Tag Archives: relationships

Go Ahead, Give Yourself an “A”

Possibility

Students from across the country are about to begin a new academic year.  It’s natural that many will take a little time to reflect on past successes, near-successes, and far-from-successes to consider what it will take to earn better grades this time around.

I am encouraging every student to approach the start of the academic year differently this time.  Instead of waiting to receive a test score or graded paper from a professor mid-way through the course, begin the year with a mindset of possibility.  That’s right.  Go ahead, give yourself an “A”.

What does that mean?

The concept of giving an “A” can be credited to Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, teacher, speaker and co-author (alongside Rosamund Stone Zander) of “The Art of Possibility”.  Zander’s teaching practice involves telling all of his students on the first day of class that they are an “A”.  They really and truly are an “A” and that is the grade they will receive at the end of the course.  But there is one condition.  That condition is that each student must submit a letter the following day but dated for the end of the term explaining who they will have become by the end to justify such an outstanding grade.  The letter begins, Dr. Mr. Zander, I got my “A” because…

Giving an “A” comes with many benefits.  First and foremost, it has the power to transform relationships.  Students no longer see themselves in competition with others in their class, program, dorm, family, whatever.  There’s no more “I’m better than him”, “She’s better than me” thinking going on.  Instead students can start to focus on themselves and the possibilities that exist within and around them.

Second, it just feels better.  Being an “A” allows everyone to function from a much happier place.  It’s certainly a better place to be than in the 90% percentile, below the median, or 46 out of 50, for example.  Being happy has a funny side effect of being contagious.  Go ahead, see what happens when you smile at the next person you pass on the street.

Third, mistakes can be celebrated.  Recognizing that we all make mistakes and that mistakes are what help us learn and discover some amazing things can really open up worlds of possibility.  What if we weren’t afraid to share a point of view in the classroom, try out a different style during our presentation, say hello to the person sitting next to us, get involved in that start-up committee, and the list goes on.

The link below will take you to a 14 minute video of a Ben Zander speech delivered to an auditorium full of teachers on this exact topic.  Believe me, it’s worth the watch…

The practice of giving an “A”, whether “given” by the teacher or “given” as a gift to yourself, frames your efforts as a possibility to live into rather than an expectation to live up to.   From my experience in the classroom, more students need help with the former, not the latter.

I highly recommend all students (and teachers at any level) read or listen to “The Art of Possibility” with a particular focus on Chapter 4 – The Third Practice:  Giving an “A”.

The benefits of living in a world of possibility exist.  I can see it now.  A classroom where students are willing to let go of fears and try new things, where students truly want to grow and are willing to create and follow a unique path to get them there, and where students care about themselves and are capable of demonstrating empathy.

So go ahead, do yourself a favour, give yourself a gift and live like you are an “A”.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/audiolucistore/7403731050/”>www.audio-luci-store.it</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

Advertisements

Leave a comment

August 27, 2013 · 12:58 pm

To Get Support Show Support

Helping HandYesterday’s class brought tears to my eyes.  But in a good way.

Does this happen often? Not really.

In my decade or so of post-secondary teaching I have experienced the odd classroom situation that has made me want to run as fast as possible from the room, curl up in a corner of my office, grab my tea and a box of kleenex and let loose.

Why?  Because I care.  Even though I’ve learned to distance myself from student issues, disappointments and frustrations, they still get to me from time to time.

Fortunately yesterday’s class was nothing like that at all.  In fact, by the end of class I wanted to call for a group hug and tell my students how proud I was of them.  You know, a regular “Kumbaya” session.  I’m writing this post to share what happened and why what happened is so important to student learning.

The Story

Yesterday, groups of students from my management class presented details of the business ventures they have been working on for the past three months.  This is a huge project involving lots of coordination, research, writing, number crunching, organization and group drama.  The project ends with the presentation.  It’s generally a happy day for most students as they are truly relieved that the process is over.

After each group presents, the class is invited to ask questions.  It was during this time that I observed a major difference from past years in the classroom tone.

In the past this Q&A session has let’s say, been a little tense.  Students on the receiving end are often on the defensive because they are really completely invested in their ideas and research.  It’s their baby and they will do what it takes to protect it.

Students on the delivery side are often on the offensive.  I believe that some students feel that in order to make their project seem more impressive it’s a good idea to pose questions that are designed to make other groups feel inadequate and uncomfortable.

That did not happen yesterday.

Yesterday’s questions were posed with a genuine desire to better understand the business plan that the presenting group had developed.  Even though some of the questions were similar in content to those posed in the past (remember, the ones with the bad intent) there was something different about the delivery that made the difference.

For the first time I had a presenter respond to a question with “That’s a really good idea.  Thanks for bringing that up.”.  I also had comments from students that simply recognized the hard work, something unique about the idea or presentation and the excellent job put forward.

The supportive and encouraging atmosphere created by the students was what brought the tears to my eyes.  I was so proud of them.

So What?

A supportive environment must be present in order for most students to take risks.  And taking risks is necessary to foster student learning.

What do I mean by risks?

I mean asking questions of faculty and fellow students.  I mean sharing information and opinions.  I mean asking support services on campus for help or guidance.  I mean reaching out to fellow students and simply making an introduction.

Let’s face it, some students don’t necessarily need a supportive environment to take risks.  They would do so regardless.  That’s their personality.  But many students are in no way ready to take such risks, especially in the first couple of years of university.  They NEED this environment in order to grow.

What About You?

What do you need to do in order to be in a position to take risks?  How can you help create a supportive environment?

Here are some ideas:

  • When you are “shopping” for institutions or classes, pay particular attention to the “community feel” you get from the place or from what past students have experienced.
  • Get to know your fellow classmates.  Just say hi.  Start the conversation and you’ll be surprised how easy it takes off.
  • Do the work so that you can be an active contributor in class or in discussions with your professor or fellow classmates outside of the classroom.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to work in small groups (seminar/tutorial sessions or simply smaller class sizes).
  • Work well in groups.  Know the tools that exist to help manage plans and progress and use them.

Don’t wait for someone else to create a supportive environment for you.  Take initiative and do it yourself.

Support is a funny thing.  You get more when you give more.  So, are you doing everything in your power to be supportive?  If not, what can you do to be more supportive in your classrooms, in your family, in your life?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mandajuice/562954687/”>Mandajuice</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

2 Comments

Filed under The Good Stuff

Will You Be My Reference?

Help Me!

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a loooooong time.  Clearly I’ve been too busy writing reference letters!

Let’s face it.  At some point in your life you may need an academic reference (i.e. a reference from a college or university faculty member).  This could be for any number of reasons including a grad school, scholarship or job application or maybe even for a volunteer position would you like to hold.  Academic referees are often required to answer specific questions (rather than simply provide a general assessment) about the individual in question and in addition we are often asked to rate you (yes you!), against your peers in a number of categories including communication skills, academic ability, judgment, leadership ability, maturity and the list goes on.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a professor is the number of unqualified reference requests I get from both past and current students.  Let me explain what I mean by unqualified.

An unqualified reference request has one or more of the following elements:

  1. I don’t know the student well; therefore I am not able to evaluate if the student’s skills and accomplishments are a good match for this program/award/position.
  2. The student did not perform well in the course (final grade below 75%, did not attend classes, etc.).  What do you think the rankings are going to look like?
  3. I don’t know what I’m being asked for.  The student hasn’t sent me all necessary information to evaluate if acting as a reference would make sense.
  4. I don’t remember the student.  Gasp!  Yes, this has happened.  I’ve taught a lot of students and my memory isn’t what it used to be.  If it’s been five years since you graduated (assuming we haven’t talked since) this could happen to you.

So what are you to do?

Here are my tips for what to consider before, at the time of and after the reference request.  I hope this information will shed some light on the subject and save you (and your professors) from some awkward correspondence.

BEFORE You Ask

  • How well does this person know me?  If the answer is “well, she knows my student number and midterm exam grade” and that’s it – we’re in trouble.  Think about what your professor might be able to say about you in relation to the program/award/position you are applying for.  Draft a letter about yourself.  Do it!  This is a great exercise.  If you don’t know what to include in a letter about yourself how will this person be able to figure it out either?
  • What do I want this person to say about me?  Do you want them to speak to your ability to work well in a team?  Your leadership potential?  Your willingness to contribute to class discussions?  WHAT?  If you don’t know, how are we supposed to know?  If we have observed these behaviours, skills, etc.  in action then it would make sense to ask us to speak about them on your behalf but if not…

WHEN You Ask

  • If in person, make sure that it is a good time (like not right before class when your professor is madly trying to get the projector to work) and if it is through email then make sure you communicate professionally (appropriate subject line, capitalization, sentence structure, etc.).
  • Indicate why you are asking this particular person for a reference or why you think this person would be a good reference for the purpose.  What value will he or she be willing to add to your application?  Professors like this.  It demonstrates thinking.
  • Include all relevant information in the request like the due date (big one!) and a description of the program/award/position (a link to a website with this information is also very useful).

AFTER You Ask

  • No matter the response, be gracious.
  • Make sure that you follow up with all additional information (contact information of where the letter should be sent for example).
  • Don’t assume that you can use this person as a reference for the rest of your life.  You need to ask each time you would like this person to be a reference for you.

On that last point, a couple of months ago I was surprised to get a phone message from a background check company on behalf of a student I taught SEVEN YEARS AGO.  Thankfully I wasn’t in the office when the call came in so I had a chance to figure out who this person was.  That doesn’t mean I was able to give a good reference.  I really didn’t remember this person or know anything about the position he had applied for.

I hope I haven’t scared you.  The purpose of this post was to provide you with some context so that you make sure you are proactive in building relationships with individuals who might be able to help you in this capacity.  What a great idea for a future post!

Have you had a good/bad reference request experience you would be willing to share?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ohmannalianne/3405673898/”>ohmann alianne</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

4 Comments

Filed under Asking Questions