Responding to Failure: World Series Edition

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Busch Stadium

Outstanding in their field

I’ve been watching the baseball World Series and though I’m a Cardinals fan, something Boston’s manager said after Game 3 really struck me. That game had ended with a stunning (but not incorrect) obstruction call that gave the Cards the winning run in the ninth inning. I saw a reporter ask how that ending affected the Red Sox the following night, and John Farrell replied something similar to “It happened on the field last night, and we left it there.”

How wise is this. Would that more students heeded this message . . . the idea that when something doesn’t go your way, you must leave that thing in the past as much as possible and focus on “winning” the next night. (Again, I prefer to see the Cardinals win, but anyway.) So many of my students, sadly, became defeatist after failing at a small assignment or failing a class entirely; they were prone to give up, drop out, and adopt a victim mentality. Perhaps they were dwelling too much on unpleasant events in the past; perhaps they were letting their anxieties and frustrations determine their fate.

It seems we have a philosophical lesson to take from sports: that is, the best players do take personal responsibility for their wins and losses, and when something out of their control happens, they don’t let it get in the way of their big-picture goal.  Naturally this is difficult to enact in real life, but I have to conclude the champions in the sports world have gotten where they are due to very hard work and persistence combined with the right attitude.

Take this example if you’re a student; know you’ll win a few and lose a few, but focus on the future!

Post script: I wrote a little piece on baseball and what it can teach us (featuring historical tidbits) in October 2011: In Honor of the Fall Classic: “Our Game.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Fredlyfish4

For Best Results, Go Away

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What would you bring back?

To consider the non-academic benefits of an education is both pleasant and practical, and a recent item in Inside Higher Ed informs that consideration: “Study Abroad Positively Impacts Personality, Study Says.” That study found that study-abroad students improved various aspects of their personalities, including “openness” and “emotional stability.”

This article made me wonder if, too, study-abroad personality development could be partly due to persevering through being in uncomfortable situations and surroundings – encountering a language barrier, for instance.

Of course this is speculation on my part, but perhaps the inherently humbling experience of being a foreigner breeds maturity by way of humility. I believe humility is a beautiful thing, and (study abroad or not) a valuable trait to a student’s character development. Translate that, if you like, to the need to be reminded “you’re not special” – or at least, “though certainly you may be a unique and valuable human being, you’re only one person in a long string of people and one student in a long string of intelligent and worthy students – and you have much to learn from others (their successes, their mistakes, their knowledge to pass along) in the past and present.”

Image via / Seemann

Also on this blog:
Can’t Study Abroad? 5 Ways to Nonetheless Feed the Travel Bug

College Transcripts in Unusual Flavor: They Gauge Work Readiness

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"Works well with others"

“Works well with others”

People skills. Work ethic. Punctuality. To be a good employee involves, obviously, more than the ability to make the grade in college; and a few schools are recognizing that formally with job readiness scores on transcripts. In the case of Linn State Technical College in Missouri, profiled in Inside Higher Ed’s “Transcript for Work,” these scores have the overwhelming approval of industry.

Lessons here for students? Well, first, I do think so-called soft skills are incredibly helpful, if not essential, to success in college; and traits like punctuality, good work ethic, and strong people skills are rewarded and encouraged through college class policies and assigned projects. However, I don’t think these life skills are terribly teachable at the college level; really, these skills arise from general human socialization, which would fall under the realm of parenting and would be formed starting at a very young age. (In fact, at age 18, it may be difficult to suddenly develop a work ethic, although I’m sure this happens as a result of various life wake-up calls.)

Still, if you’re a student it’s worthwhile to note that employers are looking for well-rounded people who can get along with others, honor company policy and rules, and work hard. Most certainly, if you have these traits and they are apparent to others, you will have a competitive advantage as a job-seeker.

Related on this site:
Road to College Success Paved with More than Academics

What Really Makes a Successful Student?

Image via / taliesin

Which “soft skills” do you think are most essential to success?

7 Things to Do Your First Week of Class

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toy ducks

Put ’em in a row

The advent of the college term brings a flutter of activity and anticipation . . . but wait! Before you nestle down into your new routine, take a gander at this checklist and help yourself make sure the semester goes swimmingly:

  1. Buy all books and necessary e-supplements for class. This might seem obvious, but it’s important to have your materials in hand as soon as possible so you don’t fall behind in your assignments.
  2. Read the syllabus very carefully. Make note of your professor’s availability (office hours) and contact information; policies on attendance, late work, and computers or cell phones in class; and which projects will be assigned and when. The latter will help you to . . .
  3. Figure out how you’ll organize your time. I suggest using a calendar to record every assignment deadline right through the end of the semester. (See here for more on managing your time in college.)
  4. Figure out how you’ll organize your notes and study materials. Now is the time to purchase notebooks, binders, folders, and electronic storage. No one magic organization method will work for everyone, but I have observed, over the years, that my best students have been organized students. (See here for more on free organization and planning tools.)
  5. Form a technology “Plan B” in case your primary computer fails. Computers are not our friends, and many profs don’t accept late work. Thus you must have a plan in place for the last-minute crash, file corruption, or internet outage. Perhaps you have access to a roommate’s or family member’s computer; maybe you live on campus and may use a computer lab; perhaps a public library is nearby. In any case, plan your emergency computer backup plan NOW – before you get too far into the semester. I can’t stress this enough!
  6. Make note of resources your college offers, such as tutoring, organized study groups, library services, academic advising, counseling, and financial aid. These resources probably are easy to find on your college’s website; I suggest noting appropriate contact information and keeping it in a place you visit often. You may need to use those resources come mid-semester.
  7. Jump into the first week’s assignments right away! This is particularly important for online classes, in which students sometimes feel a lesser sense of urgency but in which deadlines tend to be frequent and intense. It’s a bad idea to be behind at the very beginning of class, so be sure to stay on top of your commitments.

Good luck and happy learning!

Image via / greyerbaby

7 Things Not to Do in College


irritated cat

We do not recommend

First-time college students, as you head off to class, try to avoid these common transgressions against one’s own academic interests . . .

1. Don’t read the syllabus or directions for individual assignments. Be sure to read through your syllabus on day one, and keep it close at hand for future reference. Also, print and scrutinize your individual assignment directions.

Questions are usually welcome, but when you have a question, always read over what you’ve been given to see if you can figure out the answer yourself first.

2. Skip class (or don’t log in regularly for an online class). Sure, you have the freedom to skip class – but is that the smartest thing to do when class is designed to teach you the material? Answer: no. You’re severely shortchanging your education when you don’t attend class, and you’re likely to fall behind, get frustrated, and even drop the class if you miss much.

3. Come to class, but throughout class, text, browse on Facebook, chat with neighbors, etc. It’s great to come to class, but sitting there whilst multitasking or socializing probably isn’t going to help you. Even a once-a-week night class or lab isn’t, in truth, interminably long; so remember why you’re in school and concentrate on the moment, take notes, and soak up the learning (not to mention respect others in the room!).

4. Expect good grades as a “given.” To first-year students, college is frequently a shock in terms of its expectations and standards; if you’re dismayed at grasping this, you are in very good company. Of course, good grades in college are achievable; but keep in mind they’re reflections of performance on particular assignments for particular classes. They’re not reflections of you as a person or even, necessarily, of your academic abilities. Keep working to improve and learn, and above all don’t expect high marks for mediocre work – in other words, eschew the so-called “attitude of entitlement.”

5. Have your parents call the school to straighten out your issues. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon that puzzles professors and administrators: parents of adult children contact college faculty and staff to serve as students’ agents. This is generally seen as irritating and unnecessary: you, as a student, should take ownership of your education and all related responsibilities.

6. Complain straight to the Dean rather than going to your instructor when you get a grade you don’t like. This is not to say you should stay away from visiting professors and tutors in order to discuss and better understand class material. I’m talking about students who suddenly spring to life when they have a complaint (many times about a grade or about rigor of the class), and go straight to “the manager” instead of approaching their professors. This is counterproductive and only serves to annoy and waste time of everyone involved. That’s because the Chair or Dean is generally going to send you back to your instructor anyway. Expend your energy on learning the class material, not on complaining about how hard it is.

Now, students of course may have legitimate complaints about the course, such as when a professor habitually cancels class or does not give clear directions – but even in these cases, always, always approach the professor first if at all possible; and approach in a friendly way, establishing that you’re trying your best to learn and learning is your chief concern.

7. Cheat. Don’t plagiarize; don’t be academically dishonest. It’s wrong, plus penalties may include failing the assignment, failing the class, or being expelled from the school.

And finally, some words of encouragement: in general, although it’s probably true that some of your professors will be better than others at teaching and communicating, and some of your classes you’ll enjoy more than others, try to keep your head up and basically, act with dignity as you seek out learning. You always have options when you get stuck, such as visiting the instructor during office hours, using tutoring services, or forming study groups. Good luck!

Feel free to add other ways students act against their own interests – and solutions . . .

Image via / chelle

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