September 2016 archive

4 Tips for Staying Focused When Working from the Local Coffee Shop

IMG_0133I recently had a former student ask me how I stay motivated to work from home or coffee shops. I’m currently working from my laptop at the Panera down the street, so I thought now would be a good time to list 4 tips that are helping me stay focused at the moment:

  1. Focus on completing/make a written list of your 3 most important tasks for the day, which are probably your most difficult and time-consuming (but a measly 3 tasks always seems more doable than a list of 10 small things!)
  1.  Put your phone on airplane mode (texts and incoming email get especially tempting when you don’t want to get to the hard work)
  1.  Listen to classical music, jazz, or whatever helps you focus (I actually bring 2 pairs of ear buds just in case)
  1.  Wear comfortable clothes (I’m not going to lie, I tend to wear layers, even in the summer, so I don’t get too cold and unfocused)

For those of you out there working from a laptop without a traditional boss or traditional working hours, teaching online, freelancing, or even just telecommuting for a big corporation, I hope this helped!

Happy working and happy living 🙂

Top 5 Lifesavers for New Online College Instructors

DSC_5846During the past few years that I’ve taught online, it’s been a lot of trial and error to figure out what schools and supervisors expect from online adjuncts. Generally, we get tossed into the online classroom without much guidance (and regardless of how long you’ve been doing this, different schools place value on different areas/assignments in your course, so there’s a lot to learn!).

However, now that I’m working at 4 schools as an online instructor, I feel that I finally have a well-rounded view of what most supervisors and schools are looking for in a quality course, and I’m starting to notice some patterns evolve, so I thought I’d share this with other new online instructors (or those thinking about it), so you can set up your courses appropriately, effectively, and in as uniform a way as possible:

  • Get each school’s email sent to your smart phone.

I know I’ve mentioned this in posts before, but it’s the easiest and most convenient way to be sure you respond to student emails in a timely manner. One of the biggest things schools want to see is that you check your email and respond within 24 hours on ‘business days’ and within 48 hours on weekends.

To be on the safe side (you never know when a new department chair might quietly step into leadership and expect something different without necessarily announcing new expectations to everyone- and this has happened before in my experience), I always check email and respond within 24 hours, even on weekends.

  • Have an electronic rubric for each assignment.

Use rubrics often, keep them simple, and use them for each student. I used to have complicated online rubrics (back when I was coming straight from the classroom, and didn’t understand how annoying this would make the online grading process for me, or how frustrating it would be for my students to try to deconstruct once they got their grades back). I’m still working on fixing up the rubrics for some of my schools, but the simplified, more effective rubrics I recently implemented just require a few clicks and are much easier for my students to understand. It also saves time on grading and requires less written feedback..

Schools appreciate it when they see an instructor using a well-designed rubric (which makes grading more objective and less subjective, and tends to be preferable at every school), as well as giving students some additional, substantive feedback on the assignment other than simply “Good job!”

  • Close all comments on the Course Announcements if you use Canvas.

This one might seem oddly specific, but two of the schools I work for are currently making the move from Blackboard to Canvas, so this is important and might just save your reputation on RateMyProfessor and elsewhere: If you send Course Announcements in Canvas, students can comment on them (at any point during the semester, regardless of how old the announcement is), and you will never be notified, ever.

I wish someone would eliminate or improve this feature so it does more than get well-meaning instructors into trouble with students (it’s happened to me as well as my bosses), but until it changes, do yourself a favor and disable it on day one. One of the worst things that could happen for your reputation and career as an online instructor (in the eyes of current students, potential students, and your supervisors) is that you’re known for being hard to get ahold of.

  • Ask your supervisor what they’ll expect from you in areas that you’re not clear on.

It’s important to know how each specific school wants things done, so ask. If you get the impression that questions may not be welcome or may end up getting you into trouble with your supervisor, ask a colleague or another leader in the department for answers. For the most part, I’ve found that supervisors welcome questions when you’re new to the program- it shows that you’re engaged, hardworking, and that you want to be sure you’re doing things in a way that would be most beneficial for the department.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have very organized, clear, and communicative supervisors that I can be honest with, and I’m very pleased that they’ve been honest with me about their own learning curve and past mistakes, and have shared the way they run their own courses.

  • Make effective changes to your course if it would work in everyone’s best interest.

The course design and syllabus may be created well in advance, without your input, for the course you’re about to teach (this is how some schools do it and I love it- it eliminates so much guesswork and preparation). However, if you want to make some tweaks, normally you can simply talk to your supervisor and/or instructional designer and they’ll make the changes you need, or allow you to do it yourself.

For instance, I’ve changed the essay questions on assignments that I felt were much too involved for my beginner level students at one school (it saved my sanity and helped them learn at a better pace). I’ve also set up all the speech assignments (at 3 of my schools) so that they follow the same general rubric (the trick is to make the rubric categories general, while the more detailed directions and guidelines for each type of speech that the school requires are still included in the course, attached to individual grades for reference, and followed by the students and instructor.)


If you’re anything like me, you sometimes question whether you’re running your course in the best way possible, and you’re not always sure how to find the answers. Hopefully, these tips helped to eliminate some of the guesswork, or at least encouraged you to talk to a supervisor or friendly department chair to get the full rundown.

Happy teaching!

How to Have a Simple, Yet Productive Morning

DSC_4987 copyI don’t do this regularly (although I used to), but if you find yourself in a less than fantastic mood, I highly recommend this 10-15 minute exercise to get you out of your funk. Not to mention, it also helps you get more accomplished during your day (according to podcasters, authors, and famous entrepreneurs who have read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod).

I’ll be honest, I have no plans to read The Miracle Morning myself, but I believe I’ve picked up what I need to know from others who have read it.

Here’s the rundown.

Spend 10 minutes of your time each morning doing each of the 6 activities, in whatever order you’d like (for a total of 1 hour each morning):

(*Quick note: I have very little patience, so I spend 1-2 minutes doing each, and about 3-4 minutes on the Silence portion because that’s my favorite part, and I feel I still get the benefits!)

Silence- I choose to meditate during this part.

Affirmations- This part feels weird for me (I feel funny telling myself, “You’re great” Stuart Smalley style) so I just have one affirmation/quote that I made up that I think rings true pretty much every day of my life, and is just an all-around good phrase for anyone to live by: “I’m easily inspired by anything and everything.”

Visualize- I spend a minute or two daydreaming here. I imagine a life of travel, working from home on my own schedule, spending time with loved one, and living comfortably; I’ve just about met all those goals, but maybe I could plan more trips.

Exercise- I choose to do yoga and stretches.

Read- Every time I do this routine, I read a few pages from a fun French book, Bonjour Happiness; it just always feels like the right type of book to start my day.

Scribe/Write- I usually make a short list of things I’m grateful for.


There you have it. I’m not one to implement new daily routines into my schedule, and I can’t say that I’ve made these 6 practices ‘routine.’ However, when I do spend some time in silence, saying affirmations, visualizing, exercising, reading, and writing, for just a few minutes each in the morning, I can say that I do notice distinct mental, emotional, and physical benefits throughout the day. Go ahead and give it a try!

Happy living :).

The 3 Best Quotes I’ve Heard Lately

DSC_5036Once in a while I like to include some simple quotes here on the Happy Professor blog.

From past experience, I know that at some point throughout the next few years my once favorite quotes might be sadly forgotten (they tend to pile up on Post-Its, in notebooks that get discarded, and in various lists on my phone that I end up never looking at again).

So here they are, the 3 quotes that I heard in the last few weeks that are currently typed and bolded in my phone, and they all make you take a step back and rethink things:

“If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes ‘more.’”

“Don’t wish it was easier, make yourself better.”

“It’s fulfillment, not achievement, that makes your happy.”

I hope these quotes resonate with you, and that they have the potential to make it to some list, journal, or scrap paper of yours.

Happy living!
(*For the sake of trying not to plagiarize, I’ll admit, I heard or read each of these from something Tim Ferriss-related, a weekly email or his podcast (which is a little bit embarrassing- I’m not a superfan or anything, he just has guests who say really inspiring things!), and they were all said by different people who may or may not be the first ones to claim it, so there you have it.)