Full disclosure: I'm not an expert on agile AT ALL. I hear people talking about it all the time, and I nod and smile. Best I can tell, agile is an approach to business that focuses on efficiency.
But what I am an expert on is washi tape and markers and stickers and buying office supplies.
In that vein, may I present to you, my scrum board! (I covered the details of the cards because they are top secret plans to save the world, and I don't want them falling into enemy hands. Sorry.)
If you want to connect with a real expert on agile, check out the work of Rebeccca Pope-Ruark. She wrote a book called Agile Faculty and she wrote a great blog post about scrum boards.
My blog post will cover Scrumming (verbified it) Karen Style.
My understanding of a scrum board is that it supports an agile work process. Whatever that means. Let's just get to the fun office supplies.
I scored a board at Michael's over the weekend for only $10 using a much sought-after 50% off coupon. I used my husband's tools to drill stuff into other stuff, strung a wire across the back of the board, and hung it on the wall in my home office.
There are typically three categories on a scrum board: TO DO, WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS), AND DONE. I decorated some paper with those titles using stickers, markers, and washi tape and pinned them to my board.
FYI: I've seen a lot of people using dry erase boards and post-it notes for their scrum boards. I've found that post-it notes fall off, and then my dog eats them, and that doesn't seem very agile, so I went with a cork bulletin board and push pins instead.
Then, I started filling out cards with tasks (I cut 4x6 pieces of cardstock in half for the cards). I used different color markers and my favorite Papermate Inkjoy pens to list my tasks on the cards.
Here are a few epiphanies I've had about scrumming:
1. Don't sleep on the DONE category.
When I first started researching how to set up my board, I couldn't understand the DONE category. Why take up space on my beautiful board with tasks that are DONE? Why not just throw the DONE tasks in the trash? Since then, I've moved five tasks from WIP to DONE, and it was freaking fantastic. I'm realizing that the DONE category is really about reinforcing positive habits and celebrating success. Rather than just staring at all that I have TO DO, I can remind myself of all that I've DONE. This helps to motivate me to do more. When I look at my board and imagine moving a task from WIP to done, or from TO DO to DONE, it inspires me to keep going.
2. The visuals are powerful.
It's really hard to make decisions about where to invest our time, isn't it?
I've caught myself, since hanging my scrum board, glancing up at the WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS) section. Right now, for example, I have eight big tasks that are WIP, including paid work and creative projects, both inside and outside of higher education. This is, of course, in addition to being a human who takes care of a little human and is a partner to a big human, and who has a canine shadow, and who needs to take care of her human body. Eight is great. Eight is more than enough.
Before agreeing to any additional tasks, whether they're my own or someone else's, I really need to look at that WIP column. Do I have room for anything else? If I add something to WIP, am I willing to subtract something else? I can also choose to wait, and take on that new task after I've moved something from WIP to DONE. Rather than just thinking this through in my head where things tend to spin around in circles, being able to visually see it is really helpful to my decision-making process.
3. My ideas are in one place.
Oh my ideas. I have a few. Thousand. What I love about my scrum board is that it's a safe space to store my ideas. I went through all of my notebooks and asked myself whether an idea was board-worthy. When in doubt, I put it on the board. It gives me a sense of peace to know that my good ideas won't get lost in the shuffle. When space opens up in the WIP section, I can look at all of my ideas in one space so that I can prioritize which one is most important to me.
I also much prefer having my ideas where I can see them rather than hidden in a notebook. Writing ideas in a notebook means they won't be completely lost, but it's so easy to ignore our notebook ideas. I see my TO DO ideas every day, and it helps me to feel closer to them, as if they're more likely to happen and it's just a matter of time before they come to fruition.
If you've been looking for a way to prioritize your projects, a scrum board might be helpful. My biggest tip here is to make it your own. Do you want a virtual scrum board or one you can touch? Corkboard or dry erase? I've also seen people getting creative with the three categories. My sense is that keeping the basic model in place and then making it your own is the way to go.
I've had a close eye on the California wildfires for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, my dear friend from college lives in Petaluma. They are just south of the mandatory evacuation zones. Her little boy's birthday is today. She had the flu over the weekend. Life, right? And she's also worried about their house burning down. Life in 2019 in California.
I've been checking this map, probably too often:
Is this the new normal?
As I always do, because higher education is my work, but it's also in my blood, I am thinking about the college students who might be impacted by the fires: those who attend traditional, land-based classes in California, and those who might be online students, taking courses at an institution thousands of miles away.
It's really hard to concentrate on anything when you're worried about your basic safety. It's hard to focus when home doesn't feel like a safe place.
Which got me thinking about our students whose homes don't feel like a safe place for reasons other than these fires. Whether they tell me or not (some do, some don't), I know that many of my students live in a state of constant stress because of racism, domestic violence, homelessness, and hunger.
A colleague of mine (Hi, Andrew), recently connected me with Cia Verschelden's book, Bandwidth Recovery. Have you read it? It talks about the cognitive impact of trauma and toxic stress due to racism, sexism, transphobia, and the like. I'm thinking about this book today, and wondering about students who were already in precarious situations before the fires.
I hope that professors and other higher education staff are taking care of themselves and each other. Period. I also hope they're doing that caring work so that they can better care for our students. I hope that educators are working with students on deadlines, and being a source of support rather than a source of stress.
I am thinking a lot about our disabled students living in California.
There's so much here that it feels hard to wrap one's head around it. There's the horrifying realization that the impacts of global warming that we've been warned about for years have arrived. We're in it now. There's the personal impact, worrying about friends and loved ones. There's simple humanity, empathizing with people just because we're sad and scared for our fellow humans. Of course, there's also the grief of watching the natural environment suffer and die, and worry about animal life.
When things feel that big and impossible, I try to focus on something small, like writing this post, texting my friend, donating to a cause, or recommitting to my purpose of making higher education a more humane place to live, study, teach, and work. It's not enough, but it's something, and probably better than staring at a fire map wondering how the hell we got here.
I typically write from a blog ideas list that I keep in my "big picture planner." Planning posts ahead of time works sometimes, but other times, when I reach the planned post, it no longer feels relevant.
Maybe part of the fun of blogging is to allow for days like this? Maybe just writing until something appears can bring forth valuable ideas that people might enjoy reading?
Just now, as I was writing this (trying to avoid writing this), I popped on Twitter to find this piece on EdSurge: A 'Golden Age of Teaching and Learning at Colleges?
The pictures of brain scans associated with the article caught my eye. I've been using and studying brain-based teaching techniques for a long time. The article is the transcript of a podcast with Matthew Rascoff, an AVP of digital ed. A couple of things jumped out at me:
A recent edu conference had the unfortunate acronym of H.A.I.L. I don't love this. Hail is nasty stuff that falls from the sky. Or, it's a sort of creepy, totalitarian greeting (e.g., "All hail...). The "H" stands for Harvesting. Harvesting Academic Innovating for Learners. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we should generally avoid the word "harvesting" when talking about students' brains. Words create worlds. Words matter. Higher ed is in need of new words (e.g., distance education, soft skills, non-traditional learners). I left this article grateful that I consider myself a word person, and hoping that all institutions and innovation efforts will make sure to have a word person at the table, to think through the possible implications of their word choices.
Rascoff said, "I think we’re doing such a bad job of telling our story right now." I do agree with this. As an industry, we've got work to do. I think about online education in particular. Horror stories abound, but those of us on the ground can fill books with success stories. One of my personal goals is to continue to spread the good news about online education. There's that, and there's also the fact that we need to do better. We're failing too many of our students, both online and in traditional education. We need to tell better stories; we need to do better. Both are true.
I think many of us are sharing good news about higher ed as individuals. We need to come together more to tell these positive stories. How? I'm thinking about it. I have an idea. I DMed a couple of colleagues about it last night.
Rascoff also said that we're in a "golden age of teaching." Are we? No. No, we are not. Again, there are pockets, often big pockets, doing amazing work grounded in the art and science of teaching and learning. That said, I fear that the norm is still passive learning, not just in higher education, but across K-12 as well. I hear stories about schools with no recess, no art, and no music. I wonder how many kids are being taught right from the textbook, with assessments that most closely resemble autopsies, and no active learning or formative assessment in sight. I suspect that we are still teaching people of all ages from the model of a fixed mindset. Again, there are huge movements to improve teaching and learning in American education, but we've got work to do.
Yes, as Rascoff said, "We know more about how people learn than we ever have in the past." Our knowledge of the human brain and how it learns is, at this very moment, greater than it's ever been. And, at the very same time, most of our field believes in neuromyths, like the existence of learning styles.
What comes to mind is the John Naisbitt quote, "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge."
Again, we have lots of work to do. That's almost always my final thought on these twisty education conversations. We have a lot of work to do in connecting teachers (at all levels) with information about how the brain learns best, and in supporting teachers in making that shift in their classrooms. We have to help them transfer that information into knowledge and action. We've got to do it all with a deep respect for students as people, not as brains waiting to be cultivated or harvested. We need the resources to do this work.
Right before my summer vacation, someone recommended a book to me: Tara Sophia Mohr's Playing Big.
Now, if you know me, heck, even if you don't know me, I've probably given you some book recommendations. I love to read, I love books, and I love connecting people to great books. A colleague recently told me that he doesn't think books can change someone's life.
In my experience, books do change lives, and they've certainly changed mine. What's also been true for me is that the right book appears at just the right time. I've had books on my shelves for years, and then one day, I feel nudged to pick one up and read it, only to find the exact message that I needed to move forward from a challenge.
Playing Big was the right book at the right time. I read it over the summer, often from the hammock or on the beach, took notes on it in my Moleskine notebook, and plan to write more about it over the next year, because it's PACKED with wisdom.
A big part of that wisdom is about how women can unhook from external praise and criticism. We are, of course, trained from birth to be good, to be nice, and to not rock the boat. That earns us praise. When we start playing big, guess what happens? We're breaking the rules, so we receive criticism, which for many of us, is excruciating. It's so uncomfortable that we often swing back in the other direction and start playing small again.
This idea made me think a lot about my writing. I have been actively writing, learning about writing, and submitting my work since 2012. Not as long as many, but I am doing the hard work on a daily basis. Of course, like a lot of women, I think, I've been writing in my head since as long as I can remember; I just gave myself permission to put those words into the world in 2012.
And since then, with a ton of work, and mountains of rejections, I've started to see my words make their way into the world. I don't want to say that I'm lucky that various publications regularly publish my writing, because again, this has been a long road with no luck in sight, just work, faith, intuition, rage, and more work. But the point is, my writing is getting published. Great, right? Yes! Please keep publishing my writing. Please keep reading and sharing it. One of my favorite things in life is when someone emails me, out of the blue, to tell me that something I wrote a few years ago, something I've often forgotten about, spoke to them or helped them see the world differently. It's the absolute best.
And, I realized while reading Playing Big that I didn't have a lot of space in my life for writing that was just mine. I had wanted to start a blog about education, wellness, books, writing, and life for a few years, but I was scared. I was scared to look dumb, basically.
If an editor reads my work and deems it worthy, then I feel confident(ish) putting it out into the world. If there's no editor involved, if it's just me, how can I know my writing is good enough to share?
That's why I'm blogging this fall: because I've wanted to for a really long time, but I was scared to share my writing unless an editor approved of it.
Writing this blog has been like an exercise in believing in myself. Every week, I put fingers to keyboard, and speak as honestly as I can about whatever I want. If I want to write a blog about post-it notes (not a bad idea....), I can. If I want to write about self-doubt, I can. It's mine. All mine. Which of course feels like standing in front of my high school's graduating class with no pants on, but mostly, each time that I post, I feel a little bit more clothed.
My hunch is that the more that I do this, the more that I share my writing with the world without someone else's pre-approval, the braver that I'll get, and the more willing that I'll be to play big. I've also come to realize that it's just fun; it's quality time with myself, usually on a Monday morning, to do something that I love. To generate something rather than to cut something down. To create. To take a risk.
That's why I'm committed to blogging this fall, and while it's not my primary goal, maybe another woman who's been playing small will stumble upon these words, and decide to take her own risk.
I had to take a sick day yesterday, like a real one where you stay in bed and watch an 80s movie and try not to think about all the work that you have to do. I am fully remote in my work, which makes sick days particularly challenging, because my home office is twenty feet away from my bed, beckoning to me to come do all the work.
I feel better today, and I'm really grateful for that. I'm working on never taking these good days for granted. I noticed, though, that when I sat down to look over my schedule this morning, I was in attack mode.
My rationale was that since I didn't work much yesterday, I needed to work twice as hard today. Isn't that funny that this was my first instinct? Because when you think of it, doesn't it make more sense to take it slow today, since my body is still likely trying to return to its balance point? I took a breath, and let go of attack mode. I decided to move at a steady, sustainable pace instead. So far, so good.
I'm realizing that after a gorgeous break this summer, where I spent an inordinate amount of time in a hammock, I came back to work in August like this guy:
I think we talk a lot about getting burned out in jobs we hate, but not nearly enough about how doing work we love, with people we love, also requires us to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. That's been true for me, at least. I love the work I'm doing, and I want to do more. Which is a good problem to have, as they say, but if I don't take time out for rest and relaxation, it won't be sustainable.
Sustainable work: slow and steady. I want to learn more about that, write more about that, and find others who are having that conversation.
As I was writing this post, I saw a professor post on Twitter about taking a sick day, and felt a little less alone. Higher education, in general, can be a tough space to share our human frailties. Writing this feels weird and vulnerable, and I came THIS CLOSE to stopping myself, and writing something confident and bold and focused and strong instead.
But I want to hear from more people in higher education about the art and science of being human, and I've learned that if you want to see more of something in the world, you have to be willing to start with yourself.
I posted about goal setting, time management, and planning on Sunday night. I have a plan to do more work in that space, as I love talking to people about those topics, sharing what I know, and learning from them. The past couple of days have been a reminder for me that always, always, within that conversation about working toward our goals, we need to remember our bodies and spirits, instead of just focusing on where our minds want to go.
I write about higher education.