When Would I Ever Use This?

Building SkillsOne of the essential skills for any worker is being able to apply the knowledge previously gained in an educational venue, like our college, to a practical problem. In medical education, a student who’s at the top of the class when tested on didactic material may struggle to transfer that information to a clinical situation. All that hard-earned knowledge isn’t much use if you can’t apply it to a living person’s medical situation.

A few days ago, I emailed colleague Pat Riley, an expert in helping students transfer math skills to useful real-world applications. I had been struggling to help my students see the advantage of using logarithms to plot bacterial growth, so I turned to Pat for help. After graciously providing some great suggestions, he shared an example of using math skills in his own kitchen:


For those of us who “don’t do math,” we offer this refresher on scatter plots from this site Math Is Fun.  A finished scatter plot might look something like this:


By the way, Pat and I agree that the broccoli is yummy. Here’s a plug for the product:steamfresh-ranch-broccoli



A Fine Southern Lady

ReadingthuRsday-R2In 1974 – 1978 I had a part-time job at Clarksville’s Leaf-Chronicle. At that time, the Leaf-Chronicle made it a point to hire college students. It was a brilliant move on their part. The Leaf-Chronicle got some inexpensive people to work for them who were energetic even with full course loads. Working at The Leaf-Chronicle was a great job while attending college. The hours were flexible, there were opportunities to work at night and on weekends, plus a lot of fun and wonderful people worked at the Chronicle. vintagead

At that time, most of the advertising lay-out was done manually. I worked in the ad department, and I slowly learned how to follow an ad layout and create an ad. What is now done with publishing programs, we did by hand using strips of print we waxed, cut to the appropriate size, and placed carefully and evenly on blue lined paper. I was trained by Sonya Turner, who was fast and accurate in her work, clever with comment, and one of the most patient and fun-filled people I have ever met. To help Sonya with my training, various folks in the ad department helped me along. I have always felt I learned as much working at the Leaf Chronicle as I learned from my college classes. One of the persons that helped me learn about work ethic, kindness, and pride in my work was Mrs. Velma Crowell.

Crowell-Photo-360x480Mrs. Velma was a “fine Southern lady.” She took extra time to ask me about school, and she listened to my small worries about classes, balancing work and school, boyfriends, and life. She encouraged, and she chided a little if I let small things become big things. When I graduated from Austin Peay State University, she gave me two small books of poems. Those books have traveled with me through many moves, and they ultimately made their way pack to Clarksville in 2013 when I moved home after more than thirty years. Most of the poems can easily be found in other books, but when Mrs. Velma gave them to me I felt special. She knew I loved to read, and one day in passing, I told her about a poem I had read. I cannot remember the poem, but I remember the kindness of her patiently listening when I am sure she was tired.

Mrs. Velma Crowell passed away on March 12, 2016. I had assumed she had passed long ago, so I was very upset with myself for not looking her up when I returned to Clarksville. I always thought of her as a senior citizen, but she had to be in her late 40’s (much younger than I am now) when I began working at the Chronicle. Mrs. Velma lived 90 years, and she worked 24 of those years at the Leaf- Chronicle when newspapers were a little more locally driven and less syndicated, and the work was a little more labor intensive. When I learned of her death and posted on the Facebook page dedicated to Leaf-Chronicle past and present employees, the outpouring of gratitude for having the opportunity to know her and work with her was heartwarming. My friend Denny said she gave him a Cross pen when he graduated. I think she saw something in both of us because each of us has made a life’s work based on words.mentor

I regret not telling her in person how special she was to me. In her honor I am taking this time to remind all of how important small encouragements are to a college student who is trying to find that balance between work and school and life. RIP and thank you, Mrs. Velma.

Overcoming Inertia

Brian picI do the grocery shopping in our house. It’s been that way for years—a combination of two things: my wife hates it, and I like going, once I get going.

However, a second inertia occurred several years back when I regularly went to Aldi and to Kroger, with a list for each. Aldi offers great savings on a short but significant list of food items consumed at our house.  However, that meant two stores in one outing—an extra stop, parking twice, and checking out twice. It became easier to buy everything at Kroger, rationalizing that paying for convenience can be worth it.grocery cart full

My officemate, Anne Stahl, loves Aldi, and praises the bargains there. I would agree but had settled into my Kroger-only ways. Never underestimate, however, the slow and steady influence of what friends are enthusiastic about. Anne wasn’t trying to recruit me to Aldi; it’s just that she enjoyed mentioning items on sale and the dishes that she cooked with them, and I have enjoyed many of those leftovers that she has brought to the office for Karen and me.

A couple of weeks ago, I unexpectedly found the idea of a trip to Aldi appealing for savings on a few items. Once in there, things escalated, and since then, the cart has gotten fuller and the list longer on bargains for familiar foods around our house. Aldi and Kroger are both back to where they were a few years ago.

aldi-discount-grocersAldi keeps its prices down in two ways. A customer puts a quarter into a cart to separate it from its row, and then gets the quarter back by attaching the cart back to its row after loading the car. Then too, the customer can buy bags, but mostly, customers use discard boxes from the store to pack their own groceries.

An unexpected pleasantry also occurred at Aldi. A female employee with a huge pallet of items to stock was in the middle of the store when I asked where the canned nuts were. She could have said, “You walked right by them when you came into the store.” Instead, she enthusiastically took me over to them. I felt like an idiot, but she never implied that.

Later, I was hunting salsa, and she walked me over to it. Not only that, she on her own explained about the different salsas, to which I said, “You should be in sales.” It is inspiring when people go beyond expectations in small duties.Motivationl-quotes

This return of Aldi all began with thinking about habits. Life is full of habits, getting started with one or trying to break one. Often, success hinges on overcoming inertia. It is useful to weigh time expended and the value of that extra time when deciding on whether to shop at only one store or two. In this case, a revived memory of some really good savings led to the return to Aldi, plus my wife compliments me when I tell her the savings on this or that item, and what husband doesn’t like that?


Einstein Touts Skills

Building SkillsOur Chief Student Affairs Officer, Dr. Jason Warren, recently shared an infographic of “8 Success Factors Even More Important Than Intelligence.”  For those of us whose IQs don’t reach stratospheric heights, this might offer hope and perhaps even comfort. “I may not be that smart, but I can still be successful if I…”

So I was delighted to learn that even those blessed with a double or triple helping of Wechsler points recognize the important role of workplace skills in achieving success. To wit, I offer today’s featured quote from FinestQuotes.com, just as it arrived in my inbox:

Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.                 ~ Albert Einstein

Dr. Einstein’s observations dovetail nicely with several of the success factors in the infographic.albert-einstein1 Finding simplicity amid clutter requires conscientiousness. Agreeableness leads from discord to harmony. Finally, the very heart of emotional stability may lie in the capacity and openness to find opportunity in the midst of difficulty.

More proof that great minds do indeed think alike.


Say What?

Building SkillsWe’ve been exploring a list of “Top 10 Communication Skills” for today’s job market. The #1 skill is not providing information, but taking it in. This is listening. When you hang around with other teachers, you often hear someone moan, “They just don’t listen.” They, of course, are students. We, of course, are professionals who listen carefully. Sure we do.listening1

According to Mindtools,

“…research suggests that we remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. This is dismal!

Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50 percent, but what if they’re not?”

What can we do to improve? A recently published book by Caroline Web, How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life,  (whew!) recommends the tried-and-true “active listening” technique of repeating what you’ve just heard back to the speaker. Webb notes that this is particularly helpful when you don’t agree with a colleague, as the speaker feels affirmed even if you don’t join their side of the argument.

If you aren’t buying the whole active listening thing, then consider your own experiences in teaching. Haven’t you had a student in class who seems to hang on your every word? listening2Maybe she nods or smiles or furrows her brow in thought. Maybe her face says “Aha!” as she scribbles your pearls of wisdom in her notes.  Isn’t it easy to start speaking just to her, rather than the classmate who’s looking at her lap (where the phone is) or staring into the middle distance?

If you’re interested in becoming a better listener so that you can model the behaviors you want your students to learn, see “Active Listening: How to Hear What People Are Really Saying” at MindTools.


Brian picWhen I was in K-12, there was one thing I did not want to hear at school: “We’re going to have to tell your parents.” That was bad news. Even the threat of such brought amazing compliance on my part, well sometimes. Off at a university 600 miles away was another story, much more remote.

A Community college has a local feel, but still, students have entered another world—one where adulthood is imminent or has arrived. A little parenting by the college, however, can be in order. It’s not that this is imposed, but it is offered in a new form named Starfish, which is a communications loop for progress reports, either kudos or alerts. starfish

A recent email posted notification that it was time to do the Starfish surveys, and frankly, it felt like a bother, so I ignored it for a few days. I even thought of not doing it. However, there was no point in being a rebel, and the surveys are easy to complete and not time consuming. I just didn’t like the idea of a third party being needed to get students to attend and do assignments.

A look at the calendar of an eight week course pricked me with increased urgency. Week four was beginning, and seven Starfish flags were in order. The next day, my email contained assignments from three of the flagged students plus several Starfish emails about conversations between Starfish coordinator, Teresa Bailey, and flagged students.

Woman-Pointing-Her-Finger-006I felt like the school who had told the students’ parent, albeit an institutional parent—a college official checking up on the students. Teresa is benign, but no student wants to be reported by an instructor. Being reported as delinquent is the opposite of pleasure in learning, but has its own effectiveness.

It is possible that some of the flagged students will make a brief rally and then fade. It is also possible that the rally will continue.

Speaking of Starfish reminds me of another story. When my ship was deployed to the Philippines in 1972, I found a beautiful starfish while snorkeling and put it in a cabinet to save. A few days later, a bad smell emanated from the cabinet, and my starfish had to sadly be tossed out. It needed the ocean to live, not a cabinet aboard a naval ship. It was naïve not to think this out beforehand. discus-fish

There is a good lesson there for all of us at a college. College is like an ocean. Students are a type of fish in it. In order to live, the fish need to spend enough time in the ocean, and the ocean keeps inviting them to do that.

(Not as) Common (as It Should Be) Courtesy

Building SkillsEven if religion isn’t your thing, you probably know the Golden Rule, which one modern translation  renders: “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you.” If religion is your thing, you may be familiar with St. Paul’s elaboration on this point, in his admonition to the Phillipians: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  In the workplace, this is called being a team player.

A wise person has observed, “The way up is often down.” A quick assessment of our national political, athletic, and entertainment cultures suggests that a lot of key players haven’t heard this or have chosen to ignore it. True, we want our workforce members to have confidence in their knowledge and abilities, and we will always applaud the grand thinkers and bold actors in our midst. Yet we often fail to appreciate the power in humility and service, the “offensive line” of life’s football team, if you will.

The Upworthy recently featured “17 Awesome Pieces of Life Advice Straight from Our Readers.”  This one caught my eye:


Immediately, I thought of examples of people who practice this in ways large and small: The chair of my department, who makes an hour’s round trip to my campus to have me sign a required document. The student who stays to help clean up the mess left behind by less courteous classmates. My campus director, who scrambles to resolve unanticipated problems herself rather than imposing on others to deal with the crisis.

“Team Player” is an oft-touted quality on resumes. All eyes will be on Peyton and Cam this weekend, but both will rely on  other “team players” to give them the ball and to protect them while they have it.  The winning team will be the one with players who’ve learned to “look to the needs of others.”