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
In this issue, you'll find:
- Change Paradigms
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Change Paradigms
Do you ever give your students a pre-semester quiz to test
their knowledge before they take your course? Here’s a
pre-semester quiz for you.
- If you buy something that costs $9.80 and give the clerk
a ten dollar bill what will he give back to you?
That’s right, you get change.
And what kind of change?
That’s right, a pair-o-dimes.
- What paradigm will you adopt to face the change on your
campus this fall? Will you be a grumpy professor or a resilient
- What kind of change might you notice on campus? Check as
many that apply. Add your own.
- Possibly fewer students or many more. Curiously, at the
same time some institutions are experiencing a downturn in
enrollment, many urban and community colleges are experiencing
increased enrollments of adult students using the occasion of
unemployment to return to school in the hopes of learning new
skills and making themselves more employable.
- Fewer faculty teaching more courses; Class sizes may be up
and adjunct faculty may be increased or decreased depending on
how the bottom line plays out. In some places the full time
faculty are taking on the teaching responsibilities previously
assigned to adjuncts. In some places the faculty have pay cuts
as well as increased responsibilities.
- More online or blended courses. Learning the technology
to manage these courses can have a considerable learning curve.
- Budget cuts affecting programming, equipment, and staffing.
For example, the next time you experience email and website
breakdowns, there may be fewer tech wizards to rush to your rescue.
- Grumpy administrators.
- Grumpy faculty.
You can probably add other items to the list. These trends all
lead to the theme of doing more with less. Who would have thought
at the beginning of the fall term last year what sweeping economic
changes were to come upon us all just a month later?
Most changes in response to economic trends are not directly under
your control. Even if you are an administrator who makes decisions
affecting program, personnel, and policy you have the realities of
limited funds affected by the drop in your university’s investments
or the state budget or donor giving.
The good news: Everyone is affected. Not just at your school but
at all schools. Not just in the US but all over the world. Not just
in the world of higher education but also in retail, housing,
Thus we have a common experience to unite our human suffering.
The bad news: because the experience is universal, we can find
many fellow sufferers to complain with and to join with a change
The Good News about Resistance
Change is hard for all of us because resistance to change has a
very useful purpose. Without a brain that resists new learning
your brain would be too fluid. Here is what would happen:
So our brains are adapted to make survival easy – at least for
simpler times. Our cave parents’ survival depended on routine
and occasion thinking outside the box. For centuries grain was
planted, harvested, ground, and baked using pretty much the same
procedures. However, living in today’s world with its high rate
of change requires having some routine and a whole lot of thinking
outside the box. Sometimes we don’t even have a box to begin with.
Understanding why our “old brains” resist the rapid rate of change
will help you be more patience with resistance, your own and that
- The information needed for you to function at work and at home
would flow in and flow back out just as fast.
- Nothing would stick long enough to be available the next time
you needed it.
- Everyday would be like starting over as a newborn baby.
- Every day you would have to relearn whether a green traffic
light means go or stop.
- Every day you would have to relearn your office procedures
and your colleagues’ and students’
While we do not have control over all the changes on campus
affecting us, what we do have control over is the paradigm we
adopt for dealing with the changes that affect us. You can adopt
a grumpy paradigm where you feel downtrodden and put upon and start
the school year not at your best or you can create a resilient
paradigm of dealing with the realities of the situation in such
a way that allows you to operate at your best in spite of circumstances.
What is the best way for you to deal with change:
fighting, resisting and hating change (The Grumpy
Professor) or are you better off accepting, adapting, and
mastering change (the Resilient Professor)? Which paradigm will
increase your productivity and life satisfaction? The question
is an empirical one, namely, what will be in your best interest
personally, being a change victim or a change victor.
In case you do not know the answer to the above empirical question
from your own lived experience, researcher Barbara Fredrickson has
designed the empirical studies and found that people who are in a
good mood function better than those in a bad mood. They are able
to take their skills and talents and do what she calls, “broaden
and build.” People in a positive frame of mind can get better at
what they are already good at. Happy people are more effective in
thought processes and more creative. Therefore, by approaching
change with a more positive paradigm, you have a greater potential
of developing your own potential and will be more influential to
those around you. Armed with two days of data you can now make an
informed choice as to how you want to face each day.
But don’t take my word for it or even Barbara Fredrickson’s.
Design an experiment to test what works for you. Try the grumpy
paradigm for a day. Look around and find things to complain about;
you won’t have to look very hard. Complain a lot. Walk around campus
with your head down. Then, evaluate how you feel about your
productivity and your relationships for that day. The next day try
out a resilient paradigm in which you see yourself as a master of
change reframing the challenges as opportunities. For example,
perhaps the challenge is how to come up with ways to teach well
even if you have been assigned to a larger classes or more sections?
The change mastery strategy might be to study the pedagogical
literature on effective ways to teach large classes or on how to
help students write well without adding grading time to the professor’s
schedule. Armed with two days of data you can now make an informed
choice as to how you want to face each day.
In case that you are thinking that you are too old and set in
your ways to adopt a different paradigm, I would like to suggest
that you actually have another paradigm in which you see change
as positive. For example, you probably wouldn’t get upset if your
dean offered you an unexpected raise or you won an award that you
didn’t apply for. Why is it that you wouldn’t see those changes
as horrible and awful? Isn’t it because you might think differently
about those changes as beneficial? What if you could broaden your
definition of change as providing benefit and opportunity at the
same time as it is challenging you?
If you like the resilient paradigm, you can become a master in it
because you already know how to master other things. You may have
already mastered teaching well. If you are a mid to late career
academic you may have mastered your research field and produce
good work in that field. You may even have a hobby such as a martial
art or photography in which you are on the path to mastery. What
process did you follow to get good at those things? I bet it was
some version of the following.
- good instruction from a mentor or role model;
- lots of practice;
- helpful feedback from a coach;
What if you applied the same process to understanding and mastering change?
The Resilient Paradigm is a different way of looking at these problems
and might lead to these interpretations of changes you are facing:
- I have a choice each day which paradigm I adopt.
I can see each day as a fresh start to my goal of mastering change.
- Every day I have the opportunity to teach well and do good
- I need to have a clear focus on my priorities so that I can
keep my energy and productivity high.
- Economic changes of the past year have affected every corner
of the world from housing to unemployment to research. We are all
in this together. Economic changes come and go. Things will improve.
- With unemployment rounding out at 10%, I am grateful that
I have a job. I am fortunate that the job I have is one that I like
and am good at.
- These difficult times have some new opportunities as well.
There is stimulus money available in some sectors like for community
college education and science research.
- My college needs me to offer an honest day’s work for an honest
day’s pay. I can’t afford to waste time in depressing, “ain’t it
awful conversations.” I need to be sharp for my classes and writing time.
- With staff cuts there are opportunities for me to exercise
leadership on some special projects related to my mission.
- Doing more with less is difficult gives an opportunity to trim
waste. I can do that personally by getting rid of old files and
equipment I no longer need.
- If funds are not available for travel I can still continue my
professional development in lower cost ways like joining a learning
community or mastermind group of other professors interested in
learning new things. I can also use my own funds to support my
attendance at high priority conferences. My professional development
is important to me.
- I can figure out ways to go deeper with some of my work to
increase my job satisfaction.
- I can collaborate with like-minded colleagues on team teaching,
guest appearances in each others’ classes, and research projects.
- I can review my syllabi and look for ways to offer the same
pedagogical goals with less time intensive methods. For example,
I could cut down the number of written assignments but require students
to rewrite the assignments that have received a preliminary grade
and comments. I will can valuable time for class preparation of new
material and the students will deepen their learning.
- I need to keep my stress level down by eating nutritious delicious
food, exercising regularly, and getting to bed earlier on weeknights.
- I can establish supportive routines to substitute for the lost
security I am feeling. I can approach my calendar like a creative
endeavor to fit in the activities that make me productive and happy
whether they be writing first thing in the morning or taking a yoga
class with a friend.
As school begins this fall, ask yourself a healthily selfish question:
which paradigm will bring me the most benefit? Test it out empirically
so you can make an informed choice.
Nothing endures but change. Heraclitus.
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 accepting speaking invitations for faculty
work/life balance and leadership workshops for
summer and fall of 2009. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty”
Date: October 29, 2009
Place: Professional and Organization
Network of Higher Education, Houston, TX
Registration, fee, and directions:
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty”
Date: November 19, 2009
Place: Lilly International Conference, Oxford, OH
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://
I am accepting speaking invitations for faculty work/life balance
and leadership workshops for winter and spring of 2010.
Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics
To start receiving the Professor Destressor e-Newsletter
send an email with “Please send Professor Destressor” in the
Subject to: Susan@Professor Destressor.com.
To stop receiving send an email with “Stop Professor
Destressor” in the Subject to: Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com.
Professor Destressor e-Newsletter is intended for
informational and educational purposes only. Coaching
should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for,
counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.
© Copyright 2009 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or
distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a
single word is changed, added or deleted, including the
contact information. However, you may not copy it to a
web site without the publisher’s permission.
Susan Robison, PhD.; 9005 Chevrolet Drive;
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Voice: 410-465-5892 or 410-461-1382