Rehab and Student Affairs

Between January 6-7, I experienced two seizures, two strokes, and cardiac arrest for an hour. The CPR I received for 57 minutes along with the staff at McDonough District Hospital helped save my life. Recently, I was released from rehab from Saint Francis hospital in Peoria where I was for a month with the Illinois Neurological Institute. Tomorrow, I get to start outpatient rehab back in my home town. Despite everything I experienced, I am blessed to not only be alive (woo hoo!!!), but to also be cognitively able. Please don’t get me wrong, I have never been more exhausted, but my largest challenge is learning how to walk…specifically, learning how to “wake up” my left leg from the knee down. I find it fascinating to go through my day of therapies and know what I know about the learning process. Three of the highlights include:

1. Learning happens through relationships. I’ve always known it to be true, but it is SO true! The relationships I’ve developed with my caregivers in the hospital have helped me to regain arm ability and part of my leg. It causes me to pause and wonder how much we consider the relationships we are building with others in our practice as student affairs professionals. And, perhaps more importantly what it means if we expect others to build relationships with us on our terms only, as well as what it means if we “give up” on a relationship.

2. People take in information through all of their senses. As they worked to “wake up” my hamstring, they’ve tried everything…ice, electromagnetic stimulation, visualization via mirrors, physically touching my leg, if there was a smell associated with my hamstring, I’m quite sure they would wave it under my nose. I wonder how much we spend time considering the messages we are sending to others senses as student affairs professionals? Or, do we spend more time focused on having people feel good about us, our program, the experience we offer, so that the quick program evaluation we offer out at the end of the program comes back with a positive score?

3. For learning to occur it must be connected to a previous experience. It is bizarre to wake up and realize that I cannot remember how to move my hamstring, but that is what has happened. So, in order to wake up my hamstring, I’ve been trying to remember what it is like. In order to do that, I have been moving my right leg’s hamstring and focusing on how it feels, and then trying to replicate that on my left leg. The frustrating part is that I can’t visualize what it is like to move my hamstring, so I kept asking my Physical Therapist to help me associate it to other things in an effort to relearn how to use it. I can’t help but wonder how often we connect to what others know already in our practice and encourage them to associate? Or, do we treat others like we are the expert and they don’t bring knowledge into their experiences with us?

I could go on about all that I’m learning about learning, I’m proudly a bit of a learning nerd :), but I highlight the above three points because I often think that we can be caught discussing how we want to “wake up” our students to their own behavior, and I wonder if we do so in a way that will allow them to learn what we are hoping they will learn. Or, if we simply expect them to learn because we told them to do so and then we are frustrated when they don’t meet our expectations.

Current update: My hamstring has started to wake up. 🙂 Now, on to the ankle in outpatient rehab tomorrow…

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Microaggressions in Everyday Life

In November of 2013, I attended a Lilly Conference on Teaching and Learning in Oxford, OH. One of the conference speakers was Derald Wing Sue, and he presented on his recent book Microagressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. His talk was quite powerful for several reasons:

1. I can vividly recall some folks rudely walking out.
2. Sue ran out of time, and I remember being quite disappointed because I wanted to hear more.
3. I recall feeling like I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t crazy for how I felt and made sense about experiences I’ve had.

These thoughts and feelings led to me placing Sue’s book in my Amazon cart for future reading, which I just so happened to find time to do over the last week.

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Microaggressions, according to Sue, “are constant and continuing experiences of marginalized groups in our society; they assail the self-esteem of recipients, produce anger and frustration, deplete psychic energy, lower feelings of subjective well-being and worthiness, produce physical health problems, shorten life expectancy, and deny minority populations equal access and opportunity in education, employment, and health care” (p. 6). Sue goes on to discussed the negative impact of built up microagressions throughout one’s life. Although I read the book due to my own personal interests, I couldn’t help but consider if there is a way to include at least exerts from it into my classes (I’m still considering this).

Most powerful to me were the narrative examples that Sue shared from his research. I also found the book powerful because it caused me several times to consider counterarguments and then to question where such arguments came from, as well as why they came so easily. For example, when Sue discussed health impacts of microaggressions to various marginalized groups, I found myself wondering how he knew that the negative health issues were connected to microagressions. I could think quickly of numerous explanations for such negative health concerns that aren’t about microagressions–or so I thought until I continued thinking about it. I had to work to spend time considering the connections to microaggressions that Sue was discussing…at least a bit harder than it took to think of all the numerous explanations. I had to work harder despite connecting personally to several of the types of microagressions he discussed. For example, when I thought “oh, no that could be due to not eating healthy”, I then thought about all of the systems and structures that don’t make choosing to eat healthy as simple as choosing to eat healthy. I felt stretched through this process, and appreciated the book for providing such an opportunity. This isn’t to say that I necessarily agreed with all that Sue asserted (I’m “sitting with” much of it still), but I did find it worthwhile to consider.

One of the biggest overall takeaways for me was when Sue stated, “the most disempowered groups have a more accurate assessment of reality, especially related to whether discriminatory behavior is bias-motivated” (p. 47). This statement caused me to pause, and although it was provided early in the book (and repeated several times thereafter in a variety of ways), I’ve continued to spend time reflecting on it and what it means for my practice. I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if such a statement was deeply believed by all.

Learning is Messy

Learning is messy.

I was sent this image a few years ago from a former student, and I think it perfectly portrays the learning process….at least for me.

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Recently I’ve been revisiting the blurriness that the learning process is for various reasons (let’s be real…I’m probably do this more often than not since my research is on the learning process, so I probably don’t need to use the word recently or revisiting 🙂 ). One of the reasons I’ve been spending time reflecting on the learning process is because of what it means as a faculty member, which like other positions (e.g., student affairs professional), is no easy feat. Parker Palmer wrote a book titled: The Courage to Teach, and the title couldn’t be more true.

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Learning takes courage no matter who you are, and spending time each week trying to facilitate learning for and in front of others requires that one learns themselves, so it is at least just as challenging. I could draw connections at this point to the concept of vulnerability that Brene Brown talks about:

or remaining unfinished that Paulo Freire wrote about:

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I’m not interested in doing that, however, because all that would I would be doing, or at least how it would feel to me, is that I would be intellectualizing the complicated process of learning. That don’t fully get at the messiness of learning. So, instead, I thought I would put together my own visual description of the learning process in relation to how I experience it.

Enjoy! 🙂

At the beginning of the process, I’m usually pretty content. Feeling like things are going good.:
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And then something new enters my world and I can’t see where it is going to take me fully, but I’m curious enough to give it a try.:
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I admit that usually in the beginning I try to reject it.:
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And/or worse, I think I already know all about it.:
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Until I start to realize that what was once familiar I now don’t know what to think about?!?:
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And I start to question all sorts of things and how I’m making sense of them???:
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Through that process, I start to see things, but I’m not fully confident in them.:
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And in trying to incorporate what I’ve learned, I stumble, make loads of mistakes,:
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and experiences lots of failures.:
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Until I reach a point where I start to understand it more clearly, which usually results in me feeling so excited and thinking about it all of the time!:
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at which point, somewhere in the process it starts to become habit, or a part of how I see the world around me.:
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Now, while I wrote this whole process as though it happens in a linear fastion, it is in no ways linear (please see the first visual image I included in this post). It is messy, but it is also interconnected.:
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And eventually brings me back to feeling pretty good, but with a slightly different way of viewing the world.:
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Challenging Our Process

“We [student affairs] are overly focused on outcomes and not process” (Jones, 2004, p. 4)

There are a lot of challenge competitions people can participate in going around. All one needs to do is check out Facebook to see a variety of them in diverse forms (pictures, lists, ice buckets, etc.). I’m sure that there is quite a bit of time and energy put into starting such challenges so that they become passed around to a lot of folks. I don’t really have those skills, nor the time to put into figuring that out. Still, though, I have a challenge to put out to the universe (specifically of student affairs) and I look forward to seeing what the universe does with it.

(hint: you could be the universe if you so feel up for the challenge 🙂 ).

Challenge: Spend two weeks focusing on seeing the process of your practice.

I think that if we were to do so, we might be disappointed in ourselves. For example, we might see that often we speak about inclusivity, but we practice including only those most like us…at all levels. Or that we say we value difference, but our approach neutralizes out any difference…or assimilates it, so that the difference becomes something we are more comfortable with. I think that no matter what we do discover, it will include a disconnect between saying and doing (is it really a surprise then when students demonstrate the same disconnect?).

I could be wrong about this.

Taking the challenge could help to discover if I am, and I’m very much open to that.

I’m sure that there are lots of reasons too for such a disconnect. The structure of society, my own desire to idealize things, etc. Rationalizing our practice so that it stays the same is something we might discover that we are also quite good at, even though we talk about the need for change (one of those disconnects). Perhaps this means that we need a rule to go with the challenge:

Rule 1: No rationalizing/explaining away why you follow the process that you do. Just notice it as it is using thick, rich description…who does it include, what value(s) it is enacting, etc.

Oh, and this makes me think of:

Rule 2: No blaming other people or deciding things about/for them as you notice various processes you enact. This is about you looking at your practice.

Although I really do believe that we would discover disconnects, I also think that we would discover opportunities. A chance to find new ways to align our practice with the values we espouse, so that they become the values we enact.

Finally, because it seems like it wouldn’t be a challenge if it didn’t have a social media component. So, post the challenge to someone on FB to take, but when you do, share with them at least one value you are working to better have guide your practice.

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Starting a Student Organization for First Generation Students

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A few students within the College Student Personnel program at Western Illinois University and I have been meeting over the past few weeks to discuss (and put in motion) the creation of a student organization for First Generation students. This next week, on September 25, we will host our first interest meeting (Sept. 25, 5-6 p.m., Fox Room, University Union). How am I feeling about all of it?

I’m nervous and excited at the same time.

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The idea for a student organization came to me when my student affairs background and research interest collided in my mind.

(I “grew up” in the student activities area…orientation, leadership, commuter affairs, fraternity and sorority life, etc.)
+
(transformative learning)
= First Generation Student Organization Idea

And the idea was affirmed the other night when I attended a speaker, President and CEO of the NIC, Pete Smithhisler, sponsored by the fraternity and sorority life community at WIU. As I sat there listening to Pete speak about courage, I could not help but consider the founders of my own organization, Pi Beta Phi. What it took for them to first decide to go to college, and then to start I.C. Sorosis. I can see how the structure the Pi Beta Phi founders modeled is the same structure the students and I are emulating as we work to get the first gen. group up and running. I also think the creation of both groups is somewhat similar…or at least comparable:

A group of students with similar identities coming together to form what in many ways is a family as they proceed through college together.

These similarities give me hope, as I reflect on Pete’s speech and how much good fraternities and sororities have made in the world. We want the student organization to do good. Yet, how it will is still to be determined. We want the students to contribute to the creation of the group around the following values:

Dedication
Grit
Curiosity
Community
Integrity

Still though, even with the identification of values, how they are enacted is left to be determined. We know we don’t want it to be like a class, and aren’t trying to become a bridge program. Such initiatives are worthwhile, but different than the aim of a student organization. We do hope to have first generation faculty and staff involved in some way, but that way is still to be figured out. So much is still left to be decided, but that’s a part of what makes me nervous and excited. Here’s hoping for a nice turn out next Thursday night…all are invited. 🙂

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First Gen Flier

What Kind of Learner Are You?

Two years ago, I read Ken Bain’s book What the Best College Teachers Do after it was recommended to me by a colleague at a Lilly Conference, and last summer I re-read the book as a part of a book club on campus. I should clarify…I read the book in one day.

One day.

Not only was it an easy read, but it felt like Bain was speaking to me…telling me that I am not alone. Please don’t read that to mean that I think I’m one of the best college teachers. Rather, it was more confirmation that the types of learning experiences I try to provide within the classroom are congruent with what the best college teachers do…I just need to keep working at it.

The book was so powerful that last fall I decided to read his next book, What the Best College Students Do, with a student who was exploring the process of learning in the classroom. I completed this book feeling a bit disappointed. It felt as if the book was put together quickly, and that the effort to “discover” the best teachers was not the same effort to “discover” the best students (Bain claims otherwise). Instead, it felt more like he asked his friends/people he knew who he thought were good students to share their story about how they became good students. Let’s just say that I kept thinking that Bain and most of his friends/acquaintances have quite a few more resources for their own personal learning than most of the rest of us (certainly more than I have available).

Still, though, there was “good stuff” that could be found, and I’ve been spending time considering some of it at the beginning of this new school year and thought that it might be helpful for other to consider too. Bain discusses how he wasn’t equating being a “good student” with getting straight A’s. Most of the people he discusses in his book did get good grades, but not always. He spoke a bit about a test called the Force Concept Inventory, which demonstrated that those who received A grades were,

“simply better at memorizing formulas, plugging the right number into the equation, and calculating the correct answer on the exam” (p. 4463–kindle).

The A grade the students received had little to do with how well they understood course concepts. I agree with Ken’s critique of the grading system, and wish there was a way that I could avoid assigning grades. Unfortunately, my experience with various students leads me to believe that if grades were not offered not all students would do the work, and in order to help them discover a greater purpose for the course than simply getting an A, I find that I need them to do the work.

Bain also encourages readers to consider what kind of learner they are, and indicates that a person’s approach to learning is often connected to how they approach their work post graduation. Learning for the sake of learning or to become better by gaining new knowledge/understanding/skills/abilities is not how most students have been socialized to be students. Rather, I’ve experienced students who’ve been socialized to receive an A because they completed the homework and repeated back to me whatever it is that the reading assigned for the day said. My sassy response to these students is that I already know what the authors of the readings said because I assigned the readings. My non-sassy response is more…”okay, that’s a place to start. What do you think about the authors claims?” Psychologists at Goteborg University labeled these students as “surface” learners.

Bain discusses another kind of student that I’ve encountered. These students believe they can tell,

“right away if they are going to be good at something. If they don’t get it immediately, they throw up their hands and say, ‘I can’t do it'” (p. 4463–kindle).

Yet, most of us know that to lastingly learn something it requires time and commitment…progress is slow, and often involves continual struggle. In order to hang in there as one learns to become good at something, it requires internal motivation and knowing how one learns best. Thus, whatever you think right away about your ability to learn something might not be the best indicator of your abilities. Psychologists at Goteborg University label these students as “strategic” learners. These students, “focus almost exclusively on how to find out what the professor wants and how to ace the exam. If they learn something along the way that changes the way they think, act, or feel, that’s largely an accident. They never set out to do that” (p. 4463-kindle).

Bain also discusses characteristics of what he considers to be the “best” students. To Bain these students engage in deeper understanding through reflective questioning of their own mind. They are able to provide empathy to themselves as they acknowledge areas of growth and weakness. They often take it upon themselves to discover connections between their own interests and the assignments they received. “These students tried to comprehend what difference an idea, line of reasoning, or fact made, and how it related to something they had already learned” (p. 4463-kindle). Psychologists at Goteborg University labeled these students as “deep” learners.

Perhaps, like me, you were thinking about what category of student you fit in, and you might find that it has changed over time and due to context. I know that is the case for me. Bain discusses how you are not stuck in only being one type of learner for life, but that become a deep learner is often not what students have learned to become. Just spending time now considering how you approach learning has potential to assist you in becoming a deep learner. The choice is yours to make.

“To take a deep approach means to take control of your own education, to decide that you want to understand, to create something new, to search for the meaning that lies behind the text, to realize that words on a page are mere symbols, and that behind those symbols lies a meaning that has a connection with a thousand other aspects of your life and with your own personal development” (p. 4463-kindle).

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The Rejection Letter and Start to a New School Year

I’ve waited awhile before publishing this post.  Waiting seems to be the standard advice on the Internet if one Google’s “rejected journal manuscript”…wait a few days and then consider the feedback and keep working on the document.  That I did (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for goodness from the new submission location!), although I waited longer to write this post.  Mostly because I was still mulling around some of feedback I received.  Additionally, it is hard to receive a rejection (This site indicates that there are four steps for responding to it…none of which apply to the kind of rejection I received).  In this case, I am talking about the rejection of a journal submission, but I think rejection is painful to receive not matter the context (at least this is what I recall from school dances). This post, however, will focus on the feedback I received about a research paper I wrote.

As you know from another post (where I confessed that a part of my motivation to blog is to improve my writing), writing does not come easily to me. I have to work at it, and while I have improved due to my continued commitment, I know that I need to keep doing it. So, this blog will not be about the feedback I received related to my writing abilities. Although I do want to add that I received three positive comments about my writing (woo hoo! 🙂 ). Instead, this feedback will be about two similar comments I received regarding the results of the research I was reporting.  Now, before I share more about the comments, please know that after spending time with them, I can see how the reviewers came to understand what I wrote in the way that they did. I actually agreed with what they wrote, and I believed that the research I was reporting did too, however, that is not what they read. Instead, they read that my research was incongruent with other, previously published research and they indicated that it should be rejected because of that, which is what got me thinking.  Again, please keep in mind that this was not the case, but I still couldn’t help but wonder what if I had made a new discovery that was not congruent with the previously published research?

What if my research discovered something different?

It was clear to me that if that had indeed been the case, the two reviewers were not open to it.  They did not even seem to notice that my research results section started off with a sentence indicating congruency (not opposition) to current research. So this got me thinking about what that might mean for the field of student affairs.

Are we so focused on what we’ve been doing that we have closed ourselves off to what is different and new?

This, to me, is a Thomas Kuhn question,

This video of Thomas Kuhn is hilarious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-v_onEWGv0

You should go here though to learn more about his contributions: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/aug/19/thomas-kuhn-structure-scientific-revolutions

and a question that I look forward to exploring with the students in College Student Personnel (CSP) program as a I start by fourth year as a faculty member tomorrow at Western Illinois University.

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