Set the Tone

I have a student who is very hard on himself. Some days, his impatience can be very disruptive and appears to make other students uneasy when he has short outbursts or slams his fists on his desk. Some days, I let him work through it; but today, I could feel the shift in the room and the discomfort of my other students. And so, calmly, I approached the student.

“Can I help you, <enter name of student> ?” I ask gently, standing to his side without peering at his screen intrusively. I don’t want him to feel judged or under a microscope for having strong emotions, because I know how that feels.

“I just can’t get <enter programming terms> working!” he says with heavy breathing in a frustrated splutter. He points at his screen, so I feel I’ve been given permission to help him. I purposely slow my breathing and bend down to kneel by his desk so that we’re at the same height where he sits and I don’t come off as superior to him by standing over him.

I let the student walk me through his frustrations, and then promptly help him resolve the issues with his code. Once we get the code working, I laugh about the casual output he’s used for his code (the code outputs “nah” if the user doesn’t enter something right) just as he sighs in relief that the issue has been resolved. Then I remind him, as I’ve done a few times before:

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re usually just an inch away from the solution.”

Then I move on to help another student who had their hand raised. The classroom feels much more relaxed, and there are no further outbursts.

It’s important, as the instructor of a classroom, to assume the role as conductor. The students follow your lead, and if you don’t address all members of your orchestra, the music derails quickly. You might not think that it’s your job to handhold and coax when you teach at a college. But one of the foundational rules to educate another is to meet them where they are, even if it’s not somewhere you’d like to go.

Find the light, stand in it, and help to guide others into it.

Always, Brittney

Welcoming Discomfort

Winter is tough. Every instinct tells you to stay down, burrow in the ground, and not to surface until the Spring. This isn’t usually an option for most, so we drag ourselves out and try to be productive and make a meaningful contribution to society. With the turn of the season towards winter, we have so many events (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years) that encourage us to get way out of balance with our diets and our self-discipline. This past summer into the early autumn, I was walking 4-5 miles/day with 1-2 daily yoga sessions. But as soon as the cold weather hit, I stopped my daily walking and as the months got colder, I even stopped my yoga stretching - opting for huddling under blankets on the couch for warmth instead of moving the energy in my body to get warm.

This happens to a lot of us, for one reason or another. We just get out of sync with health when being healthy isn’t really what’s encouraged all around us or in the media. But eventually, I get tired of being out of balance, and kick the pendulum in the other direction - which happened 7 days ago. I’ve been walking 30 minutes for 1.5 miles/day for the past week, with stretching afterward. I recognize that this is a small effort compared to what I used to be committed to, but it’s a start and I’m willing to give myself a little time to build back up.

But let me just say, the discomfort I feel when I push myself to get on that treadmill is no joke. And usually within 5 minutes, I want to give up. Each 5 minute increment all the way to 30 minutes requires a push to get through that discomfort, as my lungs start to strain and my mind grows weary of the exertion. But I make a deal with myself at every increment that I will go 5 more, and eventually, I reach 30 minutes. We shun discomfort during times that are difficult, but those are the times when we need to push harder. If you’re finding you don’t even know where to begin, here are some tips to get you back towards a healthier lifestyle.

Treat Your Health Like it’s Your Job

If you approach your dietary discipline and exercise like something you must do, instead of something you’d like to do, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Clean Up Your Inner Dialog

If you’re in the habit of scrolling through social media daily, and often get caught up in reality gossip, food gluttony, awful news stories, insecurity intensifiers, etc., perhaps it’s time for a purge. You have the power to decide what fills your mind each day, and if the things you normally focus on do not encourage you to be healthy and happy, you need to change that. Unfollow, filter, unsubscribe, or deactivate, but do something to clean up that noise.

Get a Support System

You will be more successful if you have people around you who participate and encourage you to be at your best. If you don’t have a solid support system, join a gym or take classes to build up your community. And if those around you are trying to impede your progress, perhaps they don’t deserve your time.

Create a Schedule

My husband and I have started making a schedule for what we project we’re going to do for the week, including goals we want to accomplish and activities we’re going to commit to. It’s been great to have the additional structure to the week so that we actually get stuff done, and it also gives us things to look forward to. We’re growing together and supporting one another, ensuring that we both have enough time allocated for our passions and interests. It’s awesome.

It’s okay if you get off course sometimes. Just be sure to recognize when it’s going on too long, and find the strength to rise again. We’re all here waiting for you to actualize that potential.

Always, Brittney

The Essence of Trust

My four year old son seldom trusts me. Won’t try food I’ve vouched for. Won’t trust that I can erect a blanket fort that will meet his standards. Refuses to believe that I know what I’m talking about when I tell him I can turn right, even when the light in front of me is red. The effort he expends disputing me takes up so much time in the every day; and yet, he must feel it is his only choice in the moment.

We begin this way very early in life: trusting little and questioning everything. I’m a strong advocate of questioning what you’re handed and making it work for you, so don’t get me wrong here. But what I’m sharing in this blog post is that some things could go unquestioned. Sometimes, it’s okay to simply trust.

When it’s Okay to Trust

A big disrupt or perceived failure throws off your trajectory. You lose your job, can’t pass a certification exam, run low on funds because of unexpected expenses, feel like you won’t have enough time to meet a deadline etc. These kinds of stressors can send us into panic if we don’t have trust in ourselves, our ability to persevere, or the confidence that we will be taken care of. Any time I enter into one of these phases, I have to remind myself that I always find a way to do what needs to be done, regardless of how. If an expectation falls short and I’m unable to continue on a path that I thought was correct for me, I trust that I’m being redirected towards a greater calling. If I have a day where I feel like I’m not in the right head space to do work, I trust that time will be opened for me to complete the work by the time it needs to be done. When money is suddenly short, I trust that opportunities will be opened for me to make additional income. If you maintain an outlook that supports yourself, in all of your ups and downs, you will walk a path that connects you with your needs and passions.

What Happens When You Don’t Trust

When we’re redirected, and we don’t want to be, the tendency to resist flares and stubbornness abounds. We push on, refusing to let go of what we think we need, and ourselves and others suffer from it. But we continue anyway. For example: maybe after the fourth rejection, you finally get a job in the field that you think you want - but then you spend the next several years in a position that doesn’t fit and eventually you’re pushed out from it altogether. One way or another, you will be redirected if there is a greater calling for you. I’m not suggesting to give up on dreams if they don’t come easy. But I am suggesting that you pay attention and answer the call if you’re pulled in a new direction that might not look like what you had envisioned.

We’re not given a road map for our lives. So be open to the journey and really dig into learning about who you are and what you’re passionate about. The more you know yourself, the better you can trust your role on this planet, at this time in consciousness.

Always, Brittney

The Courage to Say No

Obligation is a tricky thing. When you feel obligated to do something, the choice doesn’t always feel like it’s yours. You may be making the choice to do something out of obligation, even when that obligation no longer serves you, no longer fits into your life, or is no longer healthy for you. This obligation usually involves something we feel we can’t jeopardize (like work and other financial contracts) or family dynamics (where the strain on a few impacts the whole). So you follow through anyway, because underneath the choice, you feel morally contracted and unable to refuse its gravitational pull.

I’m here to remind you that if something is unhealthy for you, you have the right to say no.

Step 1: Validate Your Discomfort

In the face of obligation, we shirk our own feelings so as to not disrupt the flow of life. But sometimes, that change is necessary so that we can grow and bring more balance into our lives and to those around us. So, if something is making you uncomfortable to do, advocate for yourself. Speak up for your needs and get them met. One of the biggest mistakes we make is putting ourselves last. We think that we’re taking care of everyone else, but we’re actually robbing them of the person we could be if we felt more happy, healthy, and respected.

Step 2: Make the Hard Choice

I recently put some much needed distance between myself and someone who has been harmful to my sense of security and self-worth for most of my life. These past few years have been very powerful for me, as I continue to claim ownership over who I am and offer every aspect of myself love and acceptance, even the parts of me that need work. So, upon standing in these new shoes, I’m finding that I have more invested in my own happiness and well-being and far less tolerance for allowing elements into my life that threaten that foundation that I have worked so hard to build. So I said no. I made the hard choice and set boundaries for myself. I’ve been slowly doing this in the past two years, but this one is instrumental for my mental health and I feel so much better having done so.

Step 3: Own It

You’ve made the choice to put your wellness first, now stick to it. Don’t let others make you feel guilty for it. Don’t let those factors slowly creep their way back in. Stand a little taller knowing that you’ve advocated for yourself, just as you would for anyone that you love. You’ve always had the permission to take care of your body, mind, and spiritual destiny. So, own it.

Always, Brittney

Why Consistency Matters

Being an instructor is not just about being a subject matter expert. It’s not just about educating, or coaching, or even facilitating learning.

It’s a performance art.

I was a stage performer all of my youth and into my mid twenties. Dance, theatre, music - stage performance was interwoven into the foundation of my life. In high school, when the emotional climate was far too much for my empathetic body to handle, I would escape during study periods to the empty auditorium and play the grand piano that sat backstage. The stage was my refuge. It was my home.

I notice patterns, and I’ve found that many things I used to do to mentally prep for a performance have transferred over to what I do right before I teach a class. One of the main things is that right as I’m about to speak at the start of class, I center myself, tap into a sense of gratitude for the opportunity I’ve been given, and smile. I usually start with a greeting, and ask how everyone is doing. I might as well be holding a guitar and be about to play a show. I still have a sense of presence, the responsibility that underlies that, and the weight of what it means to be the lead or focal point of a group. Although the setting has changed and the people in front of me are paying quite a bit more than what the cost used to be to hear me sing, the essence is the same: my students expect and deserve a good show. Would you go see a band perform again if the last time you’d seen them, they were unenthusiastic, unreliable, or ill equipped to perform? Not likely.

So, here’s my point: as an instructor, you are making the choice to enter a role where consistency is a necessity. In life, the people around you might forgive you if you can’t always be at your best, and that’s good. We need for others to flex for us and we need to do that for them. But when it’s your job to be a stage performer, even without the stage, you don’t get to slack. You bring that enthusiasm and remind yourself everyday why the opportunity to teach is a gift. Even when it gets hard, or when you feel like you’re not reaching all of your students, just keep being your best self. Because whether you like it or not, everyone’s watching and they deserve to see you shine.

Always, Brittney

The Art & Discipline of Gratitude

How often do you thank people each day? Rough estimate. A handful? How many times per day do you stop and feel gratitude for your life? Are you coming up with small or non-existent stats? It’s cool, I’m not judging you. Given the climate of social media and the severe shift towards encouraging a victim-mindset, I would imagine that there is not much space for gratitude for most people. If you’re chronically caught up in how offended you are by everything, how can you also feel grateful that you have the privilege to feel that way? I’ve been off of Facebook for over a month now, and it’s been rather refreshing.

Think about how social media is reconditioning us. You have a platform where you can say whatever you want from a distance, to people you may never even meet, with very little repercussion. You’re able to share your opinions without anyone asking for them, and defend your opinion without ever having to look at someone in the eye. People can gang up on each other, jump on a conversation thread just to argue, or try to shift the focus onto themselves to gain pity or admiration. And this can be the norm for every single day.

So, in this kind of environment, you can see how the focus remains solely on the self and a perpetual need to feel acknowledged, validated, and important. How can we undo this? How do we coax the pendulum to swing back towards a place of true connection to others, instead of only a one-sided virtual connection? How do we feel gratitude when we are driven to feel personally attacked by the words of others written to a screen?

Get Out of Your Own Way

Gratitude and ego do not play well. At the core of gratitude, there is first an acknowledgement of good-intent. Someone has intentionally done something to improve your human experience, and it registers in your mind. This is where you need to train yourself to pause. If you put yourself first at this junction, you’re more likely to shrug off the gesture. Example: one of my students emailed me with a reminder to grade an assignment of theirs. They had sent me the assignment via email because of an agreed-upon extension, and a couple of weeks had elapsed with their grade remaining unchanged. If I had put my ego first, I might have made an erroneous assumption that the student sees me as unorganized or thinks I had forgotten it, and I might have then responded with anger or self-importance with a I’ll get to it when I get to it kind of vibe. But, because I acknowledge that they were simply meaning to help me not lose track of their work, I saw the kindness in their prompt and thanked them for the reminder. It takes discipline to stop yourself from reacting from an egoic place, but over time it will feel more natural to see the best in people than to immediately assume the worst.

Give Thanks Freely

Gratitude journals are a thing. The fact that they’re a thing should speak volumes to us. It means that we need to remind ourselves to be grateful, and we’re out of practice with it. So, go buy the journal if that suits you. Aside from an internal dialog and scribing, also get in the habit of thanking others for little things when they are apparent to you. If you notice a kindness, point it out and thank the person for thinking of you. I often tell my three-year-old thank you for thinking of me and that was very nice of you when he offers me something, even if I don’t want it. Guess what he’s started saying when he doesn’t want to eat something I’ve prepared for him? No thank you, but that’s very nice of you Mama. It’s pretty hilarious, but I love that he’s picking up on the example I’m setting. Gratitude isn’t a given, it’s a daily exercise in mindfulness.

Take a Social Media Hiatus

It’s healthy to take a break from the noise and clutter, and also, to not feed it or add to it. Take some time away from the spotlight, away from the speakerphone. You don’t need a platform to be affluent, and you’ll find that when you do give your sage wisdom to people, it’s more meaningful when it comes from your own mouth. Even this blog post is still an attempt to reach people - but I can’t currently share it on Facebook with my account deactivated. So, consider this a public gratitude journal entry ;)

Always, Brittney

The Brighter Side of Failing a Student

I had a student plagiarize an assignment this semester. Twice. Second offense means they fail the class. I get so bummed out when this happens, and usually the behavior can be corrected after the first attempt. But not this time. So, what do you do when your student cheats? Here’s a few suggestions from my humble podium.

Lay Down the Law

Start with the facts. Show them their work and the work they plagiarized so that there’s no disputing whether or not they cheated. This will save you time in the beginning so as to sidestep the argument that would erupt with false blame thrown and accusations of singling out. Be as objective as you can and let the evidence do the condemning for you. Your student knows they messed up, and you don’t have to rub their face in it.

Pull Them Back into the Real World

Plagiarism doesn’t fly anywhere - not in academia, not in the workplace. So, remind them that who they allow themselves to be today is shaping them for who they’re going to become, and this behavior isn’t acceptable. If your response is to seek the easy path when stress is high, then that response needs to be reconditioned; because, work is stressful. Yep. You don’t get an easy route. You figure it out and be upfront. The end.

Show Them Mercy and Clean the Slate

I share with my students that I dropped my first programming class. The second time I took it, I loved it and got an A in the class. If you extend empathy, your student won’t feel isolated and they might be more apt to forgive themselves and seek reformation. Let them know that, although there is an academic consequence to their actions, that you still want to see them succeed and that you’re ready to help them out if they decide to step back into your classroom again.

Abrupt Change Forces Reflection

Even though the circumstances aren’t great, when we mess up, we’re given the opportunity to reflect on who we are and what we’re hoping to get out of life. This type of shift, steadfast and irreversible, forces us to reevaluate what we’re doing. It brings us back into the moment. And when we’re present, we’re authentic.

Always, Brittney

How to Get Back Up

Something bit me.  A spider.  A tick.  An alien.  I really don't know - I didn't see it.  Something bit me and it made me weak.  It brought me to my knees when I felt healthy and strong.  It gave me two weeks of pain & illness and it left me with a weakened immune system and a misfiring nervous system.  Impressive, hey?

Thankfully, I'm very much on the mend (thanks to a melding of mother nature, eastern and western medicine, and an amazing support system), but this event left me a little shook - and here's why.

For most of my teenage years (re: undiagnosed depression) and the beginning of my transition to motherhood (re: postpartum depression), I used to live in a perpetual victim mindset.  Not so much in the sense that I wanted people to pity me - but more that I didn't want or know how to change my circumstances.  In the recent year or so, since defeating postpartum depression, rebuilding my health, and reviving my sense of self, I have honestly felt like nothing could bring me back to that kind of mindset again.  But hot damn, combine the bug bite symptoms with hospital visits and antibiotics (my body doesn't do well with them - it destroys my gut flora and throws my mental stability on a roller coaster), and those tendencies and thought patterns come back in force!  Cellular memory, people.  Given the right combination of ingredients, your mind will pull out some buried recipes and start cooking.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a dark hole that you thought you had learned how to sidestep?  Here are a few of my experiential tips.

Recognize Your Pattern

Honestly, one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and those around you is to pay attention to yourself in your most extreme moments.  My husband would laugh and tell you all that what I think is extreme behavior in myself is nothing to even mention - like literally one second of raising my voice or giving into an emotional response before apologizing a second later - but to me, it's big because I've gotten really good at self-awareness.  The only way to learn your habits, your tendencies, your emotional climate, is to catch yourself in those moments and make mental notes about what set you off, what day of the moon cycle it is, how long you gave into that behavior before adjusting it, etc.  If you know yourself, you will notice when you're not being yourself.

Never Go Silent

If you notice you're behaving strange or experiencing thought patterns that don't feel safe or normal for you, no matter how small of a change, talk to people about it.  I have an amazing family that checks in with each other often, so we're all in a chronic state of how are you doing? and it's awesome.  But not everyone has that or feels comfortable sharing.  So build your tribe, find people who can share those moments with you, and talk it out.  Even talking can be enough to get you off the wrong track and back to feeling like yourself.

Be Patient and Reimmerge

Be as kind to yourself as you are to those you love.  Moments like these are designed to test your strength, your discipline, and your resilience.  After a few days of feeling sorry for myself, I recognized what I was doing and asked myself simply, "Is this who you've worked your ass off to be?"  And when the answer was no, I gave myself some deadlines and am slowly stepping back into the light.  I imagine the next time I trip, I might not even fall down the hole.

There are lessons in even the most random of events.  I'm grateful for this moment of stillness to reflect upon it, and I'm inviting you to give yourself the time to do the same.

Always, Brittney

Three Steps to Reach Your Students

At the core of every student going to college is the desire for more.  More knowledge, more affluence, more abundance, more recognition.  They're here to learn because they want more from life than the hand they were dealt.  And within that undertone of commonality, we as educators have a very solid way to reach each of these students to get them more engaged and more invested in the everyday experience:

Step 1: Get To Know Their WHY

If you can connect with each of your students, understand the purpose for why they're going to walk into your classroom everyday, even when they don't want to, even when it seems like they could care less about what you're serving up, you can teach to it.  You can honor their goals and cater to their journey.  You can place milestones along the way to help them see tangible ways in which they are working towards their goals.  You can keep them motivated, engaged, and willing to show up.

Step 2: Meet Them Where They Are

It could be easy to blame the lethargic student body for dwindling educator enthusiasm.  You teach to a group of students who just stare blankly at you the whole time and it can be challenging to keep up the energy.  But here's a solution: instead of trying to meet students where you think they should be - you need to meet them where they are.  You need to pause your lecture and say, "Hey.  Two of you are nodding off.  Should we all get up and stretch?"  Shake up your routine with activities, competitions, group discussions - you don't even need to discuss the content so much as what gets them excited to learn.  Dig through the thick walls that your students may have built up to protect themselves and try to connect with the essence of what's driving them to attend class.

Step 3: Consistency Builds Trust

No matter what kind of group you've got in front of you, be consistent with who you are.  Every day when you show up to teach, you be your best self and you bring it every time.  The more your students trust that you're going to be there for them, be understanding and roll with them, they're going to keep trying.  If a student lets you down by asking for an extension and then still doesn't turn in the assignment, but they show up to class the next day, you welcome them in.  If a student drops your class, you reach out to them and let them know that you've got their back and will be ready to help them succeed the next time around.  Never allow time to make you apathetic.  Each new student is a new opportunity to build a better person, and this world needs all of us to be better.

Always, Brittney

Check In With Yourself

Do you temperature check?

In our youth, we are routinely assessed.  Can you apply what you've learned?  How can you outperform your peers?  How can you surpass your own metrics? Can you prove that you are qualified for admission?

Once we leave the days of exams behind, and are relinquished of a forced self-examination, we can often stagnate.  It can feel good to no longer need to define yourself with test scores and performance stats.  But because of the perpetual stress created around proving your worth for 12-18+ years of our lives, we tend to rebel from the entire institution - a pendulum swing from too much of a demand on calibre.  We launch into adulthood with reckless abandon, and amazingly creative things can emerge in this period of timelessness.  Then, we find a rhythm that supports us and we begin embracing the hamster wheel.

The wheel, that cycle of motion, may have nothing to do with a career, specifically.  It may in fact revolve around a pattern of avoidance: what you focus on to avoid the self-examination that exhausted you so long ago now.  The intensity to which you bring to your every day, the escapism habits you crave at the end of the day, the way you always want to focus on the tumult of others or the way you continually put yourself last - these patterns that propel you forward are keeping you from knowing yourself.  From knowing how you're really doing.  And, ultimately, from making any impactful changes in your life.

This is a reminder to pause.  Halt the cycle.  Does that bring you discomfort?  Good.  That means that change is about to follow.  Take time for yourself, away from distraction, and just sit with who you are.  These are the moments that you're running from.  Embrace them and allow yourself the opportunity to grow.  You check in with those around you - ask how they are and how you can help.  If you routinely check in with your partner, you're already in a leveled up mindset towards balance and wellness.  But now it's time to bring that internally.  Ask yourself how you're doing and be honest.  Ask yourself what you've learned about yourself this month.  Find out how you can improve - not for any metrics or validation - but how you can better yourself for yourself.  How can you optimize your presence for the world around you?

Throughout my whole life, I've always had one simple initiative: that anyone who knows me is better for knowing me.  That statement, that devotion, requires routine introspection.  If we all took moments to stop running from ourselves, just imagine what kind of world we would co-create.

Always, Brittney