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 don't know about y'all, but the time change last week kicked my butt.
I'm really big on routines, so even though we "gained" an hour, the change in routine was hard for me, and I think for a lot of us. This isn't just me being a routine person; circadian and ultradian rhythms are a biological fact. Anyway, I'm definitely on the side of getting rid of daylight savings time. It's just bad science.
That said, sometimes being exhausted can lead to a breakthrough; After waking up at 4:22 a.m. yesterday, I was so tired by the middle of the day that I had to surrender to the fatigue. It forced me to do a bit of contemplation about how I spend my time and the things that I can control. I remembered an article that a social media friend had posted online with tips from Adam Grant on starting a to-don't list.
I wrote last week about my scrum board, and how I use it to prioritize projects. It includes an entire "TO DO" section which is already filling up with ideas. Sounds good, right? Maybe not. Grant says, "To-do lists are the human equivalent of a hamster wheel."
Grant identifies four things we should put on our to-don't lists.
I don't invest any time in online games, though now I'm kind of thinking about it. I'm much more likely to overextend myself in my work life. I'm pretty good at setting work aside in the evenings and most of the weekends, in order to spend time with my family, but I could certainly use some improvement here.
Points #1 and #2 are two things that I can definitely work on, and oh, what the hell, I'm going to add a "TO-DON'T" section to my scrum board.
Here are a few other TO-DON'Ts of mine:
Don't be afraid of resting. Don't be afraid that if you rest, you'll never start again. Everyone needs to rest. Rest doesn't stop you from doing what you love, it helps you stay active in the long run. Play chess, not checkers.
Don't try to do it all yesterday. Life is short, yes, but it's also very long. You've got time.
Don't worry so much about disappointing people, because as Seuss said, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. I was working on a team project last week, and realized we'd been trying to do too much in too little time. I spoke up, and guess what, everyone else was feeling the same way. Don't assume that speaking the truth will anger people; it might just do the opposite.
What's on your to-don't list?
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'm committed to blogging once a week for this semester. Thanks for joining me on that journey. Check back Monday-ish for new posts.