Walking the Walk, Down a New Path

Path through a forest with sunlight at the end

It is the end of another semester. This, of course, means, it’s time for another final reflection on the semester.

But this final reflection is a little different than some of my others because this semester is different than others, for more reasons than one might imagine.

In our final synchronous session online together last night, when asked to identify what they were taking away from our class, one of my students shared the following, “I think it’s important to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. For ex, Dr. Hsieh always talks about compassion and mindfulness, and we actually see it in practice with the flexible deadlines, 2nd chances, etc. Even if I didn’t really turn stuff in “late,” I still really appreciate it, and we don’t necessarily see every professor walking the walk, so to speak.”

Walking the walk.

Over the last 7 years, I have tried my best to always walk the walk.

And I have been blessed to walk the walk alongside some of the best colleagues, leaders, and students in the world.

This semester, our world shifted, in ways that were previously unpredictable.  When forced to move our instruction to alternative formats, I could not have asked for better students with whom to engage in remote teaching and learning.  I could not have asked for better student teachers with whom to navigate the challenges of figuring out how to complete requirements designed for schools, in remote environments, where every school site and district were responding slightly differently.

We made it through the semester together.

This semester, my world shifted, in ways that were also somewhat unpredictable.  I gave a TEDx talk at the end of February, just two weeks before the world as I know it would shut down.  I became a mother-scholar 24/7 in the most real of ways. I learned to make memes and expect regular meme recaps of my weekly optional synchronous online sessions with my students.

And, I accepted a new position.

Beginning in Fall 2020, I will be the Director of Teacher Education and Professor of Education at the La Fetra College of Education at the University of La Verne.

I have been relatively quiet about this new journey, out of respect for the shifting ground under my students’ feet.  We have been making it, together, and I didn’t want to shift things in a way that might destabilize their learning even more.  So, I waited, and asked those who did know about this change, to not announce it publicly.

But last night, at the end of our last class session, I shared the news with students who were shocked but congratulatory.  There was even a meme about it, shared prior to the end of class.

Students lingered after I officially ended class, until it was time for me to eat dinner and prepare for a meeting with some amazing former graduate students, where I told them the news as well.  They were also shocked but congratulatory. There were no memes, but lots of love.

I am so grateful.

Grateful for the journey of the last seven years.  Grateful for the new opportunities on this new path. Grateful to walk the walk of leadership and transformational change. Grateful to walk the walk of leadership as an Asian American woman and teacher educator.  Grateful for community that I know won’t be far, even as our roads diverge ever so slightly.

It is almost the end of the semester, but just the beginning of the journey.

Blessings on My Day 1 (of Teaching)

The last of the police cars in front of my house yesterday. Hint: They weren’t there for me

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the fall semester, my second day of Chinese class, and my third day of running (of my 11th week of training for the Long Beach Half Marathon).

I had trouble sleeping, woke up early and read some discussion board posts before taking off on my run.  After 4-miles and about 4o minutes, I was crossing the railroad tracks near my home when I realized that there were three police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck outside my front door.  I stopped to talk with an onlooking dog walker who told me that 15-20 minutes before a man had apparently randomly attacked two men on the street, punched a car window and tried to get into the passenger door of another car window before trying to enter a neighbor’s condo and being tackled in the bushes next to our front gate where he was held until the authorities could arrive.  I missed the whole thing on the 40-minutes between the time I stepped out my front door and the time I returned from my run.

Feeling fortunate to have missed that particular adventure, I went about my day, heading to Chinese class with my homework complete but confronted by the fact that I still struggle to remember tones and characters when writing.  It’s definitely still an ongoing process.

Finally, at 3:50 exactly, I was able to enter my classroom for my first (teaching) class of the semester.  I was nervous about this for a couple of reasons: 1) I wasn’t in the active learning classroom and since much of my pedagogy has been adapted to writeable surfaces, multiple whiteboards around the room (that students have easy access to) and multiple usable screens in the classroom, I was nervous about the activities in the space; 2) I was starting the semester with a new activity around compassion and mindfulness.

But, as students began to file in, I appreciated their energy, excitement (many clearly knew one another), and engagement.  We did partner interviews & introductions, explored literacy and then came to our activity around mindfulness and compassion.  I asked students to define mindfulness & compassion then asked them how they could be mindful and compassionate to others in the space and how we could be mindful and compassionate towards them.  We then did a snowball (anonymous) discussion, unpacked our mostly convergent definitions of mindfulness & compassion and then ways in which we could show compassion and mindfulness to one another in the classroom space.  Students then engaged in a conversation about why it might be important to start class in this way.  It was inspiring.

Our debrief board from the compassion & mindfulness activity

This was a good first week. It was balanced and full of community and collaborative learning.  It was a first week during which I was present to the many blessings of this work and life. I am grateful to do work that I love, work that centers compassion and mindfulness in teaching, work that broadens notions of the importance of language and literacy, work to humanize pedagogy and teacher education.

Hope the end of this week brings peace and presence to all of my (educator) friends.

When the Teacher Becomes a Student

It’s almost the end of my first semester of Chinese classes.  I started this semester 3.5 months ago with a few phrases of spoken Mandarin (mixed with some Taiwanese words that I didn’t realize weren’t Mandarin) and a lot of fear.  I’m ending having mastered at least 100 characters and having a decent grasp of almost 100 more.  It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go on the journey to develop my heritage language.

Something happened today as I was working in the language lab with my partner for our oral final (not pictured above–above is the extra credit typing homework).  We were getting our dialogue checked by the TA in Chinese, a kind, graduate student, native speaker.

She pointed out a few errors that I had made with phrases and characters–nothing major, some “rookie mistakes,” as I like to call these small errors when you’re learning something for the first time, then she asked if my partner and I were Chinese minors.  My partner said she was, but I was a major.  I noted that I was just beginning though.

The TA said, “That’s okay,” to me and then said, “Your Chinese, I think, it’s very good though.” I thought, with that phrase, that she was talking to my partner who then said that she had watched many Chinese films and dramas.

I have been feeling pretty bad about this interaction for the last two hours, which is ridiculous because: 1) I don’t know whether in fact, she was complimenting both of us on our Chinese or just my partner; 2) my partner is very good at Chinese; 3) I’m not here for anyone’s approval because that is what has been stopping me for 35 years prior from taking Chinese classes earlier; and 4) you can be good at Chinese and make mistakes or not get compliments.

This isn’t doesn’t mean anything, but it also means everything.

What I’m realizing lately is just how far I have to go in so many ways.  I am such a people pleaser.  I thrive on recognition.  I want to be the best at everything and when I’m not the best at something, I inherently feel like I should just give up, go home and do something I’m much better at.  This is not a healthy attitude, especially in academia, but also, in life.  And it’s one I see in my own children, which prompted me to take up studying Chinese in the first place.

As an academic, I’ve come to terms with the limits I have on my time and energy based on institutional structures and personal life choices, but I’m not there yet, as a student.  As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, it’s been a hard transition for me, going from full time student to full-time professional (parent, active faith community member & volunteer) and part time student.  In fact, at this moment, while I’m blogging, I should be prepping my summer class, studying for my final and working on multiple research projects). I’m also in the midst of the last week of training for a (charity) half marathon while also doing a weeklong global poverty awareness challenge and waiting in the library for my son to arrive so I can take him to Tae Kwon Do.

I’m frankly struggling with everything, and in these moments, when I need the most validation ever, I also tend to feel the most inadequate, which probably explains my ruminating on not having my Chinese complimented (which may or may not have happened anyways) and spending a half an hour that I really don’t have to blog about it so I can let it go.

As a teacher, this reminds me of how vitally important it is to be aware of my power, that complimenting one person in front of others, while not being a willful omission or malevolent gesture, can cause unintended self-questioning.  It also reminds me that we never know what our students might be carrying with them from past experiences, what they’re going through (big or small) in a moment, how hard they’re trying, even when they’re making a bunch of mistakes.  And this all makes me reflect on the fact that, when we make a bunch of mistakes, it’s because we’re stretching, growing and learning.  I am learning so much, and I am making my fair share of mistakes along the way. That is part of the process.

These are good reminders.  They are reminders that I am doing the best I can, that we all are (or at least the great majority of us are), in any given moment. So, I will tell myself that my Chinese is pretty good, for a beginner, and I will get to the many other things I have to do, after I breathe and publish this post.

Teacher Educators: Being the Change

A quote often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi urges us to be the change we wish to see in the world, and in my professional world, the change I’ve been wishing to see for a long time is a change in the discourse around teacher education.  I am a proud teacher educator.  Although it was a very difficult decision for me to leave my 8th grade classroom for the world of academia, what compelled me to do so was the opportunity to make a difference for generations of future educators through my position in a College of Education, working with pre-service teacher candidates who would then make a difference for generations of future students.

Recently, the Federal Department of Education proposed new federal guidelines for teacher preparation program accountability.  These new guidelines included narrow accountability measures and “institutional report cards”  that are likely to punish innovation in teacher education, with projected impact to fall hardest on institutions serving future teachers (and communities) of color and candidates seeking to teach in high needs fields.  The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) issued a 38-page response to these new accountability measures on behalf of the 800-Teacher Preparation Programs it represents and urged members to submit comments during the response period which just closed this past Monday, February 2.  Now that the public review period is over, we are waiting for federal response, however, as we wait, I would urge my fellow teacher education colleagues to advocate in everyday ways in our classroom.  Here are just a few ways that I hope to continue to be the change I wish to see.

Modeling Strong Teaching Practice

Last night, after a class session that I didn’t think was my strongest, I had a student say to me, “That class was pretty amazing. I have so many notes and I took so much from it.” Then another said, “Yeah, if this class wasn’t so engaging, I’d totally be asleep right now.” Finally, a third said, “I just want to say that what you taught us about having objectives, I really appreciate that in this class, you actually have objectives for us to focus on so we know what we’re taking from each session.  I don’t see that in every class and it’s really helpful to see you using the ideas that you want us to use.  It’s important, even at this level, for us to have this type of modeling of practices in this classroom.”  It had been a close to an 18-hour day so their feedback was really gratifying.

I realized that even on days that I don’t think are my strongest, I’m modeling dispositions and enacting practices that I want students to see–dispositions like authenticity and flexibility, and practices like embedded opportunities for structured communication, interaction and collaboration (Think-Pair-Shares, Quickwrites, live tweeting–which has just started happening in lecture this semester [!], text idea exchanges, diagramming ideas on the board, structured discussions, etc.) which occur every lecture, in addition to the specific content-related strategies that are referenced and modeled for students. While I won’t feel like a champ after every lecture, at least I know that every class that I put together is based on strong pedagogical principles that will be something of value to my candidates and their future classrooms.

Giving Feedback to Support Development

Last night’s feedback was critical to helping me think about my own practice, but feedback more generally is a critical part of my role as a teacher educator.  Whether it is giving timely, thoughtful feedback on students’ assignments or addressing issues that arise in class professionally but personally, feedback is essential to the work that we do.

In talking about literacy development last night, one student mentioned that repeated practice is the key to success.  I gently reminded him that practice with feedback was actually what I saw as the key to growth, to which another student replied with a quote from his former mentor, “It’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect.” And, we can only practice perfectly when we know what it is we’re doing that needs improvement.

Pursuing Professional Growth: Collaborative and Reflective

Sometimes I feel stuck in a rut and then I reach out to my communities or look for new resources, either via social media, through reading,  in person or by attending professional conferences.  After pursuing these avenues for growth, I leave feeling inspired and refreshed.  Working together and seeking to continually grow and improve, pushing oneself towards innovation while being authentic to one’s identity is key to professional development.  At the same time, I am a strong believer in reflection promoting growth.  Just as I ask my students to reflect on their own identities and their own developing practice, I continue to reflect on my own, using this blog as my main vehicle.

Advocating for Ourselves by Making Our Work Public

Finally, as teacher educators, we have to make our work public, just as the great work that is happening in classrooms needs to be made more public.  Too often, what populates the media about teachers are examples of those that dishonor the profession. Often only when teachers are tragically lost or on teacher appreciation days do we recognize the countless others who are doing great work in their classrooms.  As teacher educators, we need to feature the work that we are doing, that our candidates are doing and that their students are doing.  We must reclaim the idea of what evidence counts in making our work value added.  Yesterday, among the tweets that I received was this awesome example from a student of the ripples that our work causes in classrooms all over our communities:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 2.35.59 PM

Evidence like this symbolizes the difference we make.  We must find and make public the power of our work, using varied sources of evidence to advocate for the work that we do. We must continue to be the change we wish to see in our world.