Super Site: What’s Your Strength?

Weight Lifting

Weight Lifting (Photo credit: mjzitek)

Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, maintains a website, Authentic Happiness under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania.  After reading Flourish, I was curious about one of the assessment tools that he touts in the book, the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths,” which measures 24 character strengths. Seligman contends that nurturing the positive aspects of our character can lead to true well-being, and the survey helps you to identify exactly what those strengths are.

The site asks you to log in initially (free of charge) before you begin the survey. The survey can be accessed from the right side of the home page under the “Surveys” heading. The test consists of 240 questions—sounds like a lot, but you can click right through them in just a few minutes. The site then generates a profile of your greatest strengths. I enjoyed reviewing my own results, but the biggest payoff came when I persuaded some friends and colleagues to take the test.  Several of them shared their results. Suddenly, each of those dear people popped into remarkably clear focus.  Had you asked me to describe their strengths, I might have gotten around to most of them, but seeing their results clarified for me exactly why I like each of them so much.  I found myself appreciating them in more specific ways, and I felt more grateful for knowing each.

This could be a great team-building activity for a professional group or a way for friends and family to bond more closely. It might be an interesting activity in a number of classes. Happy clicking.  Tell us what you learn about yourself and others when you try it.

Put Me In, Coach!

If you’ve been watching the NFL preseason games, you’ve probably seen this:

Academics and athletics often find themselves locked in an adversarial relationship, with pundits on both sides of the issue poking at one another with the sharp sticks of print and air time. When coaches and educators (often one and the same, I should add) listen to and learn from one another, everyone wins. A young man I know holds an advanced degree in a complex field and is a professional in a competitive environment. He contends that his college athletic career contributed as much to his success as his academic work.

What can coaches teach classroom instructors?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for the best from your students. Good coaches know that most of us can accomplish more than we think we can…and they don’t apologize for expecting improvements in performance. Team members quickly realize that “almost” doesn’t cut it. It’s been said that one never gets better behavior by lowering expectations.  This is as true in “Grade 14” as it was in kindergarten.
  • No matter how good you are, you can always improve. I once heard an advocate for gifted and talented education explain it this way: We don’t tell our most talented athletes that they should just go to gym class and then show up for varsity games.  In fact, a coach who suggested this would probably not keep his job long. We expect coaches to find ways to help the most talented athletes leverage their unique abilities. Sometimes we neglect our best students in the mistaken belief that “the cream always rises to the top.” Coaches know better.
  • No matter how bad you are, you can always improve. The best coaches see the potential in an inexperienced or underdeveloped player and find ways to unlock it.  By now, we all know that Michael Jordan was cut from his middle school basketball team.  What we don’t know is what that coach was thinking….or how he feels about his decision now. One of the most rewarding aspects of a community college teacher’s job is the opportunity to unlock overlooked potential.  We don’t talk enough about how to spot that potential.English: Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan and Phil...
  • Encouragement is an art form. Knowing when to offer it, how to offer it, and in what quantities to offer it requires skill and finesse. In this week’s issue of USA Weekend, Eric Sheninger, writing in “What Teachers Want You to Know,” quotes teacher Larry Ferlazzo offering this advice:

    “Praise effort and specific work instead of native intelligence.  Try saying ‘Boy, those two hours you spent working on the essay last night really paid off. I loved how you described the characters in the novel instead of ‘Wow, you are a natural-born writer.'”

  • We all need reassurance that a challenge is achievable.  It’s no surprise that the “5K List” on my iPod is loaded with songs like “Stay Strong” and “Runnin’ Down the Dream.” Occasionally I’ll hear colleagues opine that college students should be self-motivated. They seem to think that students shouldn’t need gold stars for good work or support when they’re struggling.  Coaches know that good players have bad days. Last night I heard a commentator note during the Titans/Falcons game that the Titans’ coach is learning how to support his quarterback in difficult situations “to keep his confidence up.” A guy earning millions of dollars to throw a football after years of practice, game experience, and coaching needs a confidence boost? Why wouldn’t my students need the same?

Here’ a line that my own kids threw around when they were teenagers, and I find that my students all know and love it, too.  Once I say it a few times in class with the proper inflection, the students feel free to use it, too:

As I review this list, I realize that I need this kind of coaching as much as my students, if not more. I need to be asked to give it all I got. I can do the things I do best…better. I can do the things I do worst…better. I need encouragement, too. A colleague recently offered a brief and unsolicited “atta girl”  that meant the world to me. Finally, I need reassurance that the challenge of teaching my subject in a community college is achievable. That reassurance comes most often and most convincingly from my students themselves. Bring it on!

Tech Tuesday: Your Inbox is NOT Your “To Do List”

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 

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There are a lot of different theories in the IT and productivity community about how to use your email inbox.  Many people subscribe to the Inbox Zero which is the philosophy that NONE of your brain lives in your inbox.  Practitioners advocate dealing immediately with emails that come in by deleting, delegating, responding, deferring or doing.  (If Merlin Mann, the originator, was a Baptist, he probably could have come up with a ‘d’ word for responding.  Apparently he is not.  Joking! Joking!)

All of this is a reminder that your inbox is NOT your “To Do List”.  This is a revolutionary concept.  It is a tool for dealing with your list, but it is not your list.  As soon as you break free from the ball and chain that is your inbox, you will be able to tackle those meta-tasks you’ve been putting off for too long.

In order to deal so ruthlessly with emails that arrive, you’re going to need a system.  Let’s cover them each individually and I’ll show you the way I take each of the actions.

  • Delete – If only they were all this simple.  Be ruthless.  You can certainly delete (even the delete button on your keyboard will work).  Of course, you can also file emails that were simply informational.  The idea here is to get emails out of your inbox that don’t require any extra action.  Consider unsubscribing to newsletters from companies that you no longer do business with.  Also, be sure to use the filter or rule mechanisms in your email account to file emails that you do need, but you don’t need to see.  Filters and rules can also be used to assign labels or categories to incoming messages, but that’s a little outside the realm of deleting.
  • Delegate – Feel free to forward any emails that are another person’s responsibility.  Consider using rules or filters to do this automatically if there is a recurring need.  If the item you are delegating, requires follow-up, use the tactics below for deferring.
  • Respond – Answer it now!  If there is a response that you give frequently, try making a Quick Step (Outlook) out of your response.  One quick click will start your response with specified text and then you can modify before sending.  Don’t forget that you can always pick up the phone or IM to answer an email.  Sometimes that is a lot quicker for everyone involved!ToDo Pane
  • Defer – This is the one that benefits most from a little technology.  I developed a Quick Step that automatically makes a calendar event out of an email.  All I have to do is set the date and time.  Another option for deferring is to use the flagging/starring system from your email provider.  In Outlook you can click the flag to set a due date.  By default the date will be today.  You can set a different date by right clicking on the flag.
  • Do – There is no time like the present.  Be sure to do quick things as fast as possible.  Sometimes dealing with the constant stream of emails is difficult.  When I get to work in the morning I usually answer all the emails that are in my inbox.  Then I click the Work Offline button on the Send/Receive Tab while I deal with things on my actual To-Do list.  Once I have made reasonable progress on my true priorities I turn on my email again and answer the items that have arrived.  This saves me from the multi-tasking monster.  Don’t forget to explore and use Quick Steps for tasks that you do repeatedly.

It is imperative to get to your high priority tasks amidst the email onslaught.  I do this using the Tasks feature in Outlook.  On the View Tab in Outlook, choose To-Do Bar and turn on Tasks.  (I also like Calendar on, but People off.)  Then all of your flagged emails will show up on the right side of your inbox. You can double-click them to go right to the email.  Click the flag again to mark as complete.  With the Tasks turned on, you can also write down tasks for yourself by using the little box at the top of the tasks area.

As instructors and employees answering email is one of our jobs, but it cannot consume our days.  We have much bigger priorities.  Be sure to manage your email so that it doesn’t manage you.

Money

B picpleasureteam note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with educators in various disciplines and positions. We hope to learn how the pleasures in learning that we’ve identified fit into their work. Maybe we’ll find some new pleasures to add to our list. Brian offers us an interesting post to get us back on track.

It dawned on me in 2008 that college students want to increase their potential to earn money, but they don’t necessarily see school as a place for money handling lessons, which is why I assign one research theme in English 101 on a financial topic. Money made but not managed is money not maintained. Therefore, students choose one area to focus on: budgeting, credit card use, or investing.

Naturally when I learned that our technical program faculty member, Stuart Zieman, teaches a course in the community named “Financial Peace University,” I asked him for an interview, and this blog contains the questions plus his generous responses.

Money

Money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

What kind of sensory pleasures does the course use to increase student engagement?

Stuart: The course is a Dave Ramsey course, and his web site is daveramsey.com. A facilitator in a community uses Dave’s carefully prepared and polished videos and workbook. Polished means that he has done everything to make it a smooth, enjoyable presentation without bumps and gaps, or the rough spots that extemporaneous presentations usually have. Dave is blunt on the radio because a lot of callers try to trick him, but in the course, he creates a strong visual effect, and this goes together with testimonials and a workbook.

Is there an element of surprise that students in the course experience?

Stuart: Yes, at some point, students have an “aha moment” when it starts to dawn on them, “I can’t do things anymore the way I’ve been doing them. I need help.” Then when they see how fact based and simple the principles are, they think, “Why didn’t I see this before?” They are so relieved and excited.

Stuart and Dave Ramsey

Stuart and Dave Ramsey

Does the course employ any humor?

Stuart: Oh yes. Dave Ramsey is a great speaker and orator. He uses sarcasm but not in a malicious way. He gets you to laugh at yourself. He also uses funny illustrations like the “Shopping Barbie.” MasterCard paid for the marketing for “Shopping Barbie” because research shows that you will keep your first credit card longer than any other. Since it was your first credit card, there is a sense of loyalty and branding.

How do students get a sense of achievable challenge?

Stuart: They can get some success going right away. The average person coming into the course pays off $5300 in debt and saves $2700 within the first 90 days. This builds needed momentum, and it’s gratifying to pay off that first credit card or other debt of some kind, especially since many students come in deep in debt and discouraged. But it’s also true that not everybody who takes the course is in debt. Some wealthy people take the course to learn how to manage their money. They may have come into wealth quickly and not know how to manage it.

Is there a sense of belonging to a group?

Stuart: A group usually has three to six couples though individuals can also take the course. For most, this is their first time ever talking about their money problems with others. It creates a special bond and the sense of “We’re all in the same boat.” It’s a real teambuilding experience, and many long-term friendships are byproducts of the class.

Stuart with his wife Alicia

Stuart with his wife Alicia

What concept of owning something of value is emphasized?

We think we value money, but when we learn how to manage money, we then truly value it. Look at how we’ve wasted money; that’s not valuing it. Part of valuing money is what Dave Ramsey calls “telling your money what to do instead of your money dictating to you what to do.” The idea is to get all of your money working for you.

That sounds like it leads to autonomy.

Stuart: It does, and the test of autonomy comes after the nine weeks of the course is over. During the course there is a sense of accountability because everyone is participating and sharing together in the course, but when the course is over, it’s your money. No one can tell you what to do with it.financial peace

After the interview, Stuart sat back in his chair and squeezed a green tennis ball as we chatted. I thanked him for the interview.  By the way, he did a Professional Development workshop on money management last spring at the college, and it was a well-attended 50 minute pump primer. If you want to know about how to take the course in your geographical area, look on daveramsey.com and check it out.

 

Ending on an Up Note: Getting Ahead

Running shoes

Running shoes (Photo credit: Shopping Diva)

The running program on my fancy phone offers motivational quotes before every workout. Recently, on a day when I barely managed to lace up my shoes and head out the door, this quote provided the nudge I needed.  Maybe I should post it over my desk for help in tackling those long-deferred tasks that pile up.

The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain or to Agatha Christie, but mental_floss reports that neither source can be verified. Mark Twain did say, “Never put off until tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” I’d better not put that one on my desk.

Super Site of the Week: lifehacker

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 8.14.56 PM

As the inevitable end of summer vacation draws near, slackers like me start wondering “How Can I Get Over the Summer Productivity Slump?”  As it turns out, Melanie Pinola has the answer…make that several answers.  I was particularly intrigued by her suggestion to try Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret...designed with us procrastinators in mind.  And for you righteous, non-slumping non-procrastinators, you will find plenty of other great ideas at lifehacker: tips and downloads for getting things done.

As I was looking for tips to help with rote memorization (Hubby and I zipped through our “alpha, bravo, charlie” drill tonight, by the way), I consulted lifehacker and found this nifty set of infographics. “Top 10 Infographics and Cheat Sheets That Make Life Easier,” posted by Whitson Gordon, has some seriously brilliant help on a variety of topics.  How to match your shirt and tie? What to do if you’re pulled over? What’s the best seat at a table?  Whitson offers all this in clever chart form, plus a few tech tricks that may inspire our Kristen the Tech Maven.

Mind Hacks, Food Hacks, Organization, How To, Best Apps….so many virtual aisles to stroll, so little time.  I’m considering spending $2 to add Launchwrite to my Mac and reminding myself to make better use of the Dropbox account I have.  I also loved “How Do You Capture Your Eureka Moments?”  Any teacher should find lots of ideas to improve productivity here.  You might also find some good topics for class discussions, particularly for cross-disciplinary projects.  Happy surfing.