Finding Inspiration in Others


Above all else, I am a teacher and a learner.

Today, I’ve been reading some of my teacher candidate students’ reflections on their professional identities.  In reading them, I find myself, over and over again.

Earlier this morning, I also had a call with two fellow academic-mom friends outside of my field.  I shared with them my goals for the next month and the struggles I’ve faced recently. They listened empathetically, providing lots of encouragement and support. In speaking with them, I found myself again.

It is in moments like those I’ve had today that I realize how blessed I am to do the work that I do.  While I love the learning that happens through research, even my research always incorporates the voice of the participants.  Because I find truth in the voice of others.  They mirror my truth and I construct new understandings through listening to their truths.

When I forget who others are and who I really serve, I also forget myself.  When I focus on my flaws, I forget that my failures and circumstances help me to appreciate both my successes and gifts, and the contributions of others.  So, today, I wish you all a bit of connection–that you might be present to your purpose in the world, to those that are impacted by it, and to the difference you make–as the fallible, vulnerable human beings that you are.

Because, in the end, if we look hard enough, we can always find a bit of ourselves (and a bit of inspiration) in each member of our community.

Rejection, Reflection & Integrity: Being Who I Am When No One and Everyone is Looking

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 7.51.44 PM

So, here I am, writing about rejection again…because, well, in addition to my grant proposal, I just had an article manuscript rejected this week as well.

I’m also exhausted, with a million things to do, school and daycare upheaval for my kids, and on my way home today, my tire pressure light came on.

But, I just had an amazing class, in a room with tables!

And, we got to talk about and represent our identities:

AND we got to connect our identities with those of our students, in thinking about what we want students to take from our courses:

And what it all helped me to realize was that identity and integrity is all about who I am in moments of rejection and reflection–just as much as it’s about who I am when I’m celebrating a momentous victory. It’s about who I am when I am in the spotlight and when I’m silent. It is the totality of my being, the good and the bad.

So, now, I will drown the rough part of my day (week, semester) in a plate of homemade nachos and get in some last precious moments with my family before their bedtime and my next few hours of work.

And tomorrow will be a new day, for me to try it all again.

Reframing Rejection


I mentioned briefly in yesterday’s post that a grant I recently submitted failed to make it past the first round of consideration.  This was particularly disheartening given that it was a mentoring grant that I had worked hard on, pushing beyond myself to approach people that I really admire to ask if they would support me through the projected multi-year effort.  I also pushed beyond myself in terms of scope, methodology, and topic, truly honoring an area of research that I’m committed to, but haven’t had the time or energy to conceptualize previously.  And, I pushed beyond myself in perseverance as there were several logistical hurdles that I didn’t know about, being new to the grant application process.

A few years ago, the notification of this rejection would have really bothered me for days, or even, perhaps weeks.  It would have been a sign that I wasn’t really cut out for academia.  The checked box next to “Scholar does not have a significant enough publication record to indicate ability to produce results of the proposal” would have meant something about who I am and my capacity to do the research I feel called to do.

But, that’s actually not what happened yesterday.

I got the rejection while having lunch with a friend and senior colleague who was immediately reassuring and thinking of possible other funding sources.  Upon breaking the news to colleagues and my potential mentors who had supported me through the grant process, they all expressed surprise and disappointment for me, and urged me to persevere, seek other funding and reach out to them for support on this valuable work.

And, I was able to hear them.

I was not defined by this rejection as I might have once been.  Because my worthiness as an academic, as a researcher and as a person doesn’t come from this foundation.  My path is long.  I know my work is important.  And I know I can get it done–with time, collaboration and support.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not leaping for joy, at least not about the rejection.  But I am actually joyful.  I feel joy at having pushed myself beyond who I know myself to be.  I’m proud that I took a step out of my comfort zone to explore a topic that is critically important to me at a scope that I was uncertain I could achieve.  I’m thankful that I had the guts to approach my mentors and had the privilege to engage with them around these topics.  I am certain that I will try again, and that eventually I will succeed.

As I close out this first week of the 20-day challenge, I do so with the knowledge that I am practicing what I preach–taking risks, falling, getting up again, and trying to do better.  I remind myself that not every investment pays off immediately, but without trying, I’ll always be left wondering, “What if?” Today, I will breathe and regroup, taking time for much needed self-care and dedicating time to other research projects and to my first love, teaching.  But soon, I will try again, with help, support and the knowledge that tomorrow is a new day.

We Stumble Through the Journey Together


It’s been a week.

Both personally and professionally, this week has been challenging: trying to get in last minute play dates before my son started school on Wednesday; a daycare blip meaning I had both kids on my first day of classes; my son starting at a new school on a day that I taught back-to-back evening classes and wasn’t home in time to tuck him in; trying to do active learning in a lecture hall; smart panels gone awry; lost USB sticks for clickers; just generally feeling like my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders; and then today, being notified that a grant application that I had submitted (and worked really hard on for a month solid) didn’t progress past the first round.

Yeah.  It’s been a week.

But, it’s also been an inspiring week.  This week, I got to work with 65 credential candidates excited to inspire young minds and broaden their own horizons.  I got to watch them connect with one another, think about their practice in new ways and explore new ideas.  I got to watch them try twitter for the first time to make their thinking (and our practice) public.  I got to model flexibility.  Then I met 20 practitioner-scholars entering the first week of their masters’ program, not sure what they’d gotten themselves into, but who trusted me enough to help guide them on the journey of action research, and who trusted the process enough to examine and learn from their own practice.  They enter this journey with apprehension, but also with commitment to addressing problems of practice that can inform their work with students. This week, I also got to witness the remarkable resilience of my 10-year old as he adjusted to his new surroundings and I got much-needed support and encouragement from my partner through all the ups, downs and late nights.

As we were finishing my Introduction to Educational Research class last night with my masters’ students, a few stayed behind to chat.  We talked about balancing family, career and academia, and their nervousness at the overwhelming nature of the program.  I reassured them that we’ll all be okay together.  We’ll work through it together.  We’ll support one another.

We stumble through the journey together.

So, as Friday looms on the horizon to close out this week, I am thankful to be on a journey that is not solitary.  I am thankful to journey publicly, even when the road seems long and tough.  I embrace the vulnerability of not having it all together publicly, too, because the reality is that the journey of learning, growth and development is long: for new teachers, practitioner-researchers, academics.  But, it is worth it, for the possibility of becoming the change we wish to see….in spite of the bumps along the road.

Making It Work

I am fortunate to be on a campus that has an incredible faculty technology support team and that is forward thinking in terms of active learning and technology integration.  As an early adopter and tenure-line faculty, I have also been lucky to be assigned to these active learning classrooms more often than not.  Sure, some semesters, I have chosen to teach off-campus, at local high school sites, where I face firewalls that block active social media engagement, but that’s a fine trade-off given that we’re actually engaged in a secondary classroom and actively a part of that campus.

This semester, however, I’m back on my university campus for all my courses.  And, because of a late schedule shift and a particularly popular course offering time, there were slim pickings in terms of rooms.  So, this is what I walked into yesterday:

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.31.36 PM

Yes, that’s right. Immovable rows in a lecture hall.  And, there was a VGA cable, but no smart panel input for the VGA cable (at least not one that could be figured out after a few minutes of screen pressing diligently).  While my students may have been ready for active learning, my seating was not.  It was pretty much my “anti-pedagogy” nightmare.

What’s a girl to do in the moment? (Besides silently cry via emoji and let my sorrows be known to the twitterverse?)

Well, if there’s anything years of middle school teaching have taught me, it’s that you’ve got to make it work.  Teaching is not about one’s circumstances.  It’s about how we can adapt to make the best of less than ideal situations.

So, we used the walls and the halls (or the aisles, in this case):

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.31.15 PM

When you’re committed to collaboration, if the chairs don’t move, you do. We held class, did people bingo, shared with and about one another, developed community, and climbed over some furniture. Your commitment has to be stronger than the bolts that tie the furniture to the ground if you want to make it work because there will always be obstacles. That’s our professional reality.

PS. I put in for a room change this morning.  Please keep your fingers crossed.  The extra distance to the room is worth the possibility of…wait for it…tables and chairs! (I’m easily satisfied) Stay tuned for updates.

Investing Wisely


Today, has been a hard day.  It’s been hard because of my beliefs about investing time and energy and my commitment to enacting those beliefs.

Yesterday, I wrote about my introduction posts and how I seek to create community before students even enter the classroom.  Part of that involves a series of activities, the introduction posts being one, that invite students to choose powerfully to be in my courses.  One of the greatest things about being part of a large post-secondary teacher education program is that my students have choices. And, if students are going to spend a semester with me, I want them to choose to do so with an open mind and an understanding of the commitment that the course requires.  I do not think I am the best professor for everyone.  My classes require a lot of investment, because I invest a lot into them.  However, I believe that there is a great return on investment.  I work with each of my students where they are and support them to grow over the semester.  That starts by knowing who they are and where they are, often, and by caring about their stories.

People often ask me, “So, how do you do this and keep your time investment manageable.” The real answer is that I don’t.  I wish that there was a magic way to invest less time and energy into my teaching, but there isn’t.  I respond to every single introductory discussion board post (at least 80).  Today, I spent over an hour trying to counsel a student into a better section to fit her needs after reading her initial assignment in which she expressed concerns about the format of my class.  I read all my exit slips (sometimes I retweet them). I tinker with my course every semester.  I give extensive feedback within 24-48 hours of assignments being submitted.  I know, it’s crazy making, but I believe in investing time up front so that my teacher candidates can improve as they progress in their journey.

Where you invest, you promote growth.  Like in monetary investment, of course, there isn’t always a return on your investment.  You devote time and energy and effort and it seems lost or wasted.  However, if you never take the time to invest, there is no chance for full development. At times, as with monetary investment, you run out of your capital (time, energy, etc.), so you’ve got to take capital from another, perhaps equally important, place, and decide where to invest it.  In those moments everything seems like a worthy investment, or perhaps, an urgent investment, so sometimes, in desperation, you throw your capital towards the first thing that comes up.

But, sometimes, you pause. You reflect. And you remember how precious your resources are and that you can’t contribute without self-care.

I still have a lot to do today, but the most important thing is investing a few precious moments in reflection, self-care, and reminding myself of the love of others and my good fortune to be where I am.

Welcome to the New School Year


It’s the beginning of another school year–something like my 15th start of the school year as a teacher (or teacher of teachers) and my 10th start of the school year as a mother.  I decided to start this school year with a 20-day blogging challenge, inspired by my friend Wes Kriessel of Santa Ana Unified School District who, with his colleagues, began this challenge to make the 21st century learning they’re doing more transparent and public. I believe in transparency and being public with my work and my writing so I thought, “Why not?” They will be blogging 8-12 times a day for 20-days.  I am committing to blogging at least once a day, more as I’m able, but time, it is precious, and thinking time, it is rare, particularly when my kids start school after I do.

For this post, I wanted to focus on welcoming students to the school year.  Every semester, a couple weeks before our classes begin, I send out an introductory e-mail and invite students to check out our course website on the university’s learning management system.  I also ask them to begin connecting to myself and one another through an introductions discussion board prompt.  The basic prompt is simple: Tell us your name, your twitter handle, your content area, a little about yourself. Then, depending on the course, I’ll ask a topic-relevant question: What inspires you about teaching? What was the last thing you read that really stuck with you? What’s your experience with educational research?

It’s slow-going at first, sometimes no one responds until the last few days before (or the day before, or the day of) class, and often students won’t start responding to one another without some prompting, but this welcome is an important part of creating classroom community in each of my courses.  It helps me to know a bit about my students before I meet them in person, and it gives them a sense of who I am as a teacher/professor.  I’m a community builder and I like how technology supports face-to-face communities.  At the post-secondary level, I think it’s critical that students know who they’re dealing with so that they can make an informed choice about whether my pedagogical style aligns with their learning goals.

As a teacher/professor, I believe it’s critical to know our students and build community.  As a mom, I’m hopeful that, as my son starts school this week, his teacher(s) will also make as much of an effort to know him as an individual. Without knowing our students as individuals and where they are coming in related to our courses and curriculum, we can’t begin the work of growth and development that meets their needs.