Reflecting On Some Things: A Memoir

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen

I’ve been writing three blog posts for months, and I just need to post one. My mind is buzzing with all of the conversations that I got to be a part of this past week. I learned a lot from a bunch of really smart people that I’m honored to call my friends. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about leadership, change, and open pedagogy. For a lot of folks who are dog-tired of hearing the same soundtrack about how to do and be Open, it’s a conversation they are hungry to have. What’s next? Now what? How do you define open pedagogy, they ask. What do you say to faculty who are interested, they ask. What are some great examples that you can share with me, they ask. Is this the way we get people interested, they ask.

I don’t know. Maybe. Here are few things I do know.

The first thing I share is that I think we need to quit calling it open pedagogy when we’re introducing faculty to The Idea. For a faculty member who doesn’t know Open and hasn’t had much experience with pedagogy, we’re using jargon. Meaningless words. We’re asking faculty to play “Icky Thump” when they haven’t mastered “Love Me Do.” We’re asking them to knit complex cables when they haven’t even combined knits and purls. We’re asking them to bomb down a black diamond run when they haven’t figured out how to stay upright on the green run. We’re making things harder before we even get started. Throw in licensing, the 5Rs, and some technology into your talk, and you’ve lost the whole goddamn room save for a few people. How do I know? Because I’ve done it.

After that Shit Show Preso, I started by asking teachers how they get students to collaborate. Didn’t use the words Open or Pedagogy for most of the talk. I listened to them talk about their craft. Chances are faculty are doing something already that is either very close to the principles of open pedagogy or they are doing really cool work but they don’t know what to call it. Usually without getting compensated for that time.

The third thing I share is that I don’t trust anyone or any research that claims to have it all defined. The ones I trust are still questioning. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing projects that work towards those definitions, but it’s all too new to be named. If you know my bloggy, you know I’ve written about this idea before and if you want all 20,000 words, it’s here. In sum, when REM played David Letterman for the first time, he asked them what they were going to play and Peter Buck shared that the song was too new to be named (It was “So. Central Rain”–love that song). Such chutzpah–I mean what the fuck Peter Buck–you’re on Letterman and you don’t have a title for your song. Wut? BRAZEN. BADASS. Just got up on stage and killed it. If you watch that clip or if you were old enough to remember that night on TV, note/remember Michael Stipe. Interesting. Okay, where was I?

Here’s the thing.

If you’re a leader, you gotta be like Peter Buck back then. Be willing to be a rock star while your Michael Stipe figures out how to own the stage. You sometimes need to let your drummer quit and become a farmer. Accept that you need a Mike Mills back-up and that’s okay. You can’t do everything. Just play the damn song and do it. I’m not sure what I have to say in this post but I just need to process some ideas before I get started on things I promised my frens this week.

So maybe here’s The Thing. I just need to reflect. Here goes.

A few nights ago, I was scrolling through the Instagramajama and somebody had put together a clever remix of the 24 Lessons for Filmmakers.

But they called it Lessons for Life. Ooooohh, do I call them out for getting the wrong title? Do I slam them for breaking copyright practices? Do I judge them for not doing what I’d do? No. Who gives AF? The post made me think. So here’s what I thought about most of the night when I couldn’t sleep so I drank and wrote. Totally healthy. I’ve been on the Hemingway’s advice of Write Drunk, Edit Sober wagon quite a bit lately. So here goes. Let me remix some Werner Herzog wisdom (in bold) in the context of trying to figure out what I think about opening the pedagogy. And other things. Mostly other things.

  • Always take the initiative. 
    • Ya damn right. Just try. It doesn’t have be perfect. Admit to your students that you’re experimenting with some new teaching methods. There might be a dork like me in your class eating up everything you’re doing while dreaming of becoming a teacher. Dreaming of what she’ll do as a teacher.
  • There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need. 
    • Seems a bit extreme, Werner, but what I think he’s saying is that you need to take chances. And be held accountable. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and try something new. Ask your students about the assignment and what they got out of it. Chances are if it failed they can help you fix it for the next batch of students. Our best resource is often the students themselves.
  • Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
    • Okay, I’m not going to write anything about this one because I think Werner probably stole this one from the one and only Linda Williams.
  • Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
    • Good goddamn this work is hard. It’s really hard. I’m not going to write about that today.
  • Learn to live with your mistakes.
    • Some of the best examples I’ve seen of opening the pedagogy is where students create materials for other students. One teacher shared with me that she has her students write short letters of advice on how to cheat in her class. She said when those assignments come in at the end of the term, she reads them after she submits grades. They all get credit, she said, and I learn more about my own teaching then any peer observation or self-reflection. She let’s her students read the best ones from last quarter at the start of the next term. Simple yet genius. And before you get all, “I don’t want my students to cheat…” and start assessment-splaining me, I invite you to rethink cheating. We might call it saving time or collaboration in other realms of adulthood, like say, in the jobs that students hope to get when they graduate. Just sayin’
  • Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
    • Viva The Humanities. I prolly shouldn’t write about this one or I’ll get Ranty McRanty Indrunas fired up and she needs STFU and take a little holiday break.
  • That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
    • This is one of my favorites because it’s about being brave.
  • There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
    • I have to politely disagree because sometimes life gets in the way. Shit goes down. Maybe you’ve had an idea that you’ve wanted to do for quite some time but you haven’t found the right moment. Maybe this is more about overthinking the finished product. Just finish it.
  • Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
    • I’m pretty sure this one is connected to the statement about being willing to go to jail, but maybe that’s just me. Tell it, Werner.
  • Thwart institutional cowardice.
    • YES. Figure out the work around! Want some help? I’m ya girl. When you hit a barrier because of an institutional policy or tradition, ask the people in charge if there is a way to change the policy. It’s easier to change policy than tradition, and that’s a longer conversation. You’ve got to be in the long game. There are no pedagogies to open if everyone loses their jobs because institutions close. Enrollments are down. It’s scary for a lot of people who are contingent. Budgets are tight. People are making hard decisions.

The next four are just too perfect for me to muddy up with my thoughts. Just read them.

  • Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  • Take your fate into your own hands.
  • Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
  • Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.

Yes.

Walk straight ahead, never detour.

  • So connecting this one to opening the pedagogy, I’d say this has to do with confidence. If you are uncomfortable admitting to your students that you’ve never done something before, then keep your chin up and pretend like you’ve done it a million times. Fuck it. Are you an aspiring leader? Fake it till you make it, baby.
  • Also I feel like focusing on renewable assignments from the get-go is a major detour and it’s hard. Or pitching a framework where “contributing” is the first step towards changing your pedagogy is a lot of pressure. (See Icky Thump/Love Me Do comparison above). Faculty are very insulted when you tell them they have assignments that are disposable. They are very insulted when you tell them that what they are doing isn’t good enough. Disposable and Renewable are terms that are brilliantly–visionary and useful–but really hard to conceptualize for faculty. At first.
  • An easier question might be: What’s something simple you have your students do every term? Make them think about connections with your previous and future students. Let them define it, not you.
  • Maneuver and mislead, but always deliver.
    • So let me be clear here, I can’t lie to teachers. The work of teaching and learning is too personal for me. I can’t look myself in the mirror if I maneuver and mislead teachers. For example, if you are an instructional designer, you have to earn the trust of faculty to do your job. It takes time to do that work effectively (unless you have a top-down initiative and then chances are they think you’re the Learning Outcomes Police or the EdTech Soul Killer). When you are working with a faculty member, what about sharing an idea that YOU know is open pedagogy? Just don’t call it that. Cut the jargon and just talk to faculty about good teaching ideas. Save the cool theory talk and fun facts for your Open Frens.
  • Don’t be fearful of rejection.
    • Don’t overthink it. Don’t take it personally if your students tell you they hate the assignment. If you’re a leader and you feel frustrated that faculty say no to your ideas, be patient with them. Don’t give up. If it makes you feel any better, I sometimes have more people turn me down by lunch time than you might in six months. I translate the phrase “I’m not ready to do ________” in my head as “You should talk me next term.” It’s my own bit of self-care to stay optimistic.
  • Develop your own voice.
    • So let me tell you a quick story. True Confession. This maybe should be another post, but I don’t have an editor and who cares.
    • I got an F in English 101. Fer realz. Failed that class as a college freshmen. Failed THE class that I couldn’t wait to take. You know I had visions of Dead Poet’s Society type shit where we were going to read, think, and be DEEP, man. I was trying to be an English major. And I got an F. Instead of having a teacher who cared about me and my learning, I had a very opinionated teacher who was a fascist about the way we interpreted everything in the class. Two weeks into the class, my teacher was on some windbag lecture about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. A depressed woman writing Big Thoughts was my jam! Let’s rap! And this teacher had it all wrong. All wrong. So I raised my hand and asked why we were talking so much about Plath’s life, the teacher’s research, and not the book. I had a few sentences I underlined and annotated that I wanted to talk about that. Let’s talk about the art not the artist!
    • If you teach writing, you know that I was an ideal Book Nerd right? Not to this Joy Murderer. She destroyed me in front of the class. Told me that we were setting up a discussion and that I needed to be quiet and take better notes. You could use some practice focusing on directions, Miss Inder-Ind–In–however you say that last name of yours, she said. Then she returned to her “research” and the windbaggering. During the break, I left the class and never came back. I didn’t know I had to fill out paperwork to drop the class in order for it to not appear on my transcript. I knew nothing about being a college student. Nada. Neither did my friends. I got two As and an F that term. When I taught College Success, I told that story to every class. It blew their minds. How did a college professor get an F?! I told them that I kept reading. I kept writing. My next English class I was invited to be in the Honors program, but then I dropped out to take a dreamy job. I found my own voice outside of class, and so will you, I would say to my College Success class. Graduate first. That dreamy job will still be there. And I taught them how college worked (I hope). I’m more ashamed about wasting my parents’ money than I am about that F. I should have just stuck it out and got the credit.

If you pause and read the next five lessons as a poem, it’s awesome. Find your poet voice:

Day one is the point of no return.

A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.

Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.

Guerrilla tactics are best.

Take revenge if need be.

Herzog, so poetic!

The Herzogism below made me go back and look at the mission statement kind of thing that I wrote as an idealist future instructional designer four or so years ago.

I would like to be an instructional designer who advocates for the poor, the underserved, and the underprivileged. I’d like to examine the necessary balance of power and influence to support open education in my corner of the world. But maybe what I want to do is just too new to be named.

So I’ve lost thread of the opening and the pedagogy here, but I’m really just thinking aloud about leadership. Just thinking out loud, really. My hope is that we think about the words that we use when we talk to faculty. The words are the lesson.

I’ll let Werner close it out because this one is my favorite.

Get used to the bear behind you.

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Two Rides, Two Lanterns Rouge: A Memoir

I lived near the train tracks when I was kid, I distinctly remember the red light at the end of the trains that rolled through my town. The air brakes of trains were deafening, and we used to ride our bikes under the tressel and up and down the same road all day. I had a curfew to be home when the streetlights came on and then I’d pedal like mad to get home. If I heard “Alyson Michelle” I was in trouble for being late. I had no idea back then that bike racing existed, but I knew that red light. It was the end of the line. The last car. The caboose.

The Lantern Rouge as defined in Wikipedia is still a competition, and I totally get it. You still finish, and you might as well get in the history books. Better to finish then DNF. Here’s a report of my last place finishes so I can remember distinctly why I should start training in February or at least keep my shit together better over the winter months.

(attribution)

Ride 1: The Stotty 60 & Flipping My Wig

Sixty miles is a long way no matter what the mode of transport, but let me tell you, it’s really fucking far on a mountain bike.

Unless you’re among the fittest and fastest, it’s really hard to sustain a fast pace on a mountain bike for that long. Climbing is hard. Riding switchbacks requires concentration. Gunning it down gravel roads can be sketchy. Over a month ago, I started training in earnest, and by that I mean I stopped drinking so much beer and I put on the rain gear when the weather was bad. I started riding consistently. I’ve always wanted to do in the Stottlemeyer race in the NW Epic Series, and for some unknown reason, I decided to jump right into the 60 miler. They offer a 17 and 30 mile version of the race, but I really wanted to see if I could do it.

Had I not done the Whatcom Grind the weekend before, I don’t think I would have finished. Pretty sure everyone I told I was doing it didn’t think I’d finish. In fact, I didn’t think I’d finish. I went into the race with the thinking that I’d at least try to finish 3 laps or 45 miles. In addition, I’d try really hard to not get lapped by Ben Shaklee twice and I’d try to finish in 7:30. The Shak Attack only got me once (yay!) and I finished second to last in 8:25. That’s a long-goddamn-time on the bike. I stopped pedaling 7 times the entire day–four times for a nature break (as Paul Sherwen likes to say) and three times for food and water at the aid station. It was a very hard day on the bike. Towards the end I did walk some of the steeper pitches thanks to some advice of a woman who passed me on the 30 miler. At that point, walking was just as fast–or just as slow–as riding.

So what follows is race report-ish writing. If you really want a detailed account of the Stotty race, you should read this post from Bellingham’s Logan Wetzel and this one from Angela Sucich of Sturdy Bitch Racing. If you’re super-duper-silly nervous, I recommend you watch this video in 10 minute segments to see what the terrain is like if you can’t make it there to pre-ride. I didn’t watch all of this video, but I clicked through it to see what the terrain was like–I’m always curious about people who can watch those GoPro videos. I get carsick and nauseous, but more power to you.

Just let it be known, if I can do the Stotty 60, so can you.

After taking the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend (my favorite ferry commute in the The Sound), I got to the campground when it was dark. My two teammates were already there with our Liv Tent and I was instructed to look for the rainbow lights. Yay!  They had tables and chairs set up, so we were all set at the Start line. Perfect! I put my tent up by headlamp, and we chatted for awhile just hanging out in the dewy grass. There was another crew with a fire, and I thought about making friends with them but I decided it best to crawl in my tent and call it a night. The dew was up–it was a damp night but I slept right through to the sounds of a frog party. The frogs were so loud! Right at dawn a flock of geese flew really low over my tent and woke me up with their honking. Oly Peninsula magic!

I made some coffee walked to the registration table with my teammate and it was nice to beat the masses who were coming in from Seattle. My other teammates started to arrive, and everyone started getting ready. I ate a simple breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese with a side of yogurt. My teammate was cooking a ton of eggs and bacon, but I knew that would mean heartburn for at least two hours for me (TMI, I know).  I love bacon, but it doesn’t like me. I also brought a boiled egg from home that I added some salt and pepper to right before I finished my coffee. In short, whatever you might eat for breakfast at home before a long ride, I recommend doing the same before the Stotty. My teammate who banged out the bacon and eggs got third in her division, so you know, you do you.

I wore a Camelbak for easy access to water, and I noticed a lot of Killers just used their water bottles and jersey pockets. Many folks had taped their spare tub and patch kit to their downtube. I decided to pack all of my gear into my Camelbak and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two packs of shot blocs, one granola bar, and my emergency airplane biscotti cookies.

The Stottlemeyer 60 consists of 4 laps of 15 miles that’s mostly single-track. It’s a blend of fire roads, double-track, and relentless climbing in exposed clearcuts. It’s got a bit of everything single-track-wise and it’s never boring. If you look south, you see Mt. Rainier. If you look west, you see the Olympics. It’s an amazing spot to ride your bike, and the main benefit of this race, is I know those trails really well. The weather was perfect, and the trails were lush and green. The switchbacks were flowy, and I did hear complaints about some of the trails not having enough “flow.” I dunno, mountain biking is supposed to be hard yo. Quit yer bitchin, I thought. Roots, rocks, trees, and all other natural bits of terrain are part of the fun. But then again, I’m an old cross-country loving middle-aged rider who thinks what the kiddies are into these days is a snooze-fest. Downhill pump tracks are fun, but I have strong bias that fanny packs should stay in the fucking 90s. Don’t even ask me how I feel about shuttling…But I digress.

The hardest aspect of this race for me was the third lap. I rode with this woman and we traded places on different terrain and it was fun to either catch her or pass her. She was fast on some of the downhill parts and the climbs, and I could climb the steeper parts of the single-track to catch her. I could descend the double-track and gravel roads faster. Super fun. When I got to one of the aid stations for the start of the fourth lap, she was nowhere in sight. Then just as I was ready to pedal away, she came up to me, high-fived me, and said, “You are super strong, lady. I’m out. I got a cooler full of beer and a burrito with my name on it in my car, and that’s all I can think about. I’m out.” And with that, she ripped away on the descent. As I pedaled through the clearcut one last time, I struggled with my sanity. I never even caught her name. It was going to be a long 15 miles alone. I looked down at my Garmin, and I calculated that I could probably make the cut off and I needed to just do it. My mind was wandering and I’m pretty sure I started to hallucinate. I had Husker Du’s “Makes No Sense at All” looping in my mind. “Fuck, Bob, you’re right. It makes no sense at all that I’m out here so long on my mind (makes no sense at all),” I thought.

I don’t have the tiger by the tail, Bob. Makes no sense at all. Walking around with my head in the clouds. Makes no sense at all. And so on. I somehow responded to the lyrics and I’m pretty sure I started singing out loud to see if I could exorcise that song out of my mind. Christ, I was losing it. Twelve miles to go.

Eight miles from the finish, I caught some guy who was a teammate of a person I had seen crash on one of the downhills. Seeing his buddy with the medics isolating his head as he moaned gibberish, really messed with my head on lap two. I slowed down for miles thinking about that dude. So thanks to this crash and that dude’s generous teammie, I was not going to be in last place, but that really didn’t matter. I was going to finish within 40 minutes of the cutoff.

When I finally saw the finish line through the trees a half mile to the end, I almost started crying. Then hoots and yells started and I laughed. My teammate Suki, her husband Josh, and a few other friends were at the finish along with the organizers. They were a bit in their keg cups and really funny–they handed me the best PBR of my life and celebrated my finish. High-fives and hugs all around. I got to the finish line 40 minutes within the cutoff. Holycrap, I did it.

On the ferry that night on the way home I sent the photo of me crossing the finish line to my husband, and responded with, “What? No wheelie?”

Next year. I’ll beat my time and do Peter Sagan style wheelie. I “raced” 60 miles and climbed 7,008 feet and I did it. Boom y’all!

Ride 2: The Leavenworth Gran Fondo & My Foul-Mouthed New Friend

After my last Gran Fondo, I got a little overzealous and signed my Mister and I up for the Vicious Cycles Leavenworth Gran Fondo. I booked an Air BnB that allowed dogs and we packed up the car for a weekend adventure on the east side of the North Cascades. The night we arrived, it rained in inches. Poured. I had specifically signed up for this ride because it went through some of the most gorgeous parts of the faux Bavaria woods near Leavenworth. I’ve only hiked in that area and the thought of being on a bike in that neck of the woods was really appealing when I was sitting at my desk at home.

Thanks to the rain, they had to change the course and we went from riding a beautiful circle through the valleys to an out and back. I totally understand that the rain made some of the roads a muddy mess, but I was pretty disappointed to miss all the beauty of the rugged mountains out there. I didn’t get the experience that I wanted, but I got to see a whole new tunnel in the Pain Cave.

Right at the start of the race, there were a ton of serious roadies. The pace at the rollout was way too fast for me, and I settled in the back of the pack. Once we hit the dirt roads, I looked down to see several piles of barf and a few switchbacks later I heard two dudes ralphing their guts out. As I passed their greenish looking faces, they said, “Too fast. That pace.” I asked if they needed anything, and one said, “Just my bed.”

Then I settled into climbing, climbing, climbing. It was like I suddenly dropped into Colorado and it was steamy hot. It reminded me a lot of the canyons outside of Boulder. Then the motorcycle support guy was stopped to help a woman with her bike who had that look of rage one gets with a mechanical. I thought she would quit and I was surprised to see her much later. Turns out, she was a new friend who helped me finish the whole day. Without her, I’m not sure I would’ve kept going.

There was a point on the climb back where I was so tired. I was running through my mind of what I would say to the Sag wagon guy. Or where I could have the Mister pick me up once I got back into cell service. She was two switchbacks ahead of me, and I was feeling pretty whipped seeing her climb so steadily.

Right as we were climbing, it felt like we were close to the top. Nope. Then the valley opened up and you could see the 2k climb that we were about to do, and she yelled “FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKK” so loud it echoed in the canyon. It was suddenly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard and I started cracking up. Her total exasperation mirrored mine, and I was determined to finish. Towards the top, I was still on my bike and she was walking. When I passed her, she said, “I’m never fucking doing this fucking Fondo again.” I could barely talk because I was so knackered. I said, “Lesss jusss finissss laydeee ca monnn.” She said, “Fuck this. Why didn’t I fucking mountain bike today. Fuck this climb. It’s bullshit.”

I have a healthy appreciation for rage filled F bombs and profanity. It’s an art. So I felt motivated to keep pedaling. I saw rattle snake sunning itself and I pedaled 4 miles an hour past it thinking that if it bit me, I’d feel better about my DNF. I didn’t care. By the time I got to the top, I was dreading the downhill. My arms hurt, my shoulders hurt. I was so deep in the pain cave I started building a house in it and all I could think about was sleep.

My new foul-mouthed friend passed me on the roads once it got back to pavement. She’s roadie and once she got down in the hooks, I couldn’t keep her wheel. I was coasting when I could and she ended up getting to the finish before me. She told me later that I was great motivation for her to finish and that she spent the whole day pissed off. I know, I said, and it really made me feel for you. A mechanical so early into the day sucks. We talked about mutual friends that we have and shook hands. “I’ll never do this again, but I’m glad I fucking finished that shit. Now for some fucking food and a goddamn beer,” she said. Me too. Me too.

Nothing against the Vicious Cycles organizers or anyone else who is totally into that sufferfest grind–it’s just not for me. If I’m going to suffer on dirt roads and grind on the gravel, I’ll just stick around Bellingham to do it–that was the last time I’ll travel for one of those Gran Fondos. I’ve got a rad little adventure organization here at home, and I’ll do all of those rides. My Mister felt the same way and was pleased that he met his early season goals. He was on his way back up the climb and we passed eachother as I was heading to the aid station. “Go got it, you killer!” he yelled.

A true Killer I was not, but I did ride 78 miles and climbed 7,334 feet seven days after The Stotty. So good goddamn, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Next up is Ski to Sea.

I’m hoping to beat my time from last year and do better overall in the cyclocross leg. Those 13 miles will feel easy AF compared to the last two weekends. I’m really proud of my little team for jumping into doing a race they’ve never done before, and I love being the captain. Twenty years ago when I was partying with all the cool kids who BBQ oysters and drink all day during Ski to Sea, I would not have believed you if you’d told me I’d captain a team someday. Life. This life. It’s magic.

To conclude this post, I’ll quote the great French rider Bernard Hinault:

As long as I breathe, I attack.

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My First Grind Corps Gran Fondo: A Memoir

First of all, let me start by saying that if you’re checking out this post hoping that I’ll have some magic formula about bike gearing and fitness about gravel rides, this post may not be for you. I’m also taking a break from writing about all things related to Open, adjuncts, and leadership so if you want that jobby job talk, check back in a week or so, and I’ll try to write about that magic.

Here’s the honest truth of my first Gran Fondo experience: I had NO idea what I was signing up for when I rolled into Bloedel-Donovan last Sunday for the Whatcom Grind p/b The Bellingham Grind Corps.

I had four goals. 1] Have fun while riding my bike (Check!) 2] Enjoy my day away from the laptop and phone and be in the mountains (Check!), 3] Support my friend Kip who is totally rad about sponsoring my bike team (Check!) 4] Suffer my way to some better fitness (Check AF!).

When I finally rolled into my garage that evening, I had ridden 59.7 miles and 7333 feet of elevation. True, I was the Lantern Rouge when we arrived back to Lake Padden, but I did it! That’s some serious riding in my book, and let me tell you, I put the Gran in the motherfuckin’ Fondo!

And oh-my-gawd I loved every minute of it. It was some of the most beautiful suffering I’ve ever done on a bike. It was akin to everything I love about backpacking with that feeling of being far away in the mountains only I was on my bike. I can’t stop talking about it, so I should prolly blog it out.

Here we go in some Lessons Learned style of bloggy blog blog bloggery.

Lesson 1: Listen to people when they advise you about gravel grind gearing.

I was really stubborn (surprise!) about not wanting to purchase the right gearing for my cyclo-cross (CX) bike and I regretted it. I love my CX bike, and I refused to listen to the Mister about buying new gearing. What if I don’t like this kind of riding, I said. What if I’m able to ride some of the steeper pitches, I said (ha ha ha, hindsight). What if I regret not putting the money towards my future new sleeping bag, I said.

He sighed and shook his head. I could put what I have on your bike but then you’ll spin out on the road, and I think you’ll be unhappy with how slow you’ll be on the 25 miles of pavement, he said. We should just run down the shop and get you a [enter all the bike gearing talk here], he said. We could do [enter money that I didn’t want to spend here], he said.

Fuck it. I’ll just ride what I’ve got and suffer through it, I said.

When I finally resigned to walking my bike up the switchbacks for the first time I hated myself for being so stubborn. What a frickin’ loser I am! Why do I have to be so stubborn? Why me? Why didn’t I research more? Why did other people know to have plate-size gearing and I chose to ignore them? Why! [Shakes fists at heavens!]

All I needed to do was spend the money (I get a discount with my bike team sponsorship) and I’m married to a very skilled obsessive perfectionist meticulous bike mechanic who would have installed everything for me.

Ready to slap me yet?

In my defense, I have very specific financial goals right now, so avoiding some risk on gear for an outing that I didn’t even know I’d like is my version of being a responsible adult.

So now that I know I LOVED it, I’ve got a little list that will make my bike a magic machine for the uphill spinney-spin-spin. I can’t tell you how many times I clicked my gears hoping there two–three–no–wait–five–no seven–any–easier gears. Nope! The hike-a-bike miles were unavoidable but I know I could’ve ridden a few more of those switchbacks had I listened to my Mister. As much as I hate to say it, everyone I didn’t listen to was right. Dammit.

Lesson 2: Ride with friends and give zero fucks about the killers going race pace.

When I rolled to the start, I knew almost half of the people there. And if I didn’t know them, I recognized them from racing. There’s a whole group of folks who live to destroy one another with their pace on a bike–bless their hearts–and albeit I adore them as people, I learned long, long ago that I can not and should not ever care to keep up with them. Drop me, bitches, I care not! A Killer, by definition, is high-praise from me, and there are a ton of those people here in Bellingham. A Killer is person who spends a fair amount of time suffering while riding very fast. Usually finds a way to a podium or five per year during various race seasons. Trains hard to stay fit year ’round. This sister? Not so much. I’ve named my current muffin-top “Kittens Mittens” after my favorite winter beer. As in, my “Kittens Mittens” has made my jeans tight but I know I’ll lose those ten pounds by June. As in, my “Kittens Mittens” brings all the boys to the yard, damn right, I’ll lose it by June. And so on.

Prior to the ride, I made a deal with myself that I would ride as best as I could, and when we started, I felt great. Like really good. My quads were a bit tired from rides earlier in the week, but I felt pretty okay. Like my own version of being a Killer.

And then we went up and up and up and the views of Lake Whatcom were lovely. It was hot and sunny and gorgeous and green. The Chanterelle Trail was all the Pacific Northwest beauty. I had six teammates at the rollout, and three of them were with me. The sun was shining like it was summer. Yes, Dolores, I have seen something so full splendor.

I had a plan that if I couldn’t do both climbs, I’d bail on the second and ride the roads home. Or I’d find a convenience store, buy a 40 with paperbag and drink it while I waited for my Mister to come pick me up. Me and my “Kittens Mittens” would bail with some style. You know. Klassy.

Another motivator was this new idea (to me) of a “supported ride.”

I’ve never done a supported ride, and I’ve always thought that Gran Fondos were for The Swells. And a lot of them are with all the sag wagons and champagne and fancy foods and costly entry fees. And I’m sad to report that I didn’t join the Grind Corps crew earlier because I thought it was only for The Killers. And it can be. But it’s also for people like me. People who look forward to cheap beer, a sandwich from Cafe Velo, an aid station with cool people to talk to, and friends who were in it for the fun of riding and walking bikes in the mountains. People who sample everything at the aid station. And love it. Like me.

Lesson 3: Stop and look at the views. PRs be damned. Let the clock tick.

I took a long time to finish. In fact, I was the Lantern Rouge of the entire pack. Last place.

Kudos to the volunteers and my teammates who hung out waiting for us to arrive. I really appreciate the time that they took out of their weekend to make sure I had everything I needed for pure joy on the bike. For a very reasonable price, I was set up for a day of adventure! I’m pretty sure the guy who came in first was already back in Seattle going for a local recovery ride by the time I rolled in, but again, see Lesson 2.

Lesson 4: Take more pictures.

I wish I had stopped to take several photos that I skipped because I was suffering to push my bike. My phone was in Camelbak and taking it out to aim a photo took effort. I was super sweaty and I know that’s when I drop my phone so I just kept it in my bag. I missed the opportunity to take a photo of a dead crow that was gorgeous and dark deep blueish black. So Goth! Missed the barn where they had bikes hanging from hooks as decoration. So cute! The brown lawn ornament that was a Sasquatch cut out with glitter. So Out County! All the flowers. The view of Skagit county going up the Anderson climb? Gorgeous! Some of the switchbacks that just kept going up and up and up. The hilarious spray paint art that one usually sees during aerial shots during the grand tours. Cheeky course organizers! The smiley faces on the rocks in the clearcuts. Or did I imagine that?

I also wish I’d documented my own version of the ride markers that either directed us to go left, right, caution-a-gate, or continue straight. We called them route markers at first and then magic circles and then suffer circles and then eventually beer dots.

“Let’s connect the dots to the beer at the park” we said.

Lesson 5: Slow the heck down on the descents and give your hands a break.

I loves loves loves me some fast downhill on a bike. I got bugs in my teeth from smiling so much and I let it rip way more than I should have. My Garmin told me my top speed was 33.8 and you know, that’s kind of badass, but totally unsafe on gravel roads.  By the time my hands were hurting from braking, I was close to not having the hand power to grip my brakes.

My middle-aged lady hands aren’t as strong as they used to be, so I need to slow this sister down in the future to make sure I stay healthy. It made typing (which is mainly how I make a living) a bit hard on Monday.

Lesson 6: I wish I had encouraged more women to join me. 

I can recruit ladies to race cyclocross and cross-country all the live-long day because I love it. If I truly love something, I like to encourage others to join me. My friends Kerri Love and Marcy Sutton did these rides last year, and I found their enthusiasm contagious. Marcy’s a hardcore single-speeder and she bought a geared bike (wut!) so that was a sign of serious fun-to-be-had. Kerri pitched the idea to our team several times, and I’ll now join the Kerri chorus for all the ladies.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re on the fence about joining the fun, hop on over to Bike Reg and sign up. I’ll be the Lantern Rouge so you don’t have to, and I’ll make sure we set a slow-so-we-can-survive pace. I’d like to go a bit faster for the next ride, but we can sort that out once we get there. Either way, it’s a different kind of day in the mountains, and more women should do it. Beer tastes especially sparkly delicious at the end, and you can look up at those mountains and say you did the grind on your bike to get to one magic dot to the next on mostly gravel.

And if you’re a Lady Killer, there are women you can ride with too. It’s a great way to train and suffer on the bike. You can race one another if you want to do that. I’ll support you by drinking your share of the beer. Kidding. Not kidding.

Concluding Thoughts on the Lessons Learned:

I need more adventuring in my life. It felt really good to set out with a goal of trying something new and doing it. The work that I do is really unpredictable, ever-changing, and filled with ups and downs. Plans change all the time. Priorities can switch hourly. It’s been awhile since I put myself in a position of doing something new and unknown yet I teach/train people to do that all the time. New terrifyingly hard experiences remind me to be more empathetic and patient. I talked my Killer Mister into joining me so now we’re spending twice the money. But who cares? I’m stoked he’ll join me or The Killers and my sleeping bag will have to make it another season.

Prior to the ride, I thought I’d spend some time thinking about a few projects I’m working on and that I’d be able to draft some thoughts in my mind. HA! I only thought about the next switchback and my own suffering. It was perfect. Just want I needed.

This post is, of course, not that serious. Some of the other writing that I’m working on outside of the jobby job is. Let me conclude with sharing a quote from The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad.

A good weekend is alert to beauty. A good weekend embraces purposelessness. A good weekend wanders a million different paths, but always involves slowing down and stepping out of the rushing stream of life (p. 12).

The Gran Fondo, or gravel grinding, for this working gal, makes for a great weekend. Thanks for reading, friends.

Now go ride your bike.

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To Ambitious Administrators, With Love

Dear Ambitious Administrator,

First off, let me tell you, I understand you with my deepest empathy, and I write this bloggy letter out of love and respect. You most likely left teaching because you needed the money. That’s a chapter in my memoir too. It’s not something you like to admit, and you certainly don’t share that motivation with your superiors. Talking about money and class status is so vulgar. Shameful. Difficult. I get it. I married somebody who was born into a lower class status than me, and we’ve struggled financially together for fifteen years. We laughed out loud during our marriage vows when the officiator said, “For richer and for poorer.” How can we possibly get poorer, we laughed. It was our way of saying “I do.”

So if you’ve made it this far, can I tell you a secret, Ambitious Administrator?

Your ambition has consequences.

This has been the hardest lesson I’ve learned since I’ve gone into “leadership.” I write this word in quotes because it’s a descriptor that others use about me, but not one that I am comfortable with in my own career. Who I am today is a blend of hard work, really good luck, and the willingness to fail in a very bright spotlight. I raised my hand and said “I’ll do it” at a the right time when a lot of really generous people were willing to say, “Okay, here’s all my stuff and let me know what you do.” (Word up, Quill West).

The word, Ambition, originates from the Latin ambitio (a striving for favor, literally ‘a going around’). It’s a word we value in leadership. In careers.

I want to share a few tips that I’ve learned personally from my own ambition and from my experience consulting with leaders. I need you to understand how your ambition helps and really hurts all things Open. Really hurts Open. Your ambition, in my opinion, can be more disastrous than an LMS transition. Think I’m over-exaggerating? Hear me out.

But before I go on, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this Movement has been good for my career. My ambitions. Quite good. And I’m aware of the criticisms of people like me who’ve made “a career on open education.” I’m so aware of all your criticisms that I sometimes have a hard time sleeping. I sometimes have a hard time getting out of bed.

When I was an administrator, I suffered the same sleepless depressive fate. Now instead of worrying about one institution, I worry about eleven or so (and counting) different systems and consortiums.

Same woes. Same joys. Just at scale. (A Memoir).

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, my beloved ambitious administrator, because I know it’s That Hiring Season in my hemisphere.

Spring isn’t about escaping winter; it’s about getting out of That Job.

Oh ho ho, I know yo.

Good administrator jobs are being posted right now in the US. You’re tuning up your CV. Pitching every conference blurb you can write. Having that “What If” conversation with your spouse. Hiding that Big Change on the horizon from your children until the time is right. Drinking more than you normally do. Curling up with your dog in his bed even though you know it pisses him off. Baking cinnamon rolls that you know will make you gain weight. Listening to the live version of “Stairway to Heaven” from 1975 so you can start crying when Robert Plant asks “Does anyone remember laughter?”

No. Nobody ever fucking remembers laughter. That’s the fucking problem…Wait. This is not about me, right.

You, my friend, are mostly likely pretending at work that you aren’t looking for a new job. Amrite? Yoohoo, I see you!

Executive administrators are the only ones who can’t hide during the hiring process. If you’re a finalist for a president, chancellor, or provost position, it’s a press-release. Colleges love to pimp your accomplishments in order to attract faculty. Look at us, the press releases say, we can have a hiring pool of people with [enter academic credentials here]. When you don’t get the job, your failed ambition lives forever on the interwebs.

If you report to one of these exec-level people, chances are your CV will be sitting on their desks very soon. They are waiting to decide your fate. Chances are they already want to hire you but they have to go through The Process that your future institution created. Takes forever. Is a giant waste of time. Hiring committee? Drink!

You thrive on the hope that your ambition will be recognized and appreciated more by that future institution. People will want to know about your ideas. Your ability to lead. Your ability to get shit done. To innovate. To lead.

Allow me to remind you, my administrator friend, that your success is and always will be contingent. Always reliant on. Always connect to. Always part of. Your faculty.

Let me repeat that.

You are successful only if you have faculty who will say yes. Yes to your ideas. Your innovation. Your ambition. Your leadership.

You are successful only if your ambition connects directly to helping students. Not your career. Not your CV. Students.

Let me restate this point. If you forget faculty and students, then you are failing as administrator. I’m writing this bloggy letter with you in mind.

In my own experience, let me be clear, I haven’t been the paragon of perfection. I don’t know the fucking color of my parachute and I don’t give a shit who moved the cheese. Sorry, I’ve been reading too much on leadership lately. Where was I? Right. Administrators, what up.

As a teacher, I struggled with the thought of leaving the classroom to join you. I looked to leaders who I respected, and thought, “That. Job. Looks. Awesome.” (waves at Connie Broughton and Boyoung Chae).

But I struggled personally and professionally for years.

What saved me? I had very cool deans who hired for me for an Instructional Designer job that I loved and backed me up when students collaborated to get me fired. This was pre-Rate Your Professor, but I’m sure they would have used words that rhyme with “Socialist” and “Bitch” and “Liberal Elitist.” No chili peppers.

Having a dean say to me that I wasn’t the first faculty member who faced this issue really saved me. That was one of the hardest quarters of my life. I was thinking about quitting teaching when he said, “I’ve never seen so many students united with such organization and passion. They really hate you! We must be doing something right as a college. Check out the pathos in these letters about you. They’ve substantiated all their claims, so I’m really impressed. I love Susan Sontag, for the record. Would you like some tea?”

That conversation with my dean took me off the roller coaster of thinking I was going to get fired and that I wasn’t a good teacher to the ferris wheel of becoming a better educator ( you go up, you go down). I improved as a person. Changed everything for me. Made me feel like I had a community of colleagues. That cup of tea was a lifeboat in my sea of loneliness as an adjunct. I changed my approach.

Students will often say what you want to say if you give them time. I hadn’t learned that skill of patience. Pedagogically, that’s the power of the pregnant pause and the super slow stare around the room. Look everyone in the eye.

Ask an open-ended hard question and wait. Anyone care to share their thoughts?

Two years later I was nominated as a faculty member of the year. Three years later, I’d was honored with winning that title. Deans–the middle managers of higher ed–helped me become a better and happier teacher.

That block of time on an administrator’s calendar—one hour—one cup of tea—saved me.

You have a lot of power.

Never forget that, Ambitious Administrator.

That’s the story you want to tell, by the way, should you get an interview for an executive administrator position.

Talk about your relationship with adjunct faculty. Recognize them as humans. Describe how your leadership will directly connect to the people who teach 80% of our courses. Create a clear path from your ideas to their work with students. Full-timers will be on your committee because they are held responsible (and paid) for “service to the institution” so they will appreciate (hopefully) how you’ll help them manage the horror of the slow deterioration of tenured positions. Chances are, they love the students at your future institution, and they’ll have good ideas for you. Listen.

Student success, one very wise administrator said to me, is in all of our job descriptions. “It’s not other duties as assigned. It’s our only job. You drop everything when a student needs you.”

I’d add that you also drop everything when a teacher needs you.

“Inbox Zero,” for the record, is a bullshit strategy that workaholic tech people made up. Email can wait. Focus on your people. Always.

And thus, I realize being a good administrator is a very hard job. Impossible sometimes. Yet you want to keep moving up the chain of command. Something drives you. There’s something you want to do. To be. To accomplish.

Perhaps you’re in school while being an administrator because you need that PhD/ED credential. Perhaps you’re writing a bunch of grant proposals because you know it will help your CV. Perhaps you’re pitching a lot of ideas and writing research articles. Conference proposals.

Perhaps you’re making a lot of plans that you hope you won’t be around to see through because you’ll get That Job. That Position. That Appointment.

And you know the words “Open Education” make eyes slow down while they scan CVs. Cover letters. This I know. This I’ve seen. This I’ve benefited from. This I know.

Ambitious administrator, you bust out your best Jean-Luc Picard and Make It So.

Do it.

Make all the damn plans. Fill out every cell in that spreadsheet. Drop all the names. Bust out all the prose power you have to bring Open to your future school. Project textbook savings. Write lovely poetry about faculty collaboration. Whip up cross-institutional square dance moves to create openly-licenses courses that can be used throughout your state. Your country. Fuck it, why not THE WORLD?! Spin projections of scale. Submit conference proposals for work that hasn’t been done yet your blurb makes it sound like you have all the success. All the success. All the answers.

Make shit up.

But pause for a minute. This I ask.

This I beg of you.

Imagine what will happen if you aren’t there to do ANY of the work. Before you write “OER” or “Open Pedagogy” or “OER Degree” take a moment and envision what all that looks like without you.

This is the oldest cliche question in the Leadership Handbook, right? It’s now sexy to call it “Radical Candor,” but it’s really just being honest. Having integrity. Humanity. Empathy.

Can the work go on without you? Will the work go on without you?

Be honest.

If not, then your ambition gives administrators a bad name. When passion’s a prison/you can’t break free. That’s the song that Bon Jovi should have written, btw. But yes, you give administrators a bad name.

You contribute to faculty mistrust of administrators.

Here’s my main beef with you.

Your ambition adds another brick to all the walls and barriers of OER. Your ambition leaves a lot of people bereft of a good leader. This I know. This I’ve seen.

So what can you do? A better salary may be calling. A new location may be better for your family. A new job might be the key to your happiness. I get it. By all means, connect with me, and I’ll try to help you with every connection that I have if you do me one favor. One thing.

Here’s The Thing.

Let me boss you through this. I have a solution.

Leave a map behind for the people who will get stuck doing the work you dreamed up. Make sure people will still love OER once you leave.

Have checklist of things they need to do to be successful. A one-pager executive summary. A spreadsheet. A stack of 3×5 cards. A couple of Post-it notes. Something.

Let a few people above you know you’re on the hunt for a better future. Prepare them for your ambitions. (If you can, I know that’s career suicide in some cases. Believe me, I know).

Let a few people know below you know that you might leave and that they should read up on OER. Introduce them to the cool kids you know. Promote them as OER heroes. (I also know this is a morale killer, but it’s best to let at least one direct report know that his/her life will suck for six months after you leave.)

Write a letter to your replacement describing next steps. Print it out. Leave it in a file where they will find it.

And most importantly, have a conversation with your best faculty member.

This is the most important. If you do one thing, do this. Please do this.

Talk to that faculty member who got shit done for you so you could write that cover letter. That line on your CV. Your career would not have happened without him/her.

That faculty member who said, “I’ll pilot that OER course. Sure, why not? Sounds fun.”

That faculty member who tried and tried and tried and tried and continues to try to get her colleagues to consider OER. Talks about it at every staff meeting. Reads every email that you send. Asks you questions. Loves Open.

That goddamn unsung faculty hero of yours? He/she is still going to be there.

Your champion.

Tell that person you’re leaving. Or trying to leave. She needs to be on the hiring committee for your position, and the more notice she has, the more likely she’ll say yes to that committee.

Okay, my friend, I feel better now. Thank you for reading. Now go write that cover letter. Bring open education to a school that needs you. Get that job.

I’ll leave you with a lovely quote from Rebecca Solnit, from The Far Away Nearby, which is about care taking for an aging parent, but I think it applies to leadership. Yes.

“…you crash into this condition that you have not been warned about, a rocky coast without a map.”

Yours Truly,

Alyson

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Progression Doesn’t Have To Be Painful

My blog title could very well describe the work that I do.

You?

More on that idea another day. Let’s talk bikes! My title is really a direct quote from Angi Weston’s new website. And look, ya’ll, see where her incredible photographer caught me in a pure moment of learning on her website?

In the photo, Angi is describing body position into a turn. A corner. Good golly I struggle with cornering. As she’s talking, my hands are on my handle bars–you can see in the photo. I’m thinking hard standing next to two of my bike teammates who inspire me.

One lesson, with Angi, changed my riding. After 20 years of making the same mistake.

Let me say that again really slow-like.

One.

Lesson.

Corrected 20 years of mistakes. Prior to that day, I would have described myself as an okay rider. This one change–that I could not figure out on my own has made me wonder about how often we get trapped by our routines. How we get so comfortable with our own abilities. How we get so confident about our own limitations. How we learn.

In my last post I wrote about pursuing training to become a mountain bike coach, and I’m pleased to report that I completed Step 1 when I finished my CPR/First Aid training today. Because my jobby job is, uh, a bit time-consuming and I have a lot going on right now with my bike team, I’m going to start with the Bike Instructor Certification Program ride leader course. And now that I’m all legit to do CPR and basic first aid again, I can be a leader of people who want to ride bikes in the woods. Woot! I’m really inspired by Angi; it’s awesome to see a woman take on her own business in a male-dominated field, and Angi’s an amazing teacher–I really wish her all the success.

Thanks to the generosity of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, I earned the certification with 16 other people on a cold, crisp blue-sky day near Lake Padden a few weeks ago. I learned a lot, and I’m really grateful for the experience. Bellingham now has 13 mountain bike clubs for kids in middle school. How rad is that? How different the experience of riding bikes will be for so many young girls.

Here’s a bit of embarrassing and hard truth.

Here’s the thing.

I kind of sucked at coaching.

I mean, I really really really sucked at it. I thought I’d be able to transfer all of my teacherly and trainerly experience with new material, and I’d be good to go. I’m a pretty okay teacher. I’m a pretty okay trainer. I love bikes. I’ll be great at this, I thought. Easy.

Nope.

Turns out, I’m not a naturally gifted coach and I have a really long way to go. In fact, I’m not really sure it’s for me, and here’s why.

You aren’t supposed to talk while teaching techniques. You have to be silent.

I’m going to pause right now for you to make fun of me in your mind if you know me.

If you don’t know me, then let me tell you. I LOVE TO TALK. Love it. LOVE IT.

Words are my business, yo.

I love to tell stories. I love to talk about teaching. Bikes. Movies. TV shows. Bike racing. Vacations. Maps. Hiking. Camping. Cooking. Beer. Wine. Booze. Knitting. Books. Teaching. Learning. Open. The Education. The Technology. All of it.

You name it, I prolly love to talk about it.

Oh, and then there’s what I do for a living which also involves words. A lot of words. Click here. Link this. Try that. Curate these things. Read this. Do these five things. Read this. Here’s some advice for your zombie-themed OER course. Let me connect with my team to see if I can solve that problem for you. Let me use all my damn words to make your life easier. Need to drop some F-Bombs about your learning management system? Drop away. I’ll listen and I’ll add a few myself if it will make you laugh. Feel frustrated by your stubborn department/institution/system when it comes to teaching with OER? Give me all your words. I got a few to add too. Let’s talk about what you want to learn today.

Don’t know what to do? I do, and let me tell how to do it.

I’m either typing on my laptop or talking to it. All day.

I talk for a living.

I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t volunteering my time for my awesome bike community, I would have failed the exam during the ride leader class. Seriously. I would have failed me. I sucked. I was terrible.

Let me explain.

Checking helmets, bike fit, tire pressure, brakes, quick releases, handle bars–all super easy breezy. I can spot what’s wrong with your helmet and your bike fit no problem. I can look at you thirty feet away and assess whether you’re wearing your helmet correctly. Whether you need to lower or raise your seat. Whether you are okay with spending several months worth of mortgages on a bike. I can talk Leave No Trace, staying with pack, Safety First–all that. No problem.

Because it involves talking.

My major point of sucktasticness was in the demonstration. The Demo.

In my work world, I can demo all the damn day. Demo means talk, right? No! This type of demo was really hard because I was to Show not Talk. Their pedagogical theory is that if you talk, people won’t pay attention to your body position. They won’t pay attention to what you are doing. You talk, then you show how it’s done.

Where your feet are on the pedals. Where your fingers are on the brakes. Where your hips are. Where your arms are. Where your eyes are looking.

Students, they claim, will look at your face. Not your body. Because you are talking.

After doing my demo portion of the class as part of the exam, the teacher gave me the zip-your-lip motion, like a kindergarten teacher. So what did I do? I cracked a joke making fun of myself. She made that sign again. What did I do? I made excuses all by talking. She then openly told me not to talk. What did I do? I shared how I was starving and that low-blood sugar set me up for the worst demo. She offered me a bar to eat. Everyone stared at me. I started back–totally hating every moment of this spotlight.

Thank goodness this teacher was kind because I’m pretty sure I would have lost my patience with me. I’m going to cut myself some slack here–I just took my first coaching lesson this past year, so I haven’t been able to observe what bike coaches do a whole lot. I learn best by observing what other teachers do. So this year, I’ll be watching. I will get better.

And then I’m going to use my words to tell y’all about it!

It was such a good experience for me to completely and utterly fail at something that I really wanted to do. I rode my bike home feeling a little defeated and completely exhausted. I mean, I got the certification, I’m going to roll out on my first ride in the next two weeks, and I hope I’ll get better. I just wasn’t good at it from the get-go. I failed at the first try. Humbling for me. So great for me to experience as a learner. I have to forgive myself and move on to the next step. Maybe coaching isn’t for me.

What gave me a bit of hope is that I was pretty good at identifying flaws in other riders and coaching them to improve. For instance, we covered what they call the three essentials of mountain bike riding. 1] Looking where you want to go. Eyes forward. 2] One finger on the brakes. And 3] keeping level pedals in an either neutral or ready position.

The most fun of the course was trying to diagnose the flaws of my students to help them improve. That part was really fun, and encouraged me to continue with this endeavor. And when I was told I could give advice on how others could improve, I asked if I had to show or if I could talk. You can do both! So I was like BA-RING IT CUZ I GET TO TALK again! Yay!

One-by-one my students rolled through the orange cones we had set up as our course. Eyes up! One finger on the brakes, not two. Chest up! Eyes up! It’s not bar hump Wednesday, Eric, get behind the saddle, I sassed. Level pedals. Don’t point your toes. Be sure to feather your brakes. And so on. It was a blend of being able to cheer people on while identifying what they were doing wrong and how they can improve.

That one-on-one-talking-through-steps-to-improving part of coaching, I know I’m going to love. Eventually. That progression won’t be painful, it will be pure joy.

“Much of our life,” writes Bjergegaard and Popa, “is spent of on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151). Yes. Sometimes we just have to track-stand. Right. There. Quietly.

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Pose This Question and Just Listen

Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Hell is other people” reflects the experience of modern day air travel. I wrote this post while stranded in Detroit, Michigan after my plane out of Lansing had a mechanical. The airline made it up to me by putting me up at hotel and booking me on another flight the next day. I waited in lines, and tried to be a bit zen about it all because it’s a necessary part of my jobby job. Would rather they find what’s broken on the plane on the ground than in the air.

During this time in line, I made a new buddy. He and I chatted about his son’s college major. This is a convo with strangers my age almost always happens after I explain what I do for a living. Parents feel compelled to share their horrors about what they spend on their children’s college textbooks. And rightly so, ye parents of Priority and First Class, it’s truly an abomination. Tell it.

I bite my tongue to not snark-splain them. About how I care more about students whose parents can’t afford to foot the bill. I don’t say that. That makes me sound mean and bitter about my comfortably middle class peers (A Memoir).

Allow me to air some academic-ish dirty laundry.

I pitched a conference proposal on a whim with little to no forethought of what I would actually say if I got acccepted. Or how I would substantiate my ideas.

At the time, I needed to feel witty.

At the time, I gave myself full permission to be creative.

At the time, I had just been rejected by a global conference where the committee used words like “simply too sketchy” and “not really clear in its delivery” in the ding letter. I laughed really hard at those thoughtful rejections. You SO get me!

At the time when I submitted this particular preso, I was super-scattered and not very organized. I didn’t really have it together, and now I’m trying to sort out what I’ll actually say, but then again, I kind of want to write about something else. I’ve got a post going about surfing and mountain biking (all the rad). One about my readings on leadership (all the confusing). Another about two articles that a friend shared with me (all the troubling). Another about my sadness concerning one awful event (all the difficult). Another on how I learned to not joke about the worst case scenario (all the painful). Okay, where was I?

Right. Sorry I’m a bit too sketchy and not very clear in my delivery sometimes.

I used to get really exhausted by the airplane travel, and I still do, but I now understand where the exact point of exhaustion circles and swirls in the deep darkness of my soul. In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer (noted philosopher) writes about why traveling for work is so tiring.  Schumer writes about how she feels compelled to be nice to every service worker she encounters because she used to do so many of those jobs. She’s overly nice and tries to make up for the lack of humanity that she experienced as a service worker. Yes.

When I read that passage, I put the book down and thought long and hard about my life. How I see my old self in hostesses, waitresses, caterers, bartenders, cashiers, and cooks. How I see myself in those black aprons and white chef coats and I remember. I remember. I remember. I remember. I remember. And I’m suddenly not so tired from the jet lag and I’m eternally grateful for this life. I remember. I remember. I remember.

Reading her book helped me to curtail the emotional energy that I expel with the small talk with strangers. I don’t engage with service workers as much while I’m traveling for work. I just smile and tip well. I realized I need to save every bit of energy for my work because, you know, it’s so easy-breezy, stress-free, and predictable (that’s sarcasm, btw). So I’ve dialed back the chatty with the strangers. I don’t say much. It helps me.

Okay, here’s the thing. The Thing.

I’ve been thinking about using the 10 Essentials as a storytelling framework for quite some time. One of these days I’ll get to My Big Vision With Said Framework but for now, I’d like to tease out a bit of story telling about Open while also thinking about pedagogy. Have I lost you yet? This post will be a blend of using the framework of the Mountaineering’s 10 Essentials and my own take on the teaching and learning. And some other things that I need to say but shouldn’t during my preso. I’ll have my shit together when I actually present, I promise.

The Map--Where do you want take your students in the short term? Maybe that’s your learning outcomes. The Big Question. The Five Questions. What’s the most important thing you hope students will remember about your course five years from now? That kind of thinking. Short-term learning strategy with long-term impact. You only have a semester or quarter, so what can you do with that precious time?

  • I once backpacked 40 miles with a map on my cell phone and when the battery went dead on that last day, my friend and I got really fucking lucky we didn’t end up on the nightly news. I’m willing to wing it on the trail and in the classroom and in my life, but I know that’s not always the best tactic. I love dreaming up plans while looking at maps. That anticipation is sometimes the sweetest part of planning a trip. Don’t stray/My kind’s your my kind/I’ll stay the same…chances are most of my audience will not get the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reference. What’s next?

A Compass! Where do you want to go long-term? Do you want to adopt, adapt, or build? What’s the most important change you’d like to see in your teaching? department? discipline? institution? Where do you hope to be in five years?

  • So if I’m to admit that I’ve gone on a long backpacking trip without a map, then who the hell am I to ask this question? Like I could have ever guessed I’d be doing what I’m doing five years ago. Fuck it. Doesn’t matter.
  • The Mountaineers, who came up with this list in 1974, have since upgraded their language to include modern technology. Instead of a compass, they list a GPS. I think that’s a mistake, Brahs. Fancy gadgets are bullshit. You either know how to find True North or you don’t.

Sunglasses/Sunscreen--When there are so many shiny bright ways to get started, how will you choose what’s best for you? What attracts you? Adopting? Adapting? Building?

  • Okay, let me pause and admit that I’m struggling with this essential for two reasons. I almost never pack sunscreen when I backpack and my skin burns like a motherfucker. I can’t seem to make this essential work without a bunch of crappy-ass sun metaphors.
  • True story: I was once on a trail-crew outing and my leader didn’t have sunglasses when we got to a glacier, and the ancient deep snow was blinding. So bright. He fashioned eye protection out of Wheat Thins box and duct tape. Man, I was so impressed by that quick thinking. And he totally looked ridiculous, but he could see. He adapted to the situation like a badass. I had on fancy sunglasses with interchangeable lens, and I kind of envied his ingenuity. Either that or I’m easily impressed by creative uses of cardboard boxes by men who are skilled with axes.

Extra Clothing–What will you do if something changes in your discipline? This essential is getting at “change management” and being prepared, I think.

  • Okay, also struggling with this one. I’ve been on backpacking trips where I put on every single layer of clothing that I brought just to stay warm and I was close to crying in my sleeping bag because I was so cold. This is another “essential” where I kind of shake my head. At the point where you are freezing or considering if it will ever stop raining or snowing, you can’t have enough clothes. You mentally torture yourself for choosing to be in a freezing tent close to hypothermia instead of in your warm bed. If you aren’t prepared for all weather shifts, then what the hell are you doing out there in the first place?

First-Aid–What if you need help? What will you do when students are struggling?

  • I think this essential is really about self-care and self-preservation. I can’t really think about that right now.
  • I might pose this question and just listen.

Fire-starter–What is your main idea that will spark conversation or creativity with your students? What’s the most fun you have while teaching your course?

  • I’ve been camping many times where there was no hope of ever starting a fire. I live in the Pacific Northwest. It’s damp. Mossy. Soggy. Even with the fancy-ass firestarters they sell at the recreational employee incorporated, there have been times where no flame was going to fire. You have to resign to suffer in every item of damp clothing you have and hope that the buzz of whisky would take you down to sweet sleep. You make do.

Matches—How can you get the fire started? What’s the spark?

  • Recently I learned that one of my favorite OER leaders tells his/her faculty: “Why are you rubbing two sticks together when I’m standing behind you with a Zippo?” Holyguacamole that makes me laugh every time I think of him/her saying that. Fucking genius. (If you’re reading this, my beloved friend, and you want the attribution, let me know. I don’t want to out you here just in case it’s not something want to share beyond your faculty. It’s a beautifully intimate private joke with people who trust you. Really. It’s the easiest way to describe administrative support of adopting already existing OER with some humor, so I had to share. Hilarious).

Knife–Do you know what you’d like to cut? What will you get rid of if you run out of time? What will you sacrifice? What’s the least your students need to know?

  • Here I am struggling with all the shitty analogies again. Maybe this is a bad idea.
  • Truth be told, I never carry a knife. I always depend on other people. In particular, my friend Tami who can catch a fish in 30 degree weather, kill it, gut it, and cook it up in the Panko and olive oil. Mother fucking delicious. She always has a knife, and I mostly backpack with her these days. I am blessed that this woman is in my life.
  • FYI teachers, it’s dangerous to admit that you’d cut anything from a class. But you do. You do. I remember. I remember. I remember.

Extra Food–What do you consider unnecessary in your course? Is there a learning outcome that makes you feel a bit “Meh”? Or is there something that feels redundant? I LOVE talking to faculty about institutionalized outcomes. It’s so entertaining to listen to them slam that system.

  • I’ve run out of food before on a backpacking trip. I shared one packet of oatmeal and three dried apricots with a friend and we had many miles left to hike out. We were also out of coffee. The horror of that day still haunts me when I’m packing for a trip. My friend and I were so broke and hungry together. Hiking towards my old car that I wasn’t really sure would start when we got there. Miles from where we could hitchhike. Good times.

Headlamp–And it’s something quite peculiar/something shimmering and white/it leads you here despite your destination.

  • Okay, clearly I got nothing on this one if I’m quoting The Church–the band.
  • I kind of disagree with this “essential”–I’d rather have clean water and be in the dark any day of the week. I think you always need purification tablets and a pump, but then again, most of the time I’m ready for bed as soon as the sun goes down, so I could get away without having light. I can sleep like the dead when I’m off work and in the backcountry. Love napping in a tent too.

Okay, this post has clearly devolved, but it’s helped me sort out some thoughts. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to this point. I promised myself to blog more and click “Publish” a bit more often this year. How is it almost April?

Since I’m unsure how to conclude this post, how about a quote from something I’ve read recently?

In “How to Be Bored” by Eva Hoffman, she writes something across my soul with the following:

If we are to remain internally and intellectually alive, we need to make time not only for introspection but for our intellectual predilections, say, or our aesthetic impulses, without keeping an eye on the outcome or the specific goal.

Amen sister.

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Coaching The Nope Girl

“Stay young in the theatre of your mind.” ~Mary Oliver 

It’s Open Education Week, and it’s been awhile since I’ve published a post. In honor of this week of sharing, I’m going to take a minute to tell you about a profound moment of my learning from this past summer when I volunteered for a bike-related event. There’s deeper story that connects to my everyday work, and eventually I’ll tie these ideas together. Eventually: A Memoir.

For now, let me tell you a story.

As some readers may know, I’m on the board of an all women and girls bike team, Queens of Dirt, and our mission is to encourage more girls and women to race bikes.

The Queens of Dirt hosts several events as part of our sponsorship with Liv Cycling and our bike shop sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center. We ask our team members to volunteer for trail days, local events, and our Mountain Bike Weekend as part of the camaraderie and sponsor benefits of being on a team. I decided to step up my volunteering this summer to make up for the lost time I spent living in Portland. When the women decided to split from our co-ed team, and I was like, hells-to-yeah, ladies, let’s do this. Then I said, oh oops, I’m moving to Vermont. I mean Oregon. Whatever. I wasn’t around for a year, so I needed to up my game in 2017, so whenever I could, I signed up to volunteer. 

My first event was with RRAD, my friend Chris Mellick’s, organization who partnered with She Jumps. These two groups give girls a full day of activities such as learning first-aid, Leave No Trace principles, yoga, and mountain biking all for free at Lake Padden. If you have a bike, you’re encouraged to bring one. If you don’t, RRAD sets you up with a bike you can borrow. The girls rotate activities by age group throughout the day, and, I have to admit, I was really nervous about being with girls under 12. I was a baby-sitting machine as a young teenager, but my grown lady years have been childfree save for interacting with my friends’ kids. I’m an adult educator by trade. This was a total experiment for me. 

During the morning yoga session, the teacher described poses using animals sounds and she had the girls join in by being a bit silly. It was refreshing to see a yoga teacher play with poses. As she guided them through a bit of meditation, she said, “Think of your favorite color. Clear your mind and just see that color. I like yellow. I see nothing but yellow. Breathe.”

One girl immediately raised her hand and said, “What if you don’t have favorite color? I mean, I like a lot of different colors. It just depends on my mood. Sometimes it depends on what I’m wearing. Or my dreams from that night. Or a book that I’m reading. I don’t have ONE favorite color. I kind of want think of a unicorn. Can I think of a unicorn? I know they don’t exist but I love them. What should I do?” 

Omg, that was me at 8 years old. And at 18. And 28. And 38. Every damn day of my life. 

I laughed to myself. Girl, I thought, just learn that yoga. Breathe. It’ll help you keep your shit together. I promise.

As each age group rotated through the different stations, and I was there to help demonstrate for the Mountain Bike Group. The coaches took turns teaching the concepts, and I was their Demo Girl. Watch Alyson’s arms in “Attack Pose.” Or we can call it “Strong Girl Pose.” See how Alyson has her elbows out? Ready position means you’re ready to react to the terrain. See how Alyson’s feet are level on her pedals?

The coaches did the teaching. I over-exaggerated all the moves to demo and I led the girls one-by-one so the coaches could give them tips. I was elated to have this train of girls following my every move. Smiling. Sweating. Really trying. Strong Girl Pose. 

Before we started with the 6-8 years olds, one coach went through a series of questions.

Have you ever ridden your bike on a side walk?

Yes! In unison. 

Have you ridden your bike on the road?

Yes! In unison.

Have you ridden your bike in your yard?
Yes!

I noticed one girl looked really nervous. She wasn’t saying a word. She was standing awkward next to a bike that was way too big for her. She had that lost look that was either going to devolve in tears or sadness. She kept eyeing the bike like it was going to bite her. She was having a hard time keeping the bike upright.

Parents often buy bikes that kids will grow into, and I totally get it. Parents are doing the best with what they can afford. It’s really hard to ride a bike that’s too big for you. Scary.

So I rolled over to this girl, and said to the coach, I think we need to review these questions again so that she can answer too. 

The coach walked over, knelt down at the girl’s level, look her in the eye, and repeated. 

Have you ridden your bike on a sidewalk?

Nooooope. She started to smile.

Have you ridden your bike on the road?

Noooooope. She enunciated Nope very distinctly.

Have you ridden your bike in your yard?

Noooooope.

Have you ridden your bike in your house? 

Nooooope. 

In the playground?

Noooooope.

Have you ever ridden a bike?

Noooooope. That’s why I’m here! 

We all started laughing so hard, and the other girls started saying “Nooooope” the same way she did and everything melted into chaos like things do with that age group. Or like with adults in a computer lab trying to learn something new. But I digress.

Same chaos. I loved it. 

Chris came over and asked her if she wanted to try a smaller bike.

Nooooooope. I want to ride my bike, silly! 

He said, okay, throw a leg over your bike and let’s see how you do.

She fell over immediately. He caught her.

Nooooooope. 

He said, okay, let’s take your pedals off so that you can just roll around.

Okay, she said. I could tell she had no idea what he meant until he started to remove the pedals.

He lowered her seat, and as soon as she got on her bike, she started rolling around like mad. He turned her bike into Skuut-like substitute. Her eyes were bright and she was suddenly very excited. Riding my bike, she yelled!

The coach said, okay, time to come back together. 

Noooooope. Just kidding, she said, and she scooted over to the line-up. 

At that moment, I loved that girl so much, and I now say Noooooope just like her every time I can. 

Later in the day, she was burning up the grass kicking those legs around the field. The Nope Girl loved her bike. She just needed somebody to help her get started. She just needed somebody to help her find the right tool for her ability.

When the next group rolled in, we had the 9-10 year olds, and they weren’t as into the unison-answering-question thing. Not cool. So we got right to the coaching and the demo moves. I loved how the coaches adapted their approach with a new group. Same lesson plan and goals, different delivery. Some of these girls had a lot of experience riding. 

Part of the mountain bike segment of the day was using wooden stunts that imitate bridges or rolling terrain. There are a few “skinnies” to ride which are really long wooden boards about three inches off the ground to help build balancing skills. When I demoed the skinnies, I pretended like I couldn’t ride them to show how to bail safely. Plus, it’s awesome when the girls can do it and they think they are better than the old lady doing the demos. Super fun.

One girl pedaled like crazy, hit one of the rollers with speed, and crushed big time. Total yard sale. Bike went flying. She went over the handle bars. Endo City. Everyone stopped to stare. 

Me and two of the other coaches looked at each other like, “Faaaaawk! Broken arm. OMFG. Parents are going to hate us. Ack!” Eyes wide. We ran over to her.  

Then the girl bounded up like a gymnast who just stuck her landing pose and screamed, “I DID IT!” 

Arms in a V. Looked around for praise. We clapped and said awesome. Then we started cracking up. 

She did that exact pedal-like-she-stole-it-to-yard-sale-endo seven times. Every time yelling “I DID IT!” She actually never rode over any of the stunts successfully. Crash-tastic Girl was brave as hell and having the time of her life. She had zero fear to go fast. Her knee was bloody, but she was still pedaling fast. Once she learns how to control her bike, she’s going to be amazing. 

After the event, when the coaches and I were reflecting about the day, I brought up Crash-tastic Girl. You guys, I said, she was so incredible. To her, she was totally DOING it because she was trying. Her “I did it!” moment wasn’t about failure, but rather, she was trying and thus totally doing IT in her book. We should all learn from her, I said. The head coach shared that she was happy that Crash-tastic didn’t break her arm and she’s never seen such fearlessness and joy in crashing. We laughed really hard together and imitated her gymnast-I-DID-IT-pose.

What really got me hooked on the idea learning how to coach wasn’t the Nope Girl or Crash-tastic, it was one of the mothers. When she arrived to pick her daughter up, I encouraged one of the girls to show her mom what she learned.

“Look at me, Mommy, I can rip the skinny.” 

Her mom said, Uh, I don’t know what that means.

Don’t worry, I said, just watch her.

The girl was out of the saddle balancing her way across the skinny. Then she hit the bridge. The roller. Joked with another girl. Stopped to make sure Crash-tastic knew she saw her totally doing it too. They high-fived. You ready to go home? Noooooope.

The mom had tears in her eyes.

I don’t even recognize my daughter, she said. She’s like a different person. I’ve never seen her so happy and confident. What did you do?

“Mommy, I’m going to rip it again. Okay?”

The mom said I’m going to go video this. Her dad won’t believe it. We’ve had a hard year as a family. I guess we need to buy her a bike. Thank you, Coach. 

I’m not a coach, technically speaking, but I will be someday. I’m going to do it.

I found a new love thanks to that mom, Nope Girl, and Crash-tastic, and I’m going to use this bloggy to share my learning on my path to becoming a Level One Coach as part of the Bicycle Instructor Program. On March 17, I’m going to take the WMBC ride leader certification with March Northwest and thanks to generosity of the bike community of Bellingham, I won a scholarship for this certification. I can’t wait to give back. 

Thank you, WMBC, and Mahalo for reading, my friends.

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Winter Solstice Scarf

A plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for the dignity of labor. ~Mahatma Gandhi

A few plane rides ago, a ball of yarn flew out of my lap just as we were landing.

The weather was awful and there had been turbulence for most of the flight. Just as we were about to touch down, the plane jolted forward and my ball of yarn went flying.

I was in that row right behind first class. You know that row.

That first row behind first class–the loser row–where you can smell all the mediocre food they don’t bother to serve to you. The thin curtain separates you from The Swells. The row where you can hear the ice cubes in the weak yet free drinks they don’t serve to you. It’s not the worst row on the plane–that’s the one by the bathroom–but it’s not the best. Honestly, I don’t mind this you-are-not-first-class row. You get to deplane faster than those who sit in the back, and you get some sort of treat in a shrink wrapped box. A free drink or two. You get to ride next to hardened work travelers who aren’t interested in talking with you. Nobody is on vacation and ready to make friends. My ideal seat mates.

On this particular work commute, I sat there knitting quietly during the entire trip, and just as we were about to land, the ball of yarn flew from my lap and pin-balled between the four rows of first class passengers. It zigged and zagged between people’s feet and carry on bags. Rolled continuously like it was guided by an invisible cat who batted it around through several rows.

I sat there stunned. Helpless. Shocked. With my needles in my hands.

I was in the middle seat so I had to crane my neck towards the aisle to see what had happened to my yarn. Crap! The yarn was dark purple, very thin, and kind of delicate. Expensive. It blended in perfectly with the airplane carpet. I tried to stand up to retrieve it and the flight attendant yelled at me that I was in violation of the FAA. Ma’am, you need to take your seat, she said.

I side-eyed her with all my rage. Sat down hard like a scolded toddler.

Just then a guy in the front row held up my ball of yarn, and said, “Who’s is this?”

Mine, I said. I’m so sorry. I held up my needles as proof. The yarn got really tight as he held it up the air. Dammit!

He reached into his pocket and took out a small nail file to cut it. I was wide-eyed. Stunned silent. Just then three women in first class yelled NOOOO in unison.

What. The. Hell. I thought. How did that guy get on board with that aorta slicer in his pocket when I got felt up by the blue gloves just to confirm that the underwire in my bra was not a semi-automatic weapon. TSfuckingA.

NO! Another woman said. Wait. Let’s untangle it, slurred a woman who drank a bottle of merlot by herself glass by glass during this flight. She drank three glasses to my one. I had already decided I liked her before this yarn debacle. Her lips were as purple as my yarn.

The guy next to her said, “My wife is a knitter. You don’t cut the yarn unless you have to. Let me help. We can do this.”

Then the woman who sat next to the Nail-File-Yarn-Discoverer took charge. “Give it to me,” she said.

The man beside her said, “Send it this way.”

“No, pass it under the seat not over.”

“I’m next.”

“Here.”

This type of exchange went on for what seemed like eternity to me but was probably more like five minutes. If I could’ve made myself invisible, I would have.

These complete strangers worked out a tangle of yarn between feet, purses, carry-ons, flight blankets, and seat rows. They laughed. Helped one another. Corrected one another’s next move. Touched hands as they passed the yarn. Looked each other in the eye as they passed the ball under their seats. Stretched in odd ways to guide my wayward yarn between their legs. Coached the next row of yarn guides from their own unique perspective. Bossed one another around. Turned into a team right before my eyes.

I sat there helpless since I was on the hit list of the flight attendant. She seemed annoyed that she had to stop reading her Kindle to keep an eye on me and Team Yarn. She was right to watch me.The second she looked down, I was going to get up. She had my number.

I did not like her as much as the Merlot Drinker.

By the time the yarn made it back to me, it took almost a dozen people to help untangle the fiber strand. When the last person handed it back to me, the entire first-class broke into applause about their work. They laughed. High-fived. A few raised the roof. The Merlot Drinker Whoo-hooed.

I sat there mortified and somewhat in awe. I packed up my yarn carefully. I’d untangle the mess in privacy of my hotel room later. Said thank you. One person asked me what I was knitting.

A scarf, I said. Felt mildly embarrassed that I wasn’t creating something more complex. They didn’t seem to care. They were quite pleased with themselves. Team Yarn got the job done.

Then the plane bell rang. People unclicked their seat belts. Grabbed their bags. Deplaned. Joined the masses of bodies in movement. Strangers all on their way somewhere.

I walked to my next flight in silence. Marveled at how my mistake brought the joy of collaboration to a few rows of traveling strangers.

I finished that scarf yesterday shortly after reading an airline offer on my phone congratulating me on flying so many miles this year. Thanking me for being a valued customer. You flew 123,047 miles this year. Congratulations, the algorithm told me, hope to see you in 2018.

That scarf was a project that I carried in my purse for most of 2017. I carried it to several different states. Airports. Hotels. Restaurants. Bars. Libraries. Universities. Colleges. Parks. Train stations. Taxis.

Just a thin gorgeous thread of purple. Garnet stitch row by row. Size ten needles. Simple. Something to do when I was too tired to work. Too stressed to sleep. Meditative. Easy.

Thinking about that flight now, it makes me laugh. Spontaneous joy. How absurd life can be. I might be missing an opportunity here to say something about the kindness of strangers. Spontaneous collaboration. Team work. Empathy. Generosity.

Maybe this is all an anecdote for a larger point. Someday.

Originally I thought I’d gift this scarf to somebody, but after all that work from the strangers in first class, I’ve decided to keep it as my own.

A gift to me on this Winter Solstice of 2017.

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Open To Bringing Your Best #Adjunct

If I know this community well, there will be mind blowing bloggy blog bloggery for days after the OpenEd conference. People are going to reflect, synthesize, question, debate better than I can because I had a bit of a different experience. It was my first OpenEd and my time there felt a bit like hosting a party for all of my favorite people. I had a responsibility to be mindful of hospitality. A role that is a great privilege of my life—not just my career—I knew a lot of people in that space. In that community. Some of the faces I got to see are my dearest friends. Many are people I’m hoping to become friends with in the future. I had the privilege of being a woman in this space who has a lot of very cool brothers. My Ed Tech dude-friends are like the brothers I’ve never had. The women are more than sisters. They are my inspiration. The reason I stay in this gig.

One woman, who could be described as one of the major leaders in Open, shared with me her true feelings about her friendship with another woman. “Without her, I would not have been able to live through this year.” And it was honest. Real. Heartfelt. Full of pain. Joyful in the moment of sharing. I had to miss the UnCommon Women session, but it seemed to have had an impact on a lot people so I hope somebody will write about so I can know what I missed.

I know some people so well that I had full conversations with them across the room just by looking into their eyes. I hugged and got hugged more than normal on a work day. People that I think are total visionaries who I planned to fangirl faint and swoon over when I met them, led with saying “Oh my gosh, I love your work so much….” Hey. Wait. What? That’s what I was going to say!

When the morning keynote began, I looked around the room at the faces in the audience. I saw high-level administrators in the room who sacrifice their own careers to help their faculty. Because they care about students. Instead of worrying about their own promotions and reputations, they spend a lot of unrecognized time trying to get more staffing and support for their faculty and students. I know those people have sacrificed a lot to keep this idea moving forward. Sacrifices to their health. Their relationships. Their time. Their own self-care. They sit at a lot of tables where people are unkind to their ideas yet they keep persisting. They stay in this for their people. They lived through hurricanes, shootings, violence, and suffering with their staff, faculty, and students. And on top of all those other duties assigned, they teach. They publish. They research. They resist. They persist. They are my inspiration.

When I looked around the room during the first keynote, I could barely pay attention to his words because I was so nervous for my friends who helped put on that student panel. I had the privilege of having breakfast with that student panel, and they were even more lovely before they got up on stage. They were so comfortable with each other and they were genuinely excited to be there. On the way down to the conference, I gave them my card and I told them that I write really great letters of recommendations. I’d help them if I could when they go on the job market. I told them this conference is a very big deal and they were so brave to talk about their experience. I shared with them that everyone in the room is going to be thinking about how they can hire them once they graduate. This is how it works, I said. People won’t forget you. You’re going to be so loved. You’re so brave, I said.

When Robin DeRosa’s Minnie Mouse ears popped up and she said, “How do we hire them to come to our campuses?” I jumped up and threw them a Yes Yes Y’all with my fist and they smiled so big and laughed. We had a very private moment of sharing in a room full of people. Though I’m sure I looked ridiculous to those around me.

This is all about people for me. It’s about connecting people and ideas. It’s about connecting to this community. It’s about The People. And this work has gotten harder. Really hard. More difficult. More taxing. Yet even more needed.

I looked around the room and I realized that I also knew a lot of people who are very new to this community. Very new. I’ve been to 67 schools in one year. If you count the multiple visits to the same campuses, I’ve been to 73 schools in 11 states. Five giant systems. Small schools. Rural. Urban. Talking about This Idea. All the This in the Open.

They know words like constructivism and problem-based learning, but they have never heard of open pedagogy. They know service learning and communities of practice, but they don’t know how to get started in the digital space to make that work connect to others. They don’t know what a domain is but they know it’s a real pain in the ass when you lose access to your teaching materials. They have adopted an Open course, but they haven’t edited anything yet and they have no idea why that matters so much to some people. They know Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic, but they may not know the 5Rs. They don’t care about the theories and ideas I care about. What you may care about.

They care about their students. This I know from the work that I’ve been privileged to do.

And thus, I knew a lot of people. After this conference, I’m still reflecting on where I fit into this community and my role in it, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to get something off my chest in this space so that I don’t melt down on my husband. This post is a bit of self-care to make sure I’m the best I can be for somebody who truly loves me. My favorite life-long adjunct. So here goes.

I need to tell you a story about leadership.

A beloved leader teacher friend once shared with me that leadership is about seeing your people as either Weapons or Soldiers. The Weapon does one thing very well. Point. Shoot. Repeat. Keep it clean. Make sure it works. Point. Shoot. Aim. Fire. Your Soldiers, on the other hand, figure how to survive no matter what the orders. No matter what the situation. They can manage five jobs at once to get The Job done. They can make a weapon out of anything. They need orders but once they’re in the field you trust them do their job. You need to have their backs if they fuck things up and you need take the blame should your superiors get angry at your Soldiers. You hope they inspire the Weapons, but you don’t push it. The Soldier needs to stay focused on the strategy and your Weapons get all the shit done to make sure the tactics work.

It’s a simple binary, right? It’s all so confusing. I thought hard as I listened to him tell this story. Am I somebody’s Weapon? Am I a Soldier? As I was listening to my very brilliant friend, all I could think about was that I’m a pacifist who doesn’t see the point of the war.

This life is not the life that I thought I would have. I thought by this point in my life I would be the next Joan Didion and I’m not. When I shared my sadness about not being Joan at this conference, my dear friend Mike Caulfield said, “Well, you didn’t know there weren’t going to be any more Joan Didions back then either so it’s okay. You’re good.” Open bars bring out the best in my Open friends.

This life is not the story I want to tell you about either. I want to tell you about an experience that I keep having at academic conferences. Especially in the last four years. This is not exclusive to OpenEd17.

There is a systemic disease in higher education where somehow people think it is okay to pin their problems on adjuncts, and it’s not.

Let me give you a little pro-tip if I’m in the room with you. Don’t ever blame the state of higher education and all its woes on adjuncts. Let me repeat. Don’t ever blame all the fucked up shit in higher education on adjunct faculty. Ever. It’s like putting pressure on a very old deep wound of mine and I have to say something. I can’t stop myself even though I know I should.

Let me give you two tips, actually. Don’t ever make the claim that a faculty member at a community college deserves less than an R1 researcher. That R1s and regional publics somehow have the ability to determine the quality of materials because of their credentials or the status of their schools. That what they have created in the community college arena isn’t good enough for university students.

Let me give you three tips. Don’t ever shit on adjuncts around me. Ever. Or I’m going to say something to you that you probably don’t want to hear. Even though I’m trying to dial that rage back because it only hurts me. It only hurts me, and I know better.

That person will never hear what I say. It’s not a conversation. It’s a declaration of power from that person and I’m sick of hearing about it. I am really sick of talking about it. Yet I still speak up. Yet I type here.

It happens at every conference when there is a discussion about teaching and learning. With one such interaction this past week, I listened to long tales of funding woes and that adjuncts don’t care about this. That. Adjuncts don’t do this and adjuncts don’t do that. All the negatives. All the negatives. And I get it. Some are not worth defending. I know this.

I snapped a bit when I heard a complaint about not having funding to send an adjunct to this particular conference. This funding struggle is real, but I think there is a way to solve it.

I asked, “You’re here, right? Somebody paid for you to be here. What about giving up your spot at this table to send your best adjunct next year? What about advocating for your best adjunct to be here? You have a year to make that happen. Why not give up your space at this table?”

Silence no response. Started packing up his bag. Note the pronoun in the previous sentence. Conversation over. Thanks for sharing. Fuck you very much lady.

Here’s the thing. Somebody else in the room was listening.

A very quiet administrator walked over to me after this interaction, and she was very soft-spoken. She said, “I overheard your idea. Can we chat for a minute? I’m going to send my best adjunct here next year. She’s doing the best work with her students using online resources that she finds on the internet. She would get a lot more out of this conference because she actually teaches. My boss thought I should be here to represent my college.” (emphasis mine).

I’m going to pause here for a minute to give you time to shake your head.

At the moment that I’m making a new friend, I got this pained looked on my face. This is not the conference where “representing your college” matters. She thinks she said something wrong. She is picking up on my weird energy and at that same moment one of my favorite administrators on the fucking planet bounces by with super-cute-double-hair-buns looking stoked about life. And I want to run after her and say hello but I have to finish this moment with this person. Let the record show that I resisted crying twice after seeing Amy Collier for the first time in two years because I’m a professional when I need to be. Sorta.

I breath. Dry up the tear ducts, Indrunas. Focus. I say, “What can I do to help you?”

She said, “I just don’t want her to be lonely because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of adjunct faculty here. These are a lot of impressive people who are very accomplished in their roles.”

I’m thinking “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I’m going to introduce her to [enter all my brothers and sisters here] who have been adjuncts or they care a great deal about adjuncts.” She won’t be alone, I promise.

I told her I’d try to get more adjuncts here next year. I gave her my card.

She’s a life-long adjunct, she added. We’ll probably never have a position for her but we’d like to keep her.

Here we go.

I know this story. I used to be that gal to several of my department chairs. I broke their hearts when I left teaching. Broke their hearts. I can’t tell that story today. Here is some of the story if you’d like to read it.

She also said, “I need data to help me support that OER works so that I can secure the funding.”

Data. Sigh. What do you mean that it works? What the hell does that even mean? For whom? Why? How do we measure success? I can’t unload the Ranty McRanty Pants Indrunas on her.

So I say, what do your superiors want to hear about the data on OER?

I get it. Numbers are an easy way to substantiate claims. The Quant always wins street cred over the emotional Qual. I’m a mixed methods thinker. Numbers aren’t enough for me and words don’t work up the chain of command. A beloved friend and colleague summarizes this battle well with one of his best quotes: “Data is for the weak.”

So instead I said: Open education makes people happier and they stay where they are when they feel respected and excited about their teaching. The feeling transfers to the students. A transactional learning experience becomes transformational. It rescues mid-life career adjuncts from burnout. It’s my hunch on things based on many conversations I’ve had with people. I can’t substantiate any of this with numbers, but I’m happy to talk to your superiors. I can help you get a lot of data if that’s what it takes to get your best adjunct here. Let’s figure out what your superiors care about and then let’s find the data. If that’s what it takes to help you keep your best adjunct here.

We can (maybe) help them be happier people as life-long adjuncts.

I want to respect a “life-long adjunct” because I was one. I’m married to one. Many of my good friends fall into this category.

Let me tell you now about one of my worst mistakes as leader.

I shared my career story once at a workshop by saying I got into learning about open education and thinking about education and technology because I wanted to escape being a life-long adjunct. I didn’t know my audience—I was talking to a room full of life-long adjuncts.

At lunch one of them said to me, “I’d love to be full-time faculty but I’ve accepted this is the only skill I have. At least I’m a life-long adjunct in a unionized system. That makes a difference.” Ab-so-fucking-lute-ly, I almost said and then stopped myself. Instead I shared that I had a retirement plan and benefits thanks to the faculty union in Washington State. I’m here because they invested in professional development for their faculty. I admitted that I worry a great deal about the power of administrators and the private sector in non-union states. He and I then had a spirited discussion about educational policy and open education. That night I kept my frigid hotel room warm with the heat of my shame. My regret of telling my story about “escaping being a life-long adjunct” to people who do not have options–I don’t tell that story anymore.

I sometimes overhear my Mister sharing what it was like for me circa 2003 when people ask him about his career. He shares that his current experience is so unlike mine. Back then, we would let the answering machine grab every call and we’d listen to panicked administrators calling on a Friday afternoon to staff a class that started on Monday. I had an application at every community college—and I’m not exaggerating—from Bellingham to South Seattle. That’s nine community colleges. I chose not to answer the phone two weeks before the start of the quarter because I worried that if I turned down a dean who was in pinch, she’d never hire me again.

We’d sit on the couch sipping beers and calculating if I should accept the offer and thus screw over the people who were already depending on me. I decided to stay loyal to two colleges, and that served me well in my career. My heart breaks when I hear him describe the radio silence during these recent hiring seasons. The phone, he says, never rings. They don’t even email me back a rejection, he says. They can’t even bother to automate a rejection email in 2017, he says. A part of me wishes we had never chosen to become teachers. A small part of me hates myself for feeling that way. A larger part of me can’t imagine a life that is disconnected from academia. A small part of me knows my life would be easier if I didn’t care so much. But I do. Okay, where was I? Right.

Bring your best adjunct to a conference. Your best life-long adjunct.

Had somebody done that for me, I might have stayed a teacher. Maybe. Or I would have been smarter faster about educational technology. I wouldn’t have been so trusting. Maybe. Or I would have done more creative things. Maybe.

Here’s what I wouldn’t have been: I wouldn’t have been so lonely.

Maybe I would’ve found my brothers and sisters as a teacher instead in this community of  whatever it is I am now. I would have found My People. I would have been happier.

I have one idea to throw out there, and if you’re listening and you’d like to share your ideas, please do.

What about bringing your adjuncts who are doing some sort of open pedagogy without even knowing it’s a thing? And by all means don’t tell them to research prior to coming. They should just tell their stories of how they work with their students and their faculty.

I attended two presentations at OpenEd17 where the teachers were killing it with ideas about involving their students and colleagues and they never used the phrase “open pedagogy” once. They shared rich stories of faculty collaboration without using any of the lingo. The jargon. The Ideas. The acronyms. The camps. The sides. The debate.

I need more of these stories in my life. This to me, is bigger than Open.

So how do we make this Idea of sharing happen?

At local conferences. At regional conferences. At the Big Dances like OpenEd? In your teaching and learning center? In your library? In campus coffee shop? And then how do we virtually connect to what you are doing?

How do we bring more adjuncts to the table?

I don’t know, so I’m just going to end this bit of self-care post so I can walk my dog and enjoy my home before the work week begins again. I’m going to cook for my favorite life-long adjunct and we’re going to talk about movies and bike racing.

I’ll conclude with Joan Didion:

“I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”

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Supported & Autonomous

I have been consulting quite a bit these last few weeks with teachers all over the country who are preparing for the fall term. Some of them I’ve met before. Some of them have been in workshops with me. Most are new voices over the web or through my phone with questions that I can (thankfully) answer. I can suggest workarounds or strategies to help them save time. Or I can stall long enough to ask somebody else who can help me (I work with really smart people. Every. Damn. Day.) It’s an incredibly interesting jobby job.

Unlike being an administrator who is preparing for Welcome Week or other campus events where you actually get to chat about people’s summers, their research, their plans for the upcoming year–my recent meetings are strictly business. I’m a stranger with answers for busy teachers trying to get work done before the term starts. We’ve all got shit to do. Every once in awhile, I get a delicious peek into how a teacher really thinks. How she really works. What she’s excited about. What exhausts her. What she wants to change. What she wants to keep the same. What frustrates her. And even though I know I should cut it short and stick the agenda, I’d rather sacrifice my personal time to have these calls go long. I like to hear a good story just as much as I like to tell one.

Here are my best two stories from the last two weeks.

Story 1–How Did You Get That Job: A Memoir

A teacher asked me directly how I got my job. I don’t have an easy answer for this question. Ever. It’s too long to summarize. It’s too weird to be a strategy. It’s a hard question for me. I want to respect an educator who may be looking to change her career. I usually get asked if we’re hiring for my job. Weekly.

Quick side note: I try to make what I do look like it’s all fun-easy-breezy work but it’s actually really fucking hard and exhausting. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not easy and it’s not always fun. For every hour I can predict, there are seven hours that are completely unknown. For every whimsical thing I try in workshops and presentations, I can subtract six months from my life because of the worrying and fretting. Then I top off that experience of worrying and fretting with worrying and fretting about what I should have done. Sometimes I drink. Sometimes I ride my bike really hard. And then I worry and fret about all the things that I haven’t been able to do to support my colleagues. And then I waste a bunch of time blogging about something that nobody will read and care about. Healthy, I know.

I take that question “Are you guys hiring?” very seriously. Here’s why.

It’s always an adjunct who asks me this question. Always. And my heart breaks.

Story 2–Roombas & Innovation

When I work with teachers, I write down their best quotes, questions, and ideas so that I can share them with others. So I can remember. So I can laugh later when it’s appropriate to laugh harder. Teachers slay me when they get honest and comfortable sharing their real selves.

You don’t have to burn everything down to use OER.

To change your curriculum. To spice it up.

Teachers get a lot of pressure to jump into the deep end with licensing their materials, embracing open pedagogy, revising their pedagogy, flipping this, flipping that…it’s too much. Small steps are sometimes easier and more manageable.

Here’s an example I’ve been using lately when the pressure “to innovate” is clearly stressing out a kind loving teacher.

Everybody loves the idea of Roombas.

You know, the robot that was going to steal the job of your vacuum and broom?

People love buying them on sale at Costco and coming home to put it to use. Cats riding Roombas totally kill it on the Internet, right? Roombas will automate your vacuum. Poof! You’ll never have to vacuum again. Just like that. Buy this product. Save time. Poof!

But let’s face it, you have to break out the fucking broom every once in awhile to really clean the corners.

That damn robot is a circle and our houses are filled with square rooms. Dust gathers in the corners. Fur from our pets become tumbleweeds too big for the vents of the Roomba.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good robot, but it doesn’t leave the nice satisfying rows in your carpet like a vacuum.

That robot solves the problem of feeling guilty about not vacuuming, but it doesn’t quite do the job.

The broom and the vacuum were once “innovative” and now we can add the Roomba to that arsenal of cleanliness if we want. We now have several tools to keep our floors clean.

Either way, somebody or something has to clean the damn the floor.

Truth be told, most people I know who own Roombas get more joy out of terrorizing their pets than rejoicing that their that their floor is clean.

Here’s the thing.

A teacher shared with me one of the most brilliant points of feedback I’ve ever heard about educational technology.

We were talking about what will work best for the fall. What will happen in the spring. What the future might look like for his teaching with OER. He said, “I want to be fully supported when I need it and I need to be completely autonomous.”

Fully supported and autonomous.

In short, help me when I need it and then get out of my life.

That’s a tall order if you work in a support role. Seems impossible. Some support folks may take this feedback personally.  I totally get it.

So.

Questions arise.

How do we prepare for the “when I need it” while respecting autonomy? Is this just-in-time support or something else? How can honor autonomy while fulfilling the “faculty support” job description? How do manage everyone needing support at the same time? How do we create collaborative communities when most faculty want to be left alone? How does this all work?

I don’t know.

I struggle with conclusions of all of my posts because I just want to keep writing.

Let me end this here with a favorite quote from Mary Oliver’s Upstream, that I finally finished reading this past weekend.

For me the door to the woods is the door to temple.

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