Sometimes Parallel Processing isn’t a Good Thing

I was trying to find a good computing metaphor to define my state for the last few weeks.  I started with threading, but decided on parallel processing.  In theory parallel processing makes processes go more quickly.  The first weeks of school, though, really do require one to run multiple processes at once, to keep many balls in the air.  I let some processes crash.  Exercise. Eating well.

I decided this morning to reset a bit.  Things are not going to get any less busy. That’s not how my life works, but in order to accomplish everything I want to accomplish, I need to find moments to step back and see if what I’m doing is working, what should I keep doing, stop doing.  Should I approach something differently, try a new strategy?

Some say, well, Randi Zuckerberg says that you can only keep so many balls in the air at once.  Work, family, sleep, friends, or exercise, you get three. The other two things have to go.  The last few weeks, I’ve managed work, sleep, and family. Exercise and friends just disappeared.  And I do think it’s true that you can’t juggle all these things all the time.  I’ll also note that household management, things like cleaning, making doctor’s appointments, scheduling maintenance, those aren’t on the list.

I found myself this week disappointed that I had dropped a couple of things.  So I had friends over this past weekend, and I put exercise on my schedule for today.  I think you can take the long view on these things.  You might be able to, over the course of a month, get in all five things (and more!).  But any given day, yeah, probably only going to get to three.  So today will be work, family, and exercise.  Tomorrow, a weekend, might be more than that.

Rather than focus on what’s not getting done today, I’m going to think about what is getting done, focus my efforts on what’s important, and look ahead to see what will be important next week, next month, over the course of the year.

This is what we do as individuals, and what we should do as institutions. In my work, that’s what I try to do for my own institution.  I try to look at the big picture, step back and see what processes need to keep running, which ones need to stop (permanently or temporarily), and which ones need to be reset and restarted with new parameters.  For me as an individual, it often means getting other individuals to start doing something, to refocus, or change how they’re doing something.  And that means I also have to provide the conditions in which those processes can happen.  It’s a tall order, and when I think about it, it makes sense that I might not make it to the gym every day and instead opt for a little more time at work with a glass of wine when I get home.

Day of the Girl

Today is The International Day of the Girl, a day to advocate for gender justice around the world. I get to do that every day at work.  At an all-girls school, I feel that every day, I am helping to create a world where girls will lead the way and make the world a better place for women and girls and for everyone.

People sometimes ask me if we still need places for girls to learn separately from boys. The world is still set up to create advantage for men and disadvantage for women.  There are gender inequities in the workplace, in health policies, and in institutional structures of all kinds. Girls schools give girls the tools they need to help bridge these inequities.  It’s like taking the head start boys get just from being boys and giving girls the same head start.

Girls schools give girls the opportunity to learn in ways that work for them, to explore fields because they like them and not worry about whether it’s cool or not or “for girls”.  Girls get to be leaders in the classroom and on the field, in student government and in extracurricular activities.  They’re supported and encouraged in ways they just can’t be in co-ed environments.

I’ve been involved in girls education for almost 15 years. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been involved in. It’s still an important force in the world, especially in countries where girls are discouraged or even forbidden to continue their education for very long.  When girls and women are given educational opportunities, the economy of their countries improves. The quality of life of not just the women and girls, but of everyone improves. The world needs educated women and girls, those who will lead, work hard, and help all of us solve the problems we face.

Struggling to Pay Attention

A week or so ago, during a faculty meeting, a teacher brought up the issue of students and technology and the way in which the presence of technology was keeping students from doing the thoughtful work they needed to be doing in class. This was more than a “kids these days” complaint.  It was a thoughtful expression of a real and growing concern and initiated a conversation about how to address it.  But we didn’t have any solid answers because we all had a sense that the problem was much bigger than something happening in the classroom.  It’s happening all around us. Our bigger question was, how do we teach in a world where the very knowledge we need to access resides in space that is distracting?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Those of us who have been active in social media for a long time have often been called on to defend or explain our affection for it and our reliance on it. I’ve been worried about my own sometimes mindless use of Facebook especially in the last few months.  And I often ask myself, is this the best use of my time right now? Sometimes the answer is yes, but more often it’s not.

I wrote enthusiastically about social media here. I’m still generally enthusiastic about social media.  Many of the people I’m connected to are smart and thoughtful people and they post smart and thoughtful things to their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Many are still blogging fairly regularly. Through them, I find resources, interesting articles and often, thoughtful conversation. However, I know I could be reading and writing in longer form, perhaps seeking out more face-to-face opportunities or achieving other things.

Post-election, a renewed skepticism about the value of social media platforms has surfaced, a skepticism that is tempered with downright disdain. Regardless of where people sit on the political spectrum, there is renewed worry that technology is controlling more of our lives than we had realized, and that maybe, just maybe, we should really look into this more.

This article in the Guardian and Bryan Alexander’s commentary on it shed light on the inner circle struggles among engineers who are creating the very technology feedback loops that keep us scrolling through our Facebook feeds instead of talking to our kids.  Many are trying to put themselves and their families on technology diets, trying to keep themselves and others from becoming addicted or succumbing to their existing addiction.  I’ll admit to trying some of these strategies myself, trying apps that limit my time on Facebook or keep me from going there in the first place.

I think the deeper concern raised by the article is the fact that the ad-driven nature of much of our technological infrastructure means that companies must manipulate our psychological responses in ways that keep us coming back to them for the next “fix.” This kind of manipulation is almost as old as advertising itself, but we now know so much more about how the brain works that manipulation of it is super sophisticated and largely works. Even if you know you’re being manipulated, it can be hard to fight against except by opting out completely.

I don’t have answers.  I feel the need to be connected via social media because that’s where my community is. It’s where I learn and grow.  But I do get distracted there and I try to be mindful about that. I try to distinguish between when I’m using social media for work and when I’m using it as down time.  And I try to think about whether I could be doing something better with my down time, like reading a book. The article suggests that government regulation might be coming. What that regulation could do, I don’t know, but I do think the conversation about the role of social media and technology in our society has gotten bigger, more complex, and more urgent.

Let’s talk about shoes

My new shoes
These are shoes I *used* to wear.

I could write about a million other, more intellectual, things, but we need to have a conversation about shoes. And we should just hashtag this #firstworldproblems right now, because in the grand scheme of things, on the heels of two major hurricanes and ongoing problems in the world, I realize this is petty.

For those of you who don’t know, I was run over by a car almost two years ago, which broke 5 bones in my foot in a way that was particularly bad. They were displaced, meaning they shifted when they broke, so realigning them required plates and screws and pins.  It was a lisfranc injury, which is bad. A year ago, I had surgery again to have those plates and screws and stuff removed. I spent a year in physical therapy. I can walk normally, which is a big deal, but my foot still hurts when I walk. It’s not as flexible as it once was. And well, shoes don’t fit quite the way they used to.

I’ll spare you the details, but basically, I was restricted to flats in the beginning and I needed a half-size larger to accommodate my foot, post-surgery.  I was gradually able to wear some low heels and have a couple of pair that are working for me. The flats, though, have either worn out, or are flat-out too big now.  I find myself having clothes that I can wear that I have no shoes that match.

Easy problem to solve one might think, but not so much.  I’m limited in the kind of shoes I can wear.  Heels over about 1.5 inches are out. Some flats are out if they have zero support or a narrow toe bed.  Not so bad, you’re thinking. Plenty of options.  Not so much.  I’ve been to many a shoe store over the last couple of weeks, looking for one or two pairs of shoes that I can make my go-to pairs.  I’m not trying to be Imelda Marcos here.  I just want some professional, reliable, comfortable shoes that will go with a wide range of things I have in my closet. I did find a great pair of higher-heeled black shoes.  They’re slightly nicer than a low-heel pair I have, and they’re comfortable.

As I’ve tried to find another pair in other colors, blue or brown or taupe, I’ve struck out.  I’ve found some possibilities, but they’re available in . . . only black.  Flat, comfortable shoes tend to be a) ugly; and b) available in black and, if you’re lucky, blue.  Very few low-heeled shoes exist in the world. Most are 2 inches or higher, which would not just hurt, but potentially damage my foot.

I’ve pored through online stores, too.  Same thing. I’ll find something that looks cute and the heel will be too high or they’ll only have it in black. Also common to find that it’s available in black and some random color like purple or floral pink or something.  It’s weird.

So, I’m frustrated.  There’s a paradox of choice in so many things, for sure. But I’m finding shoes particularly paradoxical.  It looks like there are tons of options, but that’s only if you want one color or only high heels.  I’m going to give it one more try this weekend.  The hardest thing is that sometimes I find myself wandering through a shoe store and feeling a pang of sadness/anger mixed together at my fate, that I can’t just buy any old shoe anymore.  And yeah, that kind of sucks.

The Joy of a 4-day Weekend

Thanks to both the Labor Day holiday and a bonus day off on Friday, I’m enjoyed the last day of a 4-day weekend.  I’m not going to lie, I have done some work over the weekend, but the pace has been slower and I was able to basically take Saturday off to belatedly celebrate my 23rd anniversary.  We spent an afternoon in the city, shopping, stopping by a favorite bar, and then having a good meal.  The long weekend also allowed me to catch up on some housework, get in my workouts and snuggle with the dogs. Everything fits in.

Over the summer, I often take 3- or 4-day weekends for this very reason.  They’re short enough (and include weekends where work is not expected) that I can disconnect completely. Nothing is going to fall apart in 3 or 4 days, two of which are non work days already. When I’m away longer, I feel the need to check in, though I was able to mostly disconnect the week I was in California.

I work really hard and often my work isn’t contained within a work week.  Deadlines loom, meetings take up work time, and part of my work is professional development, which I squeeze in outside the work day. A long weekend, then, often means I go back to work refreshed and ready to dig in. I’m leaving this here to remind myself that I can and should take a little extra time for myself.

What a Week

The faculty and staff came back on Monday to a week of meetings and professional development. This year, I asked for volunteers to teach workshops on whatever topics they wanted.  We ended up with a wide range of things: using our course management system, teaching with writing, differentiated instruction, Google docs, diversity in literature, and more. We had close to 30 people offer at least one session.  I saw some really amazing things.

I’ve said in this space many times before what amazing people I work with.  I’m reminded of it time and again.  The great thing about this week was that people mixed it up.  There were 4th grade teachers hanging with 11th grade history teachers.  In a PreK-12 school with some physical separation between divisions, it can be challenging for everyone to get to know each other and find opportunities to share information or even work together.  So I was happy to see that happening at least for this week.

One of my favorite moments came at the end, just yesterday.  My department put together a BreakoutEDU session for our faculty.  BreakoutEDU is like Escape the Room except instead of breaking out, you break into a box.  Because, you know, locking children in a room might be problematic from an ethical standpoint.  The idea is that it’s not only a great way to get across some content and have it stick, but also to work on collaboration and teamwork. First, there were people from every division there: two Upper School teachers, a few Lower School, and at least one Middle School.  And then, everyone really got into the clues.  They divided and conquered.  When they opened the first lock, there was a lot of cheering and joy.  Which continued lock by lock until they got into the box and found . . . another box.

This was one of our harder clues, so they worked hard first figuring out what the clue was asking, then figuring out the answer.  One of our kindergarten teachers was holding the box and kept trying the different combinations the group suggested.  After many, many tries, the box’s latch popped open and the teacher jumped and gasped with surprise.  It was the best reaction ever, and the whole room cheered!

At one point, everyone in the room had to share one thing they loved about working at our school in order to get a key.  Everyone said some very cool things and different things as they had different roles in the school.  The kindergarten teacher said that she realized over the summer that working at an all-girls’ school had made her a better woman.  I just thought that captured pretty much what a lot of us feel about our work.  We’re better people because of it.

Summer Reading Update

I read eight books this summer. By my count, there were 10 weeks of summer (starting after graduation and ending this week), so I came close to my goal of reading a book every week.  I ordered 10 books, so I have two to work through at the start of the year.  I’ve already started one of them.  I have to say it’s not only a challenge just to find the time to read, but it’s also a challenge to find the energy.  While there were a few fluff books on my list (about half were novels/memoirs), most of the books that I read are challenging, so it’s not like I can just sit back and relax with a good book. TV and social media (where I also read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles so even that can be challenging) often feel more appealing after a long day of work.

Still, I’m hopeful that I can continue to read at a reasonable pace over the school year. It’s something I find great value in and the books I read have often enriched my life over and over again.  This summer, a few stood out as books that will be with me for a while.

Algorithms to Live By, one of the more challenging books I read (written about here) has reverberated again and again over the last few weeks. I’ve used bits of what I learned from that book in both my personal and professional life and have referred back to its pages a number of times. Absolutely worth the time it took to read it.

Everybody Lies, another math-y science-y book, has also stuck with me (written about here).  It really makes you look at data and surveys much differently. What I wouldn’t give to slice and dice Google searches more locally (which I’m sure is possible, but likely takes time).

I read two memoirs (David Sedaris’ diaries and Annabelle Gurwitch’s latest).  Sedaris’ book was as delightful as always, funny and sad simultaneously.  Gurwitch’s was fun, but not as good as some of her other work.  I also read two novels set at independent schools.  I’ve always enjoyed academia fiction and I had hoped that these would be as good, just with a slightly different setting. And they were okay, but academia just lends itself better to this kind of fiction.  The eccentric characters you find in academia just make better reading.  And academia cultivates these people.

So, now I head into the new school year, mostly hoping to maintain my sanity and calm in the busyness that I know the first few weeks bring.  Reading may or may not be a part of that, but here’s hoping!

A new era begins

Yesterday, we dropped Geeky Girl off at college.  She’s doing a little pre-orientation class for the next couple of days. We’ll see her again on Thursday for orientation, but basically, life will be different from this moment on. As I mentioned in my last post, people have been asking me if I’ll miss her, if I’ll be sad, etc. So far, it hasn’t hit me yet.  She texted us last night to tell us how her first evening was–lasagna for dinner, met some fellow Game of Thrones fans, and was going to an ice cream social later.  I have a feeling we’re going to get updates like that frequently. And that’s why I’m not convinced I’ll be torn up. Maybe I’m wrong.

Additionally, I have a lot I’m going back to. My own school year starts the day after I return.  I remember when dropping Geeky Boy off, there was more of a gap, so I could feel the absence more.  I was also more worried about him than I am about Geeky Girl. They’re different kids.

It’s auspicious, perhaps, that drop off day coincided with the eclipse.  We had fun looking through kitchen equipment at the partial, and kept NASA live streaming until the eclipse was over on the west coast.  As we walked to a nearby office supply store to get notebooks, etc., we enjoyed seeing the crescent-shaped shadows on the sidewalk.  It added a fun, distracting element to the day. Geeky Girl planned everything out well.  We moved in first, checked in after (backwards from what most people did) and avoided the crowds. While Geeky Girl finished unpacking her stuff, we made a run to Target for snacks.  She’s alone in her room until Thursday as one roommate is on a camping trip, and her other roommate chose not to do the preprogram.  She’s now well stocked.

We have to entertain ourselves for the next couple of days. We wandered around the town we’re staying in for a few hours after we left campus, exploring an antique mall, city hall, ate ice cream and sushi.  Today, we might go to a museum and at some point, we want to go on a hike. The weather is indeed beautiful here. Thursday and Friday, we’ll be occupied with various orientation activities and then we head back home to begin our new era without Geeky Girl. That’s when it’s probably going to hit me.

T minus 48 hours

Day 150: First bike rideSunday morning we leave to drop off our youngest at college.  We won’t quite be empty nesters as our oldest is living at home still, but we do find ourselves now with two adult children.  I have many friends who are dropping off kids in the coming days, many for the first time.  Many are understandably very emotional about it. I haven’t had time to be. When we dropped our son off at school four years ago, it really didn’t hit me until we were driving home and it felt just empty.  That may or may not happen this time around. These things do tend to hit me at odd times.  I suspect the first time I drive to school without Geeky Girl, I’ll feel it pretty deeply.

I think I find the process more exciting than sad.  I’m proud of her for choosing to go far away from home, to take that risk and find her own way. And with the availability of so many ways to connect virtually, I know we can stay in touch.  The number of years we’ll be connected as family is greater than the years we’ve already been connected. I’ve enjoyed my own adult relationship with my parents much more than the relationship I had with them as a teen.  The control factor is gone and we can just appreciate each other as people.  I’m looking forward to that with my own kids. We’re already starting to have that relationship and it will continue to grow as they gain more and more independence and decide for themselves what their lives will be.

That said, there’s still stress for each of us that is playing out in different ways. Mr. Geeky, who hasn’t been paying as much attention to travel plans, schedules, etc., is trying to turn our travels into vacation, suggesting excursions and nice restaurants before dropping Geeky Girl off at the appointed time.  He’s trying to draw out his time with Geeky Girl, with the whole family in tact.  Geeky Girl, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be late for anything, wants to make sure she has everything she needs for her dorm room, and wants to get her independent life started asap.  In direct contrast to what her dad wants.  I am trying to follow Geeky Girl’s lead. As far as I’m concerned, it’s her show.  I’m serving as mediator and sometimes interpreter. Geeky Boy is along for the ride, but is generally taking Geeky Girl’s side–reluctantly sometimes, as he, too, is interested in the vacation aspects of our trip.  I actually had a dream that we left him at home, something I didn’t realize until we were driving around trying to find our AirBnB.  My stress is definitely subconscious. So it’s not exactly smooth sailing as each of us tries to get our individual needs met.

An adventure awaits, soon to be subsumed by the adventure that is the beginning of the school year.

The Whiplash of Being a Woman

I’m starting this post without a title, because I don’t know how to reconcile the many thoughts that are in my head about last week’s various stories about women.  The Google screed was everywhere last week, and there were responses everywhere last week, both from women in tech, women who study sex differences, and of course, bros.  The worst was David Brooks’ response. Seriously, I don’t know how something like that gets published (I’m not even going to link it; go find it yourself).

The David Brooks article put me over the edge. I seriously felt exhausted.  There is nothing more exhausting than having your very existence and experiences called into question. Having to explain again how implicit bias works, what discrimination really is, and why one might be offended to be told that your sex is biologically predisposed to not being the very thing that you are.

Thankfully, I got to spend a few hours last week with most of my old crew, the Women of Fear.  For about 5 hours, we talked about our careers, our hopes and dreams, our various health issues, our kids, our spouses, our frustrations.  We used to travel the country talking about various technologies and their potential to transform education (in the right hands and used effectively, we always emphasized), and we talked about women in the ed tech field and the lack thereof.  That evening, we didn’t talk about the Google screed much, because we’ve heard it all before. We’ve been face-to-face with the James Damore’s of the world. We’ve heard his arguments.  We’ve tried to counter them. We’ve moved into spaces where the battle is less uphill and in some cases, we’re fighting different battles.

I was so grateful for the companionship, the laughter, the respite from the real world.  There’s nothing quite like having strong female friends, something I posted to Facebook last week when I noticed my feed was filled with only women posting really smart things.  I suspect I have about equal number of men and women in my friend list, but the FB algorithm gave me only women that day. I needed it.

When I got back and plugged back in to the Internet, the top story was about Taylor Swift’s sexual assault trial.   I hope it goes her way. If you want to know what victim blaming looks like and what distrust of women’s stories looks like, read the questions the lawyer for the defendant asks.  And if you want to see how a strong woman responds, read her answers.  They’re basically a big ol’ FU.  As they should be.

It’s both exhausting and exhilarating to be a woman.  Working at an all girls’ school, I can feel the potential of all those girls, the great ways in which they’ll contribute, the friendships they’ll form that will make them stronger and more successful, the potential for them to move us forward. When I spend time with women and others who value women, I feel strengthened, ready to take on anything. My cup is filled up. These things help me deal with the exhaustion, and frankly, the worry I have for my students’ futures, my daughter’s and my own. Without these things, I might just give up.