Tim Klein, an award-winning urban educator, licensed clinical social worker and school counselor, talks to ACC about the power of purpose and belonging for student success.

Episode Transcript

[ Music ]


[Alexa Haverlah:] Hi, ACC. Alexa Haverlah here with the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division. Today I want to share a presentation with you from the first speaker in our Purpose and Belonging series. You can watch the video on our website if you go to TLED.AustinCC.edu under Current TLED Projects and Initiatives, or on YouTube. Here to talk with us is Tim Klein, an award-winning urban educator, licensed clinical social worker and school counselor. Tim is passionate about using evidence-based best practices to guide and support students toward finding their purpose, which he sees as the answer to leading a fulfilling life. The problem currently is that research shows one in three young people suffer from an anxiety disorder. A majority of college students say they regret the college they went to, the major they chose, or their career. Four in 10 college graduates settle for jobs that only require a high school diploma. More and more young people are struggling to navigate the world and are suffering as a result. That’s from Tim’s website. It’s not all bad, though. Stay tuned for what Tim has to say about the power of purpose and belonging for student success.

[Tim Klein:] Yeah. I’m really, really excited to be here. And I actually just want to thank you, not for having me here, but I really want to set the tone by thanking you for doing the work that you’re doing. I just think today is the most tumultuous time we’ve ever seen in education, and you all are on the front line doing it. And so I just, I think — my career, I’ve worked in high schools, I’ve worked in nonprofits, I’ve worked in colleges, I’ve worked in grad schools. And throughout my career, when I step back and I look at where the economy’s going, where the future of work is going, it’s very, very clear to me that education is going to play this very underrated and very, very vital role. And I know this because what I like to do is I like to look at economic trends. And so, you know, I really — right now is mirroring the 2008 recession, in a lot of ways, when the housing bubble popped. And so when that happened, the United States lost about 7.2 million jobs. And so I think we all probably remember how disruptive that was. But when you dive into the data a little bit, 80% of the jobs lost did not require any sort of college degree. And so it was a very, very uneven job loss at that time in 2008. And then what happened was the economy bounced back and we actually gained 9.2 million jobs. So the economy came roaring back. But when you look at the jobs that came back that were created as a result of that recession, 95% of jobs that were created as a result of that 2008 housing bubble required some sort of higher education. So the workers who were most likely to lose their jobs were locked out of the jobs that were created on the tail end of that recovery. And unfortunately, we are seeing a acceleration of that trend today with COVID-19. So we’ve lost anywhere from 20 to 40 million jobs as a result of COVID-19. Overwhelmingly, those jobs last did not require a college degree. Now we’re seeing a little bit of a bump back, and we’re seeing the same thing that played out in 2008 playing out again. So in March, the US economy created almost a million jobs. Less than 1% of those jobs went to workers who didn’t have a college degree. And so I am just incredibly thankful and I have a ton of gratitude for you all, because I really think you on the frontline of higher education are the engine of social mobility that so many of our students need to be able to survive and thrive in the United States moving forward. So I’m just incredibly excited to be here. And I feel very humbled and honored to be collaborating with you all. So with that being said, I just want to take a step back and give you an overview about what to expect from this presentation. I probably packed in a lot here, so I’m going to go quick to try to get through all of it. But I really want to start by zooming out about 10,000 feet and really getting out of the day to day and really thinking about what is the history of higher education, where we are today, and where do we need to go in the future? And what are some of those challenges and barriers that we’re going to need to overcome to build that future? So after we do that long-term look, we’ll zoom in a little bit and we’ll start looking at the essential role that purpose and belonging is going to play in creating the future that we need to best serve our students. After that, we’re going to zoom in even more, and I really want to provide you some tangible strategies and tools to promote purpose and belonging that you can be bringing the classroom immediately in the first couple of weeks of class to start doing this work right away. And then we’ll have time for some Q and A based on anything that you have come up as well. If you have any questions or comments or anything, please feel free to use the chat, I’m happy to interrupt and jump in with questions as they arrive or if you have things to say. The first bit of this are going to be a little lecture-y, and then we’ll get more interactive. So let’s go in, and let’s really think about where we are in higher education. And the way I think about higher education is we’re kind of living in a world that looks like Blockbuster Video. I’m assuming you had Blockbuster Video in Texas at the time, I’m actually from a very small town in Vermont, so we didn’t have Blockbuster Video. But I was very jealous, and I really, really wanted one. But you know, pre-internet days, if we wanted to watch something on TV on the weekend, we would go into Blockbuster, and when we’d walk through the doors of Blockbuster Video, we would see thousands of different movies available to us and they’d be categorized by genre. So you’d have your action movies over here, your comedy movies over here, your documentaries, the new releases would be up front. And then within those categories, they would be alphabetized by just the name of the movie. And what you were supposed to do is go into that movie, go into that Blockbuster, and you would browse the aisles, you would pick up a VHS case off of the aisle, you would look at the cover, you would read the back, and you’d use that limited information, decide if you want to rent that movie. If you were — or maybe some of you even collaborated and asked the clerk who was working there at the time for some recommendations on what movies you should be watching. And so Blockbuster Video is very much like higher education today because it’s designed for a brick-and-mortar experience. Overwhelmingly, not just at Austin Community College, but every single college across the country, it is still designed for a brick-and-mortar experience. We want our students to be coming on campus, and we want them to be browsing the aisles, choosing classes, majors and activities based on limited information. And for a long time, we have relied on the serendipity of proximity to have students transfer information and communicate information about what classes they should be taking, what professors should they be meeting with, what internship opportunities are available to them. It’s still designed for a brick-and-mortar experience. And what we’re seeing is, as the internet disrupted Blockbuster Video, COVID-19 has disrupted that brick-and-mortar experience that we’ve been relying on in higher education, and it was really a stress test for us. And so not only are we living in a Blockbuster world in higher education, but we’re serving students who live in a Netflix world. So this is actually my Netflix menu today. And so our students, if they want to be watching a TV, they’re going on their computers, and Netflix is showing up and it is automatically curating for them and it’s telling them, “Hey, we’re recommending shows that you think you should watch.” So you can see here 15 titles that they think that I should be watching right now. And what’s insane about Netflix is that, you know, if you opened up your Netflix right now, it would not look like this. You would have totally different movies or shows based on what you’ve been watching. My wife watched the movie, the show Halston, so that’s why they’re telling me to watch Firefly Lane. But there are 15,000 different movies and TV shows on Netflix. Overwhelmingly, you’re only going to see less than 1% of those on your feed. And your students are experiencing life the same way. Because our students are digital natives who are outsourcing their decision-making to predictive algorithms. We are living in a world of overwhelming information overload. There is way too much information out there. There’s no way to filter through it. And so what we’ve done is we rely on algorithms to filter out information to curate our experience for them. There’s no way that you’re going to look through every single action movie on Netflix in alphabetical order to figure out what movie you want; you are relying on the algorithm, and you’re trusting that algorithm to tell you what you should be watching. Our students are doing the exact same thing. They’re using trial and error to explore many different options to curate their experience. So there’s they’re trying a show knowing that, if they don’t like the show, if they stop it early, the algorithm is going to pick up on that, it’s going to understand that that’s not engaging them, and it’s going to adjust to what they have them show based on that information. So what happens when we have students living in a Netflix world when they go into the world of higher education designed for Blockbuster? Well, our students are subscribing, but they’re not watching right now. And what I mean by that is, yes, they’re on campus, they are logging in, but they’re not accessing all the resources and opportunities available to them. And we know that because only one in four graduates form caring relationships with faculty and staff. The reason I highlight this is because having a strong support network is one of the strongest correlates of student success out there. So the fact that only one in four graduates form caring relationships with faculty and staff, huge red flag there. Only one in five students take full advantages of their college’s career services department. This is not because these career services departments are not high quality. It is because, overwhelmingly, students are not taking advantages of student support services until the very tail end of their college experience. And by that point, it is too little, too late. And there’s research that shows when students access career services and student support services as soon as they get on campus, they’re three times more likely to say that those services were very, very helpful for them. And then first-generation college students are almost three times more likely to have zero influential relationships with faculty compared to their peers who are not first-gen. And low-income students report fewer relationships with staff, faculty, and peers compared to their high-income students. So this is just painting a picture showing that not only are an overwhelming majority of students not actually taking advantage of all the resources and opportunities available to them, but the students who need those resources most — first-gen, low-income students — are the least likely one to be accessing those resources. And this is actually not a new phenomenon. This is not actually isolated to higher education. It’s actually — in the world of global supply chain management, it’s called the last mile delivery problem. And it’s very, very well-stated. And so the last mile delivery problem says that 40 to 50% of the cost of shipping comes from the last mile of delivery. So if I wanted to order some delicious barbecue sauce from Austin, Texas, and have it sent to me in Boston, Massachusetts, on that 2,700-mile flight, half of the cost, it would happen in the last mile of that delivery van driving the last mile to my house and putting it on my porch. So the last mile of delivery is not only the costliest; it’s the hardest to implement. And we’re seeing that in higher education right now. We’re seeing a last mile delivery problem, because students have made it to campus but they’re not leveraging key resources. And I just want you to think about everything your students have done to get to where they are right now. They have graduated from high school or gotten their GED, they filled out the application, they filled out financial aid, they enrolled in their classes, they’ve done 90% of the work to get on campus. And it’s that last 10% that is the hardest to get them to access all the resources — a.k.a. you all — that’s really going to provide the ROI on their higher education experience. So the question becomes, how do we solve the last mile delivery problem? And how do we help students curate their ACC experience? So I think that students don’t need more information. And I think the knee-jerk reaction is to say, how can we download more and more information about these resources? So a lot of the times we think that, “Oh, students aren’t accessing resources on campus because they don’t know about the resources. So if we provide more information to them, they’re going to be more likely to access that information.” And like Neil deGrasse Tyson said on that video, you know, that is this idea that students are empty vessels, and it is our mission to fill that empty vessel with the relevant information they need to be successful. But remember, students are in living in a world of information overload, and they’re actually actively resisting more information as a way to protect themselves from overwhelm. So what they need is space to understand for themselves, what do they want to do, and who do they want to become? And what they need to cultivate is what we call purposeful belonging, which we’re going to take a deep dive into, which is at the center of the work that I’ve been doing, as a therapist, as a high school counselor, as a professor at Boston College. So, why purpose? Susan had that great statistic on there, so this is a little bit of a spoiler here, but why do we care about purpose? Well, the research makes it very clear it drives student engagement. And so students with a sense of purpose are — they’re more academically engaged, they get better grades, and they’re more likely to graduate. They have lower levels of depression and anxiety, and are more resilient and have stronger relationships with their peers and faculty. And they’re 10 times more likely to be thriving in their careers than peers without a sense of purpose. So Gallup and Bates did this very formative research about sense of purpose in career. And when students said they had found purpose in their career, 60% of them said they were thriving in their lives. Students who hadn’t found purpose in their careers, 6% of them said they were thriving in their lives. In the world of research, that’s an astronomical gap right there. But I have all the footnotes for the research at the end of this, so if you’re looking for that research, do a little deeper dive, I can share that. High level here, sense of purpose is positively correlated with academic success, mental health, and positive career outcomes. Basically, the triumvirate of success, everything we’re looking to do with students. Why belonging? It actually drives student retention. So if purpose engages students on campus, belonging is the thing that keeps them there and keeps them sticking. So students with a sense of belonging, they learn more, drop out less, and they’re more likely to graduate. And that’s simply by the number of friends they have, the number of strong relationships with faculty and staff members. The higher those numbers, the more positively related these things are right here. They have lower levels of mental illness, and even when they do suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental illness, they’re more likely to access mental health services on campus than students who don’t feel like they belong on campus. And they’re much more confident that they’re going to graduate with skills that they need to succeed in their careers. This is a really important stat because only about less than one in three students feel confident that they’re graduating with the skills they need to be successful in their careers. So probably not a shocker to you all, but cultivating purposeful belonging is easier said than done, you know? So I think you all have had students in your class who had a sense of purpose. They were at ACC for a very specific reason. They knew exactly how doing well at ACC was going to help them reach those goals. And I’m guessing those students were more engaged, they were more resilient, they were more likely to form relationships with you. We know purpose and belonging when we see it. We are very much at the very, very beginning of, how do you cultivate purpose and belonging? In fact, research that I did with my coauthor, Dr. Belle Liang, who runs a purpose lab at Boston College, we actually conducted one of the first randomized control trials that showed that you can actually cultivate purpose in students. So we’re at the field in purpose and belonging where we know it when we see it, we know how powerful it is, but there aren’t a lot of evidence-based best practices in, how do you actually cultivate purpose and belonging? And there’s a reason for that: it’s incredibly difficult. And one reason for that is higher education can’t — and nor should we — emulate Netflix. So I know some of you sitting there when I was saying how great Netflix is, you’re like, “Are you telling us we should just go all online and just have video on demand to help them find purpose?” No, not what I’m saying. It would never work like that because people, believe it or not, already have a purpose when they go to Netflix. They are looking to laugh, or they’re looking to cry, or they’re looking to escape, or they’re looking to be inspired, or they’re looking to learn. They are going on to Netflix with a very specific purpose. And they’re using that purpose to help them navigate the Netflix algorithm and find something that’s going to help them meet that purpose. And ultimately, the biggest difference is an algorithm can’t tell us what our purpose is. The most invigorating, inspiring, and challenging, frustrating thing about sense of purpose is purpose can be learned, but purpose cannot be taught. And what I mean by that is I cannot tell you what your purpose is. That has to come from you. It has to come inside of you. So it’s a form of self-education that can’t come from an external source, let alone an algorithm. So what is purposeful belonging? Let’s just take a step back right now. And I would actually just love to hear from you all in the chat section, if you don’t mind. How do you define purpose? What is it? And that can be any definition that you want. But I’d love to see some brave souls in the chat share what they think their definition of purpose is. Sarah says, “Why.” Right? I think the most common — meaning in life. There we go. I think the most common thing, you know, we think of Simon Sinek’s “Why” TED Talk that he did. It’s the why of what we do. It’s why I’m here and what I’m supposed to do. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s what motivates you. It is the reason for doing what you do. These are all fantastic answers. Also, you see all of them slightly, slightly different, right? And what I think the beauty of purpose is — what adds value to my life. I love Linda’s — intent. I love these answers right here because what add values to my life can be my family, it can be my job, it can be a vacation, it can be a cup of coffee. There’s a lot of different things that could be there. Sarah says, “A long-term goal that is personally meaningful.” She’s getting into the academic definition. The academic definition of purpose is a stable and generalized intention, which is a fancy academic way of saying a long-term goal that’s personally meaningful and also benefits the world beyond the self. So it has to be at the intersection of those two things. Now, how do you define belonging? Being in sync, comfortable in group acceptance, connections. These are great. Feeling like a part of a community. Safe place to grow. Being and feeling part of a larger whole. Safety. Comfortable in a space. Who I do what I do with; it’s finding your people. Yes. Love these. Feeling like you are where you’re supposed to be. Fantastic answers. It’s identifying with another community. These are all great. I shouldn’t even show this slide, but I call it — purpose is knowing what you want, and more importantly, why you want to do it. So I think of purpose as, imagine you’re at a party with people you’ve never met before. And they go, “Oh, what do you do? What is your job?” And the ease and the ability that you use to describe what you do is going to determine how much purpose it is. And when they say, “Do you like your job?” Your ability to explain why you like your job, how you conceptualize what you’re doing determines how purposeful it is for you. So purpose is really a language that you can use to articulate this abstract emotion that you have to a tangible reality that you’re in. And belonging to me is believing people like me succeed here. So I think about belonging as, you know, if I told one of you and I said, “You should go get your PhD at Boston College,” the first thing you would think is, “Huh, do people like me get their PhD?” And when we say “people like me,” that’s subjective. That could mean, do women? Do first-gen? Do immigrants? Do people from my family? Do people from Texas? We all have so many different identities that are all swirling around at one time, but it’s the identity that is most likely to connect with that possible future self that drives belonging. And so if you have a father who also has his PhD, it might be very, very easy for you to picture yourself getting a PhD and that might — you interpret that as motivation to go get it. But if you’re the first in your family to go to college, and you can’t see yourself in a PhD program, it’s going to be very, very hard for you to have the motivation to go pursue that goal. So it’s this belief that people like me succeed here. So I see purpose as the motivation, the intrinsic motivation we need to do something, and belonging is the belief that we can follow through on that motivation. So this leads to what I call purpose- and belonging-informed education, which I’m really excited to do a deeper dive with you all in this fall, spring and summer. But purpose- and belonging-informed education or PBI education is a commitment to helping students explore what they want and empowering them to believe that they can achieve it. So PBI education, it can come in science, it can come in English, it can come in writing, it comes in history. It doesn’t matter the context or domain in which you’re doing it; it’s more about the intention you bring to your students when they actually show up in the class. But again, you’re going to notice a pattern here. Our school systems are not designed for PBI education. They’re not designed for this deep introspection that is going to foster purpose and belonging. So if you’re struggling with how to do that, you’re not alone here, and you’re in larger systems outside yourself that are making this work very, very difficult. And I want to switch metaphors here from watching videos, and I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old at home, and so a central challenge of my life is getting them to eat food. And so I think of everything through food metaphors. And I think how we eat is very indicative of the systems that we’re in. And so I want to just get you to be thinking about, from your students’ perspective, how it can be so hard for them to be finding purpose and belonging at school. So your students, when they go through their K-12 schooling, they’re doing it cafeteria-style. So when they’re in high school, they are literally lining up in a cafeteria, they have their food trays, and they are choosing from very limited options where they’re — do they want the red milk? Do they want the blue milk? Do they want the ham sandwich? Do they want the turkey sandwich? They have very, very limited options in what they can eat. And academically, it’s the same. Everyone’s taking that. Everyone’s taking English. Everyone’s taking History. Yes, they can choose between Calculus and Geometry. But overwhelmingly, they have very, very few options. Oh, can you still — I think, Susan, you started sharing your screen, maybe? I’m just going to go back. And — oh. Can everyone see that?

[Unknown Speaker:] [Inaudible] there’s a little —

[Tim Klein:] Can people still see my screen?

[Unknown Speaker:] Is that — yes, I see a slide now. With the K-12?

[Tim Klein:] Yeah. So limited options academically, right? They’re on very rigid pathways that you can’t really alter from at all. And so they haven’t had to make a lot of decisions when it comes to K-12 education because those decisions have been made for them. Then they come to college, and it’s literally buffet-style. It is an all-you-can-eat buffet in the cafeterias when they go here. They have literal unlimited options. So they have all of these buffets, and it’s entirely up to them to choose what they want to be eating. And students, this is a whiplash that happens to them. They go from not having to make any decision, and then suddenly, they have to make every decision and they have unlimited choices. And so what we’re seeing in the cafeteria is some students haven’t heard of half the food that’s available to them. Some students are filling up their plates right at the beginning of the buffet and they’re not waiting to see all the other options available to them. Some students don’t even know if they’re hungry or not. And so this unlimited options, this is what we explored in the Netflix style where they are not accessing all the food available to them, and they’re not accessing all the academic programs available to them. I looked quickly at ACC: you all have over 100 different academic offerings for your students. That is amazing, but it also can be incredibly overwhelming if you don’t have a good sense of what you want to do in life. And so what PBI education is, purpose- and belonging-informed education, is going to curated options. So it’s keeping the amount of options that the higher-ed buffet style has, but it is modifying it to look more like fine dining. And I think there’s a reason that a lot of us probably when we go out to eat or not going to all-you-can-eat buffets. We are going, when we go out to eat — and maybe a lot of you haven’t been out to eat in a while, but as a reminder, when we go out to eat, we are looking for someone to help curate that. So my question to you all: what makes a great waiter? When you go out to a restaurant and you’re sitting down to eat, what does a waiter do to make you feel like you’re having an excellent experience there? I’d love to hear about it in the chat. Listen to my needs. Honesty. Suggestions. Listens. Acknowledgement that I’m there. Ask for unique — yep. Understands. Nancy says, “Knows what questions to ask in order to be able to provide me with information.” Not hovering too much. Gathers the info quickly. Describes specials with flair. Anticipates needs without being asked. Asks in a kind way. These are fantastic answers here. And they watch the flow of the meal. They’re friendly and attentive. So all of these things. They do don’t smirk at my ignorance of a menu item. Patricia, right there, says that feeling of being able — will this person smirk if I ask what could be conceived as a dumb question, that is actually a belonging question right there. So if you have ignorance of a menu item, what you are actually grappling with is, am I the type of person who belongs in this fancy restaurant? And if you don’t feel like you belong in that fancy restaurant, you’re much less likely to ask questions of that waiter because you do not want to highlight to them how out of place you are in that restaurant. So these are all amazing answers. And what do they do? Overwhelmingly — you all said it — they ask questions. They lead with questions. Have you ever been here before? Have you ever come to a restaurant that serves this type of food? Do you have any allergies that we should know about? And they ask these questions. What type of food Are you interested in? And they actually listen. Right? They said they’re attentive. They’re asking a kind way. They’re gathering info. You all said this. This is what Nancy said: “She knows what questions to ask in order to be able to provide me with information.” So they’re actually asking questions to get information from you. And so they’re listening. And then they’re contextualizing, right? They’re listening to what you’re into, if you have food allergies, whatever, and they’re explaining to you, “Here is how our chef makes this sort of food. Here’s where the ingredients are sourced from.” They’re giving you context to better understand the meal that you are about to have. And finally, they curate, right? They listen to what you’re interested in, and they describe those specials with flair. They are based on the information available to you. They’re personally recommending meals based on their expertise that they would think that you would like. Funny enough, this experience right now, it’s very, very similar to what purposeful, belonging-informed education can look like for students. And so this is — as you know, this is extremely hard to do in a traditional [inaudible]. And that’s because this is not fine dining. It’s not set up to be like fine dining. This is an academic establishment. And so, one, that asking questions, listening, contextualizing is really, really hard to do. Because more often than not, we do not have enough information about our students to fully meet their needs. And here’s what I mean by that. So when you — you know, you’re about to start classes. I’m about to start classes on Wednesday. You’re probably starting next week. When you get your roll call of students, you’re going to pull them up on Canvas, whatever learning management system that you get, and this is what you’re going to see. Right? You’re going to see their name, their major, their GPA, and have they paid their bills? And my question to you would be, what advice would you give this student? If this is all the information you have on them, how would you curate their experience at ACC for them? What major or pathway should they choose? Who should they go talk to? What careers would they consider? We can give general information, but there’s not a lot we can do with this student right here. So a part of purposeful, belonging-informed education, it is creating an environment where students feel comfortable to open up about themselves so we can get the information we need to better serve them. So question for you is — this is an actual entry from an assignment for my class last fall where we were — in every class, we give them journal prompts where we’re asking them questions about themselves, and we’re asking them to write about themselves. So this is what the student said. “Throughout middle and high school, I lacked a lot of confidence in my own abilities, which has caused me not to try new experiences and grasp opportunities that come my way. This lack of confidence has discouraged me from reaching my full potential. For example, I did not think I was smart enough to attend a school like Boston College. Without the support of my guidance counselor and my mom, I wouldn’t have even applied. The support and encouragement from others were extremely influential in my life. In connection to this, I recognize the importance of empowering students. This has made me consider becoming a teacher. I want my students to understand their own talents and how they can positively contribute to the world. My goal is to make every student feel uplifted and confident in their abilities so they can succeed in the future. I am motivated to enhance their lives for the better.” Now your question: what advice would you give this student? Right? Feel free to share in the comments as we go through, but I would love for you — what questions would you ask your students? What advice? What would you do with this information for your student? A couple of things, as you’re putting it in there, you see here, “I lacked a lot of confidence.” Why do you lack confidence? How can we help you to overcome this challenge? You can see lacking a lot of confidence, that’s belonging uncertainty. So what is driving that belonging uncertainty that they might have? “Without the support of my guidance counsellor and my mom.” Oh, and then the advice could be maybe she should check out affinity groups on campus to connect with others who might struggle with similar issues, right? And then she asked this, she says — you know, she’s talking about her guidance counselor and her mom, “Well, who’s on your team on campus? Do you have all the support here that you need? Because you’re saying it’s so important to you.” Advice to her, meet with your academic advisor to build your support network on campus, you know? And then she says this, “It may be consider becoming a teacher.” We’re learning about a potential source of purpose for her. A question we can ask is, “What hands-on experiences have you had in the classroom?” She’s considering being an educator. Has she actually ever done classroom management or done a lesson plan? How much hands-on experience does she have? If not, she should meet with career services to see what education internship and work-study opportunities are available to her. And finally, she talks about her goal to make every student feel uplifted and confident in their abilities so they can succeed in the future. That’s a great abstract goal, and the question could be, “Are there other ways that you could uplift and empower students that might not be education?” Right? “Are there different ways that you could be pursuing this high-level goal that you have?” And maybe she should schedule an informational interview with the school counselor or psychologist to see if their work aligned with their purpose. So this is what purposeful, belonging-informed looks like in action. It’s getting this rich information we need to really curate the experience for our students. Yeah. I love how students have become a part of student life clubs and organizations. You know, and we can tell every single student, like, “You should join clubs and organizations on campus.” But how much more powerful is it when we can curate and personally recommend specific organizations and clubs on campus that are relevant to what students are telling us are important to them? That’s going to be such a more powerful recommendation for them than if we just say, “You should just do some generalized club or organization.” So what did we just see here? To be a really advocate for purposeful and belonging in education, it’s filling information gaps as they appear. You know, when you’re seeing students not have all the information they need, being able to fill it for them. It’s connecting them to high-impact practices like those affinity groups, like the informational interviews, like career services, but it’s using your expertise and embedded knowledge on campus to connect them to those practices. And it’s leveraging your social network to help them, right? It’s saying, “Oh, you’re interested in being a teacher? Who do I know as a teacher who can help connect to those things?” And then there’s being proactive with those who need it most, right? This was a low-income, first-gen student who had already expressed belonging uncertainty. This was the first journaling assignment we had, but being proactive with the students who we know need this sort of mentoring the most who were the least likely to get it. I do want to be mindful of time. I had another one, but I can share with — I’ll share this presentation.

[Unknown Speaker:] We have time. We have time.

[Tim Klein:] Okay. So just one more here. No spoilers. Okay. So this was — we asked her about, “Tell us about mentors on campus, and what role did they play in our program?” So you see here, “The mentor I connected with from TrueNorth who has been most influential for me is the director of the Teaching Professionals program.” By the way, the TrueNorth program, it’s an Applied Psychology practicum. So students had to go out and get an internship as a part of the program, as a part of the class. So “She’s an absolutely incredible woman who was willing to guide me through the graduate school application progress along with giving me general advice. She was a strategizer, connector, and opportunity-giver. She offered me an undergraduate position in the urban outreach office and gave me knowledge about the best way to obtain a teaching job after graduation. She also connected me to different individuals in the field of education and was willing to speak to her colleagues about me. She also knew that I was a first-generation, low-income student, so she provided me information, how I can afford graduate school and what other students have done in the past. What I appreciated most was her authenticity. Even though she was a very busy woman, she was always willing to sit down and have a real conversation with me.” So this right here is, in action, all the best research on belonging, and it shows how actually this theoretical concept of belonging can actually drive student outcomes. So this mentor is — when they say “Guide me through the graduate school application progress,” filling specific information gaps and reducing barriers to access key opportunities. For your students, that’s probably thinking about either a certificate program, making sure that they’re getting certified on time or if they’re trying to transfer to a four-year school, whatever it is, but it’s filling specific information gaps. “She offered me an undergraduate position at the urban outreach office.” Mentors connects students to high-impact practices that drive student outcomes. There’s research that came out recently. Employers, when they’re looking at recent graduates, the number one thing that they said is most important on a resume is employment experience during college. So out of everything the student had of graduating from Boston College, going to grad school, this undergraduate position in the urban outreach office might be the thing that would get her a job versus not if she didn’t have it. “She also connected me to different individuals in the field of education.” So mentor — that’s providing social capital that improves career outcomes and alumni engagement. She was a first-generation and low-income student, so “She provided me information.” Research shows underrepresented students benefit most from purposeful, belonging information. “And she was always willing to sit down and have a real conversation with me.” So this one, I think, is most important. So my coauthor, Dr. Belle Liang, she specializes in mentoring relationships. And I think what’s most interesting about this research is that quality mentoring, when you ask mentees about the mentors who were most influential, it wasn’t the quantity of the time they were [inaudible] they were meeting with them every single week. It was the quality of the engagement. So mentees were most likely to say they had a good mentor in their life who they said, “I could reach out to them if I needed to.” So it’s not actual support given but perceived support that drives mentoring relationships. So a lot of the times, if you have a student that you built a relationship with, and they know that if, “I have a question, I know I can go for you for answers,” knowing that they can ask a question if they need to is actually driving the quality of the relationship, not them actually asking you the question. So what you can do right now on all of this. So a lot of this information came because what we do in our work is we provide a safe, psychologically safe environment for students to open up, and then we ask questions for them. And so something that you could do if you wanted to do a purpose- and belonging-informed best practice is create an assignment at the very, very beginning of your class where you’re asking questions like, “Why did you enroll at ACC?” “What do you hope happens when you graduate?” “Do you have any sort of specific outcomes or wishes or things that you hope happen as a result of going to this college?” “How can this class help you achieve your goals?” Right? And then, most importantly, “How can I help you be successful here?” And this might seem like a very, very simple intervention, but it’s doing two things at once. So one, it is signaling belonging to the students. A lot of times that students foster belonging is, when we ask them a question, it is signaling to the students that we actually care about them. So one, asking the question is the first step to belonging right here. And then, the information your students get, you can use that information to contextualize your class to show them how this class is personally relevant to their own goals. And so you can use this information to modify how you talk about what they’re learning and what they’re doing in class. And this might seem like a little thing, but I’ve been working with Oakton Community College, which is in Central Illinois, and they have something called the Persistence Project, which is just a project where faculty who are in the Persistence Project, they commit to learning every student’s name within the first four weeks of class. They commit to having a one-on-one conversation with them within the first four weeks of class. And they give them some sort of writing assignment like this to get some more information about the student’s goals and aspirations. And this small, little intervention was shown to increase retention rate year over year by 30%. And the reason it was doing that is because it was cultivating a sense of purpose and belonging. And it was signaling to those students that this faculty genuinely cared about them, and so it caused them to show up in a different way. Okay. That is what I have for right now for I’m happy to do Q and A.

[Alexa Haverlah:] And that’s where I’ll stop. It’s Alexa again. If you’d like to hear those questions and answers, you can find this recording on our website at TLED.AustinCC.edu, or on YouTube. Thank you so much for listening. We at TLED hope you found Tim’s presentation insightful and relevant for the start of the school year. And please be on the lookout for more podcast episodes later this fall. We’ll be talking to ACC faculty and staff about their purpose and belonging story. And if you have anyone that you would like to recommend, we’d love to hear from them. Thanks, and catch you next time.


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