Category Archives: Uncategorized

Being Faculty Statement

Research, extension, teaching, mentoring… all of these are tasks that faculty members may take on as part of their job at a university. For myself, I would like to be a teacher primarily, and would like to do either community-based research or extension. I have a passion for nutrition efforts for children, especially in schools.

I thoroughly enjoy mentoring. I want my students to know me by my first name and feel comfortable discussing personal matters with me as well as academic interests. I think that a separation of personal and work life is a nice idea, but it’s simply not feasible. Personal experiences shape who you are, and this diversity enriches the workplace. My advisor, Dr. Elena Serrano, encompasses this idea and has inspired me to be much like her in my future faculty role. She evaluates each student’s goals individually and gives them ideas of small steps they can take to achieve their goals, while understanding hardships that evolve in personal lives.

As a teacher, my role is not only to share information pertinent to the class, but to also create an environment where students feel encouraged and safe to provide their input about the material. I want to maintain a culture of respect, both between students and myself, but to also be inviting to diversity. Student should feel that they can share personal experiences and make connections in my classroom. Community is paramount.

Research is also important, but I foresee my position as a faculty member primarily focusing on the students, not the publications.

 

Courage to Teach

Last semester I read the book called “The Courage to Teach“. This book, while valuable in parts, nearly gave me a seizure.

The author does a great job explaining why it is so important to invest oneself in teaching, but he also does a great job instilling into the reader that “there are no bad students, only bad teachers”. I beg to differ. Don’t misunderstand me, I think bad can come on both sides of the equation.

I believe there are discouraged students, downtrodden students, resistant students… these students need to be helped with a personal relationship with the professor, i.e. knowing that the professor genuinely cares about them. The instructor should take on the role as mentor as well as teacher… this is important. HOWEVER, I felt my anxiety needlessly rise through the roof as I turned page after page, leaving myself with the aching feeling that if a student fails, I failed.

I disagree. I do believe that there are some cases where this is true, but not all. I think it’s important to invest ourselves in our classes, putting our best self forward, trying as hard as we can, but not to blame our self for student who genuinely don’t seem to care. I will try my best to reach such students if/when they come along, but I will not beat myself up if I do try and it is simply fruitless.

Technology: Helping or Harming?

Recently in one of my (other) pedagogy courses, I was asked the if students want more technology in the classroom and why.

My initial response was “of course!” but then I mulled the question over in my mind, pondering it further. Do students really want more technology in an effective classroom?  I’m not sure.

I think it’s a great idea to use technology since we will be sending students out into their careers where technology surrounds them. However, I find that many professors tend to rely on technology or use it improperly, making the tools quite ineffective.

I know this question will make me think: “Do I need this technology? Is it helping to enhance the material or am I just playing with a new toy?”

After all, the tools are only as effective as those who use them.

 

 

On Mission: Mission Statements

Task: find two mission statements, compare and contrast. Go!
Of course, my first thought was to look up my very own alma mater, the University of Georgia. UGA (Go Dawgs!) is a land-grant (apparently sea-grant as well) public university located in Athens, Georgia. Side note: my dad’s family is from there- very exciting. I’m not going to post the entire mission statement because, bless their heart, it’s long.

The most interesting tidbits I pulled from the essay were the following points:

  • motto, “to teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things,” reflects the University’s integral and unique role in the conservation and enhancement of the state’s and nation’s intellectual, cultural, and environmental heritage
  • statewide responsibility and commitment to excellence and academic achievements
  • a commitment to excellence in public service, economic development, and technical assistance activities designed to address the strategic needs of the state of Georgia along with a comprehensive offering of continuing education designed to meet the needs of Georgia’s citizens in life-long learning and professional education

The most important message I kept from their mission statement, other than the length, was how deeply the state of Georgia is embedded into the University. In case you haven’t had a chance to visit the glorious peach state that I call home, UGA is everywhere. I’m not exaggerating. To me it seems that the mission statement is certainly being lived out.

The mission statement also throws in some “about us” where there is some discussion about the colleges and types of degrees offered.

 

The second mission statement I researched was the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. UQ is a public university (called a “uni” down under) Side note: I have zero family from here, but spent two summers living it up in the land of OZ as a teaching assistant.

As the mission statement is so succinct, I have pasted it below.

The University of Queensland positively influences society by engaging in the pursuit of excellence through the creation, preservation, transfer and application of knowledge. UQ helps shape the future by bringing together and developing leaders in their fields to inspire the next generation and to advance ideas that benefit the world. UQ strives for the personal and professional success of its students, staff and alumni.

This is much more of what I imagined a mission statement to be. It does not seem particularly specific, but it gets the message across: to learn and integrate ideas for the purpose of improving the world.

Aspects of the page, and not necessarily the mission statement, that stood out to me were the definitions of the mission, vision and values. It helps to guide the user as to the purpose of the site. I actually appreciated that part of it.

Both universities have a clear part of their statements devoted to the aspects of students expanding their knowledge and impacting the world around them. UGA’s is quite a bit more lengthy.

The “take home” message that I derive from both of these statements is that it is important to say what is needed with few words, but be specific. I feel that the UGA mission statement could only apply to UGA, while UQ’s statement really could be from any university.

Old dog, new tricks?

These past couple, and coming weeks, have been obnoxiously full of visits to low socioeconomic schools in southwest Virginia… and these visits has been unbelievably eye-opening.
I have noticed that these students are being trained, not taught. They are shown how to bubble in forms, hold themselves to SOLs that are established by school boards and reject thinking for themselves. It’s disturbing.
Classrooms are composed of children from varying levels of learning, troublemakers are addressed as such and ignored. Teachers are trying, but in the system they are in…. rock and a hard place.
Once these students  (hopefully) make it to the college level we, as professors, have to untrain first before we teach.
I’d rather have a blank slate. I have learned with horses that having an older horse with prior training can actually be more difficult than a green (inexperienced) horse with no training. The prior you have to work backwords before going forwards and the latter is just a blank slate, starting fresh. A new opportunity.
Similarly, this situation we’re in is like cancer. This way of thinking from their spoon-fed experiences are so ingrained in some students by the time the “doctors” get hold of them that it may be untreatable. Prevention is better. A drastic comparison? Yes. See the connection?
Prevention and early treatment is key. Why are we waiting until the later stages to encourage creativity?

Motivation

Luckily, while studying and working fervently (checking Facebook), I stumbled upon this little gem: What motivates us at work by Dan Airely.

It ties in rather neatly to Daniel Pink’s cartoon-style depiction of what motivates people and more money doesn’t mean better work.

Unlike Daniel Pink’s rather gloom depiction of work and money, Airely takes a much more optimistic approach, looking at how to actually motivate people… not just being a Debbie downer and saying what we do doesn’t work. It’s a fascinating article- how can we apply this in a classroom?

 

 

Sandwiches

During my earlier years when summer was still a time of flip-flops rather than lab coats, I worked at my church as a camp counselor. Through that job I had learned a lot, and the number one rule I kept  was known as the “sandwich rule”. When addressing a concern about a child’s unruly (or downright horrific) behavior to his or her respective parent(s) we were taught to employ this rule: nice thing about child then mention behavior issue then say another nice thing about child. It helps to lessen the blow to parents.. better than saying, “your child was a perfect little monster today. fix it”. I have to admit, for some children it was extremely challenging to come up with nice comments. “Your child didn’t kill anyone today. He screamed all during lunch, pitched a fit, punched another kid, threw his food and was in time out 99% of the day. At least he’s kinda cute?”

As always, I find a way to connect this to horseback riding. It’s a tricky little thing, in order to develop a good rider the student must possess two key traits among others: skill and confidence. One without the other is essentially worthless.

This is why, in horseback riding, it’s imperative that riders build each other up. Horses can see through the smoke and mirrors act that we so often rely on. It’s imperative that the rider have confidence in his or her actions and dictate what they want done, with NO hesitation.

I wasn’t a confident jumper. It took a lot of building up before I could trust her enough to try new jumps… much like unfamiliar material.

I’ve noticed this when riding with friends. You can see when a rider is approaching a fence, isn’t sure and the horse immediately switches modes “If she’s not sure… then I’m NOT jumping THAT”. It’s so crucial to be confident. I often find myself choosing to ride with friends that I know will give me feedback, but use the sandwich rule. She’d say something like “That was a great approach set-up, but you dropped your leg aids (leg pressure) two strides from the fence. It looked good though! Try it again!” I find myself both working on fixing the issue and yet my confidence isn’t compromised.

Students are the same. No, we’re not hurling them over fences on a 1000lb fuzzball and hoping for the best. However.. we are sending them into a classroom, forcing them to trust us as the instructor and sending them on they way (hopefully) more full of knowledge and curiosity than when they came.

Critical feedback is important. Positive feedback focusing on their strengths is more important. If students are confident about themselves they’ll be more likely to take the reins… and seek out information rather than hesitantly waiting for a spoon-feeding session.

Anticipation

I’ve always heard it said that it’s not the destination but the journey that provides so much fulfillment. I suppose this is the logic behind why I am always setting goals or making challenges for myself: always looking for something to work for, to anticipate. I do a lot of workout programs, a lot of those 90-day commitments or what not. What happens when they end? I find another. It’s not the endpoint that I like so much, it’s the in between.

Anticipation. Many equestrians hate it. Some realize its importance and use it to their advantage. As a mediocre pianist I know that anticipation, when well-timed, can work harmoniously in my favor. In horses, it can be crucial in a thoroughly rehearsed dressage test, as the horse anticipates the subtle cues necessary to provide fluid and flawless movement that is so desired in the ballet-like discipline. I can tell you from experience, this stoic position that a rider assumes during these displays is extremely difficult. The goal in dressage is to make you and your horse look like one unit, and the cues invisible. Any sign of resistance from the horse earns deductions. I guess this includes bucking… oops.

However, anticipation can also become an Achilles heel… quickly. Dakota is a shining example: once we start popping over fences in our riding routine she anticipates more fences and gets more excited with every stride. When approaching a line of fences, she sees what lies ahead, anticipates and starts to rush. Driving her through a line can feel like a short sprint with poorly-timed hurdles rather than a collected display of agility and grace. She is eager, excited and anticipates the jumps as as she literally runs to meet the obstacles head on. The positive? She doesn’t refuse. I can be confident that we’re going over all the fences… clearing them is another subject matter entirely. The negative? It’s a little more than slightly discomforting feeling the independently-thinking beast underneath you completely out of control and racing towards hurdles with the intent of soaring over them at warp speed. The only hope you have is to hang on for dear life and pray her mouth will soften to your futile pleas, pulling on her face to try to regain control. Anticipation, in this case, can be a very, very bad thing.

She anticipated the take off, got too excited, and took off verry early.
She anticipated the take off, got too excited, and took off early… we could have fit in another short stride. I went with it.

In horse terms, the racehorse out of a chute effect is also know as “rushing”. A horse sees the job it is being asked to do, anticipates, and bolts at it. It makes for a sloppy-looking ride on the ground and a very stiff ride. The rider quickly gets a sense of zero control and with Dakota this is accompanied by a hard, unyielding mouth. She literally snags the bit and runs where ever she thinks is the destination. When the rushing behavior is thwarted, horses will often head toss, prance, pull, kick out, and otherwise feel like a ticking time bomb underneath your seat. It does not make for a fun or pretty ride. Actually, fun is up for debate… A great example is a barrel horse: they know their job. They often are hopping in place before their run and as soon as they’re permitted, bolt like a bullet into the ring. It works in their favor. The downside? Try having a calm ride in the ring on one of those horses. Not. Going. To. Happen.

How do we break this cycle? We change the course. Often in Dakota’s training I will ask her to stop after fences. I will pick unusual lines to jump, bending often to throw her off-track and make her rely on my commands to know where to go. We will jump, practice dressage, and then jump again. I’ll place poles on the ground in front of or after fences, forcing her to think about where to place her feet. We change the normal routine. I have tried to stop her in between fence lines, definitely harder than it looks, but it works wonders on her responsiveness. We do something unusual.

…but how does this equine lesson of anticipation affect us?

Through my limited 24 years of life on this earth thus far I’ve learned a few things. A lot of those over-used and over-cited cliches are true. Attitude determines outcome, circumstances are subject to manipulation, expect the unexpected, and stuff happens. We futily try to predict things: weather (Blacksburg.. what a joke), health (pulled another muscle doing something stupid), traffic (people are dumb), finances (here’s a vet bill.. surprise!)…. good freaking luck. My philosophy?

Anticipate change. Be plastic, be adaptable. Just when you think that hurdle is your next obstacle, think again.