Friday, February 24, 2017

The Teaching Life

By Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean for Teaching & Learning at EvCC

“The teaching life is the life of the explorer, the creator, constructing the classroom for free exploration. It is about engagement. It takes courage. It is about ruthlessly excising what is flawed, what no longer fits, no matter how difficult it was to achieve. It is about recognizing teaching as a medium that can do some things exquisitely but cannot do everything.”

– Christa L. Walck, “A Teaching Life,” Journal of Management Education, November, 1997, p. 481

I recently came across this quote by Christa Walk and was so inspired by it that I wanted to share it with you. This quote brings together many of the ideas that I have been thinking about recently, including the fear many of us have about failing. I agree with Walck that teaching takes a lot of courage. Do you remember your first day in the classroom? I sure do. I even worried that I would mispronounce students’ names! Standing in front of a class of high school students can be a scary thing. Even today, after more than 2 decades of teaching, the first time I meet a class I get butterflies.

What has changed? You may recall a blog post from last September which includes this quote by Josh Stock: “We all have off days. It’s what you do afterwards that makes the difference.” I think I finally have the courage that we all strive for in our teaching practice. I recognize that not all my lessons are perfect. Have you heard the expression “perfect is the enemy of good?” This is usually attributed to Voltaire. Not only that, but I have realized that my ideas about how a (perfect) class will run when I walk into a classroom may in fact have to be thrown out the window because of an opportunity that comes up based on student questions or comments. Yes, this even happens in a math class! Does it take courage to do that? You bet! What if I don’t cover the material that my syllabus says I will cover that day? How will I recover from this interruption?

For a new teacher, these are constant worries. It’s only experience and time in the classroom (and a significant amount of mentoring and reflection) that have allowed me to relax a bit and recognize that any failure I experience in teaching is really a learning opportunity for me. So, can we agree that failure is not a bad thing? Remember Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

If you’d like to read more about courage in the classroom and in your professional live, a good book is “Courage to Teach” by Parker Palmer. It’s a great read. The focus of the book is on our inner selves. The author says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” Check with your professional development coordinator on campus to see if her or she has a copy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Would You Do Wednesday: Scenario 2

Each week we will bring you a short scenario to address issues that you, your colleagues and students might face. How would you respond to these scenarios? Would you file a report, or do something different? Talk to your colleagues about these situations - the classroom should be a safe learning environment for students AND instructors!


At the beginning of the quarter, one of the male students in your class is doing outstanding work. He completes his assignments and even helps other students when they are struggling. He is also very friendly and makes a point of asking you and other students in the class how their weekend was, whether they’ve been to activities on campus, and in general being very social.

At mid-quarter things change. First the student’s work begins to suffer; assignments are turned in late or not at all. He stops chatting with other students, and has become disruptive in your class. When you suggest a meeting in your office he refuses. This student becomes very aggressive and demanding in class. Other students have expressed discomfort with this student's behavior. This student’s behavior has started to not only worry you, but scare you as well! What do you do?

Post your comments below!

If you'd like someone from the 5 Star Consortium to follow up with you regarding this scenario, please email

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Would You Do Wednesday: Scenario 1

Each week we will bring you a short scenario to address issues that you, your colleagues and students might face. How would you respond to these scenarios? Would you file a report, or do something different? Talk to your colleagues about these situations - the classroom should be a safe learning environment for students AND instructors!


A female student who you had in class last quarter has just told you that she has been receiving unwanted and unwelcomed text messages and emails on Canvas of a sexual nature from a male student in her current class. She has told him to stop, but he is continuing and she is very uncomfortable. What would you do to help your former student? What should you say? Should you go to the current teacher? Or should you go directly to the male student? Ultimately will you go to the Dean? To Security?

Post your comments below!

If you'd like someone from the 5 Star Consortium to follow up with you regarding this scenario, please email

Monday, February 13, 2017

Evolution of My Syllabus

by Natasa Kesler, Director of the Teaching and Learning Academy at Cascadia College

A month or so ago, when our Deans suggested we organize a faculty workshop devoted to syllabus, my first thought was, “No one is coming to THAT!” My thinking quickly changed into an entrepreneurial, “How are we going to make that workshop attractive?” The preparation for the workshop made me think more deeply about my own syllabi over the years, and the story they told about my teaching. I soon determined there were three different stages of my syllabus evolution.

The first stage coincides with the beginning of my teaching career. As an inexperienced Biology instructor, I was grateful for those kind and generous colleagues who offered me their syllabi. Nothing sounded better than “Feel free to copy and paste anything you like!” That is exactly what I did - copied and pasted the whole thing, proudly remembering to insert my own name, email and phone number under “contact information." As a new instructor, my tendency was to worry not to “mess anything up” so I copy/pasted the offered syllabi and followed their lead.

Can you recollect the first syllabus you ever wrote? Did you have a better way of approaching your course materials when you were brand new to teaching?

As I continued teaching, these initial syllabi improved a bit each quarter; I added, subtracted, elaborated and corrected bits and pieces.

Once a tenure track faculty at Cascadia College, I entered my second stage of syllabus evolution. This time around I started from scratch and ended up with a syllabus that contained three parts: “must-haves”–  dictated by the institution, “could-haves” – generally recommended for the syllabus, and “junk”- stuff I believed I needed to make my syllabus stand out.

The “must-haves” are easily located at each institution. They range from course descriptions to syllabus learning agreements and usually contain very standardized language. I still copy/paste these.

Are you familiar with your school requirements regarding the syllabus?

The “could-haves” make up the majority of my syllabus and are the ones I spend considerable time creating. The most important parts of “could-haves” are probably:
  • What to expect in the classroom from your instructor
  • What your instructor expects from you
My promises and expectations change with different courses, student populations, and also change over time to reflect significant cultural trends, technology innovations, and so on...  What remains constant is my intent to make the list of promises to students very similar in length to the list of expectations I have from them.

Other examples that are definite “could-haves” are
  • Helpful tips and strategies
  • More detailed description of major assignments 
  • Grading policy and Course schedule
I find it advantageous to work out the detailed schedule for every class and lab session and to give elaborate and clear grading criteria.  Departing students often have to offer excellent syllabus improvement advice, making them an invaluable resources for keeping the “could-haves” section current.

What would you classify as “could-haves” in your syllabus? Do you have a strategy for changing /improving this section? Do you consider established best practices for syllabi?

You probably could not even imagine how cute, adorable, attractive, charming, simply irresistible (!) my early syllabi were! I had gorgeous figures and graphics depicting students, lab work, in addition to the most magnificent images of anatomical structures, dancing skeletons, Olympic athletes…did I mention it was all very colorful?!? I hoped that all of this fantastic imagery would evoke enthusiasm for my teaching and infuse excitement into traditionally very difficult subject.  Well, you can imagine my disappointment when I went to a workshop titled “How to make your syllabus accessible” and realized that my syllabus was 100% inaccessible! This is how I have come to the third stage of my syllabus evolution – the accessible syllabus!

For me, Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning is where most of the work remains, but changing my syllabus recently to make it more accessible has given me a good start, and prompted me to continue on this path of improvement.

Have you thought about issues of accessibility? Do you have a plan for making you syllabus/course accessible?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Reminder: 2nd Annual Disruptive Innovation Mentoring Conference

If you haven't already, check out what Everett Community College is planning with their annual Mentoring Conference!

The Conference will be held April 7, 2017. Details can be found at the above link.

Don't forget; Session Proposals are due next Monday, February 13th, 2017!

Questions? Email

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why Do We Need a Mentor?

By Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean for Teaching & Learning at EvCC 

Many of you reading this post will know that the term mentor comes from the ancient Greek story of Mentor, a friend of Odysseus, who was asked to be in charge of his son Telemachus when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. It seems the definition has not changed much – defines a mentor as a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” Sounds just like what Odysseus was looking for regarding his son.
In my career I have had several mentors – both formal and informal, mentors who challenged me, motivated me, and encouraged me. The mentors that I have had over a long period of time have acted as a coach and in some cases a counselor. Today I want to say thank you to all those amazing people, to let them know that without them, my path would have been significantly different.

Here at Everett Community College, we want to highlight the work of all mentors. On April 7, 2017, we will be hosting our second annual Mentoring Conference. We believe that mentoring focuses on the future; the more successful our mentoring programs are, the more successful we will be as an institution.

Dr. Brandy Brown
This year our plenary speaker will be Dr. Brandy Brown from the University of Arizona South, a Hispanic-serving institution. Dr. Brown is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and assistant professor in Organizational Leadership. Through courses like Leadership in Diverse Environments and the undergraduate research lab that she co-created with Dr. Laura Lunsford, The Mentoring and Leadership Collaboratory, she demonstrates the value of mentoring as a tool to empower non-traditional and marginalized students and studies leadership education as well.

Presentation titles this year include: Reflective Practices in Mentor/Mentee Relationships, Engaging the Reluctant Mentee, Mentoring Inspired Supervision: A Model of Connected Experiential Learning, and many others.

Are you interested in learning more about our conference? Check out our webpage, and consider making a presentation on any of the mentoring themes for the conference. We hope to see you there!