Monday, January 18, 2021

Keep Writing

It is that time of year again. Many first-year law students are anxiously awaiting grades from their first semester of law school. To all of you, I say: I hope your first semester grades are everything you want them to be.

Regardless, try to maintain perspective. Each grade is but a snapshot of your performance during a “moment” in time and, sometimes, it can feel as if there is no rhyme or reason to how each of those snapshots develop. Students who studied more may not perform as well as expected. Students who studied less may perform better than expected. The exam you thought was your best performance may end up being your worst grade. Similarly, the exam you thought was your worst performance may end up being your best grade.

Whatever your grades are, your feelings about them are valid. It is okay to feel excited about and celebrate your good grades, but do not rest on your laurels (keep doing the work). It is okay to feel frustrated or disappointed about less-than-ideal grades, but do not get stuck in that frustration or disappointment. Process your feelings and then pivot.

Your grades are not the final word on your abilities or the opportunities you will have. They are also in no way indicative of your value as a person or how great of a lawyer you will become. What matters more than a less-than-ideal grade is what you do in response, and that response can make for a great narrative of grit and resilience that you share with, among others, future employers.

If your grades are not everything you want them to be, get to work changing your reality for the spring term. Connect with your ASP faculty and/or staff to discuss your strengths and identify areas for growth, then develop a plan to expand upon the former and work on the latter. Cultivate a growth mindset. Your abilities and skills are not fixed—you can develop and refine them with practice and by leveraging your feedback. One semester of grades does not define you or dictate your story. YOU are the author of your story. Keep writing.

(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)

References:

Eduardo Briceño and Dawn Young, A Growth Mindset for Law School Success, ABA Student Lawyer Blog (Sept. 12, 2017), https://abaforlawstudents.com/2017/09/12/growth-mindset-law-school-success/.

Heidi K. Brown, Law School Grades Are Not Your Story—You Are Your Story, ABA Student Lawyer Blog (Jan. 9, 2020), https://abaforlawstudents.com/2020/01/09/law-school-grades-are-not-your-story-you-are-your-story/.

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

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Illusive Teaching

I just got out of class.  An online zoom class, not surprisingly.  But, in reflection of the first class, I had a bit of a surprise.  I did a whole lot of talking and talking and then, even more, talking.  You see, I took a glance at the audio transcript file.  And it was quite an eye-popper. 

I did most of the talking, which means that my students did very little.  

It makes me wonder whether I left enough time in the midst of my words for my students to learn.  I once heard a brilliant teacher say something to the effect that "the less that I talk the more that they [my students] learn."

Of course, as the saying goes, the "proof is in the pudding."  

Which leads to my next surprise.  I try to end classes with asking students one thing that they learned along with one thing that they didn't understand.  Well as you might expect, I didn't leave enough time for the last question because, you guessed it, I spent too much time talking.

But, in response to the first question, what they learned, well, they learned about what I liked (snickers!) and where I ate lunch on the first day of the bar exam (the liquor store since I forgot my lunch), etc.  In other words, it seems like they learned a great deal about me but perhaps not as much about bar preparation, which is the subject of our course.

Lesson learned, especially for online teaching...speak less and listen more.  In short, trust them to learn by learning together, as a team, rather than just trying to pound information into their heads.  I sure learned a lot today.  Next class...my students are going to learn plenty too!  (Scott Johns)

January 14, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Tomorrow is Yesterday

When I was a kid, I saw an episode of the TV series Maude that was broadcast on November 1, 1976 – the day before Election Day.  Maude, the assertive main character, was trying to convince everyone to write in Henry Fonda for President.  When her featherbrained neighbor Vivian asked Maude why she was in such a rush to get the idea out, Maude looked at her severely and explained that the election was happening tomorrow.

“Tomorrow?!” exclaimed Vivian.  “And it seems like only yesterday it was Halloween!”

Well, today, with the results of the October bar exam barely in hand for many examinees, we have leapt right back into preparation for the February exam.  Perhaps the final casualty of the Endless Summer is the strict reduction of time to process the relationship between all that happened before the exam and the results that came out of it.  Individuals who just found out in late December or early January that they did not pass have had to decide very quickly whether to register for the February exam.  A California repeat examinee could still register next week, with as few as 32 days left before the exam is administered.  And while many states and law schools have seen an increase in bar pass rates compared to July of 2019, we have entered the February bar study period without some of the data we might ordinarily use to assess the reasons for any changes in passage rates.  At least here in New York, some of the granular data about subject-matter performance on the MBE portion has not been provided, and information about statewide trends have only been reported in the most general terms.  This makes it harder to determine the effects of the delay, of the changes in format and delivery, and of strategies adopted or resources provided in response.

Tomorrow is February?!  It seems like only yesterday it was October!

Thus, even though the February bar exam represents a great stride towards “normalcy” in many jurisdictions – in that it will be delivered on a traditional set date, with typical full UBE content – this will still be an unusual administration, affected by ripples of the pandemic.  Some repeat examinees will be facing a compressed study period, although I have observed that a least a portion of them, perhaps spurred to greater-than-normal pessimism under the circumstances, began preparing prophylactically even before scores were announced.  In any case, those of us who work with repeating graduates may be asked to provide additional support.

More frustrating to me is having to determine what aspects of the support provided to our examinees over the five months between graduation and the October bar would be most advantageously replicated over the next two months.  The extended prep period was, I felt, grueling for all involved, but it provided time and motivation for examinees and teachers alike to try new strategies.  Based on our results, some of these strategies appear to have beneficial.  But which ones?  And are they replicable between now and the end of February, or were they successful because, and not in spite of, the long stretch of time before the October administration?  Without all the information I wish I had, this feels in some ways similar to what many of us had to do this summer: reacting to a novel situation without certainty, and ending up (very likely) relying in part on intuition and extraordinary effort.

Hopefully, knock on wood, fingers crossed, things won't feel this way come summer 2021.  For now, the one thing I am fairly certain played an important part in my examinees' performance that is likely replicable now was the increased sense of camaraderie and support that they reported as a result of the very high-touch summer and fall.  With so many changes so frequently, and with unbelievable levels of anxiety among bar studiers (who on the whole are not typically known for tranquil, detached attitudes), I initiated what would turn out to be bi-weekly (or more frequent) Zoom meetings to pass along news, share strategies, and provide opportunities for feedback.  Already feeling isolated by the pandemic, the students reported that these meetings helped them feel connected to each other and to the school, and it appears they took more advantage of the resources we made available (including lots of one-on-one meetings with me).  This was kind of a form of intrusive counseling. It seems to have worked, at least under those recent conditions, which in some ways are still ongoing.  So, while I am still hoping to develop more clarity about how other specifics contributed to examinees' performance, this is one lesson I took from yesterday that I can apply today to help my examinees prepare for tomorrow.

[Bill MacDonald]

January 12, 2021 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Where Does ASP Fit In?

Raising some up does not diminish the work of others. Instead, it improves the whole of legal education. – Darby Dickerson

I am encouraged by the words of AALS President, Darby Dickerson, who calls out the caste system in law schools and advocates for its abolition. The caste system is an unnatural stratification that unnecessarily subdivides the legal academy in a manner that is contrary to the goals and best practices of quality legal education. Yet it prevails.

Dickerson acknowledges that there is much work to do in the quest for parity. She points out that some schools pay those with non-tenure track appointments (“NTT”) one-half or less of the average pay for tenure-line faculty, even with the same (or greater) number of credit hours taught. She also addresses the disrespect and other “affronts” that many NTT must bear, like exclusion from faculty meetings and votes.

ASPers know too well the stinging bite of having tenure-line administrators and faculty dictate which courses we teach and what the content of those courses will and will not include. Sung like the song of our collective souls, Dickerson recounts the common practice of having faculty or faculty committees change or attempt to change program design (e.g., number of credits, grading schemes, course titles, etc.) “without consultation and sometimes over [our] expert objections.” Our ideas and experience-based practices and recommendations for course revisions and program redesign are too often challenged or disregarded. Failing to acknowledge the expertise and accomplishments of non-tenure track faculty and staff is a mistake that should be avoided at all costs. Caste

Of particular interest, is that Academic Support is neither assigned, nor expressly described by, a caste. If titles correlate to perceptions of one’s status, the omission of an entire skills discipline should sound an alarm. ABA Standard 405 makes specific reference to legal writing faculty and clinical faculty, and none specifically to ASP. Legal writing professors deserve every advance they have fought for over the years, and more. Still we cannot presume to be included in the decades-long battle to erode the hierarchy separating doctrine from skills.

Our legal writing and clinical counterparts are rarely categorized as staff. Yet many in ASP have staff classifications, despite teaching required and elective courses. Too many in ASP are denied a voice or vote in the programs they teach or direct, are physically segregated far from the faculty hallways, and are denied budget funding for travel and professional development, and have 12-month appointments that limit writing projects and scholarly pursuits. Have law schools and the ABA created a caste-in-caste system by further subdividing the “skills” faculty? Why is ASP too often omitted from the from discussions about hierarchy and status?

Dickerson asks what our law schools would look like without the labor and skill of NTT. Would our program of education be as robust? Would student class performance and outcomes decline? Would our students succeed on the bar at the same rate? Perhaps we can add to her well-voiced list of questions: 1) how would our profession look without the unnecessary stratification that law schools perpetuate?  and 2) what are we willing to do about it?

(Marsha Griggs)

November 29, 2020 in Academic Support Spotlight, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Have Yourself a Restful Little Holiday.....

To the Law Students, especially first years:

It's ok to take a break. I promise. I wanted to give you some great advice for exams, and since Victoria has written about so many tips for prepping for and writing the exams, my advice is to relax.

I know, I know, you have so much to do. But your brain really DOES retain information better if you give yourself breaks. I'm not suggesting that you don't do any work between now and Monday, but I am suggesting that you pace yourself, and do a few fun things for yourself as well. Netflix does have some great holiday movies coming out!

If you are a first year, it's also important to put things in perspective. Yes, grades are important, we can't get around that issue. But so is your mental and physical health. It's tempting to put so much pressure on yourself, and you need to realize that as long as you are doing your best, that's all we can ask of you. 

Also, don't be afraid to ask for help. From your professors. From your Academic Support people. From a Dean of Students. We all want to see you succeed, and we will do what we can to make that happen. If you don't know how to ask for help, that's ok too. It's a good idea to start with someone like your Academic Support person, or your Dean of Students. Literally go in and say "I'm having a hard time, and I don't know how to ask for help." We will help you! Promise!

And speaking of help, if you are entitled to non standard testing accommodations, and especially if you have used them in other situations, please reach out and ask for them!  For some schools, it might be late in the process, but it can't hurt to at least see what's possible.

Finally, practice! Don't go into your exams having never practiced one. The more practice exams you do, the better you will feel, and it WILL be reflected in your grades.

 

To my Academic Support Colleagues:

We need to take this advice as well! We are so good at advising our students on how to take care of their mental health, how important it is to take time for breaks, and to do things for themselves. But we don't always take our own advice. Hypocrites, the lot of us.  The AASE programming board put on a fantastic workshop about how we should be helping ourselves, and each other, so take this as an important reminder. Especially, if you are like me, your list of things that must get done this weekend is a mile long. I'm going to try to take my own advice and do the best I can, while also spending some time with my husband, and maybe watching a Christmas movie or two! I hope all of you do the same.

Finally, I've been doing a month of gratitude. Each day, on facebook, I note one thing I'm grateful for. I started doing this a few years ago, as it is a really good way to boost serotonin and put things in perspective. This year I felt it was especially important, since this year has not been one of the best. So, I want all of you to know that I'm incredibly grateful for this community, and I'm thankful for each of you. Your wisdom and expertise, your friendship and support.

 

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

(Melissa Hale)

November 25, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thinksgiving

A quick etymology lesson to take us all into the holiday:

The words "thank" and "think" are both ultimately derived from the same Latin root word, "tongere", which means "to know".  It appears that when our ancient forebears wanted to express appreciation for another person's action or contribution, they did not originally convey gratitude overtly.  Instead, they conveyed understanding -- "I know what you did."  "I am thinking about what you have given me." -- and that expression of awareness was meaningful.  A mindful comprehension of a deed or a relationship or even an object implied that you recognized its worth.  Over time, "think" and "thank" developed separate spellings, pronunciations, and nuances.  "Think" focuses on the mental processes that enable us to better "know" something.  "Thank" focuses on the recognition of something's value to you.

The link is the ancestral human insight that when you know something well, you naturally develop an appreciation for it.  So when you take time this Thanksgiving to acknowledge your family and your friends, your comforts and luxuries, the good fortune you've enjoyed and the bad fortune you've avoided, spare a few moments to consider your legal education.  It might seem odd to suggest you should be grateful for knowing the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or how to write a legal brief or the different classifications of collateral in secured transactions, but if you stop to think about the value of these tools to you -- tools that most people cannot grasp, let alone wield -- don't you feel richer?  And grateful, not just to the people who helped you acquire these tools (including, I hope, yourself), but also for the existence and quality and usefulness of them?  

Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  He knew that gratitude is not just a soppy sense of obligation for having received a boon.  It is a deep and honest perception of meaning and value -- the starting point from which wonder, possibility, humility, generosity, and creativity can spring.  This week, once you've recovered a bit from the sometimes exhausting, sometimes tedious, sometimes terrifying grind that this semester has been, give yourself the gift of earnestly contemplating all that you have learned and all the good that will come of it.  

[Bill MacDonald]

November 24, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Teaching Law is a Social Profession

As we near the end of this first full semester under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, my colleagues and I are developing a clearer and broader picture of the sometimes unanticipated consequences of a shift towards distance learning.  The biggest surprise for me has been the magnitude of the cumulative loss of the daily presence of my fellow teachers and administrators. 

Halfway through spring semester last year, the State of New York ordered all SUNY schools, including the University at Buffalo School of Law, to move entirely to remote teaching.  This was a shock and a strain for students and teachers alike, but we quickly figured out how to make it work reasonably well and get through the end of the school year.  If it was a little rough and wearying, it seemed that everyone understood that we were all doing the best we could under exigent circumstances.  For me and my graduating students, the stress did not let up over the summer, as the twice-delayed and newly remote NY bar exam was a source of unpredictability and anxiety all the way through to October.  But at least, it seemed, my colleagues and I would be able to take what we had learned from all of this and apply it to plan and execute a robust, well-constructed hybrid program for the fall -- one that would allow a limited number of smaller in-person classes while taking advantage of the best practices we had developed for teaching other classes online.  We provided rich pre-orientation and orientation programs for our incoming 1L students.  Our school's experiential program directors worked tirelessly to adapt to the new conditions so that upper class students could continue to receive the benefits of clinical practice.  And those of us in student support made extra effort to reach out and make ourselves available to students scattered throughout the virtual ether.  It seemed to me -- and, I think, rightly -- that we, like many law schools, had recognized, prioritized, and attended to our students' novel needs.

What I did not realize until recently that I had overlooked was the value of simply being in the building every day with other professors and administrators.  It seemed at first just a slightly lonely little inconvenience, having to work from home most days, and seeing maybe one or two people in the hallways on the days I did go in.  After all, we still had regular online meetings of various staff groups and committees, and emails and phone calls were still happening, so it was not as though we did not see each other or even basically know what each of us was up to.  And being busier than usual with student queries and online meetings, one might have thought it was a blessing not to have to commute in every day and to spend precious time walking from one end of the building to the other, bumping into people and engaging in chit-chat along the way.

But in these last couple of weeks, I have come to realize what has been reduced because of the lack of interaction with my colleagues: sharing, synergy, and sensibility.  I think we (or, who knows, maybe it's just me) greatly underestimated how much gets communicated when you see people two or three times a week, spontaneously ask for opinions or bat ideas around, notice which students they are meeting with, or ask a quick question that would probably take twenty minutes to write adequately in an email.  And suddenly we're only a few weeks from finals, and I discover that a student who has been working with me on one specific issue is actually contending with a related issue in a different class.  In a Zoom meeting, one doctrinal professor brings up a pervasive issue among her 1L students, and several others realize they've been dealing with the same problem.  I'm accidentally left off a group email discussion thread and don't find out for three days -- something that could never have happened if we were all in the building, as I would have wandered into the offices of at least one of the group members every day.  

We took so much care to make sure we stayed connected to our students (although they, too, undoubtedly suffer from the dearth of day-to-day contact, with us and with their classmates, in the hallways and before and after class), but, perhaps a bit too stoicly, assumed we'd do fine with more tenuous connections to our colleagues.  But now I see.  We've missed opportunities to share ideas about the law school and information about our students.  It's been harder to improvise together, to pool our strengths to come up with good solutions.  And without the little bits of intelligence we pick up from out colleagues -- the pointillist accretion of points of light that add up to the big picture -- it has become harder to be sensitive to concerns that might affect one student or might affect an entire class.

Here I had been thinking that reaching out too much to my absent colleagues would be only a selfish pestering, a feel-good reprieve from isolation.  But no!  It would really be for the good of my students, and for the whole school.  Starting this week, I have begun setting up regular one-on-one chats with folks, agendaless, just to catch up. Everyone I have proposed this to has welcomed the idea.  And when I make my weekly visit to campus, I'm going to get out of my office and walk every floor of the law school, just to see the few people whose schedules overlap with mine.  Who knows what good, if any, will come out of any particular encounter?  All I know now is that nothing good comes from losing them altogether.

[Bill MacDonald]

November 17, 2020 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Brief Intervention Statistically Improves Bar Exam Outcomes

In general, I don't believe in show and tell lectures.  In particularly, I'm not convinced that a few powerpoint presentations about the benefits of mindfulness or positive growth mindsets can make much of a difference in academic performance.  But, I do believe in the power of show, tell, and do experiences in changing lives for the better.  And, there's research out of California funded in part by AccessLex to support my supposition.

As previously detailed, a brief intervention focused on belonging can make a big impact on undergraduate academic performance, especially for underrepresented minorities. Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success (Oct. 3, 2019).  Now, researchers in partnership with the State Bar of California and funding from AccessLex have expanded that work to the field of bar licensure.  https://mindsetsinlegaleducation.com/bar-exam/

The brief 45-minute online program was made available to all bar takers for both the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams.  Id. Interested bar applicants were able to freely sign-up for the program, which was timed to coincide right before bar preparation studies began. "The program include[d] an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share[d] insights and strategies that m[ight] be useful to them and to future test takers." Id. In their research, the authors controlled for traditional bar performance  predicators (LSAT and LGPA) along with psychological factors, demographic factors, and situational factors to evaluate whether the brief 45-minute intervention yielded statistically beneficial improvements in bar exam outcomes.  Id.  

According to a summary of the findings, "[t]hose who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program (emphasis in original)."  Id. Significantly, as stated more completely in an article by the researchers, "[t}he program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses." Quintanilla. V., et al., Evaluating Productive Mindset Interventions that Promote Excellence on California’s Bar Exam (Jun. 25, 2020).  

In finding evidence in support of the program, the authors posited a possible social-psychological explanation for the promising results:

"The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program was designed to improve passage rates by changing how applicants think about the stress that they encounter and the mistakes that they make when studying for the exam. Our initial analyses of the effect of the program on psychological processes suggest that the program worked as intended, by reducing psychological friction. Participants appear to have succeeded in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes by adopting more adaptive mindsets. They moved from a stress-is-debilitating mindset to a stress-is- enhancing mindset. They learned to reappraise the anxiety they experienced. And they shifted toward meeting mistakes with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset." Id. 

As I understand the research, the researchers provided bar takers with research about tactics to turn stressors from negatives into positives and engaged bar takers in implementing those strategies.  In my opinion, a primary reason why the intervention was so promising rests with the last step of the intervention, in which bar takers took positive action to help future bar takers, by having bar takers write letters to future takers sharing their experiences in learning to transform frictions into pluses.  

In short, the intervention empowered people to make a difference, not just for themselves, but also for future aspiring attorneys.  That's a wonderful win-win opportunity.  And, there's more great news.  The researchers are looking for additional participants to expand the program to other jurisdictions. For details, please see the links in this blog. (Scott Johns).

 

November 12, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Why Ted Lasso is a great model of being ASP-ish

In our world of Academic Support and Bar Prep, we often say that someone is “Asp-ish” when we want to compliment one of our own.  Someone is ASP-ish if  they are  collaborative, supportive, and embrace things like growth mindset. Someone who is ASP-ish shares ideas, hesitates to take sole credit, is rarely ego driven, and thinks of themselves as a part of a team, not a solo player.

There is a relatively new show put out by AppleTv, “Ted Lasso”, about an American Football Coach from Kansas (Jason Sudeikis) who is hired to coach an English Premier League Football Team, AFC Richmond. He has never been to England and never played English Football, so that’s where the shenanigans begin.

Ted Lasso Trailer

Ted lasso 1

While watching this with my very British husband, it occurred to me even though Ted is a football coach (and a football coach!)  if he made a career change and started teaching Academic Support at a law school, we would definitely embrace him, and say he was very ASP-ish. Not only that, I think we can learn some lessons from him! In fact, I’m not the only one, you can find multiple articles from various fields about things we can learn from Ted about management and leadership.

Also, I tried to keep this spoiler free, but couldn’t do it. So, read at your own risk! Spoilers below! (And if you haven't seen it, go watch now, as it's a great way to relieve stress, and you probably need that)

Ted leads with collaboration and team work, something that we can all agree is at the heart of ASP. In fact, one of the first things he does is push his desk up against the desk of his assistant coach, the aptly named Coach Beard. This is presumably done so they can talk more and collaborate more effectively. He also listens to those that have more expertise than he does. In the beginning, he even lacks the correct vocabulary, but happily lets Coach Beard correct him and teach him.

Moreover, he doesn’t let hierarchy get in the way of good ideas. He meets Nathan, a “lowly” kit boy, who it seems is in charge of things like laundry and pitch maintenance. Despite Nathan’s lack of any credentials, Ted is quick to not only show him respect, but ask for and value his opinion.

In fact, Ted’s major coaching philosophy seems to be to lift up and support those around him. One of my favorite lines is the team owner asking Ted “do you believe in ghosts, Ted?” and Ted responding “Hmm mm,  I do, but more importantly, I think they need to believe in themselves” This sort of sums up Ted’s entire personality. Not only does he ask for Nathan’s name, which is something Nathan seems shocked by when he says “no one has ever asked before”, but Ted is insistent that he is part of the team. When Nathan has an idea for a play, Ted encourages him and uses it. He also has no problem sharing credit, explaining to the local reporter, “Trent Crimm, The Independent” that the play was courtesy of Nathan. The reporter is a bit incredulous that a premier league coach would listen to a “kit boy”, but Ted is unphased. He knows that someone doesn’t need to have credentials to have good ideas, and he also knows that those with higher credentials need to give credit to and support those without. In fact, when facing a team that Richmond hadn’t beaten in 60 years he lets Nathan take over the pregame speech, and by this point, the entire team is embracing Nathan’s ideas.  Finally, in the very last episode, Ted makes sure Nathan is promoted to Coach! This is something our entire community does well – lift each other up and share credit!

Ted and Coach Beard listening aptly to Nate
Ted and Coach Beard listening aptly to Nate

It’s also clear that Ted is all about Growth Mindset, Resilience and Grit. When we first meet Ted, he is on a plane, on his way to London, and a kid comes up to him, excited to meet him. The kid can’t believe what Ted is about to do, and says “You're mental mate, they’re going to murder you.” in reference to coaching a team for a sport he has never played. Ted’s only response is “Yea, I’ve heard that before, but here I am, still dancing.” I love this mindset, and can only hope to learn how to keep dancing from Ted.  There is also a great thruway line in the first episode, when Ted is learning the terminology of English Football “I’m going to get it though, because training makes perfect.”  Finally, at one point, after a frustrating day, he says  “I’m not sure what y’all’s smallest unit of measurement is, but that’s how much headway I made”. The response of the owner is just “and yet you remain undeterred”, which is often how we must all approach academic support. We often feel like we make no headway, yet must keep no dancing. 

The overreaching arc of Ted is that growing as individuals, and as a team, is more important than the score. “For me success is not about the wins or losses, it’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves, on or off the field.”

First, he recognizes that players need to be supported to be their best. He recognizes that one player, who is new to England from Nigeria, isn’t playing his best because he’s a bit homesick and adjusting. His solution is not to tell him to suck it up or be an adult, but rather to throw him a birthday celebration and create a care package that includes food from Nigeria. Also, instead of immediately talking to players about training, or game strategy, he asks them to put suggestions in a box, and assures them it can be things like water pressure or snacks.. And in fact, he immediately fixes the subpar water pressure, which seems to be a problem the team has dealt with for some time. He recognizes that these things might be small, but the players need to feel listened to and heard. He also genuinely wants to know everyone’s story.  Similarly, I think we often lead the charge in listening to our students needs, even If they are minor.

When he does have to correct players, he doesn’t yell or mock, he is kind. He leads with warmth and understanding, and positive reinforcement. In fact, in one episode, his captain, an aging super star, had a particularly bad game where mistakes were made.  The captain, Roy, says “Can you just tell me I F***ed up and go?” and Ted says he’s not going to do that, and he doesn’t want to hear the self pity. He also encourages him to go easy on himself.

Ted lasso 4
Ted listening to Captain Roy Kent, and not allowing him to beat himself up after a bad game

He also uses his team leaders to encourage other players, much the way we might use peer tutors, or recent alumnae to encourage bar takers. He notices that a couple younger players are constantly picking on Nathan. Instead of yelling at the players himself, which is recognizes could make the situation worse, he makes his Captain, Roy, do it. However, he leads Roy to this conclusion, which makes the lesson stick for both Roy, and the players giving Nathan a hard time.  I think we often look for ways to encourage our students to come up with answers themselves, for this exact reason.

Finally, Ted Lasso bakes. Anyone who has been around me in person knows that I can’t relate to bribing co-workers and students with baked goods.               

However, it’s not all warm and fuzzy. Ted, despite being mostly a ray of positivity, is still human, just like us. He has real problems, and in one scene is depicted going through a very realistic panic attack. Moreover, there is one episode, near the end, where Ted doubles down on how he doesn’t measure success by wins and losses. In a rare show of anger, Coach Beard, screams that of COURSE wins and losses matter. He reminds Ted that these are professional athletes, not children, and wins and losses matter for their career and livelihood.

Similarly, I think we all find this balance between growth and grades a bit difficult. We want to reassure our students that grades don’t matter, because it’s the learning that’s important. But we know better. Grades matter for job prospects, and passing the bar is important for job prospects. Especially when dealing with first generation and underrepresented students who may have few or no connections,  and need to rely on their performance, of COURSE it matters. Maybe it shouldn't, but that's the current reality. 

But, we can still teach and lead with kindness and compassion, and learn from Ted about how to be more ASP-ish. And if you are looking for a stress free tv binge, Ted Lasso has comedy, heart, romance, and some really well wounded and kick-butt female characters!

November 4, 2020 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Film, Sports, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hope in the Mist of Troubles and Despairs

According to a quote in a recent article, psychology professor Anthony Scioli says that we "...can think of hope as a PPE - a Personal Protective Emotion." E. Bernstein, Finding Hope When Everything Feels Hopeless, WJS, p. A12 (Oct. 28, 2020).    I'm no psychologist but I think there's more to hope than just the personal.  I think hope might be a necessary bridge for building better law school communities, empowering better learning, and creating better relationships.  But there's more to hope than meets the eye.

Unlike optimism, "...which is the belief that the future will work out no matter what you do," hope is something that we have to work on and wrestle with.  Id.  According to columnist Elizabeth Bernstein, hope "...has two crucial components.  Agency, or the motivation, to achieve the desired goal.  And a strategy, or pathway, to do that."  Id.  In other words, hope is optimism enacted to help secure what isn't yet certain about our future.  Again, hope requires (1) agency and (2) planning.  Let's look a bit closer at the "hope components."  

First, agency...  

As Elizabeth Bernstein summarizes, agency has to do with motivation, which has the root word motion in it.  It involves not just the will but the ability to move forward towards one's goals, to act on one's plans, to accomplish something each and every day that leads to growth, not just for us but for others too.  That suggests our law school communities should be closely scrutinizing whether we are extending agency to our students, equipping them and empowering them to learn and to grow.  In short, agency requires more than just external or internal motivation.  It requires us to work to make sure that our students have the resources, the counsel, and the instruction to act on their own behalves in achieving their learning goals.

Second, planning...  

According to Elizabeth Bernstein, planning has to do with developing a strategy to achieve future goals.  Id.  Notice, then, that planning is strategic.  It's meant to lead us forward, like a map that leads us step-by-step to a destination by previewing the route for our travels.  That suggests that law school communities might be focused too much on the substance of the law while neglecting to guide our students in how to learn the law, how to work with the law, and how to experience the law, to the detriment of a sizable pool of our law school communities.  Indeed, I often wonder about the lack of sizable assessments and training in learning across the law school curriculum and throughout the entirety of the law school experience.  It's as though we are asking students to perform a play (on final exams) without ever giving them the opportunity to learn their lines, to experience stage fright, and to develop expertise as learners.

I close with this thought from Ms. Bernstein's article:  "Every word we speak or write matters." (quoting Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust).  Id.  

Those words touched me because they reminded me that what we say as educational leaders to others (and to ourselves in self-talk) either leads to growth and life in our students or to struggles and hopelessness.  I like to think of the academic support community as more than a community of optimism but a community that brings hope, realistic hope, helping the dreams of our students become the realities of their futures. I don't think that's being too hopeful at all!  (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

 

October 29, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Monster Mashup

This is a scary time of year – a time of growing cold and darkness.  The terror of the unknown, of loss and calamity.  The young ones, they don masks – smiles or stoic glares – to hide their fear. They binge on the distracting delight of sweets.  But the elders know.  It is the time of the season.  Days are shorter.  Workloads are increasing.  Midterm grades are coming in.  Soon it will be winter, and with winter come final exams.  Minds once lit and warmed by the excitement of a new school year are feeling fatigued and worn, craving respite, giving in to torpor. And the sleep of reason breeds monsters:

Witches:  Dazzled by the apparent power of the esoteric words wielded by the great jurists of the past, these students become convinced that the path to glory is paved with sorcerous phrases.  They fill notebook after notebook, or thumb drive after thumb drive, with quotations of passages from lectures and cases and textbooks, daring not to cut a single word, sparing not the time for reflection or comprehension, merely hoping that they when they need it most, they will choose the right magic portion to make their professors fall in love with their essays. 

Ghosts:  These poor souls are caught between worlds and have not found a way to move on.  In a former life, they were happy and successful.  Maybe this one was a college student, coasting through noteless classes on innate brilliance and heady all-nighters.  Maybe that one had prospered at work, a wizard with people and systems but never paying too much attention to the written word.  Perhaps another one came from a truly different world – another country, another culture, another field of study – where things just work differently.  We must all pass through the veil of law school admission and climb the stairway to replevin, but a few of us are held back, tethered to our pasts.

Werewolves:  The most unexpected of all monsters, these accursed brutes look and act like happy-go-lucky, indifferent law students . . . most of the time.  But every month or so, as the glare of an impending exam or deadline grows increasingly full, they undergo an uncontrollable metamorphosis!  Their mild-mannered calm deserts them, and they howl like beasts as they despair over the seemingly impossible task before them.  Raving overnight in the darkness, they may teeter on incomprehensibility until the magic hour finally passes, and, exhausted, they tumble into bed – awakening the next day with no apparent memory of the horror they are thus doomed to repeat.

Zombies:  Once ordinary scholars, these creatures have been blighted (some say through contact with other zombies) and are now driven by a single impulse: BRAAAAAAINS!  MUST HAVE BRAAAAAINS!  Their every conscious (term used loosely) moment is devoted to consuming books, lectures, outlines, practice tests, flash cards, supplements, mnemonics, YouTube videos, omega-3 fatty acids, and biographies of Supreme Court Justices.  And they will pick at their professors’ brains if they can.  They have little time for other sustenance and none for camaraderie. 

Vampires:  The wampyr is a tragic being, at once part of the human world and cleaved from it.  Rarely seen in daylight, it hides in the dark corners of the classroom, feeding off the thoughts and words of others, but fading, like a mist, when its own opinions are sought.  The vampire does not project an image, so it can be seen neither in mirror nor in Zoom class.  What keeps it from the fellowship of humanity?  Is it anxiety?  Indifference?  Misunderstanding?  Perhaps this spirit feels that it is the one who is misunderstood.

Yes, this is the moment to meet the mysterious menagerie!  And you might fear, as Ichabod Crane discovered, that a teacher is no match for a spectral fiend.  But remember, every monster is merely a suffering human.  We do what we can to restore them.  We teach the witches that the power they seek is not in the words, but in what they can learn to make with them.  We show the ghosts how to take the best parts of their old lives with them as they rise to face their new ones.  We help the werewolves release themselves from their curse by breaking the waxing and waning cycle of rising anxiety and falling productivity, through the mystical art of tempus administratione.  We demonstrate to the zombies the benefits of a more balanced diet, one enhanced with practical experience, meaningful relationships, proper recreation, and appropriate amounts of fiber.  We reach out to the vampire, drawing it into the light, the better to see what is keeping it at bay and to see to what degree they bring an affliction to school, and to what degree the school imposes an affliction on them. 

Happy Hallowe’en to all!

“There is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures--provided we will but take a joke as we find it.” – Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

[Bill MacDonald]

October 27, 2020 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Art of Embracing Failure

Failure, and how we don’t have to be perfect, has been a hot topic as of late. Many of us have discussed modeling failure for our students and for each other. So, I’d like to do that.

So, yesterday I realized I failed. I messed up. And I’ve been a bit panicky and stressed about it. Then, I realized, this was a perfect opportunity to model failure for my students.

I gave a midterm on Sunday, which was partially multiple choice. I carefully chose the questions, and when I graded, I decided to take the questions that most students got wrong, and make a review video. I did notice that there was one question that everyone got wrong. So, I really made that the focus of my video.

After releasing the video to students, one of them contacted me and had a question. I had used the same question on a prior quiz, a few weeks ago, but it had a different answer. I looked at the old quiz question, assuming there would be a small difference, even one word. After all, we all know that one single word can change a question entirely, and students often miss this. However, I was not so lucky. It was the exact same question, with a different answer. Yikes.

A pit formed in my stomach. How would my students trust me? I have failed them, I have let them down. I’m a fraud of an educator. These were all of the thoughts swirling through my brain.

Then I reminded myself of how often I’ve been writing about the value of failure, and learning from failure. That everyone makes mistakes. Turns out, I should practice what I preach. This feels remarkably like the time I discovered a student of mine had been struggling in her first semester due to untreated migraines. As I know all too well, it took time to find a medication that worked, and in that time, she suffered in silence and tried to push through, continuing to do her class readings, and show up to class, despite having awful migraines. If any of you are fellow migraine sufferers, you know that what shew as trying was impossible. She wasn’t retaining information, she was just making herself miserable. So, I spend some time during office hours convincing her that it was ok to take time off, to take a break, when she had a migraine. She didn’t have to push through, and no good would come of it. The next day I was sitting in my office with a terrible migraine. I could barely see my computer screen, and couldn’t think straight. My Dean of Students popped into my office, took one look at me and said “Why don’t you practice what you preach and go home?”  It was a reminder I needed, and the universe reminding me that I was not above needing the advice I so frequently doled out.

So, once again, the universe turns up to smack me in the head and remind me that I’m not perfect, and sometimes I should take my own advice.

I am not a perfect bastion of knowledge, nor am I infallible. I make mistakes, and sometimes, when feeling overwhelmed and behind, don’t pay enough attention to detail. And I need to own that, and realize it doesn’t make me less of an educator.

So, I told my students I made mistake. I said the fault completely rests on my shoulders. But I also reminded them that mistakes happen, and are ok. They are allowed to make mistakes as well. It was also a good opportunity to show that the MBE questions are tricky, and even those of us that teach for this test can mess up.

It’s not yet been a full 24 hours, but as far as I can tell the world has not ended, and my students have not yet mutinied. So, I think it’s safe to embrace our failures and use them as teaching moments.

(Melissa Hale)

October 14, 2020 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Lawyers and Essential Work - An ABA Article of Encouragement from ASP Professional Sara Berman

Just off the press, and not a minute too late, is an ABA article by author Sara Berman with advice for the most recent law school graduates, whether having already taken a bar exam or preparing to take the bar exam this month. https://abaforlawstudents.com/2020/09/01/preparing-for-the-bar-exam-and-practice-during-a-pandemic/

Here's a few tidbits from the article:  

(1) As lawyers (or soon-to-be lawyers), you are an essential worker because democracy and the pursuit of justice depends on the sacrifices, the integrity, and your legal skills.

(2) You've got a inspirational story to share with employers, having successfully navigated the transition to socially-distant learning, with both the completion of your law school studies and preparation for your bar exam.  What you've gone through will make you a better attorney in the long-run, so liberally share the lessons you've learned with prospective employers and attorneys and judges.

(3) Stay flexible as you march forward in your pursuit of your legal career, remembering in your heart of hearts that all of your  hard work has been more than a worthwhile pursuit because you will soon be joining the bar as a critical "guardian of democracy."  Id.  

Let me say that we - in the ASP community - are all so proud of you, admiring your flexibility and adaptability, your commitment to the pursuit of justice, and the inner strength and resolve that you have demonstrated in these unprecedented times.  Personally, we have much to learn from you.  So, please don't ever shy away from letting your voice be heard and your heart inspire us to be the community of practitioners that our world so desperately needs and deserves.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

October 1, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Benefits of Learning Law Later (and How to Enjoy Them Now)

Around this time of year, I usually end up telling my 1L students something about my experience in law school. I inadvertently chose what, in retrospect, seemed like the best way to become an attorney: After working as a paralegal for a couple of years (to get a taste of the world of law), getting married and living in Japan for a couple of years (to get a taste of the world in general), I thought that Georgetown's evening program looked really appealing, because it would allow me to work and earn money during the day and not drag my wife with me into the penurious life of a student. I wasn't wrong about that, but that did not turn out to be the greatest benefit to the evening program, or even in the top three.

What hadn't occurred to me before I arrived in D.C. was what the rest of the evening program class would be like. Georgetown can support a substantial evening program because Washington is full of people who have done well in government, the military, business, or the arts and now want to take the next step in their career.  If the informal reckoning of our evening cohort of 125 students was correct, there was only one of us who came directly from college.  The day program, four times larger, had a more traditional proportion of recent undergraduates.  Going to school with classmates who had essentially all achieved some measure of success already meant that our program felt different in three momentous ways:

1) Less stress and competition.  Not that we were stress-free; this was, after all, law school.  Most of my evening classmates had full-time jobs, like I did, and some were in demanding positions that took up more than 40 hours per week.  Our law school commitments were lessened in the part-time evening program (so it took us all 4 years to graduate), but still, it could be a pretty heavy load.  Nevertheless, there was almost no undercurrent of shared anxiety, and the kind of ruthless competition that I had expected in law school never materialized. (In my 2L year, when I became a Fellow in the legal writing program and worked directly with the school librarians, they told me how much they enjoyed working with the evening students because they never pilfered reserve books or sabotaged assigned reading the way that the day students did.) One of my classmates had a theory about this. He suggested that it was easier for us evening students not to stake our whole sense of self-worth on some grade on an exam, because most of us had proven ourselves in other arenas. This made sense to me; it meant it was easier for us to see grades as measures of our personal progress, rather than as a way of sorting us by value.  

2) More organization and efficiency.  I know that I was roughly one hundred times a better student, practically, in law school than when I was in college. Part of it was simply forced by necessity: If you work from 9 to 5, then attend classes from 5:45 to 9 or 10 each weeknight, you really don't have a lot of room in your schedule for futzing around. But some of it was the shared culture of the evening program, in which not only did we all face the same issue, but also nearly all of us had developed methods of calendaring and prioritizing in the workplace. Some of us had spouses or even children that had to be fit into our schedules.  Knowing that it all could be done, because we had had to do much of it before in our jobs, made it more manageable in law school. Furthermore, we all understood how valuable each other's time was, so the time we spent together in study groups, on joint projects, or in student organizations was also spent efficiently (but also quite pleasantly -- see "less competition", above).

3) More collegiality.  By which I do not mean "friendliness"; the day students that I met then, like the students I work with now, were at least as amiable and as good company as my evening companions. But time away from school, in many cases working with more seasoned co-workers on a first-name basis or even with equal status, had bestowed upon most evening students the realization that everyone in the law school -- classmates, professors, administrators, employees -- could be seen as colleagues: people with whom you are striving towards a common goal. Thus, evening students were often less reluctant, and more comfortable, than day students in seeking help or offering suggestions. 

The reason I bring up my experience with my 1L class is to point out to them that you don't need to be an evening student to enjoy these beneficial distinctions.  They might have come more naturally to those in my program -- certainly to the program as a whole -- because of our previous life experiences, but that doesn't mean that these benefits are only available to those of a certain age or background.  What matters are attitude, awareness, and mindset.  A student who is in touch with her previous accomplishments, and can ground her sense of self-worth on them, will find it easier to see grades as personal touchstones rather than signifiers of inherent worth. A student who accepts both that his available time is limited (which is merely a matter of thoughtful perception) and that he has the capacity to get done what needs to be done in that limited time (which is perhaps a bit more of a leap of faith) will find the ways he needs to be efficient.  And by recognizing that they are attending a professional school whose common goals include each student's successful education, students can position themselves to take full advantage of all the human resources around them. Experience is a good teacher, but sometimes learning from other people's experience is even better.

(Bill MacDonald)

September 22, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Practice Makes Perfect....or does it?

Monday’s post by Victoria McCoy Dunkley, on the harm of “perfect” resonated with me. So, I wanted to expand on that, because that’s what we do in Academic Support!

The concept of perfect IS harmful and subjective, meaning striving for perfection often feels like a losing battle, and it mostly is. However, it’s hardwired into most of us that are lawyers, law professors or law students that it’s ideal to be a perfectionist. In fact, I’m currently co-authoring a UBE book, and we find that we have said “practice makes perfect” at least once a chapter. After reading Victoria’s post, we decided that needed to be changed. It comes so naturally, that phrase, but is it helpful or true?

Does “Practice make Perfect?”

First, since I’m agreeing with Victoria that there is no perfect and that it’s unattainable and subjective, it makes me think that maybe I’ve been using an empty phrase. (Dunkley, 2020)

Since I’m using it in context of the bar exam, practice does NOT make perfect. If we are discussing the UBE, a “perfect” MEE score is a 6. However, those essays aren’t perfect! They might be better than average, but they are far from perfect. A passing score on the Bar Exam in general is far from perfection, so practice makes perfect doesn’t really work in that context.

What about law school? Again, even the best exam answers aren’t usually “perfect”, they are merely some of the best of the bunch. But by no means perfect.

What about legal practice? After all, that is what we are ultimately practicing for when we go to law school and study for the bar. Is there perfection in the legal practice? Of course not. Lawyers, many wiser and more practiced than I, will confirm that each time they submit a motion they find something they could have done better, something they could have improved. Litigators will also tell you that even after winning cases they reflect upon things and look for ways to improve. So, no, not even a winning case is “perfect.”

So, what can we say instead of ‘practice makes perfect?’  Well, my co-author, Toni Miceli, suggested that we use ‘Practice makes prepared’ and Victoria suggests in her post that ‘practice makes progress’. I love both of those phrases, mostly because they both capture the idea of growth mindset.

We can’t be perfect, but we can always improve. We can’t be perfect, but we can be prepared. We can’t be perfect, but we can make progress.

I can’t speak for her, but I feel like the author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”,  Dr. Angela Duckworth, would agree that “practice makes progress” is better than “practice makes perfect.” Her book discusses practice at length, and  how of course experts practice far more than non experts.??? She discusses Spelling Bee Champions, Olympians, and world renowned artisans – noting that the thing they all have in common is the frequency of their practice. However, she also notes something else. Even experts and champions strive to be better. They look for negative feedback and how they can improve. To quote Dr. Duckworth, “experts are more interested in what they did wrong – so they can fix it – than what they did right. The active processing of this feedback is as essential as its immediacy.” (Duckworth, 2016) So, even the champion doesn’t have a perfect performance!

I think this is incredibly important for law students, especially entering first years who are learning a new language and skill. But it’s also important for bar students, practitioners, and those of us that are educators. We can always improve. But to do that we need to reflect. We need to let go of the idea of perfection, and reflect immediately on areas of improvement. This reflection can be difficult, especially since it’s hard to admit that we are not perfect, nor should we be. So reflecting on our faults and on our mistakes can be daunting.

It’s also worth noting that deliberate practice is not easy, nor does it feel good. Since I’m a former dancer, I was especially taken with the quote by dancer Martha Graham that Dr. Duckworth used: “Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths.”. I can tell you she’s not exaggerating. I can also tell you that no professional dancer ever thinks their performance was perfect, and they always reflect to see how they can improve.

Dr. Duckworth explains that for practice to be deliberate, you need 4 main things:

  • A clearly defined stretch goal
  • Full concentration and effort
  • Immediate and informative feedback
  • Repetition and reflection and refinement

I think the part that we, as a profession, forget is the reflection and refinement. Or rather, we do it, but don’t talk about it. That leads us to believing that other students, other practitioners or other educators are “perfect” when they are not. We talk about our successes, and raise each other up, but let’s also talk about the failures, and how we can learn from them. It’s hard to practice if we don’t reflect on what we did wrong, and after all “practice makes progress” and progress is what we need instead of perfection.

References

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.

Dunkley, V. M. (2020, September 14). Perfect Hurts. Retrieved from Law School Academic Support Blog: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/

(Melissa Hale)

September 16, 2020 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Perfect Hurts

Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfect as unacceptable.” Perfectionism and its status as something to which we should aspire is introduced early and often. We think that if we look perfect, act perfect, and are perfect then we can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.

In reality, perfectionism is an anchor that drags us down and keeps us from reaching our true potential. The quest for perfection is an exercise in futility. Perfection is a matter of opinion. Aspiring to be perfect means we are prioritizing the perceptions of others over our perception of self.  Rather than aiming to be the best version of ourselves (OUR best), we are instead focused on making someone else believe we are THE best.

Many law students, as perpetual high achievers, have perfectionist tendencies that existed long before law school. However, the hyper-competitiveness of the law school environment and law students’ propensities to compare themselves to their peers make law students particularly susceptible to intensified perfectionist tendencies. These tendencies can have significant negative consequences that affect academic performance:

  • Lower productivity: The quest for perfection makes every task seem more daunting and time intensive. The average law student spends in excess of 50 hours per week completing law-school related tasks. Students who have difficulty transitioning from one task to the next until a task is “perfect” will likely remain stalled. For instance, the desire to complete the “perfect” course outline may occupy so much of a student’s time that the student is left with little, if any, time left to complete a critical mass of practice exam questions.
  • Procrastination: Much like Forrest Gump and Jenny, perfectionism and procrastination go together like peas and carrots. Exceptionally high standards can be difficult (perhaps even impossible) to meet which leaves students feeling so overwhelmed that they defer completing tasks.
  • Reduced confidence: Perfectionism is a confidence killer. We are imperfect beings who make mistakes. Law students are imperfect human beings who are developing their skills. Mistakes will happen—as will growth. For perfectionist law students, making a mistake or receiving feedback that they need to further develop a skill can crush their self-esteem and confidence. It may keep them from trying new things or speaking up in class for fear that they won’t be perfect. Students may also base their self-worth on their academic achievements and see instances of perceived failure not as opportunities for growth but, instead, as evidence that they are a failure.
  • Lethargy & Anxiety: The quest for perfection is exhausting! The vicious cycle of setting impossibly high standards, trying to meet them, feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating, not meeting those standards, and then trying to manage anxiety while dusting oneself off to try all over again is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.

Fortunately, there are several helpful strategies for managing perfectionist tendencies. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be kind to yourself. Rather than being your greatest critic, try being your greatest coach or ally. Record those negative thoughts and then reframe them in a kinder, more compassionate way. Replace negative thoughts and damaging self-talk with words of encouragement.
  • Cultivate your authenticity. Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. We are all made of strength and struggle. You, imperfections and all, are enough. In fact, those imperfections are what make you uniquely and authentically you.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. Your strengths and skills are not set in stone. You are a work in progress.  Use feedback to improve your skills and identify the lessons to be learned from perceived setbacks. Focus on being YOUR best.
  • Note triggers for and manifestations of your perfectionist tendencies and plan for how to manage those situations.
  • Break larger projects into more discrete tasks to better manage your workload and stress.
  • Set reasonable time limits for completing tasks and do your best to stick to those limits. Once that time is up, move on to the next task.
  • Remember that the law is messy. Facts do not always align neatly with case law. Case law is not always clear. There often is no one “right” or “perfect” answer.

Managing perfectionist tendencies requires intentionality and practice. And, as we all know, practice makes progress.

(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)

References:

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 49–76 (2010).

Jordana Alter Confino, Reining in Perfectionism, ABA Law Practice Today, Jan. 14, 2019, https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/reining-in-perfectionism/.

Keriann Stout, How Perfectionism Hurts Law Students, Above The Law, Feb. 26, 2018, https://abovethelaw.com/2018/02/how-perfectionism-hurts-law-students/.

September 14, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Social Distance Learning

Back in the day (2019 and earlier), the first few weeks of law school was a time of intense bonding among classmates.  Shared feelings of excitement, tinged with fear of embarrassment and workload-motivated shock, served to turn strangers into friends in a matter of days.  These friendships would last throughout law school and beyond, and to good effect: Students would always have at least a couple friends in each course from whom they could borrow notes if they missed class due to illness.  Friends, and, okay, sometimes mere acquaintances, would form study groups to share and test ideas.  Soon, 2L and 3L students would introduce themselves, visiting classes or tabling in the hallways for various organizations, broadening the new students' networks of connections to include those with similar interests or backgrounds.  After law school, these connected students would be connected lawyers, and would do what lawyers do in the real world: provide referrals, share expertise, give moral support.  Part of learning to be a lawyer is learning to be part of a legal community.

This year, to varying degrees across the country, the first few weeks of law school have a different texture.  In my school, as in many others, only a portion of classes are being conducted live, in a classroom, and those usually the smaller classes.  Larger classes are being conducted online, where commiseration over an awkward cold-call response is much more difficult, and where, with no one sitting next to you, idle introductory chit-chat is almost as hard.  Representatives from student organizations will probably still visit Zoom classes to introduce themselves and their groups, but with mostly empty hallways, opportunities for getting to know new students in conversation will be less frequent.  

In short: it is going to be harder, and in some ways less natural, to make the kinds and numbers of connections that twelve months ago we all would have taken for granted.  If you have lecture classes that are entirely online, or even asynchronous, it would be all to easy to think of those classes as a kind of enhanced television program, something that grabs your attention but does not feature you in the cast.  Resist this temptation!  Instead, make developing your social network one of your goals this semester: 

  • Join and participate in GroupMe and Facebook groups when invited, or form them yourself. 
  • Speak up in class, whether orally or in the chat box, and when possible, respond directly to classmates whose views interest you. 
  • Ask your professors or student life directors to help connect people interested in forming study groups. 
  • Seek out and contact the leaders of student organizations that interest you. 
  • Visit your professor's office hours -- real or virtual -- and chat with the other students who attend.  
  • When you find other classmates who share something in common with you -- an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, etc. -- use that as a reason to approach them and perhaps get to know them better.

Although all this will take some additional effort, at a time in which you may already feel you are working harder than you have ever done before, that effort is an excellent investment.  Later in the semester, as you start preparing for final exams, you will find the community you have made will make your work easier.  Your law school experience will be enriched by the support, perspective, and opportunities provided by your network.  And that network, and the skills you will develop in forming relationships within the legal community even under trying circumstances, will benefit you throughout your career.

[Bill MacDonald]

September 8, 2020 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Time Is Out of Joint

A sharp sense of time has always been a key attribute of successful modern law students and lawyers.  Awareness of deadlines, efficient time management, careful accounting of time spent -- all of these contribute to law school performance, and are usually part of a practicing lawyer's quotidian world of minimum billable hours and filing periods.  

How unsettling, then, that many of our incoming, current, and recent students find themselves adrift in the time stream.  New 1L students in many jurisdictions, starting their legal educations under conditions that have limited orientation activities and warped customary fall semester schedules, are not falling as easily into the clockwork demands of law school as other students have every year before them.  Second- and third-year students have already been through six months of time-shifted classes and unwinding employment and internship opportunities, and are beginning a new school year very different from what they had experienced before.  And around the country, many recent graduates (such as mine) have grown simultaneously complacent and anxious as their planned bar examinations have been postponed multiple times.  Many students and graduates appear to take this all in stride, but it seems a significant number are manifestly affected -- falling behind on long-term projects, working with a diminishing sense of urgency or an inflated sense of panic, or having difficulty juggling responsibilities.

It feels as if the unexpected loss of schedules and signposts that so many took for granted has left some people unmoored, warping their senses of time in the same way that isolation and darkness affects cave explorers.  In 1993, for example, sociologist Maurizio Montalbini spent a full year alone in an underground cavern, but because the solitude and lack of natural light had stretched his sense of time, he believed that only a little more than 200 days had passed.  

Human beings need cues to help keep our sense of time on track.  In a new situation, or one that has changed drastically, we may not perceive sufficient cues to keep us oriented, and we may not even be aware that we are slipping.  We can help our students and recent graduates maintain their crucial awareness of the time they have -- and of the time they need to achieve their goals -- by providing supplemental cues.  Introducing students to their professors' expectations over the course of the (in some cases altered) new semester, and touching base with reminders of upcoming opportunities and deadlines, may help anchor them when classes are asynchronous and gatherings are infrequent.  Weekly emails, frequent online group meetings, and providing and reviewing supplementary materials can help bar examinees feel less disconnected and more engaged in this interminable bar study period.  And frequent communication with our colleagues in other departments and schools -- learning their plans for the semester, sharing ideas and insights, and organizing joint efforts -- can help us retain our own sharp senses of time -- especially important if we are going to serve as the touchstones to others.

[Bill MacDonald]

September 1, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2020

Short Mindset Article

Many of us tell our students about Growth Mindset and Grit.  We want them to develop hard work and perseverance for both law school and the practice of law.  I read an article this week with 6 mindset principles of successful people.  It is a good short list to pass along to students to help them improve their mindset.

You can read the article here.

(Steven Foster)

August 28, 2020 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Learning As Activity

Perhaps you've heard the term "self-regulated learner."  
 
To be honest, I'm not very good at regulating myself...at all.  And, I'm just not sure what the term means.  As such, the phrase "self-regulated learner" falls flat on my ears.  And, it sounds so downright mechanical that just saying the term disheartens me; it leaves me feeling like I just don't have what it takes to be a learner (self-regulated or otherwise).
 
In short, to be frank, I just don't think I've got the gumption, the fortitude, and the heart to be all that disciplined and focused when it comes to being a "self-regulated learner."  
 
So, that brings me back to the term "self-regulated learner" that sounds so burdensome to me...  
 
To cut to the chase, let's get rid of the scientific term and replace it with what a journalist joyfully refers to as the "activist approach" to learning.  That's something I can get my mind around.  Indeed, in newspaper article - of all places - a journalist surveys “five tips for honing sharper skills” to better enable learning based on academic studies of optimal learning practices:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-smarter-ways-to-study-1502810531
And, there's more great news. In the article, journalist Sue Shellenbarger confirms that the "activist approach" to learning is what academics most often label as self-regulated learning.   Wow!  I was thrilled to learn of a term that makes sense to me because, after all, that's something that I can do because it suggests that it is something that we work at (rather than our born with).
 
Moreover, I love the phrase “the activist approach to learning" because it suggests that learning really is all about curious, creative work with others in understanding of the world.  And that's why I went to law school; to improve the world, to make things better for others.
 
So, as you begin to embark on your legal studies as a entering 1L student (or continue your studies as a rising upper-level law student), focus your learning energies this week on active learning.  
 
Here's a few tips as gleaned from the newspaper article, re-focused a bit for the context of law school learning:
 
1.  Plan ahead.  Schedule your midterm exams, final exams, and papers in one big calendar.  That's because studies show that such scheduling preparation helps you set the stage for understanding what's going to be required of you as you progress through the academic term.
 
2.  Actively seek out help.  When you don't understand, go see the professor. Talk to your academic support professionals.  Meet with student affairs.  That's because studies show that those who went to office hours were more likely to earn higher grades all things considered.  I know.  It's tough to go meet with your professor.  But, your professors are more than eager, they are downright excited, to meet with you.
 
3.  Quiz Yourself.  Lots of times.  Cover up your notes and ask what are the big concepts.  Pick out the main points in your case briefs.  In some ways, be your own mentor, your own teacher, by asking yourself what you've learned today.  Engage in lots of so-called retrieval practice.  Unfortunately, too many of us (me included) re-read and highlight, which mistakenly results in us being familiar with the materials...to the point that we have a false sense of security that we understand what we are reading or highlighting (when we don't).  Avoid that trap at all costs.  Push yourself.  Question yourself.  Quiz yourself.
 
4.  Limit study sessions to 45 minutes at a time.  Concentrate boldly...and then take a walk, a break, or just sit there staring out the window at beautiful view.  That's because there are studies that show that the best learning happens when we mix focused learning with diffuse big picture reflection (even on things not even relevant to what we have been studying).  That's great news for me because I am a big day dreamer!  But, just remember to turn off the social media and email and notifications during your focused study sessions.  Then, relax and soak in the atmosphere.  Get lost in your thoughts.  Work your learning back and forth between focused concentration and diffuse relaxation.  It's A-okay!
 
5.  Find out what the test covers (and looks like).  Do it now! Don't wait until a few days before the midterm or the final exams.  Grab hold of your professors' previous exam questions. Get a sense of what is required of you, how you will be assessed in the course, what sorts of tasks you'll be required to perform on your exams (and papers too).  Most entering students are surprised that they will be rarely asked to recite the facts of a case (or any cases at all).  Rather, most law school exams look quite different than the case briefing exercises and Socratic dialogue that seems so all-important during the many weeks of regular class meetings.  So, help yourself out in a mighty big way by grabbing hold of practice exam questions for each of your courses.
 
Now, that's the sort of activist learning that can make for a successful beginning with the start of the new academic year.  (Scott Johns).

August 27, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)