Empathy, Always

While I am not a medical student in any way, shape, or form, there were way aspects of reading “When Do Medical Students Lose Their Empathy?” by Dr. Sonia Henry that resonated with me. I studied social work in my undergrad and am now in school for student affairs (helping in nature professions) and I saw connections between both and being a graduate student in general. First, Dr. Henry talked about the pressure and anxiety she felt being in school—while once again, I am in not medical school, but I think a lot of graduate students in other disciplines could also feel this way. I know that as I have continued in my program, I have had times where I have had anxiety and have been stressed out. I think it is universal to want to succeed when seeking graduate degrees and knowing the work it takes to achieve a graduate degree is high.                         Personally, I know that I have also rationalized my feelings of being overwhelmed with “everyone feels this way, its normal”, just as the article talked about. I am fortunate that I have a great support system in place to help me get through those times of feeling overwhelmed. However, I think more emphasis on mental health should take place in graduate programs if we know how common those feelings are for students. For example, I think it is great that Virginia Tech offers weekly drop sessions with Cook Counseling for graduate students. However, I think we need to make it more interwoven with actual programs to show students that while you should be challenged in graduate school, you should not always feel completely overwhelmed and what to do if you are.

Another aspect of this article that resonated with me was her point about losing her empathy. The author talked about how she had a patient that was given horrendous unexpected news and she did not think much of it until later in the day. Dr. Henry talked about how she went into this profession because she wanted to care for others and currently was finding herself losing that aspect of herself. I have heard this before from professions in fields that experience crisis routinely, that after a while you can become desensitized to crisis level situations because you are around them so much or you are just moving through the motions. While, my current area does experience some crisis situations, especially when serving on-call, I hope that no matter how long I am in the field, I never become desensitized to what others are experiencing. I think it helps to make you a good professional that you can empathize for what the person is going through to help them figure out how to get through it. I always want to feel and have empathy for those around me. I think this article is a good reminder of being cognizant of what you are doing and remembering why you are doing it. Theoretically, for whatever profession you are in, you started in it for a reason and it is vital to remember that reason and it keep it close to you.

Back and Forth with Grading

Being a student in higher education, I often find myself thinking about grades—am I getting what I need to? Will I mess up my GPA? Will I make the requirements? I want to make a disclaimer before I get into this blogpost, I am a complete hypocrite—there it is, I am putting it out there. When working with students and they are stressing about maintaining their high GPA’s or getting a B+ instead of an A, I find myself trying to get them to step back and realize that the grade isn’t everything, what counts is if you learned. As well as I do truly believe that what matters is if you left the class having learned something and hopefully can apply the knowledge somewhere.

However, as an undergraduate student, I was that student that would obsess about grades and messing up my GPA. I did not want anything less than an A and dear sweet lord if I got a C. Even now, I can sometimes find myself slipping back into old habits of caring about the grade more than I care about what I am learning. This is not good and for the most part, I feel as though I have been more learning centered and not grade centered during my graduate school career thus far. However, I still get pained when a student confides in me about grades and needing to get a certain GPA—whether they learn something or not is inconsequential.

This has made me ponder about our grading system and the pros and cons that come along with it. I read the article “Could Grades Be Counterproductive” by Beckie Supiano, as I am interesting in learning about more perspectives about this area—as I am no expert. I think Beckie made some really interesting points throughout her article.

The first point I enjoyed was the fact that the article made the point that students need to learn how to evaluate their own work and be able assess where they are at. Grades assigned by the teacher or professor can diminish this.  David Boud in the article talks about how when they leave the institution, they need this skill to be able to succeed in their future endeavors. If you are not providing students an opportunity to assess themselves, “we have failed them” (David Boud, 2017).

A second point I enjoyed from this article was the fact that they discussed how grades don’t really articulate the learning that took place in the classroom. The article states that they don’t “tell you the why” (Supiano, 2017). Supiano further makes the point that this is bad for learning as it doesn’t let them know how to improve or accurately show what went on with learning.

A third point I really enjoyed was the fact that the author discussed how when you are assigning a grade to an assignment, and you do leave feedback, the first thing to be ignored or glanced over is the feedback. They have found that when students are given written feedback, they only care about the grade they are given for the assignment. Therefore, showing that the grade is what matters to them not the learning or the feedback.

A third point I enjoyed in this article was that they referenced some institutions that do not use grading—they only provide descriptive feedback. Growing up around St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. I have heard of this concept before, but I was interested to hear about other colleges doing this. I think that it focuses more on the learning that took place and the skills the student has and not how they benchmarked on an assignment. Though, I will note, I am realistic that grades keep students doing assignments. I really liked how that the article shared that the institutions that do not use the norm grading method, how they are being more student centered. The article shared Rachel Rubinstein, said that “the grade locates all the authority in the faculty member, and makes the student a passive recipient”. This reminding me of what we have talked about with the banking method and Paulo Friere with the concept of “doing it with them and not for them”. I am a big fan of the view that the educational experience should be both a learning experience for the student and the professor. As well as the fact that the students should have agency in what they are doing/learning.

A last point I really enjoyed about this article was the fact that it noted by having grades with the societal importance of GPA, it makes students not want to step out of their comfort zones in their educational journey. By taking classes they don’t know much about or classes they don’t feel as confident in, they could hurt their GPA and some students will avoid that at all costs. If we place less importance of letter grades, we could perhaps get more students taking classes that would push them out of their comfort zones and expose them to new ideas/things. I know that in my undergrad, I specifically went out of my way to avoid a class that had high level math and science because I knew if I took it I would not get a “good” grade (probably a C) and I didn’t want to hurt my GPA like that. I look back and I regret not taking it because I was so afraid to hurt my GPA, it feels like such a bad reason in retrospect (eye roll at myself).

Inclusive Pedagogy

As I go to write this, I am having a hard time picking an article to base my thoughts around—this week highlights and dives into so many important aspects of education. So, if this feels a little rambly, it is because I am having a hard time picking just one angle.

I ended picked “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. The title originally peaked my interest because a colleague of mine was talking the other week about how they were not necessarily a fan of the word “Safe Space”. Sadly, I did not get a chance to really dive into this as we both had meetings to get to. I have seen “Safe Space” in both my undergraduate institution and now in my graduate institution. Originally, I was excited that they were implementing this initiative when I first learned about it back in my undergrad—I thought it was a great thing to do to show that people that they were cared for and they had someone to turn to. I thought it would really show those who wanted to act in an “ally” capacity. However,  I have been learning that this notion of “Safe Space” can actually be exclusionary and just perpetuating privilege. I guess this is just my own point of privilege that I hadn’t done more of a deep dive into this and examined it from more angles.

This article really made me think and reflect about this concept and the experience the authors had. In this day in age, I think it is vital that we are learning about how to facilitate tough discussions with students who share opposing viewpoints, ideologies, beliefs, and life experiences. I think it is so important that we are teaching students how to have these conversations and really lean into the idea of being ok with being uncomfortable in some situations.

A salient point that stood out to me in this article was that it talked about how when doing activities like the privilege walk, how some students will just shut down and dismiss the point/concept and just state that they are not going to change their mind so why continue to talk about whatever it is. I think that if we just accept that every time that we are never going to learn and grow if we only stick and not listen to other viewpoints. College is supposed to be a time to widen your horizons and be exposed to new things. I want to learn how to better facilitate these conversations and also be more ok with being uncomfortable while creating the best space for all students— not further alienating students.

Even if the shoe fits, you should find your own shoe.

 

I have always enjoyed school, from the new notebooks to the new classmates, but what really made me school experience shine for me, was that of who was teaching me. I have always been one to admire the professors I have had and their passion for learning (I was graced with great teachers all through my undergrad—there isn’t one I look back on and are like “ he/she was the absolute worst!”, which, I feel very fortunate for. However, this is also a hard burden to bare—I never want to be the “the absolute worst” for any of my students that I teach, and that is a lot of responsibility. I never want to be the professor people dread having a class with.

Though, I currently am not in what others would consider a typical classroom (I am actually in a residence hall), I  still consider myself an educator—just with a lot more noise and a personal ~homey~ ambiance. When I was reading “Finding My Teaching Voice” by Sarah E. Deel, I found myself really resonating with what she said about finding yourself as an educator and the twists and turns of developing your own style and identity.

When I entered my role of being an Assistant Residential Learning Coordinator, I had zero residence life experience and was looking for the best ways to reach my students and give them the best experience possible. I did not want them to feel like they got the short-end of the stick so to speak with having a coordinator that did not have prior experience. I found myself turning to my supervisor and observing her style. In my eyes, she was this confident, experienced, and engaging educator. She had a take-charge attitude with a mix of assertiveness and relatable & personable demeanor.

The students we worked with were very receptive to her style and since I was new, I was still going through the growing pains of trying out new styles and seeing if they would work. I, like Sarah, felt like I was not sure I belonged here and doubted myself and my abilities as an educator. I had a couple misses with different styles with my student staff and I saw how receptive students where to her demeanor and ways, I tried to be like her. Like Sarah, I had resigned myself to thinking that my approach and ways were not good so I should just emulate someone’s ways that works and works well.

What I failed to realize, is we were totally different people and I didn’t account for our personality differences. By putting on my supervisor’s teaching voice, I was not being true to myself and giving myself grace to fully figure out who and what kind of educator I could be. It was exhausting trying to be like my supervisor with teaching, I could do the same thing she did, but end up with totally different results and reactions. I felt defeated, I thought my way did not work and then when I tried a way that worked for someone else, and it still was not working. I did not know what to do and I did not want to let my students down.

I started talking with my supervisor more about this feeling of being an imposter and not wanting to let down the students counting on me. In this conversation, I had my own version of Sarah’s “ah-ha” moment when I realized that there are many ways to be an effective educator. Once I started being more true to myself- just as Sarah did- I realized, I was having much better results. By giving myself grace to be my authentic self (weird enthusiasm & positivity and all), I realized that though I have my own way of educating,  it does not make it any less valid. When I brought more of myself into my work, I had much better feedback from staff. Like the other article, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills” by Professor Fowler said, “students see posing and posturing very quickly; do not be someone you are not in your classroom”. I believe this full-heartedly rings true. I agree with Sarah when she said, “because I am more relaxed about interacting with my students, my communication with them seems to go more smoothly”. The second I stopped trying to be someone else, my relationships with my students grew stronger.

As I continue to grow and explore as an educator, I know that I plan on staying true to who I am throughout the process. I just wish I had learned this lesson the first week on the job.

“It’s only crazy until you do it”

I really enjoyed reading “The Power of Mindful Learning” by Ellen Langer. I think that it is easy to get on “auto pilot” as the article states. We are going through our daily life and we know what we have to do to get from day to day. What I think that gets difficult, is taking the time to create moments of intentionality and questioning, why we do what we do and how can we get out of the autopilot mode. I am the first to admit, I am a creature of habit and that I am very grateful for people that automatically just go against the grain. However, this article really made me think about my practices with my students, and how I can get into autopilot mode and the dangers that possesses.

However, this article made think about the overall concept of learning and it reminded me of the new Nike Ad with Colin Kaepernick. The ad really conveyed the idea that “it’s only crazy until you do it”, really trying to drive home the point that we keep trying to emulate these sports stars, but what we should be doing is imagining ourselves as those sports stars (Nike Ad). In my mind, I saw clear connection with our reading, “The Power of Mindful Learning”. In the reading, it stated that we get so used to just learning or doing what those before us that we do not think of new ways to improve or do it differently. We just see what others have done or are doing, and do it the way they do it. The article really talked about how if we just continue doing the norm, nothing is ever going to progress for the better. The article stated “when faced with something that hasn’t been done before, people frequently express the belief that it can’t be done. All progress, of course, depends on questioning that belief. Everything is the same until it is not”. That we can idly just do the routine, but what we need to do is shake things up so that we give our students room to imagine the possibility of the situation.

I know that incorporating this mindfulness practice is more work and it requires more front planning as educators to not just do the standard lecture or classroom knowledge delivery. However, think of all that we could do if we incorporated more mindfulness into our practice and really tried to not just stick to what we know and to give students a chance to be able to very their approaches—all the new ideas/things that could be achieved. I know that from this reading, I will really try to do more conditional practices in my day to day to work with my students and staff.

To have technology or to not have technology, that is the question.

Engaging the imaginations of digital learners has been an interesting endeavor for me to learn and think about this week. I have gone back and forth numerous times about where I stand on this concept of digital learning. On one hand, I think it creates an avenue of being able to be creative in how you facilitate your class and break down barriers of access for students. On the other hand, as someone that has sat in a classroom before, it’s not uncommon to see your fellow students “abusing” technology, aka watching the person in front of you watch episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Personally, I know that I have a bias sometimes regarding incorporating technology into my practices. I know I am very susceptible to being distracted by my phone or laptop and I can impose that bias on others. In my graduate assistantship role, I supervise 13 student staff members and during my weekly staff meetings, I have them put away any laptops or cellphones if they are not involved directly in an activity we are doing. I just feel like the second cell phones are out, it opens up for distractions.

Similarly, to what the Anya Kamenetz article talks about how that one teacher would walk into a room and just see all the students on their phones and not engaging with each other, I have seen this as well. If you do not have phones allowed, it can facilitate conversation between individuals faster I feel than if they did have them out. I feel that we can learn so much from others when we are just in community and engaging with each other.

On the other side of if technology should be in the classroom, I see many valid points and reasons it can be effective and should be implemented. The Anya Kamenetz article talks about how if you make a total ban of technology, if a student has a learning disability, it can unintentionally “out” them if they are using technology. As someone that does have a sibling who has a severe learning disability, I know how important learning assistive devices can be in the classroom. As well as how it can feel to not feel like you have agency in your choice of disclosing to others if you do in fact have a learning disability. It is personal information, and you should  feel obligated to inform everyone you are in a class with unless you want to.

As well as the article talks about how people in industry believe that technology can be the way of the future for the classroom. They made an interesting point along the lines of if they are using it, why not figure out ways to effectively incorporate it into the classroom. I feel that using technology should be intentional and well thought out so that you do not just spend every class trying to get the technology to work or explaining how to use the technology every time. I believe that as time goes on, we are going to keep moving towards being a technological society so how can we use technology effectively in the classroom? I would be interested to see studies that look at various online methods to see what has the best results. I feel that I need to do more research on this.

I thought it was interesting to note in the article that with the technology boom, that they reference apps that can block technology for students while they are trying to do work. I think this shows the pull technology can have on students while they are trying to be productive. I know in my undergrad, my roommate used a website that would block her from social media sites for however long she set it so that she would not get distracted by the internet while she was doing her schoolwork—how ironic that technology was both the cause of the problem and the solution to the problem.

How do you feel about technology in the classroom? Have you ever had it implanted really well in a class you’ve taken or do you feel the impact is mostly negative? I am interested in learning others perspectives on this matter.