Here's our current model for the #HigherEdReads community. I've been thinking about next steps, and I'd love your feedback.
Here's an idea I've been chewing on lately:
Would you be interested in joining a Mighty Network for #HigherEdReads? If you're an author, would you be open to being interviewed for #HigherEdReads? If you're a reader, would you make time to read those author interviews?
What else would you like to see from #HigherEdReads? How can we make this community more inclusive?
You can reach out to me via comments or DMs on social media, or contact me HERE.
My second job out of college was working in a college access program in Rhode Island. As a college access advisor, I worked in various Rhode Island public high schools, helping my caseload of students gain access to college through things like FAFSA nights, essay writing support, college visits, and a ton of informal counseling and advising.
In my first year, we offered our students workshops around Steven Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens." The students were pretty game overall, and we made it fun for them. What I didn't realize is how many of the concepts taught in that workshop would stay with me for years...decades even.
Years after I helped run the workshops, I modified one of the lessons for the first year seminar course I was teaching at the community college where I worked. This is a cautionary tale of the lengths that a new teacher will go to in order to engage her students. Do not try this at home.
The habit I was teaching was around putting "first things first," and we used an exercise called "Big Rocks, Little Rocks." Basically, you take a container (I used an empty fish aquarium that I bought for this sole purpose) and you fill it up with a bunch of pebbles (I bought giant bags of the florescent rocks that you line the bottom of aquariums with). You fill the box, bin, aquarium (or whatever) nearly to the brim, and then you take three or four big rocks and place them on top. They, of course, extend past the edges of your container. They don't fit. Hmmm...
Next, you empty out this whole contraption, and this time, you put the BIG ROCKS IN FIRST...can you guess where this is going? You then pour all the little rocks on top, and guess what? It all fits! Ta-da! Magic.
The lesson is, of course, that when we're managing our time, it's important to focus first on our big rocks, or our priorities. The little rocks, or all the other stuff that fills our days and eats away at our time, will always find a way to get done. But if you do this in reverse, if you focus on all the little stuff, and then try to make time for your priorities, it won't work; you won't get to those big rocks because the little ones will have eaten up all your time.
After a few years of scrounging around in my backyard for rocks the night before teaching this lesson (why, Karen, why?) I surrendered. I found this video online that does a decent job of replicating this activity.
I lost some of the "wow" factor, but after years of carrying an aquarium and 20 lbs. of pebbles through the hallways on campus, I was okay with that. While I let go of the complicated parts of this lesson, I held on to the nugget of wisdom: put your big rocks first.
When I started to create my plan for how I'd meet my #HigherEdReads goals, I realized I had a big rocks situation on my hands. I had previously been trying to get my professional reading done after lunch, or later in the afternoon. It wasn't working. I'd either have fires that needed to be put out, or I'd be too tired to get over the motivation hump.
I realized that if professional reading was one of my big rocks, I had to put it first.
I made a small shift in my morning routine, getting up thirty minutes earlier on weekdays, in order to make time for my reading. The first week sucked. The second week started slow. By the end of the second week, the power of the new routine had taken over. Along with a few other important practices, I start my weekdays with fifteen minutes of professional reading. Alexa keeps the time for me, I put my phone out of sight so it's out of mind, and I am consistently able to read several pages, or sometimes even a chapter, in that fifteen minutes of focused time.
The fires still get put out later in the day. Those little rocks will always get their needs met. They're really good at wiggling in to your day. The big rocks don't have that luxury. If we want to get them done, we've got to put them first.
I'd love to know if anyone else has had this experience? Do you routinely put your big rocks first? Is your professional reading one of your big rocks?
I used to think that loving books and loving reading were the same thing.
There's overlap, of course, but I also think these are two, distinct passions. You can love to read and not accumulate books in a personal library that threatens to take over your home. I've found that I have both of these passions, and that I can tell if someone shares them with me if they have book piles. Book pile people are my people. There are few things that soothe me more than a nice pile of books.
As I've embarked on this journey to boost my professional reading through #HigherEdReads, I've noticed that the decision of what to read next, after I finished my first selection, was a turning point for me.
In January, I chose a book that I'd already started reading, but that had gotten away from me: Indistractable by Nir Eyal. It had been sitting on my desk, staring at me, and it covers topics that fascinate me (time management, distraction, attention), so I just went with it.
As I started to near the end of Indistractable, and February was nearly upon us, it was time to choose my next professional read. But what to choose?
I have a bookshelf overflowing with books, piles of books in various places of my house, and now an Amazon wishlist for #HigherEdReads, filled with selections by members of our community. How the heck do I choose just one?
And when choosing one path feels overwhelming, like many people, I start to shut down, a.k.a., experience analysis paralysis.
I was talking to folks online yesterday about the best options for designing your own website. I got lots of great recommendations, but the one that stands out to me was for Google Sites. My new friend said that while you don't have a lot of options in Sites, that can be a good thing, because it helps you to keep it simple, focus on your priorities, and prevents overwhelm. I felt that. Sometimes too many choices can make me feel like I don't want to make any choice at all.
Here's the good news: if I wasn't part of this #HigherEdReads community, that moment of hesitation and overwhelm could have very well shut down my professional reading goals. But because I have some public accountability, and feel some responsibility to this community to keep moving forward with this experiment, I went ahead and just picked a damn book, with the recognition that if it's not the right fit for me, I can just pick another damn book.
Transitions can be hard. They're hard for our students. I think we forget how hard they can be sometimes. People can get lost in transitions. Being accountable to a community can help us make it through to the other side.
I'm curious, how do you select your next professional read when there are so many wonderful books to choose from? How do you handle the transitions between your #HigherEdReads?
#HigherEdReads is a professional reading accountability group, but how do we define professional reading?
Last month, I read a journal article from Cerebrum and the book Indistractable. I shared my reading progress with both on social media throughout the month.
But I have a secret to tell you.
That's not all that I read in January. I was also reading this:
Why didn't I share this as part of my #HigherEdReads goals? It wasn't intentional, at least not at first. I'm an avid reader, so I always have multiple books going. I also believe that there is a time for every book under heaven, as they say. Right before bed, I read fiction. After dinner, depending on what's going on at home that night and if I'm not working, I do some spiritual reading. In the mornings and during the day, I tackle my professional reading.
I had filed Into the Magic Shop in the "spiritual reading" category of my life and gone about my business.
Sometime after completing chapter 4, it hit me.
"Higher ed could really use this book."
That realization was followed by this: "But you can't talk about this stuff in higher ed, at least not publicly. People will think it's weird."
What's "this stuff"? Who are these mysterious "people"? And why would a book about the mysteries of the brain and the secrets of the heart be considered weird? Not for nothing, but if higher education is meant to raise us up to the best version of ourselves, what's higher than developing a better understanding of our brains and hearts?
I've been chewing on this question of what defines professional reading all week. Into the Magic Shop is about a young boy who studies relaxation, meditation, and visualization with a somewhat eccentric mentor he met while on the hunt for a rubber thumb for his magic act. What does any of that have to do with higher education?
Well, from my little corner of the world, we're struggling. We're not managing our stress well. We mistake zoning out in front of a screen with true relaxation. We have a really hard time focusing. We feel constantly pressed for time, and we spend our days putting out fires rather than pursuing our most important goals and real dreams. What could be more relevant than a book that might teach us to calm down, focus, and clarify our priorities?
But talking to higher ed about a progressive, full-body relaxation? Sometimes I feel like the culture of higher education doesn't realize we have bodies; we live so much in our heads. And meditation? That's for the yoga studio, right? Not the classroom or the boardroom. Visualization?! Eye roll. At least, these are the reactions that I imagined in my head when I thought about sharing this book as one of my professional reading choices.
It's also worth adding that the book starts with a story from the author, James Doty, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. He uses the techniques taught in the book to save a child who's bleeding out on his operating table, not through logic and the detached study of anatomy, but rather, with love and intuition. Does Doty's academic pedigree make the book more professional? Is saving lives not professional enough for us? If Doty wasn't an M.D. teaching at an elite institution, would the book seem less professional, even if all else was the same?
I'm wondering how others define "professional reading," and how the culture of higher education might direct us away from books and ideas that could potentially transform our lives, and the lives of our students, for the better.
What/who defines professional reading?
Let me dive right in with my good news: I set and met my professional reading goals in January with the support, accountability, and community of #HigherEdReads.
As a reminder, I set out to do the following in January:
Done. Done. Done.
#KeyTakeaways from Indistractable
I didn't want to like this book. Nir Eyal's previous book is called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. Now he's written this book about helping us to break those habits. Rude, right? I wasn't having it, but like many of us, I'd really been struggling with the feeling that my devices were controlling me instead of the other way around. So I went into this book thinking it might be a bit of a hate-read.
I loved it. I've recommended it at least a dozen times in the past few weeks, including to my students.
I love the setup of short chapters with actionable suggestions. I also love Eyal's focus on getting to the source. Our devices aren't the problem. The discomfort that we're running from, that we're terrified of, that keeps us from sitting still for three seconds, is the source of our problems. Blaming our devices only make things worse.
Since finishing Indistractable, I've refined a lot of my time management choices, gotten even more serious about time blocking, and continued to reflect on my priorities. It's a great book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's concerned about their devotion to their devices, or who feels like there never enough hours in the day.
In February, I plan to:
#HigherEdReads Dates and Reminders
As a reminder, here's how you can join us in participating with #HigherEdReads, which is NOT a book club, but a professional reading accountability group. We had amazing engagement in January, with so many educators sharing and celebrating their reading goals. We'd love to have you join us if you haven't already.
Share your #HigherEdReads February goals in Twitter and/or LinkedIn on Monday, February 3rd (or throughout the month).
Join us on Wednesday, February 12th, at 2pm ET for a #HigherEdReads Twitter chat.
#HigherEdReads: Learning Lessons
I've had so many thoughts running through my mind this month about books, reading, authors, accountability, time management, and community.
Last semester (am I the only one who thinks of their life/year in semesters?), I committed to blogging once a week, and I stuck to that goal. It was a lot. And I miss it. And it was a lot.
I'm going to by blogging each day this week about some lessons I've been learning through #HigherEdReads, and some ideas I have for its future. I hope you'll take a minute to read, and let me know your thoughts and ideas.
Have a great week, y'all.
P.S. I still have a few #HigherEdReads stickers left, so if you're interested, send me a DM or email, an I'll get that over to you soon.
Well, I set up a email list before the break, and I've already given up on it. I know we're supposed to have an email list, but there's a big old block there for me that I can't get past. It seems like a ton of work, and email is not how I find out about awesome things. Instead, I thought that I'll post monthly updates about offerings in this space and share them via social media.
January 2020 Offerings
Here's what I've got going on this month...
1. #HigherEdReads kicks off. Join us on Twitter or LinkedIn.
2. I'm hosting a New Year's Virtual Tea for Women+ in Higher Ed.
3. I'm excited to share (along with the amazing Clea Mahoney) our first round of the OLC workshop: Strategies for Facilitating Live, Online Sessions.
The January workshop is full, but you can register for May and August dates HERE.
This workshop is geared toward anyone running any type of live, online session. Examples might include webinars, online meetings, trainings, or office hours with students.
I'm really passionate about this workshop, because I've attended so many webinars with brilliant, well-intentioned presenters that just fell flat. It doesn't have to be that way. By implementing some simple strategies, you can run an engaging and effective live, online session.
That's what's up in January 2020, y'all. Any questions, ideas, or words of wisdom: please reach out.
While it feels like I have no business taking time out this week to blog, with all the grading I have to do, I committed to blogging once a week for this academic year, and I've pushed through some tough Mondays this fall. Today is going to be my last blog till the new year, and I've come too far to give up now.
I had planned to use this final fall blog to write a bit about what I learned from my blogging journey. But over the weekend, I took this really interesting career test and wanted to share that with you instead. Since one of the things I learned about blogging is that one of the benefits is that I can write about whatever I want, I'm going to do just that.
Discovering My Sparketype
I know that people have mixed feelings about career tests. I get it. For the record, I will take any and all career or personality tests that cross my path. I love them. That said, some are definitely more informative than others, and I don't think any one test can ever tell you who you are. I see them as valuable information and a bit of fun.
I've taken a lot of career tests in my life. A lot. And it might be the timing of this one, but honestly, the Sparketype assessment from The Good Life Project was the most inspiring, useful, YOU TOTALLY GET ME test I've ever taken. This is not a sponsored post or anything like that. It's really good, y'all.
I'm a Maven-Scientist.
Your primary Sparketype is your thing. It's the thing you have to do. It's the thing you can't NOT do. My primary Sparketype is the Maven. Mavens are here to learn. I am so maven! What struck me about this is that while Mavens might end of sharing what they learn or helping others with their knowledge, that's not what it's about for Mavens. For us, learning is intrinsically valuable. This is so me! One of the things that struck me is that the creator of the Sparketype said that if you have amassed a number of degrees or certificates, odds are, you're a Maven.
In addition to our primary Sparketype, we each have a shadow Sparketype. This often shows up as things we're really good at, but it's not what really drives our behavior. Instead, the shadow Sparketype is meant to serve our primary Sparketype. My shadow Sparketype is the Scientist.
Scientists like to solve problems and puzzles. For me, that need to figure things out is in service of my drive to learn.
After I took the test (which is free), it gave me an offer to purchase a "mastery guide" for $20. Now usually I don't do that kind of thing, but something nudged me forward. I printed out the 100-page guide over the weekend, and read through the entire thing in one sitting. What I love about it is that no one needs to blow up their life; instead, we are nudged to look for small but significant ways to integrate our primary Sparketype into our work. In short, we can express our Sparketypes in ANY job, if we start small and build those habits into our daily lives.
There's so much more to it, and I've got a lot to reflect on, but I really wanted to share with all of you in case this might give you the kind of clarity that it's given me. I've been thinking a lot lately about the role that higher education plays in helping students to not only earn a degree and gain access to a stable career, but to also help students identify their purpose and make meaning of their lives. I think this test is going to really give me a foundation for that exploration and research. As a maven, I love research.
Back to grading, but if you do take this test, let me know your Sparketype. I'm super curious to LEARN more about you. :)
I'm one week away from having fulfilled my commitment to myself to blog once a week for this academic year. Rain or shine, sick or well, in the midst of a very active semester, I've stuck with this practice. I expect I'll write a bit about what I learned about weekly blogging in my post next week, so if you're interested in that topic, check back.
My original inspiration for what I wanted this blog to be came from the work of Austin Kleon. I wrote about that in early September. My plan was to share images or ideas with a few brief thoughts. I didn't really end up doing that. Once I get writing, it's hard to stop. So today, in honor of my original vision for blogging, I thought I'd give it a try. Short and sweet.
I have a daily journaling practice, which I've been doing since the spring. I absolutely love it, and I can't recommend it enough. My beloved Moleskine is almost full, and it will be time to start a new journal in the very near future. I was paging back through previous entries, and came upon one that I thought I'd share. I wrote about symbiotic relationships in higher education in my book, which I can't believe I'll get to share with the world in a few months (I just finished the index and final round of edits). Here's my take on symbiotic relationships as demonstrated by grocery carts:
What types of relationships prevail in higher education today? How can we find, celebrate, and build upon existing spaces of mutualism? How can we identify parasitism when we see it, and hold it accountable, without lowering ourselves into the muck with it (empathy over condemnation)?
Oh, one last thing, I wrote a thing about navigating the holidays. Well, I feel like it's better put to say that I captured the ideas and words of two empathetic educators. You can check it out HERE.
I wish you all a miraculous day.
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I wouldn't say that I was on vacation because I went to the busiest place on the planet (or what felt like it) during the busiest travel days of the year, but I did take a week off from social media and a few days off from work. It cleared my head a bit, and I'm ready to SLOWLY and STEADILY finish up this semester on a positive note, rather than continuing to try to do one hundred things at once. Note to self: push reset on myself more often.
I thought that today I would do a post on the status of a new endeavor called #higheredreads before I sign off to go watch The Mandalorian with my homebound guys on this gorgeous snow day, our first of the year.
1. Some background
For the past couple of years, I've been posting on social media about wanting to create some sort of reading group. I've had tons of interest every time I post, but time constraints have prevented me from moving it forward. And yet, I keep posting about it because clearly it's something I really want to do, for myself and for our #highered community. I want to do this for myself because I have a big pile of professional reading that I just don't make time for consistently, and some external accountability will give me the structure that I need to stay motivated. I sense I'm not alone in this, and since I love #highered and the people who work in it, I want to help us to have a positive space to connect, learn, and grow.
I posted, yet again, about my desire to do this about a month ago. After tons of people expressed interest, I said, "Oh, what the hell," and decided to just do it.
2. #higheredreads is NOT a book club.
This is going to be a professional reading accountability group. This is not a book club. In a book club, members all read the same book and then meet to discuss it. I think that's great. That said, my sense is that book clubs can be stressful for a lot of us. Personally, I have so many books that I want to read that I don't want someone dictating my reading choices. I also know that while I want to have some structure around my professional reading, I don't want too much structure. Life is so active as it is, and we all have too much stress in our lives. I don't want to be part of something that adds more. If anyone out there wants to start a #highered book club, please, have at it. I think that's a great idea and will probably work well for lots of folks. But #higheredreads will be a bit different.
3. How will it work?
4. What should I read?
5. What else?
What am I missing? If you have any thoughts about this model, or how we can make this even more fun, positive, and supportive, please connect.
Everyone I know on Twitter was at a conference last week, or will be at one this week. Everyone. Men, women, children. I even saw dogs at the POD conference. Swimming dogs. Like I said, everyone.
I've been wondering about conferences for a while. I love conferences. I really do. And, I think that perhaps we're arriving at a crossroads where it's time to reimagine conferences. Here are some questions I've been pondering:
1. AFFORDABILITY: I remember a time when I could get a gallon of gas for 99 cents and conferences seemed affordable, or at least more affordable than they are now. I was talking to one of my professors recently, and she said that many of her graduate students are getting priced out of higher ed conferences. I scoped out a spring 2020 conference, and my best estimate is that it will cost $2000 when all is said and done. That's bananas.
Who can afford to attend conferences? Who can't? My sense is that a lot of decisions are made at conferences. A lot of programs are designed and developed. People carry ideas back home to their campuses that they've generated at conferences. Whose voices are included in developing those ideas? Whose are left out? I was reading recently about double digit enrollment drops at some Massachusetts community colleges. I worked at a community college during single digit enrollment drops. People are fighting to keep their jobs, living through furloughs, and wondering about their futures. That's not the best time to ask for $2000 to attend a conference. Of course, add adjuncts and other independents to the mix. Are their voices included?
2. ACCESSIBILITY: Long-distance travel over several days is either not an option, or an extreme challenge for many people. I'm thinking of disabled folks, moms, caregivers, and people of color who we know have a ton of demands on their time in navigating the academy, leading diversity initiatives, providing emotional labor, and mentoring students. Even if people can afford it financially, is conference travel a realistic option for everyone in higher education? Again, I think a lot of voices aren't at the table. They should be.
3. LOTS OF FUEL: If you haven't heard, the world is on fire. Members of the Society for Neuroscience recently started a petition to start reducing their carbon footprint by considering the impact of their conference travel and offering virtual attendance and participation options. It would seem that higher education and its related conferences have an opportunity to do some good work in this area. How can we all reduce our carbon footprint?
4. HIERARCHIES: In the middle of thinking this all of this through, Tressie McMillan Cottom was tweeting about #DATUM2019, a recent unconference.
So where do we go from here?
In addition to Dr. Cottom's suggestions, I'm curious about the possibility of more remote conference options. When I started in higher education in 2002, online education for college students was just starting to take off. We've obviously seen tremendous growth in our online course offerings for students, but it seems to me that our higher education conferences haven't caught up. I see tons of other online conferences for business development, psychology, yoga, wellness, etc. Why aren't there more online higher education conferences?
How can we recognize the value of sharing space and of being social, while also making conferences more equitable and accessible? How do we mitigate our negative impact on the environment? How can we make sure that all voices are included at conferences?
What if we threw out the existing models and started from scratch, based on who and where we are today? What would that look like?
How can we reimagine conferences?
I say this about online education a lot: I critique it because I love it, and I want it to be better. The same goes for conferences. I love the idea of getting people out of their daily routines in order to share, celebrate, and ideate. I critique them because I love them, and I see a world of opportunity ahead of us if we're willing to challenge each other to see things differently.
I write about higher education.