Reasonable Sensibilities

Please enjoy a little “light reading” before proceeding to the rest of this post…

So, a few weeks ago, I was asked to deliver a presentation to a group of new students on the topic of getting on the right path in higher education. This marks a return, for me, to the sorts of presentations I delivered earlier in my career when I was a primary role advisor to undeclared and exploratory students. Though the article linked above was written when I worked at a four-year unviresity, I think the same research process is appropriate when engaging students in this sort of meaning-making at a two-year college.

Finding your best path forward is a longer process than simply trusting the decision to someone (or something) else. If one enters the world of work in their early-20s and retire, like many Americans, in their mid- to late-60s, they’re going to spend over 80,000 hours working–I’d like to think it would be their preference to have a say in something to which they’ll dedicate that much time?

“…self-authored students will not blindly follow parental expectations or request advisors to tell them which major to select.”

That quote is from an article by Jane Pizzolato in the NACADA Journal from 2006. My approach has always been to engage students in their own choices and decision-making activities. My answer to the question, “what can I do with a major in…” has always been, “I don’t know, what can you do with a major in…” It is imperative to help students make meaning of the time they will spend at our institutions. It is elemental to each student’s success to empower them to choose the roads that are meaningful to them, rather than allowing them to passively follow the paths that have been chosen for them. This is not to disavow the importance of a family’s input or the norms of a student’s community–these environmental factors will be present in their reasonable sensibilities if their meaning is estimable from the student’s perspective.

“When we encourage students to understand how they uniquely represent aspects of the Holland Codes in their reasonable sensibilities, we empower them to not only make thoughtful decisions about their major, but to become self-authored and more thorough decision makers in every aspect of their education.”

As my current institution grapples with ways to encourage students to embrace growth mindsets over passively accepting fixed mindsets, I can really see no other way to help students find their best pathway… the open road to the rest of their lives.

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Crabs and Lobsters

First this:

Read Me

Let me start by saying that I firmly believe higher education institutions and accreditation organizations need to start caring as much about students’ success after they graduate as they do about their success until they graduate. Because of this, I really wanted to like this fellow’s piece. Instead, I find myself a little confused and am having a hard time with its flow.

At the end of one paragraph he has suggested that industries in which middle school and high school students will one day work, haven’t been invented yet. He cites Amazon and Google to highlight this point– the reasoning being that they did not exist 25 years ago. The next paragraph points to the “hard to fill jobs of today”–welding and manufacturing–that have certainly existed for well over 25 years.

A few paragraphs later, the author writes about the “upside-down” degree offered in the University of Wisconsin system. The initiative has students finish an A.S. in an applied technology field and then finish their bachelor’s degree by completing all of the required general education coursework in their junior and senior years. Those last two years take place while the is working in the field of their applied associate’s. He makes the following point…

A side benefit is that faculty members enjoy having more working adults in their general education classes — older students who have the experience to understand both the personal and professional value of these liberal arts and sciences courses, as well as to enrich class discussion for all the students.

…but he offers no support for this claim.

In fact, the chief complaint I heard most often from students about general education coursework was that they did not see how they would ever apply the things they were “being required to learn.” If the author is still talking about welding and manufacturing jobs, I assume they will not be discussing a great deal of history, humanities, or English composition on the job, so I fail to see how their world-of-work experiences are going to make them any more predisposed to understand the connection.

He finishes strong with three solid paragraphs about the importance of a liberal studies based education and the importance of seeking post-secondary certificates and degrees. He pushes back against the notion that “college is not for everyone” and I applaud him for it:

Our language gets in the way. …The assertion that college is not for everybody surfaces regularly. When you peel back to what those pushing that notion mean by it, … a student going to the local community college for a certificate in software development or an associate degree in hospitality management might sound to them like a grand idea.

He champions the importance of liberal studies coursework in terms of helping students develop emotional intelligence, interpersonal communications skills, and the critical and creative thinking abilities necessary to succeed in the current world of work:

…employees need the fundamental kinds of knowledge and skills most often developed through a good liberal arts education. They include critical thinking, clear writing, persuasive speaking, numeracy, the ability to work well in diverse teams and an understanding of global issues.

His last three paragraphs were great–he seemed to be trying to work towards a “both, and” answer to the problematic dichotomy some have setup that pits higher ed against workforce development. In the end, however, I remain unconvinced–some of us are walking sideways and some are walking straight.

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You Say They’re Soft Skills, and I Say They’re Core Skills…

So, here’s an interesting and quick read:

“Soft Skills Are Out. Here’s a Better Model”

My colleague/friend Melanie from the Quality Assurance Commons shared it on LinkedIn and I liked it so much that I had to swipe it and blog about it. Not only are these skills at the core of success in the world of work, but in my (not so) humble opinion, communicating them to students is at the core of their ability to realize the life-changing power of college degrees and formal education.

I’m always comforted when I read an article or blog post on this topic–there have been many and I hope that we, as a scholarly and conscientious community, never stop writing about the importance of professional skills that fall outside of the sphere of the subjects that we teach. Business leaders have been reporting, for what seems like well over a decade now, that they can handle training and the refinement of a future employee’s functional-area competencies, but that they have no time, resources, or patience (frankly) to train someone how to be a functioning member of a professional office when it comes to interpersonal and team-member skills.

And while the blog post again makes the point that the Core Skills (aka Soft Skills) are vital, the author fails to convincingly tell us why. Yes, we all know it instinctively. And yes, I can bring to your mind the perfect counter-example or anti-role model by simply encouraging you to think of that person at the conference table whose first response to any new suggestion is “no, that can’t work because…” We all instinctively know what authors are talking about; we all silently nod along when we read the statements about “soft” skills being vital skills; but I’m still waiting for an author to make the compelling case.

The points that they could make?

  • “yes, and…” is a more productive answer than “no, but…”
  • when your colleagues are talking, you should be listening–really listening to everything they say–until they are finished. You should not be listening to only the first five words in order to plot your retort and pounce as soon as you find the chance to interject it.
  • learn to work as a team member–if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, bring people with you.
  • suspend judgement and surrender the need to be the only one who is right

I’m sure there are more–those are just a few of my personal favorites. What are some of yours?


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Career Development Theories

I’ve been reading about various career development theories over the past few days and it has been a thought-provoking exercise, that’s for sure. I’ve been advising college students, for the better part of the last 15 years, on various topics in higher education but primarily focused on their academic success and helping them define what the next few years of their lives are going to look like. I’ve developed my career services praxis partly through professional-development based research and partly through empirically observed phenomena. It has been really interesting to begin researching it from a different perspective—to be embracing a literature review, albeit a brief one. I thought I’d dedicate this installment to a few of the statements I’ve stumbled upon most recently.

“In the past, many believed that young people in high school would make one career choice that they would pursue throughout their working life. …This concept of a one-time vocational choice is no longer relevant in the US. Our world was permanently changed with the ever-widening expansion of technology.”

I wonder how long ago they mean by “in the past” and how they are contextualizing the “world was permanently changed by the ever-widening expansion of technology” phrase. Are they referring to the expansion of technology as the development of the Word Wide Web, the invention of the personal computer, the television? Seriously, what technological development are they pointing to as the beginning of the end for “one-time career choice?” How long ago was that a reality?

If D.E. Super’s “rough” age ranges for stages of career development were ever accurate, oh boy are they really not anymore. And while the current author I’m reading gives “Super, et al.” credit for identifying that these stages don’t happen solely in a linear fashion, how interesting is it that they thought so in the first place. I know, I know, I’m, beating these poor people up for work they did in the 1960s by applying 21st-century standards, but the enlightened historian in me bristles at the thought of ever suggesting that there are hard and fast timelines on which any phenomenon develops. It’s as though they are saying, “it’s absolutely the case that the day after J.S. Bach died, composers started writing classical music.”

I guess to sum it up, I’d have to say that I’m a little underwhelmed by the older theories. They seem to have reached the end of their shelf-life. It is certainly good to have read them and to understand their general theses, but only insofar as this allows current researchers to move beyond the work of their earlier colleagues—to use the historic scholarship as a jumping-off point.

What can I say? I’ve always been one to light out for new territory…

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Listening is one of the key skills one needs to develop when working in a “helping profession.” I read and talked about this a lot this last week.

Photo By Mallory1180 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

As a jazz musician, I’ve had a lot of fun lately reading about “Yes, and…” approaches to collaborations and general World of Work interactions. The bottom line of the theory, if any of you are not familiar with it, is that the techniques one uses when doing theater improv are directly applicable to any act of collective or collaborative creativity… like when you’re called to serve on committees or work groups in your office. One of the topics introduced in a book by the title of “Yes, and” was the skill of improvisational listening. This is listening to everything one of your counterparts has to say before deciding what you are going to say or do in response. Truly listening. Not listening to the first few words and plotting your reply while eagerly seeking the chance to deliver it, but listening to their full statement until their last word.

I’m definitely on a continuum on this topic and it is something I focus on daily and reflect on after every meeting or conversation I have with colleagues. Listening is key for a jazz musician, given that most of what we play is not written on the page and that our choices are inspired by what our band-mates play. One of the drawbacks of learning to listen in this way is that you don’t always have the chance to wait until your counterpart is finished in order to respond—it usually happens in real-time and without missing a beat. This impetus for immediate response is something I really need to reign in when collaborating in the work place. It’s a real work in progress for me, but I love having professional skills to develop—what would be the point in showing up to a job everyday if there were nothing to learn?

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I’m Baaack

Hi again, everyone.

I’m feeling a little odd about having to admit, for the 175th time, that I let my blog space go silent. I’m going to make a stronger effort to post more frequently here–this effort is inspired by a new path I’ve just begun to follow. I’ve just started a Career Development certification course and it is really engaging to be digging deeply into the “career” end of my career advising praxis. My hope is that the journey down this path will also fuel a great deal more productivity here… guess we’ll see.

So, here goes…

I happened across an interesting article the other day while looking for sources to cite. It highlighted an interesting dichotomy that I’ve seen a number of times. Here’s the link–my “two cents” follows:

This was a meaningful read to me, despite the fact that it seemed more focused on the intersection of higher education and workforce development in Canada. It brings up all the typical “hot button” issues when thinking about this topic from a US Higher Ed perspective; “education vs. job training,” “is this an educational experience or a chance for employers to use ‘free labor’?”

This quote struck me:

“As Professionals, we need to help students translate these experiences into learning about their values, skill development, career exploration, and the application of course-based learning into practice.”

This is something that has regularly challenged me when advising on resume/cover letter writing. How do we help a student quantify and qualify the tasks they undertook in the co-op/internship into the language that educators will understand in assessing each student’s acquired competencies? How do we help students communicate their experiences in general terms and as broad-based competencies that future employers can understand as meaningful? The link out to the Laurier University site and their “Experience Record” was a really fun distraction—it took all my energy to not go down the rabbit hole of reading every page on the Laurier Web site 😉

If the above quote struck me as meaningful, this one took me back a bit. The quote below was a bullet point in a list that was questioning the barriers that are unwittingly created:

“GPA requirements: Eligibility for experiential learning opportunities is often determined by grade point average. This can exclude large numbers of students, including those who might benefit the most in terms of labor market outcomes.”

Citing GPA eligibility as an undue barrier flies in the face of the fact that all experiences in higher education need to be educationally relevant in order for them to be meaningful from an academic success perspective. “Food for thought,” to be sure.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now–more to come and watch this space…

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The Power of Connections

First, welcome back. After a long, tumultuous journey, spanning several months, I feel as though I found a bit of the voice I’d lost and am thrilled to be posting again to this blog. And the seemingly simplest of things helped me find my way back. Last night, I made a request of my facebook friends.

I’m not being braggadacious when I point out that I have a large number of facebook friends– for those of you reading this who don’t know, or have forgotten, I used to actively friend all of my advisees back when academic advising was my primary role. For a while, I had close to 2000 friends and a tremendous majority of them were advisees, both current, but now all former. I don’t know if they all understood at the time that their acceptance of my friend request signified to me that I had so effectively forged a trust-based relationship with them that they invited me into their facebook world. I considered this a HUGE win. Some of my peers and colleagues wrote it (and my feelings of victoriousness) off as students simply having acquiesced to my request because of the power I held in the relationship as their academic advisor. A position that offended me to my core, as I always strived to meet students as equals, intentionally and purposefully eschewing the typically authoritative role of “teacher” in a teacher-centered reality.

So, back to the request I made last night. My wife and I recently made the decision to cut cable and are relying solely on Roku and an indoor, “over-the-air,” antenna for our family’s television entertainment. And when she and I have tried to find a movie or series to watch, we’ve found many of the current offerings to be portraying a majority of the characters as deceitful, vile, people with dead souls and no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Many of them have been intriguing at first glance, but then deeper layers of violent or unscrupulous or tawdry behavior are revealed, leaving us feeling disturbed and distressed. And with all that is disturbed and distressing about the real world, we certainly don’t need those conditions of human life to be replicated and exaggerated in the fiction in which we choose to indulge. We have literally found only one or two things to watch that don’t leave us feeling as though there is no humanity left in the world. (Sherlock is balanced between intrigue and ‘reality’ and the English Baking Challenge as well as the Kids’ Baking Championship, which our ten-year old absolutely adores are refreshingly free of vindictive competitors speaking ill of their peers). So I posted about this on facebook, imploring our friends to make some suggestions, and one of my former advisee/friends (also one of the first advisees I ever friended) made a contribution to the post.

This simple little act not only gave me another series to delve into, but it also reinforced my belief in the power of connections–in life and in the advising/mentoring relationship. That he is still a participant in my social network, after nearly a decade, negates the nay-sayers insisting that all those connections were forced by my authority. It reaffirmed my belief that the mentoring relationship may end when there is nothing more through which to guide your mentee, but that the conclusion of the mentoring relationship can result in a lasting, friendly connection. It also helped me feel less distressed about reality and the road ahead in these uncertain times.

Oh, the power of connections…

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