Student Coaching

Lately, I’ve noticed that in addition to my roles of administration and teaching, I’ve been spending more time coaching students.  It tends to come up in small ways, such as offering suggestions on how to word emails or how a student should approach talking to their professor about something in their class.  At first I was a little uncomfortable with taking on a coaching role when it wasn’t really part of my job.  That’s not to say I’m uncomfortable with doing tasks that are not explicitly written into my job description.  Instead, I was uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure if it was my place to offer guidance.  Sure, I might be a decade older than most of the students, but I sometimes struggle with the impostor syndrome: what do I know?  I’m just a lowly administrative assistant.

Having said that, I recognized a fundamental truth that I think many people take for granted – students are young.  I don’t just mean young in age, but also young in experience.  Most students haven’t had the same experiences I’ve had, whether that is my post-secondary schooling, grad school, or work.  Things that I take for granted that come second nature to me are wildly new for students just coming into school.  It’s even worse for students who are first-generation college/university students (like I was).  For some, they haven’t had a lot of experience navigating systems on their own.

We bemoan the helicopter parents and make snide remarks that students don’t know anything (i.e. “life skills”), but I think we should have more empathy.  Post-secondary is a big, scary place to navigate.  If it’s your first time living away from home, having to manage your own schedule, finances, and life, would you not also feel overwhelmed?

Instead of starting with the assumption that students are lazy, or wanting everything fed to them on a silver spoon, I try to take the approach that students don’t know how to narrow down their options or choose a path.  They are the modern Buridan’s ass stuck between competing options with no practical way of making decisions or selecting priorities.  Instead they focus on what’s immediate and take the path of least resistance (for them at the time).  Without a longer view and a chain of successes, their choices may seem short-sighted, but in their context it makes sense to them.  If you couple that kind of decision framework with the complex, convoluted machinery that is “real life,” you can hardly be surprised when students make sub-optimal decisions.

In light of this, my response is not to infantilize them, nor chide them for what one would judge to be their bad decisions.  Instead, I offer my perspective and anecdotes to provide teachable moments.  I provide insight into byzantine rule structures and explain my reasoning.  And I ultimately leave decisions or action up to them.  They must take ownership of the process because they have to be accountable for the outcomes.  The point of education is to create a safe space to fail and learn.  Therefore, our goal should be to set students up for success but also provide them with the opportunity to learn through their mistakes, not by punishing them into doing the right thing.  Rote learning works in some contexts, but in order to make deeper connections between ideas and develop ones ability to reason, students need to be coached on how to shift their perspective and see new connections.

And so, I sometimes coach students.  It’s pretty interesting so far.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

Advertisements

Honesty and Trust

The weekend after the last wedding experience I wrote about, I was fortunate to attend a second wedding.  Much like my last post on the topic, I want to reflect a bit on something the officiant said during the ceremony.

Warning: philosophical thoughts ahead!

Midway through the service, the officiant was offering some words of advice and wisdom for the couple.  He was discussing values that make for a strong, lasting relationship, and he commented that honesty is an important value to hold.  However, he speculated that beyond honesty, trust is something worth considering as a higher value.

His message was a little tongue in cheek, alluding to the impossible questions a partner is faced with, such as “does this make me look x,” but he also meant it in a more sincere way.  He was driving home the idea that the partnership can’t rely on honesty and transparency alone, but it also requires both partners to recognize the union of their lives, and that they must trust their partner in the journey.

While I won’t say I fully endorse the idea that trust must always be placed above honesty, it nevertheless gave me food for thought.  I mulled over what trust means to me in a relationship, and whether you can have deserved trust paired with deliberate dishonesty.  I donned my philosopher’s cap and thought about it.

For instance, (hearkening back to Kantian ethics), should we always tell the truth?  Certainly, I’d prefer to live in a world where I’m never (maliciously) deceived, but I can imagine cases where deception can be useful.  If my partner deceives me in order to seek to surprise me in a way that would bring me pleasure, then I think that kind of dishonesty can be permissible (Christmas and surprise birthday parties hinge on this being permissible).  Setting aside considerations about the differences between deception and omission, so long as the deception is for the benefit of the deceived, and that revealing  the nature of the deception results in increased happiness, then I think in most instances this can be thought of as a good thing.  On the other hand, deception that is used to maximize the pleasure of one person while building harm at the expense of the other person (especially if the deception is revealed) is likely to be uniformly wrong in all cases.  Feel free to check my thinking in the comments down below.

The implication I realized during the ceremony is that it is possible to knowingly be deceived by your partner and be fine with it if you trust your partner explicitly.  That is to say, if my partner chooses to be dishonest with me (or, to a lesser degree, if my partner is not fully transparent with me), and I suspect them to be as much, then the only instance where I would be fine with this is if fully trust my partner.

This is not to say that I think this gives license to one’s partner to be deliberately deceitful if a full trusting relationship is present.  I still believe that honesty and transparency ought to be the norm in a relationship; that the relationship is built upon its foundation.

But, if my partner judges that deceiving me is in my best interest (however temporary that might be) and it is indeed in my best interest, then full trust is the only way that it could be managed.  Of course, there would need to be some sort of resolution to the deception.  I don’t think a state of perpetual deception or ignorance is possible while being in a person’s best overall interest – the two run contrary in my mind.

Then, if it is the case that the thought of my partner deceiving me causes me discomfort or some other negative associative feeling, then it cannot be said that I fully trust them (or, that honesty and transparency are not things I care about – but how would a relationship work in that case…?).  A breach of trust and a breach of honesty would both transgress the relationship.

It’s an odd sort of thought experiment to run, especially during a wedding.  I had a lot of fun at that wedding, and I’m glad to have gotten some interesting philosophical thoughts to mull over while I celebrated more friends starting a new chapter in their lives.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

Within the Sound of My Voice

I attended a wedding this weekend, and have been reflecting on the service.  Specifically, I reflected on the nature of ritual and custom.  I often find that I take certain things for granted that are ubiquitous (and therefore, mundane).  Photography can sometimes feel cheapened because technology removes  the need to conserve resources like film in order to capture perfect moments.  DJ-played music fades into the background because the setlist is nearly endless.  And, thanks to social media, it would seem that everyone in my age bracket is getting married – my awareness of the intimate details of people’s lives blurs time together into a calendar of weekends punctuated with staged, curated pictures.

But this weekend felt different.  Maybe it’s because it’s my first wedding of the summer.  Maybe it’s because I’m preparing for my own wedding.  Or maybe because I’ve been more mindful lately of meaning in my life.  For whatever reason, the wedding this weekend felt special.  I didn’t concern myself with taking photos to post online (though, I did post one during the night).  I allowed myself to be fully present in the day and to pay attention to the details that infuse weddings with meaning.

There was something the officiant said  that has been playing out in my mind – “and let those know, within the sound of my voice…”  His voice was amplified for the benefit of those in attendance, but something about that sentiment stuck with me.  The wedding was a community of loved ones who came out in support of the couple.  It was a serious and sincere declaration of commitment, and a sharing of values.  We bore witness to a promise, and in doing so added weight to it.  It was not just a promise they made to each other, but it’s a promise made real by our attendance, within the sound of the minister’s voice.

While at the outset, I suggested that technology can cheapen moments like this, but I reflected on how technology intersected with this promise.  There is the obvious case where the officiant’s voice was amplified, so in principle his voice could reach more people.  But during the ceremony, there was another kind of amplification happening.  The bride had family in the UK who were unable to attend.  Rather than missing out, cellphones were used to stream the ceremony live to family abroad.  It widened the community by being inclusive.  More people were captured within the sound of his voice.

Technology wasn’t used to mediate the experience, but rather to amplify it.  The promise of love and commitment was strengthened because it allowed for more people to experience it in a meaningful way.

It may sound painfully obvious to people more mindful than I, but I saw the wedding in a different light.  We weren’t giving a gift because it’s expected.  We were sharing so that the couple could start their new life together on the right foot.  They weren’t just feeding us food because it was expected – they were sharing so that we could join them in celebration.  We didn’t put on dress clothes because it was expected – we put on our best so that we could signal that this moment was special.  And after dinner, the music wasn’t being played because that’s just what you do.  There was more meaning behind it.  The music and dancing was a way of expressing the joy within, taking the joy and putting it out in the world.

This weekend was the first time I appreciated that weddings aren’t something “you just do.”  Everything has a reason.  Everything is purposeful.  Everything is designed for one objective: to acknowledge a promise of commitment for two people and strengthen its resolve.  I had a chance to share in that moment and I was glad I could be included within the sound of the minister’s voice.

Congratulations to the lovely couple.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

A Lesson in Networking

I had a networking success moment last week.  After returning from the ethics board conference, I started doing the standard follow-ups.  One of my follow-up messages was to the director of the Portage network of Canadian institutions whose mission is to promote good data management practices for research institutes.  I noticed at the Portage presentation that Ontario Colleges were typically not included in their activities on account of the fact that Colleges are only now making concerted efforts towards research and data.  It’s still too early for the Colleges to have caught up with what Universities have been doing all along, so the two organizational structures are out of alignment.

I saw this bit of oversight as a good opportunity to introduce myself and suggest that I could connect Portage with my home institution library if there wasn’t already an existing working relationship.  In my follow-up message, I asked for some details for an upcoming event that I could pass along to the director of our library.

I then reached out to our director with the information and filled her in on the details from the conference, and what value a connection with Portage might offer.  Keep in mind that I don’t really know a lot about the library, its operations, or its institutional priorities.  I was merely offering a potential connection without knowing whether things would be a good fit.

At this point, it’s out of my hands, but I did my part to facilitate the introduction.  I think this is the overlooked side of networking.  Most of the time, we think of networking as “what can this do for me.”  Instead, it might be more useful to flip the question around and ask “how best can I help this person with my network.”  You get more value from offering value to others than if you just treat everything as an opportunity to gain for yourself.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

5 Post-Conference Thoughts

I was away in Montreal for the Canadian Association of Research Ethics Boards conference last week, so I didn’t get a chance to write a blog post leading up to today (hence why the post is late).  However, I didn’t want to leave you hanging, so here are some thoughts on attending the conference.

-1-

This was the first conference I attended where work paid for it.  It was nice not needing to pay for the entrance, the flight, or the hotel room (previously, I would billet with conference organizers to cut down on cost).  It was pretty rad to stay at the same hotel that the conference was operating out of, which made life way easier.

-2-

Conferences can actually be a great learning opportunity.  I learned a lot from the experiences of others as we shared stories and case studies, all of which I have brought back with me to bring to my boards.  I took around 11-pages of notes over the three days, so lots of stuff to review and implement.

-3-

Networking is not something I have a lot of experience in.  In general, I’m terrible with schmoozing and making small talk.  On the plane from Toronto to Montreal, I downloaded my copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and brushed up on some conference networking best practices.  That hour I spent reading on the flight was pretty helpful over the next three days.

-4-

I handed out business cards and collected them while in town.  I’ve already received an email from the President and CEO of an organization out of the US to follow-up on our conversation about receiving accreditation.  This is an example of what you should do with business card swaps – you go in, make a personal connection with the person, and give them a reason to follow-up.  If you give out your card, make sure to follow-up shortly after the conference to keep the connection going.

-5-

Attending the conference put me a little out of my comfort zone.  I could have stayed comfortably in the hotel the entire time and avail myself of the amenities.  However, at various people’s prompting, I did venture out to explore the downtown core.  I made friends with one of the local bartenders as we smack-talked KW, and I was able to enjoy some genuine Montreal poutine.  For my first dinner, I went out alone, but on the second night, I made sure to go out for dinner with a group of people.  Meeting new people is challenging and not a natural thing for me, so I had to intentionally choose to put myself out there.  Having said that, I also respected downtime, and spent the evenings quietly in my hotel room enjoying movies and YouTube to recharge after the day.  I think it’s possible to strike a balance, and it’s good to respect your own personal limit.

All in all, it was a great experience.  I’m glad I went, but I was very happy to return home.  In the end, I felt “conferenced-out” and was looking forward to seeing my fiance after an intense three days of talking about research ethics.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

The Importance of Making Space

I’ve been thinking a lot about space recently.  Not in the outer space sense, but headspace.  I’ve got a lot of stuff on the go and I’m finding downtime at a bit of a premium.  Between the wedding and our upcoming move (we bought a house last week!), a lot of very important things need to be done in relatively short time.  This requires me to stay on top of a lot of little moving pieces to ensure stuff doesn’t slip through the cracks.

The one thing, however, that I’m finding huge importance in is making space for more important things, like relationships.  Two weeks ago, my fiancee and I were running ourselves ragged as we worked to close a deal on the purchase of the house.  In short order, our week involved scheduling a viewing of a house that had been on the market for about 12-hours, setting up meetings with the bank, a home inspector, a basement expert, and our realtor to set up and fulfill conditions on our offer.  This required three separate trips out of town, which takes us away from our normal routine.

Last week, my fiancee suggested we take a pause from the “work” required at home, and instead for us to enjoy some downtime together.  It amounted to little more than dinner and couch time in front of Netflix, but it was exactly what we needed.  We needed to make space for us to be a couple (rather than domestic partners).  In one evening, I felt closer to my fiancee than I had in the better part of two weeks.

It reminded me why it’s important to ensure quality time together.  We might live together, eat together, and sleep in the same bed, but that doesn’t mean we are taking time to be together, present in the moment.  There is a time and place for work, but it’s important to make time and space for more important things, too.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan