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!

Semester in Review

Spring 2013 was a good semester.  My classes were both familiar and new.  The two classes I taught, Educational Leadership and Administration of Complex Educational Organizations, change_maryanne radmacherwere not entirely new, but it had been two years since teaching the organization class and about four years since teaching the leadership course.  Although I’m pretty happy with the way I led both courses, there are some things I’ll do differently the next time I teach them.  What I want to reflect on here is how I might change up the classes, including some ways I might work with those students who never speak up and those who dominate class discussions.

Educational Leadership

I already know of one change I’ll make in relation to the assignments.  Students didn’t do as well as I had hoped on the personal case analysis and I’m not sure it’s an assignment that really requires students to apply theory to practice.  So, instead of this short assignment, I’m going to assign an annotated bibliography.  The master’s students will read and annotate three articles, books or book chapters related to leadership theory; the doctoral students will read and annotate six articles/books/book chapters.  To ensure that students are reading throughout the semester, I’m going to require the annotations be submitted at different points in time.  I’ll ask students to upload both the annotation as well as the actual article/book/book chapter.  When they complete their final project – the narrative interview – they’ll be asked to analyze the interview through the theoretical lens(es) discussed in the annotated pieces.  My sense is this will strengthen their own analyses and reinforce the importance of a theoretical framework as a tool for analyzing data.  The writing guide I made for this assignment helped clarify expectations and yielded better outcomes from students.  I’ll make some minor adjustments, but will keep the guide for future classes.

Another change I’ll likely make is in relation to the readings.  The Leadership Challenge was a good text, but probably took up too much time in the semester.  I can either shorten the time we spend on the text or use a different version that will allow us to move through the materials more quickly.  I’ll also bring in articles related to social justice, a perspective that includes Afro-centric leadership as well as feminist leadership theories.  I may ask students to create and submit more discussion questions (this worked quite well this semester) and perhaps at other times, “talking points” based on the readings.  Although most students completed the readings, there were weeks when some (many) didn’t, which impacted the overall discussions.

I brought in a lot of external resources and also *loved* it when students brought in videos, web links, and so on, to add to our class discussions.  I want to look for ways to continue cultivating student contributions – one way might be to simply assign something to different groups each week.  They could bring in a resource related to the readings and lead a short discussion, which would allow us to create an even stronger sense of shared ownership for the success of the class.

Administration of Complex Educational Organizations

Overall, the assignments for the class went really well.  The text, Reframing Organizations, was well received by students.  I’ll also bring in the new text by Kathleen Manning that will complement the Reframing text in positive ways.  Manning’s book also includes some case studies, which will lend themselves to small group discussions.  What I’ll do is assign different group leaders for each week so we can break into groups of four or so.  Having small groups may help alleviate some of the tension created by the conversation dominators.  I’ll include many of the same articles as I did this semester but I might bring in concepts related to privilege, power, and difference earlier in the semester.  I won’t teach this class again until Spring 2015; even so, the materials and assignments from this semester should continue to work well.

Classroom Management/Classroom Facilitation

The one thing that surprised me during the semester was that classroom management became an issue in the doctoral class.  There were 19 students in the class – some are in the first year of the program while others are further along.  Three to four students tended to dominate many of the large group conversations.  As the semester progressed, their dominance became an increasing point of tension, in particular when we were discussing women and men in organizations.  The conversation dominators, all white male students, continuously reflected male dominance that is often found in organizations.  As the discussion facilitator, I frequently felt challenged by the need to interrupt the students and create space for others.  I know I didn’t succeed on all occasions yet I learned several things about teaching in the process.  When faced with similar dynamics, I’ll meet with the conversation dominators one-on-one to discuss their behavior.  If that doesn’t resolve the issue, I’ll be more direct in class – even to the extent of telling students that they need to hold their comments until others have had an opportunity to participate.  We ended the semester with some very challenging conversations about race and gender; conversations that were left unresolved as the semester came to an end.  Many of these same students will be in a class I’m teaching in the Fall so I plan to spend the first evening working on ground rules for how we want to be/act together as a learning community.  I want to challenge the conversation dominators to make space for others and to self-monitor their own participation so that we can create a more inclusive environment.  Similarly, I want to ask those who may not typically speak up, to identify ways that they might contribute more to our conversations.

equity sticksCreating the ground rules will have some challenges, but will be necessary for our work together during the semester.  I’ll have more time with the students during the beginning of the semester which, hopefully, will facilitate our work together and allow us to have some truly courageous conversations about inclusion.  I’ll also look for ways I might shift the dynamics in class — more small group discussions can help.  Creating some expectations that everyone will speak once before anyone speaks a second time might be a good start.  In large discussions, I might use “equity sticks” — typically used in K-12 environments, each stick has a student’s name on it, then the discussion facilitator just picks a stick to call on someone.  This keeps the teacher from always calling on the same student(s) and also lets all students know they have an equal chance of participating in a discussion.  I wasn’t sure this would work with adult learners, but recently attended a day-long workshop where the facilitators used these and they worked great.  So, I might just give these a try come Fall.

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.

Cultural Creatives

I learned about this trending phenomenon from my niece who was sharing an idea she had for a start-up: She wants to bring together cultural creatives in a shared work space called “co-working.” I was impressed by the complexity of the idea as well as her very clear vision for how this could work. As a researcher, I became curious about two parts of the idea: who are the cultural creatives and what are the concepts behind co-working? In this post, I focus on the cultural creatives.

Cultural Creatives

Like many people who want to find information fast, I went to Google. I found the link to Wikipedia (of course), a link to CulturalCreatives.org (a website that includes information about the cultural creatives and a bunch of New Age/metaphysical stuff), and a book by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson. Thinking I needed to make a more “academic” search, I clicked over to Google Scholar and found not only the Ray and Anderson book, but also several related articles. Wow – now I’m on to something (but, will all of this research on cultural creatives get in the way of the article I’m finishing? No doubt, but I can save drafts of this blog post to work on both at the same time…and I did actually start this post some time ago, set it aside, and am now wrapping it up…and, writing the post over time allowed me to finish up that article I was working on.)

Ray and Anderson describe 19 characteristics of cultural creatives and indicate that if you identify with at least 10 of these characteristics, you’re a cultural creative. Because I think the list is pretty awesome, I thought I should consider at least two of its weaknesses: These characteristics seem heavily influenced not just by Western thinking, but by U.S. thinking — or perhaps that’s the lens I’m using to interpret the list. In addition, the list seems like it would make most liberals like me feel quite at home, while potentially making folks like Ron Paul cringe. Take, for example, the characteristic

…willingness to pay higher taxes or spend more money for goods if that money went to improving the environment

I’m just thinking that this statement alone kicks most conservatives and Libertarians to the curb. But because one only has to identify with 10 of the 19 characteristics to be considered a cultural creative, there may be room for everyone. Some of the characteristics, such as

…intense interest in spiritual and psychological development

…concern and support of the well-being of all women and children

…want to be involved in creating a new and better way of life

…unlikely to overspend or be in heavy debt

would likely appeal to people from a variety of political and ideological perspectives; the differences would lie in how we might define our concern for the well-being of women and children or what we might describe as “in heavy debt” (oddly, this is where I might find myself aligned with fiscal conservatives).

In short, it seems that cultural creatives are an energetic group of people who care about making a difference but is this really a transformative movement or just a gimmicky label?  I’d like to think it’s the former.  Yet even if it is a gimmicky label, I kind of like the energy and idealism it evokes.  I’m in.

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