Thursday, February 9, 2017
I just came out of a great conference. However, it wasn't a great conference because it made me feeling better. In fact, I left the event realizing how far I often fall short of the mark as a teacher. But, it was great...in the sense that I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some key principles...that I can bank on in trying to BECOME a better teacher.
So, let me cut to the chase. Based on the principles shared by conference leader Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, I started to think that I might be trying too hard to teach my students. That's right. I might be trying so much to help my students learn that I leave very little for them to do, which is to say, that I leave them no room for learning.
You see, according to Dr. Weimer, I can't actually "learn anything for my students." Rather it's my students that are the learners. And, to be frank, learning is just plain hard work. It's messy. Its discomforting. It's even downright excruciating sometimes. But, I often don't want my students to feel that sort of uncomfortable frustration that is required to generate real learning. Or, as Dr. Weimer put it, "we are often doing a lot of the hard messy work of our students" by making decisions for them, which, if true, means that our students are not truly learning. In short, we are just teaching them to be dependent on us rather than coaching them to succeed as independent learners, to put it in my own words.
So, my sense is that my students need less of me as a teacher and more of me as a coach. They need me to step out of the limelight, to give them fresh air to try, to let them work hard and ponder mightily as they grapple with the course materials. That's because learning is personal. It therefore requires lots of practice. It requires deep engagement in the materials. It requires sometimes (or even often) failing.
But, as Dr. Weimer pointed out, my students often do not see me fail. Instead, they often see me demonstrating how to succeed (i.e. teaching!). But, I didn't learn the materials through success. Rather, I learned the materials through lots of rough 'n tumble practice (and that means through lots of trials, errors, and downright embarrassing mistakes).
So, Dr. Weimer encouraged me (us) to open up with our students, to admit our mistakes, to let our students have empowered agency to personally engage with the materials. In short, it's time for me to teach from the sidelines, and, that means that I am not "making the big plays for my students." Instead, I am their coach on the sidelines and they are the players moving the ball downfield as learners. That's a game that I am excited about watching. Oh, and by the way, taking Dr. Weimer's words to heart, I admitted to my students just today that I have made lots and lots of mistakes on the path to learning how to become a lawyer, and it was through walking through those experiences that I truly learned. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Most bar review programs include a simulated practice exam which might be a full MBE, a full written day, or a combination. First time bar takers might be apprehensive about completing the simulated exam under timed circumstances but they typically complete the task because they are fearful of not doing what they need to do to be successful on the bar exam. For repeat bar takers, it is a little more of a challenge. Repeat bar takers hold on to memories of all of the effort they previously put forth and the negative result it yielded. Often, these students might either start but never finish the simulated exam or complete the simulated exam but experience emotional trauma. For students who finish the task, the raw score is a verdict on how they will perform on the exam. When things seem to fall apart, this is the time to remain optimistic, not give up, and expect the best. Keeping the exam in perspective is imperative.
The bar exam is only a few weeks away so be realistic about what you can accomplish in the weeks and days to come, cater to your weaknesses because what you are afraid of will show up on your exam, visualize the exam taking process, and be positive. Good luck to all of the February bar takers. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Continuing from Professor Goldie Pritchard's excellent post yesterday regarding "Student Motivation and MLK Celebration Day," on April 13, 1963, Dr. King penned one of the most famous letters of all time: "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."
In writing to fellow religious letters, Dr. King explained, in his words, that "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." Then, turning to the question about whether it was proper to engage in direct action in the form of sit-ins and marches, Dr. King defends civil disobedience, arguing that the root question was whether the segregation laws were just or unjust. If unjust, then disobedience was justified.
That led Dr. King to explain why the law was unjust in a very famous paragraph: "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."
Wow! Impactful! Poignant! Straight to the heart of the issue! Take a close look at the paragraph above. Did Dr. King start with the issue? After stating the issue, did he next state a rule and then explain the rule to his fellow religious leaders? Moving on, didn't he next transition to an analysis of that principle by concretely applying the rule to the segregation laws? Finally, look closely as Dr. King finishes with a succinct conclusion. That's right...Dr. King's argument is structured in IRAC and yet Dr. King was not an attorney (rather, he earned a Ph.D. from Boston University).
When I first saw Dr. King's use of IRAC, I was shocked because I thought that IRAC was just a tool that lawyers used to analyze legal problems. In short, I was convinced that my legal writing professor invented IRAC. And, it felt SO unnatural to me...so mechanical...so impersonal...that I tried my utmost to avoid writing in IRAC.
Looking back, I see my folly. IRAC was not invented by attorneys. Rather, IRAC is the structural foundation for some of the most monumental moral arguments of all time. In short, IRAC (what the rest of the world calls deductive reasoning) is powerful because it is a common form of analysis to all of us, long before we ever came to law school. Simply put, we have been using IRAC for all of our lives, and yet, we just didn't know it. So, take time out to reflect on the power of IRAC as a tool for persuasive analysis. As demonstrated by Dr. King, IRAC can be the structural foundation for making moving moral arguments, arguments that in Dr. King's day led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, don't shy away from IRAC. Rather, embrace it, refine it, polish it, and always, with an eye on what's the right thing to do. In that way, paragraph by paragraph, you as a future attorney can make the world a better place for others. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
At various points in a given semester, students find themselves unmotivated for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons include managing financial pressures, dealing with academic challenges, feeling lonely, suffering from stress, and experiencing racism, sexism or some other “ism.” There are several articles and other sources that address intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how to engage students. However, I am always seeking innovative ways to encourage and support students.
Monday marked the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017, an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Most institutions of higher education commemorate this day with a variety of activities. Institutions have a variety of programs which include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, artistic expressions, marches, community service, and speeches. Students attend the various programs but for others this is simply a day off and an opportunity to either rest or get ahead academically.
This year, I am an advisor to a student group and based on my interactions with this group of students, it was imperative for me to find different ways to re-motivate these students. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a great opportunity to encourage them by drawing examples from his life and encouraging students to partake in at least one activity. For students, there are a number of qualities and values they can draw from his life as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, an activist, a well-educated and accomplished man of color, his commitment to society, his ability to stay true to his convictions, and the ease with which he communicated, encouraged, and rallied those around him. Reflecting on all that he was able to accomplish with the challenges of his time, we should all be courageous in the face of adversity and preserve our hopes, dreams and aspirations. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Law students often become so caught up in surviving each class week that they forget the bigger picture. They are preparing for being lawyers! Their clients will depend on them to be great lawyers, not just mediocre lawyers.
Every skill learned and honed in law school assists the graduate to be a great lawyer.
- By learning and honing skills in reading and briefing cases, students prepare for being experts for reading thousands of cases during their legal careers.
- By learning and honing skills in understanding judges’ reasoning and the evolution of the law, students prepare for expert legal reasoning and possible policy arguments for necessary modifications in the law.
- By learning and honing listening and note-taking skills in class, students capture the nuances of the law and recognize the important information.
- By learning and honing skills at arguing both sides of a scenario, students prepare for being experts at arguing their clients’ positions and anticipating the arguments of opposing counsel.
- By learning and honing skills at legal research and writing, students prepare for being experts at locating the relevant law and clearly and concisely stating the law in a variety of legal formats.
- By learning and honing their skills through clinics, client interviewing, trial advocacy, law office management, and other skills courses, students prepare themselves for the daily rigors of legal practice.
There are more skills learned and honed during law school. These are just a few that law students need to become great lawyers. Academic support professionals and professors are there to assist in the process. Law students need to reach out for assistance when they are struggling with the skills needed as lawyers. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, January 2, 2017
I hope that all of our readers had blessed holidays! Some of you were snowed in; some of you were basking in the sun. Wherever you spent your time off, I know you enjoyed the break from your busy academic schedules.
AALS is this week in San Francisco. There is a plethora of sessions to attend including our Section on Academic Support business meeting and program. Other interesting programs are being offered by the Sections for Legal Research and Writing, Teaching Methods, Balance in Legal Education, and Student Services. Although I will be unable to attend this year, I will look forward to hearing about the programs from colleagues who do attend.
As you dive into the new semester and think about New Year's resolutions, I would suggest the following:
- Pick one professional development goal for the semester: attending a regional workshop, signing up for AALS or AASE committees, writing an article for publication, finding a mentor to encourage you in your work, being a mentor for a new ASP'er, etc.
- Pick one innovation goal for the semester: redesigning a series of workshops for your students, working more closely with student organizations, working cooperatively with career services or student services colleagues on programs that overlap your areas, etc.
- Pick one community service goal for the semester: helping with a pro bono clinic, working at the local food bank, serving meals at a homeless shelter, socializing the animals at the local shelter, teaching Sunday School at your church, etc.
- Pick one personal goal for the semester: reading a non-law book each month, spending more time with family, taking time for yourself each evening/weekend to rest and reflect, learning a new hobby, getting in touch with your spiritual side, etc.
We tend to make long lists of resolutions. So many, in fact, we can never meet them all! So focus on these four areas of your personal life and work and choose just one goal. Then work on sustaining that effort throughout the semester.
If you are a go-getter and complete and sustain goals easily and quickly, then set a new goal to add in each area that you have completed and sustained. But don't be an over-achiever burning the candle at both ends. Savor your goals and the processes that accompany them.
May you all have blessed semesters and success in all you resolve to do. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Wow. At long last, final exams are over...sort of.
For most of us, we have a very difficult time with uncertainty in general, which is particularly exasperating as we wait - sometimes for weeks - for our grades to arrive.
So, despite the festive times of this month, we often find ourselves unable to relax, to enjoy the season, and to simply wind down and rest.
Nevertheless, there's a simple way - in just a flash of a moment - to help break free from the many stresses and strains of the past few weeks of final exams. Why not try out, today, the "smile loop?" It sounds, sort of, fun, doesn't it? So, here's the scoop (and the science too):
You see, according to an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein:
"Smiling produces neural messaging in your brain that makes you happier. Some studies have shown that when we smile our facial muscles contract, which slightly distorts the shape of the thin facial bones. This leads to an increase in blood flow into the frontal lobes of the brain and the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. And, when we smile at someone, that person tends to smile back. So, we've created a feel-good loop." http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-fall-back-in-love
For those of you that are not scientists (that's me!), the short scoop is that smiling brightens not just our days but the days of those around us. And, it sure seems to me that smiling at another person gets us on the right track to thinking about others rather than worrying about the past few weeks of final exams (with its lingering wait for grades).
I had the chance to put smiling to the test in very unforgiving circumstances over the course of the past few weeks as a volunteer attorney. There's a little Greek island just a few short miles off the Turkish coast. Because of its locale so close to Turkey, thousands of people have been fleeing on small inflatable boats across the Aegean Sea to escape persecution, calamity, and in some cases war in their native countries - from Syria to Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan to South Sudan - with the hope of receiving refugee in the European Union. I talked with a man, his wife and his adorable small children that risked it all traveling by land from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey only to be finally living for months in a small UNHCR tent in a refugee camp on the island of Chios.
Despite the lack of resources and the uncertainty of still waiting - for months on end - to receive as of yet an asylum hearing, he smiled. And, then his children smiled. Why, his whole family smiled. In the cold of the wind swept coast of this little island refugee camp, we all smiled...together. He and his family may not have had much to give but they gave something immeasurably priceless...they shared smiles with me.
Let me say, this was not unique. As I walked through the refugee camp with a number of refugee-seekers, even though we often didn't speak the same language, we were able to communicate in ways that are often richer than words. Over and over, refugees would just come up to me with big generous smiles and warm handshakes of greetings. Memorably, a small Syrian boy grabbed my hand one day by the lunch tent as a group of young people were dancing, asking me to join in the footsteps and singing.
You see, smiles are not just a trick to make your life better or happier. No, no at all! Rather, smiles are the sweetness of life itself in helping us to make the world a little better for others. So, as you wait for final exam grades to come in, be of good courage and share smiles with those around you. Who knows? That brief smile might get you up and dancing!
Monday, December 19, 2016
Most law students have completed exams and papers (or will soon). So congratulations on finishing another semester of law school! For those of you who are first-year students, you are now seasoned law students and no longer the newbies! For those of you in second or third year, you are well along your journeys to being law school graduates.
And for those of you who have graduated this December, special congratulations and best wishes come your way! We wish you well in your bar exam study and exam-taking. We wish you well in your new employment or job hunting efforts after bar results.
Stay focused in your bar study. Complete the entire bar review course including the practice questions - not just some of it - so that you increase your chances of passing the first time. Bar review is essential to prepare well for the exam; this is not a time to coast just because you have been studying for three years. Pace yourselves because this is a marathon and not a sprint. You can do this! (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Exams are in full swing so students are focused and appear to be productive. The hustle and bustle of activity throughout the building has calmed down only to usher in the quiet sounds of exam study. I see and hear students prior to and after exams; meanwhile, I am able to complete administrative tasks uninterrupted. Topics of student conversation typically relate to stress, study strategies, complex concepts, time management, and study aids. Students have an array of “light bulb moments” which is quite interesting to hear. Conversations I have with students are slightly different and concern pre-exam confidence building and post-exam debriefing.
The most exciting thing I have observed is how students support one another as classmates, friends, and colleagues. Students are more likely to listen to other students, even more than they listen to academic support experts, so it is nice to hear students repeat to their peers’ advice I have given them. A few things I have heard students repeat in the hallways include:
“You can do this! We’ve got this!”
“You studied so hard and it is going to pay off.”
“You taught me the information so you know it.”
“We completed all of the professor’s past exam so we have some idea of what the professor is looking for. If worse comes to worse, we have a reference point and can write something down.”
“We were in office hours more than anyone else and figured out what we did not know.”
“You are smart!”
“Leave the past in the past; you have control over what is ahead.”
Encouraging hallway chatter makes all the difference! (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
As my students left for fall break, my advice to them was plan for a healthy balance between rest and academic productivity. Catching up on sleep and recharging for the exam preparation period and for exams is imperative. My students had a significant assignment due prior to fall break so this is a much-needed opportunity to reclaim some Zzz’s. I also encouraged students to accomplish some of the heavy lifting they need to achieve prior to exams. By heavy lifting, I do not mean taking on ambitious feats such as starting and completing outlines for every single course. Yearly, students boast these plans but seldom, if ever, do they accomplish them. The focus should be on smaller goals that students would not have time to otherwise accomplish while balancing classes during the semester. Goals such as simply identifying concepts they do not understand and dissection those concepts or making a list of items to discuss with professors during office hours. Goals such as reviewing or completing outlines for one or two courses are also effective. Quality over quantity is very important. Doing what is best for you rather than simply mimicking what others are doing.
As an ASPer, I experience the same challenges my students face. How do I find the perfect balance between maximizing student free days and rest? When students are away, meetings and other administrative demands seem to increase. I also like to address a few things on my to-do list that I have neglected throughout the semester. This year, I had an unrealistic laundry list of things to do but only managed to complete a few tasks and I have to be okay with this. This was a unique semester which put significant demands on my time and included a number of early mornings and late night meetings. I have neglected my family so I have to reconnect with them and unplug from work for a little bit. This is a necessary challenge because like the students, I am a human being too and should take care of myself. Happy Holiday Season to all and PLEASE get some rest. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
When I accepted a position as an academic support professional, I had an idea of what my duties and responsibilities would entail. As a law student, I was a teaching assistant and ultimately supervised teaching assistants hired through the academic support office. I worked closely with the director of the academic support program and I saw her daily interactions with students and the various programs she developed. I worked with her for most of my law school career and thought I knew all there was to know about academic support work. One thing I did not realize was that your personality and the culture of the law school dictate the various duties one might undertake. I have a student affairs background so many of the things I do are rooted in student development theory. I try to be aware of the needs of students who are also parents and have early morning, evening, and weekend meeting options for them. I try to recognize when it is important to have personal discussions rather than focus on the planned academic task. I try to attend various programs put on by student groups to support my students as they take on leadership roles. I meet with students on weekends and away from the law school building to help them regroup and begin their journey to sit for the bar exam a second time. There are a number of other things that most don’t know I do. I do these things because my students inspire me and I am personally invested in their success. Others invested in me and I hope that my students believe I invest in them. Imagine a world without teachers?
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The most rewarding aspect of my work is hearing about the impact I have on the lives of my students. I typically hear from students themselves but it is even more rewarding to hear from those they hold near and dear. It is an honor when parents and friends know about you before they have even met you. I cherish these moments dearly when I face challenging days or wonder whether I am truly making an impact. Around this time in the semester, I am typically juggling individual meetings with students, reaching out to students who were unsuccessful on the bar exam, reviewing midterms, quailing fears about final exams, helping students strategize for the remainder of the semester, serving on committees, and not to mention preparing for and presenting workshops to 1Ls and LL.M. students in addition to answering numerous phone calls and email messages. I promise you, there is a lot more but I will stop there. I enjoy all that I do but it can seem a little overwhelming at times.
During those more demanding periods of time, students typically remind me of why I do what I do. Simple things like a visit from a prospective student sent by three former students who saw me as a resource, thank you cards collected over the years, and a visit or phone call from a former student make all the difference. What really energizes me are the phone calls from students who have passed the bar exam and attained their goal of becoming attorneys. Sorry again to the individuals I share space with because I typically scream with excitement. How can you not feel good about your students’ accomplishments? I hope that all those who do this work recognize their value and contributions to the lives of each and every student they engage with. During challenging periods of time, it is very easy to forget about the hundreds of students you have interacted with over the years.
As a graduate student, one of my advisors suggested that I keep every card, every note and every email I have ever received from a student in a drawer. She said: “when things get challenging, read some or all correspondence to center yourself and reconnect with who you are and what you do.” I have found this advice invaluable because sometimes the supporter can use a few words of encouragement. I hope that we all take the time to remember why we do what we do, our purpose and our strength. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
A herculean ASPer is an academic support professional who is perceived to have extraordinary powers which allow her/him to overcome every difficult task pertaining to a law student’s academic and bar success. These powers often exceed normal human power and capability; they are superhuman. This is my fictional description that I believe describes the perception of many academic support professionals and sometimes even how these professionals perceive themselves if they took the time to reflect.
Academic support professionals are problem solvers who are willing to put in the time and effort to help guide students as they navigate their law school learning and bar exam preparation processes. This means that we are simultaneously juggling interactions with several different students, with several different needs, and at a variety of points in their individual progression. We help students manage emotions and address non-academic needs. We are creative individuals who are flexible enough to adapt to individual student progression and process. Doing this type of work is what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going.
While we might appear or perceive ourselves as superhuman and herculean in nature, I have found that at various points in the semester and the academic year responsibilities require more careful attention to time management. This can be difficult for someone who generally has difficulty saying “no”, values helping, and is solution oriented (speaking only for myself). Whenever I find myself in such a predicament, I have to remind myself of what I advise students concerning managing their time and balancing responsibilities, particularly at demanding stages of the semester. Here are the three things I try to keep in mind:
- Learn to say “no.” Only take on commitments you know you have time for and you truly care about. Although there are so many tantalizing opportunities, you still need to be effective in what you are doing and deliver a respectable product or service. This is the hardest thing to do. Be real with yourself and choose quality over quantity.
- Turn essential tasks into habits. Everything you want to accomplish each day results from repeated actions and developed routines. Start small with a manageable task and work from there. If you are required to produce regular written documents, then you may need to establish a set time and write regularly for that period of time. This means weekly or daily writing with time limits for completion.
- Personal fulfillment should be the goal. Enjoy and evaluate whatever you are doing. We can get so busy making sure we get everything done that we do not stop and smell the roses or appreciate what we do. You Only Live Once (YOLO). You do not get back the hours and minutes that have passed so do not experience regrets. Be open to opportunity and embrace your passions.
All the best as we work on ourselves to better help others work on themselves! (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has several definitions for the word “fear” but here I have only selected a few.
: to be afraid of (something or someone)
: to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant)
: to be afraid and worried
: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
Fear is the theme of the week and maybe even the month because it has crept into various aspects of life for students and other individuals I engage with. The fear of midterm exams, fear of failing out of law school, fear of the MPRE, fear of the bar exam results, fear about getting practice questions wrong, fear of not getting the interview, fear of not getting the job, and fear of being embarrassed in class, you get the picture. I try to calm the fears of those around me or at least help them develop coping mechanisms to face fears head on.
The field of positive psychology suggests that while some of our happiness is influenced by our genes and our external circumstances, a large part of our happiness comes from how we choose to approach our lives. Furthermore, people who actively try to become more grateful in their everyday lives are happier and likely healthier than those who do not. Challenges and fears are inevitable in life if we are truly experiencing life, but how we approach these challenges and fears is more important than the challenges and fears themselves. This is true for students and ASPers.
I saw the clip below, an excerpt from Charlie Day’s Commencement Address at Merrimack College, a while ago and it recently resurfaced on a number of outlets. I found the entire address particularly encouraging and empowering and have shared this clip with others. I hope that you find the words encouraging regardless of what challenges you currently face. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Have you ever locked yourself out of an office, a car, an apartment or home? I sure have, and plenty of times. The worst was a Friday night at a carwash - after having just finished washing a car - with a bunch of cars lined up behind me to get into the carwash. Very stressful! But, that's not the point.
Rather, there are two ways to view the situation.
First, I might feel like I'm just plain out-of-luck, unless I get an expert - like one who has the master key to cars - to let me in.
Second, I'm not going to let this stop me, at least not without a good-hearted try.
Our responses are different in the two cases based on our approaches or mindsets to the stressful situation.
In the first case, I just give up and wait for help. And, while I wait, I start to simmer over negative thoughts, such as: "I can't believe I did this again" or "How could I be so careless?" Despite my stewing over my situation, my situation doesn't change. I'm still waiting for others to bring the master key. I'm not growing and I'm not learning.
In contrast, in the second case (or at least while waiting for help), I decide to take a try at getting into my car. So, perhaps I grab hold of a paperclip, stretch it out, flex it a bit, poke it around the lock, and hope (or imagine) that I will trip the locking mechanism to open the car door, even without my key. It might not work…or…it might work! But, regardless of the outcome, I still try, and, in the process, I feel bits of excitement, some positive vibes, that at least for the moment take my mind away from blaming myself for the situation or telling myself that I'm plum out of luck, and, instead, I re-direct my energies to finding a solution, a pro-active way out of my predicament.
Interestingly, research scientists are starting to discover some very exciting things about stress and mindset.
First, stress is common to all of us. It's part and parcel with the human experience. Indeed, according to the scientists, to try to avoid stress is not just impossible but downright harmful to us. So, we shouldn't run from it…at all.
That brings us to the second point. Stress is critically important in helping us grow as a person and even as a learner. In fact, it's not really true that stress kills; rather, it's our mindset to stress that determines whether it harms the body or rather it builds up the body and mind. Indeed, biologically speaking, the right mindset to stress produces the chemical and biological reactions necessary for learning.
Third, our current mindset about stress is not fixed in stone at all. Rather, our approach to stress can be changed - through even very short video clip interventions - where we learn to reframe our approaches to stress so that we see "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about the impact of our mindset approach in determining whether stress is beneficial or not.
You see, according to the scientists, it is our mindset to stress (and not the stress itself) that determines whether stress produces good outcomes or harmful outcomes. According to the experts, our bodies are hardwired not to avoid stress but rather to grow through stress. For example, let's take exam stress. The student that learns the research about mindset and stress prior to an exam (i.e., that stress can actually be a good experience because stress can be mind-enhancing, mind-activating, and mind-growing, thus leading to positive growth in learning) performs much better than the person who believes that stress harms one's abilities to tackle an exam.
Let's make this concrete. If you are like me, when I take exams, my heart starts pounding and my lungs start breathing in gulps. I could view that as a bad sign. If I do, I'm in trouble. Or, I could recognize that my body is reacting to a stressful situation in precisely that way that it was made to react. In fact, my increased heart and respiration rates are actually working together for good - my good - to bring me to a more alert state, with much more oxygen than normal, to help my brain perform better than ever, and just in the knick-of-time for me to tackle that exam that is before me.
Want to know more? Try these resources. For a quick overview, take a look at psychologist Kelly McGonigal's article "How to be Good at Stress." Ted Ideas: Good At Stress
For a short 3-step approach to turning stress into a positive, see the article by psychologist Alia Crum and performance coach Thomas Crum entitled "Stress Can Be a Good Thing if You Know How to Use it" in the Harvard Business Review. Stress as a Good Thing
Finally, for the scientific details, please see psychologists Alia Crum and Peter Salovey's research article "Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response." Rethinking Stress
It's something to think about…stress and our mindset. (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Success or thriving in law school can be characterized in two different ways. There is “Traditional Success” which includes the things we generally think about such as (1) receiving academic honors throughout one’s law school career and at graduation and/or (2) involvement or leadership in revered and coveted activities or organizations. For some, participation in law review or moot court, becoming a teaching assistant or a research assistant, obtaining a summer clerkship, externship, or judicial clerkship are all signs of success. These are, for the most part, tangible things that one can see and comprehend. Involvement in the ways listed above seems to equate, for most, with a certain guarantee that one will land the dream job with the dream starting salary. For some students, these aspirations are so interwoven with their expected law school experience that without them they feel less than successful. The reality is that not everyone is going to have such an experience. So what does one do if they only achieve one or none of these goals?
For others, to succeed and thrive as a law student might mean “Achieving Your Realistic and Attainable Goals” and maybe even surpassing those goals. Succeeding and thriving in law school might include some awards and achieving your goals but more importantly, it means developing your persona as a legal professional. It means developing good relationships with classmates, professors, and staff who will become future colleagues. It means developing a good reputation and striving for personal excellence and improvement. It means focusing on your self-development rather than constantly comparing yourself to others. While it is important to have individuals that you admire and strive to be like, your journey is uniquely yours. A checklist of to-dos and to accomplish only limits the full extent of the law school journey. At the end of your law school journey, you want to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you did the best that you could, that you used all of your resources, and that you maintained your integrity, self-respect, and authenticity. It is easy to adopt another’s path but you can forge your own unique path.
My motto for law students is: NOT A THING is imPOSSIBLE. At times the journey might appear impossible but hope and faith can propel us beyond our wildest dreams. It is imperative to learn from failures and shortcomings, most will have many.
The most successful law students are those who can stare a challenge in the face, work through the difficulties and frustrations, and endure the emotions but pick themselves up shortly thereafter. Weakness is not in sharing your challenges with a peer because you never know what challenges they are facing. Many students struggle with similar insecurities though they might show unwavering strength. Be honest with yourself and don’t lie to yourself about your commitment to what you have to accomplish. Sort through your challenges and deficiencies and don’t be overly confident about your abilities. I know too many students who may not meet all of the qualifications for a particular opportunity yet opportunities that seem impossible have been made possible for them, so trust yourself.
This is dedicated to a student I have seen grow and find her place within the law school world. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
As of late, the higher education world and various outlets have been buzzing about “Safe Spaces”, “Free Speech”, and other related topics. I am not going to insert myself into this discussion nor am I going to express my viewpoint. I do however wonder if Academic Support offices are “Safe Spaces” for students?
I understand that as ASP professionals our primary purpose is to support students academically. We help students identify strengths and weaknesses; we help students develop weaknesses into strengths; we help students develop and implement processes that work for them; and we help them develop effective learning tools. We help students on academic probation build their confidence and achieve their goals. We also help students prepare for and overcome the bar exam hurdle, the first, second, or third time around. As ASP professionals, we are an important part of the lives of the students we engage with.
When I say “Safe Space”, I mean are we individuals students might seek out for non-academic support as well? Are our offices a place where students feel welcome, included, unjudged, and supported? For me, my answer is an emphatic YES! Aside from the key aspects of my job, I also build relationships with my students. I would be ineffective at my job if I did not help students feel a sense of community and humanize the law school experience and profession. I challenge my students and support them because I care about them. I occasionally share my experiences with similar challenges students encounter to normalize their experiences. I listen carefully, actively engage, remember the discussion and ask about how students are doing. I may also use some of the information the student shares to help bring some of the exercises and assignments we work on together to life. I do recognize that not every student might feel a connection with me initially or ever but I do my best to ensure that each and every student feels that I am personally invested in their journey, looking out for their interest, will work with them to achieve their goals, and relish in their successes.
This week has been particularly challenging for several of my students. I have heard about stressful interviews, coping with illness, the challenges of meeting deadlines, and the stress of time management and balancing work and school. Students also wanted to have serious discussions and vent about the events in the news and their reactions to them, classroom discussions or the lack of discussion about the news, reactions of classmates to discussions on the topic, feelings, etc.… Others discussed job search, insecurities about grades, family, financial challenges, and successes and accomplishments. I also fielded questions about when the library and computer lab open and several questions prefaced with “This might be a stupid question but…” or “You might not be the person but…” I am grateful for a background in student affairs which has equipped me to manage many of these situations and direct students to resources.
While some of the week was spent encouraging, empowering, and redirecting students, my students are well aware of my expectation that we will be back on track next week. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, September 1, 2016
"A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students" Say Researchers Walton and Cohen
Big hat tip to Professor Rodney Fong at the University of San Francisco School of Law for his alert to this research article!
It's not too late to make a difference…a real difference…a measurable difference…to improve academic performance and health outcomes for minority students, as demonstrated by the published research findings of Dr. Gregory M. Walton and Dr. Geoffrey L. Cohen at Stanford University in their article "A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students."
Here's the scoop:
The researchers surmised that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes for African-American students. As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for success in collegiate studies. In its most basic form, the intervention was threefold.
First, the university shared survey results with research participating students, substanting that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time."
Second, the participating students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages by writing an essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey."
Third, the participating students created videos of their written essays for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the collegiate world better for future generations of incoming students).
According to the researchers, surveys in the week following the intervention suggested that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging. And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.
The researches then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences and to test for the impact of race. As revealed in the research article, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students in terms of both improvements in GPA and improvements in well-being. In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits.
That brings us back to us ASPers!
With the start of the school year for ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful interventions...by sharing the great news about social belonging. But, there's more involved than just sharing the news. Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not see themselves - in the words of the Stanford researchers - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention.
In short, our entering students must be empowered with tools to share with future generations what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.
Wow! What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge…for all of us! (Scott Johns).
P.S. Here's the abstract to provide you with a precise overview of the research findings: "A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health." Gregory M. Walton, et al, Science Magazine, 18 Mar 2011: Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1447-1451
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Wow...For those of you as 1L students, perhaps you feel like I did when I started law school…alone.
But, here's some great news!
We are not alone; rather, we are "ALL"-alone!
You see, at least according to posters made by recent entering law school students, most of us feel out-of-place, a bit perplexed, unsure of ourselves, wondering how we will perhaps "fit" in, and, most of all, hoping that we can survive law school.
In my case, as a person that turned forty years old in my first year of law school, I was so scared. Downright frightened…and...intimated. But, as it turns out (and I didn't realize at the time), most of my entering colleagues (if not all) were feeling just like I did!
Don't believe me?
Well, here's a few posters with comments that some of recent entering law students - in the very first week - produced to depict what they were excited about in entering law school…and what they were concerned about in entering law school. Perhaps you'll find that you share some of the same excitements and concerns.
And, here's the key…Don't just focus on the negatives but also take time to reflect on the positives that you share with so many (if not all) of your law students. You see,most of us feel just like you do.
So, take time to encourage one another and share your own personal excitements and concerns. It's a bit scary at first, but, in the end, you'll be mighty happy that you did. And, good luck new 1L students. We wish you the best!
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
At the end of the first year of law school, many rising 2Ls leave for their respective destinations with an array of emotions but they are excited that the academic year has ended. The anxiety about academic performance is significant for most students. Some of these students had a rough fall and spring semester because they did not achieve their academic goals for any number of reasons. They are also uncertain about whether the adjustments and newly implemented strategies will yield the positive results they expect for the spring semester. There are other students who had a successful fall semester because they met or exceeded their academic goals but found spring semester rather challenging and/or competitive. These students are now fearful that they will not academically perform the way they did in the fall. Finally, there are students who are confident in their academic performance both semesters but they are simply exhausted by all the energy expounded all academic year. At the start of the summer, all of these students are happy to turn the page and embrace a new chapter away from the rigors of the first year.
For some students, the summer means getting sleep and reentering life as an average human being. The recharge of energy is necessary for these individuals to function effectively during the academic year. This might be the student who does not take on activities a typical law student might expect to the summer of their 1L year. For others, the end of classes marks the start of an externship, internship, or summer associate position. For these students, this is an opportunity to do what they came to law school to do and to be exposed to some of the intricacies of the legal profession. Over the years, I have noted that students who return from these experiences are more motivated, have gained perspective, and are more confident in their abilities. Certain other students instead opt to take summer classes, pair summer classes with summer practical experience or work, or simply work. These students feel a sense of accomplishment because they are a few credits ahead or have secured finances for the summer and the academic year. For all students, the 1L law school experience may have created some self-doubt that is now long gone.
All this to say that fall semester is a great semester for most returning students (2L, 3L). Students are more alive, reenergized, and reconnected with the confidence they had when they first walked into the law school. Students are optimistic and maybe even idealistic. So how do we capitalize on this bliss?
- Bottle it up. I encourage students to bottle the summer experiences and feelings so they can utilize them later, at a more challenging time. It is often the case that students who had very difficult academic experiences are the most excited about their summer experiences such as projects and cases they worked on, how they performed in summer classes, or the fun things they accomplished.
- Be purposeful. This is a time for students to jot down their aspirations and dreams and contemplate how they are going to achieve them. These can be as simple as adding one opportunity to obtain practical experience each and every semester to feel connected to members of your community.
- Recreate the experience. We discuss how students can have the summer experiences here in the law school environment. Would it entail collaborating with a professor to make something happen or do we already have things in place?
- Empower. I actively listen to students as they share their experiences and take mental notes with the goal of later empowering students. I remind students of their accomplishments over the summer when they are disappointed. I use their practical experiences when we meet one-on-one because I know what their interests are and can help them bring the material to life. I also highlight how their experiences and individuality can contribute to the legal profession. Finally, this is an opportunity to highlight skills that they developed and explore how they can use those to be a successful student. Also, simply reminding a student about a positive comment made by a supervisor or professor can be helpful at times.
Since we are in the business of helping students succeed academically and on the bar exam, we need to pay attention to other aspects of our student’s development. We need to help students recognize the skills and gifts they possess and have developed. (Goldie Pritchard)