Posts Tagged 'Christmas'

What I Want to Give This Year

gift givingBy Peggy Wuenstel — It seems to be a mark of adulthood that the joy of Christmas presents comes from the giving more than the getting.

The pleasure we can take in finding the perfect thing to share with family and friends is one of the highlights of the holiday season. Being a gifted giver often stems from having an intimate knowledge of your recipients, their likes and dislikes, their collections and aspirations.

It goes beyond choosing the right size and the right color to selecting things that fit into the life they live or that they want to live. It might be an exceptional bottle of wine, a super soft sweater or tickets for the concert of the season. I spent a few hours in line the stores on Black Friday and on-line on Cyber Monday. I’ll also shop my local merchants on their buy local weekend. I try to shop with a social conscience, where workers are treated well and products and corporate tax policies benefit the greater good.

As I crossed names off of lists, I found myself wanting to give deeper presents, the kind that don’t come in a box or from a website. They are the things that I hope I can share with my students in the coming year. By doing so, I will also be giving to myself.         .

  •  A sense of humor and fun, the ability to laugh at ourselves, but not at the expense of others.
  •  A feeling of security, knowing that we matter, even when we the ones who need the help and are not in a position to offer it
  •  The gift of generosity, a willingness to freely share the support and acceptance which are greater riches than advice, assistance or monetary resources
  • A peaceful place within where we can be content with what we have, what we do and who we are
  •  Enough quality sleep and the realization that rest and relaxation are essential to learning, mental health and well-being
  • A healthy lifestyle that includes good choices in food, activity, and relationships
  • Partners at home, work and school that share the blessings and the burdens, smooth out the bumps, fill in the pot holes in the roads we will travel this year
  • Creativity in our approach to problems, to filling our lives with art and music and to appreciating the inventive gifts of others in this world.
  • Courage in approaching every challenge that comes along, especially in dealing with the frustration that we feel when we are not up to the tests placed before us
  •  Tact, that ability to be honest and constructive while offering correction and criticism in ways that foster the achievement of the ultimate goals we set for ourselves
  •  Self –Control, that balance of being able to feel passionately without being controlled by emotion; to laugh, cry and rage when needed and to show restraint when that it called for
  • The willingness to nurture others, to feel the pride and excitement in someone else’s achievements when we have had a small part in fostering them.
  •  Patience to deal with the inevitable delays, disappointments and derailments that are a part of everyday life
  •  Wisdom, which is significantly different than intelligence, because it calls for application of knowledge and sharing it with others, today and for the future
  •  Forgiveness, because retained anger really only hurts the person who holds on to it so tightly that they can’t open their arms or hearts to anything else
  • Optimism in the face of a picture that is not painted in as bright a palette as we would like, and the rose colored lenses that can transform the view
  •  Gratitude, because unless we look at what we already possess, it is easy to lose count of the blessings we have already received.

In this season of miracles, it would be wonderful to find that every child and every teacher awakes on Christmas morning and finds what they need to make a life for themselves and a difference in the world.

As for me, I’ll keep trying to unwrap the gifts that I have already received and to do so with great thanks.

Reflecting on Redirecting

By Sabrina Bong — During my undergraduate years, I worked at a retail job to help pay for expenses. I would often spend my summers ringing up people’s purchases, talking to them about the humid weather and whatever major news event happened to be going on. And in early August, talk always turned from the weather and news to the back-to-school season. Parents would stock up on looseleaf, pencils, and washable markers, much to the chagrin of their children. By the time the families would arrive at my checkout line, the parents would look absolutely exhausted, the children angry, and both appeared to have reached the end of their wits.

Surprisingly, however, this experience in retail  did not dampen my spirits on the back-to-school chaos. (In fact, it’s still my favorite season.) Nor did it spoil my love of Christmas.

In fact, I believe retail made me appreciate the holiday season all the more. I would come home from work and sit next to the Christmas tree, reveling in the tranquility of being at home. I would think about how blessed I was to be at home, with my family, away from the chaos and arguing that usually happened at the store.

The same could be said about graduate school. There is chaos. There are surprises. On occasion, there were times when I looked at all the papers and presentations I had to do and just wanted to run away from them. During finals, I struggled to prioritize my studying. Some of these experiences could’ve poisoned my idea of graduate school. But it is during times of tranquility and quiet that I appreciate everything more. Now that I am out of the whirlwind that is finals, I can look back on everything and smile at all that happened.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be attending Marquette as a graduate student. I am thankful to be pursuing a degree in something I truly love. I am blessed to be learning with some of the most outstanding soon-to-be counselors. And I feel lucky that I have teachers who love what they do and teach with passion and enthusiasm.

I wish that every student had this opportunity: to pursue a higher degree and learn from people who are passionate about their topic. I realize that in today’s world, this possibility is becoming more of a dream and less of a reality. With tuition prices rising, and people struggling to find jobs, more and more students are unable to pursue their dreams and attend college.

This is why I decided to become a counselor. I want to be able to give students all the opportunities that I had in elementary and high school. I had school counselors who pushed me to apply for scholarships, challenged me to take AP classes, and educated me on financial aid, the college application process, and the major transition between high school and college. I want to do the same for others someday. I hope to pay it forward.

Take the time today to remember what is important in life. Hope everyone has a happy holiday!

Carefully Combating the Crazy Christmas Classroom

By Nick McDaniels — Any classroom teacher will tell you that the week before the winter holiday break is a week that is seemingly filled with full moons. The students amazingly forget all the routines you have worked so hard to put in place and you are left scratching your head, hoping your supervisor doesn’t pop in and see children dancing like sugar plums throughout the classroom. All of us want to ensure that instruction continues up until break, but find ourselves searching for ways to curb the season’s enthusiasm.

If you are teaching in an impoverished area, you must understand the complexity of the situation before attempting to suppress the holiday happiness.   The holiday happiness is not always happiness, but rather a reaction to the stress of a holiday season that might be marked by hunger, violence, and hopelessness. With that understood, there are a number of things a teacher can do to ensure that as much learning as possible takes place the week before the holidays and that the experience is rewarding for everyone.

  1. Unless you are incredibly comfortable with your students, avoid holiday-themed assignments that speak about love, religion, family, feasting. These could cause unnecessary longing and stress and result in negative behaviors.
  2. Do not assign work that is worth a lot of credit or will be difficult to make up. Because many students will have spotty attendance around the holiday season, making sure the assignments that are given will not severely penalize absent students will help minimize the compounding negativity that the holidays can sometimes carry.
  3. Redirect energy into positive ideas. Instead of trying to suppress student energy, redirect it into calm positiveness by playing music while students work and having student assignments be directed toward being giving toward others, rather than receiving from others.
  4. Be sure your students know that you will miss them over break. Even if this requires lying, students need to feel loved and wanted during the holidays. Explicitly talking about what you are preparing to learn about after break will help students to know that you are dedicated to teaching them and would rather be with them than home for a week.
  5. Know your students well enough to know which parents to call for negative reports and positive reports the week before break as you have the power to greatly influence a student’s holiday experience.

I realize that these ideas are somewhat unspecific and do not provide a foolproof way of maintaining sanity as a classroom teacher around the holidays. However, keeping in mind the fragile emotional period that the holidays represent for many students in poverty will only help you to be the positive force your students need this time of year.

Giving the Gift of Positive Feedback

By Ryan Manning — It’s that time of the year again. Shopping online promises delivery by December 24th. I can’t go anywhere without hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or seeing an ad with a polar bear in a sweater drinking a soda.  I suppose some parts of the country have snow, though we in the DC Metro area have been enjoying perfectly cool temperatures. Everything smells like vanilla and cinnamon as if the whole world is freshly-baked. For most people these are all signs of all the holiday hullabaloo. For me, it means two things: College Basketball is in full swing, and it’s crunch time for this young Residence Life professional.

If you couldn’t tell by that slight rant, I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas (aside from the Catholic part). But I’m jumping off the bitter bus, since this post is really not at all about Christmas. To sum it up, while most people are thinking about pine trees and sugar cookies, I’m focused on RA evaluations.

At the end of every semester, my major responsibility is to prepare performance evaluations for the resident assistant staff that I supervise and conduct individual meetings with each of them to talk about their performance over the semester and ways to become even more successful in the following one. For me, there’s a lot that goes into writing an evaluation for a staff member. The department I work in is really big on assessment, so I receive a lot of data that I need to compile, from resident feedback, peer feedback, self-reflections, and programming reports. Since I’ve only been able to work with this staff for 2 months as opposed to 4, this has been really helpful in seeing the bigger picture of how others see an RA’s performance. Sure, this is a lot of work, but the more effort I put into preparing an evaluation, the more the RA will hopefully get out of it.

Speaking of the RAs, this time of the year is stressful enough, with final examinations approaching, projects wrapping up, and making plans for end of the semester community activities with their residents. So, despite being pretty familiar with my supervision style and already acknowledging my laid-back yet developmental approach, the majority of my staff still seems to be far more nervous than necessary about the evaluation process. One RA even came into my office this week for a regular meeting, and, when she found out that evaluations were happening next week, shouted “You mean I have to be nervous for a whole other week! I don’t think I can take this.”

Some of our students have never had a job before, and if they have, it probably hasn’t involved the degree of responsibility of the RA position, or the highly involved and invested supervisor. So, chances are, they have never gone through a formal evaluation before. So, I suppose some apprehension is appropriate. But here’s the thing, there’s nothing to be nervous about. For most, the evaluation process should be relatively painless, even pretty uplifting. With the right supervisor, an evaluation should never bring you to tears, or even be at all surprisingly (at least not surprising in a negative way). In my opinion, the formal, end-of-semester evaluation is simply a compilation of a semester’s worth of conversations, so in the vast majority of cases, an RA should have been informed about areas for improvement as they came up, to allow for an opportunity to exhibit growth. In that way, the evaluation meeting shouldn’t be a surprise, but more of a summary.

What I really enjoy about the evaluation meeting is what happens after the summary. After you and the staff member have been able to go over the evaluation document and discuss different areas of it, then comes the opportunity to create a development plan. For me, this is sort of a multi-step process. We begin by looking at the next semester as a whole: what big events does the RA have coming up (a large program for a student group, a notoriously difficult class, beginning a new internship, studying for a graduate school exam, etc.) and setting some overarching goals for the semester: becoming a stronger leader on the staff, finding more opportunities for involvement on campus, reaching a better balance of work and academics and social life. Then you move down to a more micro level: creating specific action items to help reach these goals and setting expectations for both the RA and the supervisor to support the RA in meeting these goals. I typically end the conversation with a discussion about motivation, and how I can ensure that staff are feeling motivated throughout the second semester, where exhaustion and burnout are significant possibilities.

Overall, the evaluation process is a learning process for everyone involved. For RAs, it involves learning how to be comfortable with taking constructive criticism, an experience they may have never had before. This comes with being able to realize that feedback is centered on one’s performance, not really the content of their character. For me, its an exercise in delivering praise paired with something less positive. More often than not, I feel more comfortable speaking with an RA about how they can grow in the position, because my strengths lie in challenging others. Where I often struggle is focusing more on what others do exceptionally and giving recognition for that.

I’m not big on giving Christmas presents, but this year I’m making myself a promise to deliver more good news to the students I supervise.

Tuesday Trivia — December 13, 2011

We know your brains are tired from finals and finishing up the semester, but we have one last question for 2011!

What can you make of this riddle?
Hint: The answer has something to do with the true meaning of Christmas.

Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 6pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers after the close of business and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.

A very Merry Christmas to you all! 

Thanks for playing along with us this year; we’ll see you in January!


How much do YOU know about Marquette University and the College of Education?
Test your knowledge every Tuesday during Tuesday Trivia!

Tuesday Trivia — December 6, 2011

In honor of all those shoes and stockings filled with goodies on St. Nick’s day…

What year was St. Nicholas born?

Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 6pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers after the close of business and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.


How much do YOU know about Marquette University and the College of Education?
Test your knowledge every Tuesday during Tuesday Trivia!

Lessons from the Christmas Story

By Jes Lothman —During this season of Christmas cheer and warm holiday greetings, it is important to remember why we are all wrapping presents and decorating trees. Simply stated, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. But if one steps back for a broader perspective, the Christmas season also celebrates the bravery and determination of Mary and Joseph.

Mary, an unwed virgin, agreed to carry God’s son knowing that social stigma would follow in the wake of that decision. Joseph remained by Mary’s side throughout the experience of her immaculate conception and married her despite the eyebrows her apparently out of wedlock pregnancy must have raised. Both accept this arduous life’s journey believing firmly in their hearts that the risk would bear fruit.

I am by no means attempting to claim that the significance of my recent path is the equal of that of the Blessed Mother and Joseph’s, but I can draw some humble parallels.

Firstly, taking a premeditated risk is never easy, and can often demand a significant leap of faith. While I am thrilled to be going back to Cape Town in my new capacity—which is to say a proud Marquette Alum and newly hired professional—it was not an easy decision. I accepted the position that would once again take me across the Atlantic away from familiarly, family and friends only after dozens of emails and phone calls seeking counsel and encouragement from my network of supporters.

Another parallel I can draw the Christmas story, is that the righteous support of others is vital to following God’s will in one’s life. Without Joseph’s decision to stay with Mary, the story of Jesus’ birth changes significantly. God gives each individual a unique set of skills, talents and interests to contribute to society. Some of those callings end with more money or recognition, but to achieve real, lasting happiness, people must believe in their own course and accept their calling.

Finally, I have come to recognize that once the path has revealed itself and friends and family are on board, one must not be deterred in the pursuit of excellence. Set backs are unavoidable, but hard work, determination, and at times, sacrifice are necessary. Gracefully rising to the challenge leads to a strong sense of self as well as unforeseen rewards.

In the happy midst of family holiday traditions, I cannot help but to contemplate these essential lessons from the Christmas story as I pack for my upcoming departure. Leaving friends and family behind to move across an ocean and undertake the challenge a new professional opportunity is admittedly nerve racking at times, but I remain steadfast in faith that this is in fact the next step on my life’s journey.

Last Sunday, I sat in a full auditorium surrounded by 500 graduates. My Christmas wish is that each will uncover their own passion and pursue it unconditionally, steadied by faith, in the spirit of serving the greater good, to the point of excellence, and as leaders.

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