5 Reasons You Should Consider Working From Home (and Why I Love It)


I may not write about it on the blog as frequently as I could, but almost daily I tell my husband how much I love working from home and teaching online.

It’s fun to get into the classroom once a week and do things traditionally, but if you have the discipline and a solid routine, you really can’t beat working from home, regardless of what type of job you have (see these Forbes articles for more details: Five Reasons to Love Working From Home and One In Five Americans Work From Home, Numbers Seen Rising Over 60%).

Here’s why:

  1. You get to create your own work and life schedule. If I want to relax over the weekend, I can make a plan to get my work done during the week. However, if I find that there are more exciting things happening during the week, I can switch things up and get my work done over the weekend. I love that I can move things around this way. As a result, I frequently enjoy long Tuesday lunches with a girlfriend, midday hourlong phone calls with friends who live out of state, and some solid time writing for my blog.
  2. You end up saving money. As much as I sometimes wish I had coworkers to buy cookies for on their birthdays, or a ‘lunch crew’ to leave the office with on Fridays, I realize that I can still incorporate these things into my life (and do on occasion) without spending as much money. I also don’t have to update my work wardrobe, pay for gas money and tolls, or put wear and tear on my car, all of which results in some pretty decent savings.
  3. It’s easier to eat healthy and workout. Sometimes for lunch I’m chopping up vegetables in my kitchen, baking chicken, or digging into a huge piece of cantaloupe- none of which would be appropriate in a traditional office setting. I also have a little workout space in my house where I enjoy listening to bad 90’s music and lifting weights for about 30 minutes twice a week in the middle of the day. It’s the best way to put off getting work done while still doing something good for yourself.
  4. ‘Going to work’ turns out to be kind of relaxing. This might just be me, but some days life can feel hectic- running errands, taking care of household items, going to appointments, etc. During the uninterrupted time during the week that I need to work from home, life is quiet, unrushed, and predictable. It might just be my personality type, but sometimes it feels like a break from the chaos of everyday life.
  5. I can stop wondering if life would be better if I worked from home. I have a number of friends who wonder if they’d be better off working from home- some are new moms who are trying to figure out what to do with their career, some aren’t crazy about their coworkers, and others just feel that working from home is becoming so popular that it might be a decision they’ll need to make in the future. I know a handful of people who love working out of a home office and coffee shops, and I know a handful of people who regretted the move (the isolation and pressure to get yourself moving each day can definitely become overwhelming, especially in the beginning) and went back to the office within a year. Luckily, I know what works for me, especially with a baby on the way, so that’s one less major life decision I’ll have to worry about in the future.

It may seem that working from home is the next big trend, and it just might be, so if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, consider my 5 reasons why working from home is (at least for me), one of the best decisions I could have made, and decide if it might be a realistic option for you in the future.

Happy living!

The Importance of Engaging Students 10 Minutes Before Class Starts

DSC_4050 copy

In my first book, Happy Professor, I included a short section about the importance of engaging with your students during the seemingly insignificant (but secretly crucial) 10-15 minutes before class starts. 

Honestly, I don’t always follow my own advice. Sometimes I have a crisis on my hands at a different school, so I’m dealing with emails and trying to tie up loose ends in those precious few moments before the students in front of me need my undivided attention for the next few hours. 

However, when I start feeling rather disconnected from my face-to-face students, I make the extra effort to engage in casual conversation with the early comers before we get started for the day. It makes me feel more invested in the experience, and I believe it does the same for them. 

I think this bit of low pressure engagement has a number of benefits: it helps students see you as human, they then tend to be more responsive during the class period, and it makes your time as the instructor in the classroom a whole lot more enjoyable (and as someone who teaches predominantly online, the physical classroom for me is all about having a positive experience and setting the right tone for the semester).

Having said that, I love finding articles that back up my own ideas and experiments in the classroom.

Instructor John Warner (author of Inside Higher Ed post titled “Moving Students Away From Their Phones“) backs up what I’ve previously believed about chatting with students before class, with the added bonus that these engaged students might actually stay off their cell phones during the class period (something that Warner and I both agree is a plus, but not a must- we’re all adults here, after all).

Enjoy the article! Happy reading, teaching, and learning :).


5 Reasons to Volunteer When Given the Opportunity


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)

Discussion Ideas for Family Communication Courses

DSC_4103 copy

This semester I put together what I call a ‘packet’ of discussion topics for my Family Communication course that we, as a class, discussed over the course of the semester. I was really pleased with the way it turned it.

As we read about and discussed the concepts in class, we watched relatable videos, tied in our own personal experiences, and also incorporated those that we saw in 3 early episodes of Modern Family over the course of the term.

The students loved it, and I decided to base my 5 short answer/essay final exam on these discussion prompts (I told the students to be sure the answers in their own packet were very thorough, since I would be choosing 5 of those discussion prompts at random to put on the exam, and they wouldn’t be able to use their notes or book).

For anyone teaching Family Communication who’s in need of something new to inject life into the students and material, feel free to borrow from the worksheets/packet below!

Happy teaching :).


Family and Communication. Spring A 2017

Discussion Prompts (Chs. 1, 2, 3)

  1.       How do you define family? What does family mean to you? What is your experience with family? (Ch. 1)
  2.       Explain how family members develop a set of shared meanings. What are some shared meanings you have with some of your family members? (Ch. 2, p. 24)
  3.       What level of cohesion does your family experience currently? What about when you were growing up? (Ch. 2, p. 32)

Modern Family Discussion Prompts (Chs. 1, 2, 3)

  1.       What shared meanings do you see? (p. 24)
  2.       What level of cohesion is present (in the family as a whole, or in the 3 individual family units)? What are examples of 3 behaviors that characterize their level of cohesion in the episode/s? (p. 32)
  3.       Does any metacommunication take place? How and in what way? (p. 31) What was said at the ‘content level’ and what was said at the ‘relationship level’?
  4.       Patterns/Self Regulation (Ch. 3, p. 62)- What communication patterns did you see within the families that made life more predictable? What communication rules existed? How did they maintain stability through ‘calibration’? Or how do you think they should have done this? What are your suggestions?
  5.       What relational currencies did you see being used in the families? By which family members? Why were they used?
  6.    Did any theories from Ch. 3 come into play? Which ones did you find? How did you see it play out in the episode/s?

Modern Family Discussion Prompts (Chs. 5, 6, 9, 10, 12)

  1.       (Ch. 5) How do you see relational maintenance taking place? (Marital/Partnership Maintenance p. 112, Parent and Child Relational Maintenance p. 114, Sibling and Step Sibling Relational Maintenance p. 115)
  •       What relational maintenance strategies do you see being used? (ie. confirmation p. 116, respect p. 118, rituals p. 118, relational currencies p. 124- and use the subcategories within these as you provide examples)
  1.       (Ch. 6) When have you seen the 3 types of commitment at work in your family or someone else’s? (ie. personal commitment, moral commitment, and structural commitment) (p. 134)
  2.       (Ch. 6) What do you think about the “naïve” quote: “If you have to work at a relationship, there’s something wrong with it. A relationship is either good or it’s not”? (p. 134)
  3.       (Ch. 6) What are the benefits and costs of self-disclosure in a family relationships? (p. 136)
  4.       (Ch. 9) Analyze an ongoing family dispute using the conflict stages model (p. 217)
  5.       (Ch. 10) What kind of ‘unconscious negotiations’ took place between you and a partner/spouse and your family of origin when you were getting married (ie. how best to argue, who would take care of certain household items, how to deal with intrusive family members, how to spend the holidays, how much each of you would work, etc.)?
  6.       Discuss your opinion about the opening quote to Ch. 12 “Family Communication and Well-Being” p. 305 by Stephen R. Covey (for those of you with a different edition of the textbook, it may be on a different page, or not included, so I’ll include it below).


“Good families- even great families- are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the ‘track’ looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again…. With regard to our families, it doesn’t make any difference if we are off target or even if our family is a mess. The hope lies in the vision and in the plan and in the courage to keep coming back time and time again.”

-Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families

Is that true? What are some ways to more effectively ‘stay on track’? Use specific examples and explanations.

  1. Search YouTube or TED.com (either works) for ‘Connected, but alone?’ by Sherry Turkle (to be watched before or after your read p. 320 through 322 of your text; for those of you with different textbook editions, look up “digital competence” in your textbook’s index to find the exact page numbers):

Each semester I have my communication-based classes watch this TED talk about how digital communication is affecting the way we connect. Is social media a good thing or a bad thing for us as humans and/or for our relationships? It’s a question I pose in my classes, and many students discuss the issue through debates I hold in my speech class. There’s no right or wrong answer/opinion, it’ just an interesting look into human connection. What’s your opinion?


How To Facilitate Easy and Effective Discussions in the College Classroom


After reading last week’s post, Why Students Benefit from Participation & Class Discussions, a longtime friend and reader of the blog decided to try a new approach to teaching her class and reached out to me for some tips. I was thorough enough that I figured my (very long) response to her would serve as a great follow-up post for this week:

Hi Carol,

(Just to warn you, my answer is really long! I’ll probably end up using it as a blog post on Happy Professor next week :). I hope it helps!)

I’m glad you enjoy the posts! The way I normally facilitate a discussion is to put the responsibility on the students so they feel some ownership of what they’re learning. Whether it’s a chapter in a textbook or an article like the one you mentioned, I would use the same approach (and this is just me, so it doesn’t fit everyone’s teaching style!):

  1. As the instructor, pick your favorite concepts from the reading that you think the students will enjoy most (preferably one for every student in the class if you have 10 or fewer people, or one concept for every 2 students in the class if it’s a bigger group- you want to keep the number of concepts between 5 and 10, otherwise you’ll run out of class time).
  2. Write the list of concepts up on the board, and tell the students (either individually or in pairs) what concept they’ll be responsible for ‘researching’ and discussing with the class (I try to pick a specific idea that that particular student would like most, based on what I know about them). They can look within the assigned reading for answers and outside sources (like the internet on their smartphone to gather more information to share).
  3. After assigning the topics/concepts, I would give them 10 minutes to read, do research, and figure out in what way they personally want to steer the discussion. I also encourage students to look at other concepts on the board and read about them so they have more to add to the discussion, other than just the topic they were given.
  4. Then I just go down the list and have each student or pair of students share their thoughts with the class. I also go around the room and ask each individual student if they have anything to add, but I don’t force them to answer (sometimes it’s just easier for them to speak up when asked directly rather than for them to take the initiative to raise their hands- at least that was how I was as a student!).
  5. I always ask for them to include personal examples from their own lives in applying the ideas, since it helps them understand how the lesson affects them directly, and it’ll help them remember the concepts better. It also makes the discussion much more lively.

That’s about it!

This might be the way you were already doing things, but hopefully you found some new stuff in what I said above!

Good luck with the lesson! 🙂


Why Students Benefit from Class Discussions & Participation

DSC_4959 copy

This semester I’ve been teaching a Family Communication class that I’ve loved every second of. I taught the class online a few years ago, but the face-to-face version has been a completely different experience, and I’m seeing my students grasp the concepts much more easily this time around- applying the textbook terms to their own lives and thoroughly analyzing  what they’re learning in meaningful ways.

I give credit to the in-class discussions.

I recently read the article “How Do Students Learn from In Class Discussion?” on facultyfocus.com, and I shared it with my Family Communication students to show them how research supports the way we’ve been spending our class periods (since the professional in me is worried they might think the class has been a little too much fun..).

As instructors, sometimes it can feel like we’re ‘getting away with something’ when we fill class time with lively conversation and have students analyze, in my case, an early episode of Modern Family to solidify the terms that will be on the final exam, but research is showing that it’s class periods just like this that help students learn the most by:

  • Increasing engagement
  • Remembering and retaining information
  • Confirming learning
  • Getting verbal feedback from the instructor
  • Deepening their understanding

Of course, once we’ve talked at length about various chapters, terms, and how they apply to situations in the students’ own families and in examples from the media (Modern Family has worked perfectly for this particular course), they go home to write essays and prepare oral presentations to solidify their learning.

Using homework to reinforce ideas from class is secondary, though. I believe that when you’re in the college classroom, the best foundation is application and participation first, and then the rest almost seems to take care of itself.

If you’d like to learn more about classroom participation helps students, see the link below:


Happy teaching and learning!

The Truth About the Most Inspired Happy Professor Posts

DSC_5026 copy

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 :).

Happy Professors Series: How to Find Teachable Moments in Everyday Life


“Have you ever stopped yourself in the middle of the day to question what you are doing? I often think about how invigorating it is to really think about why we, as social creatures, choose to live our lives the way we do. Why have you chosen to take the actions or engaged in the behaviors that you did so far today? Or, why you are doing it all in the specific way that you’ve chosen?

Stopping ourselves and asking why we move through life the way we do is exciting to me; not only because it allows for increased mindfulness, but also because it helps us hone the skills of deeper critical analysis.

I question my own choices every day. For example, when I present an opinion about our socio-political environment, I might ask myself why I feel the way I do. Easy enough. But there is more. I then question what role the media has played, or what deeper issues I am interested in, and what relation my upbringing or socialization has with my own outlook on life. I’ll ask why I hold certain value systems or norms and social expectations. I use this type of questioning with my students all the time.

I have bright students, but I still constantly ask them why it is that they arrived at a certain conclusion or analytical framework. Not because they weren’t clear enough in their presentation of their argument, but because questioning gives way to learning. So many times, instructors (and human beings in general) take “good” answers for granted. We applaud them, agree or disagree, and move on. Perhaps even regurgitating what we have heard at another point in time. But stopping there makes us miss out on a critical opportunity.

A much deeper level of learning emerges when you stop and pry a bit more.  Do not take your sense of reality or your opinions for granted. Ask questions, like what schema or social lens are you using to view “reality” the way you do? Why is it that you chose to focus on certain aspects of the situation, rather than others? What does this say about your relationship with your larger social group, as well as your inner cognitive functions?

Perhaps more importantly, what assumptions are you making, even at an unconscious level, to move through the issue the way you do? You see, we often operate by a mindset that is on autopilot. What do I mean by this? We quickly put bits of pieces about our world or environment together so that we effectively and efficiently get about our day. This is usually done by our minds, without our realization.

Let’s take gender roles as an example. I teach sociology and social psychology, so I often deal with teaching and learning about gender and gender roles. Very often we hear words –aggressive, dainty, mechanic or nurse—and form a gendered opinion. What this tells me is that we take femininity and masculinity for granted. However, these are social constructions that we impose on people, based on their sex—their physiology. From the moment a baby is born, we constantly reinforce the duality of gender through blue or pink. Colors, whose symbolism we have come to attach to gender.

Similarly, I teach courses on the social construction of place. This might make my point a bit clearer—we often take the labels of places or boundaries for granted and simply feel that we are somewhere very real, but what is place, but the social construction of space? What makes this city different than the next?

These moments of reflection can sometimes feel like we are spiraling down a rabbit hole, and becoming more confused, but it also allows us to step outside of our implicit biases and assumptions and critically look at why we come to view the world the way we do. Bringing this out in others has led to deeper conversations and deeper connections. Additionally, it has led to clearer understanding of our social constructions and our social expectations. By deconstructing our world, our reality and our assumptions, we are left with bits and pieces that we can put together in new, innovative ways.

If we look to all our daily actions this way, we will soon realize that all of life is a teachable moment—not just those confined within classroom boundaries.”

~Dani, Sociology Instructor, Ph.D.

Finding Quiet


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.

Happy Professors Series: Helping Students Gain Courage

DSC_5018 copy

“I started my career in education as an English teacher in Japan. The experience was life changing for me. I previously had little desire to pursue a career in education, however my experience teaching – and learning from – my elementary and junior high school students has steered me toward my current profession. The thing which I most enjoy about teaching is seeing how a classroom setting gives students the courage to come out of their shells and express their opinions and feelings. I believe my most positive experience thus far has been seeing my students move from having a paralyzing fear of the English language to courageously tackling speech competitions.”

~ Allan, College Instructor and Instructional Designer

1 2 3 4 17