Friday, November 2, 2007

The Law School Culture: Cooperation over Competition

At this time in the semester, I am always concerned when I see exam stress turn normally nice law students into discourteous ones and normally discourteous law students into mean ones.  When students become stressed and anxious they often take it out on others (and on themselves, but that is a whole other topic). 

I try to talk with my students about actions that they can take to keep the law school milieu "healthier" during this stretch into and through exams.  They are often surprised that they as individuals can have a major impact on the culture of the law school.  Here are some of the suggestions that I make to them:

  • Offer to help another student in your class who is struggling with the material.  Answer questions on material about which the student is confused.  Recommend a study aid that helped you.  Tell the student about a source for practice questions.  Encourage the student to see the professor (or tutor) about the material.
  • Look for the silver lining in the clouds for both yourself and others.  Look for the learning opportunities in exam studying rather than at the obstacles or drudgery.  Problem solve rather than feel powerless and overwhelmed.  Give (and take) praise for each study task completed well.  Help others stay positive.   
  • Compliment other law students on things that you admire in their studying, extracurriculars, or personal lives.  Tell someone congratulations on making a trial team or winning a competition.  Praise someone for an awesome job when called on in class.  Let someone know that a class presentation helped you in understanding the material.  Mention to someone that you admire that person's thoughtfulness or honesty or some other trait.   
  • Use daily inspirational sources to create a positive attitude in yourself which will spill over to others: quotes or scriptures; visualization of your success on exams; prayer; photographs or cartoons; "pep talks" from mentors, family, or friends; music that inspires you.
  • Say "thank you" and "please" more often.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated and not to feel taken for granted.
  • Smile at anyone who looks tired, worried, or anxious.  You may be the one bright spot in that person's day.
  • If you are a local, invite a law student who is "home alone studying" for Thanksgiving Break to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner. 
  • Perform random acts of kindness towards other law students.  Provide homemade cookies for your seminar class.  Share your pizza in the student lounge with another student you do not even know.  Leave encouraging notes for law students whom you know are struggling.  Share your class notes with someone who has been ill before they ask.  Lend a study aid that you have already used to another student who cannot afford a copy.
  • Refuse to participate in gossip about others.  Gossip is unhelpful in the best of circumstances and during this part of the semester is usually mean-spirited and designed to make others look like academic disasters.  Do not tell anyone about gossip that you know.  If someone starts to tell you gossip, politely decline to listen.
  • Step in if you overhear another law student being mean or bullying to a classmate.  You can merely interrupt the conversation by saying that you need to talk with the "victim" to get that person out of the situation.  Or better yet, let the aggressive law student know that the behavior is not necessary or appreciated.
  • Think about what you need to feel good about yourself right now or what you would want someone to do for you.  Provide those "wish list" items for another law student as well as for yourself.

For most law students, this time in the semester is tough.  I stock up on tissues for my office, walk through the law school to smile at and encourage students, praise my probation students who are working hard, and fill up the office candy bucket more frequently.  And, I listen very carefully for the "between the lines" messages in my students' statements/voices.  (Amy Jarmon)       

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