How to build better relationships with Goofus, Gallant and ALICE

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Did you read Highlights magazine as a kid?

One of our neighbors — a retired military colonel who I only remember as “The Colonel”  — gifted our family a subscription when I was just learning to read in San Antonio, Texas. 

The subscription continued when we moved to Roanoke — and one of the features I remember most vividly was “Goofus and Gallant,” which is still published in Highlights. This is a didactic comic that contrasts two young boys: Goofus, who is always rude and selfish, and Gallant, who models virtuous and respectful behavior. As you can imagine, it is often parodied.

Goofus & Gallant cartoon
From the July 2020 issue of Highlights

I was reminded of “Goofus and Gallant” while learning about another fictional composite character: ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

ALICE households — which made up about 29% of Virginia families in 2018 — are employed and earn above the federal poverty level, but they do not earn enough to afford basic household necessities. An additional 10% of households lived in poverty, which adds up to 39% of the state struggling to support their families. And keep in mind this is 2018 data … before the COVID disaster. 

Those numbers were shared during a series of VCCS webinars about better serving under-resourced ALICE students, which is where I also learned about this helpful website:

You can explore the local 2018 data on a map of Virginia  — an alarming 57% households in the city of Roanoke were below the ALICE threshold, followed by Salem at 49%.

Relationships are the driving force for ALICE

In the ALICE webinar on March 24 entitled, “Relationships and Motivation: Building Bridges for Student Success,” we learned relationships — not achievement — is the driving force for ALICE students. 

(I would argue relationships are everything, but that’s because I’m obsessed with this book.)

For many of these students, a college campus is like a foreign land. Or … since I’m very literary … it’s like ALICE in wonderland. Virginia Western can be a very peculiar world with our own language and hidden rules … but with so many opportunities for wonder, right? 🙂  

I never heard the term “adult learners” once during the webinar, but that’s who ALICE students are, and who we aim to better serve with our ambitious Title III project, Get REAL

Laura Clark, webinar host and executive director of the VCCS Student Success Center, emphasized we must approach our ALICE students as members of the community and not as a problem to be “fixed.”

I immediately flashed back to my own Montessori teacher training, which aspires to *serve,* not help or fix. Montessorians listen first. They also guide, not control. 

Clark, who served as a College Success Coach at Paul D. Camp Community College for six years, also encourages us to remove the word “should” from our vocabulary … which is funny, because she also shared a table of “constructive” and “destructive” behaviors to keep in mind as we coach and instruct students. 

These feel very much like “Goofus and Gallant” shoulds and shouldn’ts, but I digress … it’s a very helpful guide as we continue to build relationships of mutual respect, both with our colleagues and our students. 

I should also point out the current Highlights comic notes “there’s some Goofus and Gallant in us all. When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.

Constructive attitudes & behaviors
Destructive attitudes & behaviors
Seeking first to understandAssuming you know what the student thinks and feels
Appreciating student’s humorPut-downs or sarcasm about the student’s humor
Accepting what the student cannot say about a person or situation (loyalty to the absent)Demanding full explanation
Respecting the demands and priorities of relationshipsInsisting that achievement supersedes relationships
Using the adult voiceUsing the negative parent voice
Assisting with goal settingTelling the student their goals
Identifying options related to available resourcesMaking judgments on value and availability of resources
Understanding the importance of personal freedom, speech, and personalityAssigning pejorative character traits to the student

To learn more about ALICE households, check out, or this highly recommended book, available in Brown Library: Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students. This feels like it would be an excellent “community of practice” read.

ALSO: Highlights magazine is still mailing issues every month! And in a fitting tribute to “The Colonel,” I gifted subscriptions to all the nieces and nephews a couple of Christmases ago.

On our grant radar

*Free* professional learning opportunities

  • The #RealCollege Virtual Journey, sponsored by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. A series of online workshops and engaging activities led by experts and delivered free of charge. Upcoming topics include a conversation with “Pregnant Girl” author Nicole Lynn Lewis on May 12, and “Campus-Based Supports for Students with Familial Responsibilities” on May 19. Register here.
  • The Future Trends Forum: Discussions about the future of education and technology with writer/futurist Bryan Alexander. April 15: Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). More upcoming programs.
  • Bookmark the VCCS professional development website

Funding opportunities

  • NSF: Advancing Innovation and Impact in Undergraduate STEM Education at Two-year Institutions of Higher Education. NSF encourages bold, potentially transformative projects that address immediate challenges facing STEM education at two-year colleges and/or anticipate new structures and functions of the STEM learning and teaching enterprise. It also seeks to support systemic approaches to advance inclusive and equitable STEM education practices. (due May 10)
  • NEH: Humanities Initiatives at Community Colleges. An opportunity to create curriculum, community partnerships, and faculty development with up to $150,000. (due May 20)

Grant starter kit

— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, April 2021

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About Stephanie

Stephanie SeagleStephanie Ogilvie Seagle has served as Grant Specialist at Virginia Western since 2016, but she prefers her honorary title: “Chief Joy Officer.” Stephanie spent most of her career at The Roanoke Times, a daily newspaper, where she served in various news and features roles including “Shoptimist” shopping columnist. She earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at George Mason University and a master’s of arts in liberal studies at Hollins University. Stephanie is a mom to one human daughter and multiple chihuahuas … and is obsessed with reading nonfiction, Halloween, and crafting glow necklaces inspired by the Mill Mountain Star. Glow Roanoke!