Thursday, October 30, 2008

Testing Success

Long before the birth of No Child Left Behind, students have suffered test anxiety. Workplace testing is no exception. My husband works in an industrial job that must comply to its own set of standards for safety as well as OSHA standards. On occasion, usually annually, all employees are required to watch a video about some aspect of their duties and then take a test upon the content of the video. Even as a teacher I did the same annual process for knowing what to do with blood-borne pathogens. Each time I was tested, and my husband has been, and my students are tested, the discomfort immediately begins.

Common Responses to Testing
1. Anger, thinking the material is not important and the testing process is a waste of time.
2. Stress, including fear of failure.
3. Misplaced anger, blaming the enforcer of the testing for all the tester does not know and does not like about the test.

Solutions to Testing Anxiety
1. Know that rarely do tests matter in themselves as much as the knowledge the test addresses. Know that tests are just a tool to see what you know about a particular subject. They are not designed to make a fool of you or to humiliate anyone.
2. Ask yourself: A year from now, will it matter if you passed the test the first time you took it? In most cases, it does not and second or even third chances are given if need be because mastery of the information is key, not the assessment device.
3. Do you have time to study or prepare? If so, use it wisely. Some business tests, such as employee handbook and ethics tests are purposely created to allow the tester to view the material being tested upon during the test itself!

What matters most in testing is to recall it is one tool to assess your knowledge and proof you've had the opportunity to learn the material at hand. Everyone wants to be successful, and your employers and teachers also want you to know the material. Approach the process with an open mind and you'll get further faster, and possibly never have to take that particular test again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Killing the Messenger

Over the years, I have had the inauspicious occasion to see students and employees turn on teachers and middle managers because of the messages they are told to deliver, and uphold. For example, if you enroll in college and take an entrance exam that says you need remedial or preparatory English or math before you can take any other classes, what do you do?

Reluctant Student Reactions:
1. The unbelievers get mad and challenge the test. Some even demand to re-test.
2. Those who are mad about the test, enroll and don't stop griping about it.
3. The semester begins and students are reminded they must pass the class and it stirs up their emotions enough that everything the instructor says, no matter how positive the words or inspirational the message is delivered.
4. Several classes go by and students become belligerent and verbally attack the instructor with comments like, "You work us too hard. I didn't want to take this class anyway. Is this something you came up with or do we really need to do this because I am going to have to quit my job to keep up with all this garbage you gave me!" 
5. Students go into other classes in "packs" and gripe about "having to take that class" and never address the issue properly, instead spreading venom and ill-will. Even if the other instructors try to help mediate and address the problem. (A sure sign the students know nothing will change, and they don't want to let the fact of the matter that they must do it go.)

In short, these students are killing the messenger. Their dean, admissions representatives, and instructor did not decide they needed to take the class. Their ABILITIES dictated what needed to happen. The instructor usually is working from an institution-approved syllabus that sets what must be covered to get these students up to speed. Still, all verbal attacks are directed outwardly (at the school or the teacher) instead of students taking a moment and saying, "Okay. I don't like that I have to do this, but I know I can and I'll prove to them this is easy for me and maybe in the end, if it isn't, I'll learn something I can use in my future." 

How to resolve the problem?
1. Head-on. One dean went into an instructor's class and said, "Who is mad they have to take this class?" Then was sure to add, "Well, this is required and somehow/someway you showed as deficient. You're already on the way. I want you to be competitive in the market. To be competitive you must have the best skills and to let you move forward without knowing this is a disservice to you. Anyone who let you do so did not have your best interest at heart." Some students liked this meeting and owned up to the reality it was a necessary step in moving into their career of choice. Others did not.
2. Be honest. If a student still can't "get with the program" and the message is that the hurdle is required to move forward, that student simply will not move forward. That may mean dropping out of school altogether. Although the instructor, dean and institution do not want this to happen, sometimes a student just is not ready.
3. Those who drop out because they don't want to take that remedial/prep class may realize down the road that they DO need to get such training to move forward and when the discomfort of life becomes unbearable, then, and only then, will they say to themselves, "I need to make a change and if that means I need a preparatory class to get where I want to go, I'll do it."  I know one student who did so and admits, "I refused the first time because I thought I knew it all and it was a waste of money. Then, I realized I hated my job and wanted more for my life. I went back and took it. I learned a lot that teachers either never taught me before or I had just missed it."

In the end, 
if you are angry over having to do something you do not want to do, 
it is probably out of fear. Change is difficult. 
No one wants to be unsuccessful or labeled as stupid or less-than in any capacity. 
Realize no one is labeling you 
and that class you don't want to take is 
your ticket away from that label for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reunion. com Invite Apologies -- Computer Glitch Spam

Dear Friends of School Room to Boardroom,
Against my wishes and actions, it appears has spammed all of my contacts in my private e-mail lists to invite people to register for their services. This was not done intentionally, and the full story is listed here this morning.
It will not ever happen again, as I will not ever use their services, and I am deeply sorry for any breech of trust this spam has caused. 

It is not professional, 
or responsible 
to mix social media with business, 
and this inadvertent error 
has caused undo stress for many people that
I value most sincerely.

-Mel. Edwards

Monday, October 6, 2008

Beginnings and Goals

Today, at Virginia College in Greenville, SC, over 300 new students will begin the path to receiving a college diploma or certificate. Beginnings are exciting and stressful. Here are a few quick tips for success.

  1. Don't lose sight of your goal.
  2. Plan out the steps to reach your goal.
  3. Work at your goal a bit every day, even when you're not required to do so (such as attending class or being in the office).
  4. Find like-minded individuals to share your goal with and help you along the way.
  5. Ask for help if you need it.
Whatever your goals in life may be, these steps will help you from the classroom to the boardroom. Success begins with you.

Best wishes to all students today!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cost of Expert Advice and Knowledge

It seems in this day and age everyone seems to be selling their knowledge. Person A gets certified in a course and is suddenly an expert in that field. Person B lives the path necessary to become well-versed in a subject but doesn't have a "piece of paper" to back it up. Who is the better resource? 

What Are You Seeking?
If you know what information you desire, you can easily find out if Person A has experience that matches what you are looking for. If you need paper credentials for a raise, no matter how much Person B knows, your supervisor may not believe your training was rigorous or targeted enough to warrant the boost in salary. In the end, make sure what you are learning meets your needs, and the outcome you desire. If it does not, you may be due a refund, and just might go to the one person you overlooked in the first place to truly master the details you wanted all along.

What is a Fair Price for Knowledge?
Market rates for training range from the ultra-low to astronomical proportions.   An Ivy League education can make your career in some fields, but for others, what matters is what you have done with the training your have received. I have taught English to students who with two years' education have walked away with a diploma into an electronics career that garnered them wages that exceeded mine, and I have a master's plus 30. Is this fair? It all depends upon the value people put upon your services. 

I once paid a plumber $800 for a few hour's work. It was essential and we needed it done in a hurry by someone with the proper certification/training. We never had the plumbing issue again, but I don't usually make $800 for a few hours' work. 

No one calls an English professor saying, "I must have this resolved today or it could ruin my house." The value of what I do isn't on the same par with the loss of a residence in most people's opinions. I do not personally know of anyone who lacked a grasp of proper English or business writing skills who got into a bind that would cost them their home on that very day if it were not resolved. However, I do know many who immediately lose out on other financial opportunities because they do not know the two basic rules of school room and boardroom business
Be Respectful 
Be Responsible. 

I'll write about lacking English skills at a later date. If you read carefully above, I said anyone who "got into a bind that would cost them their home on that very day." This eludes to the fact lack of some skills may cost you your income in the future. The price for ignorance can be staggering.

The bottom line is this: Learn all that you can that will help you become successful and respected in your field, and never do it at the expense of someone else's feelings or integrity.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Play Nice - Personal Beliefs Should Not Prevent Job Duties

If you listen to the Vice-Presidential candidate debate between Palin and Biden, you should have noticed that in spite of their differences, they had common etiquette guide their responses to the moderator, and each other, when the debate began and ended. 

In the workplace, we often disagree with our peers or supervisors. For example, in the political climate, many are talking about who is qualified to be the next President of the United States. I work with a gentleman who is close friends, and former business partner of Jim DeMint. That lets me know up front who he respects politically. What if I don't like what DeMint holds dear? Do I blurt it out to my colleague and then get "into it" with him or do I respect that we live in a democratic society and we can each have our own point of view?

When opinions hurt performance...
If you do not agree with a supervisor or peer on deeply personal issues, you are still expected to carry out the duties of your job without bias, as they are required to do the same. I once had a supervisor who said to a secretary, "I can't believe a woman with  your (insert religious affiliation) would actually have a bumper sticker for that candidate. Of course, you know you cannot put that on your car. As a representative of this company, we are expected to not display our political affiliations where our customers can see them." 

The supervisor was inappropriate for her personalization of her attack against the secretary's reasoning and equally out of line for the comment about her religion. However, she was fully in bounds to state that company representatives were not allowed to display bumper stickers for any political candidate where customers might see them as long as this was a clear policy that applied to ALL employees in ALL elections. 

If this supervisor had treated her secretary unfairly due to her political views, the supervisor's job may have been in question. Would the secretary be free to "blow off" work because of her hurt and disappointment in the supervisor's comments? Absolutely not. However, she did have full recourse to make a report to a human resources representative about what was said for the record, especially if she feared the supervisor would retaliate based upon who she believed the secretary intended to vote for. 

The bottom line is this: Your personal beliefs should not prevent you from doing your job, or you may lose your job for failure to follow your duties. If you know up front that you have objections to duties that the job requires, you might want to consider a different employment option altogether. 

Habits Worth Keeping - Persistence

According to Discovering and Exploring Habits of Mind, Edited by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, the very FIRST habit you should develop and retain is persistence.

Without persistence you are more likely to not complete your tasks, achieve desired results, or make new inroads in all areas of life. When Peter Pamela Rose auditioned for Guildhall, she wasn't the only student. In fact, over one thousand students auditioned for one of 24 spots. Did she give up? No. In fact, she went with the knowledge that if she got in her father said he'd pay for it. Then she gave it her all, and she got in. 

So, how does this apply to you if you don't want to go into acting and have no intention to be an inventor?
Persistence applies to your social life, work and education. If you go to an evening concert and see an attractive person you'd like to date, but someone else is close to them, do you give up? Say hello? Ask for a date? It all depends upon your persistence level. 

When I met my spouse, Brandon, I figured we were so opposite that it would never work. I persisted in listing the qualities of what I felt a kind, loving, reliable, trustworthy spouse would be and we continued to spend time together as friends. I also went on a few dinner dates with other men. Then BAM! One of the guys, who I'll call Joe, who kept calling revealed not only was he a smoker (something that my body could not handle long-term due to allergies) but Joe was an ex-con and had been convicted for a crime that could ruin my career if we'd been associated as a couple. I ran away from that one just in time. Shortly after, Brandon got over his shy ways and opened up to his true personality. We're headed to our six anniversary in February. 

Persistence can get you the skills you need for your dream job by finishing the required training in record-time with good grades. It can help you get a raise by consistently achieving your goals and shining in front of the brass. Additionally, your life will be better for it. As one colleague likes to say, "Done is beautiful." Don't worry about perfection. Having a degree in hand is all most employers look for. Even in Med School, the person at the "bottom" of the class is still called "Doctor."
post edited due to reporting error, republished with correction

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blogging and Your Role as a Student or Employee

Blogging is so popular that you might believe that no one will ever see your work other than a few close friends and random followers. Did you know your company's public relations firm might be trolling for comments about your place of employment? Those comments you make about a classmate might wind you up not only in the principal's office but expelled?

Yes, in America we have the right to "free speech" but that right does not extend to slander or libel. If what you say infringes upon someone else's right to do business or lead a life unencumbered by harassment, you may wind up in court.

Perhaps discretion is the better part of valor (thank you Mr. Shakespeare). Think before you blog, or send an e-mail or any other communication that vents about others. If you hurt their livelihood or cause a disturbance that keeps business-as-usual from happening, you may pay more dearly than the original incident you're venting about it worth.