on leadership and letting go…
January 30, 2015
Today I am so glad it’s almost Friday, almost the weekend, almost the time when I can be safely ensconced in two non-working days and not have a pavlovian reaction to my email alert tone. It’s been one of “those” weeks where you almost become conditioned to the fact that the sky will fall and you will completely shatter at least once per day (and indeed just once per day becomes grace.) I’m sure I’m being overly dramatic and in the long view of things this week will resolve but legit in this moment I’m pretty confident I’ve had more energy shortly after completing a marathon than I currently have now.
In an effort to model good reflective practice (and also with the hope that if I can write a significant portion of this out it means I will actually free up my racing mind and I will get to sleep a full night…finally) I’ll embrace objective academic and just list and annotate what I’ve observed in this week’s ethnography of lisa.
1. saying goodbye to people when they leave roles in your life that have been pillars in who you are is hard. always. even if you know it’s the right thing and you know they’re not leaving you and you know all the nice sounding stuff is true. it’s still a gut wrenching feeling of loss because there’s now this part of you that’s raw and missing. i’m old enough to know that it fills in and it resolves but yeah…this kind of somewhat internal ache is so hard and I’ve spent the week with what feels like a bruise on my soul that won’t heal anytime soon.
2. being humbled because you’ve been called on your own tendency to live in shades of gray rather than be black and white rule abiding is hard. always. My key strengths are my ability to take risks, try out things with confidence, and have a free thinking non-linear explorative spirit…except when I have to explain myself to a system based on rigid check and balance process and then the above become my key weaknesses. while I’m no longer actively in trouble, I’m glad that I know the boundaries of the play ground and have adjusted my scope of experimentation accordingly. “I’m sorry” has become the script of my week.
3. being completely vulnerable and transparent with those you lead is hard….but always the best way. When the above situation happened I was very open about my struggles and what was going on with my closest team members. It literally felt like i was about 12, I was going to vomit, and they were finally going to see me for the sham that the darker voices in my head talk about on a daily basis. Yet after I’d gotten it out, totally cliche but, it was freedom because they saw new parts of me and even more were allowed to speak into me rather than the usual me-to-them transaction.
4. the hardest thing about being a leader is opening your own grabby little fists and trusting your team. (indeed, the hardest part of being a person might be opening up your grabby little fists and trusting others, time, and process.) when I accepted this job almost a year ago, I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations because I was such a poor public speaker…I was petrified that I wouldn’t know how to balance my time and I’d burn out…I was convinced that no one would follow my lead and all my ideas were too crazy or bizarre to ever inspire others. Turns out, presentations (or at least distance-mediated ones) are cake. Balancing time is tricky but luckily I do have a pretty good “stop or I will stop for you” balance on my body itself. Ideas? Position and passion pretty much ensure that people will jump on the bandwagon…keeping them is anyone’s guess but getting them isn’t so hard.
But yeah…letting go is something so completely different. For whatever reason (and I’m taking the Leadership Theory course right now so you’d think if anyone knew the answer it would be me) it feels natural for me to say that I’d be willing to sacrifice myself for my team as I am their leader but to give them stuff to do….eek! I’m not weak! I’m not needy!! I’m all powerful and in charge!!! Or at least I like to tell myself these things.
In truth, I am strong and courageous but so is every person on my team. By virtue of timing and choosing and who knows what…I ended up as the “leader” but with that title I didn’t suddenly also get superpowers.
Then things like this week happen and you end up messy and human and anything but a superhero in front of your team and turns out…just where you end is the perfect place for all of them to begin. It turns out that you’ve been feeling noble as you shelter them but really they’re more than willing for the relationship to be reciprocal…more than capable of holding you when you need it, if you will only let them.
I didn’t have many proud moments this week but I did have a proud moment realizing that the culture I’ve been hoping for for oh the last year is actually a reality. We can be open. We can be real people with each other. We can open our grabby hands because it is safe. I can (and have) opened my hands to them because it is safe and in a act of grace and beauty…they’ve opened theirs in return.
So, what’s next? Hopefully lots of sleep and some quiet. Though I’m finding resolution more and more, this week scarred me pretty deep and I want to grow and not gloss over these new places in me that have opened up.
Ahh life….What a fun and frustrating challenge you often turn into.
on the benefits of lurking and looking back…
January 26, 2015
This term in addition to my 804 course I am a “lurker” in the 802 course that is also running concurrently. I took 802 officially last year (as a refresher, it was the course where I was pretty sure would either lead me to thesis nirvana or make me drop out of the program because my brain would explode. Turns out, neither happened but I did finish up with way more confidence about the research process and way more humility about myself as an academic.)
Because 802 is run not in the closed LMS of Moodle but in the semi-open platform of The Landing (the Athabasca social network site…immortalized in such techno remixes as this one) once you’ve survived 802, you remain a member of the group permanently. This permanent membership means you can watch what’s going on (provided you weren’t so scarred from your own experience that you turned off all notifications) and even participate in the group again if you so choose. Though I’ve had neither the courage nor inclination to do the later, I’ve been very actively engaging in the former, watching a whole new crop of eager students tentatively define their epistemology and ontology as their first discussion assignment and generally begin wrestling with some pretty hefty content.
As I’m the youngest child by many years I don’t know if it’s quite the correct analogy but as I read responses from cohort 7 I can’t help but feel like an older sister to them all…charmed by their earnestness, a little worried for them regarding the “growing up” challenges I know they will face in the next few months, and overall so proud to see who they are becoming. I didn’t think it would be feasible to build cross-cohort relationships that had any meaning or depth but through the looking glass that The Landing has become, I’m beginning to become a believer that it might actually be possible. We all have shared experiences now and there’s no reason this open space can’t be the catalyst to connect us. Granted, cohort 7 will never be the somewhat blood-family that cohort 6 is to me but still…I love that we can all build community and enrich each other through this doctoral process. If we were all at a brick and mortar school for sure we’d be checking each other out and swapping resources and secretly envying/admiring/being inspired by each others work. In the absence of physical hallways and chance coffee shop encounters, The Landing seems to be a more than decent substitution.
In addition, as I’ve been watching their engagement it is taking me back to my own thoughts and ideas when I was in 802. I remember first being asked about my own ontology and my own epistemology and being pretty sure that defining those two things was equivalent to asking me to speak Chinese. But after some research, lots of trial and error, and a healthy dose of rye, I did manage to pin down my own views, namely that truth is contextual, dynamic and changes based on experience, narrative, and environment. Knowledge is personal and subjective assembled through connections and worked out through social interactions. In 802, I called myself an anti-positivist who embraced nominalism and pragmatism with a twist of critical theory for good measure…a year later, those definitions, with a few subtle nuances, still remain core pillars of who I am. As cohort 7 goes through each discussion and project, I’m eager to see how the lisa-of-last year compares to the lisa-of-today.
I am sure there have been articles written delving more into the research, reasons, cautions, and benefits of cohort cross pollination and as I am now beginning to have some good first person qualitative experience…I’m curious to explore.
But…all that scholarship can wait for another day. For now all I have to say is…you go cohort 7! Jump into discussions, wrestle with these gnarly brain-bending ideas, and truly give it your all knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles. In addition to fabulous supervisors and a rock star instructor, you’ve got eight cheerleaders from cohort 6 ready to shout encouragements if you ever appear to be slowing down. It sounds quite cliche but your learning really is all of our learning and your courage to do something so vulnerable in an open space helps us all be courageous and open too. Persist even when it gets overwhelming. This will test you in ways that feel like they are far beyond your breaking point but in the end…this experience will change you for so much the better…just as it did for us.
you are not your computer…
January 25, 2015
This past week my supervisor posted (and clearing expressed his disdain of) a link on twitter to an article that said something along the lines of… “if computers replaced teachers in online learning, the world would be a better place.” (Admittedly, this is a bit of simplification on the article but the overall gist was: teachers cost money, need benefits, have all sorts of emotions/personalities/quirks and generally are a major drain on institutional finances but magical computers work endlessly, need no benefits and only have the feelings one programs into them thus are an institutional win.) I responded off the cuff about how my Mac was probably going to replace him in the near future since as the article said, who needs humans if computers can teach everything? He responded back in a sage, supervisory way by saying that the focus is never teaching but rather learning and that computers can’t actually “teach” rather they aggregate. Then he continued on by saying that as I already spend way more time working on my thesis with my Mac than working on my thesis with him…maybe we are already at the point where my Mac had replaced him….As I spend about 18 hours a day with my Mac…yeah, I’d say he makes a valid point!
It was a fun short twitter exchange to begin my day and yet it did make me think a lot about this very odd distance mediated world of teaching and learning that I’m living in and that has become my own default framework.
For example in my day to day job…
100% of the interactions I have with my own team of direct reports are mediated by a computer or a phone.
100% of the interactions I have with the students enrolled in my program are mediated by a computer or a phone.
100% of the assignments created, books read, lectures attended, etc. in the program I head are are mediated by a computer.
And then in my doctoral studies…
100% of the interactions I have with my cohort (who I consider to be almost family) are mediated by a computer
100% of the content of my doctoral program is mediated by a computer
and regarding the supervisor mentioned above, thus far…
95% of all communication over the past 18 months has been mediated by not just a computer but primarily using the 140 character microblog format of Twitter
I am an educator working to teach students the skill of graphic design—something that has always been taught via close proximity studio methodology—and 100% of what I do is geographically distributed and technology mediated. I am a human, my students are humans, my staff are humans, my cohort and supervisor are humans and yet as we’ve never “seen” or even been in the same timezone…it all could actually be a gigantic sophisticated Turing test.
It feels so mundane when I live it day to day and yet to see all these facts written out…so so so crazy that the system is even allowed to exist, let alone thrive.
There is no part of me that ever thinks that my computer could replace my supervisor just as there is no part of me that ever thinks that my computer could replace any of the instructors on my team because I believe so strongly in the power of the humans behind all of this new fangled technology.
And yet, how does one get to this place of seeing the human even as it’s fully interpreted by blind code and then transported via cables and satellites and flat screen projectis? How do people become real in such a different, non-human atmosphere? For me it feels so natural because I’ve lived in this place for so long and been learning in this distanced mediated system for almost 10 years, beginning with my MFA.
I’m beginning to think I’m not the norm…I’m beginning to think I’m the anomaly in all of this and yet if I could understand myself better perhaps I could help untangle these ideas for others.
vacation, Freire, and being 33
January 20, 2015
This week I turned 33. If I were a Tolkien character who lived in the shire…this would be quite significant. As I’m a girl who lives in a pseudo-subterranean studio and have a tiny dog who would not at all be out of place in a hobbit hole, I’m going to say this new age, while not “quite significant” feels appropriately exciting.
To celebrate another new year, I took the last four days off of work (admittedly, this sounds anticlimactic as half of that span was the weekend but…I’m an educator, who works from home, for an online program, which translates to I never really “leave” work.)
As I had extra time on my hands I caught up on Twitter, learned about MMCP and decided to jump in as it was fortuitously just beginning. I don’t know much about critical pedagogy but love Hybrid Pedagogy so if this new thing is representative of the thoughtful stuff that might be about to happen…count me in! (also, everybody with free time joins Moocs….right? hahaa…)
First up is a reading from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Though I’m a second year doctoral student, I’ve never read straight Freire because I thought it was a bit too heady for me. Turns out, either my tolerance for headiness has increased or (as is much more likely) it’s just a great all-around read. The theme of Ch. 2 (and disclaimer: this is super simplified and only my take on things) is: relationships, narrative, and the somewhat imbedded structure that seem to keep inequalities in place.
The “banking method” of education is brought up, along with the general lack of dialogue. It seems because knowledge is very one-way, students lack the necessary skills to think critically and creatively thus the system perpetuates. The solution seems to be willingness for those in power to relinquish a bit of control so that others can became human and contribute as opposed to being meaningless pieces in the system.
As an academic thinking about these ideas in theory, these are challenging ideas to ponder. As an actual program dean whose job description falls more along the “oppressor” side of the equation….these are sobering ideas that make me wish I’d decided to spend my break reading Bachelor spoilers.
How comfortable am I with dialogue between myself and my staff? How about my students? Are my team members people I’m mindlessly depositing information into or are they valued humans as we co-create our program? How about my students? What has died in my hands because I am holding onto it with white knuckled control? Where is there no room for dialogue or communication because my words are the only ones painted on the walls?
These questions aren’t going to be answered in the clarity of a blog post and I’m not even sure I need to aim for answers deposited safely. More, I’m very glad that the questions have begun to roll around in my mind. Though I say I’m a creative at heart, I can’t deny I am a product of the banker education structure and the longer I lead the more I feel in myself the urge to control and the need to always be the one making every deposit…having every great idea.
My Freire encounter has served as a cautionary check point. I’m curious how prodding deeper and actually dialoging without the express purpose of concrete answers will go. Through community, I am hopeful the deposits will be far greater than any I could scrounge up from the dusty cushions of my own experience.
first day of 804!
January 16, 2015
What’s a first day of school without a first day of school picture, eh?
Thus, here is mine complete with fur scarf to reflect my pseudo-Canadianism, iPhone headset to reflect my graphic design heritage, and no makeup to reflect my new-found commitment to letting my inner beauty and the light of my intellect be what shines through. To quote the great work of cinema that is Clueless, “…as if!” More like today was filled with lots of administrative busy work and trying to tie up loose ends thus in the grand scheme of time usage…something had to give. Luckily we’re a webcam off kind of class!
Verdict on day 1: awesome.
I am pretty sure I want Dr. Marti to adopt Ruby and I so we can just be around her. With other instructors I’ve said that they have parts of them that I hope I can emulate in my academic practice—their student engagement, their curiosity, their absolute passion for detail and precision. For Dr. M. I pretty much want to be just like her when I grow up. She’s amazingly grounded and humble and yet she’s literally written the books on so many of the most prevalent ideas in distance education. When she listens, she really listens and then responds with something drawn from her past explorations that make you think she’s not just listened for a pause in your speech so she could interject but that she’s listened to you because you’re a human who she can learn from and she’s totally eager to build connections with you. And it all happens in a distance mediated format! Which is awesome.
I know this week I’ve been sheepish at best about this course as I’ve felt totally beyond my league and yet after this week I’m thinking my main goal is to soak up as much as possible of this privilege that is this course from this genius of distance ed. The content will be good I’m sure as will the assignments but I think what might be the best part is learning from Dr. Marti a bit more.
Which leads me easily into my next point. Because I never officially made new years resolutions at the turn of the year (and tomorrow’s my birthday so what better day than tomorrow to set some things in ink?) I have a somewhat short list of what I’d like to “resolve” this year. In prepping for writing tonight I looked back at what I was writing last year at this time. It was fun to revisit the Lisa-of-2014 knowing what I now know about how the year unfolded. Apparently I was all ready to have clarity about my thesis topic by summer and once more that will enter into things since maybe this summer I will actually have something! But anyways….if nothing else I am getting much more open-handed each month with this whole process and I think perhaps that is a very good thing…perhaps process really is where it’s at. : )
1. read more both academic stuff and fun mental-break stuff
2. be curious about people + listen actively (no really….LISTEN and BE PRESENT)
3. use ALL my vacation days
4. before doing any project ask myself: am I doing this because it’s the absolute best fit for me to do it? OR am I doing it because I want to be in control of the situation/want to receive credit for this/am afraid to ask for help?
5. return to affirming the humanity in people. start with myself.
January 14, 2015
Over break I became a reading machine, hopeful that if I ingested enough of other people’s brilliance I’d finally be able to give legs to all the amorphous thesis ideas that have been floating around my head this fall. Turns out, there aren’t quite legs to but I have sent out enough tentative shoots and connections that I’m fairly confident at some point in the near future I’ll have enough courage to write an email to my adviser saying summarizing my thoughts and seeing how they check out by someone with a larger vantage point. (By “near future” I most likely mean probably that I’ll write my ideas in my 2015 Christmas card as every time I think I have reached something that feels right a new tweet appears, I serendipitously encounter a new article, or I lose a few weeks of my life to whatever the flavor of the day work crises happens to be afoot. : )
But anyways, over break I did a lot of investigating on arts-based research, remixed dissertations, and generally people who were doing things that were a little fringe and a lot awesome. I really really want to follow in this pathway with what I do and the only thing stopping me (well, apart from the whole topic thing) is that deep down, I kind of love writing. Like really love it and think in some perverse way spending a long time writing something massive would be terrible and magnificent at the same time. So, I want to follow the arts-based pathway but there’s a pretty solid chance I’ll still be writing lots but hopefully can integrate some other stuff in as well.
One person I found particularly interesting in this journey was Nick Sousanis. Nick is probably the first person ever to do his total dissertation in comic format and….it. is. amazing. His premise is that the world of academia/education has become very flat because it’s so focused on the written word and so divorced from the visual/embodied experience of being a human. His thesis is a look at visual literacy and even more a call to re-evaluate people as actual people whose perceptions, senses, etc require a holistic approach rather than the continued deification of word only. It’s provocative and I think very timely as with so much technology now and people “becoming their own designers” and images being seen worldwide, those who know how to use words are powerful but true power lies in the cohesive and considered pairing of words and images. Much like graphic design….hahaaa….not that I’m biased or anything.
Nick’s dissertation is being published by Harvard University Press in the spring which is crazy amazing. I think his work has opened and will continue to open so many new doors to people with excellent ideas but who may have formerly been outside of academia or at most on its fringe. I know for me I’m ready to write him into my acknowledgements page because, though I’ve not yet read his book, from what I’ve seen its a total discipline-bending piece, equally academic treatise/coffee table marvel/hipster philosophical book club. Best of all it ennobles comics and shows that yes indeed, this is important work.
So…my new goal is to figure out how I can craft a unique discipline-bending flow of my own into my work. I already kind of want to appropriate his “unflattening” idea into my own piece and since we’re now Twitter pals I’m sure he will be cool with it. Now to find just what will populate this discipline-bending work of genius……
and so it begins once more….
January 13, 2015
…then the first day of the new term comes and all the bravado I had about getting pre-reading done for the first two weeks and thinking all this will come easily since I already am in a position of leadership fades quickly into a churning sea of deep uncertainty and…if I’m totally honest…deep insecurity. It turns out day dreaming about something that’s surrounded by the safe buffer of “future” is one thing but jumping headlong into it when it becomes “present” is something entirely different.
804 has officially begun. 804. Which means 801, 802, and 803 are all in the books, complete. Which means I’m so fully a second year, have committed so much of myself to this both mentally and financially and…there’s pretty much no going back. On the positive side, 804 means I’ve had enough classes in my experience that I am a bit more mentally prepared. I know that the feels of nausea and being an impostor and nearly reflex reaction of wanting to curl up into the fetal position until summer won’t kill me (and indeed it is possibly to type while in a posture that almost approximates the fetal position.) In addition I know that the truth is I do have what it takes and over the past 18 months there have been some pretty hefty deposits from much more sage academics into the bank of my own budding self-image as an academic.
So, off I go once more….into the unknown of 804 with my own little metaphorical knapsack of encouraging notes, ideas in tiny sprout form, and brimming flask of whiskey. And so to my my sister and brother in the cohort 6 community this term: May the road be scenic. May our fellow travelers be friendly. May the places along the way be hospitable. May the words be ever in our favor.
2015 and back to it…
January 6, 2015
Woohoo! New Year! Time for renewed blogging resolutions, right? Every day writing! Every day reflecting! Every month great American novel composing because I wake up an hour early and write my little heart out with tender, sensitive, academic prose! Who’s in???
And not because I’m not a great dreamer but rather because I know the tole my 15 day run of academic writing took on me way back in November. It was legit a great experience but that coupled with lots of 803 assignments and working like a maniac in my day job made me run dry on words. By dry I don’t mean just no longer clever or witty but dry like in the last few days before break it almost physically hurt to form sentences in emails because the words were just gone. I have a feeling this may be what thesis writing will feel like. If so…eeek. But, good news is a two week long holiday break later filled with lots of reading, lots of sleeping, lots of eating, and lots of drinking, the word bucket is once more filled up and ready to be parceled out on the little neglected blog.
804 begins next week (I think….since the 803 disaster I’ve become a little less cognizant of actual start dates and have taken a more “it will begin when it begins” approach) and as a way to start things off our instructor asked us to take a short survey reflecting on what we want out of the class (or our goals/what will be a “win” for us), our experiences in leadership (or what sort of baggage we’re bringing to the class), and anything we think that she should know about the cohort that will make all of our lives easier in the next term.
I think it’s a fabulous idea to do the whole reflection thing before anything gets started. Our prof this term is the head of the department so I suppose it only follows that she’s got more vested into the program thus might make a better showing than a certain previous prof who shall remain nameless. She also gave us the first two weeks readings so we could all be prepped up for the first day, whenever that might be. I’ve never done pre-reading for a class but given that I had time and was word starved, I did it and it’s been great so far. Even if the class nosedives from here, I’ve taken enough good stuff from the readings thus far to set me on a good path. So, overall verdict is thus far…all the good feels for 804.