Category: Doctoral Studies

Looking Back, Looking Forward

From a blog post I wrote on 23 December 2013:

If nothing else, hopefully it will be an entry I can look back on this time next year, as I’m preparing to graduate, and laugh at, remembering that time I panicked unnecessarily and frantically spat out a blog post full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I remember very clearly where I was when I wrote this: in the same place I’m sitting now, on the leftmost cushion of my living room couch, feet up on the coffee table, in a semi-dark room lit primarily by our Christmas tree.  I remember it so clearly because of the emotions I was experiencing at the time: self-doubt, panic, and a sense of being overwhelmed that I have rarely felt before or since.  I had just recently had a meeting with my dissertation committee and was told that there needed to be major revisions to my proposal (maybe “overhaul” is a better word) before they would approve me to begin my research.  While I was expecting to have to make some revisions, what was described to me in the meeting was unexpected, to put it mildly.

A lot has happened in the year since.  As I’ve documented in multiple posts here, of course, I did make those revisions, conduct my research, and successfully defend my dissertation (you can read it here if you need help falling asleep) over the following months.

Additionally, I received a very nice compliment in the form of one of my committee members asking me to sit on future dissertation committees for qualitative studies because I “really get qualitative research” (I have to say, I really enjoyed this part of my research much more than looking at the quantitative data in my mixed-methods study).

I was also one of five graduating doctoral students asked to present their research at a poster session at my university’s Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month.  Oddly enough, two sick children and a lack of emergency child care kept me housebound that day, but I was still able to present due to some quick thinking and the magic of Skype and its screen-sharing function.

Finally, I was asked last week to give the commencement address at my own graduation ceremony next month.  This is an incredible honor, albeit an entirely unexpected one, so I’ll be spending some time during the winter holiday break sketching out some thoughts to share with my fellow graduates – a much better use of my time than the panicking and stressing that occupied most of my break last year.

So anyway, yeah, it’s been an eventful year.  I’m not laughing as I look back on last year’s blog post, because even with the perspective granted by distance, I still feel my concerns were well-founded, but I got through it – maybe not as quickly, cleanly, or efficiently as I would have liked, but I got through it.

Scrolling back through my archives, it seems I’ve been blogging about doctoral studies since early 2009, when I was bemoaning the lack of opportunities for study for people who were employed full-time.  I guess this revisiting of my panic post from last year is my way of putting a bow on this topic on this blog, at least for the foreseeable future.  It’s done.  I’m done.  Dr. Damian is in the house.

I mentioned in the spring that I’ve started a new leg of my career in that I am now an administrator in my school district.  Between finishing up the dissertation and starting a new job, time and energy for blogging have both been understandably scarce.

I have never liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but maybe since the end of my doctoral program JUST HAPPENS to come at this time of year, next month would be a good time to resume a more regular blogging schedule of 1-2 times per month.  It’s something I’ve been looking forward to, and while time and energy have been scarce, topics and thoughts have most certainly been in abundant supply.

A few weeks ago, I saw a link come across Twitter: it was John Spencer’s “Advice for New Bloggers“.  Perfect, I thought – I’m by no means a new blogger, but maybe a little structure and fresh perspective will help me jump start this thing for 2015.  I clicked on the link, eager for some bullet-pointed guidance, but what I found was this:

Write whatever the hell you want to write.

Instead of instruction, I got affirmation.  I’ll take it.  Happy New Year; see you in 2015.

Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

I included an Acknowledgements page early in my dissertation to thank all the people who have supported me in one way or another throughout my doctoral studies.  Since most of the people I thank will never read the thing, I thought I would reproduce that page here in order to thank them all in a more public venue:

***

So thanks to all at once, and to each one…
Macbeth, V.viii.75

I owe a debt of gratitude to a great many people for a great many reasons:

To my parents, who instilled in me from an early age the persistence and perspective that has guided me in all my personal, professional, and academic pursuits.

To the men and women of Wilmington University’s Ed.D. Cohorts 21 and 22, with whom I have shared laughter, frustration, grief, and joy over the last three years.

To my colleagues at Lawrence Township Public Schools, whose passion, professionalism, collegiality, and commitment to kids make going to work a joy.

To the faculty and staff of the Wilmington University Ed.D. program, especially program adviser Dr. Lynne Svenning, internship field adviser Dr. Sande Caton, and program administrative assistant Ms. Ann Gibason, all of whom have helped bring me back down to Earth when stress levels ran high.

To my dissertation committee chair Dr. Michael Czarkowski and committee members Dr. Pamela Curtiss, Dr. Tony Marchio, and Dr. Linda Frazer, for the unique expertise and guidance each brought to this study.

Finally, to the faculty and staff of Wellbrook School District, who gave so freely of their time to a complete stranger and without whom this study would not have been possible.

 ***

Of course, no expression of gratitude would be complete without the Dedication page that precedes the Acknowledgements:

This dissertation is dedicated to my wife, Stephanie, and my children, Dylan and Kiera, whose unconditional love and support have been instrumental in completing this journey.  We did this.  I love you all, forever and always.

Achievement Unlocked!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing.  Over 200 pages and 30 PowerPoint slides later, today I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, Sustaining distributed leadership: Lessons learned from a case study of Delaware middle schools.

I am both elated and exhausted.  If anyone needs me, I’ll be asleep for the next six months or so.

Periscope down…

Latest Greatest Hits

Happy Labor Day, and Happy New (School) Year’s Eve for many of you!

I’m actually writing this post in early August in anticipation of being pretty overwhelmed and without much time for blogging in early September, between starting my new job and heading down the final stretch of my dissertation journey.  Since I haven’t posted a rerun updated my “Damian’s Favorites” post category in awhile, I thought I’d link some of the items I’ve recently added:

Resume, Cover Letter… Blog?: My thoughts on how an online presence is at least useful, if not essential, in getting yourself a job in education these days, as well as my own story and some outlining of how and why I do what I do.

300 Miles: The more I learn, read, and hear about the importance of goal-setting, the better I realize it’s not just buzzy edu-jargon but (if done well) an essential tool in making progress.  This is one such example.

Don’t Break the Chain: More on meeting goals, but focusing on the journey there and how one comedian set himself up for success.  Simple and silly as it may sound, it has helped me enormously in my efforts to complete my doctoral dissertation.

What Will They Remember? #FergusonThoughts inspired by the death of Michael Brown and your students’ responses.  They will remember how you made them feel.

Whether you start tomorrow or you’ve been back for weeks already, my best wishes to you and your students for a fantastic 2014-2015!

Don’t Break the Chain

Dissertation work has been going swimmingly, thanks for asking.  If we’re connected on Facebook or Twitter you are probably sick of me posting about the minutiae of my progress each day, and you’ve also seen me hashtag my Tweets #dontbreakthechain.

The idea of “don’t break the chain” comes from an article I’ve seen pop up several times over the last few years but to which I never gave much thought until now.  This 2007 article from Lifehacker outlines Jerry Seinfeld’s clever method of motivating himself to continue writing new material:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

Did Seinfeld actually say this?  Who knows.  The Internet is rife with stories attributing profound ideas or sayings to celebrities that may or may not be true.  The principle behind it, however, is one that I’ve actually used before, although not deliberately, in setting and meeting goals:

  • Whenever I do my 365 Picture-A-Day projects, seeing the daily photos and dates lining up one after the other motivates me to not “break the chain”.
  • The “Archives” list in this blog’s sidebar motivates me to blog at least once per month in order to not “break the chain” of months (if you actually care to look, you’ll see I’ve only missed one month in seven years).
  • I have to lift weights three times per week in order to not “break the chain” of steady progression.

I’m now applying that principle to my dissertation work.  I returned home from vacation on 11 July 2014, so 12 July was my first day on the chain.   Since then, I have made a concerted effort to work on some aspect of my dissertation every day.  Sometimes it’s for 30-45 minutes, sometimes it’s 4 hours.  The point is, as long as I put some work in, I mark the day off.

You can use any kind of calendar, physical or digital, for this task.  I’m using a website called (of course) Don’t Break the Chain; they have a Chrome plugin that allows me to see and update my calendar right from the browser:

dontbreakthechainI’ve only been at it for about two weeks now so it remains to be seen if this will help me maintain productivity in the long run, but I can say that chipping away at this monumental task little by little every day has helped me to stave off the feelings of self-doubt and paralysis I’ve written about previously.  With deadlines fast approaching (I need to have Chapter Four done and submitted by 1 Sept if I have any hope of defending in November), I’ll use any trick and take any advantage I can get.