Thursday, January 23, 2020
Research suggests a relationship between a positive growth mindset mindset and improved learning. C. Dweck, G. Walton, G. Cohen, Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning (2014). Consequently, I've been trying to "read" the minds of my students (and they often seem to look sullen, downtrodden, and burdened).
To be frank, that might well be my fault because I don't always accentuate the positives about the difficulties involved in learning. Yet for most of us, we realize that it's in the midst of the hard spots of our lives that our character was shaped. In short, we grew into the people we are today because of how we pulled through the difficulties of yesterday. And that's why learning is...growing our minds. So, why not see learning in similar light?
Here's a couple of suggestions that might help your students approach learning with a more positive growth mindset:
First, my best classes are when I leave room at the end of the class, well, for learning (or at least reflecting on learning). Here's how: I ask students to mingle about what they learned today. Instantly faces are transformed into beams of sunlight; frowns are replaced by the warmth of smiles; and, most significantly, the class becomes alive with criss-crossing conversations. Then, I open up the floor...and the floor fills up oh so quickly. Hand over there, another over here. Three over there. More that away. In short, as students open up, they come to appreciate that they have learned a great deal (and that most of their learning came through courageously probing mistakes made).
Second, I toss out a statement - in my best vocal rendition of Eeyore as possible - gloomily saying: "Oh my...oh me. Woe is me. I missed...another...problem." We then contrast that mindset with Winnie the Pooh: "Oh, look, there's honey over there, up in the tree, and back over there, why, there's even more honey; there's honey everywhere!" Suddenly students recognize that law school life is not really as gloomy as they think it is, that there's plenty of "honey" to be gathered from every problem that we miss; that it's in "climbing up the trees" and putting our hands in the thick of the "bee hives" that leads us to even more honey...because, well, "where's there's bees--there's got to be honey."
In short, it's in the midsts of mistakes that we learn best. So, to sum up what I've gleaned about learning from Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore it's this: "The best learning is like honey; it's a sticky mess of a problem (but a mighty good treat!)."
P.S. To learn more about Winnie the Pooh and friends, visit: https://winniethepooh.disney.com/winnie-the-pooh
Monday, January 20, 2020
Across the country this week, bar candidates will take a full-length practice exam. Your first simulated MBE scores may not be exactly what you expected. I took my first bar exam years ago, but I still remember the shock of my first practice test score. I could not believe my eyes. Never before had I seen a percentage so low. My practice test results triggered a fight or flight instinct in me. For others, this week's results may yield any one of a host of emotions: fear, devastation, sadness, indifference, or overconfidence. Bar passers must develop the coping mechanisms to rebuff these counterproductive, yet understandable, emotions.
The first step in your battle for resilience must be to reflect on your pre-bar journey. Approximately three years ago, you were wondering if you would get into your first-choice law school — or any law school for that matter. Once admitted, those first-year exams made you question your ability to make it through law school. Yet somehow by grace and sporadic unhealthy doses of caffeine, you are here with a law degree and one test that stands between you and the practice of law. What began as a quest both shaky and unsure, is now a dream realized. How you started is NOT how you will finish.
The second step is self-assessment. You may have learned that while you love e.g. Torts or Contracts, they do not reciprocate your sentiments. You may be equally shocked to discover that you excelled in a dreaded subject area, proving that you know the doctrine of equitable conversion and standards of review far better than you previously led yourself to believe. Analyze your practice exam results to identify your areas of strength and weakness.
The third step is to slow your roll. Before looking to new sets of practice questions, revisit questions that you have already answered and missed. Don't reread the answer explanations. Instead reread the question facts. It is highly likely that you may know the tested rule of law, but missed some key detail in the fact pattern or misread the call of the question. It is unwise to do more practice questions until you fully understand how to analyze and answer the ones you've already answered.
The fourth and final step is to execute a plan of attack. Once you come to terms with your weaknesses, develop an effective plan to combat them. The tools and assignments from your commercial bar review provider can only take you so far. If you need drastic improvement, consider reaching out to your law school academic and bar support team or a professional bar tutor. Sometimes the best bar therapy comes in the form of a volunteer bar coach or the supportive words of a recent bar passer.
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Comparison is the thief of Joy. - President Theodore Roosevelt
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. - Pastor Steven Furtick
Unfortunately, now is the season of comparison. Grades came out recently, and I hear 2 questions from many of my students. The first question is, "am I still in law school?" For the vast majority of law students, the answer is yes. The next question I hear is some version of how do I compared to everyone else. The joy of passing or completing a semester of law school isn't most students' reaction. The near immediate reaction is to start comparing to others. The immediate comparison furthers the demoralizing effect law school has on many students.
Depression in law school is four times higher than society. I believe one of the reasons is our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. Not only do people like to compare, society has furthered the comparison mindset. Pastor Furtick's quote from above is specific to social media. He is 100% correct. One study indicates over 69% of adults use social media. Social media is a constant comparison. Individuals see friends' vacations, clothes, habits, food, etc. and start feeling bad about life. The perception is the pictures and stories on facebook are the constant, and our own daily constant can't compare.
Current students grew up on social media, so they are even more entrenched in comparisons. Our job is to find a way to help students fight the immediate need to compare to others' grades. When students come in, I always start with acknowledging students' feeling'. Many are upset with grades, and feeling disappointed is understandable. From there, I talk about what they accomplished. I tell them not everyone can make it into law school, and not everyone graduates. Making it through a semester is impressive. Here are a few additional strategies for decreasing comparisons:
1. Turn off social media as much as possible, but definitely during the week after grades are released. Disappointment from grades can be compounded by comparing to others on facebook.
2. Write down why you came to law school. Ask yourself, can you still complete your career goals? The answer is most likely yes. With a few exceptions, you can still accomplish your goals no matter what your grades were. Many jobs are found through networking.
3. Don't listen to others' stories. Too many people talk about their "great" grades or how well they did. Don't listen. I hear more people talk about how well they did than is statistically probable.
4. Focus on what matters, which is this semester. Last semester's grades are finished. The only thing that can change are current and future semester grades. Now is the time to focus on how to improve.
Grade comparison is a thief of the joy of law school. Intellectual attainment should be rigorous but fulfilling. Constant comparison can ruin it. Let's strive to help students stop comparing to each other.
Saturday, January 18, 2020
Many of us are trying to make changes for the new year. Success insider published 20 motivation quotes for the new year. Here they are:
Let today be the day you give up who you've been for who you can become. - Hal Elrod
The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. - G.K. Chersterton
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. - Lao Tzu
The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. - Melody Beattie
If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one. - Dolly Parton
Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. - Hal Borland
Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one. - Braid Paisley
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. - Dr. Seuss
For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. - T.S. Elliott
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Only you have the power to determine whether your future mimics your past. - Skip Prichard
Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. - Oprah Winfrey
There is no passion to be found in playing small - in settling for a life that is less than what you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela
Don't count the days. Make the days count. - Muhammad Ali
Twenty years from now you'll be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
You are never too old to set a goal or to dream a new dream. - C.S. Lewis
And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were. - Rainer Maria Rilke
It is never too late to be what you might have been. - George Elliot
Ring out the old, ring in the new, ring, happy bells, across the snow: the year is going, let him go; ring out the false, ring in the true. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. - Thomas Jefferson
Thursday, January 16, 2020
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So picture a triangle: One way to think about learning is to contemplate the three "angles" of learning.
At the apex of the triangle - from the viewpoint of most students - law school education is all about learning to think, act, and communicate like an attorney.
But that begs the question. What is learning?
Well, in my opinion there are two others corners to the triangle, and those - I believe - are the wellsprings or foundations for successful learning. And, as many have suggested, they often go overlooked in our haste to teach students to "think like attorneys."
Let me explain what I see as the other two corners that make a "well-rounded" triangle so that our students can effectively learn to think, act, and communicate like attorneys.
One of the corners involves applying the science of learning - the lessons learned from educational psychologists as how best to learn. And, as the scientists suggest, its often counter-intuitive to our own notions of how we best learn: To cut to the chase, less talk and more action, by having our students engage in pre-testing, practice testing, distributed practice, retrieval practice, and interleaving practice throughout the semester, is foundational to long-term meaningful learning.
The other corner, it seems to me, involves the interplay of the heart, the soul, and the mind. It's the psychological-social dimensions of what best equips us and our students to engage in optimal learning practices. Some emphasize academic tenacity or grit. But, in my opinion, this corner of the triangle rises (or falls) on whether we are developing within our students a sense of place, of belonging, as valuable members of our learning communities. You see, it's very difficult to have grit when we feel out of place, like we don't belong. But focus on equipping our students to belong...and tenacity will soon follow suit.
Lately, thanks to the work of many in the academic support field in teaching me about the interrelationships among (1) the skills of lawyering, (2) the science of learning, and (3) the psychological-social dimensions of learning, I've been regularly integrating, emphasizing, and sharing research about learning straight from the "scientists" mouths.
Here's two of my favorite articles, filled with colorful and vibrant charts and tables, which I flash onto the classroom screens (and then have my students ponder, decipher, and explain as to how they can best learn to "think like lawyers" based on the latest research):
And, if you want to make the most of this little blog, grab a piece of paper, close your computer, and draw a nifty picture of a triangle (with annotations as you try to recall as much as you can about what you learned).
Happy Learning to you and your students!
Thursday, January 9, 2020
In my experience, very few law students take advantage of exam reviews...and, when they do (or must because of law school requirements), they often leave my office unchanged, defensive, and feeling as though grades are mostly arbitrary.
That got me thinking...
I'm convinced that there must be a better way - a much better way - for students to meaningfully review exams.
So, with that in mind, here's my 3-step suggestion for conducting exam reviews.
1. First, ask students to mark up their exam answers as if they are grading their answers, using the exam keys or model answers provided by their professors.
2. Second, for each point in which a student misses an issue, a rule, or a fact analysis, etc., have the student go back to the exam question and highlight to identify where there were clues in the question that that issue was at play, or that rule was applicable, or those facts were meaningful to analyze.
3. Finally (and this is the hardest part for me), say nothing. Make no declarative statements at all. And, definitely make no suggestions at all.
Instead, ask the student open-ended questions, such as: "Looking back at the exam question now, what might have helped you realize at the time that you were taking the exam that that was an issue, etc." Then wait. Again say absolutely nothing. Let the student investigate, reflect, and ponder what the student saw and didn't see in the exam problem and what was missing from the student's rule statements or fact analysis, etc.
Then, put them in the pilot's seat by asking them questions such as: "Why do you think that you missed that issue or didn't have that rule in your answer or missed analyzing those facts, etc.?" As they talk, let the students be the experts. In fact, treat them as the expert by carefully jotting down notes as I listen to them.
At last, once they stop talking, I ask them this simple question: "Based on what you've now observed about your answer and the question, what are your recommendations as to how to improve your future learning, your exam preparations, and your exam problem-solving for the next time." Once they come up with one suggestion, ask them for another suggestion or tip that they can give to themselves...and then another one I like to see them come up with at least three concrete suggestions for ways that they can implement to improve their learning (and why they think those action items will be beneficial for their future learning).
In short, if I had to sum the best exam reviews that I've had with my students, its when I speak little and instead listen much.
(Many thanks goes to retired ASP professor and educational psychologist Dr. Marty Peters for sharing these insights with me).
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
The word "resolute" originally got its meaning from the basic meaning of its root verb, "resolve", which was "loosen" or "dissolve". (When Hamlet was depressed about his father's death and thought about joining him, Shakespeare had him wish, "Oh, that this too too solid flesh / Would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew".) So "resolute" initially meant "dissolute" or "infirm". Over time, "resolve" came to take on another meaning, a nuance of "solve" that implied "clarifying" or "freeing from doubt" in a definitive way. As a result, "resolute" also developed a new meaning -- that of "determined" or "firm". So: "resolute" can mean either "infirm" or "firm". It's a word that can mean the opposite of itself, like "sanction" (which can mean either "approve of" or "disapprove of") or "cleave" (which can mean either "adhere" or "separate"). Such words are called contronyms, auto-antonyms, or, in a nod to the two-faced god of transitions and doorways, Janus words. And Janus, of course, is the source of "January" -- the month in which resolutions are made. Coincidence?
Still, there is something droll about the way "resolution" can mean both "a firm declaration or undertaking" and "a dissolution or relaxation". It is like a vast image out of our lexical spiritus mundi, reminding us that simply vowing improvement is no guarantee of success. This is a time of year when a portion of our clientele is highly motivated to change because of the confluence of the New Year, the new semester, and the receipt of disappointing and/or surprising grade reports. We want to take advantage of that impetus, but we also have to find a way to tactfully remind those students that the road to the lowest quartile is paved with good intentions. Here are some suggestions that can help:
- Shift the focus from results to actions. A student who focuses on end results ("I am going to get an A in Property this semester!") or even intermediate results ("I am going to finish all of my reading before every class!") may be setting themselves up for failure if they do not articulate what altered actions will lead to the desired results. Talk them through an assessment of why they did not achieve these results in the prior semester to help them uncover the practical steps they will need to take to achieve them in the new semester. A commitment to start one's reading assignments one hour earlier in the day, for example, is clearer and easier to initiate than simply vowing, without a plan, to complete all reading assignments.
- Beware defensive resolutions. Sometimes students will recognize that they need to make a change in behavior, but -- consciously or unconsciously -- they see that the change that would be most effective is not desirable to them. To avoid that change, they might articulate a different change in behavior -- one that seems to them more achievable or less painful, and usually one that does demonstrate some effort being undertaken, so that it "feels" worthwhile. A student anxious about their essay-writing skills, for example, might promise to create a more detailed and comprehensive course outline next semester. Pressing students to undertake the more meaningful tasks, and applying our expertise to help determine and explain to them what those commitments would be, can be one of our most helpful contributions.
- Suggest ways to monitor compliance and progress. While stress and anxiety can be powerful motivators for change, they can also sap people of the self-assurance and determination that helps them to execute those changes. How common it is for all of us to adopt a new gameplan for life, one with obvious benefits, only to let it fall by the wayside when life kicks into high gear and we fall back into old habits. One of the best ways to support people who are trying to make a change is to find ways to make it easy for them to see how consistent and successful they are being -- it can provide the kind of positive feedback that leads to a virtuous circle, a behavior that reinforces its own existence. Checklists and diaries are ways to do this on their own; buddy systems and regular check-ins with Academic Success are ways to enlist outside help.
- Minimize the sense of "all-or-nothing". When the stakes are high, as they often are in law school, people sometimes see the world in absolute terms. This is often unrealistically constraining. A commitment to briefing every case read, for example, can quickly come to feel like an impossible task if a student misses briefing just one case per class each week, because after a few weeks they may be a dozen cases behind and feeling like they can never catch up. Some students -- not all, but some -- might just give up at that point, out of anxiety or a sense of futility. To help fight this outcome, help the students to see the benefits of the changes they have successfully made, especially in comparison to the situation in which they would have found themselves originally. This task can be easier if you have previously helped them to focus on actions and given them some ways to monitor their progress, so that, even if they do not do everything they had wanted, it will not be hard for them to recognize that the progress they did make was worthwhile.
This is a great time of year for re-evaluation, goal-setting, and developing new habits -- many students are primed for these by the turn of the calendar! But, by their nature, resolutions can be firm or infirm. The best way to nudge them towards the former is to help students make them much more than just resolutions.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
There is something awesome and fitting about the way the first semester ends just before the winter solstice. Here in Buffalo, where the late December days are a full hour shorter than they were in Southern California, the astronomical landmark is particularly noticeable. It is not hard to imagine what it must have been like for those early tribes of humans, tens of thousands of years ago, who first figured out the significance of the shortest day of the year. It meant the start of winter, to be sure, a time when food supplies had to be husbanded and starvation was always a risk. Simultaneously, though, it was also a time of plenty, when freshly slaughtered livestock and newly fermented beverages meant feasting and jollity. And there was reason for celebration, as the solstice meant that the days were once again growing longer.
It is an odd balance, one that has been reached in cultures around the world: holding simultaneously the beliefs that something -- the season, the harvest cycle, the year -- is coming to an end, and that this is really a signifier of continuation and refreshment. We hold out for the holidays like marathoners stretching for the finish line, while at the same time taking comfort in the knowledge that we get another lap around the course.
For those of us working in Academic Support, this knowledge is invaluable. Every new year -- calendar or academic -- means adding to our repertoires, tweaking our syllabi, reviewing and responding to our results. We preach active learning and continuous improvement to our students, and every year we can model these habits to our own students.
In fact, for some of our students, this is a key lesson for them to learn. Whether it was because they were influenced by a school system that always focused on the next test, or because they were raised without role models who could show them the value of a long-term vision, some students approach the end of the semester the way they might approach the end of an acute illness -- with a sense of gratitude for reaching the conclusion of their struggles, and a feeling of relief that they won't have to think about it any more.
There is, of course, a deserved sense of accomplishment at reaching any milestone, like (especially for 1L students) the end of the fall semester. But one thing we can do for our students is help make sure that they see this accomplishment in context -- that they recognize that they will face similar challenges, again and again, while they remain in law school, but that they will also be able to take something from this past semester that will help them face those challenges more successfully. We can remind our students that the winter break is not only a great time for diversion, relaxation, and recharging, but also an opportunity for reflection about what worked and what didn't work, what they enjoyed and want to pursue, and what they want to plan ahead to avoid. We can also welcome them back in January with a reminder that, even though it is a new calendar year, they are still engaged in the same exciting, fruitful pursuit they were following the previous season, and connecting that semester with this one is a good way to get more out of both.
Best wishes for the coming new year!
Sunday, December 8, 2019
First semester finals are similar to a Saw movie. No, not in the blood is everywhere or the mental gymnastics needed for the puzzles way. The movies leave many uneasy because the protagonist usually dies and there is a cliffhanger for what Jigsaw will do in the next movie. If you watched them when they came out, you had to wait years for the next story, which left just as many questions at the end.
First semester finals can leave some with the same lacking or cliffhanger feeling. Grades won't come out for 2-4 weeks depending on the school. No one usually walks out of finals feeling good about what they wrote. Finishing finals doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment because they just end with no definitive answer, and the protagonist of the story (student walking out) isn't the obvious hero.
The lacking feeling is normal. Most students feel the same way. Once you finish finals, the goal is to not worry about law school for a few days. Use the break to actually take a break. The winter break is not as long as the summer, so if you spend too much time on law school related activities, then you won't be mentally fresh starting next semester. The goal is to reset during the break to be ready for the spring. If you can't completely ignore law school, then you could casually read a book. You have many options depending on what area you want to improve in. Books that I like for learning/general improvement are: Make It Stick, How We Learn, and Grit. There are numerous law school specific books for each of the different skills needed for success. I like How to Succeed in Law School, Expert Learning for Law Students, and Reading like a Lawyer. Those are my personal favorites, but there are numerous great options. You have more context for those books now that you have been through a semester. That being said, don't try to read all of them. If you casually read one, great. If not, even better. Get mentally fresh for next semester.
Good luck on the rest of finals and get ready for a great break.
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Most of us are well trained in how to provide advice to our students. However, we don’t just advise them on the best study habits. Most of us act as counselors, providing support and advice on how to deal with anxiety and stress. We are good at it, if we were not, we wouldn’t be in the academic support profession.
But are we good at taking that advice? This is the time of year when so many of us are stretched to capacity, and in danger of suffering burn out. We also suffer from anxiety and stress, but my instincts tell me that most of us are much better at giving the advice than taking it. While we stress to our students that it is important to take care of themselves, especially around exam time, we neglect ourselves. I think this is because we put ourselves last on our to do list, so to speak.
Last week I was in a colleague’s office, discussing ways to help our students with mental health first aid. I was feeling incredibly stressed and anxious, in a way that I was unwilling to acknowledge. The more we discussed helping our students, the more I realized that I needed help. Thankfully, she was a colleague that is also a friend, and she listened to how stressed I was. She gave me some great advice on taking my own advice. She asked me what I would tell a student, and encouraged me to really listen and implement the advice I give.
I think that sometimes, despite what we tell our students, we think of self care as “selfish”, or something that we don’t have time to do.
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival." — Audre Lorde
“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” - Maya Angelou
I think these are wise words from wise ladies, so I’m here to remind all of us to take care of ourselves. Practice what we preach to students. Take time each day for yourself, whatever self care looks like to you. And most importantly, use the resources we give to our students to reach out if we need help. That reaching out can even be to one another, as we all know what each other is going through. One last note, practice what you preach when it comes to physical health as well. We are no good to our students if we are not taking care of ourselves!
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
I recently attended a meeting of our law school alumni to talk with them about being mentors. We have a very energetic alumni community, many of whom participate in our school's formal mentoring programs -- one for our 1L students, to help introduce them to law school and the legal profession, and one for our 3L students, to provide guides for their transition into the working world. Like most mentors, these alumni are eager to provide guidance and support. Still, those of us who run the mentoring programs know that there are every year a small number of mentors whose experience in the program turns out to be awkward or even unpleasant. Sometimes their students fail to demonstrate the zeal or professionalism the mentor had expected, and other times the student and the mentor just do not seem to hit it off. Because our alumni mentors are such a valuable resource to our students, and therefore I don't want to lose any mentors due to a single unpleasant interaction, I offered the following thoughts:
All of our students possess varied interests, strengths and weaknesses, and past experiences, each across a broad spectrum. Broadly speaking, though, we can divide the students who participate in our mentoring programs -- our "mentees", as we say -- into four groups, based on the extent to which they possess each of two characteristics key to any sort of networking relationship: enthusiasm and know-how.
The first group are the students who possess both. They understand what goes into developing a professional relationship, and they are genuinely interested in working with their mentors to develop such relationships. These are the dream mentees -- they ask lots of thoughtful questions, and they listen to your answers; they participate appropriately, whether invited to a one-on-one lunch or to a busy firm event; they know how to make eye contact, what to wear, and when and how it is appropriate to change or cancel planned meetings. To mentors who are lucky enough to have one of these mentees, I say: Congratulations! This is a great opportunity for you to help someone make the most of what you have to offer. Challenge them a bit, and they will likely rise to the occasion.
The second group of mentees are enthusiastic, but they do not quite know what they are doing in a professional relationship. In the moment, face to face, they may come across as quite interested, perhaps even charismatic. But they are also capable of making striking faux pas -- wearing torn jeans to a business-casual luncheon, for example, or failing to show up for a scheduled meeting without calling or email to let the mentor know. These folks are often achievers in an academic context, but have had little experience in practice. They may want to reap the benefits of a mentoring relationship, but simply not realize that they are missing opportunities, and perhaps even causing offense, along the way. But . . . that is one of the main reasons we introduce students to mentors -- to help them learn this kind of professional behavior that they may never have encountered before. And even if they can be somewhat clueless, at least the members of this group do possess that enthusiastic motivation, That is something that a mentor can leverage, by inviting participation, in the knowledge that such invitations will usually be accepted, and they by pointing out that the behaviors they are failing to demonstrate are some of the very skills they were hoping to develop. So this group of mentees may sometimes elicit eyerolls, but by playing off of their enthusiasm, mentors can help them to overcome their deficiencies.
The third group of mentees are those in the opposite position. They have the know-how -- for whatever reason, perhaps a previous job or perhaps just a supportive upbringing, they have a proper sense of professionalism, and in fact may come across as very worldly. But they act as if they do not see any value in a mentoring relationship. They do not display any particular enthusiasm, and may even seem to treat the mentoring relationship as a chore. They may see a mentoring program as a kind of remedial finishing school for emerging professionals -- one they do not need, because they know which fork to use -- and not recognize the rich possibilities for connection and experience that a mentoring relationship holds. But, as with the second group, at least this group does possess one asset that can be leveraged -- in this case, their ordered sense of professionalism. A mentor could take advantage of that by inviting their mentee to participate in gatherings and events, by introducing them to colleagues, by prompting them to talk about their interests and plans. The mentee's own worldliness will prevent them from totally ignoring all of these opportunities, and each meeting and conversation can be a wedge, opening up their minds to the realization that a mentoring relationship can be much more than a series of ritualistic interactions.
But this brings up to the fourth and final group, the most difficult group for mentors to contend with -- students who are neither enthusiastic nor knowledgeable. These are the students who don't know how to be a mentee, and don't see why they should. They might not even participate in a mentor program if it is not required. These are usually students without any role models in the legal community, or perhaps in any professional community. They can be tough on mentors, because they are the type who might miss a scheduled meeting, without warning or explanation, and then not see any reason to feel bad about that afterwards. Sometimes mentors, seeing apparent futility in trying to encourage these mentees to participate, simply give up after a few attempts. And this is a terrible loss to both the student and the mentor, because these are the students who need this mentorship the most, and theirs are the mentors who would justly feel the greatest satisfaction if they were able to teach these students how to be great mentees. It can be hard to get these relationships to catch, because there is neither enthusiasm nor know-how there to leverage. But because these mentoring relationships are, in a sense, the most valuable, these are the ones we, in student services, want to do the most to help nurture and preserve. So I encourage our mentors to turn to us for support -- to ask us to approach these mentees from our side, so that we can nudge them into at least testing the mentorship waters, and so that, by explaining plainly what is expected of them, and what to expect from their mentors, we can lower the barriers of self-consciousness and dubiousness that might be keeping them from committing to the process.
Mentoring is, after all, only one facet of the larger construct of the legal community, and those who support our students in school can also support those who support our students out of school.
Friday, November 29, 2019
After reading Scott's post yesterday, I felt convicted for not expressing my gratitude for my professional colleagues and students that put me in the position I am in today.
With that in mind, I first want to thank everyone in the ASP community. I can't name all of you in one post that have impacted my teaching in various ways. From sitting next to veterans at LSAC workshops early in my career to reading discussions on the listserv and blog, I have learned from all of you. Never underestimate the value of a response on the listserv. I integrated numerous ideas from those discussions. Casual discussions at meals helped my students pass the bar exam. As a community, all of you have helped more than your own students. I am thankful for this community.
I am thankful for my faculty and administration. I have felt unwavering support through both the great years and the struggles. I am able to support my students every day because they have supported me.
Finally, I am especially thankful for my students, all of them. The ones who work the hardest and the ones that needed help being motivated. I learned, laughed, and interacted with tons of students. They all brought different perspectives which I enjoyed. Joy and accomplishment on students' faces make ASP work tons of fun.
I agree with Scott. Thanksgiving is a good day to be thankful, but we should have consistent gratitude. It may be hard with our busy schedules, but I hope to follow his lead of giving thanks regularly. Hope everyone enjoys the short break.
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
First and foremost, this does not define you. Trust me, we have all heard stories of prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians that have failed the bar, sometimes multiple times. I could make you a list of all of the successful lawyers that were unsuccessful on the bar exam their first time. But I won’t, because failing the bar does not define them. If you try to make a list, you won’t find “failed the bar” on Wikipedia pages, or official biographies, or resumes. It’s not because it’s some secret shame, but because no one cares. In 5-10 years, no one will care how many times it took you to pass the bar. In fact, they won’t care in 6 months or a year. It seems like a defining moment right now, but it isn’t. Your defining moments come from the way you treat clients, the way you treat colleagues, and what you choose to do with your license once you have it. And, most importantly, how you learn from your mistakes.
So, take a few days to be upset, it’s ok. But then dust yourself off and start looking towards the February bar. Also, remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success. Every successful lawyer has failed – on the bar, at trial, in a negotiation, not getting a job. Every successful politician has lost a race. Every Olympian has lost a game or a match. Those failures are a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.
So, in looking towards February, learn from your mistakes. First and foremost, if you are in a jurisdiction that allows it, request your essays. Different jurisdictions will have different procedures, but most will allow you to at least look at your essays, and some will send them to you. View them with a critical eye towards what you can improve upon. If you’re allowed to keep them, and not just view them at the bar headquarters, rewrite them. Use your notes to rewrite them. Focus on areas of improvement.
Secondly, many of you have Academic Support professors at your school. If you’re not sure, ask alumni relations if there is someone at your school that handles bar exam issues. Many of my repeat takers are hesitant to reach out to me because of their alumni status, worrying that it’s no longer my job to help them. I can tell you with certainty, it is my job to help them, and I care about them and want them to do well. None of us stop caring about our students just because you have graduated, or taken one bar exam. So, reach out to them, and see if they can help you review your essays, or score sheet, and come up with a plan. Some schools have resources specifically for repeat takers, so there is a strong chance they want you to reach out.
Finally, look back at the how you studied for the bar. Be honest, as this reflection is just for you, but assess a few things:
- How much of your commercial bar prep course (Themis, BarBri, etc) did you complete?
- If you completed less than 80% of the course, why?
- Did anything happen in your personal life that interfered with your studying?
- If you used accommodations during law school for exams, did you use them on the bar? If not, is it because you were denied accommodations, or because you didn’t apply?
- How many practice essays and multiple choice did you do?
- Did you learn from the practice multiple choice?
- Did you spend hours in the library, or at a desk, but were continually distracted by facebook/twitter/snapchat, or something else?
- Did you take care of yourself physically and mentally? Did you get enough sleep?
- Did you take study breaks to let your brain process?
These are just some examples of ways to assess yourself. The point is to take a good look at that you did well, and what you can improve upon. Don’t assume that because you failed, you just need to put in more hours, or you didn’t know the material. Frequently when I counsel repeat takers they didn’t do enough practice questions, or life got in the way, or they studied so hard that they got burnt out and were not well physically or mentally.
Once you’ve really assessed, figure out your February plan. What can you do differently? You might only need to tweak a few small things to succeed. And once you do, no one will care or remember how many times it took you to succeed.
Finally, if you are dreading attending a Thanksgiving meal with potential questions about the bar, show them this blog post!
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
It seems fitting that at my law school -- like most others, I presume -- the Thanksgiving holiday immediately precedes the fall semester final exam period. Thanksgiving dinner and final exams have so much in common.
Each of them seems far off as the golden days of summer begin their inexorable diminution. On Labor Day, we are all aware that [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] will be the next significant break in our routines, but in the hazy warm thrill of the start of the academic year, it is so difficult to even consider the coming cold, dark days.
However, by the equinox, people start to pay attention to the distant approach of [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]. Conscientious people even realize that they should probably start making plans early, so they don't find themselves without options in a last-minute rush to prepare. But many folks, caught up in the rush of day-to-day life, might put off such measures, figuring they can address their reservations closer to the deadline.
Before you know it, though, here comes Halloween, and then suddenly it seems like reminders of [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] are everywhere! No matter how much dread they inspire, you have to admit they spark a bit of excitement, too, since [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] will mark the real start of the winter holidays. And, besides, no matter how onerous and monotonous the yearly ordeal might appear, it always carries with it at least the possibility of a pleasant surprise or two.
As time accelerates and the time for [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] lurches to mere days away, all at once it seems like life has gone a little haywire. You're still have to attend to all your ordinary quotidian responsibilities, but now you have to pile on top of that the preparations for [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]. Schedules have to be coordinated, supplies have to be obtained. Participants will struggle to nail down time-honored formulae, so they can be ready (if and when necessary) to apply these recipes to whatever ingredients are provided to produce a satisfying result. Hopefully, even the most dilatory attendees will manage to eke out a little free time before [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] to focus on preparation and maybe even a few practice creations.
Finally, the big day arrives! It feels like you spend half the day in a frenetic rush, anxiously making sure you haven't forgotten anything. But then the actual event -- [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]! -- begins, and you are totally engrossed. Confined in a room full of people, all of whom seem to be sitting a little too close, making a little bit too much noise. But this is something you are doing together. Sometimes one person just dives right in, and a bunch of people around him follow suit, not wanting to fall behind. They might well spend too much attention on one or two meaty choices, and entirely overlook other valuable tidbits. They could end up regretting not having given themselves enough time to digest things properly. Other people might approach [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] too cautiously, overly mindful that it will be a multi-course affair. Afraid to make a mess or to risk something disagreeable, they may find at the end that they barely made a dent in their undertaking. Hopefully, though, most of our students will pace themselves, knowing they are going to be there for a few hours, and will think carefully about how much they want to have on their plate at one time, so that they can get through the entire experience having indulged appropriately in every choice, and in a palatable way that leaves them drowsy and satisfied.
May this year's [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] be a cause of celebration for all of us!
Monday, November 25, 2019
We’re more connected through social media than ever before . . . [yet] we’re losing our ability to think and feel. It’s hurting our personal connections and making us more distant and lonely. – Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
This week I recount the sad story of the late Ronald Wayne White. Who was Ronald Wayne White? His name may not ring a bell. White was not a celebrity or public figure. If Ronald Wayne White is known for anything, it is for being unknown. According to published reports, White was found dead inside his apartment this month. Medical examiner reports confirmed that his death had been undiscovered for three years. There are indeed unanswered questions surrounding this late discovered death, but the sad fact is that a man “apparently went missing for three years and no one noticed he was gone.”1
White’s tragic story is an opportunity for us to examine our connections to others. Those who attend and work inside law schools are subject to a special kind of isolation that is par for the course. Based on the volumes of reading, outlining, researching, writing, editing, and memorizing that is required to succeed in law school, we expect students and faculty to work in isolation for long stretches of time. The top students regale in finding that isolated corner hidden deep in the stacks of the fourth floor of the library where no one comes near to make a sound or disturb the concentration necessary to maintain top student status. I too am guilty of lauding solitude. I have, with giddiness, told my colleagues how much I look forward to holiday breaks alone at home to make some headway on my writing project.
While a certain degree of do-not-disturb-mode is both necessary and beneficial for productivity, I worry that we have become desensitized to isolation. We are all at risk of transcending deep focus into dangerous seclusion. Our law students, especially those who are far from home, or those who have no stable home to claim, are not immune to the risk. Loneliness is not a state of friendlessness, it is a position of lacked connection. People who are married, students in study groups, and faculty who interact well with colleagues can still suffer from debilitating loneliness that can only be cured with meaningful connection.
Connectivity cannot be measured by “likes” and social media followers alone. Please check on your students, your colleagues, and yourselves. If you have students who are far from home or without family, why not invite them to Thanksgiving dinner? Likewise, if there are international students in your program who are removed from our culture, maybe treat them to a meal over break. Perhaps your need to develop a work in progress or meet an article submission deadline can be morphed into an opportunity to interact with your colleagues by planning a “write-in.” Faculty colleagues from all disciplines can find an agreed window of time just to get together to write. Sometimes the camaraderie of shared presence and singleness of purpose can act as a proxy for interaction. Maybe extend your shared driveway morning wave, by baking (or buying) cookies and delivering them to a neighbor or senior citizen on your block that you have not spoken words to in years. Real connections don’t have to be big to be meaningful, they just have to be made.
1 A man was found in his apartment three years after his death – and what it can teach us about loneliness (Dallas Morning News Editorial, November 21, 2019).
Thursday, November 21, 2019
I don't usually keep up with the world of royalty. But a recent article caught my attention.
You see, it seems that the one of the legal duties of Queen Elizabeth II is to meet weekly with the Prime Minister for counseling. Sam Walker, "The World's Top Executive Coach: It's Queen Elizabeth," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 16, 2019.
That takes time, energy, and commitment. And, the queen's been meeting with prime ministers weekly since 1952. Id. So, it might be worthwhile to see what she says about counseling and why prime ministers, despite vast differences from one another, continue to seek her advice.
First, the queen provides a safe place for leaders to speak out without "fear or reprisal." In the queen's words: "They unburden themselves. They tell me what's going on, or if they've got any problems." Id. Second, the queen by law is not allow to give orders or publicly takes sides on issues. Id. Third, the meetings focus on seeking impartial common ground. In other words, it's not about the queen's desires but about how to determine what's best for the common good of the people. Id. Fourth, the queen likens her role in meetings to that of a sponge, which I take to mean being a sounding board for prime ministers rather than offering advice. Id.
In summarizing the queen's coaching, author Sam Walker suggests the following:
That great coaches, even though they "often have a better grasp on a tricky situation than the person that they're advising, ...resist the urge to be a helicopter coach. [Instead,] [t]he only way to help leaders [and students] learn and grow is to allow them to make their own mistakes. [And,] [t]he only responsible method [to do this] is to let them speak openly, guard their secrets, and, once in a while try to incrementally redirect their thinking. Doing that requires humility--and lots of practice." Id.
That's not a role all that different from the world of academic support professionals.
Like the queen, we are granted access to some of the deepest secrets and most difficult struggles that our students face.
Like the queen, we must studiously guard our students' confidences.
Like the queen, we are called to listen lots and speak little.
Like the queen, our students learn and grow the most when we walk alongside them, helping them incrementally adjust their thinking, so that our students develop expertise in assessing their own learning with solutions that come forth out of the wellsprings of their own hearts and minds.
To sum up, in the course of most of our work, the truly royal moments of learning are the results of what our students come to experience for themselves under the confidential mentorship of us. As the queen suggests, speaking less can indeed mean speaking more (and in the end lead to better results for our students). So "hears" to better hearing for the betterment of our students!
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite. Not for the feast (although I adore cranberries and turkey, and more importantly, turkey leftovers). Not for the football games (I've never even owned a television). Not for the anticipation of seasonal shopping (it took me years to realize "Black Friday" was meant to be a positive appellation rather than a sardonic judgment on American consumerism). Not for the opportunity to gather with family (the time off has always been too short to realistically gather the far-flung branches of my family into one location). Not even for the annual opportunity to wander through the woods with a dog or two or three, light filtering through branches weighted with a dusting of early season snow (although this is a special delight). Rather, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because, at its core, it is a day set aside to consciously practice gratitude. And wherever we are in the cycle of life, gratitude enriches our lives, the lives of those around us, and the lives of all our communities.
As I wind up my time as a contributing editor to the Academic Support blog, I want to express my gratitude to the incomparable Amy Jarmon for inviting me to be a part of this blogging community and to Steven Foster, who succeeded Amy as editor, for continuing to support me in this endeavor. I learn every day from the insights of my fellow contributing editors -- currently Marsha Griggs, Scott Johns, and Bill MacDonald, as well as from Steven -- someday, with lots of practice, I hope to write half as well as they do. My students as well as my law school colleagues can attest that every week I've brought their insights into the classroom, the conference room, and the hallways. Thanks also to those of you who have sent comments and suggestions on my posts. All too often, my replies to you have fallen victim to the press of a student emergency or the amnesia resulting from an overflowing inbox, but I've read and appreciated all you've written.
In September, I participated in the first annual local gathering of Nancys. Really! The one common denominator was our first name, but the demographics of baby name popularity being what they are (and if you've never checked out Social Security's "Popular baby names by decade" site, it's fascinating), almost all the Nancys had left the world of remunerative employment. And with the possible exception of AASE conferences, I've never been surrounded by more vibrant, involved, and caring people. If I had any doubts about retirement, they disappeared as I listened to my fellow Nancys' stories. I'm looking forward to fully joining the ranks of these "retired but not retiring" Nancys, and to a host of new adventures (many of which will involve wandering through the woods with the aforesaid one or two or three dogs, unless I'm wielding my trusty chainsaw) as I enter a new phase of my life.
I am grateful to have been a part of the law school academic support community for the last eighteen years. Through our many fora -- the LSAC and later AASE conferences, the blog, our several websites, and the listserv -- even those of us who are far-flung could participate in this caring, sharing community dedicated to the bringing out the very best in our students. You, my colleagues, have advised me, inspired me, lifted me up when I was down, and occasionally given me the tough love I needed to get up and do what needed to be done -- the same things you offer our students every day, every week, year after year, with patience, good will, and compassion. It has been a privilege being your colleague, and I thank you with all my heart.
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Sometimes students think they are painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when they are really inventing the light bulb.
Michelangelo famously worked from 1508 to 1512 to decorate the ceiling of the Chapel with biblical scenes comprising more than 300 figures. Contrary to popular belief, he did not do the work lying on his back; the scaffolding he designed and put in place left him room to stand. Try this right now: for one minute, stand up, look up at the ceiling above you, and hold your hand high over your head, grasping a pen, or a paintbrush if you have one handy. Now imagine doing that for four years, and creating an historical masterpiece. Amazing. If I had painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling under those conditions, it would have ended up taped to my parents’ refrigerator for a month, then discreetly recycled.
Still, the process did have one advantage: every evening, while Michelangelo was washing the paint off his brushes, he could look up and see a few more square feet of masterpiece. If his boss, Pope Julius II, swung by just to see how things were going, he would notice some prophet or angel that hadn’t been there the week before, and say something like, “Good work, Micky. I like the wrath there – very Old Testament. Keep it up.”
In contrast we have Thomas Edison and his invention of the light bulb. To be fair, it wasn't just the light bulb that made his electrical system so successful. He had a much broader vision, encompassing power generation and transmission facilities as well, so that once he had created a working light bulb, he had also designed an entire system capable of lighting it practically in every citizen’s home. But still, success did depend on finding that reliable, long-lasting bulb, and to do this, Edison tested thousands of different materials – varieties of animal hair, plant fiber, metal wire, etc. – to find a filament that would work.
But Edison’s work was not incremental the way Michelangelo’s work was. Over time, his experiments did provide some clues that guided him to the material (carbonized bamboo) that eventually worked, so his progress was not entirely random. Still, it was unpredictable. Edison could go through periods in which he’d test 100 filaments and not one of them would work any better than what he’d had at the start. While Michelangelo could work for a month and at least complete 2% of a ceiling -- and 100% of, say, Adam and Eve -- a month of work for Edison would not leave him with 2% of a working light bulb. He had no light bulb, until the day he found the right material; then he had the light bulb.
A lot of what our students do is Michelangelo work. They do a chunk of reading, or memorize a set of rules, or practice a certain writing format, and it may take them a while to reach their ultimate goal, but at least they can see measurable progress along the way: this many pages covered, or that many rules learned by heart, or some incrementally improved conformity with a norm. It can still be a grind, especially with a heavy workload and weighty syllabus, but at least the students can be sure of improvement and can project a likely date of completion.
It’s inevitable, though, that some of our students' work will be Edison work. They put in the time and the effort, but there’s not necessarily any obvious correlation to results. They could be working on a legal research project, looking for a needle and ending each day with a notebook full of hay. Or they might be practicing some skill that, for them, seems to resist improvement, at least until a certain critical mass of practice has been reached. (Performance on multiple-choice tests, for example, can sometimes plateau for weeks for soem students.) If the students don't realize that they are not doing Michelangelo work here -- if they are expecting incremental success and not seeing it -- then they can grow discouraged and self-doubtful, and may even abandon the effort, believing it is not doing any good.
It is crucial. before that happens, to explain to students (and to remind them, sometimes frequently) that there are two kinds of progress in work, and to get them to focus not on results but on well-directed effort. Help them to recognize, as Edison did, that some jobs simply require effort that won’t be directly rewarded, but that “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” As long as students are actually doing the right work -- and for that, too, they may need your guidance -- then, even if they are not seeing daily results, they are doing something useful -- ruling out fruitless lines of inquiry, or gradually building context and understanding to reach the critical mass needed. In the moment, such progress may not feel as satisfying as a tangible result, but with support, they can keep going, even in the face of doubt. And once they have completed the task successfully, they can look back and realize not just how the effort they made led to the result, but also that they are capable of making similar efforts -- and hopefully with a little more faith -- in the future.
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Picture a "lollipop." Unfortunately, that was me as a law school student preparing for my first final exams. You see, in preparation for final exams, I spent most of my time re-reading my notes, trying to master my outlines, and cramming as much information as possible into my head...with the hope that I might somehow be able to regurgitate as much as possible back to my professors.
In short, I looked much like a lollipop - stuffed with head knowledge but without much of a body or a heart to make it work.
That's because I had learned the law...but...I hadn't let the rest of my body, in particular my heart and my hands, share in the learning process. As such, I had much to say when it at came time for final exams but, unfortunately, little of anything practical or valuable because I had merely learned to parrot back my notes and outlines. I was as hard-headed as the candy on top of a lollipop; I couldn't dance with the final exam problems because I hadn't trained to work final exam problems. In retrospect, I should have fed my heart and hands as much as I engaged my mind in order to prepare for my final exams.
Let me be concrete. As you prepare for final exams, take it from me. Work your heart and body too as you learn the law. Here's what I mean. Rather than just learning the law, learn to problem-solve the law ... using the law that you are learning. That's because, in most law school courses, you won't be tested on what you've stuffed into your mind but rather on what you can personally do with what's in your mind by demonstrating how to solve hypothetical legal problems.
So, as you prepare for final exams, please feel free to re-read your notes (but only briefly because that's one of the weakest ways to learn) and make outlines (because the process of making your outlines is essential to learning the law)...but...then take your outlines and use them to solve batches of simulated final exam problems (and lots of them). And, when you miss an issue or a problem, rejoice...because missing that issue now means that you'll get that issue right in the midst of your final exams. In short, focus on learning the law by working through problems.
As a rule of thumb, about one-third of your time should be spent on reviewing your notes and creating outlines, one-third of your time spent on working through simulated exam problems, and one-third of your time spent on assessing what you did well (and why) along with what you can improve for the next time (and how).
In other words, just like a balanced diet with a lifestyle of exercise, let all of you (your mind, your heart, and your body) share in learning by learning the law through legal problem-solving. And, if you don't have a quick source of simulated exam problems, here's a batch below that can serve you well in a dash. Good luck on your final exams! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
We were sitting in my office dissecting a practice contracts answer the student had written, working on transforming a rambling paragraph into an answer that showed mastery of the law and an intelligible understanding of how the law applied to the facts of the problem. The initial answer suggested the student had worked hard at understanding the law and had an instinctive response to the obvious issues; the finished product exhibited a coherent, lawyerly approach to most of the issues suggested by the fact pattern. The puzzle pieces were finally coming into place. Near the end of our session, the student looked at me quizzically. "Did we cover this in class?" she asked. "I was flailing away, but now it seems simple." "Yes," I replied out loud. Inwardly, I added, "Many times." But it was worth revisiting, because this time it clicked.
Far too many times, despite my profession, I grow impatient when I must repeat or re-teach something that seems "obvious" to me. Sometimes I feel like the Bellman in Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark," declaring "What I tell you three times is true." When I catch myself in such a crotchety mood, I consciously offer up the negativity to the Academic Support deities so it will drift away. Sometimes, students simply tune out: they are human, after all; like me, they have sleepless nights and nagging worries and obsessions over an impending events, both personal and professional. More often, the need for repetition is inherent in the very nature of learning a new practice. While I might hope that a preview followed by an in-depth discussion followed by practice followed by a review will cement a concept or a practice, it's usually not that simple. Even teaching the process of learning, I need to remember that a huge part of what they are learning is to go past "obvious," to go deep, and to go slow. Experiment with learning and writing and speaking. Embrace the difficulty. Try it over and over. And if you forget that you learned it once, that's all right, too.
Contrary to what I believed when I started in academic success work, it is rare for my students to run out of time, whether in day-to-day learning, the consolidation that happens near the end of the semester, or even on final exams. Indeed, it staggers me to see how many leave a final exam 30, 40, or even 60 minutes before time is called. The larger challenge is to spend enough time, to slow down, to lay aside the knee-jerk reactions to plumb the legal problems not only in depth but with the simplicity that comes from and leads to mastery.