Workshop As A Verb

Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting. ~Cormac McCarthy

One of my most vivid childhood memories is the day I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. I remember my dad running behind me with one hand on the back of my yellow banana seat telling me I could do it. At the point where I thought I was doing really well, I looked behind me to get his approval, and I saw that he wasn’t there. The next thing I knew my front tire was stuck underneath a bumper of a car and I crashed hard into the trunk, and then flipped over onto the street. Blood flowed from both elbows.

By the time my dad got to me, I was crying. Tears of humiliation. Tears of failure. “You looked great, kid, until you took your eyes off the prize. Always look where you want to go.”

When I finally found my love of the bike again in my late 20s after the hiatus of my teen years, that “look where you want to go” was the advice I got about mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding. Where your eyes go, your body, bike, skis, and board will follow as well. Every time I crashed, I accepted failure as part of getting better. If you are crashing, then you are improving so I was told.

That’s advice that is easy to forget. I said this exact quote to a teacher this week who expressed frustration about the current practices of her colleagues. Change, it seems, is so very hard. I said, “You just have to keep your eyes on where you want to go. Look where you want to go. Find people on the Internet who share your ideas. You’ll feel less alone. You may feel isolated here, but there are others just like you on other campuses. I promise.”

That’s advice that is hard to remember.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 8.38.04 PM

Banana Seat Beauty, My First Bike (source)

This past week, I did my first workshop as a Lumen Learning employee, and I LOVED it. (All caps there, so it’s sincere, y’all). I love teaching teachers to do their best work with technology. And I realize that makes me sound ridiculously cheesy, but let me tell you a quick story.

I travelled to Cerritos College in southern California, and I had such a great time talking to really lovely people. Really smart people who care about their students. Really smart people who love the work of the Lumen Learning. Really smart people excited about what we are doing as a company. What we do. 

I felt very proud to now be a part of this story–what we do. 

While I was rushing on my way to another meeting after an online meeting ended, a student stopped me to ask me a question. He said, “Hey, you work here. Can you help me? I’m lost.”

Sure. I don’t work here, I thought, but he looked frantic. “What can help you with?”

He said, “I can’t find the Liberal Arts building. Anywhere.”

I had no idea where I was going much less where that building was, but I had a link to the campus map on my calendar agenda. I pulled it up on my phone, and we looked at it trying to read the screen in the glare of the bright southern California sun. “I’m walking that way too, so we need to go this way, I think. It’s east of where we standing.”

“Awesome. Thanks for helping me. I have to pick up my daughter in hour, but I need to talk to my English professor. I can’t finish my essay until I ask a couple of questions. That class is so hard.”

In that moment, I felt more at home than I have felt in months. I miss students. I miss community college campuses. I miss community college teachers. My friends. Don’t get me wrong, I am really in love my new life in Portland, but it’s a been a really big change. Being back on a community college campus just made me feel at home.

It also felt very familiar to teach teachers new to OER. I’ve done too many workshops about technology to count at this point, and it’s fun for me. Before any presentation, I always think about teaching my very first “workshop” versus teaching a class. Teaching to your colleagues is a different game than teaching students. Teaching teachers is harder. A lot harder. No training wheels. I just hopped right on and starting pedaling.

Back then, I was terrified to present to my peers. Terrified. My husband, thank my lucky stars, made me laugh by sending me quotes from Cormac McCarthy novels via email. He has now upgraded to clever text messages and emojis, and I feel incredibly lucky to have his friendship. Because, let me be honest, what I advocate for is a big change for a lot of faculty, and it can be exhausting. They sometimes feel threatened. They sometimes feel pressured. They sometimes feel intimidated. In short, I see on their faces what I felt the very first time I did a workshop on technology.

The fear of failure.

What I learned—and this is the thing—there were always one or two people in the room who didn’t say a word. They didn’t smile. Didn’t react. Didn’t show any signs of support, and I felt that I failed them. I’d feel like a failure because I didn’t win over every single person in the room. Truth be told, when I did presentations and focused on those one or two folks I had “failed,” I’d put on a happy confident face, shake their hands, and then I’d fall apart with self-loathing in my car on the way home. Or I’d drink heavily with my non-academic friends. You know, healthy reactions to leadership issues.

Then two days later–sometimes a month later–my inbox would light up with emails. Voicemails would appear will invitations to come to department meetings. Questions would come from people quoting those who were somewhat silent in the audience.

Invitations would start with the words, “I have more questions than answers now that I’ve seen your presentation. You gave me a lot to think about, but I needed time to process it all. Can we talk? I’d love to workshop an idea with you.”

Using the word, “workshop” as a verb–I love it. It’s like riding a bike on familiar trails. It was nice to pedaling that way again. We can look where we want to go together.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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2 Responses to Workshop As A Verb

  1. CogDog says:

    Love seeing the photo of the retro banana seat bike. Mine was red. What was that Schwinn style called? Stingray?

    I also love reading the rewards you are getting in the new gig. Most of my teaching experience especially in first half of career was faculty workshops. The challenge of course is less duration / contact and the only force of influence you have is what you can hook into their interests. My early learning there is to do things to “hit” them in their subject area with activities, design in a way they can use that interest (rather than mine) in the “work”. I also playedwiththe convention, rebranding the ones our enter runs as “Learnshops” (now that sounds a bit too clever).

    But as I have been thinking about how so much of what gets designed is very “Assignmenty” (the kinds of things that signals both students and teacher that it’s an Assignment) I wonder about the trappings that can make things end being Workshoppy- so to me, if I can in maybe small ways achieve the goals but play with expectations it’s a better experience for all of us.

    Well that’s me theory. More riding experience is better then theories of bicycle operation.


    • Thanks for reading, Alan. I think it was the Stingray and they weighed like 50 pounds! It’s amazing more kids weren’t permanently injured by the weight and design of those bikes. Plus those handlebars are really to steer. Hmmm, this is starting me off on a tangent:) I love the “workshoppy” and “assignmenty” playfulness. Your work (and others) have really inspired me to advocate for more online asychronous workshoppy-type learning, and the face-to-face meetings help make that transition for community college folks. Anyways, you’ve given me a lot to think about as usual as I work on my “failure” research as it relates to professional development. 2016 is my year of focusing of failure, I’ve decided, and I have no idea where it’s going. I might even fail (waka waka)…


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