New Colleagues and Old Problems

This time of year can be challenging for all of us—but especially for new faculty. The balance of scholarship, teaching, service, and life outside campus can be difficult to maintain even if you have been at it for a long time, but take a minute to recall the time when it was all new. In Faculty Development we have a formal mentoring program run by Susan Wiesinger that provides assigned mentors for new tenure-track faculty and a specialized workshop series for lecturer faculty. However, we acknowledge that the most important mentoring work is almost always informal and local. I want to highlight a few realities of these relationships that I hope you will keep in mind as this semester closes and we look toward Fall 2017.

  • Lecturer faculty need mentoring too. Lecturers have a dramatic impact on student success as they are often the people called on to teach first-year students and serve in other critical roles. Prioritizing student success means equipping lecturers with research, resources, and drawing on their expertise. It also means engaging them in conversation on effective teaching, research opportunities, and helping them navigate the university. This is a job for all us, regardless of classification. Talk to new lecturer colleagues about professional development like the CELT conference and how to access resources for travel.
  • Minority faculty face unique challenges, but you do not have to share the same life experience to be helpful. A recent Chronicle article highlighted key strategies for mentoring new minority scholars. I encourage you to read the whole article, but I want to highlight the first piece of advice “Practice cultural humility” and in doing so “demonstrate empathy for the professor’s experience as a faculty member of color in the institution.” In institutions like ours with strong organization culture we are often too quick to bring newcomers up to speed with “how things are done here” without being attentive to other strategies or experiences. Mentoring is mainly learning and listening.
  • Make a plan and get out there. Writing “be a good mentor” on a post-it note may be a reminder for you, but it is not a plan. Talk with your colleagues and your department/college leadership about what is being done and what is possible, but get started. Make a point to drop by a new colleagues office to ask how things are going, make a trip to a different floor or building to talk to a new lecturer that you have not met, but take the first step in outreaching to your new colleagues.

I am advising this now in hopes of helping our colleagues at the end of the term, but also to compel you to think about how next year could be even better with new faces, new ideas, and new mentoring relationships.

The call for the 23rd annual CELT conference is live! Submit an abstract today to change the world tomorrow—or maybe in October.

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Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our newest episode is out now! Mary, Tracy, and I are joined by student guest Martin Morales to discuss housing and food insecurity at CSU, Chico. Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

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L.E.A.R.N.

Welcome Back!

This week you will have a flyer entitled L.E.A.R.N. in your mailboxes from the Campus Incident Response Team. The flyer is a quick-start guide for managing contentious classroom discussions. It is designed for you to keep in a notebook, post it outside your office, or clip it to the board in a classroom. As a companion the team has also produced an extended guide which you can find on the new “Our Democracy” page off the University main page. To save you a click, we are also posting it here as today’s teaching tip. Good luck out there!

Contentious classroom discussions can be difficult for everyone involved. As an instructor you are often balancing the roles of teacher, peacemaker, and arbiter. This is the extended version of the L.E.A.R.N. quick-start guide distributed to campus.

Listen to what your students are saying. Listening can be hard, especially if someone is saying something with which you strongly disagree. However, it is a precondition to everything that should come next. Listening allows us to understand, find meaning and agreement, and opens the possibility of reaching a better solution.  In the same way that you want your students to listen to you, be open to being challenged by your students.  If you make a mistake, apologize.  Learn from it.  Unsure how to get started? Watch this short informative video about active listening.

Empathize with their position, especially when it is difficult. In the contemporary political environment this is often the missing piece. In the moment of a contentious classroom discussion it can be difficult to fully grasp why students feel the way they do, but making an effort is important. Try to consider why people feel the way they do rather than just focusing on what was said, but do so without casting judgment.  Assume the best of others.  If a student says something alarming or seemingly out of place, ask about it.  Listen for the subtext; sometimes the most important thing is under what is said.  Or, offer a tentative interpretation about the student’s feelings and intentions.  Question in a manner that requests more information or attempts to clear up confusions.  This part of the process can also be taken off-line with an email expressing empathy or a follow-up office hour visit. Empathy is a powerful teaching tool. This recent podcast is a great primer on why teaching with empathy is so effective.

Assess what to do. Take a minute compose yourself. We have been conditioned to respond immediately and avoid silence, but you need to fight the impulse to act immediately. If things get heated, take a time out.  Spend five minutes writing about what you feel.  Then resume the conversation. This can be awkward, but it is okay to tell your class everyone should take a moment to process what was said and consider how to move forward. This tactic will be helpful for them and it gives you a minute to compose yourself. Your solution does not have to be perfect, but taking a minute will make it better.

Respond directly, redirect the conversation, or end it. There is no one path forward from a difficult classroom conversation. Instead of having a go-to tactic, try being aware of the options at your disposal in a contentious classroom. You can respond directly and engage the topic at hand. This is a great option if you feel well equipped for the conversation and you feel the conversation can be productive for the class. You can redirect the flow of the classroom, frequently toward the usual classroom content. This is a good tactic if you feel a conversation is headed in an unproductive direction and it does not shut you off from following up later with a Blackboard or in person announcement to start the next class. The last resort in a contentious class period is to end class early. This should only be reserved for situations where the rest of class will be unproductive and/or people in the class feel like they might be at risk. This tactic re-centers your control in the classroom. If you end class, you should follow up with any student who may feel isolated, with an explanation to the class, and consult with your department chair.

Negotiate how to move forward. You have so many options as you consider what should happen next. You can seek advice from your chair or from colleagues. You can communicate through Blackboard or in person to start the next class period. You can follow up with individuals or groups from the class. In some situations you may want to contact Student Judicial Affairs to get a better understanding of your options. Writing down what happened for your own purposes is a useful exercise regardless as you can make a note of details you may not remember later. The most important thing you can do is seek advice. You may be shaken up following a contentious classroom incident and getting guidance from someone with a clear head and a different perspective is the best thing you can do for yourself and your students.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section ofthe CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improvedwordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our fourth episode of the Fall is out now! Mary, Tracy, and I discuss the election with Juni Banerjee-Stevens and Mike Pence (not really, just checking to see if you were still reading). Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

 

Get more tips!

The most common refrain I hear on campus is: I wish CELT and Faculty Development would invade my life even more! Okay, so maybe no one has ever said this in the 130 year history of the University, but still, if you want even more teaching tips, download the Magna Publications “Teaching Professor Tips App.” You can set it to deliver a tip at a particular time and you can even contribute, best of all it is free! If Magna sounds familiar, they are the same people who offer our 20 minute mentor program that you can still take advantage of this year.

The App may be a good choice for you and it may not. This is actually part of a larger conversation about managing the information streams in your life. Earlier this year a colleague and I calculated the average faculty member receives 3.5 campus wide emails per day. This is on top of college, department, research group, conference, student, peer, and personal email. If you find yourself deleting every email from a discussion group you are a part of, take 20 seconds and unsubscribe or set up a filter to put all the email from your disciplinary list serve into a folder. If your Facebook or twitter feed is full of stuff you hate, take a minute and unfollow/hide those posts. Our lives are full of information, investing a few minutes in making the streams you use the most the most useful for you will be time well spent.

 

We are all busy

This time of the semester it is easy to think our experiences at work are unique to us. Nod in silence if you have said or overheard a colleague recently say

“I am so busy.”

“There is so much grading.”

“Arggh, students.”

“I don’t think (person X) understands how much work I have.”

“Why do I get so many annoying emails from CELT?”

These things might all be true, but it is important to remember they are true for everyone. Your colleagues are stressed and busy, students are scrambling to finish projects and study for exams, your chair and dean are grappling with their own issues, and the administrative assistant you work with all the time is probably getting the worst of it from all sides. Ask yourself how you would treat people if everyone were as busy as you are, and then do that, because they probably are.

Related to this piece of advice, here are a few more for the end of the semester.

  1. You would probably advise your students to abstain from ranting about their employers or coworkers on social media so take your own advice and do the same. What is posted on twitter lives forever in the memory of the internet. Think about how the student you are venting about would feel if you read your facebook post aloud in front of them.
  2. Yes it is the end of the term and ridiculous excuses are a part of our lives, but they can also be true. People do get sick during finals week and people we care about do go to the hospital. The fact that students may have been untruthful before does not mean the student who is emailing you asking for an extension is lying.
  3. Do something nice for someone. donuts Bring your class donuts or ask your administrative support person how his/her day is without immediately cutting them off to ask for a rush order copy job. Sometimes simple kindness gets us through the most challenging times.
  4. Looking for some help and a quiet place to grade during finals week? Check out the Faculty Grading Oasis in MLIB 458. We are open 8-5 with hot coffee, snacks, and student support to help alphabetize exams and data entry (as long as it is FERPA compliant). There may even be spontaneous “Hotline Bling” inspired dance-offs, you just never know.

 

National Controversies can have local implications

There have been a lot of stories about race on college campuses in the past few weeks. Protests that reached the football field rocked Missouri; students, faculty, and administrators clashed at Yale resulting in varied responses; protests at Dartmouthhave become a flashpoint for administrators and politicized news. Anyone on our campus who was not aware of these broader trends became so before break through a timely email from President Zingg. His email was the topic of choice on anonymous social network Yik Yak immediately afterwards and I can promise you—students were and are talking. Lost track of what these protests are about and how they impact education? The Chronicle has a good briefing to get you caught up although each summary becomes outdated in short order.

Beyond the campus and in the international spotlight, terrorist attacks in France have lots of people talking about limiting immigration based on racial, national, or religious tests.

Regardless of your area of expertise or the topic of your class, you are walking into a classroom where students are asking questions about race and diversity on campus and off. If you are affiliated with Multicultural and Gender Studies, you are more likely to be ready for this conversation. But what happens when you walk into your Physics classroom and several students are in a heated argument about a slur someone used in the dorms? What happens when a student in your hybrid Business class asks “are black students safe on campus?” in the chatroom in the middle of a class session? How can we best serve our students and community in this changing environment?

  1. Educate yourself. No one expects everyone on campus to be an expert on all current higher education news and all topics related to diversity on and off campus, but these issues are only becoming more prominent in higher education. AAC&U has some great resources to get started.
  2. Odds are good, someone will be unhappy with how you proceed. Cut off discussion and students may feel you are dismissing legitimate concerns. Engage the topics some students are deeply concerned with and you may do so in the wrong way or let a conversation take over a course students are paying to attend to learn critical material. Be okay with the prospect that things may not go as planned and maybe check with your chair to find out if there is any advice from the program or college that may help you out, even when things don’t go well.

Most of the easy problems have already been solved. Only the hard ones are left.

For quick tips on just about any teaching topic you can think of, check outhttp://www.csuchico.edu/celt/ for information on our subscription to 20 Minute Mentor!

Need a quiet place to write or grade? Come by MLIB 458; we are open 8-5 and here to help faculty however we can.

 

Grading, does it ever stop?

thanksgiving breakThanksgiving break has always been my time to catch up and get ready for the close of the semester. For most of us, that can only mean one thing–grading. I have used turn-it-in for years to avoid dragging hundreds of pages of paper with me everywhere and as a tool to encourage academic honesty. A few years ago I found myself typing the same comments over-and-over again “this sentence does not make any sense, try reading it out loud to yourself” or “this is great analysis, but it does not fit well with the rest of the paper” and so on. My fingers were getting tired and so was my brain.

This was about the time turn-it-in started supporting audio feedback. I decided to take a chance and give it a try. Then I explored the different options within the platform: pre-loaded comments to drag and drop onto digital papers, embedded rubrics for easy grading, and a wide variety of other options. It turns out there are built in options to grade a wide variety of assignments from calculus equations to creative writing with feedback from peers. There is also local support through TLP to help get you started. I found the initial investment in time to set-up the remarks for each assignment substantial, but worth it. Eventually, I ended up saving tons to time and the students loved the audio feedback as it contained more information than written feedback.

This is not a great solution for everyone, but the take away from this experience for me was not “turn-it-in is amazing!” Instead, I realized investing in the long-term and learning a few new tools can save you time and enhance the student experience. It can be worth it, even when you are at your busiest.

Looking for inspiration? Don’t forget about our 20 minute mentor subscription.

STEP 1: Activate your 20 Minute Mentor Commons subscription

  1. Go to www.magnapubs.com/sitelicense/registration.html?v=magna61715
  2. Enter information in each of the required fields.  In the Authorization Code box, enter our group Authorization Code CSUCHICO587and click Submit

Please note: entering the Authorization Code is done only once.

STEP 2: Access the 20 Minute Mentor Commons library

  1. Go to www.magnapubs.com/profile
  2. Enter your email address & password & click Submit. If you do not know or remember your account password, use “Forget your password?” to reset it.
  3. On the left side of the screen, under My Account, My Online Access, select Subscriptions. The online content you have access to will be listed to the right. Click the appropriate link to view the content.

Access to 20 Minute Mentor Commons is also available to registered members at www.mentorcommons.com.

Come visit us in MLIB 458 we are open 8-5 five days a week while school is in session and have space for you to spread out and do work.

 

Are we there yet?

Thanksgiving break is so close you can taste it, and the students can too. This can be a difficult week for substantive instruction as you are probably inundated with emails like “my mom booked a flight for me six months ago and I need to leave town on Wednesday” or “why are you giving an exam this week? Can I take it online?”

Students have lives and we don’t want to be dismissive of them, but how do we balance that with the needs of our other students and our schedules?

I have usually taken a hard line with issues like this, and I have encouraged other instructors to do the same. This week is a scheduled school week and it should be treated as such. If students miss an exam this week then it is the same as if they miss it in the 2nd week of the semester. Some instructors may feel the need to be more flexible, and at times I have been as well.

Regardless, I would encourage you to be clear. Set expectations early in the week or even earlier in the semester about your adherence to the course calendar and expectations for student involvement. Then when you need to break some bad news to a student, it has some context. Nothing softens the blow of bad news like a healthy dose of “I told you so.” Maybe not, but it is still a best practice to keep everyone informed.

Looking for inspiration over break? Don’t forget about our 20 minute mentor subscription.

STEP 1: Activate your 20 Minute Mentor Commons subscription

  1. Go to www.magnapubs.com/sitelicense/registration.html?v=magna61715
  2. Enter information in each of the required fields.  In the Authorization Code box, enter our group Authorization Code CSUCHICO587and click Submit

Please note: entering the Authorization Code is done only once.

STEP 2: Access the 20 Minute Mentor Commons library

  1. Go to www.magnapubs.com/profile
  2. Enter your email address & password & click Submit. If you do not know or remember your account password, use “Forget your password?” to reset it.
  3. On the left side of the screen, under My Account, My Online Access, select Subscriptions. The online content you have access to will be listed to the right. Click the appropriate link to view the content.

Access to 20 Minute Mentor Commons is also available to registered members at www.mentorcommons.com.

Come visit us in MLIB 458 we are open 8-5 five days a week and have space for you to spread out and do work.

Have a great break!

 

We all have something to share

In Faculty Development we are making mentoring a priority. We formally and informally connect new faculty with experienced peers in their colleges. This program is critical to new faculty members as it allows them to ask tough questions and it values the experience of our wonderful full and part-time faculty members. In the new and exciting “U-Courses” the leadership of instructors is put into motion by advanced peers who help students move through complicated course content. We also value the mentoring relationships faculty build with students in undergraduate research efforts which have been recognized by AAC&U as a high-impact practice.

Increasingly, we know mentoring is important for our students and our faculty, but questions persist:

What is mentoring?

How do I know if I am engaging in good mentoring?

I enjoy pointing out other people’s failings in public settings to embarrass them, does that count as mentoring?

While mentoring is as old as human experience, we are still figuring out how to value it in the academy. At Purdue it is increasingly valued in tenure and promotion. On our campus, it is the focus of an exciting and diverse exploration in the upcoming mentoring conference. See the message below for a chance to learn about something we almost all do, but we could all benefit from knowing more about.

 When: Friday, October 16, 2015

Where: Colusa Hall 100A&B

Time: 9:30-4:30pm

[Register for one or multiple sessions, see conference schedule for details]

*No registration fees*

Reasons why you should attend:

  • Mentoring helps people establish caring relationships
  • Provides resources to help people learn and succeed
  • Build mentoring skills that you could use in workplace, community, and education settings
  • Opportunity to connect with clubs and organizations that are interested in mentoring, leadership, and civic engagement
  • Learn how programs at Chico State implement mentoring into their organization

 Interested? Register now. 

 For more information, contact Gina Tigri at the First-Year Experience Office at 530.898.3705 or visit our Experiential Mentoring Website at http://www.csuchico.edu/fye/mentoringconference.