Welcome to the Fall 2022 semester, everyone! It is that time of year when everything gets busy and everyone gets tired. It’s also that time of year when I get reflective about my own goals and accomplishments. This semester, one of my classes is about leadership, so that’s the topic of my reflection today. Am I a leader?
The semester started with a Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire. The exercise reminded me of the Emergenetics instrument that I completed when I started working as an instructional designer. Emergenetics identified me as a mixture of Analytical and Conceptual, meaning that I have big ideas and then I figure out data-driven ways to make them happen. The overall description seemed pretty accurate, so I was excited to see how this leadership questionnaire would portray me.
I remember when I was in middle school, I knew that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up, and I just kind of assumed that by the time that happened, I would be confident enough to stand in front of a classroom and speak. When I got to high school, and I was still terrified of presentations that required me to speak to my peers, I figured I needed to get a little more proactive about the problem. So I joined the speech team. I wasn’t very good and never won any medals or awards, but it was my first step toward becoming a speaker.
The first time I stood at the front of a library full of my coworkers with their attention on me was both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. At the time, I was a middle school English teacher, not even yet department chair. Despite how nervous I was to stand up in front of my coworkers, the entire experience was amazing, and I proved to myself that I could do it.
As I work to finish up my last assignments of the Spring 2022 semester, I have finally arrived at the final stop on this journey of exploration that I’ve taken with this eighth entry.
For several of the explorations I’ve done on this journey, I’ve tried to purposefully push myself outside of my comfort zone by exploring areas that I don’t know very well. This final week, I want to push myself outside of my comfort zone by doing something that is actually well within my comfort zone but that I don’t frequently share publicly: creative writing.
Lesson #1: Even that which is comfortable can help break your own barriers.
One of my favorite things to do is to hang out in the backyard with the dogs. They love it because there are so many things to smell and chase, and I love it for the tranquility. We live in a suburban area in a neighborhood that’s been around long enough for the trees to be massive and the houses to look a little dated. There are several large trees (as described in one of my earlier explorations) that make homes to several types of birds and dozens of squirrels.
For my next exploration, I wanted to get back out into the backyard, into nature, and see what I could discover about my own home. After flipping through the pages of How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith while sitting at the patio table, I settled on a type of exploration I haven’t tackled yet: sound.
Friday afternoon, I stood out in the backyard with the dogs as the wind whipped my hair around my face and threatened to topple the bench swing. I thought for sure the weather was going to thwart my plans of exploration yet again.
Thankfully, I was wrong. The Baytown Farmers Market was not cancelled or shut down early due to wind, rain, sleet, or any other strange weather Texas can throw our way. And so I was finally able to circle back to Exploration #12: 50 Things from How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.
I don’t know why I was so drawn to this particular exploration. It could simply be that when I tried to do it before, I wasn’t able. I’ll admit that I’m a pretty stubborn person, so the simple fact that I couldn’t do it when I wanted made me want to do it even more. I also can’t say exactly why I was so determined to complete this exploration at the Baytown Farmers Market, especially considering the directions say to “Write down (or document) fifty things about one of the following: a trip to the library, a trip to the grocery store, a walk in your neighborhood.” I could easily have completed any of those three, but I thought a once-monthly pop-up farmers market would yield more interesting and diverse results.
I’ve always enjoyed impressionist art. I’m not overly knowledgeable when it comes to art, in fact, I had to use Google to confirm that this style of painting that I enjoy is actually called impressionism. I love trips to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH), and I’ve collected a few original pieces that hang in my living room and office, purchased from an art gallery on a cruise I took right after I finished my undergrad degree. I couldn’t tell you much about many specific artists or styles. Art has always been one of those things that I get to enjoy without knowing everything about it. I enjoy it for what it is, without the burden of history or details.
One branch of impressionism that I particularly enjoy is apparently called pointillism (and yes, Google informed me of this, too). I discovered it on an MFAH trip a couple years ago. I think we were actually there to see a Van Gogh exhibit (Van Gogh is my favorite artist – unoriginal, I know, but what can I say?). That day, however, I found myself captivated by the way artists can create such beautiful art out of thousands of dots of paint.
You’re probably wondering why I’m ruminating on art on a blog about educational technology and instructional design. It does seem a little off-topic.
Let me start by setting the scene with a brief description of the devices in my home. In my office, I have a desktop computer with a second monitor, plus a television. I also have a work laptop that I use sometimes when I need the Mac or just need a third screen. Like any good bookworm, I have two Kindle Fires and a Kindle Paperwhite. I have a gaming laptop in the living room and a smaller laptop that I use when I need something more portable (gaming laptops are heavy). I also have a Nintendo Switch Lite (though I’m in the process of upgrading to a full-sized Switch, and I’m so excited). Oh yeah, plus my cell phone.
All of these screens help me keep track of all my various roles, including three Microsoft Teams accounts, five email accounts, and several social media accounts, both professional and personal, plus they help me relax and engage in my hobbies. It can all be a bit much sometimes.
Last week, I disconnected. I mean I DISCONNECTED. Completely. Entirely. No screens. No email. No Teams. No messages. No social media.
It was more intoxicating than a mojito-filled pineapple on the beach in the Bahamas.
When I was a kid, I loved going to VFW Conventions with my mom. As an undergrad, I attended my first professional conference when I presented at NCTE 2013 in Boston. As a young professional, I jumped at any opportunity to attend an NCTE or ISTE conference, though I found it to be a struggle to find funding and time off for professional conferences. Like many others, I haven’t attended a conference in person since before the pandemic, when I flew to Vegas in 2019 to accept an award for a journal article that I co-authored. Even then, as it was during the school year, I was only able to get a substitute for three days of that convention.
Last week brought me back to the world of conferences in a big way, and after getting full-time immersive experience, I am contentedly exhausted from a week of attending AECT 2021 and exploring the city of Chicago.
I have a terrible track record of writing these reflections after attending an important event (Exhibit A: the April 2021 TxDLA reflection that is still sitting half-finished in my drafts folder), so this time I’m taking advantage of some airport WiFi to reflect on my experiences while they’re still fresh. Or at least get started in my reflection before I board my flight home.
Side note: As I’m becoming more of an academic and a researcher and learning about various research methods, I’m wondering if these blog reflections constitute a form of auto-ethnography.
This morning, I took the dogs outside and when I didn’t immediately melt under Texas heat, I realized that it is September. In fact, it’s almost the middle of September. Since I left teaching middle school, I’ve found myself far less capable of tracking time. I thought time had no meaning during the pandemic lockdowns; I had no idea people with “regular” jobs had to work so hard to know what month it is!
This year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have a true summer, and I honestly frequently forgot that it was summer until I’d walk outside of the house. Between working full time as an Instructional Designer and taking two intensive 10-week doctoral courses, June to August was actually the busiest couple months of my year so far, maybe even of my life so far.
Now that I’ve made it to the other side of that stressful semester, it’s time to take a step back and do some reflecting. As I do at the end of every semester, I like to think about what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained, and what I need to keep doing, but this time I’m finding myself in the middle of an identity crisis.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
At the end of my last synchronous online meeting of CUIN 3312: Educational Technology, one of my students commented that I am Superwoman for teaching their class while teaching full time and working on my doctorate. I personally don’t think I am Superwoman, but I am probably crazy. This has been a… busy semester, to say the least.
I knew what I was getting myself into when I started. I thought long and hard about whether to continue teaching at the University of Houston once I started my own doctoral classes, and ultimately decided that I just could not give up teaching that class. Teaching CUIN 3312 is the highlight of my week every week. It’s my favorite part of my busy schedule, and there was no way I would give it up. So, I knew coming into this semester that I would be one busy beaver, teaching at UH and teaching 8th grade English and completing two doctoral classes all at the same time. I did step down as department chair because even I have limitations, and I didn’t feel I could commit to the amount of extra time the position required in order to do it well. I probably could have made it happen if I needed to, but I knew that I would not be as good of a leader for my department with all my extra responsibilities.
Of course, I did not anticipate the pandemic. (Who did?) I did not know how different and how impossible my job as an 8th grade English teacher was going to be this semester. I received my acceptance email to Sam Houston State University on March 5th, just weeks before the pandemic lockdowns began. I have thought numerous times about whether or not I would have stuck with starting the program this year or if I would have postponed my doctoral plans for another year if I’d had the foreknowledge of what this semester was going to be like. And if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I don’t think I would have changed it. What can I say? I’m stubborn. I mean, determined.
And so here I am, once again sitting in front of the post editor on my blog and reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past fifteen weeks of classwork. It’s been more than two years since I last did this, and yet it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I know that I am just one of those people that is as comfortable as a student as I am a teacher. Even in the two years between completing my MEd and beginning my EdD, I never stopped learning.