Thursday, October 14, 2021

WHAT DID I MISS – SUICIDE ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

The University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) called off its classes on Tuesday.  After two suicides in the past month, school officials decided to observe a Wellness Day.  The chancellor released this advice, "I encourage every student to use this time to rest and to check in with each other during that day. Reach out to a friend, a classmate, or colleague and ask them, 'Honestly, how are you doing?'” 

As a result, a good friend of mine emailed to ask me what I thought about the pressures college students are under these days and the actions of college officials.  He remembers college well but he has been away for decades. 

My response was simple, “I have approximately 75 students per semester in my classes.  At any point in time, it is not unreasonable that a couple of those students could be under a lot of stress and that, perhaps, one of those students will just not be able to deal with that pressure.  If so, I hope I am aware enough to notice and take action.  Ultimately, 74 of those students will be able to deal with everything—life, school, family, love life, whatever.  But, one might not.  It’s not all 75 that worry me.  It’s that one student that I want to notice.  I don’t want to wait until ‘Wellness Day’ to be aware of a student who is really struggling.  I want to pay attention every day.  When it comes to suicide prevention, my rule is ’74 out of 75 is not good enough.’” 

As college teachers, if anyone is going to notice a student in distress, it should be us.  That sentence is one we should tell ourselves every day.

This past August, I wrote the following note to all of my fellow faculty here at the Robins School of Business.  If you want to do something to address the threat of student suicide, you might write a note like this to your colleagues.  It is a million times better to be aware before a problem erupts than have regrets afterwards.  Hearing it from you might make it more a priority for other members of your faculty.

**

To:  B-school Faculty and Staff  

From:  Joe

I am on sabbatical this semester and one of my main goals is to be quiet and invisible so I can finish several projects (the 15th edition of my textbook, for one).  Nevertheless, you should have gotten an email today from the Vice President of Student Development about student mental health and this is one of the few things that I think is so important that I have decided to break my silence. 

We all have dozens of students in our classes, and we interact with them for at least 150 minutes each week.  Under the best of circumstances, college can be a difficult transitional time for them.  With Covid, this is hardly the best of times.  

From my 50 years of experience in the classroom, most of them deal with everything wonderfully well.  Almost invariably, a few of them struggle.  

I think virtually everyone knows that I put a lot of pressure on my students.  I think I hold the record for most tears in one office.  Consequently, I pay very close attention to my students to see if there are behavioral changes throughout the semester:  students who look like they have stopped sleeping or eating, students who go from always prepared to always unprepared, students who stop attending, students who seem to withdraw within themselves, students who say things that just don't make sense.

I usually talk with the students first to see what might be happening but if I continue to have any reservations, I quickly contact one of the deans of students or I complete the university’s formal link to alert officials as to my concerns.  I never hesitate to get the appointed people involved.

I have found without exception that those folks are ready and willing to help.  They will not question you or doubt you.

I probably hold the record for most contacts of the student deans over the years (I can be a mean guy as a lot of students will tell you and that leads to trauma) and I have never never never once regretted contacting them.  The student deans and the mental health folks will take you seriously.  

I could make a list of the things I want to avoid but you already know some of the bad things that can happen to students.   I never want to look back and ask myself, "Why didn't I see that coming?  What did I miss?"

 


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

HOW MUCH OF THE WORK SHOULD YOU DO?

This is the 305th essay on teaching that I have written for this blog.  Almost all of my postings during the most recent few years have had several thousand page views.  That level of distribution is because of you, the readers, who think deeply about what I have to say about teaching and then pass the message along to a friend.  Thanks!!  That is how college education will improve.  We read and think about ideas and then pass them along to other folks so that the universal thought process about student learning will deepen and grow.  This message comes back to one of my primary beliefs about education:  The more you think about teaching, the better teacher you will become.  That is all I am trying to do here on this blog – help you think about teaching.

**

I was searching for something on the Internet this morning and came upon a 24 second video of me that had been carved out of a speech I gave a few years back.  I am not exactly sure how it got posted on the Internet, but I found the 24 seconds fascinating.  Here is my reaction to my own words.

When it comes to creating the learning experience for your students, how much of the work should you do?  I have known many teachers who did virtually all of the work themselves.  They explained things in amazing detail and their students needed to do little more than show up, take good notes, and then memorize them.  Such teachers are often popular because students have little work to do, but those students still feel like they are learning a lot (and should be able to make a good grade).  I often refer to this as a “conveyance of information” model: (a) little work for the students, (b) there can be a feeling of a lot of learning, and (c) a good grade comes with good notes.  If you are a student, what’s not to like?  You can tell students who have been taught in this manner in high school because they are obsessive note takers.  If you want good student evaluations, this is a promising path.

Other teachers explain little and then expect students to work like crazy to basically teach themselves.  These teachers are much less popular because the work is hard and grades are often low.  Nevertheless, for students who can motivate themselves and work independently, the depth of learning can be impressive.  The pressure is great but it can form can great learning.  Few students, though, are able to sustain that level of discipline for too long.  I call this the “you are on your own” model. 

I prefer something in the middle.  I always believe that I should do my 50 percent of the work but not one bit more.  The students must also do their half.  But not one bit more.

As I discussed in that 24 second video this morning, I have always viewed class as a dance.  I explain this to my students early and often each semester.  When two people dance together and everything works perfectly, it is just beautiful to watch.  If one person is trying but the other is not, it is a mess.  However, two dancers can create magic.  In the same way, when it works, the best college classes resemble a ball room dance (such as the waltz or the tango).  Two parties working hard to push each other to be great. 

For me, those are the best days of teaching.  If you have taught for long, you have probably experienced classes where everything works perfectly.  You lead the students through the most complicated material and they responded with excitement and mental discipline.  On those days, learning is practically palpable. 

The real key to making a class come together in this way is getting the students to do their half of the work.  Trust me, if you can do that consistently, you will quickly become one of the best teachers in your building.  The question that haunts every college teacher:  How do you get students to do the necessary work, not just now and then, but in preparation for each class session? 

Here are four tips that can help encourage students to do their half of the work.  Nothing works all the time but these tips can help.

1 – If possible, before the semester begins, tell your students how much you expect from them and why.  You must realize that they will have had scores of teachers over the years.  Each one of those teachers has had a different level of expectation.  Never think your students know what you want from them.  Most teachers are not very clear about what they want their students to do so confusion is often the permanent result. 

Before each semester starts, I write my students and simply say, “I need for you to put in a minimum of 2 hours of work between each of our three classes each week.  I don’t mean six hours per week.  I mean two hours before each class.” 

Then, I explain why those hours are important, “In class, each day, we will build on what you have prepared.  Class only works if you walk in every day prepared.  And, that only comes from doing the work.” 

2 – Always tell the students exactly what you want them to do in preparation for the next class.  If you don’t give them specific instructions, they will do nothing.  “Do some work” means nothing to a student.  “Do this assignment before class” means a lot.  I give my students 3-7 questions to prepare for each upcoming class.  We never miss a day because that sends a confusing signal.  I purposely write those questions at a level to stretch my students.  If they are too easy, my students will have no need to think about them or to come to class.

3 – Make some use of that preparation at every class.  If you ask a student to spend time on an assignment and then you don’t address that assignment in some way, don’t expect your students to ever be prepared again.  You are making them feel foolish.  “Do this work but we are going to ignore it" is a momentum killer.  I have found that college students are willing to do almost any amount of work but they need to see a clear benefit that results from that work.

4 – Make the student work interesting and intriguing.  In other words, DON’T BORE STUDENTS TO DEATH and then expect them to put in a strong work effort.  Ask oddball questions.  Create bizarre scenarios.  I am convinced that the development of critical thinking skills comes from setting up unusual situations and then asking/helping students to work their way to a logical conclusion.  If you have free time to spend, invest it in learning to write questions that will awake your students to a sense of excitement in the subject matter.

**

In a dance, both parties need to do half of the work but one party does have to lead.  Likewise, in a class, both parties need to do half of the work but one party does have to lead.  As the teacher, you are the one who has to lead.  And, it is that leading that will encourage your students to get up and do their half of the work so that the class will go beautifully well every single class session.

A question to ask yourself:  How do YOU lead your students into doing their half of the work each day?  For every teacher, that’s a critical issue that must be resolved.

And, in case you are interested, here is the 24 second video that led me to think about class preparation this morning.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfJ7YkE01u0

 

 

 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Improving the World a Little Bit at a Time

I am a college teacher so I am deeply interested in education and how it can be improved.  I teach in a wonderful Business School so I am also equally interested in business operations and how they can be improved.  Whether it is education or business, how can we help to make things operate better?

A dear friend of mine sent me this (slightly modified) email from one of her students this week.  I thought it was “teacher as mentor” at its best.

“I remember I did well on our first test, and you wrote a comment saying that I should consider the major. While it may have been meant as a light-hearted statement, simply congratulating me on my test grade, it actually helped me out. At that time, I was really unsure of what I was going to major in at school, and as a result, what I would focus on in the future. Although I had been interested in your class, your comment actually helped me realize that it may be the right path for me, and now I plan to declare it as a major.

“I just wanted to thank you for that comment, however unimportant it may have seemed, because I would often think about it when trying to decide which direction to go in terms of my education and beyond. It was a constant reminder of my skills and interests, and I believe I have now made the right choice.”

Many of us originally became teachers because we wanted the opportunity to have a positive effect on the lives of others.  Looking back over my 50+ years as a teacher, that has certainly been one of the true highlights to this career. 

Therefore, I found it interesting how little the professor in the above email did and how significant the effect was.  You do not have to move mountains to have a significant impact.

(a) – The teacher took the time to notice that the student had done well on a test.  The student really had done a good job.

(b) – The teacher took a bit more time to compliment the student on those efforts. 

And then--

(c) – The student was encouraged to take what might turn out to be a very significant step if that person’s life. 


Does it get better than that?

We all want to change the world but, usually, we are so overwhelmed with all the problems that we feel helpless.  Nevertheless, whether you teach in school or work in a business or some other organization, there is one thing we can all do that will help make things better.

Pat someone on the back for a job well done. 

It is so easy and, yet, the ramifications can be enormous.

Who in this world doesn’t want a compliment, a pat on the back?  “You did a good job.  Thanks,” will make anyone sit up straight and smile.  Trust me on that.

Unfortunately, from my vantage point, the number of pats on the back that are given out each day is miniscule.  When is the last time someone did that for you?

Or, maybe more importantly, when is the last time you patted someone on the back with a compliment?  Not just a quick, “Thank you.”  I mean, “I saw what you did and you did it very well.” 

All you have to do is:

--Be observant.  Always, be on the lookout for well done work.

--Communicate the compliment.

Think how much more upbeat your business organization would be if all of the people in charge gave out a pat on the back once each day rather than once a month or once a year. 

No wonder so many people seem surly – humans need to be recognized for what they are doing.  I think that is vastly under-appreciated.

Think how much harder your students might work if you (their teacher) found one thing in each class to compliment.  Go back to your office after class and send an email to a student and simple say, “That third question today was really hard and you did an excellent job with your answer.”  That will take you 10 seconds and you might literally have changed the student’s life.  Even at the very least, you will make that person happy and proud and that is well worth doing.   No one works harder than the person trying to get the second compliment.  

Make a pledge as your small part of improving the world to pat one or more people on the back each day with a compliment.

Yes, you will have to pay attention.  You will have to be aware of the people who are working hard.  Then, you will have to have the nerve to say something.  I would love to see every business person and every teacher take that on as a “habit activity” – something we come to do all the time as a natural part of our lives.

The world could certainly use more pats on the back.  Maybe things would start to look a little brighter to all of us. 




Wednesday, September 1, 2021

THREE PERSONAL WORDS

 

Last week, I had the great pleasure of speaking at Longwood University to approximately 40 seniors who were getting ready to leave campus to do their student teaching.  They were going out to elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools in order to get practical experience in the art of teaching.  I can only imagine how tense and excited they must all have been.  It has to feel like stepping off into the unknown.

They had meetings all morning followed by a nice lunch.  I was asked to be the after-lunch speaker.  That was truly a pleasure and an honor.

I began by telling them that I was going to give my speech but, first, I wanted to start with a three-word message that came directly from my heart personally to them. 

I had three words that I wanted them to hear independent of the speech.  Those words were personally from me.

However, before I unveil those three words here on my blog, I have a bit of a different story to convey first.

**

This morning I received an email from a student who was in one of my classes here at the University of Richmond a few years ago.  He had graduated and, from what he told me, seemed to have created a successful career for himself.  The message that he wanted to tell me this morning was, “Looking back on those classes, I developed the confidence to be okay with giving an answer that may be wrong. We were all learning at the time.”

What a nice story:  his career was going well and he had developed confidence and knowledge in my class.  Confidence and knowledge – hard to ask for a better outcome.

What made this story especially interesting to me was that (and I checked this to be sure my memory was accurate), he finished the semester with the lowest overall average in my class that semester.  Lowest.  Bottom.  His test grades were consistently poor.  If you looked at just my grade book, you would have viewed this as a loss for me and a loss for him.  A wasted class.  But clearly, it wasn’t. 

His email reminded me of some advice I gave the student-teachers at Longwood:  Don’t become so enamored of your A students.  Yes, we all love the students who make 100.  They make our jobs easier.  We swell with pride when a student makes an A+.  However, from my experience, many (if not most) of the A students really do not need much from us.  They often know how to study, how to do the difficult thinking that is needed, and how to be efficient test takers.  They are well formed as students before they get to us. 

Where we can provide the most benefit is with the other students.  The ones who struggle.  The ones who don’t have the strong background needed to do well from the start.  The ones who can fall through the cracks if we are not careful.

As a teacher, what should make your heart sing?  What should you look for that will bring a smile to your lips.   I am always most pleased with the students who truly try.  That sentence sums up a lot of my teaching.  Those students take on the challenge and put in the work even if the grades are not great.  However, it is not just putting in a lot of time.  To a certain extent, I think the amount of time spent studying is a bit overrated. 

When I use the word “try,” I am thinking of students who break down the topic and work to ascertain how to view the material logically and how to come to an understanding of the subject matter.  There is a significant part of learning that is not tied to a certain high grade.  I liked the last line from my former student, “We were all learning at the time.”

I love it when students tell me that I helped them to learn to think and to learn how to learn in a more efficient manner.    

So, as you begin yet another semester as a teacher, never become too enamored of your A students.  You might be adding only a little real benefit to their academic journeys.  Look past that group to the students who struggle, for whatever reason.  How can you encourage those students to try (more and better)?  How can you add value to their learning, a value that might prove to be what they really need in order to succeed going forward? 

If a student simply will not try, there is little that you or I or any other teacher can do for them.  However, if a student is pushing themselves to learn and understand, the assistance you provide might make a world of difference in their lives even if they do wind up with the lowest grade in class. 

Here is my point:  Most of us got into the teaching profession in hopes of changing lives.  Where that happens is most often not with the A students.  They will certainly make you feel good but, as you look back over the years, the benefit you truly add is most likely to be with the students who struggle but never give up and keep pushing themselves from the first day to the last.

**

Okay, what were the three personal words that I told to the student-teachers at Longwood even before I began my speech?

I ENVY YOU!!

I think I repeated those words several times over and over like a mantra.

After 50 years in the classroom, my career is beginning to wind down no matter how hard I fight the urge.   Those students were standing at the doorway of a new teaching career.  Quite honestly, it will not work for all of them.  Some will be teaching the wrong grade or wind up in difficult environments.  Nevertheless, many of them are going to be changing lots of lives for many years.  That is for certain.  What a wonderful future they have in front of them.

They will be under paid.

They will be vastly under appreciated.

They will work way too hard.

I can promise them all of that. 

But, at some point, down the road, they will look back and say, “I have been a teacher.  I have helped my students learn—learn to work and learn to think.  I have helped to change lives.”

That is not a bad way to spend a career. 



Thursday, July 1, 2021

WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT THIS SUMMER?

 

One of my favorite quotes was sent to me rather anonymously many years ago from England.  “Great teaching does not come from years of doing it.  Great teaching comes from years of thinking about it.” 

Unfortunately, during the school year, we are often so busy with students, writing, research, lesson plans, committee assignments, advising, and the like that we never have the time to sit and think deeply about our teaching.

Now, though, it is summer, a time for serious reflection.  I measure my summer from around May 1 (around the end of the spring semester) to September 1 (around the beginning of the fall semester).  With that calendar, July 1 (today, as I write) means that summer is half over.  Time is slipping away.  So, how much thinking have you done about your teaching?  The summer is half over.  As I tell my students endlessly, procrastination is always everyone’s biggest enemy.

When I go out (prior to the pandemic) and talk with faculty around the country, I describe summertime thinking to them.  Interestingly, there is often a mystery as to, “What exactly do I think about?”  That is a reasonable question.  Let me provide you with a little thinking assignment.  Maybe it will push your thinking forward for the rest of the summer.

Last week, I was exercising (at my age, I need a lot of exercise) and my wife came running in exclaiming, “You are going to love the quote that I found in the book I am reading.”  And, she (as always) was 100 percent correct.

The author is Ann Patchett and the book contains a group of essays titled (interestingly enough) This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.   Here are the words that caught my wife’s attention.  And, notice, they are from the student’s perspective rather than from that of the teacher.

“There are two kinds of educational experience you can have in college.  One is passive and one is active.  In the first, you are a little bird in the nest with your beak stretched open wide, and the professor gathers up all the information you need and drops it down your gullet.  You may feel good about this—after all, you are passionately waiting for this information—but your only role is to accept what you are given.  To memorize facts and later repeat them for a test might get you a good grade, but it’s not the same thing as having intellectual curiosity.  In the second kind, you are taught to learn how to find the information, and how to think about it, for yourself.  You learn how to question and to engage.  You realize that one answer is not enough and that you have to look at as many sources as are available to you so that you can piece together a larger picture.”

I am on sabbatical in the fall so I will not be teaching.  If I were, I would immediately email this paragraph to all of my fall students with a challenge, “I hope you want the second kind of educational experience because I want that for you.  It will take work on your part and work on my part but if we both try, this can be the greatest educational experience of your life.  I promise you that.” 

          I want my students to know that I am shooting for something well beyond passive learning.  I want them to come to class on the first day with the expectation that I am going to offer them more than treating them like a bunch of baby birds, too weak to feed themselves. 

And, yes, before you ask, I do have students who immediately drop out of my class in fear that I will expect them to think and that is just incredibly scary to them.   They’ll go looking for a momma bird where they can memorize and get that beloved A. 

Okay, to push your thinking, let me pose some questions for you to ponder.  I will include some of my own thoughts where I have them. 

(1) – Do you agree with her general description of the college educational experience? 

          I suspect most teachers are okay with this description.  We can certainly spend time dividing these two experiences into more subdivisions, but I am not sure that adds any benefit to our thinking.

(2) – For the author, what are the key words in this paragraph? 

          I would bet that if you ask Ann Patchett she would say that the key words are “intellectual curiosity.”  She never says explicitly but I think she obviously prefers the second kind of experience based on the development of the student’s intellectual curiosity.  That seems to be what she thinks students should want.

(3) – If you gave your students a secret ballot, which of these two experiences would they sign up for in their college classes?

          I teach at what I believe is an excellent university, but I am surprised by how many students come in from middle school and high school having been trained (almost religiously) in the “down your gullet” form of education.  People prefer experiences that are familiar.  Most, but certainly not all students, have an affection for this “conveyance of information” model.  Many students (possibly including myself at 18) would sign up for nothing but “down the gullet” classes even if they knew (a) they would be bored to death and (b) learn little.  I think it is a role of colleges to protect students from themselves.  Students should not live in fear of having their thinking challenged.  They should demand that.

(4) – If you were designing a perfect course structure for yourself (not your colleagues but you), how much of your class time would be “down your gullet” information conveyance and how much would be pushing students toward intellectual curiosity?

          In a perfect class, whatever that means, I would never convey information directly.  I would just prod the students to figure the stuff out for themselves.  We do not live in a perfect world but it is fun to dream.

(5) – If you surveyed your students, how much of your class time would they say was “down your gullet” teaching? 

Teachers are not always the most unbiased evaluators of their own teaching.  I think that holds us all back.  We see ourselves through our own hopes and doubts.   Thus, I am interested in what students believe they are seeing.  Would your students say you convey information 40 percent of the time and push intellectual curiosity 60 percent of the time or what?  That is something to think about.

(6) – Take your answer from (5) and assume it is reasonably accurate.  How would you like to see those percentages change over the next academic year?  Now is the time to do the thinking to make that happen.

Remember that in (4), you have indicated a perfect course division.   That should be a guideline.  Are you satisfied with how your class is divided between information conveyance and intellectual curiosity?

(7) – Okay, here is the question that is really at the heart of this essay.  Let’s assume that you want to have less of a “down your gullet” style of class and more intellectual curiosity.  I think that is a reasonable summer goal.  As you think about teaching during the remainder of the summer, what might you do to help make this change in your class structure during the 2021-22 academic year?

          Everyone must answer this question in his or her own particular way.  Teaching Shakespeare and teaching biology have things in common but there are quite a number of obvious differences.  Nevertheless, my answer to this question has become a type of personal litany:  (1) stress preparation prior to the class experience and (2) ask more questions, especially questions that really do not have easy answers. 

I am convinced that I can make any class at any university appreciably better simply by convincing the students to work harder before they show up for class.  What kind of logical and interesting assignments can you develop that will encourage students to do the work necessary prior to entering into the class discussion?  You can approach class preparation with a whip or with a carrot.  What kind of carrot can you provide that will entice the students to overcome their natural procrastination and do the work.  Just making an assignment is not enough.  You have to convince the students to do it.

And, as Socrates must have figured out, asking questions can be the driving force behind developing intellectual curiosity.  What is happening here?  Is it a moral action or not?  What would you do in this situation?  If you spend time thinking, every grain of sand can prompt an infinite number of fascinating questions.

 **

The summer is half over.  I hope you make great use of the first half.  Now, go out and make even better use of the second.  When the fall semester begins, you want to be ready for your greatest semester ever.



Tuesday, May 25, 2021

FIVE WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR TEACHING OVER THE SUMMER (PLUS A BONUS OR TWO)

 

Jackie Robinson was the first Black to play major league baseball.  I am old enough that I can remember watching him on television.  That had to be an unbelievably difficult challenge for him but Robinson was a person with style and grace and a fabulous amount of talent. 

His own words are inscribed on his tombstone,

         “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” 

I suspect that none of us will ever come close to facing the challenges that Jackie Robinson endured and conquered.  Nevertheless, his words must ring out to all of us who think of ourselves as teachers.  You and I have the wonderful opportunity to impact hundreds and thousands of lives through our classes.  If you believe Robinson’s words, that gives us the chance to mold a life for ourselves that has true meaning.  Who could ask for more than that?

 --“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

--Perhaps I am simply getting old but I cherish that opportunity more every year.

--I wish I had 50 years left to keep on teaching.

For most of us, this semester is done.  The 2020-2021 academic year is finished.  If you have read this blog for long, you know the question I ask myself at the start of every summer, “A year from now, will I be a better teacher?”  

My longtime readers know how much I believe in the power of evolution, the importance of trying new techniques and tactics to see what might make my teaching better.  It can be difficult to improve a course during the school year because everything moves so quickly.  If you and I are going to get better as teachers by next year, the foundation for that improvement must begin right now.  As I say often to my students, “Procrastination is your biggest enemy.”  Putting off the battle for improvement is probably the single most significant reason that holds us back and prevents our evolution. 

DO NOT PROCRASTINATE, SPEND TIME RIGHT NOW THINKING ABOUT HOW TO BECOME A BETTER TEACHER DURING THE NEXT YEAR.

I am going to provide five suggestions on how to get better as a teacher.  There is no need to try them all.  Instead, pick one or two just to see where they might lead you over the next few months.

Suggestion Number One:  Break through the psychological ceiling.  I rarely meet teachers who have not established a ceiling in their minds as to how good they are going to be as teachers.  They will practically chant these mantras, “I am as good as I am ever going to get” or “I am good enough for this place” or “I am as good as time will allow.”  I am never sure whether these teachers (a) actually believe this nonsense or (b) use this artificial ceiling as a convenient excuse for not working to improve or (c) believe that teaching is essentially unimportant and not worth additional effort.

Stop telling yourself such limiting stories!!  The main thing that holds any of us back is ourselves.  As Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”  I believe that absolutely.  It is a theme in my life.

During the summer, work on a new story for yourself, “Teaching is important.  I am having a real effect on the lives of my students.  I AM going to find ways to improve during this coming year.” 

Suggestion Number Two:  Make better use of your emotional energy.  Many of the teachers I speak with seem perpetually annoyed with something.  “Students are not like they used to be.”  “The administration does not appreciate how hard this job is.”  “I can only teach what the department tells me to teach.”  “The school has the wrong priorities.”  “The other departments are ruining this university.”

Stop and listen to yourself.  Complaining is fine and often justified.  Obsession is different.  Would the people who listen rate you as a positive or as a negative person?  How much emotional energy are you burning up by being annoyed?  Think about switching that energy to more positive channels like, “I had a bunch of great students in the spring.”  “Several students really wrote great papers this semester.”  “I truly enjoyed working with my classes, even during the pandemic.  Now and then, they were just brilliant.” 

How much benefit are you getting from your emotional energy and how much of that energy are you wasting by being annoyed at your own favorite grievances?

Suggestion Number Three:  Ask a proven talent for advice.  If you want to become a better teacher, you need ideas.  Unless you are Picasso or Bob Dylan, you probably cannot get enough interesting ideas purely from inside your own head.  I have often told my children, “If you want to have a few great ideas, then you must first seek out a whole lot of ideas.”  I think that approach is so very important for success.  Lots of ideas à a few great ideas.  Become an idea gathering machine. 

In every school, college, and university, there are professors who are known across campus for being great teachers.  Pick a few and send them an email, “I have heard from many that you are an excellent teacher.  I am trying to get better.  I want to improve as a teacher.  Can you provide me with one or two pieces of advice as to what has helped you become such a good teacher?” 

I am always mortified that teachers do not do a better job of sharing the secrets of the trade.  You never have to follow their advice, but why not seek it out?  I will bet that any truly excellent teacher can give you a couple of pieces of fabulous advice right off the top of their heads.  No one becomes a great teacher by accident.  Be brave enough to ask for advice. 

Suggestion Number Four:  Read a book on teaching.  Here is another suggestion about generating ideas.  You have a summer.  There are a great many excellent books on teaching:  Make It Stick, What the Best College Teachers Do, any book by James Lang, Teaching for Critical Thinking, and so many more.

Go to Google and type in “What are the best books about teaching in college?”  Take a few titles to Amazon and read the reviews to see what appeals to you. 

Do not read these books like they are novels.   Read 2-5 pages per day at a maximum.  Write down one or two things you learned each day from those pages.  You want to draw the reading experience out as long as possible.  You want the reading to become a type of daily devotion.  You read a bit and then you let those words bounce around your brain until the next day’s reading.  By the end of the summer, you will be amazed by how many teaching ideas you have generated from your reading and from your own reflections.

(If you have a teaching book that you really like, send me a note at Jhoyle@richmond.edu and tell me about it.)

Suggestion Number Five:  Focus on what you learned during the pandemic.   Hopefully, we will all go back to “regular” teaching soon.  However, we cannot abandon the lessons of the past 15 months.  We should evaluate what we had too learn quickly and consider how to make the best use of that going forward.  We should think about blending our old teaching with our new teaching. 

For example, I have never been a technology person but I am amazed by how much I learned in working with our learning management system (Blackboard).  Videos on YouTube and LinkedIn were a great help.  With a little patience, you can learn to do virtually anything. 

In addition, I have grown extremely fond of Zoom videos.  They are easy to make and post to YouTube.  Students can then review the material whenever they need a second look. 

So, as a bonus feature for this blog entry, I have made a YouTube video with a few additional suggestions for better teaching.  I used Zoom.  It was easy.  It will not look like it was made by Steven Spielberg, but I believe it gets the message across. 

And, it is unlisted on YouTube so the only way to get this extra bit of teaching help is to go through this blog.   Here is the URL.  Hope you enjoy.  It is only 11 minutes.  I am biased, of course, but I think it is worth 11 minutes of a teacher's time.

 

https://youtu.be/TOzwdtobPKc

 

Suggestion Number Six:  Write out your thoughts.   Okay, I lied about passing along five ideas.  Here is number six because I had one more thought that seemed worth bringing up.

I have long said that the one thing that helped my teaching the most (by far) was creating this blog.  For many years now, I have had to force myself once or twice each month to write about my teaching.  More than anything else over the past 50 years, that writing process has helped me improve as a teacher. 

--Because I write about my teaching, I have had to become very observant as to what is working and what is not working.  That consideration has been extremely helpful.  Good days are not accidental.  The same is true for bad days.  Watch and you will figure out what happened.

--Because I write about my teaching, I have tended to become more experimental so that I will have material to write about.  If I lectured every day, I would never have a blog.

--Because I write about my teaching, I have had to probe deeper into what is happening and why.  I cannot just dismiss a classroom or student occurrence as an aberration.  I find that I think more deeply about such events so that I can understand them myself and deal with them. 

Creating a blog is great and I would highly recommend it as long as you will force yourself to write 8-12 times per year.  However, a journal will work as well.  I think you need to write as if scores of people are going to read and think about what you have to say. 

Do not be shy.  People are interested in your teaching so start writing down your thoughts.  You will be surprised by how quickly that process will help you become a better teacher.

I added the following few lines several days after the original posting.  This morning I was reading a novel.  One of the main characters is a song writer and she says, "I write songs to discover what I want to say."  I immediately responded to her as if I were talking with a friend, "I write compulsively about teaching to explore the very depths of what I think and believe about teaching."