Further Reflections on Supporting Yourself in a Support Role

by Carl Conner & Sarah Norek

Back in December, Carl and Sarah (we) engaged in a loosely structured conversation over Zoom with a few other folks who hold formal support roles. We wanted to explore what it meant to support ourselves in support roles (you can read our article about it here).

In this article, we reflect on what it’s meant to continue to meet with, and expand on, this conversation group. We’ve gained much from these meetings and are grateful to those who have shared their stories and their time. Below, in an informal interview style together, we share some planning ideas as well as what we consider to be the benefits of such a group, in case other folks on campus are interested in or thinking about these kinds of conversation groups too.

What have you observed across meetings?

Carl: Going into the first meeting, I did not know what to expect! As someone who often struggles to maintain my energy levels, I was particularly surprised to feel so energized after the group met. It was also surprising to me how universal that feeling was, even throughout different meetings with new voices joining the group. I felt tremendous gratitude for the sense of connection and validation that these conversations offered, and I was doubly grateful to hear other members of the group reciprocate that gratitude. Given the range of backgrounds, roles, and professions we have in the group, to foster such a strong sense of reciprocity felt truly special.

Sarah: We’ve met a few different times now, and I think something I’ve noticed each time is that it feels okay to be quiet, and to engage in messy thinking, and to process out loud or inside or however. I’ve also noticed how folks are getting ideas from each other, or resonating with what someone’s just said. There’s a lot of energy there that feels curious and thoughtful and generous and replenishing.

Carl, you recently referred to the “recipe” for this experience – would you be willing to share a little about that and what you think goes into the creation/facilitation/evolution of a group like this?

Carl: Though I believe that we were very lucky in terms of how incredible our participants were, we did think intentionally about how we could set the group up for success:

Connect for the sake of connection

I cannot emphasize the power and importance of this ingredient enough. Bringing different people together who all want to authentically connect can impact how we show up and engage everywhere else.

Snowball sampling works for this setting

When we wanted to expand the conversation after our first meeting, we employed a “snowball sampling” approach wherein everyone invited another person who they thought would benefit from being in the space. This method was helpful for maintaining a sense of familiarity with each other while still including fresh perspectives and ideas.

Prepare some prompts ahead of time, but largely allow the conversation to flow in whatever direction it needs to

Allowing for a loose structure to the conversation gives the people involved a greater sense of agency and also means that folks do not have to prepare any content beforehand.

Honor contributions

We always invited folks to come as they were and participate as much or as little as they wanted, and we were intentional to share gratitude for folks being there and participating in the ways that they did. This created an unofficial routine of sharing gratitude across all group members, and that process alone created such an authentic sense of community even after one or two meetings.

Any big takeaways to share with folks who might be interested in doing something like this elsewhere on campus?

Carl: Absolutely! First off, do not underestimate the value of connecting as humans. The recognition of each individual as unique, multi-faceted, and nuanced was very important to the structure of our group. Regardless of whether we knew each other well or had any overlapping roles, there was still plenty of connection to be had around our experiences as people coping with the challenges of daily life – life at work and life outside work and how they interact with each other. Second, I would encourage people (especially introverts!) to be bold enough to take the first steps to initiate spaces for connection such as these. I know it can be scary or stressful to be the one to approach others and ask them for some of their valuable time, but it was oh so rewarding to have been gifted that time and make something meaningful of it. As an introvert myself, I would highly encourage anyone who may be thinking about establishing a space for connection with peers/colleagues to take that first step – it’s so worth it!

Sarah: I love what you’re saying, Carl! I think all I might add is that we’ve chatted a bit about how important a sense of safety and trust in these spaces is, and ways to achieve that, or set a space up for that, in such a brief span of time. One thing that’s stuck with me is that everyone knows someone in the space, has a connection to someone in the space. For folks who might be thinking about creating a group like this, I think this element is really important. Because being in this space and community together is incredible! It’s meant so much to share and hold space distinctly for connecting, with no real agenda other than to share and listen and normalize and validate, to be in community together, no need to prepare in any way other than to arrive and bring yourself, as you are in that day and moment(s) in time. It’s been rejuvenating and really impactful mentally and physically.

Wanna talk more? Have ideas? Be in touch! We’d love to chat with you about thoughts you have about this kind of meeting and space.

Choosing a Peer Review Platform

by Kelley Calvert

Please visit this document for an accessible version of this article.

Note: Done well, peer assessment can remove the emphasis on grades and refocus energy on learning, shifting the instructor role from grading extensively to facilitating and coaching writing processes. In this post, I uphold the value of peer assessment as a point of departure and do not further debate the merits or shortcomings of this pedagogical approach. For more thinking on this debate, I encourage folks to check out the Headagogy podcast, particularly the episodes on ungrading and peer assessment linked here.

Once, in a time not-so-long ago, students schlepped to class, backpacks heavy with paper copies of their most recent essays, made notes on paper, scribbled in each other’s margins, and commented on the instructor’s questions. As a student, I always wondered how the instructor measured the quality of our feedback to one another and assessed how well we incorporated each other’s reviews–did they ever really look at those hundreds of papers piled on their desks?

Today’s digital equivalents of paper peer review include Canvas, Eduflow, Eli Review, and Peerceptiv, all of which permit greater efficiency and efficacy in responding to writing. These platforms allow multiple (often anonymous) peer reviewers, give writers an opportunity to rate feedback, and provide instructors with dashboard insights into student writing and feedback. As a result, instructors’ questions about peer assessment today differ substantially from years past, often boiling down to choice: How do we decide on a digital platform?

Considerations

An instructor might think about several issues when selecting a peer assessment platform, including supported assignment types (documents, audio, video), cost, data privacy, user options, functionality, and review types (anonymous, random, manual). Depending on one’s context, these criteria might take on varying degrees of importance, but generally speaking, the most important criteria seem to be functionality and cost. With this in mind, the chart below provides insights into the four most-widely used platforms on campus: Canvas, EduFlow, Peerceptiv, and Eli Review.

Platform

Cost

Functionality

Review Type

Canvas Free Allows students to give and receive feedback using rubric Anonymous or Known
EduFlow Free up to 15 students or $20 a month up to 100 ⦁       Includes self-review function

⦁       Allows rating of peer reviews

⦁       Includes instructor analytics

Anonymous or Known
Peerceptiv $15 a month payable by student, instructor, or institution ⦁       Focuses on data and assessment

⦁       Generates grade through peer review

⦁       Allows rating of peer reviews

Anonymous
Eli Review Starts at $12.50 a month for students ⦁       Focuses on entire writing process

⦁       Provides online instruction

⦁       Includes instructor analytics

Anonymous or known

Platforms

Canvas offers instructors a free means of assigning peer reviews manually or automatically. Instructors can include a rubric and/or require comments in the review. Canvas allows TA access and allows both anonymous and known peer review. Canvas offers a great number of benefits, but compared to other options, it may be somewhat limited as other options provide stronger instructor analytics and scaffold students’ writing process.

EduFlow enables anonymous peer review assigned manually or automatically while also providing the teacher access to analytical data about student writing. If the instructor has “organization” as a criterion in the rubric, and this area consistently receives low ratings, they may decide to spend additional class time discussing how to structure the writing project. This platform also allows students to hold their peer reviewers accountable through ratings of their commentary.

Peerceptiv, similar to EduFlow, provides instructor analytics and student reviews of feedback. Students review one another’s writing anonymously in Peerceptiv. the platform then generates grades using automated grading algorithms. While some may feel uncomfortable with this idea, Peerceptiv holds that these scores are as accurate as traditional instructor grading, allowing for more efficient instruction.

Eli Review in comparison to Perceptive, focuses more on the learning process itself. Including instructional units on revision for instructors and students, Eli Review engages all members of the classroom in the learning process. It creates an environment for students that encourages debriefing, modeling of drafts and feedback, and creating/responding to revision plans. It does not generate grades but serves more as a “laboratory” for practice.

Ultimately, there is no perfect solution and one’s choice of platform might rest heavily on their purpose for seeking one. I find myself drawn to Eli Review due to its focus on the iterative nature of the writing process, but I’m also interested in Peerceptiv in the context of larger classes and Eduflow for its support of a variety of assignment types. Have you used any of these platforms? If so, please comment and share your thoughts.

What Parenting Brings to the Table

by Clare Creighton

I’ve been a parent for six years now (longer if I count pet-parenting), almost as long as I’ve been in my current role at OSU. In some instances, the two roles feel at odds with each other as I experience a tension between working and being available to my kids. Certainly the 18 months of working from home blurred those lines considerably for me. But recently I’ve been trying to draw my roles as a parent and as a professional together in conversation. My orientation to listening and helping has changed as I consider how I relate to my very independent three-year old. She helps me see that I am quick to jump in and “help,” and most of the time that’s not what she wanted or asked for. It’s made me pause and clarify, “Do you want help?” and “What do you want that help to look like?” – a move that I am trying to flex more in other spaces as I check in with others about if and how they want me to engage.

I’ve asked a few colleagues to join me in thinking about how lessons learned from parenting impact who we are and how we approach our work.

Raina Martinez (Educational Opportunities Program)

“I have been a parent for 15 years now and one thing I have learned about being a parent that I can translate to my work counseling students is adapted from Maria Montessori, an educator from the turn of the 19th Century. Each experience is a time to learn. Not all experiences are going to be awesome or causes for celebration, quite the opposite, but we take away from these experiences learning, understanding and, hopefully, sometimes, grace, forgiveness and empathy. I can’t and shouldn’t stand in the way of experiences, lessons or progress; nor should I insert myself in any of these. Rather, I need to stand aside, guide and point out blocks along the way; but I must let them drive.”

Gabs James (College of Science)

“My kids inspired my master’s degree research, which is about celebrating gender expansiveness. Through supporting their gender journeys and discovering my own, I have brought these insights with me to the work I do with undergrads. We are all on a journey. Sometimes those journeys intersect, sometimes they need support, or encouragement to a roadside attraction. What’s been rad about parenting while being a graduate student and full-time student services professional has been the realization that we are co-creators of these journeys, not the architects of them. So, in a sense being a parent informs my work, and being a practitioner informs my parenting.”

Anne-Marie Deitering (OSU Libraries & Press)

“We became parents by adoption – one day everything was hypothetical and the next day we were parenting an almost-teenager.  Now, the stereotypical narrative around parenting new teenagers is that parents go from the person with all of the answers to the person who just doesn’t get it. Of course, stereotypes can’t capture the whole of any experience (even when they contain some truth) and for our family, this one really didn’t. Adopting an older child means parenting someone who might not trust you enough to be honest with you. It can take a while before they will express themselves when they are worried or afraid, and it can take even longer for them to feel safe enough to full-on disagree with you. That lesson — that trust needs to be earned and that negative feedback based on trust is a gift – helps me every day in my work as a teacher, as a mentor and as a manager.”

Teresita Alvarez-Cortez (Office of Institutional Diversity)

“My daughter has helped me understand so much of the operating knowledge I take for granted. She often asks what things mean or why something happens the way it does. Most things I assume as common knowledge, like the fact you have to actually pay for the cool toy you want and not just walk out of a store 😊 But some knowledge is more subtle, like the fact that we need to take turns talking in a conversation. These are norms and expectations that are not always clearly “taught.” I think about this a lot when I am working with teams, especially as I help onboard new employees to a team. I ask myself: “What are the norms or expectations of our work environment that are unspoken or unclear?” Then, I try my best to be clear with my colleagues about how those cultural norms operate so they are able to successfully navigate our work environment.”

Conclusion

As a final note, I want to celebrate that knowledge can move in both directions. These roles in our lives are mutually complementary – growth in one area supports growth in another. It invites the question: what assets do parents bring to the work place? What assets do student parents bring to campus?

What Are OSU Colleagues Reading?

Summer often offers capacity for reflection and planning ahead. As we head into the last few weeks of spring term, we want to highlight what our colleagues from around campus are reading. Perhaps you’ll find your next summer read in the list!

We asked colleagues, “What have you read that has informed your work or resonated for you, and why? This can be reading in any form (e.g., books, articles, videos, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.)”

Liz Delf, Senior Instructor, School of Writing, Literature, and Film

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy (Valley Library; Macmillan Publishers)

Cover of the book You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate MurphyOh man, listening is hard. I am a talker! But this book convinced me that it’s worth making the effort to listen more. Murphy argues for the value of listening in relationships, friendships, workplaces, and interactions with strangers… even when you disagree. While this is a valuable area for me to improve on as a faculty member, it also made me think about how to help students listen to a range of ideas and perspectives. Surprisingly varied and enjoyable read.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller (Valley Library; Penguin Random House)

Miller’s memoir of her assault by Brock Turner and the consequent trial is Cover of the book Know My Name by Chanel Millerpainful—but it is also nuanced, poetic, and powerful. Her insightful close readings of court transcripts are rage-inducing. It’s a fair and important critique of the institutions—including the university—that should have done more in the aftermath of the assault. Miller also lifts up the helpers. The nurses, the advocates, the detectives, the DA, her family. The thousands who wrote to her when her victim’s statement was published. The cyclists who stopped Turner and chased him down. An important story for all of us to hear.

Miguel Arellano, Assistant Director of Outreach, Office of Institution Diversity

Cover of the book Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love by Antonia DarderReinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love by Antonia Darder (Valley Library; Routledge)

Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice by Joan Tronto (Valley Library; NYU Press)Cover of the book Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice by Joan

Some central concepts are unmasking power structures and dominant values that tend to dehumanize people and limit our full potential, individual and collectively, and how we can start shifting our values and practice to create a world that is more just and caring. These books make us consider how care and love (defined as a verb) can be central to our work with students and larger society. P.S. Tronto provides a framework for us!

Funmi Amobi, Instructional Consultant, College Liaison, Center for Teaching and Learning

Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead) edited by Susan Blum (Valley Library; West Virginia University Press)

The pandemic brought new attention to an assessment culture that focuses on assessment as learning and for learning, not just as summative measurement of student learning. The accountability paradigm of assessment with its emphasis on using grades to measure student knowledge and ability came under scrutiny. The learning-centric focus of the meaning assessment gained prominence. In Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), edited by Susan Blum, the contributors unequivocally identified grades as the real problem in the assessment of student learning. They advocated for qualitative rather than quantitative assessment of student learning.

Steve Weber, Coordinator of Circulation Services, Library Experience + Access Department (LEAD), Valley Library

That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise, Fall—and Can Rise Again by John P. Kotter & Holger Rathgeber (Valley Library; Kotter Inc.)

That an organization needs both innovation That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise, Fall—and Can Rise Again by John P. Kotter & Holger Rathgeberand structure to succeed over the long run isn’t novel. However, it isn’t unusual for someone to have an affinity for one approach and a mistrust for the other. Having the concepts presented as a fable made for an enjoyable listen on my commute and suggested new ways to explain why one approach needs the other to thrive to colleagues who might respond better to analogy than charts and graphs.

Marigold Holmes, Assistant Director for Sponsored Programs, Office of International Services

The Good News Network

The Good News Network logoThe Good News Network highlights positive stories from around the world. As an international educator, knowing about political unrest, economic turmoil, natural disasters, etc. is important to offering timely and nuanced support to those I serve. But all too often, people in crisis get defined by the crisis, and I have found that knowing and appreciating the positive stories are equally important, especially in preserving their dignity. At a time when the news is overwhelmingly negative, this site offers a balanced view, reminding us that there is much good in the world and hope for a brighter future.

5 Ways for Teams to Build Community Outside of Meetings

Many of us have a variety of interactive team-building exercises or activities that we’ve experienced or facilitated during meetings. We also know that getting to know each other in fun and easy ways can take time—and it’s not always easy for everyone to attend the same meetings. Below are a few ideas from for engaging team members asynchronously in fun activities to get to know each other and build community.

  1. Share on a common prompt: Posting a prompt on a whiteboard, Jamboard, or on MS Teams gives people the option to weigh in on a prompt when they have time. Writing consultants recently asked each other about Myers-Briggs Personality categories, and then consultants made a chart showing the percentage of the team in each category. We’ve also had prompts for team members to post pictures of pets, share their favorite fall beverages, or weigh in on Oreo flavors.
  2. Host a taste test: Our Academic Success Center & Writing Center teams have done this a few times with foods like cupcakes and Girl Scout Cookies. You can create a plan for what to taste test, design a rubric, or post a few prompts on a shared whiteboard, Jamboard, or MS Teams. Keep in mind it can be helpful to ask about any food allergies to ensure folks are able to participate. E.g., you may want to identify vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options.
  3. Write a story together: Set up a typewriter in a central location that all staff have access to or start a Teams thread or Canvas discussion board with an initial story prompt. Have people reply in the thread and add to the story over a week or two. Give folks a little warning near the deadline so someone can wrap up the story for the team. Once the deadline has passed, share/post the full story with the team.
  4. Create a playlist together: Have team members contribute to a playlist that captures the spirit of your team or group. You could also offer a theme as a prompt like “celebrating the end of the school year,” “songs for when there’s snow in April,” or “Sunday afternoon study jams.”
  5. Plan for friendly competition: Invite team members to sign up for competitions individually or as teams. For example, the Academic Success Center had a gingerbread house building contest, and student staff across programs signed up for days/times that worked for them. Once all the houses were built, team members and visitors to the space were able to vote and score houses based on criteria like “most delicious looking,” “most likely to survive an earthquake,” and “curb appeal.” Recently Writing Center consultants created a bracket for consultants who wanted to participate in a typing challenge, with deadlines for recording high scores from a typing speed website. Consultants advanced team members until they were left with a final round and top typing score of 134 wpm!

Have other activities that your teams have enjoyed? Leave a comment to share more ideas!

The First Five Minutes

by Clare Creighton

It’s been about two years since the first time I was in a large group meeting and someone led a grounding activity. We turned off our Zoom cameras and one of the facilitators led us in a breathing exercise. I didn’t get the point.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with the opening minutes of meetings. For a while, the culture of the organization I was in was openly anti-ice-breaker. Those corny activities felt silly and lacked value when compared to the overflowing agenda of “business” items. And yet, I know there is value in a purposeful approach to how we start meetings. In the last year and a half, I’ve finally done the work of better understanding how different moves impact the meeting space. In contrast to strategies suggested by many of the business articles on the internet, the techniques I share below don’t offer you greater efficiency or a chance to get through your ambitious agenda faster. But for me they offer some valuable trade-offs. I don’t claim to be an expert here, so I’ve drawn on the perspectives of colleagues to help share about a few different ways to begin meetings.

Grounding Activities

A grounding activity is one that helps participants in the meeting to situate themselves in the space and to become more mentally and physically present. We move between meetings and activities at a rapid pace, so grounding can help us make that transition mentally. Nicole Hindes, Director of the Human Services Resources Center, helps us understand why grounding activities can be effective: “starting a meeting with a grounding is helpful for me because it reminds me that I’m a body, that we all have bodies. Much as I’d love to quick-transition between meetings and conversations with others, the reality is that I’m affected by each person I talk with. Sometimes I walk into a meeting or conversation and [may] still be carrying a heaviness or tension (or other energy) that hasn’t dissipated from my body from the conversation space immediately before. Taking the time to ground (and offering the same time and space to others) can help everyone find the attention and inner-resourcing that feels right for the people in front of us. Working in academia, where the cartesian-split prizes my mind over my body, means that I’m regularly fighting pressure to ignore my feelings and my body. A grounding reconnects me to the wisdom available to me in my body and slows me down enough to get curious about the wisdom in other’s bodies too.”

Check-ins

For a check-in, each person in the meeting shares what is “up” for them. For large meetings, this might happen in pairs or small groups. These check-ins don’t require a prompt, just an invitation to share what you are comfortable sharing about how you’re doing in or out of work. Colleague Emily Bowling, Director of Community Engagement & Leadership, offers these example prompts: “What do you want to share with others that you’re bringing in today? How are you arriving into the space today? What’s on your mind/heart as you enter our meeting today?” She describes the value of these check-ins: “I find starting staff meetings with an opportunity for each staff member to check-in is a valuable way to ensure we are relationally connecting and creating space to understand what is on the heart and minds of our colleagues – to know what they are carrying with them in that moment.” For me, the value of these check-ins clicked the other day as someone offered up the connection between how they were doing and how they might show up in the meeting. It makes sense that we carry into a meeting what is on our minds and in our hearts and bodies. Naming that for others might help them understand the way you show up in a meeting.

Ice-Breakers

Ice-breakers are prompts or activities that warm-up the conversation and bring up the energy level in a room. Examples include prompts that ask folks to share or weigh in on a topic (e.g., “what’s the best flavor of Girl Scout Cookie?” or “share one of your office pet peeves”). There are a lot of tools to do this, but offering a simple prompt for folks to respond to can be a way to get to know colleagues in a light-hearted way. More time-intensive activities like the sentence picture game or the 30 circles activity can spark creativity and energy for the rest of that meeting. Challenge Course Coordinator & Instructor Mark Belson describes it as “connection before content:” “connect[ing] and shar[ing] random bits of innocuous information with each other helps participants to feel a sense of collaboration while also getting to know more about each other and our group. These often times simple and brief moments allow us to have our voice heard and also to hear the voices of others. And if we can also share in laugh or a feeling of connectedness, then all the better.”

Open-Ended

Anna Bentley, Administrative Program Assistant for the ASC&WC, calls this the “aimless opener:” deliberate and intentional space left for a conversation that meanders where the group wants to go, leaving open-ended space for relationship building, conversation, and sharing. Anna says, “Have you ever gone to a meeting early and started chatting with other folks in the room while waiting for everyone to arrive? It’s easy to get into a deep discussion that takes up the first few minutes of a meeting. The facilitator can create space for organic conversation to unfold so colleagues can build relationships. There’s no end goal, pre-determined conversation topic, or requirement to participate. Aimless openers aren’t structured and often aren’t planned, but that doesn’t mean it is time wasted. They can still be incredibly valuable moments for teams to build connections.” For me, this is an intriguing possibility – leaving time in the meeting turns over the conversational space to the group to use in a way that meets their needs. It’s worth noting as well that for those more accustomed to a traditional meeting agenda, they might wonder why the “meeting” hasn’t started. This technique and the other strategies can benefit from transparency – it can be helpful for meeting participants to know how the opening minutes of a meeting are going to be structured and what they might get out of that time together.

I hope these insights into ways to start meetings prompt your thinking around the types of spaces you can create in meetings you facilitate. You can explore additional activity ideas with the resources below. Also, please feel free reply if you have other meeting strategies or ideas you think facilitators would benefit from.

Resources

Why Check-ins Should Be Part of Your Team Meeting Culture

Back-to-School Icebreakers Are Awkward, But They Work — Science of Us

Free Resources and Handouts – Training Wheels

Playmeo – Search 490+ Fun Interactive Group Games

Examples of Grounding Activities

Navigating Multilingualism

by Kelley Calvert

In training consultants to support multilingual writers in the Writing Center last fall, I struggled to determine where to begin. The topic of multilingual support is so vast, while the number of contact hours for training remains so limited. Then, I came across the NPR podcast Rough Translation with an episode entitled, “Non-native Speakers Navigate the World of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad; English” in which global communication specialist Heather Hansen discusses English as an international language and problematizes the notion of “native speakers.” Early in the podcast, she shares her experience as an English speaker immersed in a German-speaking classroom, saying, “If only I could do this in English, they would all know how smart I am.” This statement served as a lightbulb for me: the first step in understanding how to support multilingual students involves empathy–not just in the sense of understanding their experiences, but in terms of understanding our own.

I offer the following notes on the training as a springboard for ideas and insights into our thinking on multilingualism. As educators, we can use the podcast to facilitate a conversation in the classroom or train other peer educators on campus; on a personal level, we can simply listen to the podcast and bring some self-awareness to our own perceptions of language and language learning during a long drive or quiet moment at home.

We began our 50-minute Writing Center training by listening to a segment of the podcast. I chose minutes 8:18 to 13:13 of the 34-minute podcast because I felt these five minutes provided the most material for discussion, covering statistics on English speakers globally, offering surprising information about cross-cultural communication, and placing the burden of conversation on both the speaker and listener. While listening to the podcast, I asked consultants to jot down one idea that surprised or interested them.

After listening, many consultants shared their thoughts. Several noted that they had never thought about the fact that 4.4 billion people speak English in the world, with 4 billion learning the language in a classroom setting. That means that “native speakers” make up a tiny fraction of the world’s English-speaking population. Another salient area of noticing revolved around the frequent use of idioms (e.g., the whole nine yards, to touch base) in American English and how difficult these idioms can be for non-native speakers. Finally, many consultants noted how Hansen problematized the notion of the native speaker: Indian, South African, and Singaporean people grow up speaking English, so why aren’t they included in the native-speaker canon?

From this warm-up discussion, we moved into a “Connect-Extend-Challenge” activity, based on Harvard’s Thinking Routines. On post-it notes, I asked consultants to answer questions in the following sequence:

  • “Connect” question on green post-its: What connections can you make to your work in the Writing Center? We then collected the post-its and arranged them in one area of the whiteboard.
  • “Extend” question on blue post-its: What new ideas did you get that broadened your thinking or extended it in different directions? We again collected the post-its and arranged them on the whiteboard.
  • “Challenge” question on yellow post-its: What challenges emerge for you and/or the Writing Center based on this podcast?

After collecting this final set of “Challenge” post-its, consultants moved the post-its around and grouped them into themes as a collaborative exercise. This process was beneficial in many ways. For consultants, they were able to read, analyze, and discuss peers’ ideas and thoughts. They were able to think more deeply about the topics addressed in the podcast while interacting and building relationships with their peer colleagues. In connecting, many shared their own experiences of difference and related those to challenges faced by multilingual writers. In extending, some consultants noted that they were for the first time considering how their communication styles (e.g., using idioms) might impact conversations with multilingual writers. In considering challenges, many noted the difficulty of addressing writers’ concerns around grammar while also affirming the value of their multilingualism.

As a trainer and administrator, I benefited greatly from this activity as I was granted a window into peer educators’ experiences. Based on the challenges identified in the post-its, support staff were able to identify areas for future training and professional development. I encourage you to have a listen to the podcast and reply with a comment on the questions or insights it brings forth for you. If any of the activities mentioned above could benefit your classroom or context, feel free to reach out with any questions. I am always happy to share materials, thoughts, and ideas.

Promoting Equity in Recruitment and Hiring of Student Staff

by Chris Ervin

Last fall in The Success Kitchen, Anna Bentley provided an overview of the Academic Success Center’s and Writing Center’s learning process around equity during 2020-21. In this edition, I take a deeper dive into the work we did around equity in the recruitment and hiring of student staff. Our goal was first to learn about equity in recruitment and hiring, then examine our own practices for potential bias, and finally to enact change that reduces those opportunities for bias. I offer here an example of how our learning process resulted in some revisions to recruitment and hiring for my unit, The Writing Center.

Informed by our Search Advocate training, including building a criteria matrix, we considered a number of questions: Which students might see themselves as potential writing consultants? Who are we inviting to apply? How are we sharing that invitation? Who are we selecting to advance as finalists? Who are we offering positions to, and how are we communicating with those who wouldn’t be offered positions? In other words, we began testing some of the basic assumptions that had become embedded in our hiring process.

We examined how what we share in recruitment or in the job posting might deter someone from applying in the first place. For example, we now highlight that we are looking for students who are interested in supporting their peers, facilitating conversation, listening, and asking thoughtful questions. Our baseline criterion is no longer that an applicant can “hold their own” in a conversation about writing and reading. After all, a number of factors might lead to an applicant being able to talk about the last great novel they read or the challenges of writing an IB research paper in high school, none of which necessarily translates into the kind of facilitative role we want our writing consultants to play. Related to that, we stopped asking for a writing sample because our goal isn’t to hire great writers. Rather, we hope to hire students who become great facilitators of student writing growth and development, and ironically, sometimes strong writers get in their own way with regard to facilitating a peer’s thinking about their own writing.

We also tackled how applicants’ prior preparation or cultural backgrounds might inform how they show up in an interview, and we adjusted the interview setting to provide a more open-ended approach that, we hoped, would facilitate more individualized responses to our prompts. We designed interview questions that asked applicants to speak to their experience creating a welcoming environment for others, facilitating learning around challenging tasks, and working with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. We provided those questions to the applicants 24 hours in advance so they would have a chance to prepare their responses and we could hear their best thinking while minimizing nervousness associated with interviewing. We also coached ourselves on how to show up in the interviews—what to listen for and how to guard against bias. During the interviews, we listened carefully to how applicants responded to our questions, and when an applicant’s response seemed truncated or we wanted to hear more, we asked pointed follow-up questions that, for some, resulted in richer and more telling responses than had originally been offered.

Once we completed interviews and were deciding which applicants to make offers to, we met as a committee and made those decisions collectively, as we recognized that bias can enter into those decisions when interviewers weigh certain criteria more than others. In particular, abstractions are ripe with potential bias, like how well someone held up in a conversation or how invested an applicant seemed in to be in the process. Our use of a Search Advocate-style criteria matrix helped us guard against those opportunities for bias and stay focused on our qualifications. And finally, we offered to provide written feedback to applicants who were not offered positions. Some of the applicants who were not offered positions might end up in a future applicant pool for the Writing Center or for another unit on campus, and we felt invested in their growth and development as potential future applicants for OSU student employment.

In sum, our revised recruitment and hiring process allowed us to emphasize transferable skills like creating a welcoming environment and individualizing needs for others, and place value on a wide range of experiences with academic writing. We were prepared to make job offers to applicants who demonstrated an ability to facilitate learning for students who had a wide range of experiences with academic writing. The results have been promising, and I’m eager to refine our process, revisit our new assumptions, and apply our learning for our next hiring cycle, which begins in Winter 2022.

If you would like to view a copy of the “Equity in Recruitment & Hiring of Student Staff” guide that the Academic Success Center & Writing Center developed for our department’s use, please email Marjorie Coffey to request access.

Top 5 Ways SI Leaders (And You!) Can Help Students Develop a Sense of Belonging

by Chris Gasser, Carl Conner, Quinton Williams, and Ellie Macgregor

After engaging with selections from Dr. Terrell Strayhorn’s book, College Students’ Sense of Belonging: a Key to Educational Success for All Students, the Supplemental Instruction (SI) team established belonging, or “a sense [that]… generally refers to a feeling of connectedness, that one is important or matters to others,” as a program value.  Since then, we have worked hard to cultivate a strong sense of belonging in our collaborative group study tables. Every term, students voluntarily complete an end of term survey, and one question specifically asks about the actions that led to a student’s sense of belonging in SI. Using the term surveys from Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, SI team members Quinton and Ellie read through 698 student responses and identified the top three things that led to students’ sense of belonging in SI. Here’s what SI has found to be effective:

  • The SI Leader knew my name (55.4%): Perhaps unsurprisingly, students feel valued when we know who they are. Ever since the first version of this question, SI has rejected the phrase “I’m not a names person.” The data are clear. Working to know the names of students is the single most profound thing we can do to help students feel they belong. (It’s also the easiest!)
  • The SI leader created a welcoming environment (43.1%): While it may not sound like much, students cited actions like being welcoming when they first arrive, being regularly greeted with warmth, and being friendly as the actions in this category.
  • Group Collaboration (21.9%): Responses in this category showed that students felt like they belonged when other students in the group were friendly towards them. Students also appreciated working in teams and collaborating with each other to complete activities.
  • Questions were encouraged (21.6%): In a close fourth place, the ability to ask and answer questions helped students develop their sense of belonging. In many of these answers, students specifically mention the importance of feeling safe to share ideas, ask question “without feeling stupid,” and not being “demean[ed] [for] wrong answers.”
  • Expressing Appreciation (10%): Finally, students felt a sense of belonging when they felt appreciated, praised for their effort, encouraged to try, or given the chance to share their feelings around the course or a topic.

Though we initially we were in search of the “secret ingredient” for facilitating belonging, we found that basic human kindness expressed amply and consistently is what students seem to be looking for.

Student Staff Picks – Training Takeaways

Please visit this document for an accessible version of this article.

Student staff are at the heart of our work in the Academic Success Center & Writing Center. They engage in robust initial and ongoing training where they develop skills and strategies to support other students in their learning.

We invited student staff to share in response to the following prompt: “What is one topic or concept you learned about when training for your role at the Academic Success Center (ASC) & Writing Center that resonated for you and/or has stuck with you? Why is this topic or concept important to you, and how have you applied that learning outside of your work in the ASC and Writing Center?”

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