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.


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.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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