Relationships and How to Build Them

The Write6x6 crew is giving great answers to this past week’s writing prompt:

  • get a coffee together and just chat
  • have lunch together
  • just listen to each other (to be kind, to learn, to understand)
  • reframe your purpose (or your intentions)
  • brainstorm together
  • go to happy hour (always a favorite!)
  • do what you can to be helpful

I have a couple things to add to that list. The first is… collaborate! Complete a little project of any kind together. Work related, or outside of work – collaborate on something you share in common. It helps almost any relationship to have a common goal. Working toward a common goal over time strengthens our bonds, and achieving a shared goal gives everyone the warm fuzzies.

And the last thing is: Show up. Take an interest. Attend a colleague’s public talk, birthday, award ceremony, launch event, or, ahem!, their workshop.  😀  Check in. Drop by to see how your colleague is doing. If you hear about an illness, new pet, accolade, etc., ask how things are going. Offer to take a walk or have lunch. Steal some little moments to show support and friendship. It goes a long way.

One final note: Write6x6 is relationship-building. Reading your posts, whether I had time to comment or not, I feel I know you all a bit better. Thank you so much, participants, for sharing your reflections over the last six weeks.

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Get to Know What You Don’t Know

Back when I taught computer graphics and web design courses, I would introduce my students to this concept by drawing quadrants on the whiteboard during the second week of class:

4 Quadrants: Unconscious Incompetent, Unconscious Competent, Conscious Incompetent, Conscious Competent

I was trying to introduce them to the idea that sometimes you aren’t aware when you don’t know something. And that in class they should work to become aware of what they don’t know (conscious of incompetence), and then practice until they became skilled at something previously unknown (conscious & competent).

One student’s explanation of unconscious incompetence: “When you didn’t even know something was a thing.”

When I am in a situation I find difficult, if I’m honest, there is usually something I don’t know, and it’s impacting my ability to skillfully handle the difficulty. I find it useful to try and identify what I’m unconscious of and see if it’s a skill I need to build. I’ve started thinking of the quadrants as a model of learning progression, starting with ignorance and ending with the mastery of a skill:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: You are unaware of the skill and your lack of proficiency
  2. Conscious Incompetence: You are aware of the skill and your lack of proficiency
  3. Consciously Competent: You are able to use that skill, but only with effort
  4. Unconsciously Competent: Performing the skill becomes automatic

Learning model illustration by Matt Kissick

If I can become aware of a skill that I lack, this model is the way out of a difficult situation, though often over time, since practice is usually required to become consciously competent. Still, it really helps in terms of moving forward. Maybe you can use it, too.

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Dreams of Improving Maricopa Teamwork

a team huddles for a sync-up

OK, they’re all standing, but you don’t have to. This is what a Sync-Up looks like.

When I first accepted my job as an Instructional Media Developer at GCC, I was coming from a web development environment that had embraced the idea of the Daily Stand-Up. Nothing did more to help me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself than those daily, lightning-fast meetings my team held to check in with one another. In my new role, I immediately missed this sense of working together toward a shared goal. I felt alone in a silo.

If I could bring anything from the outside world into the Maricopa Community Colleges, it would be a regular Sync-Up. (Literally standing up is difficult or impossible for some people, so I don’t want to call it a Stand-Up. And for some of our teams or committees, daily is too much.) But being truly accountable to and in sync with your coworkers is something I still miss from my last job.

So what is a Sync-Up? It’s a very short meeting, no more than 15 minutes. The people doing the work are the ones who speak, though interested parties might attend as observers. Each contributing person provides 3 pieces of information when it’s their turn to speak:

  1. What they’ve accomplished toward shared goals since the last Sync-Up
  2. What they commit to accomplishing between now and the next Sync-Up
  3. Any obstacles they foresee that could get in the way

When not speaking it’s everyone’s job to listen closely. Specifically, to listen for points of connection to your own work, and for areas where you may be able to help. If you can help remove someone else’s obstacle you let them know, and then you’ll both collaborate after the Sync-Up – you don’t derail the meeting discussing the solution while everyone waits.

This is not a status report. Each person considers the audience – the rest of their team – and makes sure they discuss accomplishments, plans, and obstacles in a way that is meaningful to their team. The purpose is to assure that each team member’s activity is aligned and progressing the team as a whole toward successful and timely completion of their goal. In my experience, it’s empowering to Sync-Up daily when a team is working together on a well-defined project. 

This is not a planning meeting where a team breaks down all the steps to complete a project. That type of planning meeting usually needs more than 15 minutes. But once you’ve laid out the tasks that need to be done to achieve a goal, regular Sync-Ups are magic for keeping your group energized and on task.

This is what regular Sync-Ups can accomplish (from Bill Hoberecht of Pinnacle Projects in his post The Daily Stand-Up Meeting – A Core Practice for Self-Organizing Teams):

  • An explicit reinforcement of the commitment by each team member to accomplish a goal
  • A means of dynamically adjusting the work by each team member to accomplish the goal
  • A daily synchronization between team members, informing team mates of work activities, progress and issues
  • A method of cross-checking progress with team mates
  • An accountability mechanism that has each team member accountable to other team members for their responsibilities
  • A visible demonstration of the ability of the team to self-manage their project responsibilities

The main benefit I experienced from the Sync-Up meeting style was confidence. I was confident I knew what was going on with my team and our shared goals. I was certain what I should be doing next. I knew who could and would help me out of a jam. I knew how my efforts fit into the whole. I was positive my workgroup would succeed, and I usually knew exactly when we’d achieve our goal. I knew my work was valued. I knew what my teammates needed and how I could help. 

I miss feeling this way every week and hope to find ways of recapturing this sense of shared purpose within my GCC community of collaborators. 

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Video Investigations as Assessment

Photo by Cheryl Colan

Sian (left) and Merry (right) at SCC Tech Talks 2017

On January 27, I attended TechTalks at SCC and watched Geology faculty Sian Proctor and Merry Wilson present their talk Video Investigations: Students Presenting Their Understanding of Our World. From their abstract (scroll down the linked page a bit to read it in full):

Video investigations are a unique way of having students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of complex topics and establish accountability in an online learning environment.

 I love this idea for assessment in an online class. Merry assigns 4 video investigations per semester, while Sian assigns them weekly. Their students:

  • receive specific guidelines for each assigned video investigation
  • see an example video made by the instructor
  • get a link to the free Screencast-O-Matic.com
  • do not need to be given instructions on how to make a screencast – they figure it out on their own
  • create 1- to 5-minute videos to show knowledge, demonstrate mastery or reflect on course topics
  • embed their videos into Canvas Discussions to share with the rest of their class

Photo of presentation slide on the Design of Video Investigations

Sian and Merry had some goals in mind when they designed the video investigation assignment. One goal was having a way to be sure the students were actually the ones submitting the work in an online environment. A video submission goes beyond plagiarism detection via Turnitin, because you are hearing the student’s own voice, and possibly even seeing the student via webcam. Another goal was to cut down on grading time. You can grade a 5-minute video in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how much feedback you write per student. Other goals included increasing student engagement and learning retention.

Being top-notch scientists, Sian and Merry gathered data about their students before and after introducing video investigations into the courses they teach. If my memory is accurate, they found students tend to report they enjoyed the topics where video investigations were assigned more than the topics that did not involve a video investigation. Students also felt more of a sense of community, because they saw and heard each others’ faces and voices as they shared their videos. The process of creating video also built up the students’ information literacy skills over the course of the semester.

Photo of presentation slide on Engagement and Literacy

I’ve used video in the classroom as a student and as an adjunct, and I can confirm that having students produce short videos is an excellent learning and engagement tool. If you would like to learn more, reach out to Sian and Merry, or contact me in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement for more information.

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Choosing Your Side – Everyday

Never give up. Never surrender.

Still behind on Write 6×6 posts, but not giving up.

People this past week have been writing about kindness, and the opportunity to be vulnerable, as it relates to their work in teaching and learning. Ann Riley wrote about noticing the connection between kindness and vulnerability and challenged us to be the first make eye contact and to say hello as we walk around campus. That’s a challenge I issued to myself at the start of the semester this year. 

Often when I smile and say hello to someone I don’t know, I am ignored. And that’s ok. It doesn’t feel great, but I know that I tried and will try again.

Just as often, I receive a silent smile back, or maybe a returned “hello” or “good morning.” That’s nice and makes me smile.

But I feel like the real opportunities are when I see something I can do. When I ask someone with a confused expression if I can help, and I end up spending five minutes walking them to the right building and finding out someone’s name or what they’re here to study. Or when I open a door for someone loaded down with books, and see that they look surprised and grateful.

A lot of students tend to open doors for me, and I always express my gratitude. But I am really enjoying when I find a true opportunity to be on a stranger’s side. I feel like I have to be very observant and alert in order to make it happen. 

So far this semester, instead of just helping students find the room they say they’re looking for, I’ve made sure several of them know how to search the GCC website to find their teachers’ office location and office hours. I taught one student how to read the campus map. I helped a Muslim woman locate a few private options for one of her daily prayers. I made time to get to know an older gentleman who I see regularly on campus. 

I’m feeling that so much of the time, it’s easy to focus on my own immediate goal, where I’m going, what I need to do next. But it’s so much more rewarding to observe the people in close proximity and look for opportunities to be on their side for a few minutes. And this is a daily choice. Whether I’ll be on my side only, or let go of what I need at a certain moment to make sure I’m on their side when they could use a hand. Focusing only on myself makes me feel like a drone. Being on their side makes me feel like a human being.

 

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