Adulting 101

– Jeanne M. Slattery

When I write a syllabus, I usually identify course goals such as critical thinking, application of theory, oral and written communication skills, career development, and information literacy. I don’t say that I want to prepare my students for the next stage in their lives – I want them to be more ready for adulting – but that’s another important goal on my radar.

Intro to Counseling students at their “final”

One way that I meet this goal is by holding “finals” at Michelle’s Café, where I’ve had finals for inquiry seminars, writing-intensive courses, and interns. These groups have ranged from 7 to 27 students. I buy them drinks, then we sit and talk and talk. We take over Michelle’s and use almost every free chair. Other people often ask who we are and what we are doing.

Hard to miss Clarion when we meet for our final, as we make quite a stir.

What am I doing?  

I want my students to see themselves as competent, capable adults. Taking them off campus and, as I do, seriously asking my students about the class and their academic careers – What went well? What could work better? – communicates just that (and often becomes part of our assessment report). As Makenna said in December, “this thing” is one of the things we do that fostered her personal and professional development.

I want my students to take ownership for their education. Here – and in my seniors’ Education papers (Slattery, 2014) – I’m asking them to identify what they’ve learned and consider where they have fallen short.  I want them to identify themselves as capable of setting (and resetting) their course in the future. As Jordyn observed, this process of reflection helps consolidate what they’ve learned over the last four years.

I want them to reflect and learn from their experiences. And that what Jordyn recognizes is happening: we are reflecting on what we did, albeit not in writing. And, it’s clear that I assume that their reflections will make the course more effective next time. My Spring 2018 interns, for example, asked that I request mid-semester evaluations from their supervisors in addition to our end of the semester evaluations. They also suggested that all of my discussion boards include references in APA format. My last batch of interns suggested that they should visit my classes to talk up the importance of doing an internship. Easily done. My seniors suggested that I reorganize Senior Seminar so that they have more time to complete their research projects. I’m not sure that I can make more time in the class – really, I don’t think there is enough time in one semester to go from a germ of an idea to final presentations – but I will try.

A “final” at Michelle’s???

Seniors at the Undergraduate Research Conference

Must it be a final at Michelle’s? I think there are many other ways that we can help students take ownership of their education and recognize their own competence. The Celebration of Learning (for inquiry seminars) and Undergraduate Research Conference (for research of all sorts) both do this effectively. So do the BFA art exhibits, study abroad trips, honors projects, and class presentations opened to the general public.

I ask them to step outside their typical definitions of education – and what they expect for themselves – in other ways, too. Midsemester, I ask my online students to tell me what’s working and what’s not, which allows us to change the course of our semester (Slattery, 2015). I meet out of class with my student teams in Abnormal Psychology to discuss drafts of their presentations (in person with my F2F students and by Zoom with my online students). They come with questions and wonder whether their organization and presentation is effective. I ask them what they think is working and where they are running into problems. When my writing-intensive classes were smaller, we would discuss class ideas in a large circle. Now we use smaller ones.

What makes these things work?

I’ve given you disparate examples. What do they have in common? Any student-centered approach seems to help students begin to identify themselves as competent and capable adults. As Makenna observed, our “finals” are helpful because it was very clear that I was invested in her and her education: “You don’t really have a choice.” (I think this was meant as a compliment, that I was incapable of stepping back, incapable of demanding less than their best.)

I am not asking you to hold your finals at Michelle’s (although you might), but that you consider how you can help move your students from passive consumers of information to active architects of their education. Some of you already do so, others might recognize yourself in this essay and choose to do so more intentionally.

What do you do to help your students transition to see themselves as young professionals? I’d like to know.


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She loves her students, teaching, and learning and describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has published three books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill; and most recently, Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice. She can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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