Too Real

Tomorrow marks the return: Return to school schedules, to the fellowship of colleagues, to the routines we teachers use to prepare the path we will travel with our students.

I look forward to the mass reunion, to the hugs, smiles, waves and quick catch-up conversations that remind us of where we left off. I’m prepared for the variety of meetings, large and small, in which my colleagues and I question, clarify and plan our first steps into a new school year. I have participated in this ritual over twenty times – always with variations – but in its essence it remains a kind of constant. At this stage of my career, this offers a certain degree of comfort, a sense of orientation. I know where things are. I am familiar with how things begin and how they are likely to proceed. I am a veteran. I belong here.

On the other hand, …

I fear the crush of speed chatting, the sense of overwhelm in the face of sudden exposure to too many elements at once. I worry about not being able to respond adequately, that my smiles may run out; that I’ll freeze up and wish I could run away and start again on another day. I know there will be meetings with too much information and not enough time to digest it so that my questions 2 days later will seem like stupid ones. In those meetings I will either talk for too long or not at all and it will never feel like I said the right thing. I will go home drained and nervous because maybe, after all, I don’t belong here.

These are feelings. They are mine. They are real and they are all over the place; never static.

At the beginning of his keynote at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute, Chris Gilliard took some time to address a topic that had been on many participants’ minds during the week-long event. To a musical backdrop, he read a series of statements which were impactful and emotive even if you lacked the specific context they were generated to address. Particularly his first statement gives me pause.

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“being too real”

This is truly something to fear. And the more often I read the statement and listen to Chris speak it, the more deeply it reveals itself to me; where it fits in my story, how it relates to my yesterday, my now and my tomorrow.

“Being real” is something I can do quite well in my classroom with my kids. In the course of the school year my students will know me serious, silly, annoyed, patient, harried, calm, forgetful and attentive. They will see me perform miracles and manage epic fails. They will see all of my hairstyles and comment on them. They will ask me questions and figure out if I will respond with a question of my own, answer directly, tell them to ask a friend or just look at them and wait. By the end of the school year my students will have a strong sense of knowing me because I will have been real with them all along.

Being too real is more of an adult-adult conundrum. How I show up with and for my colleagues will have a lot of contextual dependencies. While I can and strive to be respectful and kind to everyone in our community, being real means that I can also be honest when things aren’t going so well, that I trust you enough to listen in a helpful way. Being real means that I can tell you what’s really on my mind with regard to a given topic and not fear your judgment. Being real means that I can tell you what it means to belong and not belong at the same time over decades in the same institution.

Yes, Chris, there are a lot of spaces in which I fear being too real. Overcoming that fear every day is my personal and professional development project for life. Thankfully I work with children who mirror that struggle in myriad ways and together we practice being real with each other day after day. Over time, they and I get better at it.

 

Games, Rules, Power and Play

While planning for my workshop Games, Rules, Power and Play, I stumbled upon many resources which I found helpful or entertaining or both.

Here’s a selection:

Deep Fun with Bernhard DeKoven

This site is a wonderful place for anyone interested in the lightness and wonder games can offer us. Besides offering a tremendous collection of all types of games for players of all ages, blog posts and articles provide encouragement and support in developing one’s capacity to engage in “deep fun.”  Really glad I found this!

In search of good word cloud creator I found this game site, ABCya!, aimed at elementary kids and was actually both delighted and challenged by some of the available games. Kid friendly interface. Yes, I would even share this with my own son. And the word cloud generator is awesome!

At Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Vancouver I introduced the workshop agenda in the following way:

  1. We are going to play some games.
  2. We are going to take time to raise questions and offer observations about what we experienced.
  3. We will play some more.
  4. We will pause to question and reflect.
  5. We will need to wrap up and this may be hard because we’ll just be hitting our stride and having so much fun but even that part will have a playful element to it.

Given that, here’s my request of you:

Please let go of whatever notions you have about what a workshop at an academic conference can or should look like.

Let yourself play. Let others play. Let’s play.

Have the experience rather than theorizing about having the experience.

And we played:

This is my nose

Blah, blah, blah – in which pairs practice talking and listening to each other at the same time, changing subjects on the signal and continuing their partner’s line of conversation.

We spent a bit of time looking at definitions of the word game and considered the question: What do games offer us – as individuals, in groups, within a culture?

Ed-Tech Hyperbole (Using the attached word grid, players tried 3 versions)

  1. On your own- Come up with as many ed tech slogans as you can. (2 minutes)
  2.  Versus a partner:  Try to form a hyperbolic sentence that uses as many terms as possible but still makes sense.  (competing) (90 sec. )
  3. With a partner: Create 3 great slogans together Or create your own 100 word list for a particular instance (cooperating) (3 min)

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Reflection points:

Which version of play appealed most? How did you experience yourself in each of the game settings?

On the topic of power I offered:

This workshop is really too brief to try to address the many ways in which power is enacted, formalized and expressed in games and their structures. Rules provide frameworks for distributing power and authority. Players engage and may apply rules in any number of ways – strictly, loosely, consistently, haphazardly. How these variations are managed offer a whole other field to observe power relations in effect.

My request to you is to keep your eyes and ears open for power dynamics in this workshop. What have you observed in yourself and others? How might games in the classroom offer opportunities to demonstrate and discuss power dynamics in the group and in general?

And as predicted time was running low and we needed to wrap up.

We finished with a stand-up round of non-verbal feedback. Participants were asked to share their impressions of and/or response to the workshop by either humming or giving a physical representation (gesture, pose, movement).  A lighthearted conclusion to a playful and reflective meeting of the minds.

As facilitator I enjoyed the privilege of working with participants who made my job look easy-peasy. I do believe that game environments have a great deal to offer and teach us in a variety of contexts. Hosting this workshop was my way of sharing some gentle reminders that joy, fun and laughter have a place in serious learning at all levels.

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What is an institution?

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These last few days I’ve been following the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute going on at Mary Washington University in Virginia. I tuned in first for  Tressie McMillan Cottom’s keynote on Monday and enjoyed a “hallway conversation” via Virtual Connecting with Tressie, Sean Michael Morris and Cathy Davidson and about 7 other virtual guests via Google Hangout. Since I’m following from my laptop in the living room surrounded by my very personal, yet significant clutter, I’ve been feeling pretty comfy, laid back, fully at ease.

In between sessions my mind has been very active, particularly at night. After Tressie’s talk I woke up thinking about institutions and money. There was one sentence near the end which kinda grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. It came up while she was describing the actual mission of her department’s launch of a new degree program in Digital Sociology. She asked:

“How do I develop a space for critical learning while also giving my students the benefit of an institution?

That’s what I’m trying to do.

Institutions actually do still matter. They are one of the ways that we accrue resources.” (emphasis mine)

She explained that for marginalized folks who do not have equal access to resources, institutions are a pretty good place to be. This made sense to me and mirrored much of my experience both as a student and teacher. I have benefited from the prestige, stability and opportunities of the schools I attended as well as at the schools where I have worked. This thinking also lines up with my parents’ strong belief in and commitment to a variety of institutions including our church, all the schools my siblings and I attended, and other civic and religious organization in which my mother in particular was very active.

Institutions and resources, sure. Pooled resources, shared commitment attached to tangible things: buildings, events, property, furniture…

But something was still itching. I began thinking about now. About the culture we have now. Our very digital culture which is stored increasingly in a so-called “cloud,” the companies we create are no longer “built to last” in the sense that Jim Collins writes about it. Rather, companies are called, “start-ups” as if that’s all they will ever need to do – to get started (and wait to be bought). While we are told that everything is open for “disruption” increasingly we need to ask ourselves if this is indeed what we want. So when we talk about institutions – of learning, of social value, of prominence, of tradition, it’s easy to create the mental picture of the special building, the rooms inside it, the purposeful people who inhabit such spaces. We can even imagine the habits, rules, norms by which the institution may operate based on our experiences of various forms. We do not lack notions of what an institution is or can be.

Yet linking institutions to accruing resources reminds me of how institutions are often created with very specific hierarchies in mind. An order is specified and forms the basis for how the institution will be run. Of course, then, an institution’s original resource is power. Power to make the rules, set the tone, define the group, determine a focus. That seems important to understand. Especially as we speak of disrupting institutions of various forms, let us keep in mind for whom “disruption” is likely to produce wins and for whom it may well manifest the opposite. I find no reason to believe that the power supposedly unleashed in the act of “disrupting” the institution will be evenly or equitably distributed.  On the contrary, it seems far more probable that the power may grow or shrink and likely remain consolidated in the hands of the few.

Over a year ago I published a post entitled, “How Much Higher, Education?” in which I wondered aloud about the sustainability of higher education (particularly in the US)  in its current set up of exploding financial costs to students minus the guarantee of improved standard of living in the short, medium or long range. In that essay, I expressed this wish:

HigherEducation

Then that warning wisdom arrives: “Watch what you wish for because you might receive.”

Do I wish for my children and grandchildren to create institutions? Do I aim to create institutions? Let’s say this. As I participate – as a parent, alumna, employee, donor, board member – I am part of the process of sustaining and shaping the institutions to which I belong and in which I have been a member. The degree to which I exercise my influence in different contexts involves choice and self-awareness. Only when I recognize my role and acknowledge my power, can I actively decide to become a force for change or to preserve the status quo.

So when I clumsily asked Jesse Stommel, founder of Hybrid Pedagogy, during a differnt “hallway conversation” at the lab about Hybrid Pedagogy and its status as, or part of an institution, I think what I really wanted to ask and understand and explore was:

What is an institution?

How do we understand it? What do we mean by that term? Are you and I talking about the same thing? What happens when we add “digital” as a descriptor? What is different about digital institutions if they, in fact, exist?

My wish for my children and their children is perhaps not so much that they go on to create a lasting thing or things – rather I wish them ample resources in the form of opportunity, fortitude, empathy, and purpose to grow their dreams into realities they can enjoy and take pride in. And the question of what an institution is, isn’t, should or shouldn’t be can stay on the table for all of us to contemplate and respond to.

 

image via Pixabay.com CC0