Challenging Assumptions

Sometimes I forget that I can go outside to work … how lovely it is when I remember!  I so enjoy being at a coffeehouse (as I am now), sitting, writing, and thinking.  As an added bonus this is time that I’ve actually scheduled to write my blog post.  How nice that I’ve (finally) given myself permission to include my blog in my writing schedule.

It’s interesting to notice how little conversations that we have with ourselves can become ingrained truths that translate to behavior.  My conversation – for a long time – has been that I could only focus on “peer-reviewed” kinds of writing during my designated “writing time” – and that if I were writing a blog post this would have to occur in a separate, additional writing block.  What I find so fascinating is that this assumption then became a paradigm for my writing life … it became the reality for how I structured/scheduled/shaped my time … and guess what I noticed?  In that paradigm I don’t write blog posts very frequently.

Sunday night while I was working on my weekly plan, I scheduled my writing time, exercise, class prep, meetings, and so on.  Like many weeks, the schedule is pretty full, but does include some flexibility, some built-in breathing room.  As I looked over the schedule I asked myself, “When am I going to write my blog?” Rather than trying to squeeze in another block of time, I simply looked at Monday and designated it as blogging day.

And just like that my hidden assumptions were revealed.  “It’s that simple?” I asked myself.  “Interesting,” I thought as I realized how my assumptions had been limiting my thinking and my behavior, and the choices I was making relation to my writing.  In this moment of clarity I expanded my definition of my writing time and today am blogging.

By scheduling the dedicated time to blogging I was also able to calculate how long the task actually takes (see Step #3 in creating a weekly plan).  This week I ended up needing two writing blocks:  One to write out the blog (which I did by long-hand at the coffeehouse and found it to be immensely satisfying; the handwritten effort also seemed to keep the internal editor at bay) and another block to transcribe the blog.  The process of transcription provided an opportunity for additional reflection and a bit of editing.

So next week when I’m preparing my weekly schedule, I’ll include my regular writing blocks of time and designate two for blogging!

Standing between students and Spring Break …

Flower Pear Tree Spring 2013It’s February 28: Thursday afternoon before Spring Break.  The air is clear and warm, flowers are blooming, trees have blossoms, birds are chirping … and we have class.  For about half the students in class, tomorrow is the deadline to submit their written comprehensive exams for their master’s degree.  A set of scenarios guaranteed to produce a distracted group of students.

I haven’t taught on Thursday afternoons for a while so I had somewhat forgotten how this particular Thursday afternoon feels.  Not quite like the last class of the semester, but pretty darn close.  I decided to assign an in-class writing/reflection assignment that took on the air of an exam – the tension in the room was palpable as we began and I had to reassure students that this isn’t a graded exam; rather, it is part of cultivating a reflective practice as discussed in the book.

So here I am reflecting on this day and how I might organize it differently next year.  What exactly is the best approach for working with students who are distracted by a major deadline, are anxious about their comprehensive exams, are anticipating Spring Break, and then will be going to a conference to interview for post-degree jobs?

What I’ve done for today is to include the reflective writing assignment – an assignment designed to help students begin thinking about their own leadership development, including their strengths and areas they might want to further develop.  This is connected to a blog post they’ll complete in a couple of weeks, so it’s a good assignment to stimulate thinking.  I’ve scheduled time to discuss the last chapter in the book – originally in small groups, but  as I sit here, I’m second-guessing that decision thinking it might be better, instead, to have a large group discussion … yet, with a large class, the large group discussion are not as energetic as the small group ones.  I’ve also set aside time for a doctoral student seminar following the break.  I do think this is a good idea as it will give the doc students some focused time to talk about the materials from the last chapter and the overall book.

My uncertainty about the best way to approach today is causing me to doubt the decisions I’ve made; what if I look at my decisions from a more confident perspective?  What would that look like?  First, let me think about what is my responsibility and what isn’t my responsibility.  My responsibility is to create a good environment for learning, including assigning readings and asking questions that promote deeper thinking on a topic.  Hey, I’ve done this!  I have a good reflective writing assignment designed to help students focus on the ways they might apply the readings to their own professional development.  My responsibility isn’t to adjust the class for those students who haven’t finished their written comps.  Sometimes I get sucked into thinking I need to resolve other people’s issues (or what I imagine to be their issues).  As I write this, though, I’m reminded that this isn’t actually my job.  I do want to be sensitive to students’ time constraints, but, really, well, I can still lead a good class session and keep in mind that it’s the students’ responsibility to manage their time so they can complete their written comps as well as stay engaged with their class work.  Ah-ha!  I just let myself off the hook for having to take care of the world!

As I think about Thursday-before-written-comps-and-Spring-Break-2014, I think I would likely do something similar to today.  I would probably scratch the small group discussion to be sure I give enough time for the reflective writing  (students asked for 15 more minutes today) and I would set aside time for the doctoral seminar (assuming there will be doc students in the class).  I might try to find a short movie or I would focus on developing our “end of class” celebration ritual – working on this would be engaging, creative, collaborative, and fun as we wind up before the mid-point in the semester.

What I ended up doing that day:  The written reflection exercise, talking with the master’s students about the deadline & asking for suggestions for next year, and then meeting with the doc students.  I think this overall session turned out well:  Bringing students together for an in-class writing assignment gave students time to focus on their reading and stay engaged with the class materials; working with the doc students gave me an opportunity to meet with them in a small group seminar to discuss the materials.  I would probably do something like this again in Spring 2014. I will also check with colleagues to see how they have handled this dilemma in order to identify strategies that allow me to support student learning in our class while understanding the very real pressures of the master’s written comps.

A new year, a new semester

Another new semester begins!  I only posted once in Fall 2012, yet that post summed up my focus for the semester: Creating a solid semester plan.  This included setting semester, monthly, and weekly goals.  I’m excited to say that the semester was one of my most productive in all areas of my faculty work: teaching, research, and service.  I taught two courses — one I’ve taught before (Applied Inquiry II) and one that was new for me (Applied Inquiry IV).  Both classes focus on supporting students in the development of their research skills.  It’s very gratifying to work with students who might be new to educational research and witness the ways their skills develop throughout their doctoral studies.  In terms of my own research I had two proposals accepted for conference presentations (yay!), I had an article accepted for publication (woohoo!), and I had an article published in New Directions in Community Colleges.  My service on Pacific’s institutional review board continued and I had a new, unexpected opportunity for service when I was asked to chair the program review community for the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Because I stuck to my semester plan, I was able to incorporate the unexpected service opportunity without negatively impacting my other goals; in fact, I had met my semester goals when the service opportunity appeared.

Even so, I’m mystified that I didn’t blog more.  What I like about blogging is the opportunity to reflect and share those reflections.  I *love* reading others’ blogs — especially those created by students as they reflect on our class experiences. Reading others’ blog energizes and inspires me.  I’m amazed at how creative others are with their blogs, which also leads me to ask, “How could I do that?”  This morning, for example, I noticed that a student had created a page on her blog that links to her Pinterest page … I immediately thought that I wanted to do this, too. Pinterest is fun; it’s like visual blogging … and then here’s what happened … I discovered one reason why I may not have blogged more last semester: It takes me forever to complete a post.  I’ve been working on this post for about an hour and am only this far along … Why is that, you might ask?  I wondered that myself.  The sentence “Speaking of Pinterest…” took me down a rabbit hole as I went to create the hyperlink for Pinterest, decided to log in to Pinterest using Facebook, got sidetracked by posts on Facebook – including one where I had to find a link to a previous show on This American Life – and well, so it goes…

One of the tips to good time management is identifying how long a task takes.  So a more detailed goal might be necessary if I really want to get serious about blogging this semester: (1)  Set a realistic goal for blogging (i.e., number of posts per week), (2) schedule specific times on the weekly calendar for blogging, (2) time myself, (3) stop writing when I get to the end of the time, (4) come back to the blog at the next schedule time to continue, (5) realize when enough is enough.

Enough.

A New Semester

Another new semester is quickly upon us and although the semester actually begins today, I had the genuine pleasure of starting a class, Applied Inquiry IV, last Saturday. I’m looking forward to what the new academic year brings as we welcome new students and a new department chair. Additionally, we’ll be considering the future of our programs in the Benerd School of Education (BSE), including the way we offer classes, the types of classes we offer, and evolving options for the dissertation.

I’m also happy to be participating in the faculty success program sponsored by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. This 15-week long program is designed to strengthen/enhance/improve our productivity as we cultivate habits that support teaching, writing, and research. The program includes two conference calls per week – one on Sunday evening with everyone in the program and the other with our small group. In addition, we have homework (!) that’s designed to build on the Sunday conference call. This week, for example, we discussed the benefits of developing a semester plan focused on meeting our personal and professional goals. We worked through the steps on Sunday then were asked to post our plan. It sounds very simple, but can become daunting in short order. I made it through one week of planning and posting the appointments to my calendar … When I began to look at what I wanted to accomplish, then actually schedule time devoted to the smaller tasks that will take me toward that goal, I found my calendar filling up quickly. At the same time, I noticed that I do have time for these activities — it’s a matter of making the time for them.

The five-step process includes (1) identifying 2 – 3 personal goals and 2 – 3 professional goals. Then (2) writing them as SMART goals. From there (3), we wrote out the specifics steps we needed to take to achieve those goals. Then (4) there’s the process of mapping the steps out over the semester and finally (5), scheduling activities week by week/day by day to get us to our goals. This is part of the process of what Steven Covey described as putting the big rocks in first. Here’s a little of what my specific plans look like:

Steps One & Two: Personal and Professional Goals (I’m only listing one of the goals I wrote)

Revise and resubmit manuscript to NJAWHE.

Step Three: Specific Steps to achieve the goal.

Re-read editor’s comments

Identify additional research/literature

Respond to editor’s comments

–Revise manuscript as needed

–Prepare response sheet for editor

Resubmit manuscript

Step  Four: Mapping out the semester

This involves looking at other activities I have scheduled over the semester and identifying when I  might be able to work on the small steps.

Step Five: Put them on my calendar.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to add the steps to achieve this goal in the writing portion of the faculty success program. We write at least 30 minutes/day, Monday – Friday. So what I’ve done is identify in those 30-minute blocks a time for re-reading the editor’s comments, adding to the literature review, and so on.

By breaking down the goals into smaller tasks and making the effort to get the activities on my calendar, I feel more confident that I’ll reach my semester goals. In each of the classes I’m teaching this semester students face a variety of deadlines and projects; many often feel overwhelmed and concerned that they won’t be able to meet their goals for the semester. I’m going to introduce this planning process to them as one tool to help them organize their work to be sure they, too, accomplish their goals.

Finding Balance

I’ve written before about that search for the elusive balance between life and work. This summer, I feel like I’ve gotten closer. The key has been attending to my calendar and planning out my goals for the week. I follow Julie Morgenstern‘s advice to just write it down. If I don’t write something down on the calendar, it usually doesn’t get done. What I’ve gotten better at is identifying long-term goals and breaking them down into short-term, doable projects.

As the result of attending a workshop in Spring 2012, I now also follow advice from KerryAnn Rockquemore (National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity) and scheduled a Sunday planning session. I’ve added this to my calendar as a recurring appointment, with a reminder alarm. During the session I start by asking myself what I want to accomplish for the week. If I say something like, “Work on that new course proposal” then I force myself to be more specific: What does working on the proposal look like? What do I need to get done to move forward on the project? 

Then I schedule appointments during the week where I work on that specific task. So, Monday at 10 a.m. might say, “Write course description and learning outcomes.” Tuesday at 3 p.m. might say “Develop the sample course schedule.” I found a great paper planner at Staples that allowed me to write down everything so I could see the big picture; then once I was satisfied, I entered everything into my calendar. A little time consuming, but it helped me reflect on the “reasonable-ness” of my plans as well as all the other things I need to get done that week (i.e., wash the dogs, exercise, write, etc.).

I’m now using Google apps — the calendar and “to do” list — and am really excited about the results. Google calendar allows me to see the day, week or month (so I can toggle between detail and big picture). I can also move appointments around (rather than having to erase the entry on my paper calendar I can simply grab the appointment and move it to another time slot). I can also adjust the length of the appointment to see how much time the task actually took (did it take longer than I expected or did I breeze through it in short order?). Another benefit is that I can easily share the calendar with others. The “to do” list is integrated with the calendar, so I create the list (including the big topic and small steps to get the work done). Then I take the “to do” item and move it to a specific day. I have a dual reminder for that day: the “to do” at the top of the calendar and the appointment during the day. 

The Sunday planning session takes 30 – 45 minutes then I’m set for the week. The detailed appointments help keep me on task & ensure that I’m making progress towards the goals I’ve set for myself. I also know that when August rolls around in two weeks, I’ll be able to say, “Wow! I got a lot done this summer. I accomplished what I set out to do and I even had time for a few short vacation trips.”