Monthly Archives: September 2015

Weighing responses to a minor behavioral infraction

Imagine you are faculty member sitting in an assembly surrounded by students. As usual, you are enjoying the performance on stage, but you are also monitoring the behavior of the students seated in the audience around you. After a while you become aware that a student a few seats down the row from you is fidgeting with something. Maybe they have their cell phone out, maybe they are doodling on their seat with a pen or pencil, or maybe they have a book open and are trying to complete some soon-to-be-late homework.

What is the correct response? In particular, I’m interested in the choice a faculty member faces to either confiscate the phone/pen/book immediately, or to try to quietly get the student’s attention and communicate — probably via a raised eyebrow and cold stare — that they need to put the item away and act like a more respectful audience member.

Confiscating the distracting item sends a clear message and alters the behavior immediately. Also, it leads to a conversation after the assembly when the student wants the item back. That conversation is an opportunity (“teachable moment”) for the faculty member to talk to the student about what it means to be a respectful audience member and to reinforce the rules regarding phones etc. Students sitting nearby and witnessing the offending item’s confiscation also receive a strong message that this behavior won’t be tolerated, and that helps students understand that there are boundaries that must be respected.

On the other hand, there is a lot to recommend the other course of action. If instead of confiscating the item we draw the student’s attention to their behavior, we put the ball in their court. We ask the student to take a silent inventory of their own behavior in the moment and think about how they might correct it. In essence we treat the student more like an adult and ask, “How do you want to represent yourself as a citizen of our community right now?” The student will likely appreciate that they were given the chance to correct their behavior before having their item snatched out of their hand. While this approach makes it harder to guarantee a conversation after the assembly is over, perhaps an equal amount of teaching can occur with just that raised eyebrow and cold stare. This is a more constructivist choice since it places the responsibility for teaching/learning on the student himself.

The situation I’ve provided is an artificial one, and in most cases the imaginary faculty member can employ both approaches: try to correct the behavior with a stare first, then confiscate the item when the stare doesn’t work. But I find that faculty members tend to be either the sort of professionals who routinely employ Approach One or Approach Two. Sometimes I am in the middle of using Approach One with a student when a colleague from another row will swoop in and implement Approach Two. This leaves me feeling like I am perceived to be “light on crime” when in fact I am trying to address the situation in a manner that seems the most useful for the student’s growth.

I wonder if readers have reflections to share on this situation.

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Week One Reflections

It’s six o’clock on Sunday evening, and I’m on duty in the Deans’ Office. With study hall coming up in 90 minutes, the boarding students who were off-campus for the weekend are trickling in, and the center of campus is quiet as most students are at dinner. This week has been a blur, so I thought I’d pause and try to process it a little bit.

My Friday night open mic concept went well. I’m trying to run a 30 minute music-plus-announcements kick-off to the weekend every Friday night in our Dining Hall, and the first one was a relative success. Five terrific student musicians performed, I made some announcements, and the room was packed. Not all of the students in the audience were as quiet and respectful of the performers as I would like, so I need to think about how to shape the environment a little more to encourage people to listen. It might be as simple as dimming the lights and putting a spot on the performer. The first part is easy; the second part . . . I don’t know. Either way, I’ll run this event again this Friday, and I want to quickly turn the management of it over to the students themselves.

Another thing I wanted to try as a new dean this fall was to stand at the circle where parents drop off their kids each morning. I’m posting myself there from 7:30 – 8:00am, and it has been a hoot. It is helping me learn the names of some new students, and I’m maintaining connections to students whom I taught last year. I can problem-solve for students and parents on the spot, and I’m discovering who has a learner’s permit. The kids seem to think that I’m standing there to intercept a student who is in disciplinary trouble, but nope, I’m just trying to be welcoming.

Seeking approval for my team’s Adaptability Project proposal is another item on the front burner for me this fall. When we made our presentation to the faculty, we handed out “I like . . . / “I wonder . . .” cards to solicit feedback. Having read the cards this weekend, it is clear that my colleagues have no problem with the proposal to hire an academic technology coordinator, but that’s the least challenging piece of the larger proposal. (And we are always happy to spend money that isn’t ours, right?) The other pieces of the proposal met with mixed reactions; some very positive, some quite negative. All of the comments were respectful, however, which I appreciate, and the snark was restrained. The backs of those cards asked teachers to write down an example of blended learning that they have done in the past with their classes. Some people left this blank, but most teachers wrote down something. The majority of the examples strike me as “technology-rich” classroom techniques, not actual blended learning. After we share the results of the cards with the faculty, I’d like to write them all an email to reintroduce them to the SAMR concept which I presented to them in February 2014. (Alas, it doesn’t seem to have taken root.)

In terms of my own reaction to my new role, I am starting to get my sea legs. I have much less free time during the school day (none, really), but when I finally leave the office, I’m pretty much done. On past Sunday nights when I’ve been on duty in the Deans’ Office, I’ve had grading and planning to do that was hanging over me ominously. Tonight, I have nothing to worry about other than doing my dean work well. I’m on duty next weekend, so the next eight days are going to be exhausting, but once I get past that, I’ll have a decent stretch of time in which I can get into a good rhythm. I need to learn all of my new duties and areas of supervision very quickly, master them, and then concoct a plan to hand them off to other people while I’m on paternity leave. The fall is going to fly by, I am sure.

Start of the School Year, Goals, Etc.

I remember reading the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson when I was in college, and I was stunned that Snorri’s version of the Norse myths includes activities after Ragnarok. Isn’t Ragnarok supposed to be the end of the world?

This school year feels a little post-Ragnarok-y to me. Some dear colleagues are gone now, and I’m adrift without these pole stars to keep my ship (a Viking longship?) pointed in the right direction. Nonetheless, I’m a believer in creative destruction, and now it’s up to the rest of us to rebuild our world. I guess that’s my mission this year.

This is my seventeenth year as an educator, but my first as a full-time administrator with no classroom duties at all. Add to that the impending birth of my first child, and you can understand why I’m somewhat out of sorts. I tell everyone that I’m a permanent beta guy, so this is my opportunity to live it. I was hoping to get my goals posted here before the school year began, but things have been so hectic that my blog will have to take what it can get: the evening of the second day of school.

Goals for School Year 2015-16

  1. Establish an efficient routine for myself in the Deans’ Office that will maintain my reputation as a colleague who gets things done.
  2. Support our interim Dean of Students wholeheartedly and good-naturedly.
  3. Use my influence as “minor discipline czar” to show students compassion and help them be their best selves.
  4. Use my paternity leave to truly unplug from work and build my new family.

That last goal is the scary one. A lot of men feel that there is a stigma around paternity leave, and they worry that taking one will derail their career. I’m very blessed to be in a good position to take a paternity leave, and my employer’s policy will enable me to do it, but I’m very unused to taking time off during the school year. This article in the NYTimes over the summer is a great primer on the topic. It cites a study that shows that men who take paternity leave lessen the number of sick days that their female partners need to take after they return from their maternity leaves. Interesting.

I’ve got other things that I need to do this year, too. I’m still a member of my Adaptability Project team, and we are going to continue to meet this year. We presented our “Technology Renaissance” proposal to the full faculty last week. We have feedback cards to collate and process, and then we need to formulate a road-map to get this proposal approved. My paternity leave means that I won’t be able to present at NAIS with the other Adaptability Project folks, and that’s a disappointment. I’d love to be there to support my colleagues (and run the Twitter backchannel), but having a baby is clearly priority number one.

The pace in the Deans’ Office over the last week has been positively frantic. In truth, I’m energized by that, but it isn’t infinitely sustainable. I have long-term projects that I want to steward, and I won’t get anywhere if I’m always reacting to what’s walking through the door. I actually read a book about workplace productivity over the summer to prep myself for this (Work Simply by Carson Tate), but I’m still getting knocked off my game over and over again. I need to find some serenity. (Good thing that I’m still an academic advisor, so I attend Meeting For Worship here at GS.)

I look forward to finding new ways to use my blog this year to reflect on my work. I apologize in advance if I transform into a predictable daddy blogger in November.