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!

Blogging for Whom?

blue royal typewriterI love reading good blogs … there are so many great blogs floating around and I frequently wish that I wrote as eloquently as others do.  I think this is what stops me from writing more often:  I just don’t think my writing is good enough.  As I thought more about this statement I realized that I haven’t really answered an essential question:  Am I blogging for myself or for others? Probably for both.  My initial goal for this blog was to reflect on my journey towards tenure; the idea was to reflect on what I was learning & experiencing as I took small — and large — steps on this path.  The initial audience, I suppose, was intended to be the university promotion and tenure committee, my pre-tenure committees, colleagues, and myself.  I hope it can be helpful to other pre-tenure faculty who are navigating their own journeys and to students who often have a lot of questions about the tenure and promotion process; perhaps my blogs can shed some light on what it’s like to work toward tenure — and why tenure even matters.

As we wrap up another semester, I feel good about the ways I’ve prepared my tenure portfolio and feel that the portfolio reflects what I’ve done as a faculty member at Pacific.  The act of preparing and developing the portfolio over the past few years not only helped me clarify my goals, philosophy, and research, it helped me really begin to see myself as a faculty member.  More than just about anything else, the portfolio turned out to be critical to my identity development as a faculty member.  Working onn it, I’ve been able to see how I’m contributing to the university as well as to the profession; I’ve seen that I’m doing things that university faculty do — and I feel good about it.  The pre-tenure process allows me to consciously develop as a faculty member by setting specific professional goals then reflecting the ways I’m meeting those goals.  It has been one of the best professional development experiences in my career, perhaps because of the intentionality of the process as well as the reflective practice.

The portfolio itself is a handy way to present myself to others, including future students. I’ll continue to work on it over the next few months to tune it up so it’s ready for Fall 2014 when I go up for tenure review.  But I don’t see it ever being a “finished” document; rather, it’s something I’ll continue working on to provide evidence of my work as a faculty member.  As with my portfolio, I’ll continue working on this blog because it provides a place for me to think about and reflect on my work as a faculty member.  Future topics for the blog include: why tenure matters, the initial journey (from pre-tenure assistant to tenured associate professor), and the road from associate to full professor (it’s a different journey, with different expectations).

A new year!

I always love the start of a new semester: There are opportunities to meet new students, revisit classes we regularly teach, and engage in new learning that comes to us from a variety of contexts.  While I generally feel like a “student of life,” this semester there are three specific areas where I am truly a student:  the on-line course offered by Sloan on developing “blended classes” (classes that are offered both face-to-face and on-line), the Academic Writing Club (where I continue to hone my writing skills), and the two classes I’m leading.

In this blog I want to write about one of the classes I’m leading, Applied Inquiry II, which is the second class in our research core.  What makes this class so intriguing this semester is a scheduling issue that results in teaching the class every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. – 9:50 pm.  And, yes, you’re right: This is a long time to engage students who come to class after working all day.

At the same time, this “shaking up” of my normal teaching schedule has caused me to look at the class differently, re-examine the learning assessments & class projects, and think differently about the learning outcomes.  I’m also thinking differently about the way I organize each class session.  In preparing for last night’s class, I spent a lot of time thinking about the session and ways to fully engage students in the learning experiences throughout our 5-plus hours together.  I intentionally created activities that would provide students with opportunities to work together in both small and large groups; this had the benefit of engaging all students, even those who might remain quiet in a large setting.  Also, based on students’ suggestions in our first class session, we’ve organized into “pods” of four students, which helps facilitate the small group work.  Each student created a “name tent” in the first session, which also based on students’ suggestions, was placed randomly around the pods so students wouldn’t automatically sit where they had in the previous week.  Based on the amount of energetic conversations, I can confidently declare both strategies a success.

About two-thirds of the way through the class session, I thought it would be great to have students move around the class … I mentioned “Chicken Fat” and suggested this would be a fun way to get moving.  Alas, if you attended elementary school later than the 1970s, you may not have heard of “Chicken Fat.”  And, well, none of the students had any idea what I was talking about.  Once again, YouTube came to the rescue.  I played a portion of this classic recording and although students laughed, they unanimously declined to participate.  They don’t know what they’re missing, do they?  And for those of us who thought Chicken Fat was a really long exercise program, it’s actually less than 7 minutes.

One step at a time

I’m in my second four-week session of the Academic Writing Club and am making a commitment to a daily (M-F) writing practice. The great thing about the AWC is that the commitment is not just theoretical; there’s a financial as well as personal commitment. As they say, a little skin in the game helps increase one’s focus on active engagement.

Even so, this summer has been a challenge.  I have a pretty heavy teaching load for a summer and, well, some days life intrudes and some days I just want a writing-free life.  Happily there are also days when things come together in the most beautiful way.  This week I hit kind of a low point — I submitted a manuscript to a journal (YAY!!!) and immediately reminded myself that I need to get back to another one.  The sensation was somewhere between a lump in my stomach and an image of a hamster on a treadmill.

When I took a moment to reflect, here’s what I learned:  productive writers keep writing, productive writers lead a balanced life (reminder about the importance of planning the week), and productive writers celebrate their success.

So just like the Iditarod racers (my favorite metaphor for this writing life), I needed to celebrate reaching a milestone on the journey, I needed to rest, then I needed to get back up and keep going.

Most important, I also realized that I didn’t need to finish the rest of the race in one writing session.  So, I opened the manuscript and gave myself 15 minutes.  I set a specific goal: work on the abstract.  And, well, you might have already guessed the rest: I actually spent 35 minutes — I worked on the manuscript, touched up a portion of the conclusion, drafted the introduction to the conclusion, moved the significance section closer to the introduction. After posting my on-line progress sheet, I set a writing goal for tomorrow.

Then I wrapped up so I could move on to other projects for the day.  The journey isn’t completed in one leap; it really is a whole lot of small steps, with rest stops & celebrations along the way.

Dissertation Boot Camp

Boot CampThis summer I’m teaching a new class, the aptly named Dissertation Boot Camp.  I’d like to think I’m nicer than a stereotypical drill sergeant but my role is similar, I suppose:  to motivate students to engage in a regular writing practice so they can complete their dissertations.  The students are great.  They’re eager.  And like  many writers, they feel challenged by the prospect of writing.  I love leading this class because it brings out my best talents: coaching others, helping people solve problems, and helping people see their strengths.  As might be typical in boot camp, some students are making more progress than others, but it’s clear that students enjoy the structure and accountability — something students usually miss when classes end and they’re on their own for writing.  One thing that we still need to work on is fear … writers face a lot of fears.  What if I have nothing to say? What if nobody cares about my research?  What if I don’t write it perfectly?  What if I really can’t write after all?  The trouble is the only way to address those fears is to start writing … we just need to sit in the chair and write.  There are tons of strategies to help writers but I believe it was Anne Lamott who said something like the only way to write is to, well, write.  So we have to face our fears, put our butts in the chair, and start writing.  Anne Lamott also reminds us that it’s okay to write terrible first drafts.  She admitted on KQED’s show, Forum, “I write really awful first drafts.”  That’s a lesson for all writers.  We need just start; we need to let our thoughts spill out of our heads, and we need to get something on paper.  It’s much easier to revise a draft than to try to make the first effort perfect.

A side benefit of the boot camps is that I’ve improved my writing practice.  If I’m going to ask students to write at least 30 minutes every day (Monday – Friday, with weekends off), then I really need to walk the walk.  I report my progress, my challenges, my fears, and my resistance in regular pep talks to students.  In exposing my own challenges, vulnerabilities, and successes, I hope that students become inspired to try even just a little writing every day.  A little writing, even 15 minutes, is better than no writing.  Some days I can only manage the 30 minutes; many days the 30 minutes magically becomes 60 minutes.  A first draft becomes a second draft becomes a third draft and then, ta-dah, it’s ready to go to an editor and a colleague for feedback.

If you’re a writing and are feeling stuck, see if you can squeeze in just 15 minutes today.  Begin with a realistic goal; something like:  I’m going to work on the paragraph about X.  Then turn off all distractions, move that Smart Phone out of view, turn off social media, open up your word processor (or go old school: grab a pen & paper), and just focus on that paragraph.  Let’s see what happens!

When you’re sick…

…it’s really hard to start a new semester.  Fall semester ended in a very intense few weeks of reviewing student manuscripts followed by wonderful (but intense) focus on holiday-related activities followed by a week away in the mountains.  Coming back from the mountains (where access to the Internet, TV, & news of the outside world was limited) turned out to be quite jarring.  Focusing on developing a new semester plan, finalizing the course schedules, creating my writing schedule, adjusting to new work schedules for both Bill and me all served to remind me that each semester is a time of renewal and was as reorganizing.  Much like others who work shifts, our academic schedules change about every 15 weeks.  What I learned this semester is that with both of us teaching now, both of our schedules shift which will require more attention and planning as we move forward.

Suffice it to say, my body reacted by grabbing on to a cold virus.  By Thursday of the first week I was pretty sick and tempted to cancel class.  In the end, I opted for a short class where I could meet the students, review the syllabus and get everyone started.  Then I went home and hibernated for four days.  I rested, drank lots of fluids, ate a lot of soup, and took a fair bit of cough & cold medicines.  I’m not 100% yet, but maybe about 80%. My takeaway from this: slowing down when you’re sick actually helps you get better faster.

Yesterday and today I started reading some of the blogs students are writing for classes.  Their writing inspires me.  Their writing enerWord Cloud_Jan142013gizes me.  Their writing challenges me to bring my best to classes. Their writing also reminds me of the myriad experiences, hopes, and dreams they bring to our learning communities.  Their writing also reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to engage with them and facilitate our learning communities.  I’m excited to create ways for all of us to be at our best, to bring our best thinking to our class sessions, and to challenge each of us to grow in new, unexpected ways.

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.

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