I have a Dream: Graduating more Men of Color

There is an oft repeated statement that there are more black men in prison than in college. While this claim has been debunked, it highlights a fundamental problem in the education of young American men of color (MOC). Not enough men of color start or finish college—the statistics make the scope of the problem clear  We lose them because they don’t start and fail to keep them enrolled.

Unfortunately, the trends we see at the national level are echoed here at GCC. The men of color on our campus may be facing some unique challenges that are not seen in the rest of the student population. Perhaps the larger concern is being able to provide culturally responsive educational opportunities to all students.

The axiom that we need to think globally and act locally could not be more apt. We need to be the change we want to see in our community—it start here…in our classrooms, in our offices and in our outreach to men of color and students who do not identify with the predominant culture. Look at the resources available on Culturally Responsive Teaching.

Culturally Responsive Teaching methods can help us create:

The classroom is not the only place to make changes. GCC staff are in a prime position to make students feel welcome and part of our college community in our work in every office on campus. In office such as admissions, advising and financial aid, the first impression we give students tends to be lasting. We must encourage all students, show them they belong here and that they will be supported on their educational path. The library, cafeteria and bookstore are also areas where we work closely with students to ensure their educational success.

Nationally, we are making progress on issues of diversity on our campuses but there are still miles to go.



Great Student Expectations: A Guide for Faculty

Students come to courses with certain baseline expectations of faculty. Chief among these according to Blue Ridge Community College are:

  • Providing opportunities to learn
  • Acting with professionalism
  • Grading fairly and returning work promptly
  • Being accessible to students
  • Communicating in a timely and professional manner

At the community college level, we must also be respectful of students’ time, resources and life outside of the college. This balancing act is a challenge for many instructors who struggle to cover material and meet course competencies while keeping workload and time commitment manageable for students. This is a lot to juggle!

Student expectations are expanding in ways that go beyond traditional teaching, advising and college staff roles. Faculty are expected to be classroom referees, counselors and hand-holders. Advisors are expected to solve problems that reside outside the college environment.

Students may expect special treatment around due dates, grading, attendance, etc. What was once termed “timely communication” may now mean an immediate response regarding grading, emails and phone conversations. Students may make appointments to meet outside of office hours and then not show up. These annoyances may be par for the course, but they can absorb instructor time, erode enthusiasm and create a student culture that distracts from teaching.

While we forced to navigate complex issues when they arise, part of the solution may be in prevention. This starts on day one of the course with a carefully written syllabus and an explanation of what students can expect of the instructor.

The syllabus should include information about:

  • Course policies reading class work, attendance and late submissions
  • The instructor’s expectations of students
  • What the student can expect of the faculty, such as fairness in grading, office hours, communication preferences

When situations arise, it is much easier to go back to the syllabus and remind students of the rules of the class and the role of faculty and students. To be most effective:

  1. Be consistent in enforcement of rules
  2. Include class policies in the explain policies to students if they are uncertain what you intend
  3. Grade blindly
  4. Include communication preferences and guidelines in the syllabus and your general response time
  5. Communicate clearly and keep copies of emails
  6. Never react in anger and frustration

Sandy Chapman at Colorado State University recognizes that each semester there is often a student who crosses the invisible boundary in ways that can hinder learning, monopolize faculty time and energy, and create drama. Look at her helpful advice for staying on point and sane.  Strategies for Setting Student/Instructor Boundaries

Learn more about Email Boundaries and expectations from Nate Kreuter.

The article Connecting with Students While Maintaining Ethical Boundaries unpacks “professionalism” in a world of social media, power dynamics and much more.

The article Faculty Focus, Students Place a Premium on Faculty Who Show They Care, discusses the value of limits and carefully set boundaries.

Resources at the T & L site for:






Embrace Civility in the Classroom

Teaching is a demanding task. Challenges arise at every turn, which makes it an engaging and dynamic occupation. In addition to worrying about content and learning in our classrooms, we also need to be concerned with classroom dynamics and the erosion of civility. When it comes to promoting classroom etiquette and respect, instructors need to lead by example, set expectations and take action when needed. It starts with us and ends with us–so let’s see how to make a difference.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ~Dalai Lama

More and more instructors are being called on to promote civility and classroom etiquette. Schroeder and Robertson’s article, Civility in the College Classroom, provides a glimpse into the problem of hostility, disrespect and aggression that is occurring in classrooms across the nation.  It is not a reflection of the instructor, the course or students in general. Remember this problem is coming into our classrooms and college campuses from the outside world. Without interventions, the problem can easily get out of hand. While there are often college-level policies and procedures to help, the role of the instructor cannot be understated. Here are some steps that can communicate expectations for student conduct:

Promoting Respect and Civility in the Classroom from the Academy of Art University

  1. Lead by example and model the behaviors you want to see by responding to students in appropriate ways. This means acknowledging really good work and comments from students, encouraging and modeling honest and tactful communication, and letting students know when they have been inappropriate. If a teacher ignores inappropriate comments, students may think the teacher is condoning them, or doesn’t care about students.
  2. Plan, in advance, ways you will address issues of incivility. A timely response is important, and if you have thought the situation and response through, you will be able to respond more effectively. It is often helpful to come up with a hierarchy of responses to potential situations. For example, if a student is talking over you, first make eye contact, and then move near the student and pause, before speaking to him or her in private.
  3. Keep communication open. Make a point to greet your students by name as they come into class. Try to seize on other opportunities to personally connect with all of your students, giving each student equal attention and a sense of value.
  4. Foster unity and inclusion through pair work, group work, and “roundtable” discussion that promotes the mutually respectful sharing of ideas and responsibilities.
  5. Respect students’ privacy and dignity. Never post grades that display the students’ names—only ID numbers. Even when using ID numbers, rearrange the order in which students are listed so that it’s not easily recognizable to others.
  6. Respect students as individuals, taking into account a student’s learning style, strengths, back-ground, and demands on time. This can be done without compromising the high performance standards you have set.

Discussions in online classes require ground rules and clear expectations—make it part of your class in ways that are positive and unambiguous. In the article, Netiquette: Make it Part of Your Syllabus, Mintu-Wimsatt, Kernek and Lozada provide suggestions for the syllabus and wording of rules of engagement in online classes.

Netiquette – Often-Overlooked Policy from Rutger’s may help you craft your own netiquette policy to help prevent issues in online classes

How to communicate and participate in online classes 

University of Missouri: Show me Respect, The Civility Toolkit is chock-full of resources, ideas and commentary on the need for campus and classroom interventions. This clearinghouse of resources has something for every instructor.

Putting the Community in Community College

Learning and development is a social, collaborative activity.”Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

Many of us would agree that students learn best when they interact with others in a supportive environment. This is true for traditional classrooms and virtual classrooms, in offices and in casual settings. We can influence these interactions in how we craft the learning environment, how we talk and how we work with students. The way in which we, as instructors, structure the classroom community can help to stimulate social interactions and create a safe place for students to learn. There is a critical need to support students through interactions that are accepting, nurturing and encouraging.

Here is a quick read about supportive classrooms to whet your appetite: Building a Nurturing and Supportive Environment for All Students by Matthew Lynch.

Spend some time at the site, Getting Results: A Professional Development Course for Community College Educators. This free-online course contains six modules covering topics such classroom community, adult learners in the classroom and student diversity. There are videos and ideas to try in your classroom.

The choices we make in the classroom have the potential to deeply impact students and their choices. Charles Blow talks about how his life was changed by one thoughtful professor in his New York Times piece entitled, In College, Nurturing Matters.

Some things you can do to set the mood in the first couple of weeks:

  • Play fun name games and ways to introduce students.
  • Notice and encourage groups or individual students who are contributing to class, taking risks, supporting one another, and demonstrating effort.
  • Survey students about their goals for the class, then share these goals anonymously with the class.
  • Create team-based activities or group activities that allow each student to have a vital role.
  • Use small groups or pairs learning so students can learn to work with each other and see the value in different perspectives and experiences.
  • Assign students to teach material throughout the semester.
  • Give students the opportunity to make choices on assignments and projects.
  • Include lecture notes or other materials on your Moodle course site each week.
  • Create practice quizzes that increase confidence in text taking and increase preparation.
  • Welcome students to class each day and ask about their lives!

The New Semester nearly here!

The beginning of the semester can be a busy time and questions often arise about teaching and college resources. This list of links and reminders is a starting point for your semester at GCC, but can also help you plan for important activities and deadlines.

♦ Prepare your syllabus.

♦ Print the GCC Academic Calendar with holidays, professional dates and student deadlines:  Consult the activities calendar for faculty and staff http://www.gcc.mass.edu/staff/#

♦ Check course materials with the bookstore to make sure they are correct.

♦ Use your GCC email for all correspondence to students and colleagues. Mobile access instructions.

♦ Verify the days and times of the class you are teaching along with the classroom using at MyGCC.

♦ Download your class roster for the first day of that class from MyGCC. Check back for roster updates until the end of add/drop. Contact any wait list students if there will be room in the class.

♦ Take student contact information such as daytime & evening phone and GCC & personal email can help you reach students outside of class. If you need to cancel class for any reason, use MyGCC to alert students.

♦ Confirm your roster within the first weeks of class through MyGCC. This is critical for financial aid.

♦ Get to know student resources at GCC:

♦ The Testing Center is available for make-up exams as well as testing needs for students with accommodations. More information.

♦ Complete Early Progress Reports for any students who are having difficulty in your class. This can be related to behavioral issues, low grades or attendance problems. More information about EPRs available here.

♦ Have students complete the course evaluations on or before the last day of class. It can be helpful to get evaluations finished before the last class to avoid stress and missed evaluations due to weather cancellations. Choose a student volunteer to help administer the evaluations and return them to the division office. For more about evaluations see the faculty handbook.

♦ Submit Final Grades. Please get your grades submitted on time using MyGCC.

Helpful links:

Please let us know what additional links and resources need to be added to the list. Email suggestions to sheldonl@gcc.mass.edu






In Praise of Encouragement

There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.

We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.

Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.

Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.

Here are some resources to get you started:




Stimulating Discussions

Let’s Discuss Class Discussions

Whether we teach online or in-person, we know the value that stimulating classroom discussions can have on student learning. It is an opportunity for students to practice concepts, get clarification and apply new ideas. Getting discussions started and maintaining momentum can be a challenge. We might also have a core group of students who are vocal and others who sit back and watch. Leading classroom discussions is a dynamic art–the challenges, tools and students are always changing.

Here are some common challenges faculty face in discussions with some helpful resources:

♦ Getting students off the stage:

We have to work constructively with these eager students who may intimidate others with their ideas and enthusiasm. We don’t want to shut he student down, but instead help channel their participation.

♦ Get students off the sidelines:

Students may be quiet in class for a variety of reasons–fear, lack of preparation, etc. Understanding the reason may help find an appropriate solution for moving the student forward.

♦ Writing useful and engaging discussion questions:

We might be able to have spontaneous discussions in class–especially for topics that engender passion. But, discussion questions which help students achieve course competencies can also be prepared in advance.

♦ A special note about online classes and the value of discussions:

Discussions take on a heightened level of importance in many online classes. Discussion activities can help students feel connected to their classmates and instructor. Students often report higher levels of engagement with the material and the course itself. Ultimately, these feelings may lead to greater motivation and course success. This short article from Jennifer Freeman at UT TeleCampus, Using Discussions in Online Courses: The Importance of Interactivity, gives online discussions their due and provides practical ideas instructors.



Working with Student Veterans: Moving toward Success!

It is not just military service that sets student veterans apart from their classmates. According to a 2013 American Council on Education report, they are often the first members of their family to attend college and are often about a decade older than other students. They tend to study harder and are driven to succeed, but feel less engaged and connected to campus life.

The good news in this study is that many veterans feel supported by their institutions. This support is found at every level—from the financial aid process and registration and the classroom. As faculty and staff, we need to find ways to ensure that veterans have the tools and skills they need to walk their educational path. But, there are challenges as you will read in this article from military.com.  Misconceptions about veterans abound, do a reality check at NEA Ten Things You Should Know about Working with Today’s Student Veterans.

Cultivating a sense of belonging on campus can be helpful. So, how might we get started?

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask if a student in interested in sharing his/her experiences rather than singling someone out in class discussions
  • If a student veteran seems to be struggling, talk with him or her
  • Know the resources that are available, this includes VetNet, but also the services that are available to all GCC students, both traditional and online
  • Remember that sometimes active duty students need flexibility with due dates—be accommodating when possible
  • Introduce them to organizations and activities on campus. Review tips for Getting Student Veterans off the Sidelines for some ideas
  • Capitalize on each veteran’s strength and determination to help reach educational goals

The VetNet resource center is a must-stop for veterans on campus—it is the place to get certified for educational benefits, meet other vets and find support for challenges. Advisors can learn how to meet the needs of this population from the NACADA: Advising Student Veterans.

Perhaps one of the best all around sites for learning about student veterans is the American Council on Education: Supporting Student Veterans. The articles and resources here are directed at all members of the educational community. You will find information on helping make the transition from soldier to student and much more.




Facing Mid-semester Doldrums with new Ideas

At the mid-semester point, we can start to see and feel fatigue setting in for both our students and ourselves. Finding that spark of creativity and enthusiasm can bring our classes to life and give us the energy to finish the semester as strong as we began. It can be as simple as new discussion starters, innovative ways to structure assignments or useful encouragement for students.

Working from the experience and practice of other faculty is often helpful. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte has compiled an impressive list of Best Practices in College Teaching that looks at the kinds of challenges we all face.

  • The Thoughtful Questions section is full of stimulating one-liners for those times when there is a lag in the discussion. These can also be used for critical thinking about course material and concepts.
  • Use the Rewarding Learner Participation section to help move discussions forward in ways that simple praise doesn’t often do.

This is just a fraction of what this link has to offer!

You are sure to find your own favorite new ideas to try. Our challenge to you is try one new idea during your next class. Write it into your lesson plan for the day. Then chose another and another….

Apply now to join Team GCC at the 2015 League for Innovation in the Community College Conference

The League for Innovation National Conference will be held this year March 8-11 in Boston. The conference website is located at the following link: http://www.league.org/innovations/. A review of previous conferences also accessible from this link will help give you an idea of the scope of this annual national conference focused on community colleges.

We have set aside a pool of college and STEM grant funds in order to support sending a team of 6 from GCC to this conference. We are now accepting applications from GCC employees interested in participating in this conference. Selected participants will be expected to participate in two follow up activities:

1) participate in a brown bag discussion in late April to share their experiences and information, and
2) facilitate a 1 hour workshop during the fall 2105 semester sharing how they have applied something learned from the conference.

Our budget will cover six participants; however we might be able to stretch that budget if participants are able to stay with family/friends in the Boston area, thus reducing hotel costs. Also, since we are using STEM funds to support this activity, we will need to include at least 2 STEM faculty on the GCC team. Applications will be reviewed by Pete Sennett, Sher Hruska and Judi Greene-Corvee.

Please complete the application form below. The deadline for submitting an application has been extended to January 22. The team selection will be announced soon after so that participants may plan accordingly for their time away from campus for the four days in March.

If you have questions, please contact Judi Greene-Corvee greene-corveej@gcc.mass.edu.