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Monday, August 9, 2010

From Zappo's to the Community College Classroom

I just finished reading Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappo's. Why I read that? Well, it was mentioned in a UC Berkeley marketing class I took this summer, but also because I teach entrepreneurship, and I am always looking for good stories students can relate to.

Here's what I got out of reading the book: Yes, as expected, I am inspired and impressed by Hsieh's entrepreneurial spirit, instinct, commitment, and success. I am also intrigued by the emphasis he places on nurturing the Zappo culture, and the many interesting and entertaining stories. Very appealing, and I will definitely talk about it in class.

But what really got me was at the very end of the book. Hsieh talks about happiness. Yep, touchy-feely happiness. He actually studied happiness, and the different frameworks for happiness. And here's the one that really, really got to me.

  1. Perceived control
  2. Perceived progress
  3. Connectedness
  4. Vision/Meaning
This framework states that if we have those four things in our lives, we feel happy. So, I thought of the classroom culture I endeavor to create. Why? Because there is a direct connection between the emotional engagement of a student in a class, and academic success. Now, what if I call that emotional engagement "happiness"? Let's see...

  1. Control: In as many areas as possible, the students get to have a vote/voice on what happens in the classroom. Who are your group members; what will be the consequence when a cell phone goes off during class; when will the homework be due; how many questions on the exam; students create exam questions...
  2. Progress: Rather than designing assessments for the class to be limited to one midterm and one final, assessments happen at least weekly, and in several formats. Also, all grades are available 24/7 through the CMS.
  3. Connectedness: We spend time to get to know each other, and mix up groups for team projects. We use the CMS to stay in touch outside the class meeting time, and put on at least one pot luck. We laugh, talk, teach, and learn together.
  4. Meaning: What happens in the classroom has a larger meaning for each and every student's life. That will not be the same for every student, rather, it means that we talk about the many facets how our classroom learning applies to 'real' life. Also, it means that students bring in their experiences, current situations, and dreams to make those connections.

I am so glad I read this book. How perfect is the timing, too: As I am starting the new semester, I am reminded that community college teaching is about so much more than checking that students are retaining facts. It's about meaning-making, about the emotional connection with the subject and the class and then college. The process is the destination.

Did I mention that I am so glad I read this book?

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