Author Archives: noreks

Finding Failure

by Sarah Norek

Lately, I’ve been digging into failure. It all began with wondering what it meant to be or not be transparent about failure, and then it kind of unspooled from there. Below is my messy process thinking, complete with way more questions than answers. And at the end, if you’re still here, I’ll share some ways you might explore failure too.

1.

As I write this, I’m sitting with my son on the couch, where I’ve been trying to form something coherent about failure for the last forty-five minutes. This alone feels a bit like a failure. When I started reflecting on the topic over a week ago, I could hardly rein it in at a half-hour. But now: all these brief starts and long stops as I try wading in again.

I just asked my son what failure meant to him and he replied, Giving up.

His answer pretty accurately reflects how we’ve raised him and his sister. We’ve been intentional about how we talk about failure, in that we don’t exactly. We talk most about trying, and practicing, and seeing the opportunity in things that are difficult or that don’t go how we’d like them to at first. If I translate his response in relationship to this, failure is the act of not trying.

2.

Facilitating academic success workshops, emailing students through the Transition Communication Campaign, and drafting content for the Learning Corner, I emphasize the opportunity in trying things out. I pitch the OSU years as a sandbox, where folks can practice with strategies, see what works and what doesn’t, and bring that knowledge into their post-graduation space.

And yet, as much as I may write about the opportunity within failure, and growth that can come from failure, I don’t like failure, and I don’t go into things hoping I’ll fail – but what if I did? When did I stop engaging with this idea of having a sandbox of my own, or of being a part of the greater sandbox of experimentation? I love experimenting. I love trying new things. But I also feel a disconnect between my love for innovation and permission to not have it all quite work. Because sometimes – lots of times – new ideas might fail.

3.

The potential for failure, and the feelings failure carries, can consume me. And I see connections between failure and perfectionism. As much as I may be working to undo my dedication to perfectionism, it runs deep; for me, the potential for perfection is never far from the hazard of failure. But what does bringing opportunity into failure do? Could it counter the perfectionism, and could that soften failure’s sting? Could failure be remade into something that feels more like an invitation to experiment and innovate?

Exploring Failure

I don’t think all failure is redeemable. I don’t think all growth from failures inoculates us against any judgement that may be doled. Sometimes, we really fail badly, and the impact expands beyond our individual edges to affect or engulf others.

At the same time, I think normalizing and validating failure is important. I also think it’s important to consider our privileges and identities that afford us to fail more or less easily than others, or to more or less easily share our failures.

I appreciate how the SI Leaders’ reflections in On Failing Forward help me see this gap in my reflection. I’m not insulated from the repercussions of failure, but how has my identity made certain failures safer/less safe for me than for others who identify differently? I know it has.

So now I have even more questions: If we see failure as an opportunity for growth, then is it the failure that we grow from, or is it the recovery – the way we choose to recover – that induces growth? What is it to fail publicly versus privately, or individually versus within a team? How does failure in one sphere of our life shape and inform what we do with failure in the others?

For me, the concept, practice of, and recovery from failure is like a big onion. There are so many layers. After peeling one back I might be shaking my head or crying or walking away to regroup and return or push on to the next layer.

I won’t give up failing. It will always be there. But I like to think that the way I – and we – engage with failure has the potential to become, or remain, or return to malleable.

Curious to explore failure? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Check out the videos Chris mentioned in his article about Failing Forward.
  2. Engage in a thought experiment: When’s the last time you talked with someone about something you failed at? What failure did you choose to share, and who did you share with? How long after the failure did you choose to share about it? What did you share about the failure? How did you feel – when the failure happened, or when you realized it was a failure, or when you spoke about your failure?
  3. Start a conversation with a colleague, friend, or loved one about failure – what does it mean to be transparent about failure? What is it to enter, move through, and exit failure – or do we? When is it failure and when is it learning? How do privilege and identity impact/shape our failure?

The Transit of Transitions; or, Before, Afterward, Sometimes, Simultaneously

by Sarah Norek

At the ASC, I coordinate the Transition Communication Campaign (TCC): a series of weekly emails that are sent over the course of a year to first year (FY) and new-to-OSU transfer (TR) students. The campaign was designed to support students through timely academic support and advising information, as well as other resources and strategies to help them navigate and succeed in the university setting.

Since taking the project on in 2019, I’ve been able to roll-over content relatively easily term-to-term. Beginning last spring, however, and throughout this year, I’ve worked to adapt messaging to reflect the current COVID-19 context and its complex and evolving impacts on student life and experience. I’ve thought a lot about how to use the TCC to support students during this unique time. Here are some key ideas I continually return to:

Reflection

Nearly all TCC messages invite some kind of reflection, asking students to tap into their incredible knowledge and expertise of themselves. We are all so electric, so full of experiences, our narratives so unique to us. Self-awareness offers the opportunity to ground ourselves in our transition experience—to recognize discomfort, to uncover its roots, to work to address it, or to sit with it and progress through it, and of course, to learn what’s working for us and how. In asking students to reflect, I invite them to recognize the incredible work and energy they’re putting forth; to listen to their experience; and to be open to the potential adaptation in strategies and approaches to study, work, self-care, and more.

Resources

I spotlight resources in each TCC for two reasons (and more): 1) to help students become familiar with their many resource options early in their time at OSU, and 2) to impart the value of help help-seeking and asking questions—especially when navigating the transition to university-level learning (and all the subsequent transitions from course to course, discipline to discipline, etc.). As many of this year’s new students transition into OSU remotely, accessing resources can be even more important. Support, connection, and community are especially crucial to well-being these days and when making a remote transition into the university.

Repetition

Transition can be consuming; it can be a whirlwind. This means sometimes pertinent information—no matter how helpful—might not land after a single introduction. Sometimes we need repetition and the opportunity to encounter and explore information a few times before it sticks. Whether it’s a university process, encouragement to meet with an advisor, or a reminder to be generous with themselves—repetition may help students encounter the important information when they are ready to explore or act on that information. We use repetition not just for important dates or reminders, but also for acknowledging and validating what students are experiencing. I want students to hear and internalize that the OSU community cares about who and how they are.

Looking Ahead

What’s funny to me is that, in all of this transition messaging, the fact that spring term will be our year anniversary of remote operations didn’t really hit me until quite recently. Like, quite. I’ve carved out very little time to consider my own transition(s) over the past year. Adapting the TCC to fit students’ current needs offers, in retrospect, an opportunity for me to reflect on my own experience and needs, too. Just as I hope students will engage in reflection and tap into self-awareness, I too can benefit from contemplating what kind of spring I want to create, what I can offer, how I’ll show up and for whom, and what I can hold onto—in terms of mindset, productivity, strategies—or else cut loose.

In the process of drafting this, it was pointed out to me that repetition is a form of support—a way of allowing ourselves grace as we navigate an ever-changing landscape. It’s okay, and important, to keep repeating the questions, returning to the thinking, listening and trying to make this reflective practice routine. As for resources, I can take the TCC’s advice and actively seek them out, too. These days, my colleagues and teammates are my core resources. It’s surprisingly easy to work in isolation, and surprisingly (for me, an introvert) lonely. I’ve been trying to reimagine and create new shared spaces, while considering boundaries and vulnerability, hungry to feed these connections while not furthering anyone’s fatigue.

Whether you’re contemplating your own experience with transitions, or providing support for others as they navigate transitions, I offer these thoughts not as a prescriptive route through the work but because I hope they present opportunities for our individual experiences to be explored, supported, and validated along the way.

Student Staff Picks: Instructor Support

In fall term, we asked Academic Success Center and Writing Center student staff to contribute their thoughts on this prompt: “What is one thing an instructor did to support you in fall term?” Click the visual below to see the full-size image with responses.

To learn more about the student experience, review the results of the Remote Learning Experience Survey from November 2020 at https://beav.es/Jiy (Internal to OSU; sign-in required through Box).

Student Staff Picks

Supporting Students through Conversations

by Sarah Norek and Anika Lautenbach

We know that right now, students are experiencing grief, trauma, and overwhelm that make learning difficult. While some students may voice their feelings and experiences, many with similar experiences may not share them. As our colleagues Sara Caldwell-Kan and Bonnie Hemrick pointed out in a recent workshop, we must assume that our students are not okay right now and respond from a point of connection and support.

When we have conversations with students, we have the opportunity to provide empathy and connection and to help students find resources. Over the past few months, we’ve identified some themes and strategies for supporting students in conversation that we’d like to share with you.

Adopting a Supportive Mindset as You Enter the Conversation

  • Be a point of connection. Ask how they’re doing and validate their response. Acknowledge you may not have all the answers, but you want to listen.
  • Focus on the person in front of you. Whenever possible, eliminate distractions and give your full attention.
  • Meet students on their terms. Invite students to engage in ways that feel safe. Don’t insist on video. Keep in mind not everyone is looking for advice. Ask questions to understand how you can support the student.
  • Ask questions and come up with solutions together. If students want to explore solutions and strategies, work together to figure out what will work for them.
  • Be open and transparent in communication. There is uncertainty in so many parts of life. Be concrete and specific in communication so students don’t need to decipher the message or next steps.

Helping Students Adopt Strategies That Support Their Needs

  • Share the Learning during Times of Stress module. The ASC partnered with CAPS to create this Canvas module that helps students learn about and manage stress.
  • Help students understand the rhythm of their day. Ask when they are most productive and when they might be able to complete tasks. Help students think about their individual context.
  • Talk about the benefits of starting early. Things may take longer than normal right now. Starting early allows students to break tasks into smaller steps to complete over time.
  • Support basic needs. Be available to talk about basic needs like food and housing and connect students with resources like the HSRC.
  • Normalize self-care. Let students know it’s important to take breaks and it’s ok to need more breaks or longer breaks—especially from the screen. Normalize decisions made on well-being rather than “powering through.” Encourage students to take time for what nourishes them—sleep, connecting with friends, journaling, walking, meditating, etc.

Starting with a Framework

With big topics that impact students’ well-being, it can feel overwhelming at times to plan for or anticipate conversation. Supportive Conversations handoutWe’ve trained on the Supportive Conversations design for exactly that reason, as it can be helpful to have a sample conversation flow. Click the link or visual for the full-size version. Of course, the conversation needs to be nuanced and adapted to your own style and to the student in front of you, but it offers a starting point for thinking about the flow of a conversation and your role in it.

Chris Gasser, Coordinator of Supplemental Instruction, notes that “There are multiple pieces of this structure that I appreciate: It is simple, it checks my gut reaction to talk and find solutions, it attends to both the affective and the practical, it gives me a role to play: confidante and thought-partner, and it allows the conversation to continue.”

The strategies in this post and handout aren’t the only ones you can use; we hope these ideas spark new ones for how you can support students you connect with. Our colleagues Sara Caldwell-Kan and Bonnie Hemrick recently offered a webinar on “Centering Care during Uncertainty” and their handout on supporting student employees and leaders provides some great strategies and ideas as well.

In closing, we want to acknowledge that, like our students, many of us are also experiencing grief, trauma, and associated challenges. It’s difficult to offer support if we’re not taking care of ourselves. Please consider how the strategies we’ve shared might also apply to you. And check out Beyond Benefits for employee resources relating to wellness, mental health, finances, and more.

Take care. We’re wishing you well and we’re ready to help you support students in fall term.

Spotlight – Collaboration with College of Business

by Sarah Norek

At the ASC, we love connecting with colleges and collaborating to support students. Getting the college perspective and offering our take on student success allows us to tailor resources to meet the needs of students within a college.

Our partnership with the College of Business (COB) is one example of how we’ve created meaningful opportunities for students to get additional support. We’ve partnered with COB on workshops, Supplemental Instruction (SI), and course guides. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to create resources that speak directly to the unique needs and experiences of COB students.

The visual below provides insight into these collaborations. Click on the visual to view full-size.

ASC Collaboration with College of Business

While we’re in a new learning landscape this spring, we’re buoyed by the work of our campus partners and excited to find even more ways to collaborate with colleges.

If you read about a resource and want to learn more, visit the linked websites for ways connect. We’re eager to develop college-specific resources to support your students’ success. Let’s do cool stuff together!