August 2014 archive

Befriending Colleagues

IMG_0369You know that professor that’s just packing up to leave the classroom as you’re walking in to set up? Potential friend.

You know that new teacher that sat next to you at the last faculty meeting? Potential friend.

It doesn’t hurt to say ‘hi,’ introduce yourself, and ask what they teach. Odds are, you’ll see this person again and again. At the very least, it’s a friendly face to greet when you walk down the halls, and at best, they may become your new confidant.

This week marks the beginning of a new school year, which means there are not only new faces in your classroom, but also teaching in the classrooms on your campus. Each semester I tend to get scheduled at a new campus, which is a little unsettling, but always exciting, as lunch plans with old friends and new friends are already underway. I challenge you to take advantage of a brand new school year and, like the students around you, make it a point to make some new friends.

Hope you’re all having a great first week of classes! Happy teaching :).

4 Ways Positivity in the College Classroom Impacts Student Success

IMG_0357The subject of low community college graduation rates has been a popular topic in education as of late.

According to the U.S. Department of Education in 2013, only 18% of community college students complete their Associates degree and transfer to a four-year school, and the American Association of Community Colleges in 2013 claimed that graduation rates are at around 40%.

If you’re a college professor, these rates sound discouraging after putting so much time and effort into helping students be successful. Fortunately, there are ways for instructors to single-handedly impact student success.

With such low transfer and graduation rates in the past few years, I think it’s time community college educators started focusing more on what they can do as individuals to keep their students motivated and get them one step closer to graduation.

These are the top 4 things I’ve found to make a huge difference in the classroom.

1. Have a positive attitude.

Research in positive psychology shows that a positive attitude leads to better performance at work and in college classes.

Studies have shown that positive managers have happier and more productive teams, while managers who focus on criticism and are generally unpleasant to be around have more negative and less productive teams (The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, 2010; The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, 2003).

In the classroom, you are essentially the manager of your students, so if you want your students to succeed, it all starts with a positive attitude.

2. Give your students choices and a sense of control.

Based on research in andragogy (‘adult learning’), my own observations and fellow colleagues’ observations, the key to helping adult learners in community colleges is to make them part of the teaching process and give them more control in the classroom.

For example, if a due date for a certain assignment can be made flexible, I’ll ask students which of two class periods would work better for them, and we’ll vote based on a raise of hands. Group activities are also a great way to let students have some control. During these activities the instructor can provide supervision, while letting students work with their teams to take on various tasks and delegate responsibilities to each other.

It’s not hard to implement these small changes in the classroom, but it benefits students greatly.

According to studies by Sparr, J.L., & Sonnentag (2008), Spector, P. (2002), and Thompson, C.A., & Prottas, D.J. (2005) regarding well-being, stress, and control in college and the workplace, students who feel that they have some control over classroom situations have higher level of happiness, higher grades, and motivation to pursue a career. Likewise, employees who feel they have higher levels of control tend to have better job performance (Drive by Daniel H. Pink, 2009).

Many of the changes I’ve made and kept over the years are changes my students asked for when I gave them choices and a sense of control in the classroom, and they’ve not only been beneficial for my students, but they’ve actually improved the quality of the courses that I teach.

3. Focus on praise rather than criticism directed at student work performance.

One of the best management techniques one can take away from a college business class is to praise the work your employees do for you. It seems that managers get better work results from employees who are given constructive comments sandwiched between two pieces of positive feedback (Achor, 2010; Blanchard and Johnson, 2003).

This popular management technique also works well in the classroom.

I tend to use this method when I give my students verbal feedback, and when I write feedback on their graded papers.

As a pleasant surprise, I’ve had numerous students tell me they liked the the way I provided feedback. They claimed it not only made them become more confident students and public speakers due to the verbal praise, but it also helped them see the areas they needed to work on without feeling that they had failed in any one way completely.

That was the hoped-for result in my classroom, and apparently, a very common result for other teachers and employers.

4. Encourage your students.

Isa Adney’s article in the Huffington Post titled “How Professors Help Community College Students Transfer” is one I agree with strongly. She mentions that all it takes is one encouraging professor to impact a student enough to keep them moving forward in their academic pursuits.

Just one.

Sure, it takes a little extra time as an instructor to take a personal interest in your students, but isn’t it worth it?

I believe it’s important to truly care about your students in order to keep them on the road to success. Adney’s website communitycollegesuccess.com and her book Community College Success, as well as Ellen Bremen’s website ellenbremen.com and book Say This NOT That to Your College Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success, note the importance of giving students some much-needed guidance through college, especially when many of them are starting all over again after a 10-year hiatus to help a sick parent or raise a family.

When I go through phases where I start forgetting what it’s like to be in my students’ shoes, I pick up community college success books like Adney’s, and reference helpful college websites like Bremen’s to remember what my students are going through and what they might need.

As college professors, we have the tools to help our students, and the ability to implement positive changes in the classroom. If you use them, I promise you will see more success in your own classroom that will help your students get one step closer to graduation.

This article was originally posted on BuzzFeed.com on August 21, 2014.

How to Teach Online College Courses

IMG_8656Hours upon hours in the classroom can leave college instructors, particularly adjuncts, feeling exhausted from long commutes and standing on one’s feet all day.

Teaching a few online classes is a great way to save yourself some gas money, time, and energy, which in turn will give you more time to teach other classes or enjoy some free time.

The benefit with online teaching is that you’ll get the same pay teaching online as you would teaching face-to-face courses, and it’s pretty satisfying to learn new methods of teaching. I’ve found that variety in the workplace can be very fulfilling.

Depending on the school you work for, you’ll communicate with your online classes using one of a variety of learning management systems (LMS). I’ve used Blackboard, Sakai, Canvas, and Moodle (I’m sure there are more, but those are the few I’m familiar with).

With the help of whichever LMS your particular college uses, your class becomes entirely paperless and your quizzes and exams are automatically graded and stored in the grade book.

It’s just as efficient as it sounds.

Not only that, but you can borrow online lecture slides and quiz/exam questions directly from the textbook publisher’s website to import into your course for student use.

I’m not as tech-savvy as I wish I was, but fortunately when I was certified to teach online, I was also directed to what I consider the ‘faculty technology center’ where the employees go above and beyond to help faculty members develop their online content for sometimes up to 2 hours, as often as you need (to find the helpful tech gurus at your school, your best bet is to talk with any online instructors you might know).

The front-end work is by far the most time-consuming and difficult part, but after all is said and done, when you do the math, teaching online adds up to more free time and a bigger bank account.

(The best way to find out about online teaching opportunities is to ask your colleagues, look on the school’s website, or ask the Dean or secretary of your department. You may be surprised at what you find; each school I work at has online or mixed-mode teaching opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of and told others about.)

If you’d like to learn more teaching tricks, check in with new posts weekly at happyprofessor.com or take a look at my book, Happy Professor on Amazon.com (if you can find a free copy, even better).

3 Media Resources to Use in the Classroom

IMG_3159Over the years, I’ve heard colleagues talk about how valuable some media resources are in the classroom, and it all sounded nice enough. However, once I implemented these tools in my own classroom, I started to fully understand how valuable- and handy- these resources can really be in reaching this generation’s college students.

Khan Academy or khanacademy.org

I’m so jealous of math, business, science, arts and humanities, and computing professors.

The instructors of the above-mentioned classes are the ones who get to use this collection of amazing Khan Academy videos and interviews to help teach concepts in a fun, engaging way to their students.

Khan Academy is a pretty young organization, but they’ve become popular in colleges, and I believe they’re really changing education for the better.

One video I feel any instructor or student can especially connect with is CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts interview in the ‘Entrepreneur’ section of the website.

She talks about the importance of being passionate for the work that you do, and it’s an overall inspiring conversation- plus, she gives a nice overview of what Khan Academy’s all about while sitting with the founder, Sal Khan.

TED and TEDx

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is an absolute goldmine for all professors.

Not only are the talks perfect for communication and public speaking classes, but the concepts talked about are so varied that any professor in any department can find numerous videos or clips to help punctuate long lectures during the semester.

In my classes, I normally pause TED videos every few minutes to discuss the content with my students- I can actually see them painstakingly trying not to yell out their opinions while the video is playing, so the discussion is usually a very involved, quality one.

It’s exactly what every teacher hopes for.

If you’ve ever looked for a way to get students involved, TED is the answer. Sometimes it’s my best way to get the shy students talking.

You can find the talks on TED.com and they’re also on YouTube.com.

YouTube

I know this resource is pretty vague, but it deserves some attention.

I use YouTube in the classroom to share relevant movie and TV show clips, great speeches from students at other schools, and there are also short educational videos to add to lectures.

Over the years I’ve stumbled across some great ‘how to’ videos for speeches, including some really concise and useful YouTube segments from speech coach Darren LaCroix.

If you type in some search words along the lines of what you’re looking for (as an instructor in any field), you won’t be at a loss for some excellent options.

If you’d like to learn more about classroom resources and how to keep your students motivated, check in with new posts weekly at happyprofessor.com or take a look at my Kindle ebook, Happy Professor on Amazon.com (if you can find a free copy, even better).

5 Tips for Being Happier (In and Out of the Classroom)

IMG_0172As you well know, I’m not a doctor.

However, the following are things I do in my life to stay healthy and happy. Over the years I’ve figured out what does and doesn’t work for me. Hopefully, my personal tips can help you in some small way.

1. Adopt positive habits

People who smile in childhood photos live longer and have happier marriages (see Jenna McCarthy’s TEDx talk- it’s eye-opening and hilarious).

If you walk around with a smile on your face (even if it’s forced), it’ll actually make you feel happier (basic Psychology 101 class you may have taken in high school).

Seeing my students when I’ve been in a bad mood instantly makes me happier, and I also read inspirational blogs (my favorites are theminimalists.com and zenhabits.net) and watch inspirational TED talks (TED.com) to stay in a positive state of mind.

I find it valuable to develop habits and activities that maintain my contentedness, and I think it’s a good idea for other people to try the same. There’s no award for cynicism.

Adopting positive habits makes me happy, and isn’t that everyone’s ultimate goal?

2. Make time for friends and family

I’ve done the ‘all work and no play’ thing and it couldn’t have been a worse idea.

I’m a fairly intuitive person and I think my body just knows when my life is not balanced, so whenever that happens, I keep trying new things until I feel ‘right’ again.

I’ve learned that I have to build in routine time with friends and family each week- if I don’t, I’ll let work take over. I have standing dates on a regular basis with people I enjoy.

So for the last 3 years I’ve felt very well-balanced in my life; it’s a delicate balance, but it works for me.

It feels great to work out or take walks with those who I can really be myself with, and along the way we have great conversations and some good laughs.

It doesn’t matter how busy you are, it’s well worth it to take time out of your day to spend an hour with a good friend.

3. Practice a daily relaxation technique like yoga or meditation

I’ve tried to be a fan of yoga and meditation in the past, but I’ve never been patient enough to stick with either.

However, the idea of relaxation techniques always sounded so cool to me. Every person I’ve met who takes outdoor yoga classes at sunrise, or belongs to a yoga studio, is just on another- more enlightened- level, in my opinion.

I’m fairly young to be experiencing back pain, but it’s happening, so I figured I’d try yoga one last time. My students’ persuasive ‘Why you should practice yoga’ speeches (I get quite a few of those)- as well as my own body’s painful cries for something that would make make it feel better- were the reasons why I decided to give yoga yet another try.

This is when I finally found a solution. I’ve discovered that I love 10 minutes of yoga on my own terms.

I found an article online called “The 5 Yoga Poses You Should Do Every Morning,” (thehuffingtonpost.com), found some relaxing yoga music on YouTube, and got to work stretching.

It just seemed like what I needed this summer. Once I graduate from my 5 poses, I might switch it up.

It turns out that I really enjoy yoga when I’m in charge, I can pick the poses I do, and I can stop whenever I feel like it.

It’s good for your health and your mind, so give it a shot, or try something similar.

4. Laugh more

Laughter is good for you in so many ways. Laugh in the classroom, laugh with your friends, or find a hilarious video clip to laugh at online. It’ll turn your day right around.

5. Be kind

Be nice to people, it’s said that volunteering or helping out your fellow man is actually good for your mental and physical health. I try to help people out- especially students and colleagues- whenever I can.

It really is good for the soul.

These are just 5 great ways I’ve found to be happy in and out of the classroom. Feel free to email me if you try some of these, I’d love to know what you think- and let me know if something else works for you!

If you’d like to learn more, check in with new posts weekly at happyprofessor.com or take a look at my book, Happy Professor: An Adjunct Instructor’s Guide to Personal, Financial, and Student Success on Amazon.com (if you can find a free copy, even better).

Feel free to email me at erin@happyprofessor.com.