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.
I write about higher education.