Sunday, September 12, 2021
The sun was beating down on us, but that wouldn't stop the intensity. We weren't keeping an official score, but every possession matters in driveway basketball. However long the game lasts, you don't let up on defense. I didn't care that I was playing against an opponent 29 years younger and 19 inches shorter. My son would not get his shot off. I was in great defensive posture and moving my feet. Any little league coach would be proud of my defense. I was step for step with him when I feel a pop. I crumple on the asphalt and scream in agony. I am in some of the most pain I have ever felt.
My sports experience is similar to events that happen to all of us. Bar results are coming out, and some people don't pass. That is excruciating. Some students aren't allowed to continue with law school. Academic Support Professionals will work with someone and they don't succeed. Most students get a bad grade. That list is the tip of the iceberg. Many of us have events in our personal life that are painful. My biggest suggestion is to learn from my mistakes and fully heal from the experience.
After getting help back inside with almost no weight on my ankle, here is what I did:
- Used WebMD to self-diagnosis a grade 2 sprain instead of going to the doctor
- Lightly rested it, and then played golf 3 days later
- Ice it some but not enough
- Continue to overuse it, ie - caddying 18 holes (for the son who caused the injury) prior to fully healing
My actions are not what I tell my students or my friends. I would tell anyone to take the time to fully heal from whatever pains you. Go to someone for advice. If it is a bad grade or not passing the bar exam, seek out your Academic Support Professional. As an ASPer, if you are struggling, seek out colleagues. We all need help sometimes. WebMd is a poor substitute for medical advice. Don't make the same mistakes I did with what you are going through. Seek help from others and take the time to fully heal before putting full weight onto the next event.
In case you are wondering, he still didn't score.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
In follow-up to Professor Victoria McCoy Dunkley's outstanding blog post entitled "Be in Your Bag (of Questions) as a 1L Reader," here's some thoughts about how you might use your senses to help make sense of the cases that you are assigned for class reading: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/08/be-in-your-bag-of-questions-as-a-1l-reader.html
But first a story...
I've been doing a lot of walking. In fact, I've walked about 380 miles from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail (I still have about 120 miles to go of high altitude terrain). As a person who fractured my back two summers ago in a car accident, I'm a slow mover and that's okay.
You see, as Professor Denise DeForest at Colorado Law quips, when you find yourself lost, "slow down, stop, and sit on a log." I love logs, rocks, and boulders. My favorite time on the trail is resting. But, as I sit on a log recuperating, my senses come alive. I start to hear buzzing. I spot all kinds and manners of activity that I missed while hiking, like the scurry of ants preparing for the fall mountaintop snow storms. My hands feel the bark of the downed log that has become my lounging spot. In short, just because I stopped doesn't mean that I stopped learning and experiencing. Rather, by slowing down and stopping, I saw more than I did while moving.
There's a lot to be gleaned from these sorts of experiences. Most of our lives, let's be honest, are lived in haste. As though there's no time to waste. But critical reading takes pondering time; it takes using your senses to experience what the parties might have felt like when they litigated the case that you are reading, what they might have exclaimed or cursed when the decision came out, how the court might have explored and explained how they viewed the case and the facts.
So, in follow-up to yesterday's excellent blog post on 1L reading, feel free to journey through and with the cases. Situation yourself in them. Be expressive, feel free to be combatant and skeptical, let yourself run wild, so to speak, as you give voice to what you are seeing, as you learn and question and interpret what you are reading. That's learning. In other words, it's going to take time. But it is not wasted time at all.
That being said, I spent all of first-year of law school super-afraid (really most of law school) because I'm not good speaker or a reader (I was a mathematician in college). And, the gold lettering on most of the case books - with lots of red and black - psyched me out.
But not all that is gold glitters. Much of what you read is, well, not very well-written or good or even just. So take aim at it. Don't let the cases fool you. You belong in law school, which means that your voice and life counts. Share it with others. And, as you journey through reading, let me know what you are learning. I'd love to hear from you! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 3, 2021
As Professor Elizabeth Stillman comments in an excellent blog post entitled "Jazz Hands," we've been making the best in the midst of the pandemic in learning to engage in "pandemic teaching." E. Stillman, "Jazz Hands," (May 17, 2021).t.
That made me think about our pandemic conversations, which so many of us have hosted, shared, and participated in through Skype and zoom and other technological mediums of expression.
It's brought us together but at what cost, if any?
Well, according to an article by writer Joanna Stern, there can be a lot at stake in making the choice as to the method of communication that we use with others. Unfortunately, Stern suggests, we too often turn - too quickly - to zoom and other such innovations without realizing the cognitive loads that visual chats can impose upon us all. J. Stern, "Stop with the Video Chats Already. Just Make a Voice Call," WSJ (May 26, 2021)
Friday, May 28, 2021
This has been a year (and a half!) of teaching while sitting down. It has been 18 months of waist up business attire and knowing what our neighbors are up to 24/7. It has been so many things, both good and bad, and I hope it is just about over so we can go back into the sunlight.
Have you ever gone through a series of tunnels when driving? Here in Boston, when you are going to the airport, your route may take you underground (where we buried the highway) and then outside-- for a brief moment --before you are plunged into another tunnel that goes under Boston Harbor. The tiles on the inside of the tunnels are coded to let you know what you are under: brown for under land and blue for under water. Or to put it in Paul Revere: brown if by land and blue if by sea and the airport on the other end of the second tunnel will be…
But, last year when we were all pivoting to teaching remotely, it was like entering the first tunnel. It took a bit of time to get our eyes adjusted to the dark and we may have lost our navigator for a few minutes, but we looked at the walls, figured out what we were under and hoped to settle in for the ride. For any of you who have ever driven to the airport in Boston, you would not be surprised to know that there was, of course, bumper to bumper traffic in the tunnel. And for further frustration, you entered the tunnel in the left lane and your exit was four lanes over on the right. So now, you cannot tell how much longer you will be in this tunnel or when your exit is coming up. I think that sums up pandemic teaching: you are plunged into darkness, you need to recalibrate your bearings, people are a bit panicked and all trying to get to the same place, and you don’t know how much longer the journey will go on in this lane before you need to move over and get out.
So, we learned how to teach remotely; we did it quickly and mainly in fits and starts. Then we re-started in the fall as masters of breakout rooms, shared screens, and the elusive polling feature. We learned how to write online quizzes and exams. We saw students at times and on days we ordinarily would not be available, because, honestly, where were we going? We got used to seeing our students in class as if they were a grandmother’s wallet full of school pictures. It seemed fitting that this part of the journey was tiled in brown. And then, there was talk of a vaccine and we emerged from the first tunnel into the light. It was a brief respite from the crowded darkness and we blinked because the light was a big change.
It was, however, like the trip above, just a moment before we entered the next tunnel. We had left the one that had us buried underground and moved onto the one that is underwater. It has more clearly marked exits and will get us to our destination more smoothly. It is newer and brighter than the one we just left, but it is still tiled in blue. Blue for people who didn’t make it there, blue for the students who didn’t have the experience they were anticipating, and blue from the isolation of all this time underwater. I think we all have some fear of being blinded a bit when we leave this tunnel as my esteemed colleague Steven Foster mentioned in his last post here. He raises the issue of how much time will we need to get readjusted to our surroundings? Even good changes are hard.
I know that in time, we will forget the feeling of being in these tunnels—and I also know that today is not that day-- but it will come. As we look in the rearview mirror, we will have glimpses of this tunneled life—something we see or hear that brings us back to the tunnel—and for me I think it will be saying goodbye with jazz hands instead of a casual wave. And I’ll sigh and be glad we made it to the airport and on to the next journey.
(Elizabeth Stillman - Guest Blogger)
Sunday, May 23, 2021
The spring semester included many of the same precautions as last fall. Social distancing, masks, and some online classes. Last week, all that changed in Oklahoma. Nearly every major University announced new guidelines which included no masks on campus for vaccinated individuals (some campuses no masks at all) and no social distancing in classrooms. The message is go back to normal, but is that possible? Should we?
I am having trouble describing my feeling with the sudden back to normal message. Many summer classes are following the new protocols. The message seems to ignore 18 months of tragedy that changed the way we delivered education and interacted with the world. We should turn the clock back to 2019 and proceed as if the pandemic never happened. Businesses and schools seem to be in a rush to claim everything is normal. I am not sure the community members feel the same way.
I cannot speak for those who experienced unimaginable tragedy the past year. However, I can imagine some feeling the sudden dismantling of the vast majority of regulations as ignoring the last 18 months. The sudden change doesn't feel sympathetic to our communities. I also believe the insatiable drive to be back to normal ignores progress we made delivering education. We should take advantage of new innovations. We can use the new tools to help students learn. Within our Universities, the message should be to utilize the best forms of all the delivery methods to reach all our students. Some students thrived over the last 18 months. We should help them continue to thrive by teaching them how to use their new forms of learning in their "normal" classes. They shouldn't go back to former ineffective techniques. We should help others get back to their better studying techniques because they didn't do as well. They will also require help recalling what worked best prior to last fall. Students and professors will need time process how to proceed going forward.
The pandemic affected everyone, but ASPers can be at the forefront of the transition to a new normal. You will help some people cope with what happened over the past year. You will help others try to utilize those great new study techniques. Faculty may ask you how to integrate new technology or teaching techniques into classes. The last year was extremely hard on students, so ASPers will be tasked with helping those catch up to be ready for the bar exam. ASP can and will be at every step of the oncoming transition.
The last 15 months has affected everyone in a myriad of ways. No one experienced the pandemic the same. Everyone will need a little different help, and ASPers (all of us) have the unique opportunity to impact people. We can help individuals and entire communities. Also know, that we (all of us) will also need similar help transitioning back to our jobs. I encourage everyone to do 3 things. Help your law school community, help other ASPers in your state/region, and seek out help from someone in your area. For some, the change will come fast. Let's all seek the help we need so we can keep helping others.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
As relayed by Elizabeth Bernstein in an article entitled "New Ways to Calm Pandemic Anxiety," psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer suggests "two surprising strategies to combat [worry]: Curiosity and Kindness. Bernstein, E., Health & Wellness, Wall Street Journal, p. A10 (Mar. 2, 2021).
Let me say at the outset that I am plagued by anxiety, stress, worry. I won't go into the gory details but, at its heart, I suspect is a sense that I don't quite fit, don't quite measure up to what it takes to serve as an educator, and that someday I will be found to be lacking. I suppose I often label my successes, to the extent that I see them, as just the products of serendipity and good luck.
I suspect that many students also feel that way. Unsure about how to succeed in law school, on the bar exam, or on job interviews, students often try to mold themselves into someone who they are not. In short, they act the part, which only exaggerates the worries, not realizing that law schools admitted them, not for the purpose of sculpting them into robotic works of mechanical lawyering, so to speak, but rather as creative, curious, compassionate people aspiring to do great things for others by serving others in the midst of some of their most difficult moments.
For me, anxiety is a product of not giving myself the liberty to be myself. For our students, it's not giving them the platform and opportunity to let them shine, to succeed even when they make mistakes, to work out with them their own path forward, to help them develop their own sense of place and perspective and voice in the law. In short, I sense that many students feel disembodied and disempowered in the midst of their law school experiences. The remedy - empowerment.
Let me make this concrete. What might this look like for academic support educators?
Let me ask you a question first. Before the "zoom-age," tell me about your office. What's it look like? How is it structured? What do you share and make visible to your students?
For many, I suspect that the office looks a bit like a jailhouse interrogation room, cold and inhospitable, squaring off in direct face-to-face accusatory positions, student sitting across from teacher, often in a low set chair, with the teacher in a high backed chair.
In this world of online teaching and conferencing, I suspect that "zoom" accentuates the face-off posturing of the traditional office meetings with enlarged faces and less opportunities to glance away, pull back, and facilitate conversation with non-verbal signals.
In the physical world of coaching, I coach. What I mean by this is that, when I met with a learner, I get up out out of my chair, move in front of my desk, welcome the person to my office, and move to a circular table, set with two chairs, with each of us facing the middle of the table. In that way, we can focus together, for example, in reviewing exam results, by placing exam answers where we can both read them and work through them together.
As Dr. Brewer -referenced earlier in this blog - indicates, curiosity and kindness are two of the most important perspectives that we can take in order to help turn the anxieties of our students into positive concrete actions for improved learning, well-being, and growth. Id.
One way to help our students in dealing with their academic anxieties is to center our activities with them as adventures together in learning to learn, curiously and with compassion. And that can start with just how we position ourselves with them. Rather than as adversaries or critics, we can work with out students to be problem-solvers together. That's a great way to help overcome anxiety, both for our students and ourselves, too. (Scott Johns).
Saturday, March 27, 2021
I don’t know about your law school, but we did not have a regular week-long spring break this year. Instead, perhaps as an afterthought, we were awarded a one-day reprieve which occurred on St. Patrick’s Day…in Boston (people who have ever lived in Boston will know what I mean).
I truly understand why we did not have our usual break. We are part of a university that has undergraduates, as well as a business school, and we did not want students leaving and returning to campus in the middle of a pandemic, especially since these students are most likely to be vaccinated in the last wave. As a result, we started a week later in January to allow more self-quarantining and to keep our end dates and commencement on schedule. One Wednesday in the middle of March made sense from a strategic planning point of view.
And yet, this is the week I have spent the most time talking to tearful and anxious students who have hit a wall. This is also the week that students have disappeared from my radar and I have had the most correspondence with our Dean of Students Office about students I am worried about. I have begun starting my emails to them with, “me again...” and ending them with, “again, sorry to add something else to your plate.” Joni Mitchell was absolutely right when she said, “Don't it always seem to go; That you don't know what you've got till it's gone.” Sigh.
The one class I teach on Wednesdays is a one-credit MPT driven class. We meet for about an hour at the utter apex of the workweek: high noon. I am never sure if I should ask how everyone’s weekend was or whether I should wish them a good one-it is an awkward time for small talk. I’d like to think that this class, at its silly time, is an oasis in an otherwise Zoomful chaos. Since spring “break,” fell on our class day, I told the students in this class that I would consider the day sacred and assign no new work or have any assignments due, so long as they each did something that gave them joy and send me a picture to prove it. I wanted students to think that the one “assignment” they had, for the one day of break they had, was to do one thing that brought them joy. In return, I promised I would send them my proof as well.
As usual, this class of students did not disappoint. The first picture I received was of an absolutely adorable baby and the caption, “I’m spending some time with my niece!” This was followed by a selfie of a student driving a few dogs to the dog park-even the basset hound looked cheerful. So far, I have received photos of snuggly kittens, excited meetings with friends, a birthday cake, a recent publication, a dog who had lost a battle with a skunk but smiled at a bath, a bubble bath drawn and ready (for a human), a map of a five-mile run, and a pizza from a favorite place shared with a favorite person. The picture of a visit with a grandmother--for the first time in a year-- made me cry. In return, my students got a series of shots from me that included: a recipe, my gathered ingredients, batter in a pan, and, finally, my son eating a gooey brownie. The fact that not everyone was in a position to engage in happy activities was not lost on me either-there are no consequences or penalties for not sending the picture and pictures were sent only to me, not the whole class.
While our Wednesday off was something, it was also clear that one day was not enough of a break for students in times that are already fraught. It is not enough time for a student to turn away from the pressure of law school and then, refreshed, turn back to finish up the semester. Everything we do these days seems both rushed and suspended in time, abbreviated and yet drawn out. I worry that we will crawl over the finish line at the end of the semester at exactly the time students need to summon the energy to run. Safety and wellness do not belong on opposite sides of the same scale and I hope that we are not forced to weigh them against each other again. Next year, may we all find ourselves somewhere with, “a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot” for spring break.
(Elizabeth Stillman - Guest Blogger)
Sunday, February 28, 2021
A golfer is staring down a putt to win the tournament. His mind races to everything he could have done to prepare for that moment. He wonders, "did I do enough?" Moments before the gun sounds, the sprinter's mind wanders "did I prepare hard enough?" The list could be endless. Notable sports psychologists say one of the top fears of athletes is the fear of not doing enough and not being good enough. The fear permeates minds moments before an event and can distract from performance.
Athletes aren't alone. Law students fear the same thing every November/December and April/May. They wonder if they read enough, studied enough, or completed enough practice problems. Some wonder if they met with professors enough. Enough becomes the amorphous standard to measure past actions mere moments before performance.
The enough standard poses a few problems. The standard is too vague to reasonably measure, and it is different for every person. Students then proceed to say last semester's actions were or were not enough based on final grades. Grades are a poor measure of "enough." Enough connotes quantity, and sometimes, students do study enough. They just studied the wrong way or wrong material.
The more significant problem with enough is it breeds perfectionism. Athletes don't know whether they are training enough while training, and without that feedback, they could always do more. The golfer could practice 100 more 5 foot putts, and the 5 footer to win would be easier. The swimmer could stay in the pool an hour longer or lift weights 1 more time. One mistake and they didn't do enough. Perfectionism and drive produces elite athletes. Google athlete quotes and you will be inundated with statements about working harder than everyone else. I highly encourage working hard, but perfectionism significantly increases mental health problems. Britain's "Victoria Pendleton (Britain’s most successful female Olympian), middle-distance runner Kelly Holmes (double gold winner at the Athens Olympics), boxer Frank Bruno (heavyweight champion of the world) and cricketer Marcus Trescothick (hero of the 2005 Ashes)" all suffered from depression.1 Their mental health deteriorated from perfectionism.
The same phenomenon happens to law students. They worry about every mistake and whether the semester was enough. We can continue to help students worrying whether they did enough.
The same phenomenon happens to ASPers as well. Maybe it was just me, but my mind raced last week at the bar exam. Did I hold enough programs? Did I contact students enough? Did I do as much as I could in a virtual environment? Did I respond to email quickly enough? I cheered on students while worrying if I could have prepared them better.
Enough is a terrible standard for all of us. I want all of us to help both law students and each other overcome the worry of doing "enough." I tell my students that all I care about is whether they can walk out of the exam and say they did everything they could reasonably do in their circumstances. Everyone's circumstances are different, and I only want them to do what they reasonably can. I want to tell all ASPers the same thing during this trying time. Enough is doing what you reasonably can in your circumstances. Don't let it reach perfectionism.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Like many of you, this week's been hectic, filled with chats and jam sessions to help graduates finish strong in preparation for next week's bar exam.
Most look tired, really tired. Me too.
So we took a break from consideration and equal protection and secured transactions to talk about steps we might take to provide refreshment to rejuvenate our battle-worn minds.
I don't know what possessed me, but I asked our students if they had time to take a break, a walk, or a little excursion from bar prep. But before they could answer "no", I answered for them. Simply put, I blurted out - like an excited utterance - that "you can't afford NOT to take a break!"
As reporter Betsy Morris explains:
"Spending times in the woods - a practice the Japanese call 'forest bathing' - is strongly linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue." Morris, B., "For Better Health, Just Head Outdoors," Wall Street Journal (Feb. 16, 2021). And, with respect to cognition, as Dr. Gretchen Daily observes based on research at Stanford University, "A 45-minute walk in nature can make a world of difference to mood, creativity, [and] the ability to use your working memory." Id.
In short, all work and no play is a recipe for disaster not success. Simply put, it doesn't work.
So, as you meet with bar takers for last moment tune-ups and encouragement, let them know that it's okay to take breaks, to put on a cap and gloves and hit a local park for a wintry walk. Along the way, they'll be not just feeding their spirits but also strengthening their minds. Now that's a great way to prepare for success, whether it's on the bar exam or in life. (Scott Johns).
Monday, February 1, 2021
Success is a matter of perspective. For some, success means money, power, and prestige. In truth, money, power, and prestige (and the never-ending pursuit of them) often do not bring lasting fulfillment or personal satisfaction because there is always someone who has more—more money, more power, more prestige.
In the law school context, high grades are considered a precursor for these common measures of success, which can lead some law students to define success in law school solely in terms of grades. As a metric, it is true that grades are important . . . and, as a law student, you should work hard (and smart) on what’s important. But what fulfillment or personal satisfaction do you really gain by framing success solely in terms of grades? Each achievement becomes transactional, with a fleeting moment of satisfaction followed by the swift return of a desire for “more.”
I read an interesting article recently that framed the relentless pursuit of success as people choosing being “special” over being happy. The author notes that, in pursuit of success, we may choose to sacrifice our relationships or even our own well-being. Despite such sacrifice, we do not feel sated . . . fated instead to feeling we are not successful “enough” and chasing the next success high.
As I read the article, I felt attacked thought about my time as a law student and how I defined success. Back then, for me, being successful meant having the highest grades and achieving all the things people told me were indicative of a successful law student (top grades, law review, judicial clerkship, etc.). I also wanted those things for myself but, at the time, I was more focused on why other people said I should have them (and what they would think if I did not). With each achievement came a hunger for the next one, and with each setback came devastating self-doubt and internal criticism. It was not until I was a bit older (and wiser) that I began to rethink how I defined success and prioritize what I needed to feel happy and fulfilled.
To the law students who may be reading this, if you see some part of yourselves in this post, I encourage you to think now about how you define success and to develop metrics for success that are meaningful to you. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of law student do you want to be? What opportunities in law school align with your goals, needs, and interests? Begin the journey now of releasing yourself from the judgment and expectations of others and focus instead on what you need to feel fulfilled.
To the ASPers who may be reading this, if you see some part of yourselves in this post, I encourage you to revisit the metrics you associate with success on a personal and professional level. How do you define success for yourself? How do you define success for students? How might your definition of success affect the way you interact with students? Consider how redefining your definition(s) of success can increase your personal satisfaction and enhance your relationships with students.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Arthur C. Brooks, ‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy, The Atlantic (July 30, 2020), https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/07/why-success-wont-make-you-happy/614731/.
Sarah Lahlou-Amine, Defining Success in Terms of Satisfaction Starts in Law School, ABA Student Lawyer Blog (Oct. 11, 2019), https://abaforlawstudents.com/2019/10/11/defining-success-in-terms-of-satisfaction-starts-in-law-school/.
Monday, January 18, 2021
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)
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/.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
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.
Monday, December 7, 2020
Law students seeking to avoid unnecessary stress and maximize learning opportunities should consider adopting a modified Vegas rule during the exam period. In the law school exam context, this rule is simple: Take the wisdom, Leave the substance (Take the “W” and Leave the “S”).
Each law school exam provides an opportunity to become a better exam taker. Students experience firsthand the challenges of effectively managing their time, ordering issues, outlining responses, and applying rules to a new set of facts. Do not ignore the wisdom to be gained from each exam experience. Instead, identify the lessons to be learned, and commit to practicing and refining your skills and/or exam-taking strategy as needed before the next exam.
Once you have completed an exam, do not discuss the substance of it with anyone during the exam period. If someone tries to engage you in such a discussion, politely decline. Walk away, leave the chat, step away from the video call. Do not talk substance, do not collect anxiety. Nothing good comes from rehashing the substance of your exam with your peers (and it may run afoul of your law school’s honor code). Almost invariably, someone will have “spotted” an issue that you “missed.” As you sit and listen, second-guessing your answer, anxiety levels rise and confidence levels fall. In reality, that issue you “missed” may not have really been an issue at all. The damage that discussion can do to your confidence and focus, however, is very real. Keep your eyes forward and on the prize.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Congratulations for making it to the end of the semester. Many law schools adjusted the schedule to finish prior to Thanksgiving, so they finish this week. Others planned a normal semester and will finish over the next couple weeks. As you finish, I encourage you to take pride in your accomplishment and rest. Everyone at the law school needs it.
To the students, you all are amazing. Second and third-year students completed another semester in unusual circumstances. The fear of catching coronavirus combined with the social strife would make anything difficult, and you all did it during law school. I am biased, but I believe law school is one of the most difficult mental journeys possible. Great perseverance.
First-year students embraced a challenge even they couldn't have predicted. Combine the uncertainty, demands, and normal first year challenges with the climate, and many wouldn't make it. You did it. Great job.
For the faculty. You all made the best of a difficult situation. Whether teaching over zoom, in smaller classes, twice the sections to keep sections small, or regular classes with the fear of section wide spreading, you made it work. Veteran professors turned years of routine into a new experience in a matter of months. It was a huge undertaking and accomplishment.
Deans and Associate Deans, I can't even imagine. Constant policy changes by Universities combined with daily changes in community spread within cities made planning anything impossible. I would have pulled the last remaining hair out in September. Great job.
Last, but closest to my heart, ASPers. You rock. You also made massive changes to classes, while also figuring out how to conduct all your normal individual meetings without risking your health.. You planned voluntary workshops and bar prep to reach everyone even though some of you were locked out of buildings or couldn't use classrooms. Amazing work.
All of you made it through a difficult semester. Many of you did it from your living room while homeschooling your kids, or at least making sure they didn't burn down the house, write on too many walls, etc. Do not discount the effort this semester required. Everyone, yes everyone, needs a pat on the back and then, rest. When the semester is over for you, take days (plural) off. Enjoy something safe you haven't been able to indulge in during the semester. Rejoice because you made it. The break will get you ready for next semester. You deserve it.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Many of us try to help students with imposter syndrome. A colleague from CALI (Hat tip to Deb Quentel) passed along an article about imposter syndrome in the classroom. Check it out here.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
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).
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
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.
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!
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.
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!
Monday, November 2, 2020
Elections have consequences. As we sit on the eve of an election, Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?, provides helpful suggestions about how to engage and support students after November 3. In addition to articulating several guiding principles, the article also links to resources for educators looking to situate themselves, and better prepare to facilitate and navigate difficult conversations after Election Day.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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
Friday, October 9, 2020
Mental Health is an important topic for everyone, especially law students. The statistics about the severity of mental health issues in the legal profession are astounding. You can check those out at daveneefoundation.org. A great resource offered by Nina Farber at Boston College is Wakeful Wednesdays. I encourage everyone to attend her sessions.
Here's the information on Wakeful Wednesdays:
Please join the Academic and Student Divisions of the Mindfulness in Law Society for Wakeful Wednesdays:
- Who: Law students from any law school in the United States are welcome. No need to join MILS, although why not? Membership is free to law students!
- What: A 15 minute meditation, led by Academic Division Co-chair, Nina Farber, followed by 15 minutes to share wellness tips and ask questions.
- When: Every Wednesday from 5:00 - 5:30 p.m. (eastern time), beginning Wednesday, October 21, 2020
- Where: On Zoom, please use the link on the MILS Website to join.