November 2014 archive

Black Friday Decluttering

IMG_3159I did the unthinkable on Black Friday this year; I got rid of items I didn’t need.

I didn’t do it intentionally, but the irony of this just occurred to me.

Yesterday I woke up feeling a little out of sorts, which tends to happen when I don’t have any pressing work to finish, and I don’t quite know what to do with myself. When some women feel this way, they shop. There’s nothing wrong with shopping for fun, but the high tends to be short-lived and you end up with more stuff that you don’t need.

These days, when my mood could use a boost, I get rid of 10 things from my apartment, and it always makes me feel better.

So that’s what I did this Black Friday. My closet and drawers are a little roomier, and 24 hours later, I’m still happy with my choice to lighten my load, save money, and simplify my life in another small way.

Wishing you all a happy, and simple, holiday season!

Living Simply: A Lesson for Book Lovers

IMG_0133.jpgI go through my phases. They usually last around 6 months, and then the addiction subsides and I enjoy this obsession as a casual hobby again.

Currently I’m fanatical about reading.

I’ve somehow become obsessed with reading any book about teaching, blogging, business, positive psychology, and happiness.

I’ve gone through the yearlong ‘playing-my-guitar-until-my-fingertips-are-beyond-calloused’ phase, resulting in open mic nights and a trip to Nashville. Then I became fascinated with online teaching, which resulted in my building an online course and teaching online speech and family communication classes. And then my fascination with reading and writing occurred this summer- and the ‘reading’ part remains in full swing.

I still enjoy my old favorites, playing the guitar and teaching online, but these days nothing satisfies me like a good book.

So to make my already long story short, I’ll get to my point: For those of you who like to save money, save space, and would like to read additional books that your public library might not have and might be too expensive on Amazon, I have a solution.

I just discovered

Here’s how it works:
1. You create a login and password.
2. You list the books you wouldn’t mind swapping with someone on your electronic ‘Bookshelf,’ which gives you credits.
3. The credits you receive are the credits you use to ‘purchase,’ or borrow, books.
4. When someone wants to borrow a book from your ‘Bookshelf,’ you print out the mailing materials and pay for the shipping through the PaperBackSway (PBS) website.
5. Notify PBS that you’ve mailed it.
6. When the borrower notifies the company that they’ve received the book, the sender gets 1 additional credit to then borrow a book from any member they’d like.

Now, you might be thinking a whole host of things (like, that I get way too excited over discovering new websites), but you also might be thinking that it’s a little disappointing to have to pay for postage to mail a book to someone. I’ll admit, I was initially disappointed, too, and almost gave up on the whole idea.

Then I received a message saying someone wanted one of my books, and I immediately regretted my decision to join. Had I just agreed to spend my days packaging and mailing my used books? I was too busy for this.

However, after I figured out how to deal with the mailing process on this new website that was completely unfamiliar to me (but, actually, surprisingly easy to figure out), something really unexpected happened. After printing out the needed materials, I felt really happy. I felt even giddier while I was wrapping up the book. This person had probably been waiting quite a while for this book to be available, and soon they would excitedly open up this parcel that I had carefully packaged and taped.

It made me ridiculously happy.

I was the one who would be providing that joy for someone. It really warmed my heart.

I know that sounds cheesy, and there are more altruistic acts to be done in the world than to send someone a chick lit book, but it felt surprisingly good. So good that I even ended up leaving a post-it note on the cover saying that I hoped the reader enjoyed the book.

I probably could have stopped there after that ‘act of kindness’ and felt like I got what I needed from my PBS membership, but then I remembered that I now had a total of 3 credits to spend on 3 different books for myself.

I was happy to find a couple things that were right up my alley: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, and How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama. So I excitedly ordered them.

That’s about the extent of my experience for now. However, it’s fun to be part of this new community.

It turns out that Kimberly liked the brief, friendly note I put on the book I sent her. In turn, she left me a ‘thank you’ email within the PBS community saying she and her daughter loved that particular book series, and I suppose I had given them one book they were missing. So it felt pretty cool to connect within the PBS community.

I also like to think that the person sending my books is pleased to save some money on the shipping cost since I ordered two books from her (a recommendation on the site to save members money), and to have someone else enjoy the books that’s she’s enjoyed.

What a great new experience, and yet another way to live simply, follow the ‘one in one out’ rule’ for living in small spaces, save some money, do a kind deed, and feel happy.

Teaching/Mentoring with Heart: It’s Ok to Be Human

IMG_0369This is the title of Peggy Liggit’s TEDxEMU talk about connecting with students and making a difference.

Like every other thing I feel compelled to write about, I loved it.

As the director of faculty development at Eastern Michigan University- and the daughter of a professor so dedicated to teaching that he instilled the same love in his children- Liggit clearly has a vested interest, and a true love of students.

To take a quote directly from her TED talk (and, she says:

“If teaching-learning processes are to work effectively, a unique kind of relationship must exist between these two organisms, some kind of ‘connection,’ link, or bridge between the teacher and the learner.” –Gordon Training International, Teacher Effectiveness Training (TET)

This is absolutely true, and I feel that teachers need to be reminded of that from time to time. I believe in connecting with students as people, and I know this makes a huge positive difference in their learning and motivation.

I actually had a blog reader and fellow part-time instructor graciously send me her NCA (National Communication Association) paper on the topic of positively connecting with students, titled “Striving for Instructional Communication Competence: Maximizing Students’ Learning Potential through Awareness and Assessment of Instructional Communication Behaviors.” Based on her research and observations as (at the time) a new communication instructor, she found that there were a number of factors at play in positively affecting student learning outcomes.

Among the eight factors was ‘caring.’

Gone are the days when teachers were expected to simply impart their knowledge to students and scold them into submission. This is one way to effectively deter academic progress.

“If you disconnect, there’s no magic,” as Liggit says.

I believe many schools acknowledge this and are starting to put programs in place to encourage this ‘magic’ between teachers and students.

The other day I was invited to a ‘Lunch and Learn’ on campus with one of my students. I had never heard of this before, but I learned that it’s a required program that’s been put in place to encourage first-generation college students to get to know their professors outside the classroom. The university pays for the lunch, and the teacher and student get a chance to establish a mentor-mentee relationship.

During the same week, I was invited to a campus organization brunch by another student. My student told me that this year her organization had started a semi-annual ‘Academic Brunch’ to help bridge the gap between students and teachers at this particularly large university. What a fantastic idea.

I truly hope more schools start implementing valuable programs like Lunch and Learn and Academic Brunches, for not just first-generation students, but for all students.

The biggest benefit I see with programs like these are the opportunity for students to make valuable connections with instructors who can give them guidance, who can write them letters of recommendation, and who they can stay connected with during their college experience and afterward.

I look back fondly on the student-teacher relationships I made during college. With each year that passes, I realize that those approachable teachers helped me choose a path during some confusing semesters that ultimately made me feel safe, happy, successful, and confident as a learner.

My instructors lovingly coached me through my undergraduate thesis, made me feel comfortable asking potentially ‘stupid’ questions, and even talked to me about graduate school options during my senior year (which I didn’t know was an option, being a first-generation college student myself). Then during graduate school, I was guided by teachers with the same approachable and caring attitude, who taught me how to teach other students with heart.

I hope they know the life-changing impact their kindness and encouragement had on me.


Be a mentor for students who seek out your guidance.

Do you know who your students are? Do you know their academic concerns and the ways you can best help them? Do they know they can come to you to establish a valuable connection and receive direction?

These are important questions to ask yourself.

And remember, it’s okay to be human.

3 Ways to Live a Better Life

IMG_8656These are 3 things I try to practice daily, and I can promise that they really do make every day better:

1. Surround yourself with inspiring people

Find friends who have great ideas and make you want to be better (watch How to find and do work you love: Scott Dinsmore at TEDxGoldenGatePark).

2. Learn

Learning and growing is the key to happiness. I know if I’ve learned something, I feel accomplished.

3. Choose a better mood

Studies in psychology have shown that if you smile, even if it’s fake, you’ll begin to feel happy. So why not fake it until you become it? If you’re in a bad mood, why not choose to be a bit happier and salvage the rest of the day?
Happy teaching!

How to Inspire College Students: Life Goals Activity

IMG_0337Do your students know what their life goals are?

At least once during the semester- normally during the beginning or middle of the term- I have my students do some sort of activity to evaluate why they’re really here in college, or more generally, what they want out of life.

This semester I created an activity that I call the the ‘Goals Activity.’

It’s nothing complicated, and it usually takes about 50 minutes to complete (including the video I play), but I think it leaves myself and my students with a sense of accomplishment and hope for what’s to come.

This is the actual activity that I pull up on the projector:

How to Accomplish Your Goals & Overcome Your Fears

Amy Cuddy
Dr. Ivan Joseph
Olympia LePoint

1. What 3 goals do you have for the future that require some amount of confidence and/or getting up in front of people?

2. What obstacles (fear, intimidation, money, etc.) are in your way? Write at least 1 per goal.

3. How will the techniques in this video help you in accomplishing these goals? Be specific. Write at least 1 per goal.

I encourage you to watch some of the other videos in your free time, and do this activity as you consider tactics for accomplishing your goals.

I hope this helped you realize you can do anything you put your mind to!

Instructor directions:

  1. Tell the students to take out some paper and write down their answers to the questions. I let them know I won’t be collecting this, it’s theirs to keep, so their goals can be as lofty as they’d like.
  2. Ask if anyone would like to share some of their goals and the obstacles that might stand in their way. I don’t pressure them to volunteer their answers, since I know some dreams are embarrassing to say out loud. However, I always have around 10 students eager to share.
  3. Show 1 of the 3 TED talks (if you’ve found others that would work for this activity, that’s awesome, too). Pause the video periodically if you’d like to discuss it a bit with the class.
  4. Have students share how they can overcome some of their obstacles using some key ideas from the speech (if they’re willing). You can even share some of your own as the instructor.


I was surprised by how open my students were about their goals and fears during this activity.

I was also surprised that very simple life/career advice to 18-year-olds- or to anyone in college, really- can truly make a difference. We discussed the importance of internships, and I was able to put them in touch with to help a few of them achieve their dreams.

The activity not only helped my students bond and grow as people, but I think it helped get them excited about life.

I believe it’s important for every instructor take a step back for one period during the semester to do an activity like this one. Most of the time students aren’t sure what their goals are, or how to reach them, but this activity gives them a chance to start working toward something.

College can feel much more important when students see it as a clear step on their way to their own specific success.

What Will They Remember 10 Years From Now?

cropped-IMG_01691.jpgFor some reason I can’t shake this question:

What will they remember 10 years from now?

I met a fellow adjunct instructor at the beginning of this term, and we’ve met up in the campus adjunct office quite a bit. This seasoned instructor mentioned to me that, realistically, most students won’t remember what they learned in our course 10 years from now- and odds are they might not even retain it for one year.

I’d considered this before, but for some reason it felt more like a challenge I was determined to take on this time.

Immediately, I started trying to remember what I learned in my own undergraduate and graduate classes as a student. I understand people learn and retain information in different ways, but for me I retained information that had been taught in 3 ways:

  1. Simple repetition (and a lot of it)– Mr. Cohen’s 8th grade class: Jamaica’s natural resources include bauxite and gypsum.
  1. Group activities/hands on activities– Critiquing fellow students’ feature articles in Andy Dehnart’s Magazine Writing class, and then discussing our evaluations with everyone.
  1. Presenting course content to others– Defending my undergraduate thesis and my master’s thesis to a thesis committee, and presenting a 30 minute lecture about bento boxes as a student in Dr. Akita’s International Communication class.

I’ve always been a big fan of making students truly apply what they’re learning, which is why I like public speaking classes so much; you use what you learn in the classroom to develop and deliver professional speeches.

However, it’s hard to know what material your students are actually learning when you lecture in the classroom. I read some interesting thoughts this morning on about the idea of not lecturing in the classroom, and what it might achieve.

Based on what I’ve read in The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds, I present material in a way that helps students engage. But how can I know for sure?

I’m a ‘goals’ person, so I’ve added this one to the list. I just ordered the book Making It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, to learn how to more effectively help my students learn.

The bottom line is, never stop questioning the way you do things, and question tradition. Is there a good reason why you’re still using certain techniques?

Much of our happiness relies on continued growth and curiosity. So go ahead, be inquisitive and explore new approaches to life in and out of the classroom.

3 Steps to Overcome Your Fears

IMG_9949Olympia LePoint may be my new hero.

Her talk about fear and overcoming it is pretty amazing:

‘Reprogramming your brain to overcome fear: Olympia LePoint at TEDxPCC’

When I stumbled upon this TED talk, I instantly knew I needed to show it in my Fundamentals of Speech class. The biggest problem students have in my class (and I believe in life as well), is not that they’re lazy or don’t understand course concepts, it’s that they’re scared.

I think it’s important to understand your fears and work through them. Once you can do this- as cheesy as it might sound- the world is full of possibilities.

So Olympia and I have that belief in common.

Here are her 3 steps for getting rid of fear:

  1. Name your fear and reject it.
  2. Reframe your thoughts (reprogram your brain to see fear differently)
  3. Take action

We’re all scared of something. I encourage you to share this with your students, you never know who it might help.