Spring break

I’m halfway through spring break which so far has been about 40% productive and 60% complete sloth.  I completely took Friday off and went shopping with Geeky Girl.  Saturday, I dove into a bunch of house projects.  I think that was a mistake because although I had planned to do more projects on Sunday, I couldn’t bring myself to do them.  Monday I returned to partial productivity, but Tuesday it rained and well, what else do you do on a rainy day?

As I type this, though, I’m sitting in my workout clothes about to head to the gym.  So I’m an every other day productive person. Sort of.

When I had summers off, and wide open days, I managed pretty well getting things done.  I usually split my day between things I needed to get done for school and things I needed to do around the house.  But these shorter bursts of free time I’m finding are more likely to be filled with Internet surfing and tv watching.  My Puritan genetics are causing me guilt over that.

My school work will be waiting for me when I get back.  While there are things to do, there is nothing pressing that needs to happen before I get back.

Around the house is another story.  I’d like to do some decluttering and the busyness of my schedule over the last 6 months has also meant that basic maintenance takes time.  I’m easily overwhelmed.  Saturday, when I tackled a project, I thought it would take an hour or so.  Three hours later, I wasn’t close to finished.  That kind of thing keeps happening.  It’s disheartening to jump into something and think you’re going to see a great end result and then you can’t even get to the end.

So I’m focused on smaller chunks, and I am thinking about ways to tackle those smaller chunks daily, even once school gets going again.  I might have to do a little design thinking project on myself.  Could work.

For now, I’m going to the gym, trying to kick start something at least.

Every time I’m down

Something brings me back up again.  The cookies, they kind of worked.  There were a handful of people in the lounge when I brought them in, and we chatted, which felt great.  At the very end of the day, I swung by an office because I saw people talking and I had a fantastic conversation.  We tossed around ideas, complained about how we have to shave our legs (gender norms suck sometimes!), and talked about a bunch of random other things.  And that was the last conversation of the day.  I had a number of other spontaneous or planned conversations that reminded me how great some of my colleagues are.

I do know that most of my colleagues care a great deal about what they do.  I just think that we all get bogged down sometimes and don’t have the time to talk to each other and share what we’re thinking about.  As one of my colleagues said of my plans to create more opportunities for just this kind of thing, these things are organic, you can’t always control them or make them happen.

But like my classroom, I can at least make sure conditions are in place for that to happen.

How Might We


I’ve been taking an online class offered by IDEO on Creative Leadership.  It’s been interesting, and of course, because it’s IDEO, Design Thinking is part of the process.  I have to admit I’ve gotten a little stuck in my thinking at points as my “How might we” questions have hit the wall of constraints.  It is true that adults, including me, have a tendency to shut down ideas by thinking about how they won’t work or why they can’t be tried.

So, for example, I wanted to create time and space for faculty collaboration and conversation around teaching, but my colleagues and I kept coming up with reasons why we couldn’t do that.  It had to be during the school day, not after.  It couldn’t feel cheesey.  It couldn’t involve too much work on anyone’s part.  What I ended up with was putting cookies in the faculty lounge.  And then hope for the best.  Which, well, didn’t sound as fun as what I had in mind.

I know I’m a little on the extreme–okay a lot–when it comes to generating ideas and learning about my work.  I really don’t spend 24/7 doing this.  Any reader of my blog knows there’s video gaming, binge watching, and pleasure reading aplenty.  But it is true that I spend some of my off time–not every day–thinking about and doing things work-related that aren’t “tasks” to be accomplished.  I have class prep and grading and emails to respond to and sometimes that has to be done outside the parameters of the day.  No, I mean following a Twitter hashtag or reading education-related blogs.  I do that most days.  And my department members do too.  But I don’t know how many others do.

But I do know most of my colleagues think about their work a lot.  They have ideas.  They’re struggling with lessons.  And my idea was to try to create space for them to share and learn from each other and for those who might be doing what I do, perhaps space to share what they learned on Twitter the night before.

But apparently, this can’t be done and cookies aren’t going to be enough.  Ideas I have now to accomplish this involve changes that are pretty dramatic.  Things like setting aside a half period where all faculty are free but students are occupied somehow.  Or starting school a little later once a week for students but faculty come in.

I’m sad that my well-intentioned “How might we . . .” has turned into “This is why we can’t.”

Believing in what you do

Often I think about whether what I do aligns with what I believe.  When my work aligns with my beliefs, it’s really not work.  I have a very complex issue to tackle right now that involves people, money, time, and other resources and I actually got a little giddy thinking about possible solutions.  And I thought, huh, well, that’s interesting.  I know some people who would run away from that.  But I got excited.  Yes, there’s something wrong with me.

I’ve been quiet here for the last week or so because I was working on a big presentation for the board.  It was quite the experience to put together, but again, because I really believed in what I was doing, it didn’t entirely feel like work.  Oh sure, there was the day I didn’t have time for lunch, but that’s totally fine.  And when I gave the presentation, I just thought about how much much I cared about my work and how important I thought it was.  Honestly, I could have talked for much longer.  I’m very committed and passionate about what I do and where I work.

It’s been a reminder over the last week or so that I need to tap into that more often.  Yes, I should take time away (and I have, trust me), but really, tapping into that core feeling of commitment has motivated me greatly to tackle even the most complex of issues.

Mistakes were made

I’ve been thinking about the nature of mistakes and failure. We try to encourage our students to take risks, not worry about failing in order to open up possibilities door greater success. We encourage them to aim high and then help them recover if they fall short or show them how they were still successful even when they didn’t get exactly where they wanted to be.

But I’ve been thinking about knowing the possible failures in any endeavor and about the things that look like a mistake or failure later on. Sometimes you make a decision or complete a project that looks successful at first, and then sometime later, weeks or even years, you realize that what you did wasn’t quite right or maybe even a total disaster.
I think it’s this kind of outcome that happens all. the. time. that often paralyzes people. The what ifs running through your mind are all negative, not positive. The thing is, we can’t see into the future. Conditions change. The assumptions you made turn out to be wrong. 

We have to be okay with the possible negative outcomes of any decision and be willing to pick up the pieces when needed  I had an aunt who once said to me when I was trying to decide on something to think of the worst possible outcome and if I could deal with that then I should just take the leap. If we don’t approach decisions this way, we’ll never change.

The Firehose

Down The Drain

Post-conference, there are two firehoses.  One, all the ideas generated by the conference that you want to try out right now. And two, all the work you have to catch up on because you were at a conference.  So yesterday, I tackled the latter and I’d love to tell you that today I’m going to tackle the former, but alas, I have more of the latter to deal with.

When I was in grad school, I sometimes struggled with working outside of “regular” hours.  My first go around in grad school when I was just out of college, that meant, generally about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Maybe.  Sometimes I got up later.  For obvious reasons I had trouble getting everything done.

Later, after kids and regular jobs had molded me a little more, I got better at it, and actually, what I got better at was efficiently getting things done while my kids were in daycare.  Occasionally, very occasionally, I would work on something after they went to bed.  But I protected my time.

During the dissertation writing phase, when I was also working a 9-5 job, that went out the window.  Long-time readers might remember my chronicles of working in the morning before the kids were awake and working hours after they went to bed, and Mr. Geeky dealing with them on the weekends.  That lasted about a year and a half.

To deal with the firehose (which happens to be full force right now but is pretty much an every day thing), I combine these strategies.  I try to be as efficient as I can during the day and keep my head down and plow through what needs to get done.  But, when I still have work left over, or if I have a day full of meetings so that no work is getting done anyway, I work around the edges of my day.  I take time to have dinner, talk with my family, maybe go for a walk, but then I get back to work.  And I only work a little.  I have a time limit.  Unless I’m meeting a deadline, the email, the report, all of it, will still be there the next day.

I’ve also learned that a lot can get done in 10 minutes or 20, whatever you have between things.  And I’ve learned not to turn anyone away that shows up at your door, no matter how strong the firehose.  When you stop listening to people, you’ve lost the purpose behind the firehose in the first place.

One size does not fit all

In several different sessions and situations yesterday, people said, directly or indirectly, “One size does not fit all.”  In one context, this was about two schools whose mission is focused on personalized learning.  In another, it was about leading change and understanding that a solution that’s labeled a “best practice” is not necessarily what will work for your school, faculty, etc. or your situation.  And, in Susan Cain’s conversation at the end of the day, she said to remember that not every student is the same and again, not everything will work for every student.

It is true that at some point, you might have to go with a solution that isn’t perfect and that you know isn’t going to meet all your needs.  That’s a given and it can be okay as long as you know that going in.  If you get sold the idea that something is going to fix all your problems and you actually believe that, then that’s a bigger problem.

Regardless, I think those of us in small schools with small class sizes absolutely should be trying to meet the needs of each child, and we should be able to understand those needs fairly well.  And in fact, that’s what we should be focused on.

I would say the same of working with faculty.  We’re small enough that I should be able to know them, and know what their goals and needs are and work with them to get where they want to be.

So I guess I was reminded yesterday of what we’re really here for and what we have potential to be really good at.  So now, I just have to go back on Monday and work a little harder.

Downtime – Sort of

Today is a workshop day. I didn’t sign up for any workshops, though I thought about it at the last minute.  Instead, I spent the morning working on a presentation I’m doing for the board later this month and after lunch, walking around with my colleague.  There’s also been lots of catching up on email, checking minor things off the to-do list, etc.

It’s kind of nice, really, to be away from the daily realities of work.  It gives me the headspace to think a little and focus on some much-needed tasks that take some brainpower–and quiet–to accomplish.  So, it was a non-work work day of sorts.

Tomorrow, the hustle and bustle of the conference begins.  There will be ideas floating around and lots to think about.  Plus, there are friends to connect with and new people to meet.  I’m looking forward to it!



From this morning's presentation with @ksivick and @lizbdavis at #NAISac: "Ahead of the curve, growing a culture of innovation at your school"


Tomorrow I’m headed out to NAIS, the national conference for independent schools.  I’m going to a workshop tomorrow that’s not affiliated with the conference but coincides with it.  I’m looking forward to it, and to the larger conference that begins on Wednesday.

I generally shy away from big conferences.  I find them impersonal, corporate-esque, and often the sessions cover ground that’s well trod.  I found that to be true of a big conference I went to last year, and let’s not even talk about conferences of my past, MLA and Educause to name just two.  NAIS is a little smaller than those, and it doesn’t take long to know enough people that you can find people to hang out with in the hallways.

For me, those conversations in the hallways are important.  It’s how I process whatever information I’m taking in during the sessions and keynotes.  If I have no one to chat with, I get antsy.   I remember one big conference years ago–10 years, I believe–when everyone I knew at the conference, which was about 10 people, all from small schools, ended up at a table in the hallway together.  We’d escaped our various sessions addressing issues that just didn’t apply to us.

At NAIS, it’s less likely that I’ll be in sessions that don’t apply.  While the schools may vary in size and mission, they don’t vary by that much, not the way higher ed varies.  There’s no The Ohio State compared to Swarthmore.  We’re all pretty similar when it comes down to it.

I’m generally looking forward to catching up with people I haven’t seen in a while, and I’m genuinely hoping to learn some things.  I have specific things I’m looking to gather information and ideas on to bring back to my own school.  In theory, that’s why we go to conferences in the first place!

Maker Mindset

Some of the jewelry and other things that can be printed

Attending STEAMshop at Drexel this weekend got me thinking again about making, what it is, what it means to me.  I’ve long felt that I approach things with a maker mindset.  That is, I look at almost anything as a problem to be solved and as something I could dig in and help solve.  I rarely approach something new and throw up my hands and say, “Nope. Can’t do it.”  The one thing I did do that with, programming, I eventually came around to.

Making in education is closely aligned with things like inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and mastery based assessments.  It is at odds at times with approaches that are concerned primarily with grades or testing, i.e. summative approaches.   Making can look messy and challenging and way beyond one’s ability for both teacher and student.  There’s a certain amount of loss of control on both sides.  Certainly, even those of us who do this work almost daily face challenges.  One of my colleagues is ready to throw his 3D printer out the window because it’s often unreliable and using it isn’t supporting the kind of pedagogy he’s aiming for.  He’s ready to go old school shop class.

When I used to run the #makered chat on Twitter, we often got questions about what equipment to buy and materials to have.  We would often skirt that conversation because for us making was about mindset not about stuff.  We would often joke that as long as you had glitter, glue, and cardboard, you were all set. #glitterchat  Making for us was about hands-on work, letting students guide the learning, failing and learning from failing, and yet, being driven to succeed.  You don’t need a 3D printer for that kind of work.  But at the 10,000 foot level, 3D printing and laser cutting are both easy to explain and look shiny.

My colleagues and I are thinking through how to impart this mindset to our fellow colleagues, and partly to allow them some time to explore the equipment and possibilities of using making in their own classes.  We’re thinking maker happy hour, but haven’t settled on anything yet.

I also think I need to walk the talk a little more.  I haven’t always approached faculty in the same way I’ve approached students, i.e. letting them drive the conversation or generate ideas, etc.  To get back to that, I think I just need to get my hands dirty a little.  I might make time for my own 3D printing, laser cutting, and cardboard and glitter.