Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Address the Stress with Mindfulness
Lawyers have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, substance-abuse, and suicide than the rest of the population. The practice of law can be stressful but aren’t most jobs? Why are lawyers having so much trouble dealing with stress? Stress is a mental (and sometimes physical) reaction to a perceived threat or change. In law school, stress manifests early in the 1L year: our past perfection drives our desire to do well and it joins forces with the realization that everyone else is striving for the same level of success. It then crashes into the curved grade system which means that no matter how hard you work, your grade ultimately depends on how well others do. Regardless of the grade, the uncertainty and lack of control lingers throughout your law school career. Then you enter the practice of law and these feelings collide with the emotional intensity of dealing with clients’ problems day after day and working with other lawyers who are often adversarial. It’s a recipe for anxiety, depression, and substance-abuse.
The reality is, life itself is a constant flow of change so we will always have stress. However, stress is not so much the event itself but our perception and reaction to that event. There will always be deadlines and performance expectations. We can’t change that but we can change the way we perceive stress.
Oftentimes, we react to negative situations without thinking. Instead of intentionally focusing on the present moment, we immediately judge it as good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair. This habit is not necessarily a positive one because it is reacting without thinking. It leads to stress, anxiety, depression. Instead, we need to develop a new habit: mindfulness. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for addressing emotional challenges because it helps develop meta-cognition, focuses attention, and strengthens the ability to make deliberate choices. Mindfulness addresses the stress. It allows us to be in control of our own mind instead of our mind controlling us. In practicing mindfulness we learn to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior so we can interrupt stress cycles before they take over.
Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead, and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership recommends something called the Purposeful Pause. The Purposeful Pause is more than just stopping. It is about redirecting and focusing attention so you can make conscious choices. Try incorporating one of these Purposeful Pauses into your day:
- Choose to start your day rather than letting the day start you. Start the day by just breathing and before getting out of bed, take a few seconds to notice the sensations of your breathing.
- Use transitions wisely. Pick a day to drive to (or from) work/school without the radio or phone. When you arrive, allow yourself a few moments to sit in the car, noticing the breath.
- Just walk between meetings/classes. No emails, texts, or social media. Think about each step you take and the possibility of greeting colleagues you pass rather than bumping into them while you text!
Mindfulness is an opportunity to create new, healthy habits. Let’s make the intentional choice to be mindful and let’s change those statistics.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Due to the nature of our work and the lightning fast pace of the academic year, we are so busy that we often forget the many things that we do and various roles that we play. When asked about our jobs, it is easy to answer with a title, “I am the Director of the Bar Studies Program,” or “I am an Academic Support Professor.” Or, to answer with an important aspect of our work, “I help students prepare for the bar exam” or “I provide tools for academic success to 1Ls.” But, these statements do not nearly cover the many hats that we wear at our law schools.
Instead, listing the qualities that are fundamental to our work is more apropos. We educate, we advocate, we counsel, and we empathize. Interestingly, these attributes are strikingly similar to those of a good lawyer. We, like lawyers, balance our time listening, thinking and analyzing, instructing, and communicating with and for our clients or students. In a series of blog posts, I will explore the various responsibilities, tasks, and missions we have as ASP Professionals with the hope that others will better understand the work that we do and the essential needs that we fill.
Some of us see our main goal in ASP to be that of an educator. Simply put, we love teaching. And, as educators, we are constantly honing our craft. We research new teaching methodologies and strategies. We implement new techniques in the classroom and monitor student progress and their learning needs. We reflect on our own work and the impact it has on our students. We seek out curricular changes that will benefit the student body as a whole. We provide formative assessments so students can become self-regulated learners and remedy their weak areas. And, above all, we tirelessly work to help students achieve academic and bar success.
We educate our students in many ways with the work that we do. In ASP, we teach 1Ls the basics of reading and briefing cases, outlining and exam preparation, and school/life balance. We help 2Ls fine tune their legal writing, strengthen their legal analysis skills, and help them establish their professional persona. And, we usher 3Ls into the world of law practice by teaching them the fundamentals necessary to pass the bar examination.
Webster defines an educator as: “one skilled in teaching” and “a student of the theory and practice of education.” Academic Support Professionals are truly skilled in teaching and are the epitome of life-long learners. It is in our roles as educators that we engage students and help them utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. We constantly learn from these interactions with students and from our application of learning theory in our work. In ASP, we wear our "educator hat" most often, but we are also always perpetually being schooled by our students.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Professor Russell L. Weaver at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law is hoping to put together a panel of Academic Success folks to attend the SEALS conference and address the topic of disabilities and support in law school. If you are interested, please contact him at email@example.com.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Friday, September 26, 2014
I really enjoy my students. It is a privilege to help them reach their academic potential. With new strategies, encouragement, and regular support many of the students who were struggling can make a major turn-around. When they stop by or email me to tell me about the high grade on a midterm, a positive critique on a paper, their first B grades in law school, and other triumphs, I share their joy.
Each student is unique in the combination of learning styles, personal and academic challenges, course difficulties, and more. Although there are strategies that work for most students, those strategies may not be a match with others.
I discuss with my students that the materials that I give them will pull together strategies that have worked for many students - strategies that are based on memory and learning theory as well as other research. I explain the reasons for the strategies and their relevance to grades, future bar passage, and ultimately to practice. I also encourage them that if the strategies do not work for them as individuals that we need to explore what strategies will work for them. We can work as a team to modify approaches or brainstorm new approaches that will work.
Most students are eager to become more successful learners. They readily become part of the team to improve their academics. They want to learn more deeply, to improve their skills, and to improve their later performance on the bar exam and in practice. The meetings become a dialogue seeking the strategies that work best for them as individuals. We discuss, tweak, and brainstorm together.
One challenge to a team effort is that some students are resistant to any change in their study habits even when their grades indicate that their past strategies have not been successful. Change is frightening when the consequence of not making grades is dismissal from law school. Change is stressful when they are struggling with the first bad grades in a lifetime and silently question whether other law students are smarter. Change is very uncomfortable when old habits feel so safe in comparison to new techniques.
With these students, I discuss strategies that will move their studies closer to success within their limited comfort with change. As they see positive results with small steps, they are often willing to try additional small changes. Unfortunately, because they limit the number and range of strategies, they often also limit their academic improvement compared to other students who are open to change.
Another challenge to a team effort is that some students are not invested in their academics to a level that allows them to live up to their true academic potential. For a few, the reality is that responsibilities and circumstances outside of law school limit their time for studying. Examples of these aspects would be care for elderly parents, serious medical illness in the family, personal illness, or financial problems. For other students, the extra hours that law school requires to get high grades does not seem worth the effort. They are content with studying enough hours to keep their grades above the academic standards but not more than that amount.
With these students, I work together to get more results from the time invested. Where time is being consumed by study methods that get little oomph, it can be boosted by more effective strategies. Often undergraduate study methods can be modified for law study to get more traction. These students can still improve some - though again the reality is that their improvement is likely to be less than students who have more hours to invest in effective study.
Throughout the process, I try to encourage students, to read between the lines as to what is going on with them, and to be supportive. Each student has to make a decision as to what strategies are feasible to implement within the personal framework of that student. The individual's parameters will determine the student's overall success in academics. I can be a guide and a partner in the process. The student has to make the final choices as to time and effort. I have to respect their choices even when I recognize that they will not meet their full academic potential. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The following web sites and applications have been suggested by law students to help other law students:
- Flashcard Machine: website and app that allow the making of flashcards, random sort, and temporary removal from the deck (flashcardmachine.com)
- Quizlet: website and apps for flashcards, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions; can share with others (quizlet.com)
- SelfControl: Mac app for blocking websites, e-mail, and internet for set time period (selfcontrolapp.com)
- Chrome Nanny: a Google Chrome extension to block time-wasting websites
- Facebook Nanny: another Google Chrome extension to block your Facebook access unless you have a notifications
- Blotter: app for Mac users for desktop time management schedule
If you have apps and websites that are your favorites, please send me an e-mail with the heading "Apps and Websites" at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I may share them with our readers. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS FOR THE AALS SECTION ON ACADEMIC SUPPORT AWARD
The Awards Committee for the AALS Section on Academic Support is soliciting nominations for our section award. The Association of American Law Schools Section on Academic Support’s Award will be presented at the January 2015 AALS meeting and will be awarded to an outstanding member of the ASP community. Please review the eligibility and criteria information below and send nominations directly to Awards Committee Chair, Joyce Savio Herleth via email email@example.com. The deadline to submit nominations is October 1, 2014 at 5pm PDT. For a nomination to be considered, it must include (at a minimum) a one to two paragraph explanation of why the nominee is deserving of the award. Only AALS ASP Section members may make nominations, but all those within the ASP community may be nominated. Membership in the section is free and can be processed within minutes at AALS Section Membership. For detailed instructions on how to become a member, please view this page: https://memberaccess.aals.org/eWeb/DynamicPage.aspx?Site=AALS&WebKey=87e3b982-657e-4a7c-be71-33605903d797.
Eligibility and Criteria for Selection. The eligible nominees for the Award will be Section members and any other individuals who have made significant or long-term contributions to the development of the field of law student academic support. All legal educators, regardless of the nature or longevity of their appointment or position, who have at some point in their careers worked part-time or full-time in academic support are eligible for the Award. The Award will be granted to recognize those who have made such contributions through any combination of the following activities: assumption of leadership roles in the ASP community; support to and mentoring of colleagues; service to institutions, including but not limited to schools, the ASP Section, and to other organizations; expansion of legal opportunities to traditionally underserved segments of society; teaching and presenting; and scholarship, both traditional and creative.
Law schools, institutions, or organizations cannot receive an award. Prior year or current year Section officers are excluded from being selected as an award winner.
Joyce Savio Herleth
Director of Academic Support
Saint Louis University School of Law
100 North Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101-1930
Thursday, September 18, 2014
ASP professionals working at law schools can sign up for the academic support listserv. Members of the listserv can post resources for others and post questions to solicit colleagues' advice. Thank you to Louis Schulze for sending the instructions to share with those who are not currently on the listserv:
To sign up for the ASP listserv, follow these steps:
Address email to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the body of the message enter: subscribe list_name your_first_name your_last_name title school_name
list_name is the name of the list you wish to subscribe to,
your_first_name is your first name,
your_last_name is your last name
title and school_name are optional
If this does not result in a subscription email in one week, people should contact Lawrence Adameic at email@example.com.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
We just finished our second week of classes. The first-year students are looking a bit shell-shocked. The upper-division students are commenting on how things are already too fast-paced. Everyone is looking forward to the long weekend.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the weekend:
- Get a good start on next week's class preparation. Try to complete your Tuesday and Wednesday assignments. You will feel less stressed as the week begins again. Then review the material before class (or the night before) so you have seen it twice.
- Outline for each of your courses. Using this weekend to get on top of all course outlines, will put you in an advantageous position. You can then add to your outlines each week and not end up having to find huge blocks of time in future weeks to catch up on outlines.
- Set up your study space as you will use it for the rest of the semester. Have all of your school-related items in the same place to save time by not having to hunt for things.
- If you have not already made note of all deadlines and due dates for courses (paper draft due, midterm exam, court observation assignment, other projects), mark those dates on a monthly calendar so you will not forget anything.
- If you are already sleep-derived, catch up on your sleep and establish a routine sleep schedule beginning Sunday night that will give you 7 - 8 hours of sleep during regular bed and wake up times.
- Plan a few hours for fun: exercise, a BBQ with new friends, a movie, your favorite TV shows.
- If you have boxes to unpack, errands to run, or other personal items to take care of, try to complete them before classes next week. You will have less stress if you are more settled into your living space and routine.
Enjoy this slight respite. Be ready to hit the ground running on Tuesday. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 29, 2014
At the beginning of each academic semester, we like to introduce ASP or bar professionals who are new to their law schools or who have changed locations? We want to post an academic spotlight about you so that you are introduced to the community of readers if you are new and so readers know your news if you have moved to a different law school.
If you would like for us to post an academic spotlight about you (or a colleague at your school who is too shy to send us something), please send the following information to Amy Jarmon at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be doing posts throughout September and early October.
Here is what I need from you for a spotlight post:
- A small jpeg photo.
- Your full name, title, and law school information.
- 100 - 200 words telling us about yourself: when you started your job, what you were doing before your position, your JD school, your legal practice experience/specialties, your interests professionally and personally.
- A link to your faculty/staff profile on your law school web pages if one exists.
We look forward to welcoming you to our terrific community of colleagues and updating folks on your careers. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, August 23, 2014
August 18, 2014
As the summer wanes and we move into the fall semester, the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth School of Law wishes to invite you to our Second Annual Junior Faculty Scholarship Exchange. This is an opportunity for junior faculty in the New England region to gather together to discuss works in progress, finished papers, research interests, and to network with peers from other institutions. Our hope is to provide a local forum for legal scholars to develop their ideas and scholarship with input and constructive criticism from fellow law teachers. This event is especially aimed at faculty with seven, or fewer, years of law teaching experience.
We are hosting this conference at the UMass Club, located in the heart of Boston’s financial district, on the 33rd floor of 225 Franklin Street. The venue is close to South Station, and the red and orange lines of the MBTA, several parking garages and local hotels. A hot buffet lunch, with morning and afternoon snack services will be provided. For directions, see: http://www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/University-of-Massachusetts-Club/About-the-Club/Directions-Hours.
Please consider joining us for this event by marking your calendar for Friday, October 17th, 2014, from 10 to 4. Seating will be limited. To register for the Junior Faculty Scholarship Exchange, send me an email at email@example.com. Kindly include a short abstract of the work you wish to share with our group. We will confirm your registration for the event. Once we achieve capacity, we will need to decline further registrations . As this event is being underwritten by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School of Law there is no registration fee. Attendees will need to assume responsibility for their personal travel or lodging expenses.
Feel free to forward this invitation to a junior faculty member that you believe may be interested. If this is information that you would prefer not to receive, please let us know and we will take you off of our list. If you have any immediate questions or concerns please call us at (509)985-1121, and ask to speak with Emma or me. Thank you.
Spencer E. Clough
Associate Dean/Director of the Law Library
The University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth School of Law
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Saturday, August 16, 2014
As the beginning of another school year approaches, I have been thinking about how a law student's success is so closely tied to the attitudes of the student. Here are some of my thoughts after observing law students through working in ASP and teaching elective courses.
Attitudes for success:
- Confidence in one's ability to adapt and learn is positive. It is a new educational frontier when 1Ls arrive. With flexibility and willingness to learn, most 1Ls will gain the new strategies for legal education success.
- Openness to constructive criticism coupled with hard work will turn around many of the typical 1L errors in critical analysis and writing (whether exam answer or memorandum).
- Willingness to seek help in a proactive way will overcome many obstacles. Students who use resources in a timely manner can ameliorate problems before they become intractable - whether the help is from professors, librarians, academic success professionals, deans, or other resources.
- Respect for others at all levels within the law school community will engender respectful treatment in return. Much of the tension and competitiveness of law school can be lessened when everyone in the environment remains respectful. Faculty, administrators, staff, and students are all integral to that environment being present.
- Kindness improves one's outlook about law school and engenders helpfulness rather than hostility. A student who values collegiality will lend notes to an ill classmate, explain a concept to a struggling student, and share a kind word with a classmate faced with a crisis.
- Passion for a desired professional goal will often provide motivation when the going gets tough. Examples are: I volunteered with abused children and want to represent children in need of protection. I want to be part of helping families immigrating to the U.S. As a former park ranger, I want to practice environmental law.
Attitudes detrimental to success:
- Arrogance about one's superiority in comparison to others skews reality. 1Ls who arrive resting on their laurels and smug about how special they are often figure out the differences in law school too late in the semester to achieve their academic potential.
- Refusal to take responsibility for one's learning and understanding will lead to lower grades. Students who earn grades below their academic potential are often focused on what the professor, writing specialist, academic success professional, or [fill in the blank] should have done for them. They avoid recognizing and correcting the things they chose not to do to help themselves.
- Perfectionism creates unrealistic expectations that lead to exhaustion. Students who desire to be perfect will be overwhelmed by the amount of work. They often have trouble starting or finishing tasks in a timely manner because of their standards.
- Expected mediocrity can result from self-defeating comparisons to other law students. Students who begin to view themselves as not as good as others will often settle for lower grades. Examples are: I guess I am just a C student. Everyone else is so much smarter than I am. I'll never get an A grade.
- Immaturity leads to lack of effort and frivolous time management that result in bad grades. These students overlook that law school is a professional school and stay stuck in undergraduate behaviors. Playing every evening and weekend, drinking oneself into a stupor, and focusing on socializing lead to poor academic decisions.
- Apathy can result when law school has no personal meaning to the student. Examples are: I came to law school because I did not know what else to do. All males in my family have been attorneys for the last five generations - it was expected that I be a lawyer.
Attitudes color students' ability to adapt to law school, to handle the stress, to seek help, and to reach their full academic potential. Positive attitudes need to be nurtured. Negative attitudes need to be addressed to minimize harmful results. Attitudes will affect whether students just survive or thrive. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 15, 2014
I was surprised several years ago when I discovered that many of my law students can only print. They are unable to write in cursive (or longhand as some of us also remember it being called). Some explained that their elementary/middle/high schools had never taught them cursive writing at all. Others stated that they had learned it at some point but had little experience writing in cursive now.
In catching up on some back The Chronicle of Higher Education articles, I came across an article by Valerie Hotchkiss about the implications of another non-cursive generation and what the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign is doing to combat the loss of cursive: Cursive Is an Endangered Species. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 8, 2014
Next week is orientation week (really less than a week) at our law school. This week I have been grading legal memoranda for our intensive co-taught course that ended on August 1st. Is it really time to start another academic year! Where did the time go?
On May 1st the summer seemed to stretch out before me in a luxorious shimmer . . . .
But then I had to grade exams and 30-page advanced writing papers for my spring European Law course.
Then it was off to Indy for an awesome AASE conference (well, after a day-long delay for bad weather in Houston).
I turned around long enough to do laundry and flew out East to help my elderly father and attend a family reunion.
A couple more days for finalizing projects at work, laundry, and paying bills before flying to the UK for research for my two comparative law courses and lecturing at a week-long CLE seminar.
I flew into Houston on July 4th (welcomed with an overnight stay courtesy of United Airlines because of flight delays and more bad weather). Up early to fly into Lubbock for a few hours in my office before the evening's welcome dinner for our Summer Entry Program Introduction to Legal Studies students.
Four weeks teaching in SEP filled up July (great group of students who worked really hard).
And that brings me to grading this week and Orientation next week. I plan to fit in some recharging of my batteries this weekend as my grading winds down into next week.
It will be nice to see fresh, new faces with the arrival of our 1L students. Equally enjoyable will be greeting the 2L and 3L students as they trickle back for the start of classes on August 18th.
Farewell Summer. Hello 2014-2015 Academic Year. Hope your summer, whether hectic or relaxed, was a good one! (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Saturday, August 2, 2014
My article is due to go out to law reviews on Friday. I have learned many, many things while writing the article, but the most important lesson learned is about teaching. Specifically, the process of submitting my piece to outside reviewers has given me renewed insight into what our students experience when they receive feedback. I know the research on students and feedback. However, it is completely different to experience getting feedback. If you have been in ASP for a while, you probably haven't received feedback since law school. Getting feedback is very tough. To write something, to spend weeks and months preparing, and then weeks and months writing, is emotionally draining and personally exhausting. You cannot help but feel that your admittedly flawed, incomplete article is a part of yourself. But then you have to let it go out to reviewers. If you are lucky, you will have tough, critical reviewers who are willing to tell you everything that is wrong with the piece, so that you can make it better before the submission process. I have been blessed with some really tough reviewers, and my piece is immeasurably better because they spent hours telling me just what is wrong with my flawed, incomplete article. I am confident that what goes out on Friday morning is no longer flawed or incomplete, but a fully-realized articulation of a problem. And it is better, stronger, and complete because of the feedback I received from outside reviewers.
The process of receiving feedback has reminded me how tough it is on our students. They spend all semester struggling with the material, and then they are judged on their learning just once or twice a semester. They cannot help but feel like they are being personally judged, evaluated, and measured. Part of our job is to help our students see that critical feedback is not meant to measure failures and self-worth, but to show them how to be stronger, better, and smarter. It is a part of the "invisible curriculum" of law schools (to use a Carnegie term) that criticism will produce stronger lawyers. We need to make that visible to students; we need to explain that we give them critical feedback because we believe they can be smarter, stronger, better thinkers and writers.
If you are a long-term ASPer, try writing an article for a law review. It may not help you in your professional evaluations, you may not need it for tenure, but you should do it because it will make you a better teacher. Reading about feedback is not the same as receiving feedback. Write because it will help you understand your students.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Lawyers have to to be careful about court rules, deadlines, and various other instructions throughout their professional lives - the right format for an appellate brief, meeting filing deadlines, etc.
Unfortunately, law students sometimes overlook the importance of following instructions and face unpleasant consequences during law school as a result. Hopefully, learning from their errors during law school will prevent more serious errors later in practice.
Here are some law student mishaps with unread instructions or ignored instructions that I have known about:
- The professor's final exam instructions stated that the students could choose three of the five essay questions to complete and must only answer a total of three questions. A student did not read the instructions and answered all five questions while other classmates spent the time on three questions. The professor stopped grading the five-answer exam paper after the third answer. The student received a failing grade for the course.
- The professor's midterm exam instructions stated that each question should be answered true or false and each answer should then be explained. A student did not read the instructions, answered true or false for each question, and explained none of the answers. The student received a failing grade on the midterm exam.
- The professor's exam instructions listed three steps that students were to complete in answering several scenarios on the exam (instructions handed out the day before the exam and also included on the exam). A student ignored step one for each scenario and lost around 15 points as a result.
- A student ignored multiple legal research and writing format requirements for an assignment and lost 20 points.
- Exam procedures required that students who wanted to request an exam move because of having three exams in two days had to file the request by a certain date. A student failed to request an exam move in time and had to complete the exams as scheduled. The student got a D in the course for the third exam because of being too worn out to focus well during that exam.
- A third-year student was warned that he had used up all of his absences in a required course and would be withdrawn with a grade of F if more classes were missed. The student's explanation did not warrant an exception to the attendance policy. The student missed more classes and was withdrawn from the course with the F grade. The student appealed the grade and was surprised that it was upheld.
Legal work requires attention to details. Missed details can have dire consequences. Thankfully, most of our students pay attention to instructions. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Sunday, July 6, 2014