Category: Reflection

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.

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!

What Will They Remember? #Ferguson

Just some memories and questions that were inspired by Rafranz Davis’ post, “When Real Life Happens, the Lesson Plans Change”.

I was in seventh grade in November 1989.  I don’t remember many specifics about what I learned in school that year, nor do I remember what we were studying – or supposed to be studying – in Social Studies that fall.  I do, however, have a very distinct memory of my Social Studies teacher asking our class, “Do you guys even get what is happening right now?  This is history!”  This, of course, was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent events that would ultimately lead to the end of Communism in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  I can’t pretend to know what her specific thoughts as a teacher were at the time, but I do remember us deviating frequently from our regularly scheduled curriculum that year to discuss in depth not only what was happening, but why it was important and what it could mean for us, as Americans, moving forward.

I was in my second year of teaching in September 2001.  I don’t remember many specifics about what my co-teacher and I were teaching that fall.  I do, however, have a very distinct memory of speaking with him in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when we decided that, as Rafranz says, the lesson plan had to change.  We did our best to discuss current events with our students, helping them to separate fact from speculation as well as anyone could in those days, and we also helped them to learn some background knowledge that we hoped would combat the rapidly emerging Islamophobia (or anything-that-vaguely-resembled-Islam-to-Americans-ophobia), at least in our little corner of the country.  But beyond that, we let the kids talk.  We didn’t have answers to everything; hell, we barely had answers to anything.  But our students knew our classroom was a safe place to ask questions, speak freely (and respectfully), and otherwise do our best to messily hash out the history that was unfolding before us.  Among many, many other topics, we talked extensively about what these events could mean for us, as Americans, moving forward.

In the post linked above, Rafranz says:

Rich discussions are not necessarily born from pre-planned questions. Rich discussions happen when we let go of our personal constraints and just talk. We ask more questions that we don’t have the answers to. We reflect together and maybe we ask more questions. This is how we grow. This is how change happens.

I can’t pretend to know you or your students or the circumstances in which you all work, study, and live.  But I ask you this: what will your students remember when they are bursting with the need to share their fears, their questions, and their stories that resemble those brought to the national consciousness recently by the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO?  What will they remember when they want to share this all with their peers and you, who may be one of the few adults – if not the only adult – in their lives to whom they feel they can open up?  What will they remember about that time they wanted to talk about racism and how it has directly impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones?  What will they remember about that time they wanted to talk about their experiences with law enforcement, even if (especially if) their experiences do not resemble your own?

Will they remember how deftly you returned them to the appropriate place in the pacing guide?  Will they remember the novel chapter or the algebra problem that was much more important in the moment?  Or will they remember the time(s) that everyone got to talk – not as teacher, to students but as human beings, with one another – about institutional racism, or fear of police, or media censorship, and how, even if the teacher didn’t have all the answers, maybe real communication got people to understand each other’s perspectives a little better.  Maybe you’ll learn something from your students.  Maybe your students will learn something from you.  Maybe your students will learn something from each other.  And maybe you will all take a piece of that with you, beyond the classroom and beyond the school year, and maybe that will mean something important to everyone, as Americans, moving forward.

 

Habits of Mind: Questioning & Prior Knowledge

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Questioning and problem posing: How do you know?  Having a questioning attitude; knowing what data are needed and developing questioning strategies to generate information.

I said it several times during the interview process for my new job (I start Monday!), and I stand by it: I will be asking a lot of questions this year.  Not only in terms of getting acquainted with a new professional role, but also (and perhaps more importantly) in working with teachers to solve problems and improve practice (mine as well as theirs).  Having one person who knows all the answers is great, but sometimes knowing what you don’t know and knowing the right questions to ask can be even more beneficial to the learning of everyone involved in the problem-solving process.

Some of the best discussions I’ve ever had with my supervisors did not involve them telling me information, but rather, them asking questions to get me thinking about my professional practice: the choices I make in the classroom or as a psychologist/case manager.  These, more than any other interactions, helped me to grow, or at least become a more reflective practitioner, so I hope to do the same for the teachers with whom I will be working this year.  Conducting interviews for the qualitative research component of my dissertation research helped me to hone the questioning skills I developed as a high school English teacher all those years ago, so I think I have a good base upon which to build.  And speaking of building upon previous practice…

Applying past knowledge to prior situations: Use what you learn!  Accessing prior knowledge; transferring knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.

You know what they say about those who don’t study history?  The same applies to those who don’t learn from their own experiences, both positive and negative.  Just like I will be drawing upon a very specific skill set as I described above, I will surely also be able to apply many of the organizational, managerial, and leadership skills I learned as a school psychologist to my new role.  The precise wording escapes me, but I remember learning as a fledgling school psychology grad student that the ability to isolate and identify patterns or commonalities across diverse settings is indicative of advanced problem-solving skills, if not overall intelligence, and that has stuck with me through the years.

Being able to look at situations and say, “Hey, this is kinda like that one time I/we/they…” aids in your ability to act (reactively or proactively) and, when necessary, solve problems more efficiently and, presumably, more effectively.  I’ve never been an administrator before, but I have acted in leadership positions and taught adult learners in both formal and informal settings, so I think I have a nice “toolbox” from which to draw as I look forward to this new chapter in my career.

Reference

Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Nothing To It But To Do It

Between completing years of coursework and conducting the dissertation research project, I think we can all agree that earning a doctorate is hard work.  I wonder, though, if sometimes we (read: I) make it harder than it has to be.

I spent the better part of May & June collecting survey and interview data for my research, and in early July took a much-needed weeklong vacation with my wife and kids.  Unfortunately, instead of relaxing and recharging, I spent the better part of the week stressing about the dissertation work I’d need to do when I got back.  When we got home last Friday I had a stack of papers with means and p-values and standard deviations all over them waiting for me, and I found myself experiencing a paralysis very similar to what I experienced this past December.  Thankfully, I was able to snap myself out of it this evening, and after sitting down with a cup of coffee and background music courtesy of Weezer (on repeat several times), I not only organized a good chunk of the statistical data, I also made a little headway on the organization and interpretation for my Chapter Four.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to break my funk and get me rolling again.  The looming monster I had built up in my mind over my vacation was vanquished easily enough; all I had to do was just get off my ass and start working.  It wasn’t the work itself that was difficult, it was overcoming the mental block that was intimidating me.  Then again, that’s been the story throughout much of the process.  Thinking about the work is always – ALWAYS – much worse than sitting down and actually doing it.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, until we decide not to be.