A 5am Reflection on Engaging

This is a space I come to from time to time to share my thoughts on teaching, curricular innovation and to reflect. I know my readership includes my mother and a few former colleagues, so why post? Is it hubris? Perhaps. A sense of self-importance? Perhaps. Privilege? Definitely. Why don’t I just write in my journal? Yet, every time I think about deleting this website I pause, hopeful that some day this may be useful to others. Last summer, years after posting a reflection on Standards Based Assessment an educator from the mid-west (I live in New England) reached out and wanted to talk more. I was thrilled. It had helped someone. Great.

When I got a renewal notice a few days ago I started to reflect on the role of blogging and of this blog in particular, I recognized (not for the first time, but I am a slow learner) the person who benefits most from my writing is me. The discipline and constraints of forming sentences require me to process my emotions, thoughts and ideas in ways I might not have otherwise. In some ways it is my form of prayer or meditation, which, just like prayer and meditation I don’t do it as much as I should. Perhaps it is the same as the difference between walking around all day and casually gaining fitness and the intentionality of going for a specific walk? I am not sure the metaphor works nor does it matter.

If you are reading this, I urge you to join me in writing your thoughts for yourself and reading longer format pieces in this time. It is important to say my immense privilege as a white woman of means (fill in the blank when you wonder what those “means” might be: monetary, degrees, a family safety net, a steady job, a devoted partner, a computer, a platform of a blog) allows me to use these tools as a means to process my emotions, engage these conversations and, above-all, learn. If you, like me, have these privileges please consider engaging. Honestly, you probably don’t have to, because you are privileged. You, like me, could ignore the riots, the news, watching the video of George Floyd’s murder with a WASPish sense of horror at watching violence unfold. However, I believe we need to engage. When we do, we should use the tools we have at our disposal. If your biography resembles mine, that includes an academic background, so you have the tools of reading, writing and engaging in dialogue. We also need to cultivate a new skill, undervalued in academic settings, we need to be better listeners. This is coming up all over social media, and the cynic in me wonders at intentions of professing to become better listeners, to blacking out screens yesterday. Are the business owners, famous people, etc. promising to listen because they are jumping on the tidal wave of this movement? Are they mere lemmings following the social media trends? Then I realized, it doesn’t matter how authentic their intentions are, they are attempting to act and spread the word. I suppose I am doing the same thing here in my little corner of the internet.

Let me be clear, I don’t like absolutes, bold letters our shouty capitals. As a history teacher and educator I struggle with oversimplification of narratives, movements or children. My father always said nothing is ever “all the time”, “always” or “forever” (gotcha Dad, you “always” did something, but the lesson stuck!) However, if you have found your way to my soapbox, and have made it to 5:45 with me as I write this and the baby starts to wake, I suppose I should be clear with my perspective. While sentences that begin with “We should” “We need” often make me groan I think being an advocate and ally to the cause of anti-racism and a more just world, means inviting, prompting and provoking our circles of influence to act. Hence, despite my discomfort with it generally, I affirm “We should engage.”

Here is an example of the benefit and world broadening nature of reading more.

When I couldn’t sleep this morning at 4am I opened my computer (bad screen hygiene noted) to read Victor Osterweil’s “In Defense of Looting” from the New Inquiry published in 2014 in the wake of Michael Brown shooting and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri recommended to me by a friend. It was excellent. “Excellent” feels a strange word to describe this provocative article. However, it was outstanding in its ability to explain to this white woman why destruction of property might not be such a great thing to criticize.

I will continue to post what I read here and my thoughts in the hopes that they help just one more person process and attempt to move forward in a more thoughtful, supportive and authentic way.

The baby is awake, time to go.


Turn off the Screen and Stay Awhile: Taking the Time to Think about Tech

Over the past year I have been reading a lot about screentime. While some of the 2010-era optimism around technology persists, most of of the headlines, texts and talks express concerns around putting children in front of screens to learn. As I sought to reflect on my reading (most of which, ahem, happened on a screen), I often thought of using this space, but after reading of the damaging impact of light emissions on my circadian rhythms I thought, better use that bullet journal.

I return to this space now with purpose and a hope to share what I have been reading, my takeaways and how I used these resources to structure our professional development theme for the year. Part of my work at Holderness is developing what we now call our “Symposium” theme. This single lens aims to focus our professional learning efforts in faculty meetings throughout the year. We culminate our learning with a three-day experience for our faculty in June–the Symposium. I will share more on our speakers and how we structured that time in the future. I will also share my reading list and thoughts on resources if you find yourself interested in taking a deeper dive into this theme.

Why this theme, at this moment? Here is where my journey into this topic started, and how we framed our inquiry.

The most recent history of Holderness was on published in 2004. It ends by describing the new and innovative “Faculty Laptop program.” The world has changed drastically in the past fifteen years. We have weathered or witnessed (depending on your perspective) the rise of MySpace, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The iPhone was released in 2007, the iPad in 2010. We have experimented with four different learning management systems including Wikipages, Moodle, Canvas and now OnCampus. The campus now has wifi. Our student handbooks now acknowledge a student’s virtual presence. 

In short, we have changed with the times, consistently trying to “catch up” with the technology and trying to understand the world in which we all operate. As the initial reading (the introduction from Joi Ito and Jeff Howe’s Whiplash) suggests we have worked to “survive our faster future”. The Holderness Symposium theme for this year allows us the space to take stock of our relationship with technology, our student’s relationships with technology and ultimately craft a philosophical position that helps us to engage new resources while also understanding the challenges we face in our  “faster world”.