Thursday, June 2, 2022

Counter-Intuitive Research To Boost Learning

"As it turns out, there's a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers  won't complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard:" so says Harvard economist Roland Fryer based on research in about 290 schools with about 36, 000 students. Fryer, R., "How to Make Up the Covid Learning Loss: Paying Students for Attendance, Behavior, and Homework Can Boost Achievement, WSJ (May 31, 2022). 

In the article describing the research team's results, the author suggests that the key was targeting inputs (reading assignments, being in class, completing homework) rather than outputs (exam scores or results) because many students don't feel like they can control results but that inputs are within their control.  Id. All told, to put such an incentive to work in public schools would cost about $700 per year, which the author suggests (in my words) is small change compared to the roughly $13,000 on average spent per student per year for education.

I'm not so sure that paying students to read, practice, and learn makes sense because it feels like it's devaluing to the learning experience.  However, "the research team found that students' achievements remained elevated even after our incentives were removed."  Id.  And, as the author suggests, we pay people to work so why not pay students to learn?

It's an interesting question.  But truth be told, regardless of the daily incentives to learn, the key determinate for success in this large scale experiment was engaged learning on a daily basis.  So, I think that the lesson for us in legal education is to incentivize learning to learn - not through cash incentives - but through making the learning experience challenging joyful and productively meaningful.  That's hard work but that's our job.  

As a suggestion on how to help incentivize learning, try building within your curriculum learning exercises using news events that relate to the subjects that students are studying.  So, for example, in a tort class, one might explore possible product liability claims against companies manufacturing pulse oximeters because research indicates that the widespread use of these devices to determine whether one needed critical covid-19 care is racially biased, leading to under diagnosis of significant populations and likely premature deaths. Mosbergen, D., " Pulse Oximeters are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Covid Patients, WSJ (May 31, 2022).  Oh, and there's another legal issue lurking in this article:  "The Food and Drug Administration last year warned of potential pulse oximeter inaccuracies when used on people with dark skin pigmentation, but didn’t change the way it regulates the devices."  Id. In other words, are there any constitutional issues against the regulatory authority?In other words, tie what we learn in the books to how we can use it to help others, now. 

That's an incentive that I can buy in to.  (Scott Johns).

 

June 2, 2022 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

An Illusion

Did you know that the collective noun for a group of magicians is an “illusion?”[1] I believe that Academic Support Professionals are the magicians of law school academics, not because we engage in sorcery, but because we do so much hard work behind the scenes that it seems like things just happen.

Last week, I was lucky to be able to share the tricks of the trade (with the best community of colleagues ever!) at the 9th Annual AASE Conference at the lovely St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas and on Zoom!  I already knew that ASP folks are the hardest-working, kindest, and most generous people. I was also aware that we are supreme innovators. In short, the brain power in the sessions at our conference could have provided enough energy for the entire state of Texas.[2] And it would have been a clean, renewable source of power!

It was amazing to be in the company of people who truly understand the work—and the flip side of doing so much important work often without having job security or recognition. I know that I am extremely fortunate that my law school is supportive and offers long-term contracts with options for more security,[3] as well as funding for scholarship and conferences. Yet, academic support and bar prep are often seen as—oh wait, actually, we are often not seen at all…

At a faculty meeting last week, after what I consider a big win that added a DEI course graduation requirement,[4] we moved on to an agenda item that tangentially dealt with tenure policy. During this discussion, a tenured, doctrinal faculty member referred to people who had our (ASP and other non-tenure track) faculty status as “faculty with a small f.” As in, essentially, lower case “f” faculty should very clearly not be allowed to vote on tenure policy changes. Yes, I had a big F reaction to that.[5] That was more than just rain on my parade, it was a full-on blizzard: cold and windy. Following my glorious moment in the sun, I was returned to my cubby crumpled and dirty like a kindergartener’s lunchbox after recess.

It is moments like this that make a national conference of all the law school thaumaturges[6] even more imperative for the survival of our profession. We need to work together to collectively ask that the curtain be pulled back so that our doctrinal colleagues[7] can see the work that is often going on out of their sight. There is no magic in what we do, just a lot of hard work that should be transparently visible.

A huge thank you to Afton Cavanaugh and the team at St. Mary’s for solving the huge logistical puzzle that this hybrid conference must have presented!! It was glorious and I am truly enriched by the endless magnificence of this community. I am already looking forward to next year’s 10th annual AASE conference at Santa Clara Law.[8]

And finally, did you know that the collective noun for a group of doctrinal professors is known as a “pomposity?[9]” 

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] http://www.collectivenouns.biz/list-of-collective-nouns/collective-nouns-people/

[2] Texas is huge! I knew it was big before, but I really had not understood it until I was there.

[3] A presumptively renewable contract-but not tenure.

[4] I was the leader on this effort, and I am crazy excited that it really happened!

[5] Silently-but I am originally from the Bronx. I’ll just leave it at that.

[6] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/thaumaturge (I had a little fun with google on this…)

[7] Those who don’t already know-there are always going to be allies in every school!!

[8] May 23-25, 2023-save the dates!

[9] http://www.collectivenouns.biz/list-of-collective-nouns/collective-nouns-people/

May 29, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Professionalism, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2022

Empty Nesters

Two out of my three children are “adults.” One lives on her own in another city, one comes home for college breaks, and the third is a junior in high school. People ask me how I feel about having an empty nest in a year or so, and I tell them this: I am not done parenting, we are just moving into a new phase. I field texts about how to do laundry, or whether to purchase a t-shirt, or even with pictures of dogs in New York that look like our dog here in Massachusetts. I get a lot of cooking and baking questions. There is still a lot of parenting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance). This is where we are with our students after they cross the stage at Commencement.

I love the way graduation is titled in a way that suggests both an ending and a beginning. For our students, it is the end of law school and the beginning of their life….as bar applicants. And hopefully, after that, the beginning of their life as licensed lawyers. While we will all wear our uncomfortable garb and silly hats later this month (or maybe you already have?) to celebrate our students’ achievements thus far, it isn’t the end of the relationship we will have with them.

For our colleagues who are engaged in bar prep, very late July will be when the nest is temporarily empty. The rest of us are hopeful that students will still e-mail, ask for recommendations, or even stop by-although there has been less stopping by lately because of the pandemic. There is still a lot of supporting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance).

So, for anyone feeling like their law school nest is empty, you will be happy to know that there are approximately 105 days until orientation (that is just one more day than Phineas and Ferb got for their summer vacation[1]). And then we commence once again...

(Liz Stillman)

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=phineas+and+ferb+theme+song+lyrics&oq=phineas+and+ferb+theme&aqs=chrome.0.0i512j46i512j69i57j0i512l7.10685j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

May 9, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Back to the Grind

And we are back. Spring break is over just like that. The thing about the time after spring break is that it goes by so quickly. You look up and there are 4 weeks of class left and 8 weeks of things you wanted to get to. It is like the facebook posts I put up around my kids' birthdays, "I must have blinked." When the end of semester is looming, I always wonder if I have squandered the time with my students, but I know that I didn’t because I spent at least some of our time together doing the following:

  1. Making sure they are okay. I have asked my class for their “triumphs and tribulations“ each week. Did this take us off-topic? Yes. Did we need to go there? Also, yes.
  2. Asking about the loads they are carrying in other classes. We a took a detour into exam prep (ahead of schedule) to make sure everyone felt ready for all the types of exams they might encounter. I’ll also go back and review it on the day it was originally listed on the syllabus.
  3. Meeting one-on-one outside of class. Some triumphs and tribulations are not for public consumption.
  4. Talking about the law in current events. It is always good to bring reality into the picture and ground the concepts in something present and concrete. I am very excited about Congress and the CROWN Act today. In a shameless plug for my newly released piece in the CUNY Law Review Blog about teaching using the CROWN Act, you can read about that here: http://www.cunylawreview.org/category/blog/
  5. Reinforcing already learned skills. I preface a lot of what I am saying with, “I know you already know this, but bear with me…” It isn’t always a review, but there is no need to out students who are first learning anything.
  6. Talking about their interests outside of school. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we don’t live in this building and this is not our only context.
  7. Becoming a community. Laughing. Complaining about the elevator that has been broken since December (although the changing signage about that fact is really kind of funny). Sharing some brownies.

I hope your short, fast ride to the end of the semester has more triumphs than tribulations.

(Liz Stillman)

March 21, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Spring Broken

I was so excited to get to this Spring Break. I need this break. I feel like I have not taken a deep breath since mid-January. This semester has been cold and snowy and relentless. My shoulders are currently hovering at ear level. And, I have a million little aspirations for this break: baking, learning to crochet, enjoying daylight, not teaching at night, etc. But here I am at noon on day one thinking about catching up on grading and reading the rough draft an independent-study student sent me this past Saturday night[1]. Sigh. I am also contemplating laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning out closets. When did I forget how to relax and do nothing?

Ironically, I offered my high school junior the chance to take a mental health day this week. I used to let his sisters do this once every quarter in high school-they didn’t always use it the chance, but it was there if they wanted it. With advance warning, they could just take a day off-I’d call school to excuse the absence and we would have a day of yes. You want to go to IHOP? Yes. You want to see the ocean? Yes. You want to learn the choreography to “We’re All in This together” from High School Musical[2]? Yes, just let me close the shutters if you want me to join you. This week, my son has two big tests on Tuesday and an orthodontist appointment on Wednesday at a time that makes it awkward to go to school before and strange to go after, so I offered him the rest of the day. Everyone needs to unload their burdens every now and then.

In academic support, we tend to worry about everyone but ourselves. I see you nodding. If you are on spring break this week, please let the sun warm your face every day and only do those things that give you joy (and keep your family alive). Relish the time that is normally spoken for by other responsibilities. And then email me with exactly how you did it. I’m going to need some major help developing a spring break plan…

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] I can’t even with the timing on this one.

[2] You can do this too! https://youtu.be/H_LQeYUHm4M

March 14, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 17, 2022

True Education

On this (very rainy in Massachusetts) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we as law educators need to remember that every fight for civil rights was only a fight because there were lawyers on the side of denying civil rights. The people advocating for denying rights were trained lawyers who had been to law school (or the equivalent in some states) and were admitted to the bar to practice law. They had been taught basically the same subjects we teach students today. As we educate this new generation of lawyers, we need to be sure to remind them that lawyers, above all, should seek justice (which is not the same as law) and truth (again, not the same as law). Law is just a tool we can use to walk these paths.

Martin Luther King noted that, “[t]he function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Nelson Mandela added that, “[e]ducation is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The same way a construction worker, a surgeon, or a Jedi knight would be carefully trained to use equipment safely, we need to make sure our students know the consequences of unsafely operating the tools we are giving them -- as much as they know how to use the power.

As we start our new semester tomorrow, and while I am still reeling about the events in a Texas Synagogue this weekend, I renew my vow to engage in true education. Lawyers have an almost sacred relationship with truth and justice that should not be dismissed or forsaken. We need to teach our children well that, “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963).

MLKin Boston rain

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Boston Common in 1965-also in the rain.

(Liz Stillman)

January 17, 2022 in Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 13, 2021

Another Wonderful NECASP Conference!

Last Friday’s NECASP Conference on Fostering and Maintaining Inclusive Communities was amazing. It was well organized and carefully curated. I left with some amazing ideas of how I can make my ASP welcome mat larger and make students who cross that threshold feel that we are a caring community. Community=success! A special thank you to the  NECASP executive team: Amy Vaughan-Thomas, Brittany Raposa, Phil Kaplan and Danielle Kocal for a wonderful conference. I have often said, and I stand by it, that the ASP community is the kindest community in law school academics: to our students, our schools, and to each other.  The sheer talent and intellect of my colleagues is breathtaking. 

This morning I walked my dog, Leo, super early because we were escorting my son to before school physical therapy (he hurt his arm when he and his bicycle encountered a curb back in the summer and wrestling practice made it hurt more). My husband is also away on business in (what looks like heavenly) Portugal and he had previously been doing this walk. I will add that I also spent the night with this dog who would not go downstairs, takes up as much space as a human (he weighs 40 pounds, so that was surprising), and doesn’t smell as wonderful as you would hope. The ultimate chutzpah was when he barked at me to pick him up and put him on the bed because he is too short. And judging from the sentence before that, you can imagine how much resistance he got from me, and besides, the cats were unwilling to help. In any event, there I was: tired, cold, and entirely not in Lisbon when Leo and I saw this:

 

Sunrise

Leo and I continued on our walk under this cotton candy sky until we were almost home. As we passed the post office, we saw this bit of pink sharpied advice:

Mailbox

There is no greater ASP hook here except maybe we all need to be reminded to look around and make connections as we make our way through this season of grading and early darkness.

(Liz Stillman)

December 13, 2021 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 6, 2021

Points of Light

Last night was the eighth and final night of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah, or even Hannukah). This year we had two different types of candles for our two menorahs. We had one box of artisanal long and graceful white to blue ombre candles. We also had a standard 99¢ little blue box of shorter, more colorful candles from the supermarket (or maybe a leftover box that one of our three kids brought home from Sunday school). We lit both menorahs each night: one with the pretty candles and one with the garish little blue box candles. The pretty candles burned and melted. The plain candles did as well. The bottom line was this: it was meaningful regardless of which candles we used.

Here comes the (possibly heavy handed) link to law school exams. If students have an exam answer where they spotted the issues, used the correct the rule, did both sides of analysis, and weighed the options before concluding, then it is meaningful even if it isn’t graceful (or long). There are all sorts of other holiday analogies I could make here…like remember to go one at a time when lighting your candles; remember that you need to light the helper candle first (that being the student’s knowledge and wellbeing); do not re-spin your answer to multiple choice questions, and, of course, the miracle of being asked eight multiple choice questions about one thing you know really, really well. Surely, miracles and light are what many students are asking for this time of year.

It is also important to remember, though, that like any ritual, exams have their traditions and practices. We should be sure to remind students that after each exam, they should scrape off the remnants of the last one and reload with one more point of light before moving on to the next one. Make this a tradition. Lamenting over what went wrong on the last exam is always going create a barrier to going forward-and moving on to the next exam is part of the ritual. Remembering what went well (this year, none of our cats lit themselves on fire!) will be more productive. Make this a practice. Afterall, you cannot light fewer candles as Hanukkah progresses because you cannot travel through time (yet).

Finally, when exams are all over, students should be sure to clean up before putting their exam self away. No one wants to deal with a December mess in May. And for what it is worth, the fancy candles were a bear to clean up.

Happy Holidays to all!

(Liz Stillman)

December 6, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Theory, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 29, 2021

Idle Times

Every summer, our family rents a (dog friendly) house out on Cape Cod. Recently, we have been renting bicycles when we get there at a bike rental place called Idle Times. It isn’t fancy, but it is friendly--the name is welcoming and seems to be assuring us that we need not race or even labor much to get around on the bicycles. It is the kind of place where an old black lab lies in the overgrown seagrass and seems to will the kids trying out bicycles to go around him rather than move from his shady spot. It is idyllic-no false advertising involved. This past weekend (that started on a Wednesday-shouldn’t they all?) was also gloriously idle (aside from the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and latkes). I removed my laptop from the table (yes, the new one for those of you who have been following these posts) and didn’t return it to its spot until yesterday. And here I am on a Monday morning trying to jump start my professional brain after this lovely idleness.

Today is the last day of classes for us. While many might think that this is the beginning of a nice break for all academics, it is absolutely crunch time for ASP folks. There are students panicked about finals. They seem shocked that exams are almost upon us despite all the warning signs. I agree that by the time we develop our fall mojo, it is already Veteran’s Day-which was less than three weeks ago. Fall seems like a slow walk uphill to a sudden cliff, while spring semester seems like a cold, dark walk through a cave into the light. 

Nonetheless, we are about to begin our "reading days." I’m not sure how much time between classes ending and exams beginning is just right; I don’t think there is a one size fits all time period, but our 1L students have around 2.5 days.

Here is (some of) what I advise students to do now and during these days and the exam period:

  1. Get out of the law school building (we are all in one building here). The air is thick with stress and every little whisper will make you think someone knows something you don’t about a class you are in. I point out to our students that we are (in the fall at least) out of sync with our undergraduate and business schools, so their libraries might be a better place to study if a library is your preferred spot. At least the din there won’t make you feel unnecessarily inadequate. In pre-COVID times I would also recommend a coffee place (away from school) or even my favorite, the café at the Museum of Fine Arts (excellent place to study and wonderful place to be when you need a break from it).
  1. Make an exam plan. Work backwards from your last exam and plan reasonable study schedules for each day. Remember to add a teaser of the exam after the immediate one into your plan-so if Civ. Pro is on Thursday, you can take an hour and review a little Crim because that is next and so on.
  1. Attend to your hygiene and health! Seriously, this is going to be a marathon, pace yourself and be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t take unnecessary pandemic risks right now. Showering is important even if the alternative can help with social distancing.
  1. Practice writing answers and doing multiple choice questions: while reading carefully will be an important part of your exams, you will still need to produce an answer. You should practice essays often enough that IRAC is a muscle memory. Do enough multiple-choice questions that you are not confused by slight changes in terminology (because…gasp…sometimes doctrinal professors do not write their own questions). Remember, a good way to be prepared for exams is to be a PERP: Prepared for class, Engaged in class, Reviewing after class and Practicing. Ok, now I can see why this didn’t catch on, PERP is just not going to happen. But there is still hope for fetch.
  1. Handle different subjects with different strategic approaches: Civil Procedure is linear and chronological; Contracts is transactional; Torts and Criminal law just beg for making a chart with all the people and causes of action involved and so on…
  1. Just get started: if you are lost on the exam, start with something you can answer to get the brain engaged and then go back. However, do not go back and change any multiple-choice answers if you have already made a choice-it will not end well.
  1. Get out again-after the exam, leave the building. Do not discuss it with other people. I know that talking about a shared trauma can be therapeutic, but this will not be. I promise. Think about what you have done well on this exam and then move on with your plan. As Timon famously says in The Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind you.”
  1. When all the exams are over, enjoy the idle time.

(Liz Stillman)

November 29, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thank You, And . . .

I was honored and surprised and thrilled to find out that I was the recipient of the 2022 Trailblazer Award. I truly feel that I have the best job in the world, and part of that is because I get to be a member of the broader academic support community.

While I take pride in and ownership of my accomplishments, it also is not lost on me that they would be much more difficult for many other academic support professionals to achieve because of the inconsistency and inequity among how we are treated at our schools. I wanted to highlight the ways in which my institution – Suffolk University Law School (SULS) – has supported me, in the hopes it will encourage other law schools to do the same.

  1. Financial and logistical support for research and writing: SULS provides summer funding for professors who wish to take on scholarly projects, and they extend this funding to academic support professors. I’ve written four articles and have received funding for two of those. The funding is both a financial help, as well as – importantly - an incentive and a vote of confidence. I wasn’t sure that I would ever write an article, but getting funding made me feel like the school believed I could. In addition to the funding, the law school has an active and robust Scholarship Committee and does not require me to teach a full course load over the summer.
  1. Faculty status: I'm faculty and therefore involved in faculty committees and meetings, which allows me to form relationships with other faculty, get ideas, exchange ideas, and feel more invested in the school.[1]
  1. Conference funding: SULS provides me with conference funding, which allows me to meet other academic support colleagues, build community, and gain skills.
  1. Long-term contracts: Those of us in the Academic Support Program have 1-, 3- and 5-year contracts, which allow us greater stability than others who face yearly renewal and review.
  1. Parental leave: I received maternity leave (it is sad that this even needs to be said, yet it does).
  1. A significant academic support program: There are four full-time academic support professors at Suffolk (names familiar to and beloved by anyone working in the field: Herb Ramy, Liz Stillman, Phil Kaplan, and Jen Ciarimboli). This is not only crucial because we have a very large student body, but also benefits me immensely because I have generous, wise, and hardworking colleagues with whom to exchange ideas and resources.
  1. Teaching opportunities: Finally, in recent years, SULS has allowed me to teach non-ASP classes like Professional Responsibility and Negotiation. Doing so has helped me gain experience and confidence, generated ideas for scholarship, provided me with additional pay, and helps students and faculty see that ASP professors are part of the broader curriculum.

Of course, we are not perfect at SULS. In short: I would love to have tenure. When I joined legal academia, tenure seemed primarily like a matter of ego to me. But now, I value it more. I’d like financial equity with my colleagues; to feel fully respected and valued; to have full academic freedom; and to be able to have a greater impact on my community through voting on matters of appointments and tenure.[2] Perhaps this award will be a step towards these goals.

And perhaps I am sharing too much, being too transparent. I’ve come to learn that a certain amount of gamesmanship is expected in academia. But I believe part of the success of many of us in academic support is our authenticity and transparency.

If you are a tenured faculty member or administrator reading this - thank you, and I hope this has given you some ideas.

If you are academic support staff or faculty, please feel free to reach out if I can be of support - I know how much you do for students, how unquantifiable the majority of it is, and I believe in and value you.

 

[1] I don’t mean at all to prioritize faculty over staff, and I think staff should receive these benefits as well. I intend instead to acknowledge what I gain from being a faculty member.

[2] Another note: my title is not Associate Professor, but Associate Professor of Academic Support, and many wonderful scholars have noted the way that titles perpetuate hierarchy. See, e.g., Rachel Lopez, Unentitled: The Power of Designation in the Legal Academy, 73 Rutgers L. Rev. 923 (2021).

(Sarah Schendel - Guest Post, Associate Professor of Academic Support, Suffolk Law School)

November 23, 2021 in Academic Support Spotlight, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Thankfulness

Remember in Harry Potter when Professor Lupin praised Harry for not being afraid of Voldemort, but rather being afraid of fear itself? Don’t even get me started on the psychological symbolism of dementors if you do not have a few minutes hours days to discuss all the good and bad symbolism in the series. But there is something in that particular moment that resonates with me. At this time of year, when everyone thinks about what they are grateful for, I think I most grateful for gratefulness.

I have a friend who writes a blog that is entirely about gratitude[1]. I love that it has been going on for 2054 days even though it started as a 30 day project. There was just too much to be thankful for in this world to be confined to one month. But in the Academic Support world, I think sometimes ASP faculty do not make the list for students, schools[2], or even as relevant enough to be considered in the U.S. News rankings. Our data on thankfulness is almost entirely anecdotal. So here is my list of what I am thankful for in Academic Support:

  1. The amazing academic writing produced by ASP people-wow, just wow,
  2. That this is most warm, generous, and kind assembly of colleagues in all the academic realm (seriously, I mean every seemingly over-the-top word here),
  3. Students who are essentially groupies. I love students who come by regularly without being asked or told to do so for all three or four years of law school,
  4. Not being the person who grades all the exams or papers-just helping with prep and other issues is highly liberating especially when you add the disclaimer, “of course, I am not grading this, so be sure to check with your [insert legal writing or doctrinal] professor also…,”
  5. Students who take my advice. I offer a lot of advice-some solicited and some not, but all well-meaning and with some evidence/experience/inside knowledge to back it up,
  6. When a plan comes together-it could be a study plan, a paper plan, a bar plan, or even a registration plan-when it works out for a student and they are successful, my heart grows three sizes (premature holiday reference, sorry).
  7. The beginning of the tenure conversation for ASP faculty. We may need a Patronus charm to get there, but we are in the room of requirement getting our wands ready for the battle.

There is more-there is always more. I am thankful for (among many other things) students who send me grading playlists, texts about successes from graduates, and being able to resume having an open-door policy this semester. But most of all, I am thankful for thankfulness. Gratitude is self-perpetuating.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://gratitudeathon.com/

[2] I am extremely lucky that my school has truly valued ASP work and faculty.

November 15, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 8, 2021

Articulation

Today is International Tongue Twister Day (I am not making this up just for blog content, I promise).[1] A tongue twister is defined as, “a word, phrase, or sentence difficult to articulate because of a succession of similar consonantal sounds.” [2] I would submit that all the different roles we play in academic support are difficult to articulate as well.

Like many codified rules in the United States, the term “Academic Support” is vague. How can we define what we do? We help students access the curriculum in law school but that is still vague. We conduct orientation classes. We teach students how to prepare and study in their doctrinal classes. We help students prepare for midterm and final exams-and then the Bar exam. We help students with legal writing projects. We offer counseling that borders on therapy. We listen, we plan, we give feedback, we lend books and shoulders and pens. We offer candy and tissues and respite. We also learn from and help one another as professionals. I once helped a student pick out bridesmaid dresses. We are something different to every student we work with (a friend, a mentor, a nag, a chocolate supplier….).

Our support is seamless mainly because there is no clear beginning or end to what we do that can be stitched together. And, sometimes, what we do is both important and invisible. We are not quite the same as other faculty members in ways that are obvious and some that slip below the radar.

So, on this Monday of the week that Bar results will be released here in Massachusetts and other states nearby, I offer this tongue twister to remember what the folks in Academic Support do:

Academic Support professors profess to assist pre-professionals become professionals using practices that produce prosperity.

Say it 5 times fast and have a particularly pleasant day!

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.punchbowl.com/holidays/international-tongue-twister-day

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tongue%20twister

November 8, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Gestalt

I was a social psychology major as an undergraduate and I remember studying the psychological theory of gestalt, which is defined as “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.”[1] Basically, if I had known about outlining back in those days, I would have written the rule as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As bar exam results trickle in from parts near and far, I think it worth revisiting this idea with both students and colleagues.

To students who have passed the bar, I would say, “Wonderful! Remember, there is more to you than this one credential. As an attorney, you will bring your whole self to the table and that will always be more than the sum of your parts.” To the students who have not passed the bar this time, I might say the same thing. I do not want to be dismissive of how meaningful this one credential is for them after a three (or four) year journey that has already been fraught with confidence crushing moments. I don’t want to toss out, “oh well, maybe next time” either because right now, I think these students may see “next time” as a craggy mountain to climb without any safety gear in truly inclement weather.  I also know that social media means that students will know about their classmates’ successes almost immediately and silence will be interpreted as failure. Literally. There really is no good answer other than “I’m sorry. How are you doing?”

I also worry about my colleagues who have poured every ounce of what they have into students to help them pass the bar (regardless of whether the students were willing vessels or not) and now have someone else’s success or failure be determinative of their worth. Is this how we value professionals?

When a football team loses a game, media outlets tend to blame everyone on the team-not just the quarterback or coaches, but the team as a whole: offense, defense, big guys, little guys. Even when one player makes an egregious error, the sportscasters tend to find additional reasons for the loss-even the weather or altitude can be roped in. When the team wins, the press is similarly wide in praise, as seen here by today’s Boston Globe after the Patriots won a home game yesterday, “[e]veryone went home happy Sunday. Mac Jones got his first 300-yard game and hit a 46-yard deep ball. Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards. Eleven players made a catch, and five different players got in the end zone. The defense created two interceptions…Smiles all around.”[2] And remember, these guys probably each get paid more than all the ASP folks at a regional conference combined.

So, when bar results are good, ASP folks are part of the overall winning team with smiles all around. But when bar results are not what we are hoping for, why do our ASP colleagues not get the same level of camaraderie? Why aren’t we always a team at that moment also? ASP folks, and particularly those who do bar exclusively, need to be given the grace of gestalt. So I say to you, regardless of the bar results at your school, you are more than the sum of your parts. As an ASP professional, you bring your whole self to the table and you are mighty.  

Judging someone’s competency or job security based on the performance of other people at a task that is not entirely knowable is something that is far above our pay grade.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gestalt

[2] https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/10/24/sports/who-cares-that-its-jets-patriots-needed-this-ego-boost/

October 25, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Making Explicit the Implicit -- Take the Road Less Traveled

Poet Robert Frost writes:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
                           
                     - The Road Not Taken
 
With midterm exams over (or soon to be complete), students have a choice, a road to choose, a path to navigate. Indeed, regardless of one's exam results, much is to be learned.  
 
However, if you, dear student, are like me at all, I was (and still am) fearfully afraid of my professors. That's the road most of us take.
 
But there's another road one might take.  
 
It's  a road, as the poet suggests, that can make all of the difference. And it's not too late for you to take that road.  Reach out to your professors, indeed, seek them out.  Ask them to walk through your midterm exams with you, personally or in a small group.  Listen to them, converse with them, share your thoughts as you worked through your midterm exams, and let the conversation enrich you as you learn what you did that was outstanding (and why) along with concrete ways to improve (and how).
 
In particular, ask them to read through the question with you.  Most of the time, I find, that when people underperform on exams, it's because they knew too much but, in the rush of the moment, they wrote too hastily before they had properly read, identified, and analyzed the precise questions and issues raised.  It's as though we are primed to spill as much ink as possible in the hopes of making something stick.  But, much as in the practice of law, our best work happens when we take the time to deeply read, to curiously think through, and methodically organize our responses.  
 
In short, the way to improve is to learn and the only way to learn is to take the road less traveled, the road that opens up ourselves to challenges, that feels risky (and is), that feels lonely (and is), and that is not necessarily pleasant (it isn't).  However, it's a road that, in hindsight, you'll be mighty glad that you took. And, as a suggestion, grab a friend, go as a team, prepare together, share together and learn together.  Wishing you the best in your learning travels!  (Scott Johns).

 

October 21, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Hitting the Wall

In the musical Hamilton, Eliza tries to persuade her husband, Alexander, to take a break, “Take a break…Run away with us for the summer. Let's go upstate…There's a lake I know…In a nearby park. I'd love to go.”[1]  Alexander refuses to go and, no spoilers beyond this, it doesn’t end well.

Two weeks ago, on the first Monday in October, I asked my undergraduates why this time of year was so important, and one student said, “It’s spooky season.” I was trying to get at the Supreme Court getting back to work (on what very well may a spooky season of cases), but it is also, as ASP folks know, that scary time of year when our 1Ls hit a wall. I’ve stockpiled candy (easy this time of year), tissues, and some advice.

We all know that 1Ls have a moment of crisis when they lose their altruism about helping the world with their law degree and become caught up in a smaller world of grades, midterms, legal writing assignments, outlining, and the overwhelmingness of just showing up for class. Students lose sight of why they even came to law school to begin with. Surely, masochism wasn’t the reason mentioned in their application personal statements. Sometimes, students need to be reminded of their initial reasons for being a lawyer. A gentle reminder might be enough for some students. It never hurts to tell them that no one really comes to law school to be a law student, they come to become a lawyer. Being a law student is temporary. And while it seems counterintuitive to advise taking a break, that is the advice I often give them at this point in the semester.

This may be a perfect time for a student to take a small break (hours, not days). Midterms are over, legal writing is less intense (for the moment) and they have been doing the reading, briefing, and outlining for long enough that it isn’t all consuming. Honestly, if Boston was a drag queen, this time of year would be its death drop in terms of the weather and natural beauty. Soon enough, everything will ramp up again and often with larger consequences, but at this very moment, a few hours spent away from law school is doable.

To that end, I have “prescribed” a drive to a beach town about 40 minutes north of here with saltwater taffy, a giant rocky sea wall that is both walkable and climbable, and just sitting at the edge of the ocean and getting perspective. Need something closer? Walk down to the aquarium, smell the ocean, and watch the harbor seals frolic in the outdoor (free!) exhibit. Even closer? Walk the Freedom Trail (it is right outside the doors to our law school). Really, anything can be a break; the only rules are no books, no laptop, and no regrets. Time spent rebuilding yourself is priming the pump for students (and faculty). The investment will pay off.

So be on the lookout for students hitting the wall. Be their Eliza. I would always prefer my students took a break than get broken.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] © Lin-Manuel Miranda

October 18, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Making Trouble - Good Trouble

It's the aftermath of the first day of the AASE (Association of Academic Support Educators) Third Bi-Annual Diversity Conference, hosted by CUNY Law.  Unfortunately, my notes are a mess, much like life I suppose.  

But I managed to jot down some key thoughts from speakers and participants that pierced my heart today, leading me to reflect deeply on what I, personally and professionally, must do next, must be next.  

So here's some of what grabbed my heart from today's conference. It's just one person's view.  And I realize I left out much. But, in case you weren't able to participate today, I share with the hope that what we learn together in community might truly be life-changing for so many of our students, left behind and hidden.

  • Be willing to and make the invisible visible.
  • Generosity of spirit.
  • Ask questions about the learning environment, culture, the institution.
  • Who's here? Who's not here? Who's rules? Who created them?
  • Be a sponge - absorb.
  • Be curious, especially about who's uncomfortable.  
  • Reach out to student groups. Don't wait for them to reach out to you. Be the instigator.
  • Build rapport and relationships.
  • Grow in humility.
  • Social Identify Mapping: A Tool - Use it! Share it!  Practice it! Live it!
  • Humble ourselves.  
  • Be willing to lose control so the others might grow and learn.
  • What's your definition of academic freedom? Who is it for? What does it serve? How does it help or hinder our students and their learning?
  • Are you living mission statements or mission? Truly?  Really?
  • Why so hard to talk about race?  What are you waiting for?
  • Crown Act - creating and crafting successful curricular ways to teach learning, build DEI, and grow in respect and appreciation for others.
  • A few possible communication principles for living, learning, and growing, together: "Vegas---Wall Street---weather.com"
  • There's more to academics than academics - much more.
  • Pandemic Education - What worked? What didn't? What will you continue? Who did it work for? Who didn't it work for? How were you changed by it? How will you let what you learn positively impact your teaching and your students?
  • Don't be afraid to let your students see you, know you.
  • Create space for expression, for belonging.
  • Ask more questions.
  • Make Good Trouble--Yes, Be a Trouble-Maker!

Finally, thank you to the organizers and leaders of this conference - Professors Yolonda Sewell and Haley Meade - and all of the participants, speakers, and sponsors for giving so much of themselves to us for others. And thank you to Dean Hayat (CUNY Law) for your opening remarks and Dr. Spates (Kent State) for your keynote address. Truly inspirational. (S. Johns).

October 14, 2021 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Bearsight

Often times I see but I don't.  Perhaps an analogy will explain.

It's bear season where I live.  But the bears are awful hard to spot, despite their large size.  It seems that their big paws tend to distribute weight so that they move with stealth-like grace as they forage among the mountain berries, shrubs and trees.  They tend to make not much more noise than a trifling breeze or a bird at work building a nest.

But I have a secret weapon to spot the bears - my dog.

You see, a few weeks back, while hiking, Maisey came to a screeching halt, sat perfectly still, and sniffed the mountain breeze.  A sniff here and a sniff there.  I was like, "Come on Maisey, let's get going." But she sat, still.  

After about 5 minutes of waiting silently, I finally noticed a slight rustle down the hillside from the trail.  Not much of anything.  But then another rustle and another and another, all ever so silent.  Suddenly, I saw what Maisey had sensed all along before.  A bear, foraging in the scrub oaks.  For the next twenty minutes or so, I watched the bear slowly eat its way down the hillside before I finally lost sight.  But the lesson wasn't lost on me.  I would not have seen that bear by myself.  I needed the sense of another, one with keener senses than me.

I think law school is bit like that.  

As law students, we can re-read our papers or our notes or our midterm answers and not really see what we really wrote.  It's sort of like we are blinded by our own senses, by our own sight.  

However, much like my experience on the trail scouting for bears, as law students, we have available to us, just for the asking, people who have keener senses than us, finely tuned, who can take a look at our work and thus open us up to a whole other way of seeing and experiencing things.  In short, we can turn to our faculty and academic support teams to help us - as learners - see what's really in our answers (and what isn't).  

So, as law students, don't feel like you need to go it alone in law school, at all.  Freely reach out to others for help.  Let experts review your work. Get feedback from your professors and your ASP team at your law school.  You'll be surprised at what you'll see.  It probably won't be a bear, but I can guarantee that it will help you become a better attorney.  And that's what we are here for -- for you. (Scott Johns). 

September 30, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 6, 2021

A Proclamation on Labor Day

Labor Day is a holiday where we celebrate workers, an off-shoot of the industrial revolution and the labor unions that formed to help workers get fair treatment and to prevent child labor in the  19th Century. It started as a bit of a grassroots idea that caught on in some industrial centers, but it only became a Federal holiday in June, 1894 when Grover Cleveland signed it into law after hugely bungling his response to the Pullman Strike earlier that year. Before that, only Oregon, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts had their own versions of the holiday. We owe those labor unions a lot: weekends, paid holidays etc.  

But what about the labor of academic support and bar prep folks? Sometimes it seems that our status is unclear. Are we labor or management? We tend to operate at the junction of faculty and staff.  Sometimes we are faculty adjacent (as the Gen Z folks would put it). Sometimes, the people we work with have absolutely no idea what we do and seem pleasantly surprised that the school has people who “do that.” Bar prep folks work all summer and finish up just in time for a few scant days of rest before orientation kicks in. By this time, academic support folks have already planned and possibly conducted orientation classes. For people who do both, there is no break. Except, perhaps, for today.

So, in that spirit, I am calling for a celebration of Academic Support and Bar Prep folks, so:

A Proclamation:

Whereas, Academic Support/Bar Prep (“AS/BP”) folks are the first and last people students will know in law school, and;

AS/BP folks teach students to be successful by teaching (among other things) case briefing, outlining, study skills, exam skills, exam IRAC, legal writing templates like IRAC and CREAC, the MBE, MPTs, and  MEEs, and;

AS/BP folks will track students down or be tracked down for all of the above and many other questions, issues, crises and panics, and;

AS/BP folks relish student success and suffer student failure at a deep, deep level, and;

AS/BP folks may not be faculty or tenured faculty, and may not have job security for more than a year at a time, and;

AS/BP folks are the people that will meet a student at a rest stop on the Mass. Pike (or insert your favorite Interstate here) at 2:45 a.m. to turn over a form that needed a non-electronic signature;

It is therefore ordered that on this and every following Labor Day we shall celebrate the labor of these individuals.

To my colleagues in this venture: I hope this is indeed a day of rest, and for those who will be celebrating later today and tomorrow: Shana Tovah.

Now we just need to fill up the tank, head out to the rest stop, and get this baby signed.

(Liz Stillman)

September 6, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Unmasking

Since classes started last week, we have had a lot of chatter on our faculty list-serv about teaching while masked. Last year, most faculty members taught unmasked from home, so this is new for them. Yes, your mask gets gross after about thirty minutes and, also, yes, it is hard to be understood and understand students when everyone is masked. Yet, it is nice to be back in a classroom and feel that energy even when I am not sure I could pick my students out in a line-up. I was contemplating a blog entry about the best masks for teaching or learning in classes that are longer than one hour-but I am still doing that research[1].

But what about the other masks that we are all wearing in class? The ones that do not obscure our noses and mouths, but rather the ones that obscure how we feel or our point of view? I am usually concerned about the things I can’t see about students even when their faces are visible to me. I know that my students on academic warning are multi-faceted and that they find themselves on academic warning[2] for a number of reasons-many of which many not be academic. I want to see them regardless of how we are conducting classes.

So, I asked them to show me who they are behind the mask. I didn’t have anyone unmask in the classroom, but the first request for the class was to take a survey (not an assignment because I was asking some questions that might be considered more personal than students are comfortable answering). I had started doing this last fall during remote teaching to ascertain technology and space constraints on the advice of my amazing department chair for my undergraduate classes. I threw in a few fun questions like whether or not talking about the ending of Bridgerton or Wandavision would be a spoiler and which one of my pets they would like to see come to class for a visit (I underestimated the number of guinea pig fans, but she made her cameo nonetheless).

This year’s survey was a little different but began with the usual getting to know you questions like names, what you would like to be called, pronouns etc.. I asked about what they will miss most about remote learning (the commute was the number one answer there, followed closely by snacks). I asked open ended questions about things they think I should know about their learning style and ways we can make our class a community. I asked about what things outside of school might impact their academics and about what skills/knowledge they hoped to leave the class with. I got some very thoughtful and helpful ideas about what I could do to make this a useful class. I know students had to give up another class to take this required class and knowing what students want from it and how they would like it to happen is incredibly valuable information.  This class doesn’t work without buy-in from students, so knowing what they are shopping for is always better.

Finally, I asked about attending the class in-person. It was the last question in the survey. The question prompt was “In person learning is:”. Unlike other multiple-choice questions they will encounter this year (and beyond), there were no wrong answers and you could check as many as applied. The choices I offered were: “Amazing”, “New for Me for Law School”, “Scary”, and “A lot and I am Overwhelmed”.  Out of the twenty students who answered the survey (from a class of 22), 14 said this was new for them, 5 said it was scary, 4 said it was overwhelming and slightly more than half (11) thought it was amazing. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, no one checked just one answer. In retrospect, maybe I should have offered an “All of the Above” option because that is the option I would have chosen.

I still may not be able to recognize everyone when (and if) we unmask at some point, but for now, I see them clearly.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] The masks with the clear mouth area creep me out. I get a beginning of Rocky Horror coupled with Pennywise vibe from those, so they will not be appearing on that list.

[2] Intentional use of the passive voice.

August 28, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Think Like A Lawyer - An Overused and Misused Expression?

I hesitate to admit this: I've used this phrase so many times that it just sort of swims to the surface and color almost all that I do to include how I approach my work as an academic support educator.  However, as Professors Kris Franklin and Rory Bahadur remind us in a recent publication, this phrase is relatively meaningless as to the real purposes behind legal education. Directed Questions: A Non-Socratic Dialogue about Non-Socratic Teaching (Aug. 16, 2021).

And, I might add a bit dangerous in the sense of destructive of learning...

Here's why:

First, notice the word "a".  

That doesn't seem to leave much room for differences among our future lawyers.  Rather, it seems to suggest that there is only one type of lawyer.  Exclusive.  Not part of broader society.  One type of which I must be trained to think like.  It leaves out the "me" in lawyering.  In short, it suggests that unless I give up what is really me and become someone else, this mythical lawyer, I will not succeed; I will not belong; I will not think like a lawyer.

Second, notice the word "think".  

I do a lot of thinking, well, mostly day dreaming.  Much of my thinking is not productive.  Why not? Because I don't act upon it.  It just remains hidden from action, in my mind, silently powerless.  In fact, by suggesting that we are going to train our students to "think" like a lawyer, we are really leading them astray, because law is much more than just thinking. It also requires communication, it requires action, it requires practice, it requires leaning in and giving up of yourself for representation and betterment of others.  And, if truth be told, it requires a lot of writing, too.

Third, sticking with the word "think".

Of course, learning requires thinking, much thinking, deep thinking.  But learning takes much more than thinking because we learn through what we experience, what we try, what we fail in and what we succeed in, and how we learn to overcome and improve through and with our learning experiences.  In short, the phrase sells learning short.  It suggests that we can think our ways into being lawyers.  Like the practice of law, learning requires lots of practice too, lots of action too.

I'm not sure what should replace this phrase.  But maybe it's a lot more showing what it is like to be and serve and work and counsel and act as lawyers.  As a starting point, I just wrote our faculty and staff and suggested that they bring some of their former students, who just graduated and took the bar exam recently, back to their classrooms, their programs, and their offices to talk about how they learned in law school and what they are learning now.  In other words, there's lots of room for lots of different lawyers with lots of different ways to practice.  Letting our students know that they are allowed to be who they are and that there's room for them just as they are might just go along way to helping our students thrive as they begin the fall studies.

(Scott Johns).

August 26, 2021 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)