Being an Effective Teacher by ChatGPT

After reading a few New York Times articles on ChatGPT and seeing a friend post about the tool on Facebook, I decided to check it out. If you’re not familiar with it, ChatGPT allows a person to have a conversation in real-time with an AI chat bot. I was skeptical at first, but after giving it several prompts and reading ChatGPT’s responses, I was pretty surprised by how comprehensive and natural the writing was. I’m planning a few blog posts about the educational implications of the tool over the next few weeks, but I decided to start someplace different. After playing around with ChatGPT for a few hours (or more..), I wanted to show all of you the capabilities of the site by handing off this week’s blog post to the tool. My initial prompt was “What is the most important aspect of being an effective teacher?” I had ChatGPT respond several times and I’m offering each in the order they were provided, without any editing or commentary. I’ll dig into some of the analysis in next week’s post. As you read ChatGPT’s responses, remember each was written using artificial intelligence.

ChatGPT response #1:

The most important aspect of being an effective teacher is a deep commitment to student success. This means being dedicated to helping your students learn and grow, and providing the support and resources they need to succeed. This can include setting clear and achievable goals for student learning, providing regular feedback and support, and creating a positive and inclusive learning environment. By prioritizing student success, you can be an effective and inspiring teacher who helps your students achieve their full potential.

ChatGPT response #2:

The most important aspect of being an effective teacher is a commitment to student learning and success. This involves creating a positive and supportive learning environment, setting clear and achievable goals for student learning, providing support and resources for struggling students, and regularly assessing and providing feedback on student progress. By prioritizing student learning and success, teachers can help to foster a love of learning and prepare students for future success in their education and careers.

ChatGPT response #3:

The most important aspect of being an effective teacher is having a passion for teaching and a commitment to student success. When a teacher is enthusiastic and dedicated to helping their students learn and grow, it is contagious and can inspire and motivate students to be engaged and interested in the subject. A teacher who is passionate about teaching and committed to student success is able to create a positive and supportive learning environment that promotes growth and achievement for all students.

ChatGPT response #4:

The most important aspect of being an effective teacher is having a deep understanding and knowledge of the subject matter. This allows you to provide accurate and comprehensive information to your students, and to answer their questions and concerns with authority. In addition, a deep knowledge of the subject matter also allows you to develop engaging and effective lesson plans and activities that help your students learn and retain the material. Without a strong knowledge base, it can be difficult to be an effective teacher.

ChatGPT response #5:

The most important aspect of being an effective teacher is having a deep knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. This allows you to provide accurate and comprehensive information to your students, and to answer their questions and concerns with authority. Additionally, having a passion for teaching and a commitment to student success is also essential for being an effective teacher. This includes providing support and resources for struggling students, setting clear and achievable goals for student learning, and providing regular feedback to help students track their progress and identify areas for improvement. Overall, the combination of subject matter expertise, passion for teaching, and a commitment to student success is crucial for being an effective teacher.


Revisiting Start with Thanks

A few years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Start with Thanks” where I unpacked my missteps with some colleagues. In the post, I wrote about how a group of faculty had collaborated to plan an event for students on campus and when the event was held, I forgot to thank them for their efforts. That oversight mistakenly communicated that their work wasn’t important. It also left their efforts unseen to the attendees. I wrote that post as a way to reflect on my mistakes and to offer a plan for doing better. In the post, I drew on an NPR interview with David DeSteno, the author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride, where he discussed the long-term importance of saying “Thank You.”

In the short-term, you can kind of be selfish and be a bit of a jerk and you can profit. But over time, people are going to realize that you’re not a good partner to work with, you’re not someone they want to have around. And what beautiful evolutionary models have shown is that over time, people who show gratitude, who cooperate, who are trustworthy, who are generous have the best outcomes. Feeling this emotion helps ensure that we do the right thing.”

So, I wrote that initial post as a reminder to “start with thanks” and to communicate my gratitude to the people whose work, time and contributions I value.

If that post was written as a reminder, this post is being offered as a revision. While I feel like I’ve been pretty successful at remembering to “start with thanks” and acknowledge the contributions of my colleagues, I’m reconsidering how best to express my gratitude. I’ve been reading a book titled How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation (Kegan & Lehay, 2001). As the title suggests, the authors introduce different “languages” and discuss how we often don’t communicate in the most supportive ways. While the first four chapters are dedicated to the “internal languages” we use with ourselves, chapter 5 focuses on gratitude and the “language of ongoing regard” we express to others. I have to admit that this chapter has really shake me to my core. It has also prompted me to reflect on how I communicate my gratitude with my friends, my family, and my coworkers.  Here’s why.

According to the authors, I’ve been doing it all wrong. And maybe you have, too.

Let me provide an example. Over the last few months, a group of colleagues, community members, and I got together to plan a large community event. I was asked to give some introductory remarks where I channeled my “start with thanks” mantra and thanked the planning committee. Here’s what I said.

“I want to thank the planning committee for their hard work and dedication in planning this event. While I’m standing up here, they’re the ones whose commitment and efforts made this event happen. Thanks.”

According to Kegan and Lahey, that offering of praise and gratitude falls short of “ongoing regard” because I haven’t fully expressed my appreciation or admiration for their work. They write:

Ongoing regard has two faces, one of appreciation and the other of admiration… When we are expressing appreciation, we let the other person know that we have received something we value. We feel we have been given something – not necessarily a material something- that we are happy to have, or feel benefited by having. When we express admiration, it less about something value entering our sphere and more about our taking up temporary residence in the other’s sphere. We imaginatively inhabit the other’s world and find ourselves instructed, inspired, or in some way enhanced by the other’s actions or choices.” (pg. 94)

To do better, I need to revise how I communicate my ongoing regard by including three elements: being direct, being specific, being nonattributive.

Being Direct
When communicating gratitude, I need to thank the person (or persons) directly and not place them in an eavesdropper role where they’re hearing my thanks offered to others. In my thank-yous, I need to avoid using third-person pronouns (they, she, he, etc.) and use more second-person pronouns (you, your, etc.). While that change in language may seem minor, it changes so much of how the communication appears. “Being direct” means the expression of gratitude is less of a performance for others, but a genuine recognition of the admiration and appreciation of the one being thanked.

Being Specific
Like the first element, “being specific” appears pretty straightforward, but has larger implications for how we communicate gratitude. To embrace a “language of ongoing regard,” I must identify specifically what I appreciate and what I admire.

Being Nonattributive
This element was the hardest for me to get my head around. To express a “language of ongoing regard,” I have to avoid identifying other people’s attributes but focus on my own experiences. What did I witness or experience that I want to acknowledge? I have to avoid characterizations and generalizations about the person and focus on the activity. The authors’ rationale for this one is pretty compelling. They write:

If we characterize people, even if we do so quite positively, we actually engage, however unintentionally, in the rather presumptuous activity of entitling ourselves to say who and how the other is. We entitle ourselves to confer upon people the sources of their worthiness.” (p. 99)

Rather than focus on what I see as the person’s attributes, a better approach is to focus on the actual admirable work that I witness and want to recognize.

So, while I’m still working on “starting with thanks” to acknowledge the amazing work of my colleagues and collaborators, I’m finding that I need to revise how I offer my gratitude in ways that are “less subject to formulaic insincerity” and more fully communicates my recognition and admiration of their work.

Impacts of Incivility

I was commiserating with some friends over the weekend about our recent interactions with rude people. A couple friends had just returned from a trip and had spent time in airports and on airplanes. They shared their experiences with difficult travelers at the terminals and on their flights. They witnessed instances of angry people shouting at flight attendants and yelling at gate workers. Another friend, who teaches locally, talked about the rude parents and students she’s been encountering. She regularly receives angry emails from parents and rude comments from her students. Another friend, who is still working remotely, shared that she’s been interacting with a difficult co-worker through most of the pandemic. Personally, I talked about my recent experiences with a couple of challenging colleagues and students who have sent rude or sarcastic emails to me. As we discussed these instances, we agreed that incivility seems to be on the rise.

Surprisingly, I pulled up my podcast app this morning to find Hidden Brain had dedicated its most recent episode, How Rude!, to the topic. Here’s how the episode was described in the app:

“It’s not your imagination: rudeness appears to be on the rise. Witnessing rude behavior — whether it’s coming from angry customers berating a store clerk or airline passengers getting into a fistfight — can have long-lasting effects on our minds.”

After the weekend conversation with my friends, I felt compelled to listen to the episode. While the show echoed a lot of the experiences my friends and I shared, it also discussed the causes of the incivility and outlined some of the potential negative impacts from encounters with rude people. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the main cause is stress. And with the rise of stressful situations borne out of the pandemic, incivility is also increasing. While that emotional connection seems logical, it also depersonalizes the behavior a bit. For the most part, these aren’t rude, uncivil people doing awful things or sending mean emails. They’re just people under stress who may not be able to see the full impact of the stress on their actions. I know that might not make those rude encounters easier to navigate, but it does make it easier to understand. We’ve all been under stress lately. We’ve probably all said or done something that we didn’t intend. Stress is a challenging emotion.

For me, the interesting part about the episode was when the main guest, Dr. Christine Porath from Georgetown University, discussed the impacts of incivility. Porath is a behavioral scientist and the co-author of the book, The Cost of Bad Behavior—How Incivility Damages Your Business And What You Can Do about It. Porath likened stress to a virus that spreads from person to person, with rude and uncivil acts as being one of the main transmission systems. During the discussion, Porath shared her research that examined the cognitive impacts to encountering or witnessing rude behavior. In a study published in Organizational Dynamics, Porath and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments and found that:

(I)ncivility impairs working memory, which in turn negatively impacts both performance and creativity. Working memory has three main functions – the verbal function, the visual function, and the central function responsible for higher order cognitive tasks; incivility impairs all three. What’s more, this effect occurs in the absence of a specific uncivil event; simply having incivility on one’s mind has been shown to decrease working memory performance. This is important because it suggests that even being in a workplace that has a climate of incivility may impair workers’ creativity and performance. Incivility robs people of cognitive resources, disrupts all three components of working memory, and ultimately hijacks performance.” (p. 259)

That’s some pretty serious stuff, but it might also be the solution. Maybe recognizing the harmful impacts of rude behaviors could cause some people to act differently. While I’ve sent my share of harshly worded emails and angry texts under moments of stress, recognizing those impacts may help me to communicate less rudely in the future. Beyond that, I’m also going to work to put more positive energy into the world. While Porath spent most of the Hidden Brain episode discussing incivility, she has also researched the impacts of civility, too. She outlines some of her work on a post titled How civility matters for you and your network. She writes that just like stress spreads like a virus, research shows that “civility is contagious – the benefits spreading as friends and friends of friends reciprocate civility.” So, while incivility is on the rise, maybe we could spread some civility, too.

Porath, C. L., Foulk, T., & Erez, A. (2015). How incivility hijacks performance: It robs cognitive resources, increases dysfunctional behavior, and infects team dynamics and functioning. Organizational Dynamics. 44(4), p. 258-265.

Working on Work

Classes started this week and faculty and students have returned to campus. After fifteen or sixteen months of online and remote instruction, the hallways and classrooms are abuzz with conversations, lessons, and activities. While everyone is wearing masks according to the university guidelines, I’m finding it weird to interact with people in the face-to-face world again. After more than year of communicating with people primarily through Zoom, these face-to-face interactions are offering an odd mix of the familiar and the novel. And that combination is honestly causing me some personal dissonance.

My dissonance is magnified by news articles, podcasts, and posts I’ve seen which are challenging our traditional views of work. After a year of working online, lots of people are questioning what work looks like after the dust settles on this pandemic. Take this opinion article that appeared in the New York Times last week. Priya Parker is the author of the Art of Gathering and the host of the Together Apart podcast. In her Times article, Parker writes:

After the pandemic hit, we began to sense what we can do even better virtually (the use of chats, breakout rooms and polling), as well as the limitations of not being in the same physical space (lively unmuted brainstorming, complicated coordination, spontaneity). With millions of hours of virtual meetings under our collective belts now, we can pose a question too rarely asked of workplaces: What is worthy of our collective time, and how should it be structured?

So, while the campus is stirring again, there seems to be this unspoken collective questioning of “Do we need to be here? Could this be online?” Thankfully, Parker offers some guidance. Parker references an article written by Rae Ringel that appeared in the Harvard Business Review last July. In the title of her article, Ringel asks the question directly “When do we actually need to meet in person?” To guide our decision making, Ringel offers a series of questions we should consider before scheduling a face-to-face meeting. Of the questions, the one that stands out to me is when Ringel asks: “Are my meeting goals relationship-based or task-based?” Digging deeper into these contrasting goals, Ringel writes:

Relationship-based goals, which involve strengthening or repairing connections among team members, are usually accomplished most effectively in person. People should be given difficult feedback face-to-face. Challenging group conversations should also take place in person, where destructive and distracting parallel side chats can’t overshadow the central discussion.

I’m sure after a year away from our colleagues, many of us could benefit from spending some time “strengthening or repairing connections.” Beyond focusing on the goals of the meeting, though, Ringel also includes a question which helps individuals evaluate the complexity of the meeting’s objectives. To Ringel, complexity includes “emotional complexity, the range of interdependence, or the need for intervention.” Like relationship-based goals, Ringel recommends that meetings that focus on really complex objectives should usually occur in person. Ringel also includes a graphical tool to assist with deciding how the meeting should be offered.

While examining the goals and objectives of a meeting is important to consider when deciding whether to meet online or face-to-face, Ringel also challenges us to evaluate how inclusive our meetings will be. An in-person meeting requires that people are actually able to travel to the site to participate. This requirement may create a burden on working parents or people who have sick family members or other responsibilities that may limit their participation. I think the pandemic has opened a lot of eyes to the personal challenges with which some of our colleagues have to deal. And we should definitely consider these as we move forward in this (hopefully) post-pandemic world.

As I’m wrestling with the nature of our work moving forward, another quote has been bouncing around in my head for the last week. It’s from an unrelated podcast on “How to Forgive.” In the episode, Elizabeth Bruenig says that she grew up in an environment where “my virtues could flourish, and my vices could be contained.” And maybe that should be another guideline as we move forward. I know virtues and vices aren’t things we typically discuss when talk about work, but I’m betting we could identify a bunch of “workplace vices” and “workplace virtues.” Let’s choose modalities that contain our “workplace vices” and help our “workplace virtues” flourish. I know it’s not a simple metric, but what about this last year has been easy? Moving forward isn’t going to be simple either.

Communication Convergence

I don’t know why or how this happens, but sometimes I’ll be flooded with common stimuli from seemingly disparate sources. For example, a few years ago, I heard Joni Mitchell everywhere I went. I’d turn on the radio and there was Joni Mitchell. I’d go to Target and hear a Joni Mitchell song. I’d watch television and there was a Joni Mitchell song being used for the soundtrack of a show. I took it as a sign to listen to more Joni Mitchell.

Over the last week, the same sort of thing has happened. This time, however, hasn’t involved any singer songwriters. Instead, I’ve been flooded with quotes about communication and listening. Again, these have come from different conversations and from different sources, which I’m taking as some sort of sign for me to work on my communication and listening skills.

I came across the first quote in a discussion post written by Andria, a graduate student in one of my classes. Writing about the importance of communication in teaching, Andria drew on a speech by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Realize and be humble to know you do not know everything and do not be afraid to say you do not know. The goal in communicating is not to show everybody how smart you are, the goal in communicating is to have people understand what you’re talking about.

– Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking at Cornell University

A few days later, I was recording a podcast episode with my collaborator, Dr. Scott McDonald. We were discussing the role that dialogue plays in our teaching. Scott shared a quote from a book by Oren Jay Sofer that he was reading.

We need to learn how to reperceive our world with fresh eyes, beyond inherited historical and economic structures of competition and separation that can so easily determine our relationships. True dialogue is more than the mere exchange of ideas. It is a transformative process based on trust and mutual respect, in which we come to see another in new and more accurate ways.

– Oren Jay Sofer, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication

And then, this past weekend, my wife and I went on a road trip to New York state, which gave us a chance to get caught up on some podcasts. We were both taken with the definition of listening that Susan Piver shared.

The best definition for listening I’ve ever heard is from a friend and fellow writer named Catherine MacCoun who said, ‘listening is when you stop thinking your thoughts and start thinking mine.’ So, instead of thinking about I think about what you’re saying, I listen to what you’re saying and trust you and trust myself and give myself to listening. That’s a very underrated skill.

– Susan Piver on the 10% Happier podcast

So, what does it all mean? I don’t know, yet. Or maybe I do, and I’m not sharing. Either way, I’m offering these quotes for you to create your own bricolage and find your own meaning.