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:
- First Impressions Matter
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. First Impressions Matter
Have the nightmares started yet? If you are like most
teachers, you look forward to the fall term with mixed
feelings. Of course you like to teach or you would pick an
easier job that pays better. You have to love teaching to
make it your life’s work. On the other hand, mixed in with
the enthusiasm of trying new teaching methods and new
material with new students, come the nightmares: those
scary dreams of getting to class with the wrong notes, in
the wrong building dressed in your pajamas. Add in dreams
where the students get up and leave after five minutes or
where they all pull out their smart phones and start
surfing the web for new videos and music to download while
you are teaching the most important class of your career
and you show up for the first class too exhausted to think.
You have good reason to be anxious. That reason is four
minutes. According to communication experts, four minutes
is all you have to make a good first impression when you
meet someone new. No wonder we all get social anxiety when
meeting new people. No wonder you feel pressure is about
that first class. You need to look your best and act your
best to make a good first impression of yourself and the
Have you ever noticed that you feel less socially anxious
when you have a prescribed role that comes with behavioral
guidelines? For example, wine and cheese faculty receptions
are less scary when you are sitting at the table checking
in new faculty and giving out name tags. You have a job.
You are trained. You know what to do. Your anxiety drops.
What if we teachers had a template of prescribed behaviors
for the start of a new class? After I developed the
template described below, my pre-semester anxiety shrank.
No more nightmares – well almost no nightmares. Last night
I dreamt that the faculty I was part of had to sleep in a
dorm but the dorm was really the new mattress section of a
large department store. My mattress kept folding up like
those adjustable hospital beds trapping me inside so I
couldn’t get to class. Once I got there, the teaching went
In this newsletter I am going to describe a template that
I have used for many years and have taught to other
faculty who wanted to make a fabulously good first
impression. You can adjust it to your needs and
preferences but there are research reasons for each
element of the template and it really works to help
faculty face those first classes with less dread and more
The old Girl Scout motto really helps. Get your syllabus
done in plenty of time. Run the hard copies or post it
online. Make sure it includes the following:
- Purpose of course.
- Course goals or objectives.
- Textbook references or other materials such as lab
- Your name and preferred contact information. Don’t give
the students your home number or private cell unless you
like having them call on Sunday afternoon to ask you how
many pages you want for the 10 page term paper. To reach
you by email, have the use the course symbol
(Psy 101 – Sec 1) in the subject line. Then set up a
filter on your computer for that symbol so that all the
emails from that class drop into a folder until your
schedule course prep time for that class.
- Your office hours with the location spelled out for the
geographically challenged and your email office hours,
sometime each week that you promise to check and answer
all emails from class members.
- Week by week reading and other assignments.
- Grading rubrics so that students know what qualities you
are looking for in their assignments.
- Special materials such as outlines of lab reports or
formats for book reports.
- Policies for attendance, classroom decorum, etc.
- Grading scale for the whole course so there are no
misunderstandings as to what earns each letter grade.
Line up all your class materials the day before the
class. Plan your wardrobe – something slightly more
upscale than you will wear the rest of the semester.
Since you will have some very specific things to do
during the first class don’t worry about a lot of
content for this first class but do prepare ahead for
the second and third class so that you can relax and
get a good night’s sleep before that first class.
When I taught a graduate leadership class I also asked
them to pose a “Seinfeld question” on their cards. The
comedian often began his stand up routine with the
question, “What’s with the (topic)?” For example, he
might ask “What’s with people who park in spots
reserved for drivers with disabilities when they don’t
have a disability?” In the class, I asked the students
to pose the question about a topic related to the
course that interested them. They came up with topics
such as “What’s with women not filling out the top
leadership roles at our organization?” What’s with pay
not being a motivator in the work place?” Later in that
class when we go to the part on the syllabus about the
term paper, I suggested they consider that they already
had a topic – the question they posed on their cards.
- Get to class early. Sometimes this isn’t possible
when you are coming to class from another class across
campus but it is possible when you come from home or
office. Be sure to plan parking and walking time. They
always take longer than you think.
- Get your materials ready. Load your slides if you
use them. Turn on equipment you are going to use.
Check the temperature, windows seating, etc. Think of
yourself as a host who wants the guests to be
- Greet the students at the door of the classroom.
Offer a handshake if you are comfortable with that.
Offer your name and a smile and a welcome. Ask them
their names. You won’t remember all of their names but
you will pick up a couple of them. If you use a hard
copy of the syllabus or any other written materials,
give those and a 3 x 5 index card individually to each
student until about 2 minutes before class time. They
will be shocked and impressed that you care about them.
As you start class, leave the materials in an obvious
place for the latecomers.
- Start class on time by introducing yourself and the
course name just in case people are in the wrong place.
If you wait to start until a few more students straggle
in, you have taught the students that class starts at
9:04 instead of 9. Introduce yourself with a short
paragraph about yourself. Students often wonder all
semester “what is her story?” Tell them: where you
grew up or went to school, how you got interested in
the field, what research or consulting or writing you
do related to the class content. Include something
brief about family or hobbies if you are comfortable
with your students knowing those things.
- Ask them for some information. Put up a slide or a
have a drawing on the board that formats what you want
on the 3 x 5 card. Name, nickname, contact information,
how many courses in the field they have had before,
what work or internship experiences may be related to
the course. Ask them about their hopes for the course
beyond needing the credits. Faculty development
consultant, Ron Berk, suggests asking the students
about their favorite media such as TV shows, movies,
songs. In his workshops he teaches faculty how to use
the media information to drop in references of current
student culture in slides, examples, skits, and
By now you have made a good first impression. The
students know that you care enough to get to know them
and they know something about you as an instructor. You
might be about 10-15 minutes into the class. Now it’s
time to create an atmosphere of learning with them.
Community of Learners
Studies on the best college teachers show they create
an atmosphere of learning in their classes (see books
by Walvoord, Baine, Nilson and others). In this first
class, help the students connect with each through a
learning activity. Some examples:
- Have the students introduce themselves to a partner
on a topic related to the course purpose. For example,
in an art class have the students talk to a partner
about their favorite art media and why it is their
favorite. In a literature class, have students talk
about their favorite piece of literature from high
- Give them a problem to work on related to the content.
- Have the students meet a partner they don’t know and
interview each other about what they might have in
common other than being students. They will enjoy
finding out that they are both one of 7 children or
belong to the same church or own a motorcycle. Then
ask each dyad to find another dyad and introduce their
partner to the other dyad. They will meet three
classmates and find out that they have some things in
common with each other.
- In a small seminar class, I do a warm up game in
which the students stand in a circle and learn each
other’s name. Students always comment on the final
course evaluation that no other professor in their
graduate program learned their names or asked them to
learn names in spite of the fact that class size in the
program averages 10-20. This exercise, which takes
about ½ hour, is particularly good for classes that
meet once a week for 3 hours.
- In a large lecture section, ask the students to take
out a piece of paper (or you can provide card stock),
fold it into three sections to make a name tent. They
put their favored first name or nick name on the card
stock front and sit the tent on the desk or lab table
in front of them. Call the students by their names
when they ask questions or respond to your questions.
At the end of the class have the students flatten the
place cards and collect them. For subsequent classes
bring the name cards back and put on a desk or table
near the door so that the students can pick up their
name tags as they come in. If you count class
attendance in your grading, pick up the remanding
name cards of the absent students left on the table
and keep in a separate pile at the end of class.
After the warm-up activity, you are ready to cover
the business side of the course. There are many ways
to handle this. Reading the syllabus to the students
will put them to sleep. A fun alternative would be to
give students a chance to read the syllabus and then
have a game-show quiz on the content with individually
wrapped candy mints as prizes. In my graduate class I
would give the students time to read the syllabus and
then announce that as of right at the moment they all
have “A”s and would have to work hard to lose that
grade. Then I list what they could do if they really
want a lower grade: fail to come in class, turn
assignments in late, insist that the textbook is
irrelevant, ignore the assignment guidelines, etc.
Leave some time for questions at this moment and also
at the start of the next class. Taking time at the
beginning of the semester to get clarity about
assignments and grading will save you time in class,
office hours and email.
- Create an activity relating to the course content
that will engage the students. In my intro biology
class the teacher asked us why bars serve free salty
snacks. We all guessed that the salty snacks made the
customers thirsty so they would buy more drinks. When
he asked what biological processes cause thirstiness
and led to the extra drink orders we were stumped. We
spent the whole first class puzzling and pondering
while the professor gave us hints. In that little
lesson, we learned all about cell membranes, osmosis,
permeability, kidney functioning, etc. The fact that
I still remember that class is testimony to the
creativity and effectiveness of that method and that
- Give a mini-lecture on one of your best
introductory topic and then have a learning exercise
connecting you, the students, and the material.
Examples might include: a race to finish a math
problem that you have just demonstrated, a
think-pair-share, or a write-pair-share.
- Tell a story about a person related to the course.
Examples might be how a scientist discovered a
finding or how an author’s childhood experience led
to her writing a piece of literature we will be
Assessment and Evaluation
Find out how the class went for the students. Ask
them to raise their hand if the class taught them
anything they didn’t already know. You can use
numbers if you like. Have the students raise their
hands if they would give the class a 90 or above,
80-89, etc. An alternative is to have then fill
out a one item evaluation on the class and turn in
without their names. Another is to have them take a
two item multiple choice or true/false quiz on the
class material and turn in with their names.
Soon after the class ends, jot notes on either your
paper or electronic class notes about how the class
went and the timing of the exercises. You are now
better prepared for the first class for next
semester. In addition, you have made a great first
impression by introducing yourself to the students,
the students to each other, and the students to the
course structure and content.
Using a template for your first classes will help
you approach the new term with increased enthusiasm
and decreased anxiety.
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
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty”
Date: September 9 & 10, 2010
Place: Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA
Title: “Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty and Staff”
Date: September 29, 2010
Place: US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC),
Fort Leavenworth, KS
Title: “Your Best Year Ever: Managing Your Mission,
Yourself, and Your Time”
Date: October 15, 2010
Place: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Leadership Program for Women Faculty, Baltimore, MD
I am accepting speaking invitations for faculty
work/life balance and leadership workshops for spring
and summer of 2011. Contact me if your college or
university needs a presenter on any of the topics
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