Happy summer! I hope everyone is getting some recharging time, even if you are teaching summer school (as I am). I do try to take time to watch baseball most days. Those who know me know that is really my happy place and since my favorite college team just won the College World Series, I am really happy. Plus, my favorite pro team – the Orioles – is playing lights out.
I want to remind everyone of a few opportunities:
- Melissa Maffeo (Program Chair for APA) has put together a wonderful program for APA in DC in August. Please join us if you can. Be sure to come to the Marriott on Thursday August 4 for the Presidential Address (3pm) and Social Hour (4pm) where I will honor this year’s recipients of Presidential Citations (see below).
- There are several opportunities to serve STP. Some do not require a great deal of time. Please consider contributing your talents to STP.
One of the privileges of the STP Presidency is the ability to give two very deserving individuals a Presidential Citation, which acknowledges “extraordinary lifetime contributions to the Society and/or to the teaching of psychology.” My recipients are extraordinary teachers and people who have contributed to our profession and their students. I have been fortunate to know both of them for decades and I am thrilled to have a chance to recognize them since they are folks who tend to stay in the background.
My first recipient is Mr. Alan Feldman of Glen Rock High School in NJ. I know of no other psychology teacher (at any level) who is as accomplished as Alan. He has been a participant in everything related to psychology teaching over the last decades including the National High School Summit, the Clark University TOPSS sponsored workshop, the Advanced Placement reading and test development committee and the executive committee for Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS).
One of the AP administrators says of Alan: ‘Alan has served as a Table Leader on my team numerous times. I rely on his depth of knowledge of the content. A small pre-team of Table Leaders creates the grading rubric that will score one of the free response questions (FRQ's). I often turn to Alan to ask about research that has been done on a particular concept. I know of no other person at the reading who has such an in-depth understanding of the content. His contributions have helped our team build rubrics that are concise and effective tools.”
Alan has received several teaching awards including the Charles T. Blair Broeker Excellence in Teaching Award from TOPSS, the Moffett Teaching Excellence Award from STP and the Perth-Amboy School District Teacher of the Year.
He has presented at too many workshops to count and has served as a keynote speaker multiple times, including as the Professional Night Speaker at the Advanced Placement Psychology Reading.
Alan has taught at a local community college and has served as an instructor in graduate teaching of AP Psychology courses at Goucher College, Drew University and Fordham University.
Most importantly are his achievements with his students. Six of his students from Glen Rock HS have been published in Psychology Teacher Network. Many have gone onto major in psychology and their comments make it clear he is a caring and dedicated teacher. One student wrote: “You made me feel smart in your class. You encouraged me to raise my hand by acknowledging what I had to say as valuable. I loved the way that you taught. You spoke with passion about what you were teaching. Thank you for everything that you did for me, Mr. Feldman. I would not have the confidence I have now if I did not have you as a teacher. When I come back to visit Glen Rock High School, your classroom will be the first I go to.” Another says of Alan: “At the time I had him as a teacher, all I wanted was for Mr. Feldman to see how positively he had impacted those he taught or simply greeted in the halls. He was so modest that when anybody said that he was the best teacher they had ever had, he would simply shake his head and tell them to stop. Well now, I am not letting him shake his head. I want Mr. Feldman to know that he is the best teacher and person I have ever known. He has not only taught me an incredible amount of information, but he has also shown me, by example, how to be an understanding, patient person.” I concur and it is my great honor to present this Presidential Citation to Alan Feldman.
My second recipient is Dr. Robin Hailstorks of Prince George’s Community College in Maryland. Dr. Hailstorks has been a professor of psychology and Department Chair at Prince George’s for over thirty years during which time she has mentored countless part-time and full-time faculty (including me!).
Robin earned her bachelors at Morgan State University and has helped to make it easier for many community college students to continue their education at the baccalaureate level at Morgan. She earned her doctorate at The Ohio State University.
In 1997, she received the Wayne Weiten Teaching Excellence Award (Division 2) which recognizes excellence in teaching at a two-year college.
She has been involved in making community college psychology a national concern. While advising a Psi Beta chapter at Prince George’s Community College, Robin served as Psi Beta’s Eastern Regional Vice-President (1994 to 1996). Robin was Psi Beta’s National President from 1997-1998.
Robin was involved with APA’s Diversity Project 2000 and Beyond (DP2K), which was a leadership and mentoring program designed for ethnic minority honor students attending community colleges. DP2kB occurred two days prior to and two days during the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association and offered full grants for out-of-state students and partial grants for local students admitted into the program.
She also served as Associate Director of Precollege and Undergraduate Education in the American Psychological Association’s Education Directorate for many years. Jerry Rudmann says of Robin: “she has played a key role in dozens of APA-sponsored events, task forces, and working groups all of which supported, encouraged, and provided valuable resources for America’s psychology teachers and thousands of their students.” She was instrumental in contributing to two working groups appointed by APA’s Board of Educational Affairs.
Robin has always worked quietly “behind the scenes” and many do not really know all the contributions she has made to the advancement of community college psychology and to the teaching of psychology. I am honored to give her this Presidential Citation.
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This month my guest columnist (and a pertinent one when we are talking about recharging) is Dr. Keli Braitman. Keli is a Professor and the Chair of Psychological Science, William Jewell College. She recently rotated off the Executive Committee where she served as Vice-President of Grants and Awards. In that position, she worked to make sure grants and awards are equitably distributed as well as to make application and review more coherent and clearer.
Teaching as a Wellbeing Practice
by Keli A. Braitman, Ph.D.
Several years ago – before the pandemic – I developed an interest in learning more about mindfulness and wellbeing. The older I get, the more I prioritize my own wellbeing and focusing on what brings contentment and happiness to my life. I already knew some of the basics about wellbeing (as a psychology teacher), but I wanted to learn more, including what the research has shown and how to better prioritize these practices.
Despite my interest, it never came together. I’m sure we’re all familiar with buying books and then not finding the time to read them! To force my hand, I proposed a new course at our college that would focus on the science and practice of wellbeing, modeled after Laurie Santos’ wellbeing course at Yale University (also available for free on Coursera - https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being). I figured that if I taught the course, it would force me to learn the material. It was mutually beneficial, because I wanted to learn how to enhance my own wellbeing, while offering the opportunity to students as well.
I started by exploring resources available through STP. I found Jess Hartnett’s syllabus for her Positive Psychology course through ‘Project Syllabus’ (https://teachpsych.org/otrp/syllabi/index.php), and after contacting her with a few questions, she generously shared additional material with me. Through my networking connections in STP, I learned of others who were teaching similar courses, and they shared material with me as well – thank you especially to Jane Halonen and Jennifer Oliver!
I’ll start by saying that this was one of the most fulfilling courses I’ve ever taught. Not only did I learn a lot about the science and practice of wellbeing, but overwhelmingly the students reported feeling grateful to learn about this topic as well, especially within our core curriculum. This course satisfied the science requirement for our core curriculum, which I believe helps expand students’ understanding of what science is and how our discipline is informed by scientific inquiry and process.
Topics we read about and discussed included fostering social connection, finding meaning and purpose in our choices and our lives, creating time affluence for ourselves (time to rest or do things we enjoy), fostering gratitude and kindness, practicing mindfulness, including meditation, engaging our signature strengths, finding flow, moving our bodies, and getting enough sleep.
I related these topics to students’ lives and encouraged them to think of ways to incorporate these practices. For example, after completing a survey on signature strengths, students shared examples of how they use their strengths and how they might develop them further.
Once the semester finished, I reflected upon how so many of these wellbeing practices are encompassed in the work that we do as teachers of psychology. Teaching provides us with inherent opportunities for experiencing meaning and purpose in our lives. So many of us have related anecdotes of a student or alumnus sharing a story about the impact we had on their lives – talk about meaning and purpose! Doing work that serves others can lead to incredible fulfillment and meaning.
We’re certainly each utilizing signature strengths within our roles as teachers (e.g., creativity, curiosity, fairness, honesty, humor, judgment, leadership, love of learning – just to name a few). Harzer and Ruch (2012) found that people who incorporate signature strengths into their work are more likely to report job satisfaction and to think of their job as their “calling.” Similarly, LeFevre (1988) sampled workers throughout their day, asking how they were feeling, what was their level of concentration, and what would they rather be doing. Not surprisingly, most who were working reported they would rather be at leisure. However, while at work they also reported feeling a sense of efficacy and self-confidence, whereas when sampled during leisure they reported feeling apathy and boredom. So, although self-care is often represented by taking time to binge Netflix, for example, research suggests that engaging in meaningful work often leads to more fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong – having time to rest and play is important, too, but so is engagement in meaningful activities.
Many teachers experience gratitude for the opportunity to do this work we love, including the flexibility that comes with many teaching positions, and the opportunities to foster intergenerational connections with colleagues and students. We can extend kindness, even when we’re maintaining our policies and expectations. We have the intellectual challenge of staying current on the topics we teach, and the creative challenge of conveying difficult topics in accessible ways. This process can be incredibly meaningful and keep us sharp in ways we may not otherwise experience. And I know I have certainly experienced flow when I’ve been in the classroom. Time has often passed very quickly, and class is over before I’ve realized it. I even experienced flow in writing this column – so much so that I forgot to feed my dogs dinner! (Don’t worry, they reminded me).
Not every aspect of teaching lends itself to practices of wellbeing, and we do have to be intentional about setting healthy boundaries, protecting time for other things, and creating opportunity for exercise and sleep. But it was incredibly gratifying (applying one of these wellbeing practices!) to consider the myriad ways that our chosen profession can align with healthy practices of taking care of ourselves.
I started the course by highlighting for students several news sources stating that “Americans are the unhappiest they have been in decades” (CBS News, 2022) and that “Americans are the most unhappy people in the world” (ABC News, 2013). To highlight the importance of this course, and why I was inspired to teach it. I followed those news stories with a piece by Marcia Morris in Psychology Today (2022) entitled, “Dear College Student, You Deserve to be Happy.” Well, colleagues, so do we. I’m heartened to think about how teaching fulfills many of the practices that can promote our wellbeing, and I’m hopeful you are able to as well. And in the spirit of practicing gratitude – I am thankful to STP President Diane Finley for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts, and to our STP community of teachers, who inspire me on a regular basis and are generous with one another.
Americans most unhappy people in the world. ABC13. (2013, February 20).
Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years, poll finds. NBC News. (2020, June 16). https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/americans-are-unhappiest-they-ve-been-50-years-poll-finds-n1231153
Harzer & Ruch (2012). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 362-371.
LeFevre, J. (1988). Flow and the quality of experience during work and leisure. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. S. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.), Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (pp. 307–318). Cambridge University Press.
Morris, M. (2022, November 6). Dear college student, you deserve to be happy: Enhancing academic, social, and mental health experiences in college. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/college-wellness/202211/dear-college-student-you-deserve-be-happy