archive of ‘Inspirational’ category

Why It’s Important to be Approachable, Available, and Empathetic When Teaching Online

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It’s that time of year when spring classes have officially started and us instructors are once again trying to bring the best version of ourselves to the classroom and make a difference, especially for those students that may be struggling.

I think it’s important to take a minute and talk about how to handle students who might seem unorganized, flaky, a bit “prickly,” or all of the above.

Since I teach primarily online, I believe I’ve gotten pretty good at noticing the warning signs when certain students are overwhelmed by school and/or life by communicating with them via email.

It can be difficult to see the red flags when I don’t have the opportunity to spend time with them face-to-face, but I try to create a very approachable and supportive online classroom environment so that my students feel comfortable coming to me when they feel overwhelmed (and I’m always encouraging them to come to me with questions and concerns). As a result, my students tend to be open  in their emails, and I do my best to work with them and ease their anxiety when needed (which is very common in a public speaking course).

Typically my students will submit late work or send short, defensive emails when they’re having family issues at home, or when they’ve taken on too much (there are plenty of students returning to school after a number of years who are working full time, have a family, and are also trying to get their degree) and are stressed out as a result (don’t take it too personally if they direct it at you- that’s something I’m still trying to get better at!)

Understanding and empathizing with what students are going through, and keeping tabs on them, definitely increases their chances of success in the class when they may otherwise lose hope and mentally check out.

For instance, when a student seems frustrated in an email, I’ll reply in a calm tone and offer some clear suggestions for succeeding, and I’ll encourage them to follow up with me and let me know how they’re progressing (and when they don’t follow up, I do).

In all honesty, sometimes I never hear from them again, but just as often (even if it takes a few unanswered emails), they’ll respond with an explanation of what they’ve been going through and it’s very rewarding to see them persevere through the rest of the semester.

For those of you getting back into the swing of things this spring, remember that some of your students may need  little extra empathy and kindness, so be mindful when interacting with them. I guarantee it’ll make for a much better semester for everyone.

Happy teaching!

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve (a Must See TED Talk for the Classroom)

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If you teach (and even if you don’t teach), you may have heard of Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset and a researcher in the field of motivation.

I’ve referenced Dweck in the classroom a number of times to encourage struggling students, and just a minute ago the dean of one of the schools I work for shared Dweck’s TED talk with us to share with our students.

If you or your students or a friend believes that talent or intelligence is fixed, share the following video with them about developing a growth mindset to become more successful:

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve

Happy teaching, learning, and living!

Big Ideas

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It’s easy to slip into routines. Even things that originally seemed novel can become a normal (and not especially exciting) part of your day to day life.

For the last year I’ve worked toward creating a life that allows me to basically function on autopilot. It was very deliberate- I wanted to get all my ‘ducks in a row,’ so to speak, live in the right location, make the right amount of money, and become comfortable with the new schools I’ve been working for online (mostly to prepare for the wonderful and exhausting chaos that will come with having a child).

However, with routine and the luxury to relax and get comfortable also comes a lack of imagination and creativity (at least, that’s been my experience).

I like to think that I’m a self aware and proactive person, so when I started realizing that my conversations with friends were growing stagnant and less intellectual, and long talks with my husband were gradually moving from energetic and inspiring, to a bland rundown of our work day, I decided to come up with as satisfying (and easy) a solution as I could. I decided that if I could be more deliberate about how I’m spending my time in the car, putting away groceries, and procrastinating on my laptop, I could work in some much-needed ‘educational listening.’

That’s when I got a simple idea that I’ve already fallen in love with:

Listen to 2-3 TED talks or one educational podcast weekly, and write down 3 conversation-generating thoughts from each in a notebook (which I call my Book of Big Ideas, because I’m cheesy :)).

This purposeful listening and note-taking has worked out perfectly (and keep in mind, it has required virtually no extra time out of my day), and it’s provided me with plenty of new thoughts to explore on frequent one-hour-long walks with my husband (naturally one simple idea spirals into multiple ideas that can keep us talking for hours, which is a huge win in my opinion).

Following through on this simple idea has also inspired me to think outside the box more often, it feels good to have some added mental stimulation, and it’s kept me from falling into that all-too-familiar ‘sit on the couch and watch TV/Netflix/YouTube endlessly after work until you go to bed’ rut that I know can become so easy to fall into.

My Book of Big Ideas plan is fairly new, but so far so good. Having been out of school for 6 years, and having finished writing my most recent book two years ago now, I figured it’s important to keep my creativity alive and to continually challenge myself mentally.

Some people enroll in free online college courses, or do crossword puzzles to stay sharp, but for anyone who’s looking for a different solution to help them break out of that weekday TV rut (and tired of feeling like they’ve lost a few IQ points), I recommend starting your own Book of Big Ideas and see what kind of inspiration strikes.

Happy learning and happy living!

5 Reasons to Volunteer When Given the Opportunity

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Once in a while, when I feel like I could take on more and/or need something new and different in my life, I’ll see out volunteer opportunities.

Luckily, I’m occasionally approached by one of the local schools I work for, or a former student, who has me in mind for a small volunteer project and reaches out via email. Although I have to be picky about what I agree to (even though it pains me sometimes- like turning down an all-expenses-paid 5 week opportunity to teach in China- that one hurt), I’m fortunate that so many amazing projects come my way.

Recently, I’ve been coaching a high school student as she works on a speech about bullying, and it’s been a wonderful experience. Sure, there are times when I’m exhausted from work and would rather lay on the couch than go help, but I’m always incredibly happy and inspired when I come home from our meetings, and I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity (thanks, Ally, for reaching out to me on a whim!).

Having said that, I thought it would be appropriate to post about some of the benefits of volunteering- for both the volunteer and the people that need help:

1.  It feels great for everyone involved (and as the volunteer, you get the added bonus of feel good chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins that get released and mimic a runner’s high)
2.  Overall better physical health and mental health (it can even reduce symptoms of depression and cut down on your risk of heart disease)
3.  Your efforts can have a tremendous impact (you can ultimately change someone’s life, and someone can ultimately change your life)
4.  It’s a chance to get out of your comfort zone or just mix up your usual routine (trying something new and different can inspire you in other areas of your life that you may not have anticipated)
5.  It’s an opportunity to make new friends, social ties, become part of a new community, and even make career connections (whether building relationships is a goal of yours or not, volunteering for any organization just a few times can have these results)

So the next time you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut, find yourself with some extra time, or are looking for a more sustainable form of happiness, consider looking for ways that you can give back.

Happy living :).

(*Note: Some information found in the article “So What’s So Good About Giving” by Terri Cole on the Huffington Post at the following link http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terri-cole/volunteering-health_b_2189477.html)

The Truth About the Most Inspired Happy Professor Posts

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After looking through some of my blog posts recently, I thought I’d clarify a few things.

I’ll admit, teaching college students is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty of frustrating moments and students that know how to push your buttons.

However, the students I meet with weekly in the classroom do inspire me 99% of the time.

These days I teach evening classes exclusively (which I prefer, since you tend to have older students who come straight from work and are there to better their lives- from what I’ve gathered over the last 8 years), and I only teach once or twice a week so that I give it my all, and can’t wait to come back for more. I’ve learned that ‘the classroom in moderation’ makes it incredibly fun and fulfilling, and works wonders for this happy professor.

Here’s where the blunt truth comes in: teaching online is not quite as inspiring.

There are plenty of days where online students send nasty emails, ask you why the copy and paste function isn’t working on their computer, email you 3-4 times if you don’t respond within 5 minutes, and generally treat you like a customer service rep who has wronged them.

These experiences make it hard to feel inspired, and this is why I stay in close contact with other teacher friends who work online- it can be hard, and you need the emotional support.

That’s not to say that online students or teaching online is generally ‘bad.’ I love it for the freedom it gives me, the fact that it helps me contribute in a financially significant way to my household, and that when I have children I’ll be able to do a job I’m good at and enjoy from my own home.

There are also plenty of incredible online students who I’ve established a connection with, are hard workers, respectful, professional, and those are the students I look forward to ‘seeing’ when they need me. These are the students who tell me they stumbled upon my blog and it made their day, or that they appreciate how organized and responsive I am as an instructor, and I even had one student the other day tell me I was ‘thebomb.com’ for helping her out with a difficult situation. These moments make me smile and brighten my day.

Even the students who send frustrating or inappropriate emails to the instructor don’t necessarily mean anything by it, sometimes they’ve had bad experiences with inattentive online instructors in the past and don’t know how to have their voices heard (I can’t imagine feeling helpless as an ignored students when your teacher won’t respond and your grade or upcoming graduation is at stake), and many students simply aren’t given the tools they need to take an online class or even understand how to write a professional and respectful email to instructors (we’re still in the Wild West of online teaching here- hopefully we’ll see some changes and better online student training in the next decade, but we’re all learning).

All this to say that, honestly, my face-to-face students just inspire me more (apologies to some of you wonderful online students I’ve had over the years!), and that’s generally what I’m drawing from when I reflect on the wonderful things in life here on happyprofessor.com. Online teaching is the future, and the pay, flexibility, and ability to work wherever you want can’t be beat- and you’ll also see those posts on this site, because that situation in itself can be freeing and inspiring in a whole different way.

However, there’s magic that happens in the physical classroom, the goosebumps when a student gives a speech unlike any they’ve given before, a student comes to your desk to ask if you’d coach them for a speaking event, or you see the mass of students in front of you turning into a family to help each other grow, learn, and become more confident learners.

That’s the stuff that makes me the happy professor.

Happy teaching, living, and learning :).

Finding Quiet

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I’m generally pretty good about keeping distractions to a minimum, but sometimes pesky things like fun articles online, pretty Instagram posts/pictures, and music as background noise while taking care of odds and ends, in addition to real life noise/work/’to do’ lists add up and take their toll.

Recently, I felt like my head was swimming with useless information, and instead of feeling like I’d taken a break from grading papers by reading those articles on TheEveryGirl.com, I felt more overwhelmed.

I started noticing that although the online articles and Netflix episodes seem short, soothing, and easy to digest at first glance, I was watching New Girl (a show I enjoy) and thinking: “I never want to watch another episode of anything ever again” (while I continued to watch the next episode).

As I read The Every Girl articles about careers, travel, and the best books to read, I kept clicking on the next article and thinking: “I never want to read another online article or blog post ever again” (as I kept clicking and reading).

It was much the same for Instagram, and even listening to music while I graded papers or cooked dinner.

I was tired of noise, literal and figurative noise, and I felt scattered and unable to focus (so much for using these modern inventions to relax). I felt like I was eating gummy bear after gummy bear in a never ending bag, well past the point that I felt sick- but for some reason I was still putting them in my mouth one by one.

So I finally stopped.

For the last two weeks I returned to reading actual books and focusing on this one thing at a time (instead of jumping from short article to shorter article, and post to Instagram post- just thinking about it is making my head throb).

And yes, reading one solid book is a little more time consuming; it doesn’t always provide the ‘short’ break we’re looking for, and for those of us who have become fans of audio books, sometimes it can feel like the slowest way to accomplish something.

But it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

I still needed breaks from the day, and nothing else seemed to be working; I was relieved that I found a way to rest that actually seemed like I resting. In fact, it felt a lot like spending a few days at our isolated mountain home in North Carolina (which is where everyone in my family slows down and recharges during the holidays). I was still working during the last two weeks, but somehow it felt like a vacation.

Now don’t get me wrong, first of all, listening to jazz music while you work or cook isn’t bad for you (and I’ll probably listen to it in the very near future), and neither is reading articles on Success.com or TheEveryGirl.com. But ometimes it all becomes too much, and you realize that instead of a small sweet treat, you’ve just eaten way too much candy.

The bottom line is, I had no reason to feel this unfocused and overwhelmed by ‘stuff’- I work from home at my leisure and I don’t have kids. All I needed to do was flip a fairly easy switch to make a major change (that I was fortunate enough to be able to make in my situation).

So lately when I need a short break, I’ll read on my Kindle app for a minute (Present Over Perfect is what I’ve been reading at the moment). When I want to take my time and really indulge, I sit back on the couch and enjoy the feel of a book in my hands (which is Julie & Julia right now).

Slowing down like this has cleared my head and gotten rid of the nonsense. I’ve grown to love the sound of relative quiet. The sound of turning the page in a paperback, hearing cars passing by on the street, birds chirping, and kids playing in the neighborhood feels like the perfect type of quiet for right now.

Teacher Quotes for Valentine’s Day

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Because it’s Valentine’s Day, and we should all have a little more compassion and love for each other on this (slightly too commercialized) holiday, here are some moving teacher/professor quotes to make your day a little sweeter:

“My teacher thought I was smarter than I was- so I was.”

“Every kid is one caring teacher away from being a success story.”

“I call my students ‘my kids’ because in our time together they aren’t just kids on my class list, they become a part of my heart.”

Happy learning, living, and happy Valentine’s Day.

Taking a Pause

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Sometimes you just need to take a pause.

I’m not talking about putting the brakes on a romantic relationship, but I am talking about giving your creative side some time to breath.

So many of us these days are adamant about chasing our passions. We’re afraid that if we’re not careful and disciplined enough about nurturing our creative projects that they’ll just simply slip away.

We pour our love, energy, and time into them hoping that with maybe less sleep and more focus we can finish our passion project quickly and with a touch of genius before we lose any bit of inspiration.

Sometimes it happens that way, and when it does it’s amazing. But then sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s when the worry sets in.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert sends a powerful message to artists: It’s okay to take a break from your passion project for a day, a week, or even years (as scary as that might sound); it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. True, that particular project might not hold as much interest for you down the road, but it doesn’t mean your ability to create and find that unstoppable drive is gone for good. And it also doesn’t mean that that project is over, it might just need time to evolve into something better.

You just need to wait.

Take time for new hobbies, simple projects, and time with friends. Take time to remember what the day-to-day can feel like without that wild drive to build something (I’m not saying it’s easy, but the contrast can be restful, helpful, and eye-opening).

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been in limbo between projects for over a year now- deliberately, as an attempt to slow down. However, like all type A’s with an artistic streak, I do worry that my imaginative muscle isn’t getting the exercise it needs.

Then I remember that there have been times like this before, and I know better. The artist inside isn’t gone, she’s just resting up for the next big, all-consuming and absolutely incredible project.

Happy learning, living, and creating.

The Best Mistakes

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The other day I was reflecting on some of the ‘mistakes’ I’d made in life that I no longer see in a negative light. Instead, I now feel pretty lucky that some of these things happened, and I’m sure if other people took a look back on the events that led them to where they are today, they might come to the same conclusion that I did. Odds are you can trace plenty of your mistakes and regrets to successes and opportunities later on.

What mistakes have you made that ended up resulting in something surprisingly positive a ways down the road?

The first person I thought of was my dad. He used to regret not working harder in high school, since this led to missing his shot at an impressive college education. However, the misstep also resulted in him being so frustrated with his subpar post-high school jobs that he started learning to think for himself and became a successful serial entrepreneur.

Here’s another example: My good friend’s parents could only afford to send her to community college. Although it was hard for her to accept at the time, she became determined to make the most of it, excelled in her classes, made connections with professors, got a huge scholarship, and then created a successful business around motivational speaking to community college students.

The bottom line is that most success stories(regardless of how you define success) start with regrets. Here are some from my own life:

  • Feeling like I didn’t fully take advantage of my time in high school led to a decade of taking chances and living outside my comfort zone- with dating, singing, music, writing, taking leadership positions, and making sure I didn’t regret a moment of my twenties.
  • As college was ending, I believed I had ‘missed my calling.’ I had always regretted not majoring in Education, since I had secretly wanted to teach since the days of ‘playing school’ with my little sister. Then once I started taking grad school classes, I learned that I still had opportunities to get teaching experience at the college level, so I jumped at the chance and ended up teaching at the level that probably suits me best.
  • My early twenties and a streak of bad boyfriends led to a love of writing music, and resulted in writing a number of songs that I’m proud of, and that have helped some good friends get through rough times.
  • I moved to Orlando, Florida to attend graduate school based on plans I had with my college boyfriend (and then, naturally, we broke up two months into the semester). However, I stayed in Orlando, and this is where I met my now husband.
  • The final ‘misstep’ I’ll share here is adjunct teaching. Instead of looking for more traditional jobs, I decided that I’d make teaching teaching work because I loved it so much, even if I wasn’t making much money. However, living on a budget as an adjunct led to learning more about saving money, enjoying the simple things, appreciating (free) outdoor activities, and teaching efficiently for multiple schools- leading to books, helping other instructors find jobs, and the Happy Professor brand.

Life is full of moments, opportunities, and the best mistakes you can make, so love every minute of it.
Happy learning and happy living :).

Revisiting an Old Post: “Getting Back to Basics in 2016”

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While I was trying to come up with ideas for a blog post today, I thought it would be interesting to re-read my New Year’s resolutions from 2016 that I had shared here on Happy Professor (copied below). So instead of coming up with and sharing new goals for 2017 (honestly, I really just want to continue with my 2016 goals since they’d led to such a good year!), I decided to just take a look at the progress I made with last year’s resolutions:

“1. Spend more time with friends and family on a weekly basis.
2. Workout and run consistently (consider doing another half marathon).
3. Take advantage of working from home by taking as many small and big trips as possible.”

The list might not look all that intimidating, but as someone who found herself buried in work for the last few years (which was fun and satisfying, but didn’t leave room for much else), it was hard to take a step back and start making the above changes, but here’s where I’m at today:

1. I spend quality time with one or two close girlfriends every week for a few hours without fail, and it is beyond amazing.
2. I lift weights at least 3 times a week at the gym or in my home office (I was running regularly, but a recurring foot injuring might be enough to keep me from running in the future- more weights and cycling, here I come!)
3. I work from Panera at least 2 focused days a week (meaning 8-10 hours each day), and deal with other minor work issues for a few hours from home during the rest of the week, which leaves my weekends uninterrupted so I can spend more time with my husband and friends.
3 (part 2!). I made the occasional day trip to see a good college friend who lives a couple of hours away, visited North Carolina (as usual), spent a month exploring Thailand, LA, San Diego, and Arizona, and I already have some upcoming vacations planned for the new year.

As I look at this list today, I can tell you that I once again have my priorities straight and I’ve learned that spending time with loved ones, taking care of yourself, scheduling in some free time, and going on the occasional adventure are good for one’s soul and great for maintaining a healthy balance in one’s life.

I’ve done everything I set out to do and I look forward to more of the same in 2017.

Happy living :).

~

Original Blog Post:

Getting Back to Basics in 2016

I know it’s not very original to write a blog post about one’s goals during the first week of the new year, but I’m okay with that. I’ve always been a huge fan of setting resolutions just hours before the ball drops on December 31st, mostly because I tend to set goals that I can accomplish and be proud of.

This year my goals involve getting back to basics, to the things that matter.

Somehow during the last year (and I’m not even sure when it happened), I cut out a significant chunk of my social life, sleep, every bit of working out, and any healthy foods that I used to eat because I started working more. What a terrible list of bad habits to accumulate right before someone turns 30. When I read (or, rather, listened to) the book Essentialism a few months ago and this list of my bad habits hit me, that’s when I started making small, positive changes to all of the above.

I’m happy to say I’ve already cut back my workload significantly (which is much harder than it sounds- it’s not the pay cut I mind, I just hate goodbyes to good schools and colleagues!), started spending more time with friends, working out again, eating better food, cutting out caffeine, and sleeping more (something I didn’t realize I’d missed so much).

There’s a semi-depressing list of ‘5 Regrets of the Dying’ that I keep in a box somewhere. I read it in an article years ago, and apparently so did a lot of other people. Every once in a while I’ll see that someone has posted it on social media again.

This year my goals are about not being able to relate to that list, and to be sure I fill my life with the things that will matter in the end. I do a pretty decent job at living without regrets and living life to the fullest, but I want to be sure that by the end of 2016 this list in no way resonates with me.

Without further adieu, the ‘5 Regrets of the Dying’:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so work.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

At this point, I’m very much on track. I already have monthly standing dates set aside to spend time with family, and friends, and a plan to be more honest with people who have expectations of me that don’t match up with my true self.

In our society, it’s not always easy to do what’s best for you, especially when it becomes increasingly harder to determine what that even is. It wasn’t easy realizing that I was working too much (my work is where I hide away- and it’s very cozy there, easier than facing thoughts and feelings that have somehow been buried and need to be dealt with). I wasn’t way off track, but to truly live without regrets and without feeling like time is slipping away from me, it was important to make changes and to vow to the following in 2016:

  1. Spend more time with friends and family on a weekly basis.
  2. Workout and run consistently (consider doing another half marathon).
  3. Take advantage of working from home by taking as many small and big trips as possible.

To most people, this list might not look like much, but it’s my 2016, and I’m excited to see what I can make of it.

Happy living, and Happy New Year!

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