Safety: Do you have a plan?

Practical ProfessorsYou walk into the classroom one day and there is a student under a desk clenching his backpack. What do you do? How do you handle the situation? How do you ensure the safety of other students in the room while addressing this situation?  Similar scenarios have been in training seminars at campuses across the country. I’ve thought about this scenario. Have you?

Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you teach at institutions where students would never engage in this type of behavior  or maybe you’ve told yourself that dangerous situations, like a school shooting, don’t happen where you teach.

This week, I finished reading Think No Evil, a book that summarizes the events of the Amish school shooting in 2006. I am 100% sure that the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA were convinced that school shootings would not impact their lives. However, a school shooter entered a small, one room school house and shot 10 girls before killing himself.

Tragic events like this can happen! To you, to me, to any of us! So what’s your plan?

My Department or School Hasn’t Trained Me

I have talked to faculty across the nation, both full time and adjunct, who have report that their college or university has not developed an official plan or have not formally communicated the plan for an active shooter or threat to campus. Every person I’ve ever talked to finds this problematic and a major concern. I agree! In fact, I think every department and school should take the time to discuss this issue. We are well-educated and capable people, who care about our own safety and our students’ safety. So don’t wait for your campus, if they have not release an official plan, develop one for yourself!

In some cases, training may be a one time push, so ask your department chair or human resources department if there is an official policy or training program offered. If there is then take advantage of it, because it can be a wonderful learning opportunity. If there is not a program and you are passionate about this topic, you can ask your human resources department if there is an opportunity to collaborate to create a safety plan for the campus as well as a training opportunity for those who work on the campus. Students should also be informed and taught what they should do.

Make a Plan

Planning for the Unexpected_ Safety PlanningOne day over lunch, a colleague and I discussed our plans, how we would help to increase student safety in the event of an emergency on campus, where we would meet, etc. If you haven’t had this conversation yet…you need to! Even if you only teach one class, you should know what you would do in case of an emergency. If it’s not a life-threatening emergency you should have an idea of how you might handle the situation. There are several websites that can help you think about the steps you might take! Before writing this post I Googled “plan for active shooter” and there are a lot of helpful websites including the Department of Homeland Security. Google this for yourself and consider your campus layout. Where can you and your students go?

It is important to consider a variety of situations that you may encounter. There may be a fire. You may have a student who is threatening to harm him/herself. You may have a hostile student in your classroom that does not have a weapon but is being a disruption. You may have a student who threatens you, due to a grade he/she received. Or The student in the example above may be suffering from mental illness or he may be protecting an illegal substance, or hiding a gun or another weapon. Preparation is the key. Just like you would not enter the classroom unprepared to teach, you should not enter the classroom unprepared to deal with situations that may arise.

Emergency Contact NumbersPlanning for the Unexpected_ Safety Planning-2

Before the semester begins, obtain phone numbers for public safety as well as the counseling center. Store these numbers in your cell phone so that they are easy to access if an emergency occurs. You may find that you never need to use them, but in the event you do, it is better to be prepared.

Mandated Reporter

If you are concerned about a student, how can you go about reporting the concern? Who do you report them to? What is the protocol on your campus?

You are a mandated reporter. If a student appears to be in distress, report! If a student shares information with you that you find concerning, report! If a student threatens to harm him/herself, report! If a student threatens to harm someone else, report! It is better to err on the side of caution. A student’s safety is your top priority; therefore, nothing should prevent you from reporting concerning behavior. In order to report, you must know who to report to and how to go about doing so. Therefore, it is important to ask how to file this type of concern. You may ask a faculty mentor, an administrator, or contact the health center or counseling center to find out.

Preparation is the Key!

So, again I ask, what would you do if face with the scenario above? Would you leave student inside while you left the classroom to call for help? Would you try to evacuate the other students? Would you just simply leave…every man/woman for themselves?

Making a plan prior to an incident allows you to think more critically about how you would handle the situation. Most likely, you will be highly impacted by the stressfulness of the situation. This may impair your ability to think clearly which is obviously necessary in this type of situation. The way that  you respond will make all the difference. So develop your plan now!

When I started teaching, family and friends asked me if I was afraid. I had no idea what they were talking about! But from their perspectives, teaching had become a field where faculty, students, and staff could be at risk of attack. I rarely think about what could happen, but I do have a personal plan, in addition to the plan offered by my university. So I encourage you to think about and talk about what you would do! Ask other faculty and staff that you know if they have a plan. Talk to people outside of higher education, who have experience in these situations. They are trained to think about these scenarios and may have some sound advice to provide. Or conduct your own research to learn more.

Practical “Mom” Tips for Remaining Sane During the Hectic School Year

Technology Failure....Now What?-3It’s Sunday morning, I get up bright and early and start my day with a cup of coffee, before I sit down in front of my computer to check-in to my classes or do a bit of planning before my little humans stir. I am a morning person. I love the quiet peacefulness of the mornings. I like to begin my day by getting some school work done so that I can focus the remainder of the day on my family and planning for the week. I also know that I am the most productive in the morning. If I don’t take care of lesson planning, responding in the forums, and grading, I will most likely be too tired later in the day to check-in and get the work done.

After that I start mentally preparing myself for the day. You see, Sundays while they should be nice and relaxing, usually don’t end up that way around our house. They are pretty hectic!  It’s usually a race against time; my husband and I against the clock. We rush around trying to prepare our family for the week. After we go to church, we stop by the grocery store. Then we rush home to clean up the house,  wash, fold, and put away baskets full of laundry, meal prep and pack lunches, get backpacks ready, pick out outfits for the following day….does this sound familiar to anyone? The “To Do” list seemed never ending. Weekends were often totally exhausting! By Sunday night, my husband and I would collapse in bed physically and mentally exhausted. This was not a good way to begin the week, tired before we even began.

During the week, evenings can be a bit hectic as well. We have three children. They keep us busy! They all have homework and different activities in the evenings. Soccer practice, gymnastics, dance lessons, flag football practice, and piano lessons…just to name a few. This keeps us very busy, preparing on the weekend definitely helps to make the week run a bit smoother in our house. However, we knew that we needed to make some changes so that everything would run a bit more smoothly. This would allow for us to relax and recharge, as well as spend some time with our little ones!

Feeling Overwhelmed?So, how did we make things a bit easier for ourselves on the weekend as well as during the week? One of the first things we did was begin to brainstorm what we could remove from the weekend “To Do” list. We began by determining what was taking up the majority of our time. Cleaning the house was the first thing we both agreed was taking a lot of time. We also felt this was a lost cause – because as quickly as we cleaned the house – it seemed the kids were able to mess it up. When our kids were younger, the perfect solution was to hire a cleaning company. The company comes two times a month when we are not home. They can clean the house from top to bottom in about two hours. With the deep cleaning done, we just have to maintain until they return. Light vacuuming, wiping down counters, touching up bathrooms, and the dreaded WASH! A daily schedule helps us to keep up with the household chores during the week. This frees up several hours on the weekend and is definitely worth the money.

Decide exactly how much your time is worth. Have you considered hiring cleaners? I will tell you it is one of the best decisions we ever made, and I was very reluctant at first. My husband was onboard long before I was. I had to consider (and so do you)….could you be spending time with family and friends? Could you be spending time recharging and preparing for the week? Could you be doing something to earn money? What could you be doing if you weren’t cleaning the house?

One important thing that I try to do every weekend is prepare meals. We sit down and plan what we will be eating for the week. We also ask the kids what they would like for breakfast and lunch each day so that we can grocery shop and meal prep on Sundays. My husband does the majority of the cooking, because he’s a better cook than I am! But I try to do my part by helping with planning and meal prep. On Sundays, I can cut and wash vegetables. I can also make sure that all of the food that is necessary for preparing the meals for the week is in the refrigerator or pantry. By having all of the necessary ingredients for evening meals ready, we are guaranteed a home cooked meal without the hassle of having to make grocery store runs during the week when we are rushing home from work or an evening activity.

Start identifying things you can take off your plate. Are there things you can do to make the week run a bit more smoothly? To free up time on the weekend? What chores do you dread? What are some things that you can take off of your plate in order to help yourself to stay mentally and physically well? Share your tips with us. What do you do on the weekend or during the week to reduce stress and improve quality of home life? Share your tips with us! Comment below.

Technology Failure…Now what?

Technology Failure....Now What?You are ready to begin class and the computer won’t start. Or you are prepared to share a video but the sound system is not working. The video won’t load! The projector will not turn on! Now what? The first thought for many college instructors is to let the class go early. And while students may appreciate being let go early, that is not what they are paying for. Technology failures are bound to happen. It is important to plan ahead so that when a technology failure occurs, you are prepared to move forward with the daily lesson.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

It is imperative to store important numbers in your cell phone. This can make all the difference in being prepare to handle the situation and feeling empowered or wasting time trying to determine what to do, which may leave you feeling powerless. Ask your mentor who you should call if there is a technology failure. Save the phone number in your cell phone so you are prepared for a technology failure.

Alternative Activities

Have some activities prepared that students can work on. Have a question that they can write a response to independently, then they can pair up and share while you work to get things up and running.

Modify and Move On…

Consider ways that your lesson be modified so that you can carry on with the daily lesson ensuring students are exposed to the information. Below are three suggestions:Technology Failure....Now What?-2

  1. Have students review information from the textbook jotting down the main points. This can be done independently or in pairs/small groups. Students can share the information that they discovered within a small group or to the entire class. As students share points that they wrote down, you can expand upon what is being presented. Add missing information or provide additional details related to the topic presented. Share an example to help illustrate the topic.
  2. Load your powerpoint into the Learning Management System (LMS). Students can use their laptops to follow along with the lecture on their personal computers. Students who did not bring a laptop or tablet to class can pair up with a peer and share his/her computer.
  3. Use the white board to jot down main terms or topics. Student can take notes by jotting down the terms and summarizing information that you share verbally as you expand upon each term or topic.

Key Terms and Personal Examples

Identify some main terms/concepts. Have students identify examples to illustrate each term. Tip: Personal examples are the best because making things personally relevant helps to retain the information. Have the students share the examples in small groups and select the best example within their group to share with the class. One student could be voted to write the example on the board or to share the example verbally with the class.

There are so many things that can go wrong with technology. It is not a question of IF but rather WHEN. Be prepared!

The Big Picture: How & Where Does My Class Fit?

When I first started teaching I only thought about my class. I thought about what my students needed to know and what theories or skills they needed to master to do well on assignments specific to the course I was teaching. Years later as a program chair and a member of the general education committee, I realized how important it was to consider how the courses I taught fit into a students’ program of study and future vocation.

The Big PictureHowDoes Your Class Fit-

No matter what course you are teaching, it is important to remember that it is just a piece of the overall puzzle. It is part of a students’ program. Regardless of whether it is a general education course or a course specific to the major, every course should be created with the intention to prepare students for the workforce and life beyond college. What skills can you teach in addition to the course content that will serve this purpose?

Don’t Take It Personally

When teaching courses that are a part of the general education curriculum, it is easy to become discouraged. Students enrolled in these courses may be from a variety of different majors and may not share your passion for subject matter. For example, you may be teaching an economics course, which is slated as part of the general education curriculum, which means many of your students are pursuing different majors. In order to be effective and reach all of your students, consider using a variety of examples related to different industries. Also remember critical thinking and effective communication essential skills that should be promoted in every class across all majors.

Once, a pre-med student that told me my class was irrelevant to her field of study. She considered taking my class a waste of time. This comment could have upset me, but I decided to accept the challenge, and I intentionally began to share more real-world application that was cross discipline. Examples help students to see how general education curriculum applies in their personal and professional lives. At the end of the seamster, I received a beautifully written Christmas card thanking me and sharing how she believed the information she obtained in the course would help in her future role as a doctor.

Consider Degree Progression

If you are teaching a class in your major, it is essential that you prepare the them for courses they will take later in the degree progression. Looking at the course catalog can help you to gain an understanding of what courses your students took prior to your course and what they will likely take next. I have a wonderful colleague that really works with students to improve their writing and thinking; I can always tell when students have had his class. When I hear students have had his class, I am confident that they learned essential writing skills but also were presented essential information necessary to be successful in the course I am teaching. Be the instructor that has a positive reputation for genuinely teaching the course material and preparing students for success in their classes and as a future professional in the field.

Application, Application, Application!

I am terrible at math! And when I was a college student, I believed I would never use the math skills I was being taught. I realize math is important and there are countless applications of math. I only began to see the application for math when I took college algebra (for the second time) from an instructor who made real life applications. She made math relevant, and I began to see how it applied to my life. For the first time in my life, math made sense. wall street

Many of the skills and theories students learn while they are in college will inform their future either personally or professionally, even if it’s not a part of their major. For example, a public speaking course will teach students how to effectively communicate their ideas to an audience. While the applications of your discipline may seem obvious to you, it may not be as obvious to an adolescent. The relevance and application may be unclear; therefore, it is your responsibility to share the relevance and application. Discuss this often throughout the semester!

Teach Transferable Skills

It is also important to consider how assignments can include real world relevance and application.  For example, rather than requiring that students write a paper, perhaps you modify the delivery and have students create and deliver a presentation. Obtaining numerous skills including written as well as verbal communication skills are necessary across a variety of disciplines. In my experience, students like working on projects that have real world applications because they perceive these assignments as valuable to their future. It is important to remember that you are preparing students to be productive members of society. You are preparing them to be professionals in their field, but also well-rounded individuals whose skill set is diverse. Consider ways in which you can do that while teaching them the material specific to your class.


Photo Credit: Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash  &Photo by Rick Tap on Unsplash


Practical Tips for Creating Effective Announcements

Creating EffectiveAnnouncements can be extremely beneficial in an online classroom setting. They communicate weekly expectations, information that students need to be aware of, or even act as extensions of the syllabus. This is a way to share content that is pertinent to the course or the topics that will be covered in the upcoming week.

It is important to consider how you will use announcements and when you will use announcements. If they are used too often and the information is not meaningful or helpful, students will begin to overlook them or tune them out. I post announcements at other times during the duration of the class, but I do this mid week as this ensures that announcements are not being overlooked due to students being inundated with them. 

Weekly Announcement

Each week, I like to begin with a detailed announcements that highlights weekly expectations. I begin with a brief paragraph summarizing main points that will be covered during the week. I use course objectives to develop this introduction to the week. I let student know what we will be covering and what they can look forward to learning about. Then I add a section that describe how the student should prepare for the week. I include readings and resources that they will need to read and review to be prepared. I list this first in the announcement, because students need to complete the weekly readings before they begin participating in the weekly discussions or begin the assignment. Then I provide a section that lists assignments that need to be completed within the week. In this section, I include assignment requirements, tips for completing the assignment, and sometimes I mention resources that can be used to complete the assignment – these I attach at the bottom of the announcement. Finally, a section on the discussion forum requirements is posted. I am sure to include deadlines and necessary requirements to earn full credit in the forum for the week.

Discussion Forum Requirements: Posting an announcement that clearly states the requirements that must be met when engaging in the forums for the week. This includes when to post, what to post, how much to post, etc. Posting a clear announcement that outlines the requirements can help to reduce the number of questions that are asked. It can also be used as a reference when students ask questions or dispute a grade that is associated with the forums. I find that by clearly posting the participation requirements on the first day of class, students are informed, know the expectations, and are set up for success from the start.
Tip: You may consider asking students to read the announcement and respond. You can have them respond with “I understand” or you can direct them to ask clarifying questions so that you can address them in the beginning. This also helps to reduce confusion and ensures that students have seen and hopefully read the announcement.

Important Dates: Sharing important dates, such as days that class is not in session due to holidays can help to ensure that everyone is informed. This will reduce frustration if a student asks a question and does not get an immediate response. In addition, posting the class start date (prior to the class beginning), the course ending date (the week before class ends) or dates when assignments, such as papers that require a bit more planning or group projects that require collaboration are due, can help students with proper planning and time management.

Resources: An announcement can be used to direct students to resources that will help them complete assignments or be successful in the class. You may share information about tutoring services, the library, the writing center, or career services. It is important to consider which services student may find helpful as they progress through the course. Timing is important. Post the information within the week that the resource will be the most helpful.

Effective Announcement Include_If students do not look in the syllabus regularly, then they are still able to access information that they need to be successful. I also provide links to resources, websites, readings, tools, videos, etc. that will enhance their learning experience for the week. Remind can also help to reiterate information shared in the course syllabus and in the announcements.

Related Posts: Online Teaching TipsCreating and Using Grading Rubrics

7 Practical Tips for Providing Meaningful Feedback

Seven Essential Grading TipsGrading should not be a random act. Points should not be arbitrarily assigned or deducted from students’ papers. There must be an equitable way to add or deduct points from a paper. The expectations must be expressed in the assignment directions as well as in the grading rubric. This makes grading easier, because just as students need guidance, a road map, so to speak, so do we, the instructors grading the work.

Use a Grading Rubric

The grading rubric alerts the students and the instructor to the important points a paper should contain. This is where you should focus your attention when grading; it explain how to spend your time, and how to spend it wisely, when grading.

Not too little, not too much…

Too often, I see new instructors provide WAY too much feedback or just the opposite – no feedback at all. There must be a balance. Students need feedback. This helps them to identify why they received the grade they earned. It also gives them guidance for improving future work. However, too much red on a paper can be just as unhelpful as a paper returned without any feedback. Overwhelming! Confusing!

Be Intentional

It is unnecessary and unproductive, as well as time consuming, to correct every spelling, grammatical, conventional, and mechanical error on a student’s paper. Instead, it is more constructive to select on page of the paper (usually in the middle of the paper works best), and highlight errors. Then instruct students to look for similar errors in the remainder of the paper.

Work Smarter Not Harder

Because I tend to see the same mistakes over and over again when grading, I have generated lists of general comments that I use when grading papers. This helps to save time and ensures that every student is receiving quality feedback. If you are working with a graduate assistant or grading assistant, this also help to ensure consistency of feedback being provided.

In addition to general comments that relate to formatting, organization, and mechanics, I have several comments for each assignment that specifically relate to the content for the assignment. You can quickly develop these as you grade your first few papers. Or you can use the grading rubric and develop content specific comments. I like to use Excel to store my comments. I create a new tab for each assignment for a class as well as a tab for General Comments. You can add or revise comments, over time, just like you modify and revise lesson plans, activities, and assignments.

When it comes to formatting errors, general comments about errors relating to formatting can be generated. Consider comments that you might make on the title page, reference page, headings, or in-text citation and reference formatting as you generate the list. You may also create and save comments that you frequently use.

Set Clear Expectations

One way to reduce errors is to teach or review concepts, even if you think the students were previously taught the information. Reinforcement can help to clarify expectations and reduce errors that are made.

For example: It may be helpful to introduce and teach one specific skill related to formatting each week. Then you can focus feedback on the skills you introduced.  You might begin by teaching the correct formatting of a running head and page numbers. On the assignment, students should have this part of the paper properly formatted. If they do not, make comments and deduct points from the formatting section of the grading rubric. Throughout the semester, continue to instruct on different formatting components until students have been instructed on all formatting guidelines. They should have a perfectly formatted paper by the end of the semester. This also reduces the likelihood that students will complain they were never taught proper formatting.

Provide Quality Feedback

When you deduct points from a student’s paper, it is good practice to ensure a comment was also included to help the student make corrections to future assignments. The quality of the comment can make all the difference.

Example 1


You are missing a comma.


No Comma

Better: You are missing a comma. Here is a weblink to assist you in reviewing the rules of comma use:

Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when helping students make improvements. There are a lot of great resources on the web that you can provide to students. Purdue Owl is one of my favorites!

Example 2

Comment: Missing a thesis statement

Better: You are missing a thesis statement. The thesis statement guides your paper development by providing a purpose and main points that will be covered. Here is a link to help with thesis statement development:

Consider Using a Grading Tool

There are grading tools such as Type It In and Grademark to help make grading faster and more streamlined. Comments can be added into these programs to make grading more efficient. Your university may offer access to a program like this. It might be a good idea to ask other instructors to see if they use any of these programs.

7 Practical Tips for Providing Meaningful FeedbackGood feedback does not have to be time consuming. But it should be specific and provide feedback that guides corrections in future papers. You do not need to point out every error. The feedback provided and the grading rubric should complement each other and should provide students with a clear picture of why and how points were deducted.

3 Practical Tips for Creating Effective Visual Aids

3 Practical Tips for Creating Effective Visual AidsOne of our pet peeves is bad visual aids! When we go into a class and observe an instructor who is using a power point or Prezi that is comprised entirely of text, it makes us extremely sad! This is so disappointing, because it’s a missed opportunity to effectively present information to students. Visual aids present content, offer demonstration, enhance credibility, illustrate content with examples, and increase retention, but only if they are visual in nature.

The learning pyramid  is one theory that suggests audiovisuals, such as Powerpoints, assist with 20% of average student retention rates. However, this is only true if the visual aid is effectively created and presented. Instructors, who copy and paste large amount of text on powerpoint slides and then read the information to students, are not being effective. How does this differ from the information that a student could read from his/her textbook? The visual aid should add substance to the topic that the instruct is lecturing on.

jeremy-yap-160713So ask your self these very hard questions and be honest! Are your visual aids effective? Have you balanced text and pictures? Are you adequately using contrast to focus student’s attention?

You are the presenter! You are the content expert! You are the person bringing the information to life. Your visual aid should enhance your lecture not be a word for word transcription of what you’re going to say on a screen beside you. Below are some practical tips to improve your visual aid effectiveness.

1. No Sentences! Limit Text.

Picture, pictures and more pictures. Your visual aid should not include complete sentences. Students can read the textbook; therefore, the visual aid should not include information copied and pasted directly from the textbook. It should include key words or phrase that help stimulate your memory, so you can effectively explain and discuss concepts. By limiting your text, it also ensure that you won’t read your power points to your audience. This enhances your credibility and allows you to demonstrate your content expertise.

2. Personalize

Effective visual aids are also personalized. Publisher’s power points can be a wonderful starting point, but if you use them, you should personalize them to fit your style and the concepts being presented. Consider imbedding videos, inserting relevant pictures, and breaking up the lecture slides with some active learning activities that simulate thought or assess learning. Personalizing your visual aid can also help to streamline your lectures. For example, you can include the instructions for an activity at the exact point in lecture when you want students engaged, rather than searching YouTube or printing directions and handing out copies to every student.

3. Death By Power Point 

This is an amazing TED talk that changed the way we present information to students! Colleagues that we have shared this with find it extremely helpful, so we are SUPER excited to share it with you. David Phillips, the owner of and leading figure on making effective presentations, talks about how to create more effective and visually appealing presentations based on his book “How To Avoid Death By PowerPoint”. His TED talk will change your entire approach to creating visual aids! To summarize the main points, David Phillips suggests only presenting one message per slide, using contrast and size to direct focus, not using complete sentences on slides, using dark backgrounds, and never including more than six points per slide. You can watch the entire video on YouTube here:

The slide below demonstrates the type of balance that is ideal. Notice how this slide focuses on a singular message, has a limited amount of text and a photo that relates to the topic of the slide.