Category Archives: Uncategorized

Use Your Words

The poisonous pollination of college and university campuses by purveyors of hate speech can cause administrators angst. Determining how best to strike a balance between allowing the free flow of ideas while rejecting the racism inherent in the mere presence of such communicators is making the work of college administrators one of the most stressful jobs in the professions.

If we are not diligent about preserving the value of ongoing dialogue, in a very short period of time, we will become uncomfortable in our own skins questioning every gesture we see and deciphering every word we hear. Despite the skittish times in which we live and the temptation to try not to be seen or heard, we must heed the mother’s advice to her child: “Use Your Words.”

Lifting up the N of 1

I could barely manage to get out of bed this morning. I had lain awake thinking about recent surveys and polls about the waning confidence in higher education among some specific groups and possibly the public at large.

I remember in the mid-1990s when the discussions with heads of higher education associations were upbeat because there was so much public support for higher education. In these meetings, we viewed the positive public opinion about colleges and universities as leverage to use to persuade Congress and the Administration to increase funding levels for financial aid. In fact, there was a groundswell of support for the government to do more to help middle class families, in particular, afford to send their students to college. New technology companies demonstrated support by appealing to congressional leaders. Some even declared that making college more affordable was an issue of national defense.

Various reasons have been suggested as to why the people surveyed have negative opinions about colleges and universities. There is no question that college costs have put a college degree out of reach for some families. However, even at the same time that we were surfing on a tide of support for higher education in the mid-1990s, cost containment and the impact on tuition was a major topic of concern. Yet, there was still the belief that a college education was of critical importance and an American value. It is concerning that those of us who see the merits of higher education may be unable to have our voices heard above the din of naysayers.

I tossed and turned most of the night because I do not want to accept as fact that the gulf between those who demean higher education and those who value it may be unbridgeable at this time. So I searched for the common denominator for all who think about education, whether positively or negatively. That common denominator is the impact college has on students who attend.

Rather than relying on survey results of groups outside of college, students should be asked questions about what they think about their college experience. As I thought about surveying students, I reminded myself that the term “students” represents an exceptionally varied and diverse group, and looking at data from them in the aggregate may not be precise enough to be used to take any action. Then, I thought about disaggregating the data gleaned from surveys of students. How the data is disaggregated can also be an issue in interpreting the results. What to do?

Nof1

As my thoughts swirled during my restless night about polls, surveys, aggregated and disaggregated data, I recalled the denigration of the “anecdote” as evidence of anything as we search for accountability. I thought about how any research to be credible needed a large sample. Then I remembered a single student that I spoke with recently. I began to relax as I thought about my conversation with the student and the potential beauty of the N of 1.

The student I spoke with was struggling with a decision about whether or not to return to college in the fall. Having already made the financial commitment and selected courses, the student was twisted into a knot, virtually paralyzed because of how consequential the decision was about whether going to college was the best route to reach the desired goal.

Notwithstanding the financial obligations of borrowing money – during the first year and the debt that will be accumulated in subsequent years – the student just did not see the connection between a college education and reaching the dream. The student had many entries on a list of “cons” about not going to college, and only one on the list for “pros,” and that was that family expected that everyone who had an opportunity to go to college should go. Among the “cons” the student listed negative press about the costs of college, friends and acquaintances who had not attained the jobs they hoped for upon graduation, role models in the high-tech industry who never went to college or did not complete college, and the time and effort to complete the degree. I could understand the student’s dilemma. Making a step in any direction at this point in the process would make the student unhappy or the family unhappy.

Listening to the student and viewing the current context through the student’s lens; encouraging the student to share the desired dream; sharing relevant parts of my journey through higher education; helping the student envision multiple future scenarios with and without a college degree; sharing ideas about the joy of discovering knowledge that goes beyond training to do a specific kind of work; and sharing examples of how a college education could increase one’s competitive edge filled our time together. I told the student that a college education is a ticket to ride, and there are no limits to where a college graduate could travel.

Whether or not the student returns to college in the fall, I believe that our conversation could help unravel the knot that may be holding back a talented student from a bright future. We need not feel impotent in the midst of the swirling smoke of negativity about the value of higher education when we can give time to a student in need one at a time if necessary. Polls, surveys, data disaggregated. Collect the anecdotes and lift up the N of 1.

 

 

 

 

 

Story Corps

It is a rare gift to be able to share parts of one’s story prompted by a highly skillful interviewer. As a gift to me, my dear friend and colleague, Paulette Dalpes, interviewed me in the summer of 2014 at Story Corps in Chicago. In recognition of Black History Month, I am sharing segments from that interview here on my blog.

Identity

Great Grandfather

Didn’t Feel Loved

Coat and Penny Loafers

Faith

Piano Lessons

Role Models

ROTC

Eastern Illinois University

 Student Teaching

Students Have Stories

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My memoir – putting it off no longer

A confluence of events won’t let me put it off any longer.

In addition to everything else I am and do, I’m identifying myself as a memoirist since my retirement. It’s not that I use the term “memoirist” as an identifier, but as a way of answering when asked how I spend my time — I’m writing a memoir.

I’ve had writing my memoir on my agenda — or as some call it my “bucket list” — for many years. I’ve held it back as I would a favored dessert in order to savor it after a satisfying dinner — the dinner being my 51-year career in education.

It is significant to me that I’m using the possessive pronoun “my” in describing this memoir because until just a few days ago, I’ve called it “a” memoir, “the” memoir, “her” memoir, and “our” memoir. The “her” is my mother. What I’ve been writing is her story and mine. I am now compelled to own the memoir as mine and take responsibility for getting it done.

Getting it done has been the issue. It’s not that I can’t complete it. Over the past four years since retirement, I have kept writing my memoir on the back burner in order to respond to requests others make of me in order to complete their agendas. One of the events that occurred recently that is forcing me to move forward with the story is a conversation I had with a friend who is a successful published writer. As we talked about what I’m writing, I came to the conclusion or discovered for myself that I have not wrapped up the first part of what will be a trilogy because I don’t know what to do with it when it’s finished. My friend said matter-of-factly, “just finish it.”

The next event that pushed me to move forward was when I was shocked recently to read the title I’ve selected for my memoir as the title of someone else’s work. I love to listen to Mahalia Jackson sing old Negro spirituals, and one of my favorites is My Soul Looks Back and Wonders How I Got Over. I changed the words slightly for my title to say My Soul Looks Back in Wonder. I could not believe that another author had the exact same idea! My first thought was to change my title. My next thought was to get my memoir done.

My watershed moment was when I received an article from a friend about how difficult it is to get a literary agent. The article was discouraging to say the least, although I do not believe my friend meant for it to discourage me. Rather than worry about getting an agent, I took this as another indication that I needed to tell my mother’s and my story through my memoir sooner rather than later.

Although I’ve written the proposal for my book, I think that the media has changed so drastically that the traditional route to publishing may not be the best option to get the story out. I’m mulling over the idea of putting some parts of the story on my blog. I have faith that if I take this first step, I will know what the next steps should be.

Allowing one to be what he imagines himself to be…

We will celebrate our son’s birthday in a couple of days, and this occasion makes me have a moment of nostalgia about our relationship as mother and child.

I could tell you that the doctor kept telling me that I was not pregnant with him, despite the fact that I had missed my period for four months. According to this physician, if I were pregnant, the rabbit test would confirm it, and since the test did not confirm it, I was not pregnant.

I could tell you that he was born close to a month early, and it was a complicated delivery that caused him to be without oxygen for quite some time, according to the doctors. This led them to forewarn me that this child could experience some developmental or other problems. I’m grateful that their warning was not confirmed and he was a perfectly healthy baby.

I could tell you more about the pregnancy as mothers are wont to do, but what I want to tell you is that I have been in awe of this stealth child who fought hard and arrived unscathed to be the light of his mother’s life.

From the beginning, I consciously decided that because I loved him so much, I would have to fight not to allow my love to possess him. I decided that he would belong to the universe and that he was God’s child, and it was my privilege to have the role of mother in his life. Holding him close in my heart and seeing him as not belonging to me or any one person, I have always had adoration for this child that I have the privilege of calling “son.”

I have always respected him as his own entity, and I worked to play the role as parent with nuanced control, not holding the reins too tightly. Growing with him has been like performing a modern dance following the beat of a jazz composition and going with the flow. Rather than attempting to mold him into my conception of what he should be, I trustingly reinforced his unique nature and characteristics. When I think about it, it has not been so much “raising” him as allowing him to be what he imagines himself to be.

I’ve often said that he grew up like a cabbage because cabbages can grow just about anywhere. Though his dad and I did our best to provide the right conditions for his thriving, like cabbages “soil texture is not critical” for him. Because he is an only child, he was often treated as the third adult in the house, with some limitations, whose feelings and ideas were valued. I always wanted him to see the worth of his own efforts despite the opinion of others. Whenever he did something praiseworthy, rather than first telling him that I was proud of him, I would ask, “Aren’t you proud of yourself?”

With adoring, respectful love and not too much pressure from hands-on parenting in the traditional sense, I should not have been surprised at his response when he was asked by a third party what he thought had the most impact on his development as a man. He responded that his college fraternity was the most important influence on him in being who he is today. I’m also not surprised when he does not remember all the cute incidents I remember about his childhood because his childhood and adulthood, in some ways, have been seamless, in that he has enjoyed and continues to enjoy my unconditional love, devotion, and respect because I have always thought and continue to think that he is awesome.

Book Review: The Firebrand and the First Lady

Firebrand and the First LadyIn her book The Firebrand and the First Lady – Portrait of a Friendship, Patricia Bell-Scott successfully marries the kind of scholarship expected of an academic with the kind of accessibility that will make this book interesting to all readers.

I was especially eager to read this book because I’ve known Pat Bell-Scott for decades — since we were members in the National Association for Women in Education. She also is the editor of Life Notes: Personal Writings of Contemporary Black Women, in which I had the opportunity to contribute a chapter.  

As I read this book about the friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray, my admiration for Roosevelt deepened and Murray became my hero. The book revealed new details about Roosevelt’s courage and her fight for civil rights and social justice, and showed how Murray lived many lifetimes in her time with us. She showed us that the way may not be smooth, but it is our duty to keep pushing forward, to reach for the brass ring, and to challenge injustice wherever it occurs and from whomever it emanates.

This book is contemporary in that it plots the path from overt racial segregation to what our country is experiencing today around diversity and inclusion. Bell-Scott tells us that Murray’s “first fiery essay” was “Who Is to Blame for Disappearance of Gaines?”

Lloyd Lionel Gaines was am African American who was denied admittance to the University of Missouri School of Law. It was speculated that he may have been murdered as a result of the Supreme Court decision that supported his case that the University could not deny this highly qualified applicant admission based on his race.

Murray’s essay could well define the current climate in which students are demanding the elimination of what they see as structural racism. After 55 years, the University of Missouri School of Law granted Lloyd Gaines an honorary degree. Is it any wonder that generation after generation of African Americans say they can’t wait?

Bell-Scott is a role model without peer for academics and others who have a book in them that needs to be written. She worked on this book for 20 years and the results demonstrate the time, energy, and love she devoted to this work. Truly, it is more than a book. It is a spiritual acclamation of a cross-section of the lives of two women who were most distinct in their culture and context, yet had a similar strength of purpose based on their values of equity and justice.

Didn’t win the lottery? Here’s a jackpot for you…

I had fun asking colleagues and friends what they would do if they won the $1.6 billion lottery. While some said that they would show up to work the next day just to gloat, others said that they would take some time off to adjust to their new status of being wealthy and then return to work. Each person included some statement about their job.

turn the tide book coverIf you did not have the winning number, I have a prize for you and it’s better than a consolation prize. If you are employed, this prize can Turn the tide: and help you Rise above toxic, difficult situations in the work place.

This is the apt title of Kathy Obear’s new book, launching January 19. I think Obear’s book can help you have a happier life because you will have a guide to lead you through the minefields of “losing it” or feeling shut down and disrespected, whether in your professional or personal life. If you really want to change the way you respond to others when you are in an untenable situation, you will want to learn about the seven-step process in the “triggering event cycle.”

Learning about The Triggering Event Cycle will help readers understand that the impact of their negative over-reactions do not get erased after one blows off steam and moves on. Negative over-reactions can be the trigger or stimulus for more dysfunction in the workplace or in personal relationships in the future because we get into a cycle that will demand special effort to change course. The author’s suggestions about how to find the off-ramps are particularly helpful.

There is much to like and praise in this book. Vignettes of examples of the kinds of issues that arise in work situations makes the advice easily understood and remembered. The problems experienced by Kerry (fictional or pseudonym) at the beginning of the book are so extreme, just reading about her problems could make most of us realize that our own situation is not so bad after all.

The encouragement the author gives from the beginning is comforting and puts the reader in a relaxed and receptive mood to learn. I also like that there is a guide to how to use this book. If one needs advice right away, there is a chapter for what might be “first-aid,” and then there is the sound advice of reading the entire book and doing the exercises. With this much in the opening, I was eager to get started! And, I kid you not when I tell you that I read the book straight through, beginning to end, because it captured my interest and became my priority.

In reading the book, the author’s voice in sharing her personal experiences makes the reader feel as if there is one-on-one coaching and the author really understands what I, the reader, am experiencing because she has experienced something similar or has worked with others who experienced similar reactions.

Because so many have respect for Obear and the work she does, readers will be encouraged when they read that she, too, has had to learn how to deal with triggering events and how to take charge of her reactions.

The vignettes of workplace situations are excellent in defining new concepts. Bringing the vignette of Kerry, who was described at the beginning of the book, back in the concluding section of the book, is an excellent way to demonstrate how the tools for effectively responding could be used. The practical usage of the tools is what readers will appreciate.

Your jackpot and lottery is below:

REGISTER TO DOWNLOAD MY BOOK FOR FREE ON JANUARY 19th!!

My new book, TURN THE TIDE: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, will be featured at the BOOK LAUNCH PARTY/webcast along with several others publishing with Difference Press on January 19th at 12:30pm ET!

Sign up, it’s free and even if you can’t listen in live, you’ll get an email with links to all the recordings AND the books to download! AND access to free offers from authors including my new 10-minute video, “What is a Triggering Event?” and the Companion Discussion Guide to lead Lunch & Learns and trainings in your organization!!! 

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Register at: www.theauthorincubator.com/livefromtheauthorcastle


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Oh and they are giving away lots of cool prizes to celebrate the book launches!


Hope to see you there!!
Kathy Obear

Copyright © 2016 Kathy Obear Life Coach, All rights reserved.
You signed up for updates from Kathy Obear on her book launch – “When workplace situations explode: Tools to respond when your buttons get pushed!”

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An Observation on the Eulogy

Like many of you, I was moved and enlightened by President Obama’s eulogy for Congressman Clementa Pinkney. President Obama honored those who lost their lives, and he reminded us of this nation’s history of violence based on racial hatred and prejudice. His remarks about how the deaths of those in the church stimulated “big-hearted generosity” and “thoughtful introspection and self-examination” in South Carolina and in the United States was a needed balm for all who grieve. It helps to think that these lives were not lost in vain.

I was taken with the emotion and sincerity that the President showed throughout the eulogy. However, I think he made one comment that he did not mean for us to take literally. We all know that he spoke the truth when he said that we cannot expect a “transformation of race relations overnight,” but I think his emotions were outweighing his beliefs when he said that we do not need more conversation or more talk about race. The point he was making is that we need to act on our talk. Just having conversations is not enough.

Discussions, dialogue, and discourse are the coins of the realm in colleges and universities. These are our tools and we must use the tools we have. We cannot be part of helping to achieve the vision the President painted if we don’t have the talk with our students.

I think it’s the manner in which we have historically fashioned these conversations that doom them from the start. We can’t just invite students to come to a conversation on race and expect anyone to come except those who already have what President Obama called the “path to grace,” that he described as “an open mind” and “an open heart.” A lecture on the history of racial prejudice followed by discussions won’t change a mind or heart if students have not experienced personally or vicariously through peers what it means to be the object of discrimination or violence based on racial hatred. In a world de-sensitized by violence and tragedy, empathy does not come naturally.

If we, in Student Affairs, want to participate in President Obama’s vision of not avoiding uncomfortable truths, not judging people as bad because we disagree with them, not shouting but listening, and move towards “recognition of ourselves in others, we need to set the stage for the conversations by inviting students to have conversations that are firmly grounded in the academic program of the college.

To achieve this grounding in the academic program, Student Affairs partners with faculty to expand the definition of student success to include skills essential for the workplace and for good and humane citizenship. We must convince faculty that Student Affairs can help to deepen students’ learning of the content of their courses and programs by reinforcing the content in a structured group experience where students are also learning how to influence others and be influenced by others through the development of strong interpersonal communication skills.

If Student Affairs Had a Hammer – A Strategy to Teach Adaptive Skills

Whenever I have heard variations on the quote “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” it has been used in a pejorative sense indicating that one has few resources or ideas to address any issues with which one is confronted. No matter what the issue is, the same response is used. I want to use this hammer and nail saying in a positive manner.

In my most recent blog, I wrote about the need for Student Affairs to reorient our work to address a critical learning need for students. That critical need is for students to acquire experience in learning about and in practicing adaptive skills. I have been honing the list of skills for years, and the list I’ve settled on includes interpersonal communication skills; cultural intelligence; and social responsibility. After reviewing the many lists of competencies suggested as essential for college graduates over several years and asking for feedback from faculty, Student Affairs professionals, and students, I am confident that these categories of skills are sufficient to meet the career and personal needs of college graduates.

I am also confident that my strategy to help students acquire these competencies and skills will have a powerful impact when employed effectively. The hammer that I think can address many of the challenges we see among students and, frankly, the population in general, is the implementation of co-curriculum laboratories attached to or embedded in academic courses and programs. The co-curriculum laboratory is the hammer that can be applied to the nails/ challenges that prevent many colleges and universities from fully realizing their learning goals for students.

For example:

If students see themselves less open to having their views challenged than they think they ought to be, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be the hammer to help students practice interpersonal communications where controversial issues can be discussed with a skilled facilitator present.

When tragedies occur such as the mass murders at the church in South Carolina last week, there are many nails to pound such as racism, gun violence, and the call for civic engagement. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer because it provides a safe space for the discussions to occur.

When tragedies occur caused by natural disasters such as the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal, and students appear not to have empathy for the victims, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer to require discussions about other countries and cultures and to assign students to make deliberate connections with people beyond the home country in order to better understand the impact of a tragedy on people who are not within students’ inner circles.

If students have little experience in figuring things out on their own and appear not to have practical skills for functioning, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer to help students take incremental steps towards independence aided by peers who role model and encourage personal growth and maturity.

The concept of attaching co-curriculum laboratories to or embedding them into academic courses and programs can be an effective strategy to address many of the challenges we face in helping students acquire adaptive skills. Yes, co-curriculum laboratories are the hammers Student Affairs can use to reorient the focus of our work in effectively contributing to holistic and transformative learning for our students.

FYI

Ending my role as interim senior vice president for student services on June 5th.

Still smiling, still enthusiastic.

So grateful for the opportunity.

Once in a life-time experience.