Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and productive life while making a difference.
In this issue, you'll find:
- Course Revision
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Course Revision
When is the best time to revise a course?
If you are stumped by the question, you are not alone. In
a recent workshop for the Lilly East Conference on College
and University Teaching, I posed that question to an
audience made up of graduate students interested in
academic careers and early career faculty. They couldn’t
answer the question either. My answer: the summer is the
best time to revise your courses because most professors
have more discretionary time in the summer. Notice that
I didn’t say, “free time.” Free time is what your
corporate employed brother-in-law thinks you have, as in
“It must be nice to have all summer off with all that
free time. What a cushy job you have!” A summer of
languishing by the pool, playing Monopoly with the kids,
trying new recipes, in short, and having the summer off.
The reality is that even if you aren’t obligated to teach
summer courses, you are still working in the summer.
Instead of “free time” think of yourself as having more
discretionary time, that is, time during which you
direct your tasks and your priorities with no urgent
obligations to show up anywhere like class. You have
courses for the next year to prepare and scholarly work
that contributes to your field and to your own career
path to produce. Those activities are part of your job
description all year long, but during the summer you can
choose the pace at which you work provided you still
work on these worthy goals. Faculty who spread their
class preparation and scholarly work across the whole
year including the summer produce more quality work and
feel less stressed. This newsletter will cover two
practical skills to help your summer transition: your
Ideal Week and the Steps to course Revision.
How are you going to do some of this work and still
have time for taking the kids to the pool? As you
transition from your end of the semester duties to the
summer it is a good time to design your ideal summer
week, one that paces your work tasks with time with
your family and friends. In order to shape this Ideal
Week ask yourself these questions:
- During what time of the day are you at your highest
energy? First thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, or
after dinner? There is a wide range of individual
differences on daily rhythms. One of my coaching
clients gets up in the middle of the night when the
house is quiet and writes, goes back to bed for a nap
before the other family members rise in the morning .
Your high energy time is usually the best time for
“thinking work” such as researching a new topic for
one of your courses or revising an article. Lower
energy times like during the morning if you are a
night person or vice versa are good times to clean
out files, play with kids, or run the vacuum cleaner.
- How many days of the week or segments of those days
do you want to work? You are the “boss of you” here.
Do you want to work three mornings or five evenings or
have full time day care for the kids and work a five
day work week just like you do during the school year?
It is up to you to set the pace that allows you to
accomplish the goals you have set for your summer.
- How can you protect your time and space from
interruptions and clutter? Before we began coaching
about increasing his scholarly work, one dad tried
unsuccessfully to work in the corner of the family
room while his two children and their four friends
played computer games on the other side of the room.
The constant distractions interfered with his
concentration. After we brainstormed some possible
alternatives, he decided to move his computer to a
basement “office” created by defining the space with
moveable tall book shelves. It was a walk out
basement with windows along the back of the house. He
placed his desk beneath one of the windows to take
advantage of the view. He could still hear the kids
above him and took frequent breaks to check on them
but was quite pleased at his productivity. He
accomplished more in less time, leaving more time for
doing fun things with his children.
- What kind of support do you need if you have child
care responsibilities? Day camps, trips to grandma’s
house, a teen-aged baby sitter, or your spouse trading
child care duties with you are all possibilities for
getting you uninterrupted time. Sometimes academics
have to educate their spouses that they are not “off”
for the summer even though the brother-in-law thinks
so. Instead faculty often have increased flexibility
for family responsibilities along with their
professional goals but they do need to work during the
summer to spread their work load across the year.
- What can you realistically accomplish? If you choose a
part-time schedule of three mornings a week, you will
probably be able to complete one major course revision
and some minor touch-ups on other courses do some
scholarly work. Thus, all of your courses will be
up-to-date on a rotating schedule. For example, if you
are responsible for six different content courses in
your department, each course will go through a major
revision every six years. Depending on your field and
how fast you write, you may be able to write one
article from scratch or revise several and ship them
off to journal editors.
Steps to a Course Revision
Naïve early career academics usually start course
designs by looking at content, texts, and the academic
calendar. I have taken workshops from experts on
course design such as Dee Fink, Laurie Richlin, and
Barbara Millis who suggest a different process to a
well-designed course. I am going to extrapolate from
their separate approaches to give you a course design
structure to follow.
- The Cosmic Questions.
Students who see the connection of the course
material to the bigger vision of the field, bring
their motivation to class with them. If you pause to
answer these questions, the rest of the process and
the course will go better.
- Why should a student take this course or learn
- What does it teach them about life or their
- What do you want them to do as a result of
- What should they care about and why?
- What do they already care about or expect from the
course? How could you find out?
- What do you care about? What are you passionate
about in this course?
- What kind of students will you be teaching: on-line,
lower level, or honors?
Stating these hopes and dreams prior to picking a
text will help you search for one that emphasizes
what you want your students to learn. They will shape
your philosophy of the course and your classroom and
grading policies. They will shape how much time you
spend on each topic, what chapters of the text to
emphasize, and what supplemental readings or
experiences you want to design into the course.
In her recently published study of the highest rated
college and university religious studies teachers in
the U.S., Barbara Walvoord found that even
experienced teachers have unvoiced expectations that
can get easily frustrated when unmet by the students.
For example, many hoped that their students will
increase in critical thinking skills but didn’t
always have specific strategies to achieve that goal.
Instead of keeping your goals secret, hoping that the
students guess them, a better way is to articulate
those goals by building them into the course design
and planning learning experiences that bring out the
best in your students.
- Pick your resources.
Plan how you want your students to use your course
resources. Tie the resources into your Cosmic
Questions. For example, what texts, articles, lab
manuals, audio-visual materials such as films
support your course goals? What do you want the
students do with these materials, for example, skim
articles, write reaction papers about films, or turn
in lab reports using the scientific method?
- Lay out a course design.
Using a grid format allows you to juxtapose content,
course objectives, and competencies. List the
content in the rows and the course goals and
competencies in the columns. Add another column for
the learning activities that best accomplish your
course goals and competencies. For example, do you
want the students in biology to be able to list the
parts of a cell or do you want them to diagram and
label the parts?
- Assess learning.
How will the students demonstrate their competencies?
Class discussion, one-minute papers, random quizzes,
and term papers are all very different experiences
from the students’ point of view. Which assignments
make the most sense with the goals you have for the
students? How can you best assess yourself as a
teacher? Have you thought about a mid-term course
evaluation to find out the “consumer complaints” so
that changes can improve the experience while the
students are still in the course instead of at the
end where only next year’s students benefit?
- Review evaluations.
If you have taught this course before, you have
student evaluations that you can review any time
during the revision process. I know, it takes a
good stiff drink to face those happy pieces of
paper but you can do it. And reviewing them soon
after the course ends will help make the connections
between your “Cosmic Questions” and whether the
students got the major course concepts. If you only
have one or two bad evaluations, put them back in
the manila envelope and ignore them. Those
“outliers,” as social scientists call research
subjects whose responses are so different from the
majority, don’t even constitute a statistical
minority of your students. The outliers may be
disgruntled about a grade in another class and took
it out on you. Sometimes their responses are so
discrepant from anything that went on in class it
is as if they in off the street on evaluation day
without being registered for the course. However,
if you have greater than 10% unfavorable
evaluations, problem solve about what you could do
to make that minority group enjoy and learn the
next time around. Any number greater that 40% is
a majority and if you have that many bad
evaluations, consider seriously changing your
expectations about the course or communicating them
more clearly in the course design and syllabus.
- Consult wise elders.
If you are new at this, read at least one of the
books listed below in the resources. Go to someone
in your department or your faculty development/
teaching effectiveness center and ask them to read
your syllabus draft and critique it kindly. Ask
them for tips on how they solved some of the
problems with which you are grappling. See what they
think you are missing, like expecting too much from
lower level students or underchallenging honors
students. Ask them if you can look at some of their
syllabi to see how they set up classroom policies
in a friendly yet clear manner.
- Maintain work-life balance during the semester.
- Consider using grading rubrics set out in writing
to the students ahead of time so that students
don’t have to play guessing games like “What does
he really want?” or my personal favorite, “How
long should the five page paper be?”
- Consider mixing some quick assignments like one
minute in-class papers graded pass/fail with finely
tuned big assignments worth lots of points.
- If you use papers such as term papers or reaction
papers, consider setting aside some class time in
which you get students to brainstorm ideas for
their topics, outline major points, get feedback
on their ideas from their small group, or go
online to research content. During class you can
roam around grabbing teachable moments to help
them increase their skills. The time spent in
class will bring rewards to you of better papers
and fewer late night anxiety calls.
- Consider having papers rewritten and resubmitted.
In my graduate leadership and undergraduate human
relations courses, I require electronic
submissions, I offer a preliminary grade using a
grading rubric specifying characteristic of a
paper worthy of a grade of “A,” “B,” etc. I also
offer suggestions for making the piece better.
Students have the option to take the grade given
or resubmit their rewritten work for a higher
Lest you think this grading method takes more
teacher grading time, let me reassure you that it
doesn’t. For example, in revising my graduate
leadership course I articulated the answers to
some of my Cosmic Questions that related to the
integration of leadership theories and practices.
I was willing to decrease the number of papers in
the course in exchange for that deeper learning
and integration. When the students resubmit, they
indicate the changes in colored text or
highlights. I review my comments and their
revisions without having to reread the entire
paper. Then I offer another grade and some final
comments and raves about the improvements. In
addition to deepening the learning, this
rewriting process prepares graduate students for
journal review and resubmission processes.
With your “Ideal Week” and the “Steps to
Course Design,” you will be able to count on at
least one great course in the coming year and
spend some time on your scholarly work across
the summer and the semester. Hopefully, you
will also have some summer fun and a more
relaxed academic year.
Fink, Dee. “Creating Significant Learning Experiences:
An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses.”
Millis, Barbara et al. “The Course Syllabus:
A Learning-Centered Approach.”
Richlin, Laurie. “Blueprint for Learning:
Creating College Courses to Facilitate, Assess,
Walvoord, Barbara. “Teaching and Learning in College
Introductory Religion Courses.”
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am currently accepting speaking invitations work-life
balance workshops for winter and spring 2009. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
I am currently accepting speaking invitations for work/life
balance and leadership workshops for winter and spring 2009.
Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly Effective
and Happy Faculty”
Date: October 22-25, 2008
Place: Professional and Organizational Network in
Higher Education; Reno, NV
Registration, fee, and directions: TBA
Title: Peak Performance Practices of Highly Effective
and Happy Faculty
Date: November 20-23, 2008
Place: Lilly International Conference on College and
University Teaching; Miami University; Oxford, Ohio
Registration, fee, and directions: TBA
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