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)
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Do you ever get days when you wonder if you are making a difference? Do you get so focused on day-to-day meetings with struggling students that you lose your overall perspective?
Periodically, I spend time on Linked In catching up on alums: what types of position do they have; what career choices have they made; where are they geographically. There are two types of students that I look for during my trawling: 1) graduates who enrolled through our Summer Entry Program "leg-up" course [we just finished summer number 13] and 2) graduates who were on probation at some point during their law school years.
What do I find? These graduates are practicing law in a variety of states even though we are predominately a Texans' law school: TX, LA, GA, MD, FL, CA, NM, AK, WA, WV to name a few. They practice in small, medium, and large law firms in a myriad of specialties. Some are partners. Some have won bar association or other awards and recognition. Some are solo practitioners - often after initial years at another law firm. Some are in-house counsel while others have non-legal positions such as land men, financial advisors, or hospital administrators. Some work in JAG, legislative roles, government agencies, or other public service positions. Many serve on community boards and volunteer in their communities in other capacities.
In short, they are contributing to the legal profession and their communities in valuable ways. All of them needed someone to believe in them to get to where they are today. For our SEPers, our faculty as a whole and those of us who teach in the program believed that LSAT/GPA predictors alone did not tell their stories: we chose to give them a chance. For those who were on probation at some point, they needed ASP and faculty members to believe that they could improve their academics: we chose to give them a second chance.
Isn't that what ASP is all about? Giving our students their best skills to reach their academic potential and ultimately become lawyers who give back to their communities - ASP values these things.
So next time you are discouraged about the enormous efforts you put in for minimal pay and status, spend a little time trawling. It will make you smile to see your alums' successes. It will remind you that you were honored to be an initial part of those journeys. Look forward to the impacts you can have as we begin another academic year. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.
I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!
This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.
We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process. This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be. I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors.
For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
I know from recent emails with colleagues that our calendars are beyond bursting. Student appointments, workshops, meetings, class time, committee meetings, and much more crowd our days. We go home exhausted and turn right around the next day for another go. Often we are working with too few hands for the tasks, too few funds at the ready, and too little recognition.
So why do we continue to do what we do?
Because of the students. They matter to us.
We want them to discover (or rediscover) a love for the law. We want them to learn. We want them to grow in confidence in their abilities. We want them to gain life skills: time management, organization, and more. We want them to see grades improve. We want them to pass the bar on the first attempt. We want them to graduate and do our law schools proud. We want them to be there to serve the under-served.
So how do we keep going against what some days are daunting odds?
I find that small blessings arrive just when I begin to feel worn out or discouraged at all that needs to be done.
- An excited student drops by to share news about a good test grade.
- A student thanks me for help with a study schedule that has made all the difference.
- A student remarks that my listening and encouraging really helped at a difficult time.
- An alum stops by to thank me for teaching him a skill he uses every day in practice.
- A thank you note or card appears in my inbox.
- A batch of homemade cookies is left on my desk.
We love our jobs because we realize we make a difference in our students' lives. And because they make a difference in our lives. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Last week was the first installment on how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Here is the second: You Belong. Be Yourself. Have Fun.
First off: Congratulations. Deciding to pursue law school is difficult; getting accepted even more so. You've successfully done both, and are finally ready to begin. So naturally the next question is: Now what? You've read the online blogs, you've talked to friends, family, and attorneys, and you may have even skimmed a few books in preparation of your first year. I did the same. I quickly realized that it's not as terrifying as they make it in the Paper Chase, nor as easy as in Legally Blonde. It is challenging though, especially that first semester. I want share with you three things I think helped me most to survive that first semester.
1. You belong here.
During orientation and throughout the first few months you will meet and get to know so many great and successful people that will leave you in awe. Your classmates will be decorated servicemen and women, others were valedictorians and college athletes, attended Ivy League schools, some even had illustrious careers before law school. All of this will be overwhelming, you may even think there is nothing you bring to the table, and there is no way you can possibly compete with these people. It is important that you remind yourself that you are here for a reason. Law schools undertake the rigorous selection process that it does to ensure that those who attend here, belong here. You've had just as successful of a journey here as they have. What's more, despite their impressive resumes you all have one thing in common: zero days of law school experience. It's a fresh start for all, nobody has an advantage over you in that regard. You belong here.
2. Be yourself.
I don't mean to sound clichéd but the second most helpful thing for me was to continue being myself, especially when it came to studying. Everywhere you look you will see student's working on some law school related thing: running to the library in between classes to get in a few extra pages of reading, answering every question under the sun that's asked in class, going to office hours; some will even work on their outlines from day one, constantly adding and editing. You will also see the opposite almost everywhere you look: students using class time to make that last second eBay bid, doing a Buzz Feed quiz to see which Disney character they are; some will leave after ten minutes and others won't even show. That doesn't mean that one group is doing significantly better than the other; it means they're doing what works for them, and you need to do the same. Don't feel pressure to be in the library in between every class just because you see others doing it. They might have gone out the night before and didn't get the day's readings done. Don't feel compelled to go to a professor's office hours, maybe you just get the material. Along the same lines, don't stream the latest PGA event in class because others are doing it. They might not find lecture a particularly helpful way of learning, are just there to get the attendance points, but will stay up burning the midnight oil later. You and you alone understand your study habits best, how far along in your readings you are, and what you need to do and when you need to do it. Don't pay attention to what anybody else is doing. Be yourself when it comes to study methods and study time.
3. Have fun.
Yes it's possible to have fun in law school. You can go to bar reviews, football games, and trivia nights without your academics suffering. It's important that you don't ignore your hobbies and do non-law related things, whatever that may be. It's easy to get sucked in to the law school world and lose sight of the outside world. Don't. Doing the things I mentioned above will take your mind off studying, give you a nice break so you can keep going, plus you'll have fun doing it. Getting to know your classmates outside of the law school halls was also one of the most rewarding things I did in my first year.
So keep these three things in mind: You belong, be yourself, and have fun. You will also be surrounded by a most supportive group of professors and students to help you along the way, so never hesitate to ask for advice or support. Congratulations, welcome, and good luck!