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!
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
As my students wrap up the semester and head home, they are filled with excitement. Students recognize that they survived the semester although at various points and particularly during the exam period they viewed this feat as impossible. Smiles on their faces and relief felt from completing exams provide glimmers into their true selves which were previously masked by stress and the rigors of law school. Some students are not quite excited because they are filled with concern about the results of their efforts, grades, and the desire to go through a complete postmortem of their preparation and exams. My job is to calm concern, remind students that they have no control over the results that are now in the hands of their professors and stressing about the results changes nothing about how quickly they will receive the results and what the result will be. I say to them with enthusiasm: “All you can do now is enjoy your break!”
Here are my two recommendations to students for the holiday season:
(1) Take a break
Catch up on sleep and enjoy family and friends, if possible. Catching up on sleep is imperative. You probably abused your body and sacrificed sleep as you prepared for exams. Please give yourself a few days to catch up on sleep and to simply be lazy. This is the best time for that. Here is a good resource for an 8 hour deep sleep music or peaceful music for relaxation and meditation: Sleep, Meditation, and Relaxation Music
(2) Plan for next semester
Plan for when you will start the gradual transition to reading and preparing for next semester’s classes so you are not overwhelmed. Set a date and time when you will complete specific tasks. If you are a 3L, this may be the ideal time to plan for your bar application and bar review process. This may also be the time, while at home, to assemble all of the necessary documentation you might need as you prepare to apply for the bar exam, if you have not already. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
As exams and paper deadlines approach, it is easy to procrastinate. Here are some clues that you are not using your time wisely and missing out on oomph in your studies:
- You have alphabetized your casebooks and study aids on your bookshelf, sharpened three dozen pencils, hole-punched two hundred documents for pretty color-coded binders, made 1000 tabs for your code book, and straightened the drawers of your desk - but you have not actually studied yet.
- Your apartment is spotless after you have done spring cleaning (after all you did not do it in April): scrubbed all baseboards, dusted every nook and cranny, washed all drapes and throws, polished the wood floors, shampooed the carpets, cleaned out closets, and polished the porcelain surfaces to a gleaming finish.
- You have focused on Christmas shopping (Black Friday and Cyber Monday were just a start) and scoured every store for presents for family, friends, family pets, friends' pets, neighbors, neighbors' pets, distant relatives, the mailman, the cute barista at Starbucks, etc.
- You have decided to decorate and ready your apartment for the holidays: put up your tree, hung the wreaths, strung the outdoor lights, made popcorn or construction paper chains to festoon your evergreen, baked cookies, hung stockings with care by the chimney, and wrapped endless packages in perfectly coordinated ribbons and paper.
- You paint the living room, dining room, bedrooms, and kitchen, then redo the kitchen backsplash with an intricate mosaic that takes hours to finish, replace all countertops and the sink (you always wanted one of those farmhouse models), and decide to go shopping for new stainless steel appliances for the perfect look.
- You write actual letters to every high school and college friend you every had (after all what says happy holidays like a handwritten missive), talk for hours on the telephone with every relative, review the 2000 emails in your inbox to see what might need deleting, and read every piece of junk mail that lands in your real-world mailbox.
- You set a goal to study right after you watch every episode for all seasons of Downton Abbey or become world champion on your favorite gaming indulgence whether that is Pokémon Go, solitaire, or the latest really cool video game.
Do you think I am kidding? All of these scenarios reflect procrastinating law students I have known with very little exaggeration in the details. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 10, 2016
According to research referenced by columnist Elizabeth Bernstein, vulnerability can be a great thing. Although being vulnerable is often seen as a sign of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs, it can actually operate to produce wonderful things in our lives. As case in point, Ms. Bernstein paraphrases Dr. Hal Shorey, a psychologist, as stating:"Vulnerability can also humanize you, facilitate learning, and enable optimal problem solving." In short, real learning requires us to be vulnerable. But, what is vulnerability? "Psychologists and social scientists define vulnerability as the courage to show up and be seen and heard when you can’t control the outcome." http://www.wsj.com/articles/you-took-an-emotional-risk-now-what-1478536377
Ouch! That's how I felt throughout most of law school…out of control...but not at all courageous. And, as I'll explain below, that's because I spent most of my time preparing for exams by creating giant study tools rather than practicing exam scenarios. But, I'm getting ahead of myself here...
Stepping back, how does the courage to be vulnerable relate to law school learning?
Let me give a suggestion. The "safe" thing to do to prepare for law school exams is to do what everyone else is doing: grab your lecture notes, get hold of your case briefs, and create massive gargantuan outlines of all of your subjects…and...if you still have any time left before exams, read through a few old final exams to get a sense of the subject. But, if you are like me, when I read through exams (or even just outline a few old exams), I sort of convince myself that I understand it, that I could write it, that I actually know what I am doing. And, here's the rub. That's not learning but rather just presuming that I know how to answer final exam questions. So, here's the key.
Rather than spending the bulk of your time over the course of the next several weeks or so creating massive outlines, reorient your time so that most of your final exam preparation efforts are focused on what you are actually going to be tested on in your final exams, namely, solving legal problems. That means that you should be reading, conversing, debating, outlining, writing, re-thinking, and re-writing old practice exams. It will be hard. It will not feel good. It will not feel safe. In fact, you'll probably feel like you don't know enough to start practicing exam problems. But, if you wait until you think that you know enough to start practicing for your final exams, you will run out of time to practice final exams. And, because you are not tested on creating great study tools but rather solving final exam problems, it will be both too little and too late to do much good if you just create study tools. So, be brave by being vulnerability. Grab hold of some old final exams from your professor. Take a stab at them. Try writing out answers. Input what you learn into a study tool. Then go see your professor for feedback. It will be hard to ask for help, to show your work to your professor. That's because it requires you to accept that learning requires vulnerability. But, you'll be might glad that you did.
Finally, in case your professor or your law school doesn't have old final exams readily available, do not give up…at all. Instead, there are lots of free resources through your Academic Support Professionals, your Dean of Students, and even on the internet. As a suggestion, here's a website that consolidates old bar exam essays, point sheets, and answer guides for a whole host of subjects to include Criminal Law, Torts, Contracts & Sales, Property Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Criminal Procedure, all arranged by date of the exam and…here's some great news…by subject matter too! Old Bar Exam Essays By Subject Matter So have at it by opening yourself up to focusing your final exam preparations on practicing lots of exam problems intermixed with creating your study tools. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Life is filled with ups and downs but how do you manage your emotions? Some students are working on their final legal writing assignment, signaling that exams are fast approaching for all students. Around this time of the year, various student organizations and institutional entities have programming to help students manage stress. We have a range of activities available to our students. Activities include “Game Night” which allows students to gather together to play various board games to de-stress. Each semester, there is a “De-stress” day which includes ice cream and opportunities to pet dogs from the Veterinary Medicine School; this is a hit with our students. We have “Mindfulness” Tuesdays and “T’ai Chi and Qigong” Tuesdays led by two of our professors. There are several offices such as the Office of Student Engagement, Diversity Services Office, and Academic Success Program where students can seek assistance and direction on how to manage stress.
I find it important to explore a number of mediums of delivering important information to students. The video below addresses stress relief tips in a quick, quirky, and informative manner. “WellCast” explores physical, mental, and emotional paths to wellness. While many of the videos on WellCast are geared to a younger audience, a few of them apply to an adult audience. We can always use some animation in our life! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, October 31, 2016
Sometimes ASP'ers have to convince others regarding programmatic changes, added services, data collection, or other new ways of doing something. Maybe it is an initiative because of the ABA standards or other accrediting group for your law school's main university. Here is a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education on managing curmudgeons; although it discusses faculty curmudgeons, the points are more generally applicable: Tips for Managing Curmudgeons.
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)
Thursday, October 20, 2016
The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)!
In follow-up to yesterday's excellent post on tackling fear by Prof. Pritchard, I…unfortunately...spent most of my three years in law school in fear. In fact, I felt like I was the only one that was without roots, without a sense of presence, without wholeness in law school. But, since then, I now know the truth…many of us as law students feel alone and in fear.
Apparently, there is something called the 10/5 rule that might have helped me. The 10/5 rule is used throughout the hotel and hospitality industries to help strangers feel welcome. And, because many law students feel as though they are strangers throughout law school, I wonder whether the 10/5 rule might help law students overcome fear and loneliness to become instead empowered as partners with others in a community of learners.
So, here's the nut and bolts of the 10/5 rule:
It starts when you are ten feet away from another person. Just make eye contact with a friendly smile. That's it.
Then, when you are five feet away, just add a friendly "hello" with perhaps a quick expression like "Wow; that's a big casebook you're carrying."
You see, according to freelance writer Jennifer Wallace: "Chitchat is an important social lubricant, helping to build empathy and a sense of community." http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-benefits-of-a-little-small-talk-1475249737 Often, though, we underestimate the importance of small talk.
According to a 2014 study, Professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. student Juliana Schroeder conducted experiments on commuter trains in Chicago in which participants were grouped into three cohorts: some were told to engage in polite conversations with strangers, some were told to avoid conversations with strangers, and some (as a control group) were asked to engage in conversations as they normally do. Interestingly, the rule-breakers - those in the group that actually broke the "social rules of the commuter" by engaging in small talk with strangers - reported significantly more positive experiences and no less productive time as they commuted. http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/nicholas.epley/EpleySchroeder2014.pdf
In another study conducted on a campus setting of 40,000 students, researchers evaluated whether an eye gaze and a friendly smile might make any difference with respect to students' sense of belonging. In the experiment, the authors had a research experimenter randomly walk past college students in which she either avoided eye contact, engaged in eye contact, or engaged in eye contact accompanied by a friendly smile. Trailing the experimenter was a research associate who then surveyed each passerby. Without tipping the students about the experiment, the research associate asked each student to evaluate their sense of belonging. Surprisingly, even when students were not aware of the research experimenter's contact with them, students who were greeted with an eye gaze reported a greater sense of belonging (with the highest reported benefit by those greeted with both an eye gaze and a smile). As the authors indicate, "simple eye contact is sufficient to convey inclusion. In contrast, withholding eye contact can signal exclusion." http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/2/166
These results seem to validate the 10/5 rule. So, why not put to practice the 10/5 rule in law school. Looking back, I wonder whether, if I had practiced the 10/5 rule as a law student, I would have developed connections with others in law school (and put fear and loneliness aside). Perhaps I just need to start greeting others with an eye gaze and a brief "howdy." In light of this research, our small interactions with our students might be the bridge to help our students not just survive in law school but thrive. So, here's to "breaking the rules" and smiling with you! (Scott Johns).
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)
Monday, October 10, 2016
We are almost exactly halfway through our semester's classes. It is the point in the semester when some students exhibit their stress by complaining about everything and everyone in their paths.
What they do not realize is that their focusing on negativity only adds to their stress rather than relieving it. Venting feels good momentarily. (Let's face it, we all vented at times during law school.) But some students go beyond mere venting and get stuck in a consistently negative attitude which can solidify into low productivity, low skill levels, or a blame game.
By stepping back and re-thinking the situation to recognize a more positive approach to this academic challenge, students can turn initial frustration into a quest for improved grades, professionalism, and competence. Negative students stay negative, and sometimes angry. Positive students are those who can regain perspective.
Here are some examples that show the negative and positive attitudes (these are all based on real law student comments):
- Negative 2L student: If I had been in the easy section of the class last spring, I would not have gotten a D grade. The professor did not teach well. Positive 2L student: I got a D in the course. At first I was angry about the grade, but then I realized that 60 other students in the same section did better than I did on the exact same exam. Can you help me learn some new strategies for studying and for taking exams?
- Negative 2L student: I have worked for my attorney father for the last three summers, and he never complained about my writing. The legal writing professor who gave me a D+ does not know what he is talking about. Positive 2L student: I worked during three summers for law firms, but now I realize the expectations are higher for law students than undergraduate interns. I plan to attend the extra writing workshops this fall to improve my skills since my legal writing grade was disappointing.
- Negative 2L student: The law school registration system stinks. I really wanted to take the 2 p.m. section of a course, but the 3Ls got all the slots. It is only offered every other year, and I was not about to get out of bed to take it at 8:00 a.m. Positive 2L student: I was sad to have to take the 8:00 a.m. section of the course because the later section was full and I did not make it off the waitlist. But hey, when I am working I'll have to be at the law firm early, and the course is important to me.
- Negative 2L student: Reading and briefing cases, taking notes, and making outlines is such a waste of time. I just use canned briefs, a class script, and others' outlines. Positive 2L student: Although reading and briefing and making outlines takes time, I learn the necessary skills and understand everything at a deeper level when I process the course material myself. Shortcuts do not give me the same results.
- Negative 1L student: I worked as a legal assistant in a law firm for three years, and my attorneys never asked me to do this ridiculous jurisdictional stuff that has taken up the first month. My civil procedure professor does not know what real-life lawyering is all about. Positive 1L student: I never did any jurisdictional stuff when I worked as a legal assistant for a law firm. But I realize that was probably because I was just asked to do the every day procedural tasks for litigation and not to think through some of those other issues.
- Negative 1L student: Law school should not be this much work and demand such a large commitment. My social life is taking a hit. And they expect me to study in the evenings and on the weekends! Positive 1L student: Being a lawyer is hard work and takes tons of commitment. Now is my chance to learn the skills that will make me competent in my future profession. I am up for the challenge of hard work because I want to be an excellent lawyer, not just a mediocre one.
- Negative 1L student: Professors do not tell us exactly what to memorize for the exam and are always discussing stuff that was not mentioned in the cases. I just want to know the black letter law to parrot back. Positive 1L student: Having to read and analyze cases will be a daily task as an attorney. Learning how to do it well is really important to me. The professors help me to synthesize the law and think about things that I would never have seen on my own.
- Negative 1L student: Legal research and writing assignments are too hard and expect too much. The professor does not tell me exactly what to write - even when I get a draft back. Positive 1L student: Legal research and writing are really hard because I have to research thoroughly and write so concisely. I realize our having to figure some of its out on our own prepares us for what it will be like on our first part-time jobs.
- Negative 1L student: The people in my classes are such nerds/losers/gunners/(fill in the blank). I am obviously superior because I do not have to work as hard as they do. Positive 1L student: There are a lot of really bright people in my classes. Some of them are a bit annoying. But most of them inspire me to produce my best work. I may be smart, but I am no longer a big fish in a small pond.
- Negative 1L student: Professors are posting practice questions that they expect us to complete on top of everything else! No way I want to do that extra work. Positive 1L student: Practice questions will allow me to see how this professor tests and to get feedback on my answers. After all, exams are all about applying the law to new legal scenarios. I'll do all the posted questions and more.
- Negative 1L student: The upper-division students hired by the professors are all running the weekly 1L sessions on the off days and times for class. No way I am getting up at 8 a.m. or staying on Friday morning after my classes are over. They should schedule more convenient sessions. Positive 1L student: What a luxury to have upper-division students who run extra sessions for the professors to help us with the classes. I can monitor my progress and understanding. I get to do more practice problems. And they have office hours, too!
- Negative 1L student: Professors should just tell us everything we need to know. Why should I have to go in and ask questions on office hours? Positive 1L student: My professors are good about answering questions and giving me feedback on outlines and practice questions. It means that I have to stay on top of the work and ask for help, but those things are just part of being responsible for my learning.
- Negative 1L student: The free food at the luncheon speakers is too repetitive and not what I like. Positive 1L student: Oh, wow! Another day without having to pay for lunch or bring it from home. Hmmm, what are dolmades? Guess I'll try it and find out.
Law school is tough, tiring, and sometimes frustrating. If the endeavor to become an excellent attorney can be remembered, many of the experiences can be re-evaluated for their career benefits and learning. No law student can be positive every day. But the ones who retain a positive attitude most days will find the law school experience less frustrating and more productive. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, September 26, 2016
Our student organization on animal law has brought dogs into the law school during several exam periods to de-stress law students. Other law schools have also done this type of pet therapy. Now USC is touting its new hire: USC "Hires" Full-Time Wellness Dog.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Many of our law schools have exchange or L.L.M. foreign students enrolled in our courses. Our educational system (both undergraduate and legal) is very different from the educational backgrounds of many of these students. Adapting to the U.S. educational system is compounded by adapting to the U.S. legal system as well. It is not unusual for foreign students to tell me how very difficult the transition is for them.
I can empathize because I had to adjust to the British legal system and language when I cross-qualified as a solicitor for England and Wales - and I already spoke American English and came from a common law country! It was hard to think in two versions of English and make the mental switches to a very different common law legal system. Most of our foreign students are adjusting to an entirely different language and from civil law to common law!
A recent Inside Higher Education post addressed the participation in class aspect of the adjustment for foreign students. The post provides food for thought and practical tips as we try to help these students adjust to the very American emphasis on class participation. Read the post here: Helping Foreign Students Speak Up . (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
This the fourth full week of classes for our students and stress has already crept in. First year law students who were enthusiastic about the beginning of the law school journey are now working hard and trying to balance all of their responsibilities. More assignments are due in legal writing and doctrinal courses now include some challenging material. Students are trying to maintain their sanity and humanity while balancing the demands of their checklists and trying to do one or two things they enjoy. Moreover, students are trying not to be too distracted by the various news reports about tragedies and events in our backyards and around the world. With students feeling a number of emotions, self-care is essential.
Here are my top five self-care considerations:
- Check-in with your emotions. It is helpful to sit by yourself, quietly, and name what you are feeling. Don't judge your emotions but simply name them, claim them, and maybe even feel them so you can let go of the negative ones.
- Boogie down. Select your favorite upbeat tunes and dance or sing at the top of your lungs. This helps you reconnect with positive emotions and gets your body moving.
- Unplug all devices. For about an hour daily, turn everything off. Turn off your computer, put your cellphone on airplane mode or silent, and shut off all electronics with alarms or alerts.
- Be selfish. Weekly, do something just because it makes you happy. Have something to look forward to particularly if you have a very demanding week.
- Mute the negative. If you have negative people in your life or individuals who fill your social media feeds with sad or negative information you might want to mute them. You may have close or long term relationships with these individuals so you might not want to delete them. You can temporarily or permanently block their information and go from there.
Monday, September 12, 2016
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
Monday, August 29, 2016
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent article talked about a study that found cold-calling on undergraduate students increased the students' voluntary participation over the semester. The article referenced that like any other skill, students need practice - practice in the skill of class participation. The link to the article is here: Why Cold-Calling on Students Works. (Of course, the article also made a negative reference to the law school use of cold-calling and included a link to the well-known clip from Paperchase in which Kingsfield terrorizes Hart.)
For a more positive look at law school Socratic Method, see my post here: Turning the Socratic Method into a Positive Experience. (Amy Jarmon)
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!
Saturday, August 20, 2016
All of us in ASP and bar prep face challenges: students with declining credentials, limited staff, budget woes, concerns over bar pass rates, students burdened by debt who juggle academics and work, and more aspects unique to our own positions or law schools. Many of us work hours far beyond a 40-hour week to get everything done to provide the best services to our students. A growing number of ASPers teach ASP or bar courses; some of us teach other law courses. We are active in our professional organizations and write in various formats. In short, it is easy to feel overworked long before the end of the academic year.
Instead of recharging our batteries and finding breathing space regularly, we tend to collapse in exhaustion whenever there is a break in the calendar: Thanksgiving, the few federal holidays we get on the actual dates, the university closure for the holiday period, a week or two vacation in the summer.
Good intentions to carve out space for projects and time for oneself are often quickly forgotten among the daily demands. So, before your calendar gets fully booked with student appointments, classes, meetings, and workshops, take the time to carve out blocks of time that you reserve on your calendar to help you stay excited about your work, to carve out professional development, and to recharge your batteries:
- Schedule one or more blocks for project time each week. These times will allow you to focus on revamping materials and planning new strategies or services. Look at last year's appointment calendar to figure out the best days and times to schedule these blocks - and then protect them.
- Find time at the beginning or end of each day to read the listserv items and blog postings for several sources in our field as well as other sources outside ASP - perhaps The Chronicle of Higher Education or one of the major newspapers that regularly covers legal education topics.
- Allocate time at least once a month for reading longer pieces in the field to stay updated. You want to read the latest books and articles by colleagues. Crossover materials from psychology, education, and other disciplines can broaden our perspectives.
- If you are trying to do scholarship and publish, set aside time on your calendar to focus on those tasks rather than try to grab time here and there. Have a mentor who will keep you accountable for discussing ideas, finishing research, and producing drafts for review.
- Weigh carefully each new commitment that you are asked to take on within your workload and other commitments. Can you realistically be on that new committee or spearhead that new effort? Some tasks are truly unavoidable. But we often have choices that can be made. In those cases of choice, learn to say "yes" selectively. Practice saying "no" or "later but not now."
- Find other ways to protect your time and space: check your emails at work only four times a day (or if you will have withdrawal, just on the hour); use your email functions to have alerts only for important emails (the Dean, your supervisor); unsubscribe from RSS feeds or library publication rotas that you no longer care about; turn off your cell phone every evening after a certain time and during portions of the weekend; stop checking emails constantly in the evenings and on weekends; make commitments with family and friends and keep them sacrosanct.
- Choose one or two weekends during the semester when you can take a three-day weekend. Block it off now and negotiate with your supervisor that you will be gone those days. If you will cave and be in the office unless you have out-of-town plans, then commit to plans now with your relatives, spouse, friends, long-lost cousins, or others who will hold you accountable to that time with them.
Best wishes to all of our colleagues for happy and productive new academic years. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Stress. Oh my!
Just the thought of it hits me in the stomach. But, there's more than just stomach aches at stake.
According to law professor Debra Austin, Ph.D., excessive law school stress also harms the mind too. That's the bad news. But, here's the great news! In fact, it is really terrific news! And, it is news that we can all use…today!
But first, some background.
As the American Bar Association (ABA) reports with respect to Prof. Austin's research, in general stress weakens brain cognition. But, exercise (along with other pro-active measures) actually creates more brain cells…brain cells that we can all use (whether students or ASP'ers) to perform better and without debilitating stress: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stress_may_be_killing_law_students_brain_cells_law_prof_says
So, as many of us begin a new year of legal studies as students and ASP'ers, it's time to take charge over stress rather than having stress take charge over us. But how, you might ask?
Here's a list of three (3) possible "anti-stress"countermeasures straight out of the research from Prof. Austin:
- Be an exerciser…because neuroscience shows that exercise provides us with "cognitive restoration."
- Get slumber time…because sleep plays "the key role...in consolidating memories." So, sleep on your studies rather than staying up all night to study!
- Engage in contemplative practices…such as mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and focusing on the positive in gratitude…because such practices increase "the gray matter in the thinking brain," improve "psychological functions such as attention, compassion, and empathy," and "decrease stress-related cortisol," among other positives.
For all the details, please see Prof. Austin's research article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loyola L. Rev. 791 (2013), available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155
To sum up, learning - real learning - means that we all must take time…counter-intuitively...away from learning…so that we can really experience learning. So, be kind to yourself today...by resting and relaxing and exercising. You'll be mighty happy that you did! (Scott Johns).
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)