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I am traveling this week to Barton College to consult with them about how to support student athletes. They will be adding a football team in the fall of 2019, so I am interested to learn about how they have planned for that and to offer them suggestions on how to support these students inside and outside the classroom.  Since I am traveling, I feel fortunate to have a guest post from blogger Sarah Fawcett on how students can keep the drive to learn alive. Thanks for reading and I'll be back next week with a post about my visit to the folks at Barton.

Gretchen

Keeping the Drive To Learn Alive by Sarah Fawcett

Finding the motivation to learn is one of the most challenging aspects of being a student. It’s easy to say that studying leads to academic success and is therefore essential, but there are days that even picking up reading materials is difficult. However, with the right mindset, anyone can keep the drive and motivation to learn alive.

(image: Unsplash)

Set goals

To cultivate the best mindset for studying, you should start with setting goals. Instead of aiming to be the class achiever, Teacher Magazine suggests that students should try to set personal bests, a type of goal setting where you try to surpass your own grades. There’s still the element of competition (you vs. you) that will inspire you to work harder. But at the same time, it minimizes the tendency of comparing yourself to others, which can be a source of pressure.

Manage your time wisely

One of the reasons students have such a hard time with school is that they can’t manage their time wisely. There are too many things to do outside of academics that you can get too engrossed in a particular activity, and lose the time to study and with it, the motivation. However, if you can stay disciplined to stick to your regular study schedule, you can learn how to pace yourself, finish faster, and have more time to devote to your extra-curricular activities.

Avoid procrastination

Procrastination is a student’s mortal enemy. Very Well Mind enumerates the major reasons behind academic procrastination which include overestimating the time you have left to complete assignments, and the motivation you can summon in the future. When the time does come for studying, the lessons may no longer be fresh in your mind and you will have to review the concepts. Plus, when time is limited, students often resort to a quick scan of their notes or tend to get sloppy with their projects.

Give yourself a reward

A reward system is one trick you can employ for self-motivation. The secret to maintaining the efficacy of this technique is incentivizing smaller goals. For instance, after each chapter that you read, you can eat a piece of chocolate. It’s essentially half of the operant conditioning theory in action, where positive behavior (i.e. studying) is reinforced through rewards.

Aside from self-motivation, it’s also important to recognize external factors that have a significant impact on students drive to learn. Maryville University explains that academic performance is influenced by your mental health, which can be affected by certain environments. Parents and peers can directly contribute to academic pressure which can have negative repercussions on a student’s mental health. In fact, NPR reported that one in five kids in the US have issues with their mental health, but the majority of them don’t get the help they need. This leads to several issues in school including "chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out".

The steps mentioned above can help students retain their motivation, but remember that teachers also have a vital role in this matter. One of the questions previously posed here on the Gretchen Kreahling McKay blog is about an educator's responsibility in stimulating a student’s curiosity.

To sum everything up, motivation is a combination of a student’s internal need to continue learning, and the proper support system or environment that fosters growth. Without the other, it will stall and learning will reach an impasse.

Especially written by Sarah Fawcett for gretchenkreahlingmckay.net

Today I read this column by James Lang in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The title of his piece is "What Will Students Remember From Your Class in 20 Years?" Lang recounts how he had this discussion with faculty from different disciplines. Almost no one said anything about specific course content, and yet many of us teach that content as if content is the end of the world. "Oh, I can't not cover "x" work of art in the survey course!"

What do you want your students to remember?

I have already thought about this and this is what I want them to know. I want them to know:

  • How art historians think what they think and know what they know;
  • Why art historians have different ideas about works of art and that works of art can have multiple interpretations;
  • How to talk and write about works of art;
  • How to visually analyze works of art so that propaganda and commercialized ads don't lead us to decisions we don't think about first;
  • How to read a critical piece of writing that has a thesis and to determine if that argument is proved

That is just the start. I also want them to remember that they did things in my class. That they were involved. I do not want to them to ever remember me telling them everything. I want them to remember the debate they had about whether or not the Elgin marbles should go back to Greece, or if the Second Crusade should be aimed at Edessa or Damascus, and what the future of art should be in Paris in 1889.

I believe that these goals are all incentivized by active learning. If I tell them all the things, then they are likely not to remember it next year, let alone in 20 years.  James Lang is a proponent of making small changes to teaching that allows for more student reflection and activity. That doesn't mean that I sometimes don't have to just tell them things, but it does mean that wherever possible, they are going to be actively engaged in observing an Egyptian work of art, or designing a new type of church for Justinian, or debating the role of artists in fighting fascism.

I probably won't know if I make the mark in 20 years. But I am pretty confident I am laying the foundation firmly for them to do so.

How did I get from professor, teaching art history, to a consultant, speaking about supporting student athletes? This fall in particular I have been looking back over the steps that got me here. I'm trying to figure out what it is that links them together. And I think I know what it is: curiosity.

I wanted to engage the five football players that I had in my class in Roman Art in the fall of 2015 after I saw them play in a home game. I was curious and wanted to know: what made them tick? What would engage them in my course material in the classroom? I did research, asked questions, took a few risks in the classroom and followed up a year later with them to assess what they learned and what had "stuck." That led to a conference presentation and a published chapter in a book on active learning. All because I was curious.

In the fall of 2016, I went to an away game of the football team in Gettysburg. I had a few more students in my classes and I wanted to see them play after winning at home the week before. So I went. And the next Monday, I was invited to be the faculty mentor to the team. I had no idea what that would entail, but I was curious. So, I said yes. And I had an eager and willing Head Coach, who said he'd figure it out with me.

That was two years ago. I have figured out some of it. What I have figured out so far has led to a book proposal about how faculty and institutions can support student athletes better. Student athletes make up about 40% of our study body, so finding ways to engage them and support them only makes financial sense, if no other reason (like simply wanting to support them because they are our students) comes to mind. And it has led to workshops on supporting student athletes, like my conversations at the Maine Maritime Academy this past March (2018). And later this fall I will consult with Barton College in Wilson, NC, where they plan to add a football team next year.

Most of all, I'm remaining curious. I think that the true mark of intelligence is to realize what you do not know and to be brave enough to ask questions to learn. Right now my curiosity centers around how *exactly* a game plan for the opponent is constructed. I know as I write this on a Sunday morning that the coaches are watching tape. I know from asking players that they will watch and analyze film throughout the week. I know that the game this past Saturday will be analyzed for what went well (shut-out!) and what did not (penalties!).

I hope that the coaches, the players, and the parents (yes, I'm coming at you next!) are ready for my questions. As the students (and coaches) likely know, I ask a lot of questions. As I told the students at one of their summer camp meetings, your curiosity has to be bigger than your fear of looking dumb. And my desire to know outweighs that fear, even if it might be there. So I will keep on asking questions, and keep being curious. Because there is so much more to know!

 

I have been teaching for over twenty years and higher education is under tremendous pressure and my college is experiencing this as well. I just started reading Jeffrey Selingo's book There is Life After College. I am doing this to try to understand the role of higher education in America now. It's very different than it was even a decade ago, and Selingo offers some context for that.

I have done a lot of reading because I want to provide the best education and experience for any student who comes across my doorway, either the doorway of my office or my classroom. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed at the different issues I must focus on. When I have a student  in my office, or when they come to my class, I am thinking of any number of things, like:

  • "It is my responsibility to teach this student and to be sure my course helps her on her way to graduation."
  • "I need to make sure this student understands and can communicate the skills he has learned in my class in any interview situation so that he can get the job."
  • "I need to retain this student because her continued attendance at my institution is important."
  • "I want to be sure that I engage these students so that they continue to want to learn and finish their degree."
  • "I want to be sure that this student doesn't end up a statistic of the millions who have some college, but no degree and student debt."

At times all of these thoughts can overwhelm and paralyze. And nearly all of those sentences should have an exclamation point after them, because each one seems pressing and necessary and URGENT. Sometimes I think I should just teach and NOT think about all of this. But is that really the extent of my job? Just teaching art history? I don't think so. I do think that my role at a small, liberal arts college is not just to teach. It's to help guide.

And yet, the more I read about our changing economy the more stressed I become for our students. The stakes are high. More and more it seems that the value that we place on individuals is really all about money. We do not hear about movies over the weekend that were good in a creative sense, just which ones made the most money at the box office. Everything is a value exchange.

I teach art history. How do I translate that so that my students can benefit from the skills that my discipline offers, while still helping them be successful in their eventual careers? How do I do that when art history is usually the degree that is maligned, as in a 2014 speech by then-President Obama (which you can read here). Or when it's mentioned in a podcast as a major that even students police among themselves: "Why are you majoring in Art History?!" according to William Deresiewicz in a recent episode of the Unmistakable Creative podcast (you can read about/listen to it here).

My institution is wrestling with the big question of the role of our college in society, what we teach and our mission. We are a private, liberal arts college and I know we help students. I know we're important. Yet, so much is changing around us. I believe strongly in the core of the liberal arts and want my students to be successful. Ultimately that is why I am mentoring students that happen to be on the football team, because I see such potential in them, and yet also a reticence among some of them to be disciplined enough in academics to have it help them launch a career.

I'd love to hear from my former students about how their experiences launched them - or did not. What would you do differently? What do you wish your alma mater did differently?

And today, I'll decide how best to teach tomorrow, and I'll also be planning mentoring meetings this week with students. That work must carry on.

This Saturday the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team had their home opener. In the rain. In the pouring rain. As in I don't think it stopped raining for one play. I admit that I took shelter, thanks to my colleagues, in our Skybox. One of my colleagues was kind enough to give me a guest pass; I think she felt sorry for me, seeing me shivering in my wet clothes.

It was also the first loss of the season. As the mentor to the team, I talk with the students, get to know them, help them craft dreams and goals, teach them in classes. I love doing all of that. But it also makes it much harder when they lose. And even worse to see them get hurt. There were at least three injuries that I saw this past Saturday and each was like a gut punch. I don't know how parents do it.

But once again I was reminded as I sat in the luxury of the dry warmth of the box seat (I feel like such a wuss) and watched them: they love the game so much. They play with SUCH heart. They simply never give up. Even in the relentless rain and a sputtering offense, the defense came up big, again and again. One of the players I have gotten to know very well over two years in my role on the team had a huge sack and made the highlight real of "Play of the Day," which you can see in a link here.  Look at that speed!

They make me a bigger fan every time I watch them. And not that I want them to do it, but I think it is when they lose that I gain even more respect for them. One of my thoughts as I watch them all standing on the sidelines is that they are so devoted to each other. When I think about the strife and conflict in our society right now, a lot of it over race, and then see a team that is very diverse link arms together at the start of every game, work together to achieve a goal, and not give up on each other ever, well, it just makes me think that maybe there is hope for the world after all.

I'll be back at out there next Saturday, win or lose, sun or rain. They've got one fan in their corner always.

Officially, we have been back one week at McDaniel College, where I am Professor of Art History and Faculty Mentor to the Green Terror Football Team. The first week is always pretty chaotic, and this one was the same!

I had a water leak in my office which soaked my carpet and ruined a bunch of papers on my desk. They are testing for mold and for air quality. One of my friends is on leave this semester and she is graciously letting me use her office in the meantime. I met with several returning students in my temporary office. I met my two introductory art history classes (although I was so flummoxed by the wet in my office that I forgot to actually introduce myself to the class!). I am also teaching a Writing course about writing for art and art history, and I met them and gave them a diagnostic test which I have been assessing this weekend.

And...the football team had their first win against Catholic University on Saturday. I was not able to travel to DC (a bit far from my house in PA), and thus "watched" on the livestream. I put "watch" in quotation marks because the video was awful and there was no sound! So, it was difficult to see what was happening. However, one of my students, John Chamberlin, one of the "original football Romans," had a huge game of 111 rushing yards. He thankfully wears green cleats so that I could see. This story about the game recaps many of the excellent plays and stats from Saturday's season opener. The home opener is Saturday at 1 PM against Moravian! Hope many faculty can come out and support the team.

This is a shorter than usual post, as it is Labor Day here in the US. I am blending some work and relaxation today before I am back in the classroom tomorrow. I am thinking today of how grateful I am to have work and to be able to complete a job that is satisfying but also challenging. I listened to a great podcast about work on Innovation Hub, which is a really good podcast with interesting interviews. You can check out that show here. Happy Labor Day to those of you in the US.

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It has been a roller coaster ride this past week, which was also my last week before the start of classes. It started with a fantastic gathering of former football players of McDaniel College. Nearly 30 alumni football players returned to The Hill to meet with current players and to talk to them about planning for their futures. Nearly every member of the current squad was there and I did not see a phone come out of a pocket or bag for the two hour event. Some stayed afterwards for another half an hour. Here are some scenes from the event:

        

The next day we had the first faculty meeting of the academic year, in which I was awarded a book award for the publication of Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89, my Reacting to the Past game that came out in March. But we also heard from our college president that this year we will collectively need to make some hard choices when it comes to programs to continue to support - and not. That makes everyone a bit on edge, but it's a necessary step for the institution to keep thriving.

At the end of the week I traveled to Schreiner Universityto address their Convocation for new students. I had a great time there in the Texas Hill Country. Having read the first year book, The Which Way Tree, by Elizabeth Crook, I got a feel for the ways in which the landscape affected the founding of the towns in that area. The convocation itself was fun, with a championship ring given to the Basketball shooting team for their first place win at their conference - I got to hear their fight song and see their mascot: the mountain lion.

I talked a lot in my address about being curious, and today my week starts with a phone call with an official from the NCAA about possibly participating on a panel at their annual conference in January. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be doing this, I would have scoffed. But my curiosity has led me here, mentoring a football team and learning lots from it. I'm sure that this journey will continue to have many ups and downs, but I'm excited to see where all of this leads me.

Good luck to all who have started, or are starting, their academic year!

It's been a busy few weeks, getting ready for the fall term to begin, so I have been a bit lax in getting my regular Monday posts out. I'm "faking" it a bit today, in that I am linking to another story, rather than writing a full post, on an article about my mentoring of the football team that ran in The Chronicle of Higher Education this past week. Here is the story link.

This story hit three days before we held the first-ever McDaniel College Green Terror Football Alumni Networking Event. Our college's Office of Experience and Opportunity has been offering alumni networking events for departments for several years. One day, I thought, these programs are great - but what if we did this just for football players with all former football players coming back to talk about how football helped them, but also how the liberal arts education that they got here also helped them. I suggested the idea to the CEO. It was deemed a good idea. And last night, 140 or so current players met nearly 30 alumni of McDaniel College, who also played football.

And I think some magic happened.

Students who attended can better explain what happened than I could:

"Thank you for taking the time to put that idea together, you have no idea of the potential futures you could’ve shaped by bringing all these people together."

"I'd like to give a HUGE shout out to Gretchen McKay and the CEO Office for organizing the first ever McDaniel Football Alumni Networking social. We all appreciate the countless hours of hard work you put into our program!"

Here are some pictures from the event. I would do just about anything to help these students and to ensure their success. I expect a lot from each of them, but I hope they know I will give just as much back to them in return.

Aaron Slaughter addresses current players of the McDaniel College football team.
Current McDaniel football players listening - and asking questions - of alums of the team and college

 

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The first full week of August typically comes with the realization that summer is waning, syllabi must be written, and the school year will be here soon. That is where I find myself this muggy Monday morning as I write this.

Most years there is also excitement about the new year starting. I am always much more excited about the "new year" in August/September than in January. I guess this is because my entire life has been dictated by an academic calendar, both as a student in school for oh-so-many years and as a professor for over 20.

But this year I feel a lot of trepidation, nervousness, and even some anxiety. There have been a lot of structural changes at my institution. Higher Education is going through some very difficult times as an industry and needs to change in very fundamental ways (and, as an industry, really doesn't like to change very much). I find myself feeling like I am standing on shifting sands because of these tumultuous times. And I'm not even talking here about the political world in which we find ourselves.

While I am still working on some writing (and likely will be until my first class meets in person on August 28), I find myself more and more looking to reconnect with students. Doing so always helps to ground me. One texted me last night about changing his major, and could I help him figure out the best first class in that major to take. (That major is not in my department, by the way). Another asked to talk to me on the phone last week because he broke up with his girlfriend and had a new idea for a business venture and he wanted my opinion. The football team will report for camp this coming Saturday and a week from today I plan to see them on the practice field.

I hope that the return of the students will re-ground me in what is important in my life. While I do enjoy the luxury of the summer, even though I have been working hard every day on my writing projects, I do miss the students, who are very much the reason that I write, read, and ultimately, teach. Perhaps I will feel less anxious when the students arrive on campus, since they are the reason that we have a college at all.

For me, it truly is all about the students.

Today I am thinking about jobs. Even though my job is to educate, I want my students, after they are educated, to be able to find good jobs. This article talks about 7 critical skills for jobs of the future and was published last summer. I'd like to focus on this one: Curiosity and Imagination, which is #7 on this list.

I have written a whole post about curiosity and its importance for developing keen minds. It’s part of the liberal arts spirit. It is when students ask questions about topics that I had not considered or when they ask about things I do not know. I LOVE IT when that happens. That did happen at the end of the Roman Art class in spring 2017. In one particular class near to the end of the semester, they were asking me all kinds of questions and I didn’t know the answers. Finally, I said, “you all have those phones. Let’s get ‘em out and look it up!” They did and we talked about the sources they were reading from. It was a good exercise in assessing and analyzing information as well as a way for them to use technology, and it satisfied their curiosity on the spot. And it was kind of fun, too.

I think that most of my active learning situations have some aspect of imagination and creativity built into them. They role-play as advisors to an emperor, or they must think like architects to design a building that reflects theological ideas, or they try to sell art at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris to buyers who are not clearly identified at the culmination of my Art in Paris Reacting to the Past game.

I think the final part of the article on the 7 critical skills sums up well my approach  in the classroom and by advocating for active learning:

“There is a stark contrast between these seven survival skills of the future and the focus of education today. Instead of teaching students to answer questions, we should teach them to ask them. Instead of preparing them for college, we should prepare them for life. Beyond creating better employees, we must aim to create better leaders and innovators.  Doing so will not only radically transform the future of education and the workforce, it will also transform the world we live in.”

I simply love it when my students are curious enough to ask questions. I would love to find a way for that to happen more. The Roman Art class in the spring of 2017 indicates that they will tend to do that if they have had a whole semester of active learning in which they are engaged in the material in different ways. And I'm still thinking and planning!

 

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