Category Archives: Teaching

Growing Leadership Muscles Through Feedback: Showing Students Where They’re Going


Dr. Shaneika A. Dilka, PhD

Psychology Professor, Kaplan University

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Feedback is one of the most vital elements in the learning process. Faculty, instructors, mentors, tutors, etc., serve critical leadership roles in academic institutions and as such, should work to grow their leadership muscles by providing quality feedback to students. Following a recent discussion on using the principles of transformational leadership to improve classroom interactions and outcomes, I was challenged to think about the topic more narrowly and to consider sharing specific details and methods related to linking transformational leadership style to the art and practice of academic instruction. This was perceived as a challenge, perhaps, because both leadership and instructional styles are highly personal and uniquely developed professional skills. Also, the idea of linking transformational leadership and instructional methods did not seem unconventional. After all, Slavich and Zimbardo (2012) suggested that most instructors already display behaviors related to transformational leadership in their classrooms every day. In fact, if we reframe the discussion and evaluate what we do in the classroom, in our instruction, we see that we grow or flex our leadership muscles every day! In the online classroom, one of the most powerful tools at our hands is feedback, and as leaders and instructors, delivering effective feedback can have major implications for our students.

Consider the purpose of feedback; at its most basic level, feedback is intended to give students information about their performance. Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggest that three questions should be asked during the feedback process by both students and instructors, “Where am I going? How am I going? and Where to next?” (p. 88). Through leadership, facilitation, and well-crafted feedback we can continually consider where our students are going and guide them to ask the question, where am I going?, as they develop their work as well. Faculty members can set high standards and provide challenging opportunities (inspirational motivation; see Bass, 1985) through goal identification. Providing students with feedback that is clear and identifies challenging goals that are focused on the primary task will guide the student to answering the question, where am I going?. Feedback structured in such a way generally results in goal-directed behaviors, discrepancy reduction, and increased commitment to the identified goals (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

How can we show students where they are going? This is often a difficult question because the answer requires an incredibly personalized approach for each student, another dimension of transformational leadership (individualized consideration; see Bass, 1985) that is ever-present in the classroom. To show students where they are going, my intent is always to guide, never to tell. I reinforce existing goals that have been identified, or set new goals when appropriate. In feedback, answers, corrections, and errors are generally not identified individually; rather, resources are provided (i.e. relating to theory, formatting, etc.) to students and they are encouraged to engage in problem solving strategies to further enhance their work (intellectual stimulation; see Bass, 1985). This approach is challenging, self-directed, and increases learners’ autonomy. In some cases, it may be necessary to provide an example of the appropriate method or approach the student should follow; when such cases arise, an example is provided along with additional resources. My primary purpose using this feedback approach is to raise the students’ awareness in order to make them more active in the feedback process, asking, where am I going? Students learn to identify their paths, apply scholarly judgment, and develop invaluable research skills. And as faculty, we are able to flex and grow our leadership muscles, providing our students with the feedback they need  to determine where they are going.

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References

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York, NY: Free Press.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112, doi: 10.3102/003465430298487

Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2012). Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods. Educational Psychology Review, 24(4), 569-608. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10648-012-9199-6

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Brexit Voters Broke It and Now Regret It-Part I: Establishing the Importance of Teaching and Learning in Developing an Educated, Global Electorate


Teresa Marie Kelly, MAT

Composition Professor, Kaplan University

 

Brexit – short for British Exit – the historic and controversial 2016 vote by the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU)– prompted global market crashes, foreign business pullouts, at least one government collapse, and credit downgrades with many experts suggesting that the worst is yet to come (Urquhart, 2016). Once the initial shock passed, the reality of broken promises, apparent voter apathy or even ignorance, and abdication of leadership left the world wondering if Brexit “Broke  It” with” it” being the global economy, the union of the United Kingdom, the political process, or all of the above.  Regardless of political philosophy, as teachable moments go, close study of Brexit possesses amazing potential to illustrate the gap in society created by uneven application of the right to an education, to show what happens in the absence of strong leadership, and why consistent application of critical thinking is vital in a complex world.

Nearly seventy years ago, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights defined learning as fundamental to equality and stated that everyone has the right to an education. As Fareed Zakaria of CNN (2016) argues, contrary to this historical role as a great equalizer, education is the new political divide, which analysis of the Brexit vote supports. Exit polling shows a clear demographic split between well -educated and poorly educated voters that demonstrates the power of an educated electorate. According to McGill (2016), more than 60% of “remainers” were better educated while over 70% of “leavers” were less educated, a division that is not confined to the UK.  For example, Kerr (2016) notes that the best predictors of who or what someone will vote for includes a college degree. Educators must recognize this disparity and bridge it through active teaching and learning as well as through encouraging those with a strong education to inspire and model informed debate and voting for those with less education so that learning levels the playing field as intended, rather than creating a new schism.

In terms of leadership, Brexit is a classic case study of what not to do and why every movement for change needs sound leadership.  While the monetary aspects of Brexit were mostly as predicted, the leadership vacuum that also resulted was not (Urquhart, 2016).  Anti-exit British PM John Cameron announced his resignation the day after the vote. His primary adversary in his own Conservative Party, flamboyant former London Mayor Boris Johnson, made it clear that he didn’t want the job while opposition leader (Balz, Faiola, & Birnbaum, 2016). Nigel Farage, business maverick turned leader of the ultra-national UK’s Independence Party wasted no time extolling his victory and giving the European Parliament in Brussels – which had mocked his Brexit plan for years – a scathing dressing down right out of the Donald Trump playbook. He then resigned because, as the BBC quoted (2016), his “political ambition has been achieved,” suggesting he had no interest steering the country through the legal and economic quagmire he had created.

Horrifically, critical thinking appears to have left the planet – or at least the UK – under the bedlam of Brexit. Many of those who claimed that they understood Brexit issue and the possible ramifications did not take the vote seriously or voted as a “mistake.” Disbelief and a type of political whiplash set in as social media filled with thousands of “what did we do?” posts and videos (Dearden, 2016). Scores of people admitted that they did not vote based on what they wanted. Rather, Brexit had become a pop culture event so they voted just to say that they had or for amusement in the way pulling a fire alarm in a crowded building is amusing (Turner & Wilikinson, 2016).  By the Sunday after the vote, over three million citizens from across the political spectrum had signed a petition- ironically created by a leaver before the vote to hedge his bets – asking for the political equivalent of a mulligan (Turner &  Wilikinson, 2016).

Several weeks post-Brexit Theresa May replaced John Cameron as Prime Minister of the UK – becoming only the second woman in history to hold the office. Her history-making selection barely registered as the fallout from Brexit continued amid her promise to adhere to the referendum. Clearly, the 2016 British electorate was no more prepared or interested in making an informed decision about Brexit and its wide-ranging consequences than Neville Chamberlain was prepared to go toe to toe with Hitler in Munich in 1938 or deal with the ramifications. The World knows how that turned out – no one more so than the Brits, but cynicism and complacency has set it.   While not part of the problem, education has not yet offered a cohesive solution either and that must change.

Coming Soon: Brexit Voters Broke It and Now Regret It-Part II: How to Teach to Develop an Educated, Global Electorate

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References

Balz,D., Failoa, A., & Birnbaum, M. (2016, June 26). Britain’s two main political parties in turmoil over E.U. fallout. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/political-turmoil-in-britain-after-vote-to-leave-european-union/2016/06/26/50ed8994-3a40-11e6-af02-1df55f0c77ff_story.html

BBC News Service.  (2016, 4 July). UKIP leader Nigel Farage stands down.  Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36702468

Dearden, L. (2016). Anger over ‘Bregret’ as leave voters say they thought UK would stay in EU. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-anger-bregret-leave-voters-protest-vote-thought-uk-stay-in-eu-remain-win-a7102516.html

Kerr, J. (2016, 3 April.) Trump overwhelmingly leads rivals in support from less educated Americans. PBS Newshour. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/trump-overwhelmingly-leads-rivals-in-support-from-less-educated-americans/

McGill, A. (2016). Who voted for the Brexit? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/06/brexit-vote-statistics-united-kingdom-european-union/488780/

Turner, C. & Wilkinson, M. (2016). As three million people sign a petition for a second EU referendum we ask – could it actually happen?  The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=Fareed+Zakaria+CNN+Brexit+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

Urquhart, C. (2016, 1 July). The worst of the Brexit fallout is still to hit the UK. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4390967/brexit-uk-economic-shock/

Zakaria, F. (2016). The new divide in the Western World. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/27/opinions/western-world-after-brexit-vote-zakaria/

Teaching Students to Learn


Nicole A. Bertke, MS, Kaplan University CTL Faculty Developer

The intent of higher education is no doubt for students to learn. Yet in an informal poll during a recent faculty presentation, two-thirds of faculty respondents acknowledged that most students come into college without the skills in place to learn successfully. And, most of these same faculty indicated that they spend less than one hour per term teaching their students how to learn (Personal communication, April 28, 2016). If student learning is the goal, how do faculty teach students how to learn rather than just what to learn? Teaching self-regulation is the key.

Inherent to students’ success is self-awareness of their learning differences, including their strengths and limitations, such that they observe when corrective action is needed. Self-regulation is the process by which learners acquire academic knowledge and skills while proactively monitoring  and reflecting on their progress, and changing behavior as needed.  This process enhances self-satisfaction and motivation.  As such, students who employ self-regulation are more likely to succeed academically and to view their futures optimistically (Zimmerman, 2002).

“At the core of self-regulation are strategies to manage cognition, but motivation to use those strategies is also key, says Pintrich. ‘You need the “will” as well as the “skill,”” he says” (as cited in Murray, 2002).  Consider two students; the first student, Tommy, has dyslexia. He recognizes the difficulties this can pose for his learning and accommodates by using a particular reading strategy to comprehend text.  He also works ahead to give himself plenty of time to get through course readings.  The second student, Jeff, is not aware of any difficulties with reading and often waits until the last minute to skim through his course readings.  Based on this information alone, which student would be most likely to perform well on a pop quiz of course material?  Tommy.  Understand, if Tommy was not aware of his limitations, and did not take corrective action, the outcome would likely be very different.

Cycle of Self-Regulation  https://kuwcnews.wordpress.com/There are three cyclical phases of self-regulation – forethought, performance, and self-reflection.   “The forethought phase refers to processes and beliefs that occur before efforts to learn; the performance phase refers to processes that occur during behavioral implementation, and self-reflection refers to processes that occur after each learning effort” (Zimmerman, 2002, p.67).  As each of the phases is covered in more detail, consider how you can facilitate your students’ development.

The forethought phase is comprised of task analysis and self-motivation.  Learners who thrive at task analysis will plan strategically and set goals. These same learners have increased academic success.  They are also self-motivated and believe in their ability to learn, recognize the personal consequences of learning, and/or value the process of learning for its own merits (Zimmerman, 2002).

Self-control and self-observation support the performance phase of self-regulation. During this phase, strategic plans, including selection of specific methods or strategies, are made.  In the performance phase, learners who exert self-control will maintain the strategies they committed to during the forethought phase (Zimmerman, 2002).  Also in the performance phase, learners will self-monitor and observe their performance with attempts to identify their deficits (Zimmerman, 2002).

In the self-reflection phase, learners employ self-judgment and self-reaction to determine the effectiveness of their learning strategies and make adjustments as needed.  They may compare their performance against their own prior performances, the performances of others, or some other standard of performance.  They will also make assumptions about the causes of their errors or successes.  If learners react with satisfaction and positive affect regarding their performances, their motivation is further enhanced.  If not, they can lose motivation and/or take a defensive position to protect their image such as withdrawing from similar future performance opportunities.  Learners may also adapt by making adjustments to increase the effectiveness of learning (Zimmerman, 2002).

It should be clear that faculty can have a significant impact on student learning and success by teaching self-regulation.  Research supports that self-regulatory processes are teachable (Zimmerman, 2002), and this should hold true teaching face-to-face or virtually. As you read about the phases of self-regulation, hopefully you generated ideas for helping students progress in each area.  Zimmerman (as cited in Murray, 2000) suggested the following strategies for fostering the development of self-regulation:

  • Offer choices in academic tasks and methods for complex assignments
  • Encourage study partners
  • Have students set goals for their work (timelines, performance outcomes) and help them define the tasks before them
  • Explicitly teach study strategies and learning devices such as mnemonic aides, knowledge trees, outlines, graphic organizers, note taking and organization, etc.
  • Have students assess their own work and/or assess their competencies
  • Assess and intervene in regards to students’ beliefs about themselves as learners (example, when students perform poorly, what do they attribute this to?)
  • Model self-regulatory learning. For example, to model self-reflection, think out loud when analyzing a theory or a problem so students follow along
  • Quiz frequently
  • Identify and review course objectives up front and ask students to monitor their progress
  • Emphasize concept relevance (scaffold this with other concepts) to improve motivation
  • Tie feedback to key concepts and course outcomes

Again, the process of self-regulation is cyclical.  For example, self-reflections from prior learning experiences will impact subsequent forethought phases.  Reflect on your own learning; can you think of evidence to this point?  And, the phases are strongly correlated. Meaning, students who use strategic planning in the forethought phase are also more likely to employ specific strategies during the performance phase to maintain attention.  Studies have also found that experts display higher levels of self-regulatory processes through all phases than novices.  Experts also spend more time in self-directed studying/practice and find it highly motivating (Zimmerman, 2002).  Because beginners will rarely experience self-motivational benefits (think of a student new to playing the piano), they can lose interest easily, especially in the absence of self-regulation strategies.  With self-regulation strategies, self-monitoring for example, they can observe even incremental improvements (again, think of the piano student).  Research has shown a connection between the quantity and quality of self-regulation skills and academic achievement and standardized test scores (Zimmerman, 2002).

The aim of higher education is to educate its students and support their success.  While faculty are hired to teach within their disciplines based on their experience and degrees, it is important to student success that they focus not only on teaching students what to learn but also how to learn by fostering the development of self-regulation.

References

Murray, B. (2000). Teaching students how to learn. Monitor on Psychology, 31(6). Retrieved from  http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun00/howtolearn.aspx.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory Into Practice, (2). 64.

Why What We’re Teaching and What They’re Learning Matters in the Long-Term


Jan Stallard, Kaplan University Composition Professor

 

When students ask “When will I ever use this again?” I always have an answer. When I began graduate school, my mentor had a cartoon pinned to her door. It showed a nervous man at a job interview who had just been tasked with writing an on the spot essay about Moby Dick. It made me a bit nervous myself because I knew I would need to read that monster of a book that term! As I moved from a first-year student to a full-time instructor, that cartoon became an indelible reminder about what all of us—students and instructors alike—should really be doing.

It’s true that no one has asked me, an English major after all, about Moby Dick in a job interview. I’m willing to bet few others have been asked to solve a geometry proof, recite the Constitution, or create a timeline of ancient Rome. However, I’ve certainly been asked to put on my critical thinking cap to tackle hypothetical problems and break down complex tasks into more manageable parts. And what do all of these skills have in common? They are rooted in critical thinking.

Students love to ask, “When will I ever use this again? I’m going to be a _________________.” I adore this question because I have my answer ready. Writing is a record of thinking, and I can guarantee the jobs students want require thinking. This is the value of making room for writing in every class. When it’s approached thoughtfully, it’s the realization of planning, critical thinking, and double-checking.

We might feel hesitant to have these conversations with students, but I’ve found them to be remarkably productive. It’s not a justification of my job or their coursework, but instead a reality check on what this is all about. Becoming a competent writer isn’t just a plus of education—it’s a necessity that doesn’t need to take a backseat to content knowledge and practical experience.

You’re likely to get these “When will I ever use this again?” questions. Be prepared and make connections that will go way beyond your classroom.

  1. If you know what I mean, why does it matter if I have errors?  If autocorrect has taught us anything, it’s that typos can be a disaster. My students tend to have a better awareness of this, and I think it has a lot to do with autocorrect gone wrong. Transferring this over into their own work takes a nudge. This is a terrific time to make the parallel between an actual human eye proofreading versus a machine doing it. Students too content to let Word do their spell and grammar checking are setting themselves up for failure and embarrassment. Great ideas don’t look great when errors distract from them. Credibility and correctness go hand in hand.
  1. Why are we writing essays when I’m only going to write emails/reports in my job?  A first answer is that they’re going to be writing throughout college. When I’m looking for a long-term answer, I always go back to the writing process. No matter what they write, clarity, organization, and thoroughness are essential. Essay writing encourages writers to think about details. It also teaches them to defend a point of view, which is a common skill in the workplace. The crossover between using evidence in an essay isn’t much different than using data and observations to justify a decision or make a recommendation whether that’s in a conversation or those aforementioned emails and reports.
  1. Why do we have to use APA/MLA?  Students have a fair point if they’re not going to pursue additional education, but the formatting isn’t really the greater purpose of citation styles. Intellectual property should be treated carefully. In the age of the cloud, it seems like information is free for the taking, but this is 100% not the case. Giving credit to others, whether it’s research or ideas from colleagues, does matter. As far as the actual formatting goes, I remind students that many jobs have templates and specific formatting to follow. The goal isn’t to memorize any of this but to depend on it to make your work match someone else’s standard. Plus, details matter. Almost or close enough don’t tend to sit well with future teachers or employers.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it does represent the core questions I see again and again. Make note of questions you see repeatedly and prepare short-term and long-term answers for students. Adding these questions and answers to your repertoire will make you an instructor who better connects with students and their long-term goals.

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Knowing What Students May Not Know


By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

My college career began in the early 1990’s, before wireless internet and personal computers were in most homes.  When I was a junior in college, I remember completing an assignment that used the acronym URL. The details about this particular assignment are fuzzy now, but I recall that I had no clue what a URL was, even though the design of the assignment seemed to assume that I did know.   I was a brand new transfer student at a four-year university, and I had just completed an Associates of Art degree and was a work-study student in the library.  I felt like I should know what a URL was, and I remember feeling a sense of shame that I did not.  In fact, I felt so much shame that I was embarrassed to ask any of my professors or the library faculty whom I worked with what the letters URL stood for. So, even though I was a student who prided myself on always doing my best work, I skipped all the questions that pertained to the foreign term URL and submitted an incomplete assignment.

Eventually, I did figure out that URL meant Uniform Resource Locator, and in this case, the assignment was referring to web site addresses.  I share this story to better illustrate an important lesson that I am reminded of  time and time again as a teacher and tutor:  Educators should not assume that students have the knowledge, skills, and expertise that we think they should have.  Whoever had designed and/or assigned the assignment that I remember assumed that I, and many other students, would know, or should know what a URL was.

In my work with students, I have came across many other terms that educators use regularly that may be foreign to students, especially since students often ask questions in tutoring that they might not want to ask their instructors.   I offer here a very small sample of some of the terms and processes that academics may understand well, but students may struggle with.

Syllabus:  Every college class has one, and most professors have written, revised, or edited one.  Students, however, may not know what a syllabus is, or they may not realize the wealth of information that they can access via a good syllabus.  I suggest that instructors begin every new course with an activity, lecture, or previously recorded video that clearly explains what a syllabus is, where the students can find the syllabus for the course, and what type of information students can find in their syllabus.  A syllabus treasure hunt is an especially fun activity that can get students acquainted with the course syllabus.

Rubric(s):  Instructors often tell students to follow the rubric or mention that they grade by the rubric.  Indeed, the rubric is a wonderful tool, but it is a tool that is likely not familiar to many students.   I recommend that all instructors introduce the rubrics that they will be using to assess work to their students and show them out to use each rubric to guide their efforts.  Even better, show students assignments and excerpts that scored very well on the rubric as well as examples that scored very low.  Taking the time to teach students about rubrics should also help generate quality assignments.

Template:  This is another tool that can be very useful to students, if they understand what it is and how they should use it.   Instead of simply telling students that they have a template to follow, consider showing them how to use it.  Students may not realize how they should go about utilizing an APA formatting template, for example.  They may need someone to show them how to personalize the template and replace the information included with their own, especially if they are new to using word processing software like Microsoft Word.

These are only three of the hundreds of terms and terms that educators may understand very well, but that students may need a little extra scaffolding to help them understand them and how to use them.  What are others that you can add to this list?

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Taking Time Off, Part 2 Preparing Your Students and the Sub


Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor in the School of Business and Information Technology, Kaplan University

In my last blog entry, I worked hard to convince you to take time off from teaching duties now and then, and take advantage of the vacation days allotted by your school.  Once you have made this decision, the real work begins. Herein lie two focal points: the students and your substitute.

The students must be told about the sub, and you need to be the one to tell them, unless of course your departure is an unscheduled emergency. Be careful not to tell them too early; however, so they don’t bother your sub with questions before he or she is truly on call!

  • A simple announcement in the online classroom should be sufficient to tell them of the new “face” in the room. Include the name of your sub and an email address. You can also ask the sub to post an introduction if you think it is appropriate, but remember that fewer student questions are asked if you are the person to introduce the idea that a sub is taking over for a while.
  • Write an auto-response for your official school email. Explain when you expect to return, and remind students that there is a substitute and include that email address. Ask for the email recipient’s patience since you are not likely to respond immediately. Remember that your auto-response will go to anyone who emails you, and write all content accordingly. Most mail systems let you write in advance and specify beginning and ending dates.

A note of caution: some students do not understand the need to take vacation and may question why you are leaving in the middle of a term. They do not realize that online professors work year-round and that time between terms (if there is any) is spent in grading and new prep. “I am taking my vacation this week” without any other explanation may be simply too vague and could make the students feel abandoned. Perception is important! You can ask a colleague to review your course announcements about your absence and give you feedback if you feel it is helpful.

Preparing materials for the substitute professor can take some time, especially if the person has not taught the course before.

  • For seminars and other online meetings, consider sharing your PowerPoint(s) and/or notes. Not everyone teaches seminars at the same pace, so you might like to explain which parts are most important to cover. Expect the sub might add other material and allow him or her that leeway. Remember to discuss the seminar venue requirements (Adobe, etc.), too.
  • If you have any procedures you regularly follow – such as grading seminar participation right after the seminar ends or being picky with grammar and spelling – make sure you mention this to the sub to help ensure some consistency for the students. Discuss who will grade late work, keeping in mind that late assignments must be graded within a certain time frame.
  • If the sub has not taught the course before, provide the assignment grading rubric in a Word document.
  • Input your normal beginning-of-unit and other announcements to begin on appropriate days. This will make it easier for your sub but also provide consistent guidance for your students.
  • Ask the sub to let you know when he or she has access to your classroom and make sure you share your cell phone number with him or her in case there are issues that need your input.

Lastly, don’t forget to tell your chair when everything has been set up. Keeping everyone informed will make your time off and subsequent return run more smoothly!

Beach

Taking Time Off, Part 1: Why Teachers Should and How to Time It


Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor in the School of Business and Information Technology, Kaplan University

Sometimes taking time off from teaching seems to be a bigger pain than just teaching every week of the year. I can’t find a sub. The subs never do what I want. The students will be lost without me. I feel guilty taking the time.  I don’t need a break. While these may seem to be valid reasons, they are more likely excuses.

First, there are always going to be other professors who are willing to sub for you. If you provide adequate help, they won’t need to be premier experts in the field. You might be helping someone bolster their resume or make new connections – or pay a bill or two.  Many are also happy to exchange the favor.  Don’t know any names? Ask your chair for names, because he or she already knows who would work out well.  No excuses: you can find a sub.

There are no guarantees a substitute will do everything you expected in exactly the same way you wanted, but careful preparation and communication before you leave for your vacation works wonders. Realize, too, that it’s okay if the sub doesn’t do everything perfectly. No excuses: the subs will get the job done.

Students are more resilient than you think. Remember that terms are short, and they get new teachers and new topics and exercise new critical thinking skills with each new course. School is an adventure, and one of the biggest lessons of all is learning to adapt. No excuses: the students will be fine without you for a short time.

Teaching is a lot like parenting. Think of your vacation time as being like a parent taking a bubble-bath: you’ll be back soon, but you need the time to relax. Upon your return, you will feel better, be less likely to worry and lose your temper, and will have taken some time to refresh and recycle your brain and your body. No excuses: there must be no guilt for the taking time off that your employer already knows you need.

Besides the bubble bath, here are some ideas for teaching break activities:

  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Cook a new meal or bake a new recipe
  • Volunteer at a shelter for the homeless or for animals
  • Spend all day shopping for one small item; walk slowly and enjoy the sights!
  • Surf the ‘net to learn something new
  • Take long walks, get a massage, or go to the gym
  • Read a book or two
  • Stay up to watch a favorite old television show in the wee hours of the morning
  • Go to a concert or listen to music in a different style from your norm
  • Complete some professional development
  • Write a blog entry (okay, now you know what I’m doing on my vacation)

Hopefully your appetite has been whetted for taking your vacation days sometime this year!  Planning can commence.  Consider taking a full week/unit rather than just a few days so your sub deals with a coherent, cohesive piece of the course.  Is there a unit where the grading is a little easier, or the students have fewer difficulties understanding the content?  Which week or days will be the least disruptive to your students? Talk it over with your chair or colleagues if you need another opinion or two about the timing.

Being a student is (usually) temporary, and taking a break unnecessarily delays graduation. But being a teacher is a more permanent condition, and we need that break now and then! This might need to be explained to your class.  My next blog entry will look at ways to prepare both your substitute and your students for your well-deserved time off.

Thinkingquestioning