Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Part Three: My Response (and Other Responses) to the Student Without Support

(It's another Tuesday! For the sake of blog brevity--which I've breached many times since authoring this space--I split the current discussion over three weeks. If you're just tuning in, and even if you're back (and thank you on both counts), I'll recap: 

In Part 1, I wrote about what happens when a student changes his mind about a major/career path and others are not supportive. I discussed that I'd been to an Urgent Care where I met a lovely student who told me about her path, which contained a number of changes. I reflected that there wasn't time for this person to tell me how those around her reacted to the change.

In Part 2, surprise, surprise: The Urgent Care receptionist remembered that I told her about my blog in passing. She accessed it, read about herself, and responded with more of her back-story. 
Now, that you're all caught up, here is my response to her...)

Dear Student,

I am SO glad that you wrote to me and, yes, you made such a positive impression that morning in Urgent Care. I apologize for the delay in this note, but I wanted to have the mental space (read: kids have been iced/snowed in until just two days ago) to provide a thoughtful response.

I am extremely sorry that your family member had that type of response to you. I bet this person does not realize the impact that it had. I'll get to that in a moment.

First, bravo, bravo to you for going for your goals, despite this person’s reaction. Your inclination is totally right--there are many ways to get to what you want to do. Also, genius is completely relative, isn't it? People are "genius" in many ways, and, "genius" and "creativity" hardly go hand-in-hand. I would say fortitude, drive, determination, commitment, etc. have more to do with any goal than being "genius." 

Sure, you need certain skills, but there are many paths to get to your goal. You already know that from your decision to not go into nursing, deciding that wasn't for you, and then looking into a different area of healthcare (which I realize also ended up not being the right path, but you were creative enough to find a way to stay the field in a different capacity, based on your current job).

Let the universe tell you what you need to know: Put your goal out there and see where the validation lands--and I'm talking about the validation that will come from getting into the program that you want, learning from experts in this field, etc. That will tell you what you need to know about your next steps. I am looking forward to hearing about it. I agree that when you feel something in your bones, you have to listen to that and go for it.

As you read in my blog this week, I didn't have a great amount of support either for my decision to teach. Read just the first paragraph or two on this Chronicle of Higher Education piece where I wrote about my grad school profs telling me how "wrong" my decision was: Like I said in the blog, my bio reveals that things worked out pretty okay for me.

I'm going to put on my other hat here for just a second: My interpersonal comm hat (you may have noticed that I write about relationships, also--it's a teaching area for me). I hope you will have a sit-down with your family member and discuss how the interaction made you feel. It sounds like this person is very special in your life; I would think that they would want to know how much their support means to you and the messages you sent to yourself when you felt you didn't have that support. It would probably be very healing, even if your family member maintains their position… but you ask for the support anyway.

(Disclaimer: In my original e-mail to the student, I didn't add this next dialogue, but I wanted to add it here and hope she will see it!) 

You can say, “We recently had a conversation that had a pretty big impact on me. I want you to know that your support has meant the world to me. Your opinion is also very important to me and has helped shape other decisions I’ve made in my life.

When I told you about my decision to change my major, I realize you had my best interest in mind when you said that a person has to be ‘genius’ in order to pursue that career. I know you were probably trying to protect me, though honestly, the message that I took away is that I’m not smart enough. I took that comment pretty harshly. I know it is my choice to react to it that way.

I appreciate your opinion. I’m going to pursue this path because it feels like the right situation for me. Even if you have concerns, I hope you will support me anyway. If my plan doesn’t go as I hope, I will really need your support. But I would rather at least try to move ahead and see where that takes me, rather than give up now.”

A conversation like this where you are keeping your feelings in “I” language will hopefully go far better than the harsh startup of, “You don’t believe in me!” or “You don’t care about me!” or “Oh, so you think I’m stupid?” (Which is the way many people want to react because it’s far “safer” to convey anger than pain, right?).

I will look forward to hearing some wonderful news about your path. I've been where you are and I know what things look like on the other side :-). You can make this happen! If I can do anything to help, please let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you again!



I couldn't just end this post without adding some of the amazing comments that readers had for this student. I'll paraphrase a few here: 

--"Even though you are sadly not getting the support you need from your family, I believe you can absolutely accomplish all of your dreams and plans. I love your resolve to take this negativity and turn it into fuel for the journey! Good luck!"

--"I have been in the same situation. No support, surrounded only by doubters. It is amazing that once one steps onto the path that we are destined for, how both doubt and encouragement become fuel. Doors do open when we follow our true calling. I was 30 years old before I found the faith to pursue mine. I am now almost 40 and realize that every hardship in my past has prepared me for each and every success of my present." 

--"I know quite a few people who are involved in computer programming and design. I think it really takes dedication and a love for what you are doing, both of which you already seem to have. In addition, I changed majors six times while I was in college, because I kept finding new things I loved. There is nothing wrong with spending some time searching for what you love, and once you find it, you most definitely should pursue it!"

So, students, what are you struggling with? I'm back to regular programming next week, but always taking questions at chattyprof@gmail.com. Also, remember that you can "Like" the Chatty Professor on Facebook and the blog will come straight to your FB door! Till next week, be well!!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Unexpected Update to Last Week's Post... Going it Alone When Your Support Isn't Supportive

“I didn't have a chance to ask this young woman how she communicated those changes to others in her life. Other patients began filtering in because it was a Saturday in an Urgent Care, after all.”

Remember this post from last week? 

Guess what?

The lovely receptionist I referenced remembered my blog, read about herself, and sent me an e-mail responding to the above! 

Quick recap, she decided to change her major and her career path several times… and is just about to get back into college. As you will see, the support she received when she conveyed her change of mind--and major--wasn’t exactly supportive.

Can you relate? I can! Read on...

She's alone... but going up!


I had the pleasure of speaking with you when you were in my Urgent Care.

I want to take this moment to appreciate you in all the ways that you have already helped me in my decision making. Even simple starter conversations can make such an imprint in someone else's memory, and for that I am very grateful.

By chance this afternoon I remembered your blog. I thought I would give you an answer to your question...which is a tad more complicated for just explaining on a Saturday morning. How did I explain my decision to my family/those close to me...

Truthfully, school has been out of reach in my family, but I have had a supporter in one particular family member. I hold this person, both personally and professionally, in the highest regard… until I shared this recent decision about my new major/career path.

I was expecting the usual acknowledgement and offer to help me plan that I’ve always received, but instead, the response was, “Those people are GENIUS. I don't think..."

I was so hurt. Hearing this doubt made me doubt myself. I have decided to use this doubt to push myself harder, and hopefully even if it isn't what I want, I'll get somewhere and the doors will continue to open for me like they always do.

I have also decided to inform no one of my decision. At this point I feel like I would be doing myself an injustice if I let their negative and doubtful opinions ruin my own support system that I have created for myself.

I have never felt more empowered to do something, and I feel like I can accomplish it. Why should anything stop me?

I hope this let you in on the dynamics of how difficult the choice can even be on oneself, let alone those around to influence.

In my particular circumstance I am grateful for the opinion of strangers who just want to listen, like yourself.  Thank you so much again, for even just the conversation, because positive affirmations are what count. I can safely say that I have never felt so good that someone like you was so interested in what I was doing...I felt validated and it really helped me. This week alone I have applied to four colleges.

I do hope our paths cross again, and I am now a devoted reader.

Thank you!

I’m going to hold my response to this student until next week. In the meantime, what would you say? Have you been in a similar situation, without support, but determined to find your way… alone? Let's get some discussion going!

Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Communicate That You've Changed Your Mind

(Two quick notes: First, college students, did you know that Zinch has partnered with HerCampus to create the "More Than a Test Score" $1,000 scholarship? Send in an essay about your dream!

Second, if you are a college student or parent of a college student, did you know that "liking" The Chatty Professor on Facebook will bring this blog right to your FB door? It's true!

Okay, now on to my mini-intro--and, yes, this post is a day early since I'll be away the next couple days...

With the housing changes that I wrote about in this post, I've been thinking about what it means when we feel uncomfortable and may need to make a change. Often, we're afraid to talk about it, much less take action. In phase 2 of your first year of college--a new term--the honeymoon of your major, and even the college, itself, may begin to end and you might think, "Hmm... something isn't feeling right." So, here we go... I'm ready to talk. Along the way, you'll learn a little bit more about how I changed my mind and fell into teaching! It's a long and windy story, but stay with it, if you can...).

Last year, I wrote this post that discussed my father dying when I tried to go back to college. I mentioned that it took me six years to return, which I didn't exactly plan. There was a huge gap in that post that I didn't discuss about my six-year hiatus.

I'm going to do a little gap-filling...

Is she telling her grandmother
that she's changed her mind?
I initially started college to go into journalism. I've always loved, loved, loved (just a little bit, can you tell?) writing, and I landed quite a few freelance gigs that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Then, my father unexpectedly died. My parents were already divorced, so without strong family support (emotionally or financially), I decided that my best course of action was to put a solid roof over my head. I was only 21 at the time. I could have continued my education, but having my own place to live seemed like a greater necessity.

So I used what little money my father left me (I'm an only child) as a down payment for a small condo. Then, I had to figure out how to pay the mortgage.

I saw a job ad: "Fast typist, flexible hours."

One of the greatest things my mother did for me was teach me how to type when I was around 9 or 10. She said, "If you can type, you'll always find work." She was taking a secretarial course; I was a pesky kid. With my fingers plunking, my mouth was closed.

By high school, I typed 110 words per minute. My mother was right: I applied for that job and was hired immediately.

Talk about falling into a career:  There I was, suddenly typing medical notes for a surgeon's office. Six years later, I didn't have a degree, but I did have my own medical transcription service. I enjoyed secure, stable clientele, and I was making good money.

I didn't really think about whether or not I liked the work. I was, by all accounts, doing well. I sold my condo and bought a small house at age 24. My parents never owned a home in their 15 years of marriage, so to them, and to my grandparents, I was living the high life.

But then, an opportunity changed everything: My local community college had an emergency evening opening for a medical transcription instructor. I had already been teaching some continuing ed classes on running a successful transcription business, so they tapped me. I didn't need a degree to teach because these were not transfer programs. I needed experience and energy.

Check and check.

The minute I started teaching, I knew that something in my life had been missing.

It was called career satisfaction.

I absolutely loved the energy of a college campus. I adored my students: Women who were striving to learn a trade that would enable them to support themselves well. I also relished the opportunity to publicly speak all the time (I had been a long-time Toastmaster).

After a year or so, the division chair said, "Your evaluations are fantastic. The students just love you."

I responded like a panting dog, "I love them! I want to do this full-time! What do I need to do?"

Then, she dropped the bomb: "Well, to teach on tenure-track, you need at least a Master's degree."

Crap. I didn't even have an Associate's degree at that point.

I found out what I had to do from others who knew more (the same advice I'm going to give you in a minute) and I did it. I kept my transcription business going. I kept teaching those classes at night. I went back to school... and took as many credits as I could stand (we're talking 15-20).

My family was not supportive of my decision, even though I was funding the education, just like I had before my dad passed.

I remember my grandmother saying, "Why do you need to change? You already have a good job."

I guess I didn't "need" to change... but I needed to change.

I am a complete and total extrovert, but I was sitting in my little condo 8-10 hours a day transcribing.

I am now a nine-time 1/2 marathoner (waddling, but still), but I was following my family's pattern of morbid obesity and inactivity.

I am currently in a career that I realize is every bit of my authentic self. And Oprah Winfrey (still love her!) says, "When you find your authentic self, the doors open."

That's what happened to me... Ever since I made the decision to go back to college and become a professor, the path has been paved with more and more opportunity and intense gratification. Just look at my bio and you'll see how lucky I have been. Not every moment has been easy, but even the hard parts have been fulfilling.

So why am I telling you all of this?

I just contributed to a piece written by those fabulous MyFootpath folks about what to do if you're a "major hater"--as in, you dislike your major immensely... not that you extensively hate the whole world. Then, I unexpectedly had to go to Urgent Care this weekend (I'm fine...), and another sign about this topic presented itself.

The lovely receptionist and I started chatting (I was the only one there... can you believe? For a Saturday morning?). She's 21 and about to attend one of our local colleges. I asked about her major and she paused, then said (I'm paraphrasing here...):

"Well, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but then I realized I'm not the greatest at book learning. Then I thought I might want to go into banking, but that wasn't right for me either. Then I thought about going into medical assisting, but after finding out more about the medical field by working here, I changed my mind."

"So what did you land on as a major?" I asked, intrigued and full of admiration for her honesty.

"I have always been into graphic technology and I'm very good at working with computers and designing things. I would love to design video games and I'd even love to write."

"Well," I said, smiling. "Both of those things can happen."

I know they can. I, too, defected from a career that wasn't right for me.

I didn't have a chance to ask this young woman how she communicated those changes to others in her life. Other patients began filtering in because it was a Saturday in an Urgent Care, after all.

In my teaching, I try to help my students find out what's really involved in their potential careers: For their first informative speech, instead of researching a general topic, students dive into career exploration: What does a day truly look like? What salary can they expect? What soft skills should they acquire?

I have been amazed by how many students give this speech and then reveal that after doing some research, they've changed their minds or decided to go in an entirely different direction.

So what's the communication lesson here?

When my grandmother asked me why I needed to rock the boat when I was already in a "fine job," I didn't know what to say. I knew that my grandfather sacrificed a successful music career and ended his working years as proprietor of a washing machine service. I didn't think my grandmother would resonate with me suddenly realizing that I wasn't fulfilled.

If your family or friends likewise offer a bold or subtle opinion about your impending change, try to stick to facts, preferably, after you have some. Like I said in the MyFootpath piece, you have to do some investigation. Here's how those conversations can go down:

Professors/Those in the Field: 
Talk to a professor who is in the field you're thinking of leaving, as well as a prof in the field you're thinking of joining.

For the first prof, discuss your specific concerns. Say, "I have been rethinking this major/career path because I'm concerned that __________." This is the time to get out all of your rational and irrational thoughts. Get the facts!

For the next prof, discuss what you think are the facts. Say, "I'm thinking of changing course and I want to make sure I have the right information about this major/career before I make a final decision."

Also, you could ask each prof, "Could you refer me to someone currently working in this field so I can learn more?" Even a phone conversation could give you tremendous insight.

Your college probably has a career center, and that's another wonderful place to gather facts. In fact, if you are attending a university, you could certainly check into the career center at a community college... and vice versa. One of the things I loved about being a student is that it gives you such a beautiful excuse to do investigation. People hear, "I'm a student..." and they are often primed (and honored!) to share information.

Academic Advisers: 
Of course, you'll want to talk to your academic adviser and say, "How will making this change affect the credits I've currently taken? How will my overall course plan be affected?"

Your adviser for the new program can help, too. Ask, "Does this program allow elective credits so I can transfer some of my existing classes? How many credits are required for a minor in my former major area? Are there any possibilities for substitutions?" You never know until you ask, right?

Then, Your Family, Friends, or Anyone Else Who Cares About You
Now, let's talk get back to the most challenging part of communicating your change:  Talking to those close to you.

Always start with hard facts first. Logic tends to resonate with people far more easily than emotions, which can be so fickle. Tell your family or friends what you've already learned. Here is what I would have said to my grandmother if I knew then what I know now:

"Grandma, I really appreciate how concerned you are about me and I know that my job looks like it's a great fit for me. I didn't realize that it wasn't until I was able to try something else. I've done quite a bit of research and here's what I found out: I do need to go back to school to become a professor, and it is expensive. But, I can pay for my undergraduate degree while I'm earning money through transcription and teaching.

Then, if I do well in school, I can apply for a graduate assistantship, which will cover the cost of my Master's tuition and I'll make a small stipend. Granted, I'll have to work pretty hard since I have my mortgage and bills... I'll keep transcribing for my clients, keep teaching my night classes, and then I'll have to work at the university for the assistantship, but I am determined to try and do it.

The worst that will happen is that I'll decide to teach transcription at the college level, but at least I'll have the credentials for that with an advanced degree."

(Then, it's okay to insert some emotion before you close...)

"I feel pretty scared that I'm changing my mind this way, especially since I was so sure about my path. But I hope you'll support me as I continue to figure things out. I'm glad to answer any of your questions or concerns about what I'm doing. If I don't know the answers, then I'll realize I have more to find out, too."  

Defensiveness is a quick and easy go-to place for any of us. However, the more humility and realness we can show, the harder it is for someone to criticize.

As you know, I decided that I didn't even want to teach transcription long-term. My years in Toastmasters, the fact that I happily worked to rise up the ranks of the organization and I rarely missed meetings, told me that public speaking and communication was where I needed to be.

Interesting how some changes pan out, isn't it?

And I guess I've come full-circle to some degree:  Here I am, writing about my passion point--communication, students, college--now in my ninth month of blogging with over 13,000 visitors (abundant thanks to you!!!!).

I just landed a publisher (which I'll discuss in a future post) and am hard at work finishing "Say This, NOT That to Your Professor:  42 Talking Tips for College Success" for release this graduation season.

My career path was supposed to begin in writing, but then I was diverted... two times over.

I guess that other part of my authentic self is finding its way back. 

Students, are you struggling with any "major change"? What conversations would help you figure out your next move? Colleagues in education and out, what happened when you had to make some major changes in your education or career? I'd love to hear those stories, and even compile them for a future blog post!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Another Student Question: I Have a High GPA, but I May Fail a Class... What Do I Say So I Don't Sound Desperate?

(Happy start to school! I realize this is the first week back for many of you. Other students have another week. Regardless, I'm excited for you starting off your term! 

This particular student question came in at the tail end of last term. I thought about saving it for later, but then realized that many strong students struggle... and are fearful about offending a professor if they question too much. I'd love to hear what you think. And, it's a new year--let's keep those questions coming!!!)

Dear Ellen,

Your recent blog post on failing was very helpful to read. I don't know if I have failed a class or not but I had failed the midterm. While I feel I did much better on the final exam, I am paranoid about the fact that I might not have enough points to pass (mathematically speaking). I had met with my professor privately after the midterm to say that I was still committed to working really hard to do well on the final.

I emailed my prof both after I finished the final and after the test average was released, since I've been freaking out about whether I had passed or not. For the record, this was an undergraduate math class and my current GPA is a 3.85 in my junior year. Seeing your piece, I think I didn't make any serious mistakes in how I approached it, but maybe you can tell me. 

I tried to stick to the fact that I was most interested in showing that I knew enough of the material to pass the class and that I demonstrated improvement. I did ask if final exam corrections, an oral exam/interview, or something else were still possible in case I had not done enough, so that I could better exhibit my mastery of the concepts [Did I go wrong here? I didn't want to sound whiny in asking for extra credit; I just wanted to let them know that I knew enough of my stuff, and if given even the smallest opportunity to show it, I would make use of it]. 

I tried to avoid discussing how the grade might appear on grad school applications, although I did mention academic probation as one cost. My desperation was probably evident in the two emails but I also wanted to be clear that I wished to earn my passing grade; I never once complained about anything my professor did. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated; I'm a nervous wreck right now. 


And now for my response... and an update!

Dear Student, 

I'm so glad that you wrote to me and I would love to help. First of all, most students, even ones with incredible GPAs like yours, have their challenging classes. I was a superstar in English/Writing, but I struggled terribly in math and biology. And, if you read my previous post on getting a "C" in Environmental Science, I can relate to what you're going through.

Here is my take:

-With a 3.85 GPA, I realize the low grade is going to feel like a huge hit, but it probably isn't. You are in your junior year and you have more classes to go. You can average that grade up, of course, or you could retake the class, but I doubt that would be necessary.

-Did you find out how the rest of your class did on the mid-term? Was the overall class average very low? If it was, this is a difficult, but important question for your professor. It's something he/she would need to look at to determine if there was an issue with the test instrument or the instruction of the material. Bottom line, if an entire class fails, the professor needs to figure out what happened.

-Let's talk about your communication with the professor. It sounds like you were very proactive, so bravo to you! You were well within your rights to ask everything you did. Also, know that it is completely and totally acceptable to say, "I have a 3.85 GPA and I am very worried about how this grade is going to affect my GPA and how it is going to look on my transcript. Based on what I've been able to accomplish until now, my junior year, I'm sure you can understand why this would be very, very concerning to me."

Professors were all students for a long time! We have all been there with our own grades and concern over our own transcripts. I was worried about my "C" on my transcript from my A.A. degree, but ultimately, my overall GPA was fine and I made it into graduate school without a problem. Remember, a high GPA is important, but there are other factors that the school will consider (if it is any consolation to you, I did not do well on my GRE's, but I graduated summa cum laude in my Bachelor's program and also in my Master's program. So, even a major flub on an exam doesn't necessarily mean all is lost for grad school. Of course, this depends on the program).

-You mentioned that you may have sounded desperate in your messaging to the professor. Let me tell you, you have every right to sound desperate/frantic/freaked out/climbing the walls stressed with your high GPA. You have worked hard and you genuinely care about your grade!

Professors become frustrated with students who fail to take their grades seriously, and only do so when it is too late. Most of us are very compassionate with students who are strong achievers, but happened to hit a roadblock.

-You noted that you were concerned about passing based on the failing mid-term grade. Were the percentages of the mid-term and final enough to take your grade down? Were there other ways to measure your learning in this class? If not, this might be something to discuss with your professor and it sounds like you have done that already on some level (i.e., asking for other ways to show what you know).

You sound like an excellent student and you did everything right in this particular situation. Are you able to pinpoint where the problem occurred in this class? Was it the math, itself? Or the nature of the mid-term? If you have more math to take, it would be good to determine where the problem was so you can secure some additional help for future terms. A classmate who is sailing through may be willing to help you, there may be a math tutoring center, or, even hiring a tutor for even just a couple of hours may prove well worth the money.

Thank you, once again, for writing. Let me know how things work out. This topic will help other students tremendously. There are many academically solid students out there who turn upside down when a class doesn't go well. Maybe some answers will help with that stress.

My best to you!

Here's the update, although brief: 
The student did pass the class and was continuing dialogue with the professor to determine what could improve for next time. Hopefully, we'll hear a little more as this term progresses. I will update again!

Another after-thought to this post: When I was in my post-secondary ed program, I was taught that high-stakes exams should not be enough to tank a grade--that a student should have more ways to "show what they know." I was thinking that not all subjects lend themselves to this, though--that maybe in some subjects, exams are weighted higher for a reason.

So, I inquired with a few math colleagues and my friend Isa Adney (Community College Success) also wrote about math in one of her previous blog posts. I learned that math class grading is typically cumulative, homework builds to the exam (this is probably true for most classes, but makes a lot of sense for math), and major exams can be upwards of 30% (maybe higher) of the final grade. So, for students who struggle with homework, then are challenged by an exam covering that same material, it makes sense that a low overall grade follows (which, again, would be true for many classes).

What does this mean for you? Get help the second you know you are struggling! You can't wait until the midterm to see where your grade stands. Use your homework as your guide.

Tell your prof, "I'm really struggling with the concepts and I'm concerned about how I'll do on the next test." 

Of course, be very specific about what is confusing you, rather than throwing up your hands and saying, "I just don't get it!"

You'll want to use your prof's office hours, any extra assistance time he/she offers (I know some amazing math profs who offer lots of out-of-class mini-sessions), and, by all means, seek out external tutoring, either on campus or off. If your prof works with you incrementally, or knows what you are doing to help yourself along the way, you can keep an eye on your grade--and progress--together, rather than having a "clean-up on aisle GPA" at the end. The student who wrote in definitely kept tabs with the prof, which was a good thing.

Any classes you're concerned about this term? What conversations should you be having with your profs this week? Colleagues, any other advice for a student struggling this way?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Five Ways to Transform from an "Accidental Student" to One Who Intentionally Excels!

Happy New Year, wonderful readers!

During the holiday break, I had three books by my bedside... all having to do with running and all by the same author. It may seem odd that I'm going to piggyback off of a running book for my first 2012 post, but who couldn't use a little invigoration to kick off our January?

I have not written much about my journey with fitness in this blog because that doesn't really have to do with student-prof communication, does it? You can read some backstory in this post I wrote several months ago called The 12 Most Unexpected Ways I Relate to My Students as a Back-of-the-Pack Runner.

Suffice it to say, one of the most challenging aspects of my life--weight and fitness--represents the part of my life I most relate to students and their struggles with motivation, striving for excellence and feelings of failure.

Sure, I get that poor grades are not the same as poor health. But just as much as students use education to break out of their circumstances and improve their lives, I battle to stave off a familial cycle of morbid obesity. I was on the path already; I plan to never darken it again!

While reading one of John "The Penguin" Bingham's books, The Accidental Athlete, I found it quite motivating for some of my personal goals. I kept seeing correlations between what it takes to overturn years of poor eating/fitness habits and what it takes to transform "accidental students" into intentionally successful ones!

Here are some of Bingham's themes that might help you in your educational journey. Of course, I'm adding a communication twist:

Lesson 1:  "Whatever my limitations were in terms of size or talent, they could be mitigated, if not eliminated by hard work."

Bingham was not a natural athlete and didn't take his first running step till age 43, when he found himself an obese, ill couch potato. Now, in his 60s, he's racked up countless marathons, albeit as a "back of the pack" (translation = slow) racer.

Not every student comes to college ingrained with superb grades and stellar academic ability. Heck, you could probably teach college if that were the case! But what you brought to college doesn't matter as much as a) what you do with what you do have; and b) your willingness to work hard and seek out those who can academically or emotionally support you.

Resolve to say this:  "I am willing to work hard to get what I want. I will build on my past successes, not let previous failures weigh me down, and seek out all available resources to get me to my next level of academic awesomeness!"

Lesson #2:  "I didn't know anything about being a runner. I was enthusiastic, and that was all that mattered." 

So many students come to college believing that they shouldn't need any help and should have all the answers. Then, students feel ashamed, lose faith in themselves, and want to give up. I so get this feeling when a previously easy run is suddenly very difficult for me, or when I compare myself to other runners who are faster than me (and that would constitute the majority of the running population... and even some of the walking population!). I curse my body and my family history, wondering why I ever started this craziness. I become angry when each step has to be such a damned challenge.

What are the main tools we need to succeed? Dedication to our goals and commitment to learn from those who know more than we do. After all, you can learn what you don't know. It's why you're in college, right? Having the enthusiasm (or at least the willingness) to dig through the process is just as important as how your college journey ends up.

Resolve to say this:  "I am not expected to have all the answers. Some subjects will come easily to me; others will be an uphill climb. What I can control is my own level of determination and my willingness to ask questions or seek out support when I need it."

Lesson #3:  "What binds us as competitors is far more powerful than what separates us by pace."

Bingham's theme in all of his books is that it doesn't matter if you're an ultra-runner, a sprinter, or a penguin runner (like me!), marathoning is a sport where everyone has the same prevailing goal:  To get to the finish line. Sure, some runners have lofty time goals; others just want to not get picked up by the paramedics. All are largely competing against themselves--and the front runners are mentally working to stay in the lead as much as the back-of-the-pack'ers are trying to finish or get a bit faster.

You may find that you frequently compare yourself to other students. You think everyone else in the class "gets it" and you're the only one confused. You hear about others' high grades and beat yourself up that you should have done better.

Remember:  Regardless of high or low grades, every student is running his/her individual academic race. You are all trying to get to the conclusion of the class--hopefully together--even though you'll get there in different ways. Regardless, you can support and learn from each other throughout the term. As you open up to your peers, you will likely find that their races aren't as effortless as they seem. 

Resolve to say this:  (To a fellow student or two): "I'm having a challenge with what we're learning right now. You seem to know what's going on. Would you be willing to take a few minutes after class and let me ask you some questions?" Or, "I would really love another set of eyes on this paper. Would you be willing to take a look at it for me? I'd be glad to do the same for you."

(And to your prof): "I am really struggling with what we're working on right now. I'm concerned that everyone else in the class gets it and I'm going to fall behind. Can I meet with you to ask some specific questions? Or, would you be willing to go over this in class again?"

Lesson #4:  "There is something about trying to get faster that can change you. There's something about finding out where the limits are that can make you defy those limits." 

When I completed my first 1/2 marathon in 2006, I was at a 19-minute mile (I walked). Now, as a "runner", my pace is anywhere between an 10:30 - 12:30 minute mile (and could be 13:00 - 14:00 with lots of hills or long distances), depending on the day, my physical condition, my mood, planetary alignment, etc.

So many times, I tell myself that I cannot move my larger running body any faster, that it's not scientifically possible to move mass at quick speeds, that I'm just too damned tired, that my family history just won't allow it... etc., etc. But it's only those messages that have the capacity to hold me back.

The reality is that I had two PR's in the past week, shaving 6 seconds off a 5 mile run and 12 seconds off a 3 mile run. And, really, in my "active" period of five years now (and birth of a second child where I gained and re-lost 70 lbs), my pace has quickened considerably: 19:00 down to 12:00-ish is an accomplishment! I did not reach this point alone. I relied on a pivotal running/fitness "mentor" (unofficial, not a hired coach, but someone who cares) to see possibilities that I couldn't see for myself, and many other running buddies and their motivation and knowledge.

I know that students plague themselves with all sorts of negative mental messages:
-"I wasn't a good writer in high school, so I'm probably not going to do well writing papers in college."
-"Research is really hard. Finding good sources takes a lot of time."
-"I am not strong in math, so College Algebra is going to be terrible for me."
-"I failed my mid-term and I probably can't bring my grade up."
-"Maybe I'm not smart enough to be in college."

What if none of those messages are actually true?

What if you can become a strong writer with coaching and guidance?

What if you can turn around a failing grade with additional help and more proactive communication with your professor?

What if your younger self's math brain is not the same as your adult math brain and you actually find it fun to tackle problems?

Are you ready to find out where your limits are and push past them? (Psst... the answer is "Yes!).

Resolve to say this:  "I am willing to see just how well I can do in college. I am ready to embrace the areas where I excel and work through what's difficult for me. I will share my fears/concerns/thoughts (rational or irrational) with others who believe in me (that includes your prof!) so they can help me to see greater things for myself than I believe are possible."

I could totally keep going with Bingham's nuggets of wisdom, but I want to invite you to share nuggets of your own. Here were two phrases that I didn't include in the above list: 

1) The glamour of the sport belongs to runners at the front of the pack, but the glory belongs to any one of us.
2) You can be beaten and not be defeated.

Based on your experiences as a current student, or a past student (anywhere, anytime!), how do you see one of these statements relating to college success?

I look so forward to our continued discussions as the year progresses!

I appreciate every one of you who read this blog so very much.