Category Archives: observations

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“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—”
― Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

I’m bad at publishing blog posts in a timely manner, so I started writing this at the beginning of November:

Last weekend, I participated as a staff facilitator in the university’s social justice retreat. It was a beautiful experience. I had the opportunity to work with college students (grads and undergrads) who were passionate and invested in making the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone; regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, national origin, language, socioeconomic status, or belief system. I got to hear their life stories and share some of mine. It was intense and mentally exhausting, but also so meaningful.

During that weekend, I re-learned the power of stories and of seeing, really seeing people for the individuals they are. I was humbled by the openness with which these young people came. And they challenged me to try to do better, again. To be recommitted to living out my beliefs. And to strive to stand boldly for what I believe in: human dignity and the right to be seen.

One of the students in my small-group made a comment on Saturday about the reality that America could elect a leader with fascist views. Up to that point, we’d been laughing and being fairly lighthearted in our chatter. When she said that, we all sobered up and the reflections in our minds would be read in our eyes: What would this mean to America? What would this mean for me?

To get to the retreat, we drove through ardent Trump supporter territory. There were signs every other foot. Some big, some small, some hidden by overgrown fields ill-suited to staying in their places. I even saw Trump/Pence signs on the lawn of a church. The irony is that their mission statement (because I looked in up) included a focus on ministry to at-risk populations. I wondered to myself how they defined “at-risk.” 

And then there was the huge Trump sign in a field, with the “T” missing and a notice that it had been vandalized by the intolerant. What defines tolerance and intolerance?

It’s now post-election and Trump has been named president-elect. There have been many newspaper articles, blogs posts, social media rants, and frantic tweets about the ramifications about the election. I’m not going to add to that right now.

What I do want to say is that while attending the social justice retreat I was challenged in ways that I did not expect to be challenged.From that experience, these are the things I learned:

  • “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
    • Never assume that you know someone’s life story, the things they wrestle over, or their perspective, just because of how they look or what you perceive to be true from prior experience.
  • “We’re all stories in the end.” – Steven Moffat
    • As the retreat coordinator said, it’s not facts that change lives, it’s stories. The more we take time to engage with others on a genuine level, the better off we all are. It doesn’t mean we’ll all agree on everything (spoiler: we won’t). But it is hard to ignore someone’s humanity while listening. Build relationships and take time to be present. It’s about dialogue, not debate. Debate has it’s time and place.
  • “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push just the same.” ― Jay Asher
    • During the retreat, we had little paper bags in which we could leave (positive) comments for other people to recognize the brave, supportive, or noteworthy things they’d done during the weekend. At the end of the retreat, everyone had a chance to retrieve their bags and see what notes others had left for them. Sometimes I forget that other people besides me can see me living.
  • “A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives.” ― Jackie Robinson
    • Also, on the last day, we did this activity. Maybe it sounds cheesy; maybe it was. But it was also humbling and warm-fuzzy feeling to realize that the things I did, just going throughout my day, meant something to someone else. And vice versa.

I have a quote wall in my apartment with sticky notes of phrases and ideas I want to remember (also perhaps cheesy). Each of these quotes went on my wall and hopefully it will serve as a constant reminder to me to, in the words of Luuvie Ajayi, “Do better!”

 

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Introverting in the workplace

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This morning I was reading a blog post about introversion in social situations that really resonated with me. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write my own blog post about introversion, but from a different perspective, that of the workplace. I can really relate to this quote: “I do my best work when I am in an environment that allows me to have some time for reflection.”

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(Image via interactioninstitute.org)

Some say it’s become trendy to be an introvert, with more public attention being devoted to this personality type. I say, the more the merrier. It’s a good thing when people become more self-aware and it’s also educational for non-introverts to realize that not everyone goes through the world in the same manner. It takes all kinds.

I’ve heard people say that the 30s are magic years. By the time you get into your thirties, you tend to have a better idea of who you are, what works for you (and doesn’t), and what you want out of life. As I get closer to that age, I’ve definitely found that to be true. I’m more comfortable with myself, which includes being more in tune with how I function in the workplace and what I need to be successful. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had swimming around in my head as of late:

  1. Speaking out – I’ve really appreciated the encouragement I’ve received about reflective practice in my current position. Keeping a work journal and this blog allows me to process in writing some of what I’m internally working through. But when it comes to sharing things publicly, I tend to be more inhibited about that. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to share half-thoughts and leave it at, “This is an idea I had” or “This is what I have so far.” I also have come to realize that the ability to think through things and offer different perspectives is not only valuable, but a sought after skill.
  2. Flexibility –  I’m a perfectionist. And an over-analyzer. And I get fidgety at desks. I also don’t really like long periods of screen time, unless I’m researching or writing. When I first switched from teaching to librarianship, I did some time in the archives, working on digital projects. I quickly realized that it was not for me. While my attention to detail provided an opportunity to thrive, my need for kinetic stimulation had me dying so many inner deaths, I couldn’t concentrate for long periods of time. While teaching, I was used to never sitting around, always being up and down, on the floor with my kids, reading books in dramatic voices. The office environment seemed flat by comparison. I quickly learned that I needed to:  A: Balance not sitting at computers for long periods of time with getting things done; B. Provide variety in my project load and interaction with others; and C. Look for opportunities to be creative on the job.
  3. Heat maps – Not all introverts are alike. Some are very, very reserved. Others are kind of reserved. Some may seem lacking in reserve completely! I tend to think of my outgoing-ness like a heat map. When I have things to say and something to contribute, I speak up and my personality is more obvious for that moment. The spot on the map grows. When I’m done sharing my words or myself, I dial back and become what some might term as “small” again. I go back into my reserved box, where I get to think my thoughts, work on projects, and process things uninterrupted. And the cycle continues.
  4. Holding space – Speaking of, I feel I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are not only okay with that, but are supportive of my work style and the skills I bring to the table. Working with a team of librarians who are vastly different in personality, but are willing to hold space for each other is awesome. I spent a lot of my undergrad years in environments where I was encouraged to take chances and step outside my box, which is fine. We all need some of that. But it can be intensely uncomfortable, painful even, to be constantly pushed to be something you’re not. I appreciate having a more balanced experience as a working adult. Otherwise, I’d probably spend all of my free time in a dark room. 🙂
  5. Introvert teacher – I think I’ve mentioned my undergraduate degree was in education; I worked in the school system briefly, before transitioning to academic librarianship. One of the things I noticed during my teaching time, both in elementary grades and last semester while teaching undergrads, is that while I love teaching, I can only do it when I have adequate down time. Last semester, I arranged my work schedule, so that I had an hour to go home and be by myself before I had to go teach class at my adjunct position, even if I just spent that time going over my class schedule or listening to music. With my elementary teaching job, I typically arrived early and either sat in the teacher’s lounge, or would take the long, scenic route to work to give myself a chance to center and mentally prep. The opportunity to recharge before and after class is a necessary thing, I think. Even if that takes the form of a weekend free of social obligations, before or after a hectic week.
  6. Being honest – Because I tend to think a lot and process responses over time, I’m one of those people who will return to a conversation long after it’s over. (i.e. “Okay, now I’m ready to discuss!”) There have been times where I’ve been asked for feedback in the moment and I’ve said something to the effect of, “I don’t have anything right now, but if you’ll give me a chance to think about it, I can get back to you later.” Or, “I don’t have any questions right now. But let me process this and then I can get back to you with questions later.” I find that works better than just: Person: Do you have any questions? Me: Nope.

In conclusion, one must “know yourself to improve yourself.” (Auguste Comte)

How Much Is Too Much?

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In considering instruction, one of the things I’ve been thinking over is managing student engagement and achievement. In terms of balancing expectations with reality, what does being a good teacher look like/sound like?

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Image via flickr

When it comes to reaching students who may not be responding to traditional lecture-style presentation, sometimes it’s tempting to go the “70 x 7” route: how far do I have to reach to say I did my part, attempted due diligence? I think it’s important to go beyond that question and instead ask, Who are my students? How do they learn? What do they need to succeed? How can I at least try to provide that?

The quiet student, the disengaged student, the struggling student. I’ve been all of these, so I can relate.

Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I think back on my experiences as a student and also my experiences teaching younger grades. While there’s a vast difference in terms of learning ability and emotional development between elementary students and college students, some of the pedagogical values and strategies remain the same. For example, the Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the difference between what a student can do alone versus with help. Through the scaffolding process, students receive the support and assistance they need to master a concept and move on to autonomy. It’s kind of related to the bottleneck concept, in which large numbers of students get stuck at certain areas. One could posture that with scaffolding, students would be able to grasp threshold concepts and move from the bottleneck into a position of achievement or mastery. Because students both learn differently and come from diverse academic and personal backgrounds, the ZPD will be different from person to person. But the threshold concepts are those areas of learning that will enable students to get past the “stuck” point. For students who are not information literate, a threshold concept that may lead to bottle-necking (is that a word?) could be using certain types of information technology. So the ZPD could be the difference between being able to browse the internet and maybe search Google alone, but then being unable to employ specific search strategies in a database without assistance. Through scaffolding, modeling, and reinforcement, students’ skills are strengthened and they become better equipped to locate scholarly articles for an academic paper (end goal).

Thinking of strategies…in the classroom, if you wait for volunteers, typically you’ll end up with the same students always doing all of the talking. Mixing it up by either calling on students randomly (if they’ve had time to prepare) or promoting buddy or group discussion before doing a share-out increases the likelihood of quieter students’ voices being heard. (Personally, I myself don’t like surprise calling, because if I haven’t had time to formulate my thoughts, I have nothing to say to you.) I tend to lean heavily on buddy and group work in my own instruction. Some of the strategies for younger students, such as manipulatives or use of personal white boards can be adapted for use with college students. There are technological tools that allow for a more active role. And then there’s always good ol’ fashioned pen and paper.

Additionally, to combat student disengagement, crafting lessons that incorporate active learning through problem solving and inquiry is invaluable. David Cutler mentions allowing for student choice decreases the likelihood of disengagement. I’m experimenting this semester with allowing students to choose their final project, with some perimeters. The research topic is entirely up to them, with the caveat that it has to be related to their major on at least an interdisciplinary level. They can opt to use a traditional research paper or a blog (featuring critical article reviews) as their deliverable.

Cutler also noted that it’s important for teachers to remember that struggling students can recover and still succeed, if they receive the support(s) they need. It’s also important to realize that student struggles can be overlooked by focusing on behavioral aspects as an indication of understanding. Just because they show up to class doesn’t mean they’re doing well.

As an instructor, the solution may not always be apparent, but remaining cognizant of students who seem to be struggling and being mindful of both their personal situations and learning styles goes a long way. Because students are also not likely to say, I’m struggling with this, being preemptive about asking students what supports they may need, should you notice a student struggling, inviting them to ask questions, as well as being approachable and available, goes a long way.  Also, crafting assignments in such a way that students have the flexibility and time they need to do their best.

I’m dissatisfied with the assessment model I used this semester, but didn’t have time to do something different. In the future, I would like to play around with different ways for students to demonstrate learning. I’m also interested in incorporating more of the Universal Design for Learning practices into my approach to teaching. Like many other pedagogical approaches, UDL came from K-12 education. Because K-12 is where it’s at. 🙂

Those are all the thoughts I have on student engagement and achievement right now, but I’m sure I’ll think of more in the future.

TL;DR – Know your students. Know yourself. Do the best you can. Never give up.

 

 

 

Bearded in the studio mirror: exploring masculinity through dance (an observation)

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The dancers stood in a circle, listening to the instructions. About thirty-five. It was a large circle. Some barefoot, some in socks. A few in hats. A few with beards. In departure from the typical dance class, it was composed entirely of male students.

Think of a word that embodies you. Create a movement to give life to this word. Repeat the movement with your eyes closed. Hold that movement. Eyes closed, allow your body to carry your word. They stood motionless in thought Read the rest of this entry