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)
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Part II: The “Now What” of the Bar Exam: The Waiting Period Begins – A Great Time to Thank Your Supporters!
As Goldie Pritchard pointed out in yesterday’s blog, it’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam. Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us until mid to late fall.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period. Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really. Really? Not that hard? Really? You know that I passed? Really? There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family keep telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store.
There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub. All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the late summer and early fall) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it! But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when in late October the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam. To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam. So, here’s a suggestion for your time with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation.
Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results. Finally, don’t give up your hopes and aspirations for your legal work. We need you, all of you, as officers of the court. And, don’t forget, as Goldie Pritchard mentioned in yesterday’s blog, to take time out today to “appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments” as law school graduates and bar exam takers! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, July 21, 2016
There's been a lot of talk about "growth mindset" and for good reasons.
As the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dr. Carol Dweck relates in a June 21, 2016 commentary on the website Education Week, "...my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)." http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html
But, with the bar exam looming next week for many law school graduates, as the saying goes, "sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words" to hep you and your graduates "catch" hold of a growth mindset in the midst of bar exam stressors. So, at the risk of minimizing the science behind the growth mindset, here's a quick video clip that just might spark some positive vibes of optimism as you and your graduates focus on final tune-ups in preparation for the bar exam next week: http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest
In particular, just like the baseball player, we don't all have to be great hitters…or runners…or pitchers…to be successful on the bar exam. But, right now, most of us working through bar exam problems feel like we don't even know enough to play the game, to run the bases, to hit the ball, in short, to pass the bar exam. However, it is not about knowing enough that is key to passing the bar exam. Specifically, I try to place my confidence NOT in getting right answers on bar exam problems but rather in learning and demonstrating solid legal problem-solving abilities. It's just not an exam in which one can always be correct. So, don't worry about what you missed. Instead, focus on just being the best possible problem-solver player that you can. (Scott Johns).
You Can Do This!
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Does that voice in your head ever cause you to feel anxious or defeated? Negative self-talk is something that many people have to combat.
What do I mean by negative self-talk? It is when you think: "I have never been any good at math, so Income Tax is going to be impossible." OR "The bar exam is so hard to pass, there is no way I can pass on the first attempt." OR "Law school is so hard. I just can't do this." OR "What if I get the format wrong on this memo - I'll fail for sure."
Negative self-talk is destructive. It causes us anxiety, lack of motivation to try harder, and defeats us before we have a chance to prove what we can do. It underestimates our abilities and considers us unable to improve.
It is important to learn how to rebut negative self-talk and replace it with positive self-talk. When that negative voice in your head starts carping at you, you want to stop it in its tracks. After all, lawyers practice rebuttal on a regular basis in their jobs. It is time to learn to do it in your private realm.
So, when the voice tells you that you will be hopeless at Income Tax, think positively to rebut: "Income Tax may use numbers, but I mainly am learning steps to analyze the scenarios. I can follow the steps to succeed." OR "I may not like math, but that is what a calculator is for." OR "If I study hard, I can learn how to succeed in Income Tax as a subject."
What about the bar exam negative talk? Rebut it with the following types of thinking: "The bar exam is hard, but I can pass it on the first attempt if I don't psych myself out." OR "I know lots of people who pass on the first attempt because they worked hard each day and completed lots of practice questions; I can do this." OR "I have a study plan and am doing all the things I need to do, so I will pass on the first attempt."
The law school challenge: "I was accepted to law school because I am able to do this; I need to believe in myself." OR "I need to learn new strategies; the Office of Academic Support can help me." OR "I can do this; I just need to go talk to my professor about the questions I have rather than stay confused."
The memo format: "I need to stop worrying about the format, and go to the professor for guidance." OR "I need to refer back to my assignment instructions and re-read about the format required." OR "I need to view the Power Point slides from class again, so I get the right format."
You see the difference? You don't want to let discouragement become your mantra. Often you can take a more positive stance and even think of actions to resolve a situation.
Can you think of the negative things that you commonly tell yourself when you get discouraged, find something overly hard, are tired, or are feeling low? Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left column put the heading "Negative Self-Talk" and on the right column put the heading "Positive Self-Talk." Now list the negative things your voice in your head tells you in the left column. In the right column, write the rebuttal to that negative statement. In fact, write several rebuttals if they come to mind.
Next time you hear that negative self-talk, rebut it immediately. You may find a new negative self-talk phrase pops up or one that you forgot about. Write it on your list and add the rebuttal. As you practice rebuttal, your negative self-talk should become less frequent. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
It seems that the closer students get to crunch time and deadlines, the more problems, errors, and mishaps that occur. Here are some end-of-the semester laments students have told me over recent years:
- My laptop crashed, so I lost all of my briefs, class notes, and outlines.
- My laptop crashed during the exam, and IT could only retrieve part of the exam answers.
- My backpack was stolen with my completed assignment in it.
- I lost the thumb drive with my paper on it.
- We are puppy-sitting for my roommate's friend, and the puppy ate my outline.
- My three-year-old spilled my morning coffee over my final paper.
- The printer jammed and ate my paper.
- I was packing up my backpack to leave work and temporarily rested my research binder on top of the trash can. Then I left without it. The custodian threw the binder away.
- My neighborhood lost electricity during a storm, so I couldn't email my paper by the deadline.
- The copier store closed early, and I couldn't get my appellate brief bound.
- My professor didn't talk about those reading assignments in class, so I didn't study that material for the exam.
- I entered the appointment in my phone, but forgot to look at the calendar.
- The professor never reminded us about the required on-line workshop.
- I set my cell phone alarm for p.m. instead of a.m. by mistake and overslept.
- I didn't read the syllabus so I used the wrong format/missed the deadline/didn't know the assignment was graded.
Organization, planning, and time management are critical skills for lawyers. Setting earlier, artificial deadlines for tasks allows extra time in case of a mishap. Reading documents carefully and calendaring deadlines are essential steps. Computer back-up needs to be an automatic reflex. Care with details can save the day. We may not be able to avoid every mishap, but we can certainly narrow the odds with some thought. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The April edition of the Texas Tech Today newsletter had a brief article on research done by several Texas Tech Department of Psychological Services researchers on a possible link between action video games and capability for a suicide attempt. There are some caveats to the research, but it is interesting for those of us working with a generation of students who are active in the video-game culture. The link is here: Playing Action Video Games May Increase the Cability for a Suicide Attempt.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Mindfulness and the often-used meditation techniques that accompany it have become increasingly popular with the legal profession. Law schools, law firms, state bars, and legal associations have endorsed these aspects as helpful in dealing with the stress and anxiety that are prevalent in the legal environment. Many legal professionals have personally commented on the benefits that they have received through their embracing mindfulness. An interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education asks whether the popular use of meditation may cause us to overlook inequities or injustices. The link is here: The Dangers of McMindfulness.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Are you a procrastinator? Do you know someone who is?
Most people procrastinate sometimes. And, some people procrastinate all of the time.
Some people only procrastinate in certain areas of their lives: just school, just chores, just financial decisions. Some people procrastinate in all areas of their lives: personal, academic, work-related, and more.
Most of my law students have at least occasional problems with procrastination. Some of them admit that procrastination has taken over every aspect of their lives. Often, students know they procrastinate and feel helpless to change their ways.
Procrastinating in law school can mean lower grades and increased stress. Procrastinating during bar exam study can mean a failure on the first attempt at the exam. Procrastinating in practice can mean tremendous stress, loss of reputation, or even disciplinary actions if it includes missed filing deadlines or lack of preparation for a trial.
Here are some things to keep in mind if procrastination is a problem for you:
Procrastination is learned behavior that can be unlearned with conscious effort and strategies.
A good habit, according to research, takes 21 days of consistent implementation to become natural.
Procrastination is really part of a "habit pair" - ending a bad habit and replacing it with a good habit. Thus, change may take longer.
By making changes in small increments over time, it is easier to curb procrastination than trying to "change everything at once."
Procrastinators may "fall off the wagon" and should not give up. Instead immediately start again on your strategies.
A time management routine that gets repeated at least in part every week can often help procrastinators to finish regular tasks at their regular times.
Curbing procrastination becomes more realistic if you become aware of your procrastination patterns:
- What aspects of your life do you procrastinate in? Examples: academics, employment, finances.
- How often do you procrastinate in these aspects of your life? Examples: daily, weekly, monthly, rarely, sometimes, frequently.
- What types of tasks trigger your procrastination? Examples: writing papers, studying for exams, project deadlines, balancing the checkbook, housecleaning.
- How do you '"act out" your procrastination? Examples: delay starting tasks, delay finishing tasks, refuse to follow instructions, stew about making a mistake, daydream, play video games.
- How do you justify to yourself that it is okay to procrastinate? Examples: too much to do, stupid assignment, work better under pressure, task is too hard.
- How do you justify your procrastination to others? Examples: brag about your finishing right before the deadline, tell team members they worry too much, pretend you got a better grade than you did.
- What emotional toll does procrastination take on you - or others? Examples: your increased stress, your guilt over bad habits, others get stressed out by your procrastination, others have to nag you on tasks.
- What other consequences does your procrastination have on you - or others? Examples: all-nighters before deadlines, lower grades than could have been achieved, run out of time to do everything, frustration of others during a group project, reputation for being unreliable, lost friends.
- Who do you trust to tell about your plan to stop procrastinating and ask to be an accountability partner to help you curb your procrastination? Examples: roommate, study group member, spouse.
Consider one aspect or task that you procrastinate on and choose one or two small strategies that you could implement to prevent procrastination. Here are some examples:
- Aspect: Lose track of deadlines for classes. Strategy: Use a hard copy daily planner to track all assignments and deadlines. (You can also use a phone calendar - but you have to actually look at it for it to be useful.)
- Aspect: Not good at prioritizing tasks so leave important ones until last. Strategy: Make a to-do-list that has tasks prioritized by most important, important, and least important.
- Aspect: Finish tasks right before the deadline. Strategy: Set a deadline two days earlier than the real deadline. Work to meet that new deadline. Use the extra time to edit or rewrite as needed.
- Aspect: Waste time with my electronic devices. Strategy: Install one of the apps that blocks Facebook, games, or other electronic distractions for set time periods.
- Aspect: Worry constantly about all sorts of things. Strategy: Schedule a worry time slot at the end of the day. Tell yourself when you start to worry that you have to wait until that time and must get back on task. (This sounds strange, but it works for many people.)
- Aspect: Spend hours on chores or cleaning to avoid other tasks. Strategy: Once a month schedule a serious chore/cleaning half-day. The rest of the month spot clean, pick up, and do only urgent chores.
There are many good books on procrastination and how to avoid it. Take control of your procrastination now - don't wait until tomorrow. (Amy Jarmon)