Category Archives: VTGEDI

A Little GEDI Knight

Alas, the pedagogy class had to come to an end. Sadly, I will no longer have a chilly Wednesday evening in Torgerson Hall with my fellow GEDI trainees. We have all graduated to GEDI Knights! 🙂

With that time coming to a close, I still have found myself reflecting on the things we learned over the course of the semester. Especially since I will venture into my first official teaching experience this summer with the DSM5 course for the incoming counselor master program. Which I am really looking forward to, by the way!

How do I balance my passion for the counseling profession without overwhelming the 15 brand new to the program students? How do I tailor what I teach to their developmental needs but still have them gain confidence with a lot of material (our DSM is a diagnostic manual with most ALL of the diagnosis codes and descriptions for mental health concerns)? Fortunately, I will not be walking this path alone. I will be under the guidance of a seasoned counselor educator whom I respect and working with another fellow PhD student in the program whom I also respect. So I feel confident I will learn so much and hone my teaching and planning skills greatly. Greatly enough to prepare me for more teaching experiences to come in the fall.

The first part of my summer I will plan and work on the material we will be covering in class starting this July. Exciting stuff for me which has been a long time in the coming. My program at VT has really been preparing me well, I think. Guess the students will be truth speakers at the end of the course with my feedback. But I am a GEDI Knight and I can remember that the force is with me!

What is a GEDI Knight you ask? It is a Graduate Education Development Institute (GEDI) at Virginia Tech. It is designed to address the professional career development of the graduate students in knowledge, leadership, scholarship inquiry, and social responsibility. The contemporary pedagogy class is one of many that will help build a stronger professional community. Because of this course, I have opted to make preparing the future professoriate my cognate (read: certificate to enhance my degree). We are “knighted” at the end of the pedagogy course as GEDI Knights. It is a fun thing and completely rounds off the course as a whole. It was a lot of learning and a lot of fun.

Regardless if I was labeled as “the least intimidating GEDI ever” (and you know who you are who made this remark!) I am reminded by the little, and kind of cute, Yoda. He was small in size, but wise and powerful! Yoda once said “Many of our truths we cling to depend on our point of view.” Perhaps that is the true meaning behind the course; we may need to examine our points of view to be able to realize there is more sides to things and perhaps more truths than we initially believe. There are so many wonderful and creative options to teach and learn from that it is mind blowing. I hope to capture that with my portion of the course this summer.

Finally, I will close out with a quote from William Shakespeare from A Midsummer Night’s Dream “and though she be but little, she is fierce.” I may not be the most intimidating GEDI Knight, but I am well trained by my own little GEDI Master. 🙂 Hopefully, the teaching force will be strong with me this summer as I begin this journey.


I am a model

Ok, so. Maybe my title is a bit misleading…..but let me explain.

As we quickly come upon the close of the semester, I am more vastly aware of how important my role is as an educator. Providing much supervision this semester to several master’s counseling students I have learned that so much acquisition of knowledge comes from doing and seeing others in action. It brings words studied on pages to life and provides deeper understanding of application. This leads me into thinking that a great deal of emphasis needs to be on what I model to my students in addition to what I am teaching them. After all, how can I expect greatness from them if I am not willing to give them my greatest efforts in return?

Parker Palmer comments in A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited that “as mentors we must embody what it looks like”, which is how I feel it should be in higher education. Not a sage on the stage telling the students to “do as I say” but not themselves be doing those very things. Rather, share their experiences, vulnerabilities, and remain committed to the heart you have for your profession.  Which reminds me of a quote I once read, claimed to have been spoken by Rosa Parks:

Each person must live their life as a model for others.

Rosa Parks simply sat on a bus. She did not lead a movement, but her brave actions to remain in her seat did inspire courage and bravery in the many, many others who did act. Today, her name is well known and still provides modeling for those of us who wish to stand (or sit in her case!) for something for which we are passionate. Her small, but impactful action caused a ripple effect that has been massive.

As educators, we should strive to do the same. Make passionate, deep, impactful actions which cause ripple effects in our students. Our students will then know what it looks like to see the lessons in action, who will then in turn have impact on others. And so on and so forth.

How do I plan to do this? I am not fully sure. My idea is that I will strive to make my profession strong, ethical, amazing, and helpful. For me, that means continuing my own education, yes even after the PhD is complete. It means advocating for others who need assistance having their voices heard. It means reading or writing articles; meeting with clients; creating pedagogy that will stimulate the next generation. So I guess I will largely take it day by day, class by class, and student by student. We will learn and grow from each other.

So I am a model. Not the runway type, glossy magazine cover, television advertisement kind of model. I am a role model. I am not perfect, but hey, that just normalizes things and lets my students know that it is perfectly find to be human!

I want to be a scuba diver!

I love to read. I love books. There are few things that bring me such joy as getting lost in the “sea of words” where characters are of my creation and I grow attached to fictional places. I have even mourned the loss as I ended a book series. The book itself is wonderful, but I am slowly crossing into the technology world by reading some electronically. The point of it all is that I enjoy the depths of the written word, pondering over the meanings of things, or finding how what I have been reading works into the things I already understand.

Then I read an article by Nicholas Carr called Is Google Making Us Stupid? which discussed how technology is changing the way we read, process, and absorb information. He used the analogy about how he was once a scuba diver in a sea of words, but now is more like a person covering a lot of area skimming along quickly on a jet ski. That is something that resonated with me in a deep way.

Before I started working on my PhD, I asked those in the program how difficult the work was and how that work impacted their daily lives. Everyone seemed to be in accordance, that “it is a lot of work, but it is manageable”. This loosely translated to the work was at a doable level, but just LOTS of it you have to do in a short amount of time. So now that I am nearing the end of my first year, I find out that the work is training me to be a jet skier.

I say this because I constantly feel like I’m not reading the material deep enough and having enough time to really process and consider what I’m reading. Which makes me sad. As much as I adore reading and learning, it is not feasible to invest the amount of time I feel necessary to each subject. So, alas, I jet ski. I read for the information I need to, process at warp speed (I am a slow processer naturally), and churn out my work. In my heart, many times I do not feel I am producing my best work. But it is the best I have at the speed in which I must go and I have found some balance in it as well as acceptance.

Nevertheless, I am a scuba diver at heart. I am looking so very forward to being able to find the time to read for pleasure and at the slower pace and depth I wish. Perhaps many things I will read again with some free time, as I found I did following my master’s program. Until then, I will keep my scuba gear close by in case I have the extra time, where I will eagerly leap from the jet ski and dive deeper!

They led me to the well…

There is a quote from Albert Einstein which came to mind after doing some of this week’s readings. His quote is: “I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they learn.”

In my early education experiences, I was fortunate enough to have teachers who allowed me to learn at the rapid rate at which I needed to consume it and truly created the conditions for me to learn. In Kindergarten, I was the only one reading when starting school (chalk this up to sibling rivalry as I have an older sister who had been going to school and got all the neat school books…so I learned to read early to swipe her stuff!). My public, city school teachers, worked with me independently to help me learn and challenge me. This continued in first grade with another wonderful teacher who worked with me independently, pushing me gently to reading at higher and higher levels and giving me individual spelling lists.

Second grade was a different story and I got lost in some bureaucratic stuff I did not understand at the time. Fortunately, I was having part of my days with a third grade class across the hall (for reading and English) and that teacher then was my advocate and champion. Because of the individualized needs I had and the willingness of the teachers to create fertile conditions for my learning, I was able to get to a place where I was matched intellectually. That happened in my second/third grade year.

As I said, I was very fortunate to have such excellent advocates and champions at that stage of my learning. Thankfully a lot of my desire for learning was fostered during this time, so when I did come across teachers who were there to impart what they were required to the student masses I was able to learn what I could while still maintaining my desire to learn; regardless of the teacher’s outlook on how they were teaching.

Reading some of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, when he describes some education like the knowledge was “a gift bestowed by those by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” made me recall those kinds of teachers with sadness. Because of my early education experiences, I felt valued and that I had this knowledge deep inside myself, only I did not know it yet. My teachers were the ones helping me discover it. When I encountered the teachers who poured out information in class like water and we, the students, were the cups.

I am so thankful for all of those teachers I had over the (so very many) years of my education who did not simply pour out the water; rather they led me to the well and showed me how to draw the water. What really stands out in my mind, as I look into my near future, when I am at the front of the class, is that I want to be like the teachers who inspired me to learn. I want to be the one to create the environmental conditions for my students to learn. I hope to lead them to the well and show them how to draw the water themselves. For I hope that they, like me, will become life-long learners. Learning because they want to, have the need to, and the know how to learn in formal and informal ways. Even on their own.

So, from that little girl who felt that it was fun, exciting, and special to be learning, even when it meant being kind of separate from my peers, a heart felt thank you. Because of that desire for them to teach in non-oppressive and non-traditional ways, I had excellent role models all these many years later.

I have no class!

So this is my spring break week. No longer are they filled with thoughts of a beautiful holiday somewhere tropical or somewhere snowy where I have lots of fun, rest, and make amazing memories with friends. Now they are filled with thoughts of “sweet! I don’t have class this week so I can get caught up on all my assignments!” and I still have assignments.

Oh my assignments! An assignment reviewing an appraisal instrument, open coding for my research class, mid-term evaluations to complete for my supervisees, a sample syllabus for my pedagogy class :), and lots of reading. Plus, there are things to catch up on at home too. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, gift shopping for an upcoming wedding and baby showers. Then general daily chores like cooking, endless cycle of picking up dog/cat toys, and feeding pets and partners.  Meanwhile, the emails continue for responsibilities and I have some other projects (both school and home related) which need my attention.

I am hoping to juggle in a quick visit home to visit with my family and some friends. I am also hoping for a little more quality time with my medical student spouse (but he’s still in classes, so that is questionable!). My other replenishment joy will come with the additional time with my “fur babies”.

So this week, I have no class. But responsibilities still continue…such is the glamorous life of a doctoral student!

Warm and Fuzzy

WARM FUZZYOnce upon a time, a long time ago, Claude Steiner wrote a little story called A Warm Fuzzy Tale. It tells about how when people were born they were given small, soft fuzzy bags and anytime they would reach into this bag they could pull out a Warm Fuzzy. The small fuzzy was about the size of a child’s hand and would instantly grow a little larger when you would remove it from the bag. When given away, the little fuzzy would snuggle up to the person and give them a good feeling all over. Warm Fuzzies were given freely and were in abundance; but one day a bad (yet enterprising) witch stirred up jealousy and envy in the people causing them to become stingy with giving away their Warm Fuzzies. Eventually the witch even started giving out bags, similar to the fuzzy bags for free, but these bags contained Cold Pricklies. Eventually people started to give the Cold Pricklies away rather than the Warm Fuzzies. Even the children, observing the adults, began to change their behaviors on giving Warm Fuzzies or Cold Pricklies. The situation became quite complicated as people began doing all kinds of things for Warm Fuzzies. You can read the whole short tale here.

But what do the warm fuzzies and cold pricklies have to do with inclusive pedagogy?  Well, I believe we have experienced, at some time in our lives, feeling all “warm and fuzzy” (which is where this expression originates) when people treat us kind and with dignity. Just as I believe we have all felt “cold and prickly” when we are treated poorly or unjustly.  Surely we all want to experience the warm and fuzzy feeling most of the time, if not all of the time, like in the start of the story.

Our society has become much like the unhappy land described in the latter part of the story. A place where we are stingy with our warm fuzzies, feel guilty over sharing our warm fuzzies, and feel distrustful if someone is trying to give us a warm fuzzy because we are not all to sure it isn’t a cold prickly. It has even spilled into the lives of our children who watch the adults intently on how to treat others.

So, as an educator I have a choice to make, do I want to remain in a state of unsure and unease because I live in fear of getting a cold prickly? Have my classroom be a place of cold learning and fear of sharing one’s self freely and fully? Or do I want to be like the new character introduced near the end of the story, the Hip Woman who generously shares her Warm Fuzzies and encourages others to give them away as if there was indeed an endless supply?

I hope my classroom will be one which makes everyone feel welcome and provides a safe space for the freedom to be their true authentic self. I hope to operate with a heart drenched in  a strengths-based, relational-cultural theory and a focus of working towards a relational competency which can navigate relationships to promote the well-being of my self and others. I would like to create an environment where any student would feel welcome enough to discuss their thoughts, ideas, and feelings with at least me, if not the class as a whole.

I know that I can not change others; that is beyond my scope of control. I do know that change starts with one decision, one choice. Many of minds need a whole paradigm shift when the word inclusivity is mentioned. It is not about suppressing one to allow another to excel, rather it is about making room so we all can excel. Inclusivity is not a habit that needs to be changed, but rather a desire that needs to be fulfilled.

My wish now is for you to freely share a warm fuzzy with someone today!

Defying Gravity

How would I describe my authentic teaching self? Rough. Over compensating. Ok. I’m not real sure at this point. While I have had the honor of teaching people one-on-one, or giving presentations to my classmates, and a few experiences training/teaching new hires at former jobs, I have not had the full experience of teaching a class on my own.

I would love to say, my ideal would be transparent, inspirational, fully present, and encouraging. Transparent enough that my students would understand that there is no way I can be the end-all, know-everything, expert but experienced enough that they can take what I have to offer from that knowledge and understanding. Inspirational that would create thoughts beyond just the requirements of the class and stir a desire to find out more on their own. Fully present, that I can be enough in the room to know what is going on without being said. To be sensitive to the needs of the class and meet them where they are in that moment…be it to discuss what is on the syllabus or what may be happening in the world which could be overriding anything we could cover in class. Finally, encouraging. I would hope that as a teacher I would be supportive and a champion in helping them gain strides in their learning. To be able to have a marked difference from class day one to ending class day.

However, I started out with the words: rough, over-compensating, and ok. I use these adjectives because it is true to how I am currently. Rough because I do not have the experiences in formal teaching to have polished these skills. Over-compensating because I have a tendency to prepare, research, prepare, and repeat that cycle a bit more until I feel prepared to know the material. Usually that is to my detriment, as I learn too much and have difficulties in getting material down to the level where the students are because it all seems important and necessary to me. Lastly, I say ok. Ok, as I have done some things before and have been told I was quite good. That I have a way of explaining things to others without making them feel that my way is the only way and breaking things down into easier to understand ways.

After reviewing some of the materials on finding my teaching voice, I find that being authentic, fully present, and transparent, seem to be a common thread. Honestly, I believe that moving forward, if I give myself enough compassion with my beginner level, I have the potential to be a good teacher. Then I can continue to hone that until I become a great teacher. I know it will not happen overnight, or after one teaching experience, or one class semester. Some liken teaching to acting, with similarities being with preparation, and performance. I think I can relate to that in many ways.

So, in keeping with that theme, and following the lead from one of my favorite Broadway musicals Defying Gravity from Wicked:

Too late for second guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts.
Close my eyes and leap!
 It’s time to try defying gravity.

Let’s see if I can indeed defy gravity and become a great teacher!

A Tapas-Based Approach to Learning

Well, there is no argument that lectures are not the best sole teaching method for 21st century learners and leave a lot of students lacking, or even napping! Lectures have their place, but keep the professor center stage in the “chalk and talk” method, where some students will only hear the Charlie Brown teacher sound “wah wah wah”.

Active learning can engage students into learning complex things which can translate into other areas of understanding. Mark Carnes describes this well in his article Setting Students’ Minds on Fire by using games to engage students. But “active learning” can be read as yet another academic buzzword where the impact of the importance has become watered down from overuse.

So where is the balance? If we the teachers/instructors need to utilize the technology as the resource to engage learners, then how do we employ the most current tools to make best use of our assets in current ways?

Upon reading, digesting, and mulling over some literature regarding shifting in pedagogical approaches for the 21st century, I am reminded of the waves of tapas restaurants and bars popping up everywhere several years back. Yes, tapas, the Spanish cuisine at its brevity and finest.

So how am I connecting these two in my mind?

Tapas are basically a wide variety of appetizers and snacks. They can be hot or cold, simple or sophisticated, and combined to make a full meal. Tapas were designed to encourage conversation rather than to be focus on the food as a meal. The focus is on the engagement of the people enjoying the tapas and not solely on the food. The food is only one part of the bigger context.

Possibly we should look at serving education like serving tapas. We can start out simple, move to something more sophisticated, order a little or a lot, or try several different things to find out what is appealing. Tapas can be a great alternative to huge, heavy meals. Maybe our pedagogy needs to move away a huge, heavy approach to something lighter, varied, and tailored to each individual’s need.

In my mind, a tapas based approach to engagement would look like small chunks of learning opportunities peppered through the class time. Rather than talk out a topic for a 90 minute lecture, things would happen a bit differently. For example, in a 90 minute class, a teacher could have a 10 minute lecture, a 15 minute YouTube video, a 10 minute discussion, a 30 minute experiential project, 15 minute writing post to a common location, and 10 minute on-line discussion thread all related to the main topic for the class. This approach may encourage all types of learners to get involved and engaged at varying levels. Also by moving the teacher from the front to the sidelines, they could offer more assistance where needed by the students. It would also empower the students by trusting their ability to learn and engage on their own. The teacher becomes the helper, like the wait staff or chef. The shift of focus goes from the material being learned to the learning of the material.

After all, in a tapas restaurant, each table will not have the same things; nor would people always order the same amounts or types each visit. A tapas approach to teaching could offer variety, customization, and individual design. Creative approaches could foster imagination of the students, give them bite sized chunks of information to absorb the material, and grab their attention with a variety of teaching methods. Finding that balance of technology, just like finding the right balance of tapas to get you full, can be a beautiful and varied experience.

Hmmmm…anyone else hungry now?

This is not a test

Pencils“Ok class, clear your desks and take out a blank sheet of paper.”

That sentence still sends terrifying shivers down my spine. I remember the countless times I heard this statement all through my learning career. Those words should not be so scary, but we became conditioned to know that it meant a pop quiz, a test, or something to assess our level of skill or knowledge would shortly begin. So conditioned that today it still sets off a PTSD type hypersensitive moment, where I immediately think “Oh please let me remember everything”!

Would it not be great, if our students today could get excited by hearing this request from their instructor? Perhaps curiously thinking what kind of exciting journey will be taken where we need to clear off desk space and have a blank canvas? Unfortunately, we are still steeped in a world full of testing, assessment, standardized learning, and focusing on a student’s ability to regurgitate information in a specific way.

However, fortunately, there is a wind of change starting to blow. Minds like Alfie Kohn in The Case Against Grades who are pointing out how assessment is undermining a true desire for learning. Or like Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon who in 2009 reminded us to keep the flame of imagination alive in their book Imagination First: Unlocking the power of possibility. Reading these works, and several others, give me hope that one day students will learn for the education of it, rather than how well they perform on standardized tests.

Let me say just a few things about testing and the killing of imagination. I do not test well, especially on standardized testing.  Then imagine layering that anxiety over top of the thought of the results determining how my future may unfold based on how high my test score outcomes. So I boycotted. Yep, I totally did. Did not take the SAT. Still got into college. Did not take the GRE. Still got my master’s. Got into a PhD program at a pretty impressive school (ahem, VT)….but I did need the GRE. Which I did finally take, but was a formality of getting in; so I felt no pressure for scoring. All that said, I think I’m doing fairly well without the percentile ranking lurking in my virtual file.

I also remember being a senior in high school at a career fair where a female interior designer told me to my face (at 16 years of age) that it was too late for me to choose that career because I did not have the background. That felt like a slap to my face. Needless to say, I am not an interior designer. Good thing she was not a counselor. That was something I began my specific formal training for at age 34. And here I am today, still continuing to educate myself.

What got me to this point was not mapped out curricula, standardized testing, plotted target dates with specific goals, or grooming from Kindergarten to be sure of my education path. What did get me here was my life experiences, my curiosity, my desire to learn more about what fed my passions, and a lifelong goal to learn because I WANTED to know more. There is no test to prove my worth. No test to measure the value in what I have learned. We need to get back to feeding the want to learn rather than teaching our students how to jump through hoops to measure what someone else deems valuable.

What do you think? Should we be placing more value on the process of learning and education versus measuring the outcomes of canned educative studies? And if so how do we inspire the learning in better, truly valuable ways?


Mindful or Mind Full

I find it quite interesting, while crossing into other areas of study, you run across terms that are the same but hold vastly differing meanings.

Take mindfulness for example. In the world of counseling, being mindful is being purposefully and actively aware of your sensory experiences in the moment without judgment. There are many wonderful exercises and techniques to help ground you in the moment, help slow down your thoughts, and bring your attention and focus to being fully present in the moment. It is a calming thing. It is quite helpful for those who struggle with anxiety or racing thoughts. Being mindful can help you “get out of your head”.

However, in the world of education, being mindful is something a bit different. Ellen Langer, in her book The Power of Mindful Learning, defines mindfulness as being open to new information, new categories being continually created, and awareness of multiple perspectives. She continues to discuss how we can learn “the basics” to various things and practice them so much that the skills become “overlearned”. This causes a risk to miss the nuances of the individual components and lose out on the ability for fine tuning adjustments.

Maybe, these widely different terms are more closely related than I initially thought upon a first read. Possibly, through the magic of amalgamation, these separate things can converge into one interesting thing.

Perhaps that is just it. We miss out on things we really can learn when we are not focused on the moment or are tuned-out by the repetition of muscle memory tasks. Being open, purposeful, and actively aware in a learning environment may help us suspend our previous thoughts and ideas, either as teachers or as students, and gain awareness to new categories and multiple perspectives. If we “get out of our heads” regarding teaching, learning, and pedagogy, then more creative, organic, and interesting methods of learning can come into our awareness.

Now, with a mind full of thoughts on how to look at education and learning with a mindful approach, I am excited to see what new ideas and perspectives pop up. I hope that quieting and stilling my mind can open me up to seeing and understanding more in the world of education, as well as counseling. And in true counselor form, I will practice my mindfulness and continue to allow my thoughts to roll gently past, like fluffy white clouds against a bright blue sky. I will suspend judgment and notice what all happens.