Finding my “Why”

Having been granted tenure and promoted to associate professor in 2015, I subsequently Entrance gate University of the Pacificneglected this blog.  I could provide many excuses, but will forego those and, instead, commence writing again.  Although technically I’m no longer “on the road to tenure,” I appreciate the title and don’t really want to set up a new blog.  Maintaining the original blog also provides perspectives that will be of interest, at least to me, as I continue on the road to full professor.

Simon Sinek encourages us to find our “why” – our purpose, if you will, in the things we do.  As I contemplate my academic journey, it would be quite simple (and not uncommon) to stop here.  The title of associate professor carries some gravitas and generally signifies to the academic community that one has achieved a level of academic prowess and been granted tenure.  As a result, the pressure to continue research and service (both to the university and to the broader academic community) is lessened by a considerable amount.  Many people decide that this is the highest academic rank they seek and shift their focus – perhaps more to teaching and different kinds of service.

I will confess that I considered this possibility.  That is, to stop here and to use a sabbatical leave to focus on my teaching in order to return to campus with redesigned courses, new approaches to teaching, and new ideas for service.

As a pre-tenure faculty member, there was clear, defined pressure to meet the requirements for promotion and tenure within a specific period of time.  Failure to meet this deadline would require one to leave the university. Once granted tenure, there is no specific time frame within which one must apply for full professor. Some may remain at the associate faculty level by choice, others may focus on promotion to full professor and stretch out the time for promotion to balance other needs (family obligations, for example).  Some of my colleagues and I, with the encouragement of full professors in our school, have decided to continue moving forward toward full professor and apply for promotion at the first opportunity (typically this is a minimum of five years after being granted tenure and promoted to associate professor).

I am curious about my motivation … what compels me to want to continue this journey when it could be much easier to stop at this point?  In my earlier life I would have been driven by the prestige of the title.  Somehow the title and rank would have been tied to my sense of self-worth rather than some larger purpose.  If seeking the rank of full professor is now tied to something larger, what exactly is that? Part of it is a sense of completion.  I do not begrudge others who decided to remain at the associate faculty level; we have worked hard to reach this point and it’s reasonable to say, “Okay, that’s enough pushing. Let’s see what else I can do.”  For me, the rank of full professor has become my finish line and that not moving forward would seem like an incomplete journey.

In re-reading this blog I just realized something:  A few years ago my goal was, in fact, the rank of associate professor.  I knew I would be satisfied with that accomplishment and that I could define my position differently if that were my end goal.  Two things changed my perspective.  One was our new department chair who encouraged me to see a longer road ahead and to work toward full professor. The other was the actual process of assembling my promotion and tenure portfolio.  My committee members and the external reviewers were so positive about my research and my future that I began to see myself differently … I began to see myself as others see me; I was heartened by their belief in me.

Tenure affords me the opportunity to push my research deeper and to take more risks with my research ideas.  Like many, I took a safe route as a pre-tenure faculty; not really jumping into things that were too edgy or controversial.  Because I like research projects, I can now move forward with some confidence that it is not only okay to tackle riskier research questions – it might actually be expected.  Framing this next part of the journey – from associate to full professor – is exciting.  I have co-authored an article with a former student which took an inordinate amount of time to work through the editorial process.  During this process, I came to appreciate that I’m quite skilled at this work and could support my co-author as she navigated these murky waters for the first time.  Similarly, I co-authored an article with several colleagues which has led to new insights about teaching and learning as well as new friendships with peers.  In co-authoring another article, I provided substantial contributions that strengthened an article I might not have written on my own.

So the “why” of this journey is that this is something I want to do for myself, for students, and for colleagues.  This is an opportunity for professional development; more importantly, it’s an opportunity to create an intentional path forward in ways I haven’t done before.  Without the pressure of a tenure decision, the process is energizing, invigorating, and liberating.

Discovering Disequilibrium

It started innocently enough.  Another post of Facebook with questions that were designed to help people think about their purpose in life.  I usually stay away from these kinds of posts because they typically over-promise and under-deliver … plus, well, it’s Facebook. But, something told me to click on the link.  I was immediately hooked when I read,

So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”

I continued on to the seven questions posed by the author.  In-your-face writing doesn’t always appeal to me, but the questions were intriguing nevertheless.  I started thinking about how I might adapt them so that I could include them as class assignments.  Then I got to question number six: GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO? The narrative below the prompt included the following: Let’s pretend there are no useless websites, no video games, no TV. You have to be outside of the house all day every day until it’s time to go to bed — where would you go and what would you do?

As I thought about this, I knew immediately that I’d want to do what I had been doing over the summer: Tromping around Alaska, kayaking and camping in Glacier Bay, and enjoying the cool, wet weather in Gustavus.  My second thought, and I admit this with trepidation, was: I do not like what I’m doing right now. There. I said it.  Gulp.  Followed by a strong sense of dissonance and discomfort.

This sense of dissonance last a few minutes as I sat, reflected, and thought about this.  What’s not ringing true about this, I wondered.  Oh, yeah:  I love my work.  I have great colleagues, I enjoy teaching, I like advising students and helping them solve problems, and I love service aspect of my work (ways to give back to the community, university, and the profession).  Hunh.  So, what was that earlier thought all about?

Uncertainty.  Let that sit a bit.  Reflect.  Let the mind and heart work this out.

Four days later … I’m driving to work – my commute takes me along Highway 4 through the delta, open space, farm lands, home of hawks, dirt devils, and coyotes.  This little thought continued to niggle at my brain.  Then, light bulb.  The theoretical framework that informs my current research on community college presidents held the answer:  Satir’s change model explains what I’m feeling.  Suddenly I felt like Dorothy in Oz: I had the tools I needed all along.

Virginia Satir developed a model of change that is usually used in family therapy but can be used to describe a variety of change processes.  The six stages of change, as described by Satir are:  initial status quo followed by an external catalyst that alters the status quo and leads to chaos/disequilibrium which gives way to the integration of new learning followed by time to practice new learnings to strengthen new state then ultimately new status quo emerges.

Last semester (spring 2014) I was in a happy status quo as a faculty member: I was comfortable, energized, and engaged.  Then at the end of the semester, I was asked to serve as the Director of the MA – Student Affairs program.  An exciting opportunity (AKA major external catalyst) that knocked me out of my comfortable status quo and … wait for it … into the third stage of change: chaos and disequilibrium.

Of course, I’m uncomfortable.  Disequilibrium is not a fun place to be – we’re off balance; we’re often uncertain; we’re adjusting to new information, new relationships, new expectations, and new ways of being.  A wave of relief washed over me as I made sense of what I was feeling.  Even more important, Satir’s model offers a promise:  Disequilibrium will give way to a new stage where learning comes together and a new state evolves.  The model doesn’t suggest how long the journey will take, but it does provide a way to make sense of the journey from one state of being to another.

Challenging Assumptions

Sometimes I forget that I can go outside to work … how lovely it is when I remember!  I so enjoy being at a coffeehouse (as I am now), sitting, writing, and thinking.  As an added bonus this is time that I’ve actually scheduled to write my blog post.  How nice that I’ve (finally) given myself permission to include my blog in my writing schedule.

It’s interesting to notice how little conversations that we have with ourselves can become ingrained truths that translate to behavior.  My conversation – for a long time – has been that I could only focus on “peer-reviewed” kinds of writing during my designated “writing time” – and that if I were writing a blog post this would have to occur in a separate, additional writing block.  What I find so fascinating is that this assumption then became a paradigm for my writing life … it became the reality for how I structured/scheduled/shaped my time … and guess what I noticed?  In that paradigm I don’t write blog posts very frequently.

Sunday night while I was working on my weekly plan, I scheduled my writing time, exercise, class prep, meetings, and so on.  Like many weeks, the schedule is pretty full, but does include some flexibility, some built-in breathing room.  As I looked over the schedule I asked myself, “When am I going to write my blog?” Rather than trying to squeeze in another block of time, I simply looked at Monday and designated it as blogging day.

And just like that my hidden assumptions were revealed.  “It’s that simple?” I asked myself.  “Interesting,” I thought as I realized how my assumptions had been limiting my thinking and my behavior, and the choices I was making relation to my writing.  In this moment of clarity I expanded my definition of my writing time and today am blogging.

By scheduling the dedicated time to blogging I was also able to calculate how long the task actually takes (see Step #3 in creating a weekly plan).  This week I ended up needing two writing blocks:  One to write out the blog (which I did by long-hand at the coffeehouse and found it to be immensely satisfying; the handwritten effort also seemed to keep the internal editor at bay) and another block to transcribe the blog.  The process of transcription provided an opportunity for additional reflection and a bit of editing.

So next week when I’m preparing my weekly schedule, I’ll include my regular writing blocks of time and designate two for blogging!

Empowering Learners

Sometimes an assignment just doesn’t feel right to a student — maybe it doesn’t “click” with their interests for a variety of reasons.  But as teachers/learning facilitators we may not know that students feel that way about the assignment until the assignment has been completed.  This semester even though I’ve worked on putting more of the learning activities into the hands of students, there are still some structured assignments that I’ve created.  And while I (obviously) believe the assignments are solid and that they meet the learning objectives, some students may want more and some may want something different.

In her blog post, Dr. Meggin McIntosh, offers a strategy that can provide a way for students to (a) express any reservations they have  prior to beginning the assignment and (b) propose an alternate assignment that meets the same learning objectives.  I’m looking forward to incorporating this idea into future classes.  Check it out here:  Eliminate Complaints about Assignments.

Word Cloud: Teaching and Learning

Not quite how I expected this to turn out…

At the beginning of a semester, I try to find ways for students to get to know each other before we begin our work together.  I often select an activity called “Where I’m From” that provides students with a template to create a poem about themselves.  After briefly introducing the activity, I ask students to work on the poem over the next week, bring a printed copy to the next class session, and upload an electronic copy to our course site on Sakai. I also let students know that sharing the poem (either in class or electronically) is optional, that if they prefer to keep the poem private to let me know.

My poem

Here’s a wee picture of my poem. Click on it for a better view.

Each semester that I’ve facilitated this activity, it has gone so well that I didn’t prepare for a time when it might not.  And while I wouldn’t say that the activity failed this semester, I would say that it didn’t go as well as I had hoped or as well as it has in the past

So, what was different?  There were more students who didn’t complete the poem, who completed the poem but forgot to bring it to class, and who said they didn’t want to share it with the larger group.  Because I work with graduate students, I often don’t share my work first. My thinking is that I want to create space for others to go first.  I had uploaded the electronic version of my poem, but thought it would be better to not be the first to share in class.  Students did share in small groups, pairs and triads, but in both classes there was an unusual amount of reluctance to share with the larger group.

When we talked about this, some students thought their poem wasn’t good enough, wasn’t poetic enough.  Students were, admittedly, feeling more vulnerable than other groups had in the past: they shared that they didn’t feel ready to write about their family or they didn’t want to share specific personal stories; for some, the recent death of a loved one made writing the poem much too emotional. I’m still sitting with these reactions, looking for ways to build connections in our learning community and pondering the differences between this semester and prior semesters.

In thinking how I might re-structure this activity for the future some things occur to me:

When introducing the activity during the first class session, (1) clarify the learning goals (that is, community building is an essential component of the classes I lead; building community provides a foundation for learning together), (2) show a video of the poem (there are lots of examples on YouTube), and (3) read my poem.

It would be helpful to remind people to try to follow the template without any judgment about the quality, without any second-guessing.  It’s easy to get in our heads and become overly critical of our work; kicking out that internal editor can be liberating.  It might be helpful to talk about the types of emotions that can surface during this kind of reflection.  Finally, I think it would be good to remind people that they can be creative with the template and that, if after completing the poem they would rather keep it private, that this is okay.

During the second session, I’ll ask students to work in pairs and talk about what it was like to write the poem.  For example, was it easier or harder than they expected?  What surprised them about the experience?  I could also ask these types of questions in the large group.

In terms of sharing their poems, in both the large and small groups, I would remind students that they don’t have to share if they don’t want to; if they do want to share they can either share the entire poem or just one line that they think will help us get to know them better.

Perhaps it would be helpful to show another video of a poem at the beginning of the second session.  It’s unclear whether students found the videos helpful or intimidating. It does seem that the videos illustrate the ways that each person’s poem can vary; at the same time, the elegance of the videos might cause some people to think that whatever they have to say won’t measure up.

And, maybe, it was just too early in the semester for the poem.  Perhaps we needed more time to get to know each other on a “safer” level before jumping into this.  I want to ask students about their experiences with the poem, but I think they need to be able to provide feedback anonymously…and I think they need some weeks to pass in order to reflect back on the experience and share their thoughts. I know I’ll keep thinking about this for awhile to see how I might approach this activity in the future.

Change is Inevitable, but is Transformation?

A note about this re-blog (from Delores): I wandered over to WordPress to post my thoughts today about receiving a manuscript from a student who has made an amazing breakthrough in her writing: She has found her voice. On my way to post this, I saw this blog about change … In the case of the student I’m advising, transformation was necessary in order for her to find her voice. I’m so honored to part of the journey.

A Librarian by Any Other Name

My colleague, Mary Piorun, is defending her doctoral dissertation this afternoon. (Woohoo!! Go, Mary! Go!) To help her get ready, a bunch of us listened to her give her presentation earlier this week. Her topic is on transformational change in organizations, in particular, this type of change in academic libraries today. I found it to be pretty interesting stuff, not just as it relates to our work in eScience and data management (the focus of Mary’s research question), but the bigger topic of how organizations change, in general. Transformation suggests significant shifts in one’s thinking, behavior, environment, etc. How do such changes happen? What are the components of the change and how do leaders usher their organization through them? Don’t ask me, ask Mary. She’s the one who’s spent the last several years reading and thinking and writing about it. You can reach her at… 

But seriously, as a librarian in…

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Blogging for Whom?

blue royal typewriterI love reading good blogs … there are so many great blogs floating around and I frequently wish that I wrote as eloquently as others do.  I think this is what stops me from writing more often:  I just don’t think my writing is good enough.  As I thought more about this statement I realized that I haven’t really answered an essential question:  Am I blogging for myself or for others? Probably for both.  My initial goal for this blog was to reflect on my journey towards tenure; the idea was to reflect on what I was learning & experiencing as I took small — and large — steps on this path.  The initial audience, I suppose, was intended to be the university promotion and tenure committee, my pre-tenure committees, colleagues, and myself.  I hope it can be helpful to other pre-tenure faculty who are navigating their own journeys and to students who often have a lot of questions about the tenure and promotion process; perhaps my blogs can shed some light on what it’s like to work toward tenure — and why tenure even matters.

As we wrap up another semester, I feel good about the ways I’ve prepared my tenure portfolio and feel that the portfolio reflects what I’ve done as a faculty member at Pacific.  The act of preparing and developing the portfolio over the past few years not only helped me clarify my goals, philosophy, and research, it helped me really begin to see myself as a faculty member.  More than just about anything else, the portfolio turned out to be critical to my identity development as a faculty member.  Working onn it, I’ve been able to see how I’m contributing to the university as well as to the profession; I’ve seen that I’m doing things that university faculty do — and I feel good about it.  The pre-tenure process allows me to consciously develop as a faculty member by setting specific professional goals then reflecting the ways I’m meeting those goals.  It has been one of the best professional development experiences in my career, perhaps because of the intentionality of the process as well as the reflective practice.

The portfolio itself is a handy way to present myself to others, including future students. I’ll continue to work on it over the next few months to tune it up so it’s ready for Fall 2014 when I go up for tenure review.  But I don’t see it ever being a “finished” document; rather, it’s something I’ll continue working on to provide evidence of my work as a faculty member.  As with my portfolio, I’ll continue working on this blog because it provides a place for me to think about and reflect on my work as a faculty member.  Future topics for the blog include: why tenure matters, the initial journey (from pre-tenure assistant to tenured associate professor), and the road from associate to full professor (it’s a different journey, with different expectations).

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