The Effortless Life

IMG_0342No, that’s not a description of my own life. Although, it’d be great if it was.

Last week I wrote about ideas for improving your work life, based on the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink. The Effortless Life by Leo Babauta (one of my favorite bloggers) is a quick read about improving your personal life.

Simplify your relationships, your needs, and your wants. That’s all one really requires to live more effortlessly.

Babauta also mentions that the things that make him the happiest tend to be inexpensive or free:

Working out with a friend
Reading a book
Taking a walk outdoors

I’m big on living simply, so the above items have long been weekly activities in my life, and they’ve proven to be more fulfilling than a lot of other- more expensive- activities.

Some other ‘effortless’ suggestions involve moving more slowly, not planning so much, and focusing less on goals. Babauta explains his reasoning well, but I’ll openly admit that I pick and choose what things work best in my life- and I have to say, writing out a list of daily goals is too fun for a Type A personality like myself to give up.

However, I’m on board with the overall theme: It’s okay to do things that aren’t the norm.

Consider spending more quality time with the people who make you feel great, not necessarily those your feel obligated to spend time with.

Get rid of cable television, or that second car if you can get by with one. These are some luxuries I’ve seriously considered giving up lately and I’m not sure why I didn’t consider it sooner (why is it so hard to think outside of convention?).

A few years ago I started doing things that cost little or no money.

It took a 10-year hiatus from riding my bike to school every morning as a kid to pick up the hobby again as a 25-year-old (more for pleasure than necessity this time). It’s one of my very favorite things to do with my husband and my friends, but I never would have considered it had I not been looking for a way to save money and have fun at the same time.

Remember, none of these are sacrifices. It’s a way to declutter your life and make room for the more important things (including more financial security).

Consider simplifying. What could you do without?

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

IMG_0337The key to great success, better job performance, and better health?

Intrinsic motivation.

Or what Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive, calls Type I behavior (good news- reverting back to our natural instincts of working intrinsically is something we’re all capable of).

I finished this book a few weeks ago (which also prompted me to put one of his other books, A Whole New Mind, on my ‘books to read’ list in the Great Reads section here).

I enjoyed reading Pink’s views on how any workplace can evolve into an environment of working for intrinsic/internal rewards rather than almost entirely for external rewards, which happen to be nowhere near as fulfilling as the former.

I found myself feeling grateful for the opportunity to work in a field that encourages the 3 elements of intrinsic motivation:

Autonomy
Mastery
Purpose

Just last week I read a book related to presenting (for pleasure- and that’s key), reworked some of my lecture slides, and changed some elements of my delivery. This was all part of working toward mastery of my job as a communication and speech instructor.

Having autonomy to decide what I would like to do in the classroom, when, and how I’d like to implement it is something that is also proven to increase motivation.

Lastly, purpose.

I feel that there’s great purpose in what I do. I help people build skills and confidence as speakers and communicators, not just to get ahead in their careers, but also to build better relationships with people.

I always assumed I just had a strange love of school and learning, which explained why I was so motivated and excited to work on my personal growth as a teacher, and to continually improve the classroom without any notable extrinsic rewards.

It turns out, according to Pink, that I just happen to have one of the few jobs (currently- although more companies/career fields are moving in the direction of intrinsically motivating employees) that allows me to pursue work goals the way that works best for me, and that can result in major internal rewards.

~

Take a moment to think about how you can incorporate some autonomy, mastery, and purpose in your current job or projects.

It might not be easy for everyone- even if you happen to be a college professor like myself- but work on finding places where those 3 elements can fit in, to make each of your days a little bit more fulfilling.

And, as always, a little bit happier.

Know Your Audience

IMG_0358As a college professor and lecturer/speaker, it’s important to know your audience, relate to them, and keep them engaged.

Otherwise your message is lost.

Those are some of the simple lessons (reminders, really) that I was taught while reading The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds over the weekend.

No matter what subject you teach, you can apply it to your students’ lives in some way. Making the subject more relevant will, consequently, increase learning.

If you teach math, tell your students how to handle their finances. If you teach English, have them submit a cover letter as an assignment for a job they’re interested in applying for.

If you teach communication/speech courses, like I do, remind them that the skills they’re learning will be needed in life whether they give a toast at a wedding, have to pitch an idea at work, ask for a promotion, or happen to be the PTA president when their kids are in school.

Know your audience and make your message relevant to their lives.

Happy teaching!

The Wonder That is the Public Library

IMG_8684My first real introduction to the public library (something that was long past overdue) happened when I was 24.

That was the day I got my very first public library card.

For someone who likes to read, rent new movie releases for free, listen to audio books, and loves to spend $0 while leaving a place with all kinds of treasures, this was just the most wonderful thing that could have happened to my simple ‘it’s all about the little things’ self.

The public library suddenly provided a perfect education-rich, but leisurely atmosphere for a new college instructor.

I’d been far too familiar with school libraries as a kid (which included long bouts of studying), as an undergrad (which included long bouts of studying), and as a grad student (which included arriving most days while it was still dark outside and leaving most days while it was again dark outside).

The public library was different than anything I’d ever experienced.

It was a place I could browse without stress, without worrying I might spend too much money, I didn’t feel rushed, I knew nobody would bother me, and best of all, it was quiet.

It’s become a routine of mine to stop off at the library after work at least once a month and pick up whatever interests me.

I happen to be in a no-TV/movies phase currently, but I’ve been reading frantically, so lately I’ve been walking straight past the DVD rack to grab a book on tape (to entertain myself during commutes for the next month), and then I take my time in the non-fiction books section.

A few weeks ago I spent an hour sifting through books, and it was awesome.

Part of the fun for me is having some books in mind that I’d like to find, then leaving with none of the books that were actually on my list. Here are my latest finds:

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Friends had recommended this book, and I’d flipped through it plenty of times in Barnes and Noble, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I don’t know why I’m so surprised by my response to it given how many people recommended it- it was a fantastic book!

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

I used bell hooks as a source in much of my research as a Communication major in undergrad and grad school, so seeing the author’s unique name immediately brought back memories. I thought it’d be nice to pick it up for leisure this time, and possibly as supplemental reading for my Family Communication class next term.

Ooh La La! French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day by Jamie Cat Callan

I’ll admit it. I was embarrassed to be seen leaving the library with this book, so I put it at the bottom of my stack. It’s not the type of book I typically read.

However, I originally picked it up because the cover was similar to the concept I originally had for my own book cover. I ended up leaving with it because as far as I could tell, it was about a culture I don’t know enough about, and it was essentially a non-fiction book that takes an introspective look at the inner workings of women who are happy and have high self-esteem.

Now, I’m not one to buy into why we need to invest in perfume or wear makeup a certain way. All that aside, it was everything I hoped it would be. The underlying themes of the book were the same as those of all the positive psychology books I’ve read- and I love seeing that all these ideas and studies in happiness inevitably weave together.

Each book delivered.

I realized half-way through All About Love that I could also use it in the college classroom, Drive has been a great conversation starter with friends lately, and Ooh La La! was the perfect book to recommend to a close (and very stylish) girlfriend of mine who’s enjoying a booming new business and always looking for a new book to read.

As I mentioned before, the public library is the ideal place for my simple ‘it’s all about the little things’ self. It’s not the prettiest place, and it’s not trendy, but it’s filled with books that are filled with ideas that just might make you a little bit happier.

Procrastinating Wisely

IMG_9583bwLike most people, I have a tendency to procrastinate.

However, I’ve learned that putting things off and wasting time makes me feel much worse about the situation and can be extremely stressful.

Now, most people will tell you to just not procrastinate, and their methods are great if you’ve got enough willpower to really dive right in when you don’t want to (zenhabits.net ‘7 Discipline-Mastering Practices’– one of my favorite blogs, and a great post, I just don’t operate that way).

As someone who teaches an average of 8 classes a semester, learning how to ‘procrastinate wisely’ was necessary for my survival. It seems like common sense, but I learned that it’s okay to put off some of the ‘to do’ items I’m dreading as long as while I’m procrastinating, I complete an important task that I wasn’t dreading quite as much.

How to ‘procrastinate wisely’ is something I figured out in college that greatly reduced my stress and guilt about being unproductive.

For example, a while back I needed to watch 20 online speeches for one of my online classes. I really felt like I should, but deep down I knew I was putting it off, so I looked at my ‘to do’ list (I’m a huge list maker, and I find it to be not only helpful but necessary) and attempted to work on some of the other things listed.

I tended to jump around and most of the items I attempted to complete didn’t stick, but I was determined that I needed to do something on the list or I’d be disappointed in my unproductive day.

Then without even realizing it, I found myself in the middle of developing my Family and Communication course that would be starting shortly, and I had really dreaded gettting started (but apparently not as much as watching those speeches- who knew?).

The task of developing an important foundation for that new class took me 6 hours, and I got everything done for that course that I possibly could. I even enjoyed it.

Sure, I didn’t do the one task I felt I needed to that day, but who can feel bad about conquering the course material for a class they’ve never taught?

I was completely fine grading those online speeches another day.

If you’d like to hear about other unconventional tips that work for me, 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).

 

Learning to Relax: Experiments with Outdoor Yoga

IMG_9384This morning I sat in a local park with 15 or so other people, stretched, practiced deep breathing, and generally enjoyed myself.

Before I go on, it might be important to note: I normally don’t like yoga.

If I’m going to workout, I’d prefer a 3-mile run, a kickboxing class, or anything vigorous that leaves me winded. I never had the patience for yoga in the past, but I suppose my tastes are changing.

I’ve had enough student speeches on the benefits of relaxation techniques, and I’ve had enough recent back pain, to start practicing some simple yoga moves for 10 minutes each morning during the past few months- but 10 minutes was where I assumed I would always draw the line.

As it turns out, my quick morning routine has trained me well; for the first time in my life, I not only liked yoga, but I found it to be easier than I remembered, enjoyable, and exactly what my body needed. Not to mention, this particular class allowed me to enjoy one of my favorite things: nature.

School will be back in session after the long weekend tomorrow, and it’s nice to know I’ll be going back to work feeling refreshed and a little more relaxed.

And- who knows- maybe even one step closer to becoming a yogi.

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).

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