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'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.
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.
One of the goals that I set this summer was to blog consistently, every Monday. So far, so good. I've planned out post topics through the end of December. This week's post was supposed to be about turning 40, but I sort of covered that last week. In short, it wasn't a big deal. It was a good day. Birthdays are weird.
That left me with a hole in my blogging plans this morning. As I was thinking about what I could write about, I remembered one of the reasons that I decided to start blogging in the first place: because while I do love to see my work published on a broader scale, the outlets that bring that broader scale often take time. If you sit down to pour your heart into an essay in March, you might not see those words in print until May, or even until the following March. It's the nature of the beast, and I've made peace with it. But the beauty of a blog is that I can comment more efficiently on things that are happening in my life, or the world, right now.
On Friday, I posed a question on Twitter:
I had been out for my daily walk with my dog, and as I do on those walks, I was thinking a bit. About the world. About men. About what I can and can't control. About higher education. About feminism. About how much work we've done and how much there still is to do.
When I posted this, I expected to grab a few names of cool women who might lift my spirits a bit. I've since lost count of the numbers of responses this tweet received. Over the weekend, I thought about this post quite a bit. I just wrote a bit about those thoughts, and deleted it all. I'm going to write about my hopes instead.
I hope you made a friend.
I hope that everyone who engaged with this tweet found a new Twitter friend. Life is hard. The world is on fire. I hope you found someone who gets pumped about the same things that you get pumped about, or angry about the same things, or who has a similar job title, or whatever. As a fully remote worker, the friendships that I've formed online sustain me. I hope you found a source of support. We need each other.
I hope you sought out diverse connections.
I scrolled through as many of the responses as I could, clicking on tons of handles, and was intentional about following women of color. Not only will I have the chance to connect with them now, and learn from them, but I'm also in a better position to amplify their work. One woman I followed, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, recently shared an essay she wrote on the rules of diversity. I read it over the weekend, and it is hard and good. I hope you'll take a minute to read it, and sit with its lessons. I hope you will think about who you choose to follow on #followfriday.
I'd be remiss if I didn't share this important tweet from Beth Godbee. I hope you'll follow Beth as well, and think about her tweet.
I hope manels and their equivalent will die out.
Women's work in the #highered space, at conferences, and in our trade publications is underrepresented. It's unacceptable. It's annoying. And in the words of Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette, we don't want to hear about it anymore.
I hope that women (and men) in #highered will get louder about calling about this lack of representation. I hope they'll submit their work like crazy. I hope our trade publications will do better. Parity is the goal. Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Education, do we have parity yet? Why not?
Here's a list of #highered publications accepting submissions They pay.
I hope we will all refuse to sit in front of another manel. I hope that those of us in positions of privilege will ask what conferences are doing to ensure diverse representation before we agree to present.
I hope we'll continue this conversation.
What's next? I was left wondering about creating a shared online space for us to support each other and amplify each other's voices. I've been following @WomenEd, a group of women leaders in education based in the U.K. They've been hosting "unconferences" for women. Could we do the same in the U.S.?
And not for nothing, but we're doing some pretty effing amazing work at Women in Higher Education, so stop by our website, subscribe, and support our mission to "enlighten, encourage, empower and enrage women on campus."
I hope to continue this conversation.
I hope you have a great week.
I write about higher education.