Sweat and Appreciative Advising in the Caribbean Sun



 

I arrived at the campus before 8:00 AM. The August sun hit me with the full force of its rays. Before I made it through the security clearance, sweat began to drip from my forehead and add moisture to my dry underarms. My morning workout went well, and I did not forget the deodorant after the shower. I was hot, but I didn't worry about perspiration.


I climbed the stairs to my office, turned the lights on, unpacked my bag, filled my water bottle, and started work at my standing desk. Early Friday mornings at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine office provide the necessary silence for reflection and planning.


I took my eyes off the computer screen and glanced at pictures of my family and the Appreciative Advising model on the wall. My colleague recommended that I buy some blue light blocking glasses. On more than one occasion this week, I gave my eyes a break from the screen and referenced the image of the model during advising meetings and class prep time. Before attending Florida Atlantic University's Appreciative Advising Institute in July, I was unfamiliar with the six phases of appreciative advising.


Disarm, discover, dream, design, deliver, and don’t settle were words that began with the letter d, not practical steps to support teaching, advising, and learning.

In the disarm phase, the advisor's primary objective is to connect with the student. From the connection, the advisor can help the advisee value their identity and discover their dreams. Inside the institutes’ small groups, we discussed how seemingly intangible dreams should align with tangible steps steered by the student. The advisor assists the advisee in selecting the small goals aligned with the desired outcome during the Appreciative Advising model's design phase. The deliver phase assesses progress and suggests changes as necessary for additional support.


Finally, during the don’t settle phase of Appreciative Advising, advisors motivate and create opportunities for life-long learning.

My responsibilities as an assistant professor at a Caribbean medical school include teaching and advising students. Many of my students left the United States and Canada with dreams of future medical careers. Our journeys are similar in the willingness to leave home and create something different for ourselves and our families abroad. Due to the university's mission to provide students from underrepresented communities an opportunity to become doctors, I do my best to help every individual in my office and classroom. My methods are not perfect, but I initiate student interactions with authenticity and the intention to disarm.


For example, this week, I advised a first-semester undergraduate medical student. I will call her Stacey for this essay. After an introduction, I asked questions about her home. Stacey moved to the island from Ohio and studied biochemistry at a university in Tennessee. I shared about my Chicago roots, experiences in Ohio, and where to find affordable groceries and products similar to the items in US stores in Antigua. After these deliberate relationship-building actions, I listened to her reasons for pursuing the dream of practicing medicine. Then, I offered her a time management template and emphasized the importance of customizing the schedule to include exercise and meeting with other students for accountability and teaching opportunities. Finally, before Stacey left my office, I asked her to return in two weeks with an update about her adjustment to the island and medical school.


On Friday, I reflected on Stacey’s admitted challenges with learning and studying in isolation. Rooted in the American education system and fed by the pandemic, she entered medical school with an individualistic appetite for learning biochemistry.

She believed the corner of the library offered her the solitude and support necessary for mastering the curriculum. I emphasized the importance of academic communities to increase her chances of passing exams and using her skills in future clinical settings.

Equipped with the Appreciative Advising model to reference, I explained to Stacey how peers and professors lend support to her dream. Study groups, tutoring sessions, advising meetings, and lectures can enable Stacey to discover, dream, and design the future she desires. Classmates and faculty members offer accountability to help her deliver on her goals. When she finishes medical school, she will receive the gift of joining the healthcare industry and continue to learn in alignment with the practical theories that guide the don’t settle phase.


It's only been a little over a month, but I am grateful for the Appreciative Advising institute’s impact on my professional development. I have worked in education for almost twenty years and developed well-polished skills from former learning, teaching, and advising experiences. The institute arrived at the right time when I needed to revisit the advising nuts and teaching bolts in my higher education toolbox. As long as I can manage the heat of the Caribbean sun, I will use the Appreciative Advising theoretical framework to influence students' lives and increase their chances of academic success.

 

I wrote this piece as part of the application process to earn an Appreciative Advising lifetime certification. To learn more about Florida Atlantic University's Appreciative Advising Insitute, visit this link.

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