#NWeLearn2018 Keynote: Change Management & Other Duties As Assigned

This is the keynote that I delivered today at NWeLearn in Boise, Idaho.  I skipped a lot of words and free-styled a bit during the actual preso, and here is a link to my slides. This is what I wrote in its entirety to prepare for what I said today. Thank you NWeLearn. 

Change Management and Other Duties As Assigned

Since I’m standing in front of academics the first thing I want to admit is that I struggled to come up with a title for this talk, and I agonized even more about my blurb. So let me try it out on you now just to see if any of you want to decide to do something else with your life for the next hour.

Here’s what I pitched: Attendees of NW eLearn are all too familiar with the phrase “other duties as assigned” in their job descriptions. Change management, innovation, and thought leadership, to name a few buzz words, end up in this catchall category of our job descriptions. Because student success—especially with educational technology—is in all of our job descriptions, how do we support one another as leaders through this process?  Whether you’re an adjunct faculty member or an executive administrator, you might be spinning a lot of plates to implement changes at your institution. This keynote will address the challenges and joys of our community of practice with other duties as assigned.

Did I get all the right words to sound key-notey?

But here’s the question that I really want to address today: How do we support one another?

How can we be more empathetic and kind towards one another as we try to connect and sort out the future of teaching and learning? Together.

Let me also first start with a bit of truth-telling. I haven’t done discipline-specific research in over six years. I’ve given up on trying to publish anything peer-reviewed about my current work because the last time I saw my name in print concerning educational technology, it felt so out of date that I felt embarrassed to say I wrote about iClickers and cell phone polls. Life comes at you quick. When I read my work in the journal, my ideas were positioned as the dissenting voice or critique of the technology that every other writer praised. The only response I got from readers were from clicker companies who wanted to give me a demo or additional support to “really know their product.”

I suppose I’m qualified because I read a lot and I write almost daily about things that I care about, so I’d like to invite you to take any of my ideas and make them more academic sounding. I’ll post this talk on my blog and license it for re-use. So what do I have for you in lieu of actual research? What makes me qualified to keynote when I’m not an academic anymore? I write a lot of nonsense, and most of my conversations about higher-education center around my rage about adjunctification of the teaching profession or my own navel-gazing reflections about my career path. I’m not affiliated with an institution, I’m not a teacher, not an administrator, or anything that else that really qualifies me to stand up here and inspire you for an hour. But maybe, just maybe, I can entertain you with a few stories, and give you something to think about in your own context. Your own lives. Your own professions. Your own joyous accomplishment with being a part of this community.

I love the NW eLearn community.

This group of people gave me my first chance to change my career. After my very first NWeLearn in 2013, I felt like I had found My People. It was like a magical group of tech nerds who liked to geek out on the dorkiest topics. You understood wikis! You loved talking about workarounds and solving problems. You could out-snark me! You could make me laugh. You could teach me how to be smarter about educational technology. My People. I love the work that I do today, but I really miss this community. So thank you, NWeLearn board, for asking me to be your keynote today.

Prior to working in educational technology, I was a little lost. I was an English Composition teacher for over ten years. An “I-5 Flyer”–a contingent teacher who drove up and down the I-5 corridor in the Seattle area jockeying for a full-time position that never came my way. To make a very long story short, I took advantage of the WA State tuition waiver, and earned a second master’s degree where I focused on instructional design. I took five years to complete a two-year degree and I wrote about the open door policy of the community college, teacher burnout, educational policy, and leadership. I reflected on my own teaching career using fancy-dancy graduate school jargon. I honestly didn’t know that I was going anything innovative or interesting at that time; I was merely trying to figure out a way to make a living.

My first presentation at NWeLearn, I had fo to cancel and I was sure I’d ruined my chances of ever presenting again. My cousin was getting married that same week, and at the last minute his photographer canceled and my mother strongly suggested that I put my skills to use as a favor to the family. I had to make a decision to burn a bridge with the EdTech folks of the NW or be on my mother’s shitlist. Weeks later, I got a phone call from Jerry Lewis that people were interested in my session, and that they’d like me to present what I was going to say via webinar. I said, “Sure, that sounds great” and then I stewed in terror about something that would live forever on the internet. Then I volunteered to do another webinar on my failures as an online teacher, another on being a leader, and then another on open education, and I found myself saying, “Sure, I’ll try that” Or “Sure, why not?” or “Yes, I think I can do that” a lot.


And with that spirit, I accidentally found my leadership philosophy without even really trying. It’s a very simple philosophy. Just be the first person who is willing to say yes. Say yes. Just raise your hand and say yes.

While I’m talking about raising your hands and leadership, let’s do an informal poll to get some context of experience in the room. Help me do some informal research.

How many of you have been through an LMS transition? Raise your hands.

Okay, now keep them up if you’ve been through an LMS transition twice.

Three times. Four times.

[Keep counting until I get down to a dozen folks.]

Okay for those of you that have been through a major technology transition like that [X many times] raise both of your hands.

You’re the victors of educational technology leadership! You’ve been through the worst of the worst and you’re still here. You’re still saying yes.

Let’s give these people some applause.

Remember their faces and buy them drinks or give them extra dessert later. Ask them what they are going to do when they retire.

These are the people who continue to say, “Yes, I’ll do it” or “Yes, I’ll try.” And I realize that many of you did not have a choice. You were either voluntold that this was going to be your job or it was just part of that academic year’s mission. Either way, you recognized that this is the future. Whether your faculty wanted it. Whether your administration wanted it. Whether you thought it was the right thing.

You said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” You held onto hope you were helping students.

I have spent the last year or so reading the The School of Life series. These slim little aesthetically pleasing books have been a bit of professional development for me. My own joy of reading on the weekends.

From their website:

The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm, and how better to understand the world.

In How to Be a Leader by Martin Bjergegaard and Cosmina Popa, they remind us that “Leadership is a choice, not a position…and [t]he best leaders in the world find what they really care about, and almost everything else flows from this point” (p. 10-35).

For me, I care about students. And I imagine if you are here today, you do too.

My People.

I care about creating opportunities for people who were born on the wrong side of the tracks. People without privilege. People without capital–social, cultural, economic–I care about students. I care about teaching. I care about learning. I also care a great deal about the people who supports this work in the behind-the-scenes.

The question we do not ask enough is: “Who supports the supporters?”

When I’ve done workshops on open educational resources, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done, I always advocate for time with the support folks so I can listen to their concerns without faculty present. It’s even better if their superior isn’t present. It’s the one way to truly get to know people who work as classified or professional staff in organizations and help them with their jobs. They get a lot of other duties as assigned.

This also gives faculty time to share their concerns about the people who support them. Faculty, by the way, are good at what they do because they don’t particularly like being supported. My favorite quote from a teacher when I worked LMS Admin. support was, “I need you to solve my problem and then get the hell out of my office because I have important work to do.”

Technology is stressful, man.

And this work of managing change–change management– is exhausting.

Before I go too much further, the former English major in wants to pause and put my foot down to reflect on the words “change management” because there is a lot of history in the ways we use these words. In human resources. Organizational change. Technology. Project management. There are 8 steps. There are consulting firms. Self-help books. Certificate programs. It’s kind of a silly phrase when you think about it. How can you really manage change? It’s like the phrase “organized chaos.”

Let me define what I think this phrase means in the context of open education.

Open education isn’t about licensing, adopting, adapting, building, curating, doing-it-yourself, debating about whether free, nearly cost-fee, or partnering with a vendor is the superior stance. It’s about supporting people through change. A pedagogical change that directly impacts the affordability of college for students. It’s a massive shift in our academic tradition.

You have to take this work step by step. You have to look for a path to sustain this work among the cairns. Whether you’re guiding students down new pathways or being tasked to be innovative, this work is about change. Some are resistant. Some welcome the challenge. Some will help you. Some will try to get in your way.

If you return to this question at the root of everything you do, then you will find the path forward.

Ask: Does this help my students?

Either way, leaders, you’re often in a position with your team where you have to admit that you don’t know how something will work out. Teachers, you’re in a position with your students where you have to admit that you haven’t done something before and it may not work.

And it’s exhausting. It takes its toll on people. Change management could be summarized by The Dude from The Big Lebowski when he’s talking to Maude.

Open education and change management is “a very complicated case…you know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.”

A conference like NW eLearn can help recharge you. A conference like this is the rug that really ties the room together. Makes you feel a bit less alone. Some of you may be lone wolves at your institution. Some of you have a solid pack. Some of you are respected leaders in this community and beyond. Some of you are early-career. Some of you are late career. Some of you might be a bit star-stuck, and let me give you some advice. People that you might think are superstars are genuinely nice and dorky in their own right. Just talk to them.

If I’ve learned anything in the last three years it’s that all leaders need people. And it’s hard and dangerous to admit your flaws, your weaknesses, and what you don’t know.

I spent some time reading all the leadership books for this talk. I read about leaning in, finding your why,  the color of your parachute, and how radical your candor must be before I had to stop. Those books, albeit worthy of teaching us all something, they made me feel like leadership was this sacred circle of successful people who had all the answers. All the answers.

The first rule of Leadership Club?

Don’t talk about what’s hard. Only talk about what makes you perfect. Don’t talk about your failures. Don’t share the sordid details about how you totally blew it. It’s more the rage to get up in front of people and talk about all of the wonderful things, but let me tell you, this is the community where you can talk about what’s hard. What’s not working. If you’re doing something right, then make sure you share what you’re doing. Are you killing it back at your home institution?

Share everything with your peers here and then offer to speak at their institution. Sometimes having somebody from another organization speak to your people can make all the difference. There are a lot of schools within driving distance of this area, and there is a wealth of information to share to support one another. We can easily drive to share our ideas in this community. Truth be told, I’m with the character Miller in Repo Man when he says, “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” Maybe take the bus. You can do your best thinking on the bus. Or ride your bike. Just do it in person.

Who supports the supporters?

Let me start with a few of the challenges, and then I’ll get to the joys. All the joys. And then I’ll share some advice that I have not substantiated with research. Something that you can hopefully take back to your institutions. Something that can help make your hard jobs easier.

Allow me admit, I never saw myself–and still don’t see myself–as a leader; I just volunteer. I say yes a lot. Say yes. Maybe you’re the same way.

My first position as a leader of a project, I thought somebody else was in charge, and right before the start of the meeting she shared with me that she will provide the funding from her budget, but I was going to do the work. She got up and left. Told everyone I was in charge. Everyone in the room looked to me to start the agenda. I pretended like I knew what I was doing and that’s pretty much been a skill I’ve honed ever since. So now that I’ve admitted that I’m not an actual researcher and I’m not an academic, I think I’ve got a few good stories today about what I’ve learned since I’ve gone to work in the private sector. Here goes.

Over the last three years, I’ve been to over 100 schools–community colleges and universities–in twelve different states. I’ve talked to a lot of smart people about open education, open pedagogy, and the change they are managing at their institutions. It’s been magical. I owe all of my current thinking about education to the people I’ve met through Lumen Learning, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had representing this company. This company that cares about students.

My People.

Allow me to address three problems that I see over and over again at institutions that I think are a barrier to managing change. The trifecta that makes the jobs of “other duties as assigned” so much harder.

The Ambitious Administrator

The Adjunctification of Teachers

The Always Changing Initiatives

The Ambitious Administrator—for those about to rock up the ladder of leadership, I salute you.

Ambition is a wonderful trait in a leader. Necessary. What’s difficult for the ambitious administrator is that you have to keep that ambition private, or it can kill the morale of your current team. Some of you have your sights on other jobs right now, and this presentation at NW eLearn might be that rung you need on your ladder. In fact, if that’s your goal, tell that to the person you hope to be your future boss. Why the hell not? Connect with them on the LinkedIn. On the Twitters. Invite them out to dinner. You never know.

I just beg of you to do one thing, Ambitious Administrator, leave a list of what to do for the people who will get stuck doing your job as other duties as assigned for the next six-eight months that it will take to replace you. Or what to do should they not replace you and distribute all of your duties to the other duties as assigned. No position in higher education is more destructive to innovative momentum of an institution than that of the Vice President of Instruction. Almost all VPIs or VPAs have their sights on being president. And that’s awesome. During the time that they are on the job market, however, every sexy line on their CV can mean more work for their direct reports who get left behind. So what do we do?

We can do better than exit interviews. We can leave people with a vision. We can help people make a plan. You can fight to promote somebody who you think can lead people through a change. If you can’t do any of that, then leave a checklist or a timeline of what you would do. I’ve had the privilege of helping a group of faculty from three institutions through a grant project where the writer of the grant and the main point person left for another job. No list. No timelines. Just the grant language. When I read through the grant, it was a blend of magical thinking, ambition. A pure brazen mess of open educational grant buzzwords. In other words, in between the lines, I could see this person saying all the right things to win the grant funding. I saw the super sexy line on the CV. And thankfully, I could see a path towards a solution and I could pretend like I knew what I was doing. One of the teachers said of this leader, “He’s burned a bridge with me because this work is impossible to do in one quarter.”

Sometimes the bridges we burn, light the way. I get it.

The next barrier is the ever increasing adjunctification of teaching labor. I have no quantitative evidence to support this theory, but I’d argue that when it comes to technology, we might be saving money short term in labor, but we’re losing tons of money in the long-term. I’d also argue that the labor that we expend in faculty support with technology, it’s actually more expensive to hire adjuncts in the long run. I don’t really have a whole lot to offer in the ways of solutions—it’s too personal to me. We can—and by we—I mean this group—can rethink how we support those faculty.

If you aren’t considering how to help adjunct faculty on a regular basis at your institution, you are failing your students.

In The Weekend Effect, a somewhat depressing tomb about how we have slowly let technology take away the two days that labor activists fought for, Katrina Onstad sums up the current state of our careers. She writes, “We carry our jobs in our purses and packs, on our bodies” (p. 36).

How many of you are checking email right now? Multi-tasking to keep abreast of the inbox. Inbox zero is the biggest lie tech people tell about their work. I don’t believe it ever happens for anyone, but I digress.

Onstad says,

Gone are the days of long-term employment in one organization, with decades of mutual loyalty and a gold watch at retirement; job security is a relic of the past, like a butter churn, or a Slanket. For many, work is painfully insecure, a patchwork of short-term contracts or a series of small jobs that add up to one fragile living (p. 8).

Students see this, by the way, but they don’t quite understand the labor conditions of our faculty. Hollywood movies and television do a nice job of fooling most young people into thinking that teaching is a stable career. And for some of you, it is. For others, you laughed-cried when Tina Faye’s character runs into the Mean Girls at the mall on a break from her night-time restaurant job.

Students trust us to have their best interests–their backs–and I’m not sure that’s always true with the way we run our colleges.

For instance, when I was an eLearning Director, I once had a student who asked me: Who is Dr. Staff and why does he teach so many classes? How to begin explaining to students that that one of the most expensive investments of their lives is managed by contingent workers who have little to no job security? How to explain that we have to enter “Staff” in those schedules because we care about print deadlines in 2018?

The Always Changing Initiatives

Despair not, My People. These initiatives hold so much potential for collaboration! Whether it’s Guided Pathways, Co-reqs, learning communities, there are ebbs and flows that lead to managing positives changes. As the noted philosopher Geddy Lee tells us, change isn’t permanent, but change is.

And this year’s Horizon Report–which I read mainly so I can understand Audrey’s Watters snark-tweets about it–summed up the challenges of leadership in technology and education. If you don’t read Audrey’s work–Hack Education–I am assigning this as another duty for you. She’s the most important journalist in our field. Read her work.

And note the “Wicked Challenges” in the Horizon Report–the use of the word “wicked” really made me happy. I’m married to a New Englander, so the word “wicked” has a lot of uses.

Here’s what those wicked smart people predict:

The experts identified political and economic pressures as those that create a wicked challenge—one that is difficult to define and even more challenging to solve. Similarly, rethinking the roles of educators is also considered a complex problem to define and solve.

For the record, the word “wicked” appears in the report only nine times. And if I can hop up on a soapbox for a minute, the easiest–and I mean the easiest complex problem that we can solve and define is the cost of learning materials. Period. In fact, when I see the word “wicked” I start hearing Public Enemy’s “Welcome to The Terrordome.” I know Chuck D. wasn’t talking about how to save students money on their textbooks, but this works for me:

I got so much trouble on my mind/Refuse to lose/Here’s your ticket/Hear the drummer get wicked

There are solutions from section to system on how to do open education, and I know of one that works exceptionally well. I don’t have The answer, but I have AN answer, and we need to include educators in the conversation about redefining their roles. Wicked. Indeed.

And let’s be honest, we can feel the pain of everyone and then we feel nothing.

If I can use the NWeLearn tagline right now, then I can transition to a new point.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

In my mind, there are three broad categories of leadership.

You can be a Champion or a Chicken Little or somewhere in between. In a blog post, I called this in-between space as being a chump.

Forgive me, I haven’t seen the Disney version of the Chicken Little story, but I know the folktale. An acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head and he thinks the sky is falling. He can only see the ultimate worst catastrophe. Chicken Little is paralyzed by fear. Change is hard to manage when you are scared.

A Champion, according to the lovely people who edit and contribute to Wikipedia, can be a noun or a verb. A state of being or an action. Yes!

According to Wikipedia: In an ideological sense…a champion may be an evangelist, a visionary advocate who clears the field for the triumph of the idea.

I love that definition, whoever you are, Wikipedia author. The Triumph of the Idea might be the most perfect memoir title for an academic.

The Chicken Little story stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense if you help people who teach with and without technology. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The acorn is a new LMS! The acorn is new software! The acorn is new courseware! The acorn is big giant budget cuts that are going to gut everything you’ve been doing! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

It also applies to leadership because you can tell your team “Chicken Little don’t work here, y’all.

I didn’t hire him. The sky is not falling. We just need to _________.”

And they laugh. It helps to diffuse the pressure.

A Champion is poetic. A bit more romantic. A bit more heroic. A bit more intelligent. A bit more versatile. I’m thinking Knight In Shining Armor type-champion. Brienne of Tarth-type badassness. Your job is a noun. Or your job is a verb. Thought Leaders champion ideas and people they like. Ideas and people they can trust. Ideas and people worth following. They look up and down to make sure it’s the acorn and not the sky. They don’t use exclamation points lightly.

They don’t run around getting everybody all worked up.

Here’s what I know: I’ve had quite a few Champions along the way in my career and I think it’s worthwhile to champion for people and for ideas. When I spoke to the SBCTC New Faculty Institute a few years ago, I asked everyone in the room to think about the champions who helped them get there. My audience was newly hired tenure-track and FT temps in the CC system. They got that rare full-time job. That even rarer tenure-track position. Here I was talking to the very people I had at one point in my career hoped to be. I stared down a room of teachers and asked them to think of their Champions. I saw some smiles. Nodding heads. Some furrowed brows lost in thought. I paused for silence.

It was the moment I felt a real connection in the room among the group. If there were thought bubbles above their heads, I would have seen photos of their Champions. And then I asked them to champion their colleagues who are adjuncts. Help them get here next year or some place else someday, I said.

What unknown pleasures might lie in advocating for others. This is something I’ve learned from my colleagues in the eLearning Council in WA State.

Here’s my (choke, cough) *leaderly* thoughts/advice:

Don’t call yourself a Thought Leader if you are trying lead people. (That title is for others to decide about you. Don’t call yourself that. You sound like a Chump).

Talk down the Chicken Littles (they are reactive Chumps, not proactive leaders who think).

Be a Champion (somebody was for you, right?)

In another School of Life book, A Job To Love, Alain de Botton sums up a lot of our experiences in our careers and the careers we are helping students discover:

…it’s eminently possible that the kind of work that someone is best suited to (and around which it will be possible for them to love what they do) doesn’t exist yet. One might have a great deal of potential for a kind of job that has yet to be invented (p. 8)

Think about that–most of us do work that wouldn’t make any sense to our grandparents. Most days I talk to my laptop for hours. I interact with people in five different states synchronously on an hourly basis. Who could have predicted this?

Think about the future our students are facing. What their jobs might be like.

Let’s return to other duties as assigned. Do you see a future job in your department? Do you see a lot of little duties that add up as other duties as assigned that could become a job. Like an OER Coordinator. An Instructional Designer. Faculty Technology Consultant. Student Technology Support Mentor. Apprenticeship Project Manager. Digital Equity Consultant. Accessibility Advocate. User Experience Guru. Digital Redlining Destroyer. Open Pedagogy Evangelist.  

Alain de Botton outlines five distinctive skills which [he] believes are key for effective leadership (p. 86). The instructional designer in me loves a good list of verbs:

  1. Inspiring, storytelling, enlisting and selling
  2. Understanding what others are saying
  3. Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings
  4. Being open and transparent, including about the difficult stuff
  5. Creating a space where others will feel safe to tell you the truth

Hopefully you know this. You practice this. You can take these ideas back to your team.

Some of the best lessons that I have to share about leadership, actually come from cycling. In my spare time, I advocate for girls and women to ride and race bikes. It’s really more about the camaraderie than the competition, and this community-building has taught me just as much as my work in open education.

  1. You are only as fast as the slowest rider in your pack.
    • What this means is that if you are truly working as a group, you can only achieve what’s possible for the slowest rider. A ‘no drop ride’ means you make sure that person is okay with your pace and your distance. It’s really not about who is in front, it’s about who is the last in the pack. For me, in open education, it’s about the early adopters or even the second generation, it’s the people who have yet to join who will influence this movement in ways we have not yet seen.
  2. If you can’t ride the course or the trail, run with your bike as fast as you can.
    • Every trail–initiative, policy, practice–has a bail out line. You can make it down any trail you want.
  3. You can win (or lose) right up until the last corner.
  4. Every great ride or race usually has more suffering that you lovingly reflect on as fun later.
  5. Riding and racing is always safer and more fun with friends.

So what can I offer you here, my dear leaders? What can I give you that will set the tone of the conference? Let me give you some Hot Tips. My grandmother played the lottery pretty much everyday of her adult life, and the Pennsylvania Lottery put out Tip Sheets based on myths, ridiculous statistics, and trends.

Hot Tip, Baby Doll, she’d say when she felt good about a number. And really, everyday held the potential of hope until they drew those three numbers at 7pm. So here we go. Hot Tips.

Hot Tip #1: Count The Students Not The Teachers

If you work in professional development of any kind, and faculty members attend your session, count how many students they teach with your reporting to the Budget Big Dogs. Don’t just list how many faculty are in attendance. Count the students that they teach.

Let’s say you JUST have four faculty members in your session. You loser! For the record, I’ve flown over 2,000 miles to have that happen to me. Good times.

Before you cue up the sad trombone and don that hair shirt, consider that each of those faculty members might teach 125 students per term. Each.

So that’s 500 students with those four faculty. All those students. Or 1500 hundred students a year if you’re on a quarter system. Or 1000 per semester. The return-on-investment with professional development dollars go way up when you calculate it that way. If you want to account for the labor you and your team invested in to create that one hour workshop, it looks a bit more worthwhile if you count the students that you’ll reach.

Hot Tip #2: Keep Everything So Simple. Easy.

So what do you do for your faculty to keep their learning about technology simple? If you’re a teacher working with students, what do you do to help your students? For your workshops? How do you think of small solutions that will have a big impact? If you have one match to burn, what fire do you want to start?

For instance, if there are thirty things that you think is really cool about Open, just talk about five things. Maybe less than that. Tone it down, man, you’re overwhelming people.

In fact, I’ve learned from a colleague who teaches math that maybe you just focus on three items. Five things, Indy, are just too much when there are a lot of hard things to learn. Give me three things, he says, I don’t have the attention for five. That’s all I can remember when things are hard. So okay. Yes. Three things. Simple. Just not in this blog post.

In fact, get faculty to teach other faculty. That’s how I got my start. I was a faculty member who won a grant to teach my peers about technology, and I found a whole new passion. Faculty members in attendance, these are the people to tell that you want to do that work, and it should count for your professional development.

Hot Tip #3: Start with what faculty want to learn.

It’s super scary to teach teachers. Holy mother of all the gods I don’t believe in. So hard.

They are the best and worst students. Mean. Direct. They are the best because they care about their work. They love learning.

They are also the worst because they multi-task and they talk while you’re talking. They don’t like the vulnerability of appearing like they don’t have all of the answers. They’re used to being the smartest person in the room. They’ll sass you. Put you up against the ropes before you can even make fists for the fight. And they get angry when you waste their time. Gloves off if they do not agree with your version of Open. Your version of teaching. Of learning.

So I recommend starting by asking for their questions.

What do you want to learn today?

Just roll with the questions. If you don’t know something, admit it. The best facilitators I’ve seen use this approach. You can establish a clear ethos from the start. People stop checking email and they listen.

The willingness to go off script changes everything sometimes. Or this is the lie that I tell myself most often.

For those of you speaking in session over the next two days, I’d love to see you start by asking why people chose your session. What did they see about your session that they thought they could learn? Be willing to bounce around a bit, and you can use your pretty PowerPoint as a follow-up. Pass around a sheet. Get people’s email addresses. Start a slack channel. You need this support when you go back to your gigs. I promise.

Most importantly, ask people who are attending your session what they wanted to learn from you. They read your blurb, decided to be in the room with you, so they must have some ideas. Even if it means totally scrapping your presentation just roll with their questions and have a discussion. Your powerpoint and notes will make a brilliant follow-up email and continue the conversation.

Hot Tip #4: Explicitly include your adjuncts.

State directly “Adjuncts are encouraged to attend.” For every event on your campus. And don’t remind them that they won’t be paid for attending the event. They know. It’s insulting.

Better still offer the same training/professional development online. Asynchronously, you radical. Or hold online office hours. You can work while you’re waiting to hear from somebody. Be consistent with those hours and be patient.

Are you skilled enough to virtually connect people with face-to-face folks? Check out what Virtually Connecting does–you could easily adopt that model if you’re confident with the technology. Their on-site/remote buddy model is one of the strongest examples of online hospitality that’s adjunct-friendly that I’ve seen. I just wish I had more time to participate in what they are doing. Maybe you do. Maybe someday for me.

If you’re not up to that style of facilitating, that’s okay. It takes does take some practice to run it all smoothly. But why not jump in? What the hell? Nobody needs to know it’s your first time.

And honestly, if everything goes off the rails, have a real honest to goodness heart-to-heart with the people in your workshop. At the point where everything is falling a part. Pivot to these three questions and pretend like it was part of the plan the whole time.

Have them fill in the blanks for the statements below:

  1. What scares me the most about teaching with technology is__________.
  2. This year I would like to try _________.
  3. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite teacher helped me understand_______.

Listen. Write things down. Look everyone in the eye and tell them that it’s probably “other duties as assigned” for you, but you’ll try to help make this happen.

Because there are no easy answers to any of this work. There is no handbook for what it means to be an effective leader in these austere times. So what can we do for one another during these next two days? We can be kind and open when we’re listening to one another’s ideas. We’re trained as academics to parse out differences, unpack difficult ideas–to point out what’s missing. We live in exhausting times–let’s use these two days to be generous towards one another. For instance, if you are presenting ideas from a well-funded university with a team of support staff, make sure you present the alternative for a leader who has no support, no funding, but wants to bring that ideas to his students.

If you are presenting from an urban school with a massive population and your enrollments are up, share a strategy of what you would do if your enrollments were down. Imagine how what you’re doing might work at a rural school.

If you’re presenting a strategy for professional development, share all of the details and make sure it’s something that you can also do for an adjunct who gets hired on a Thursday to teach a class on a Monday. In fact, all of our professional development should stem from that very reality.

Who supports the supporters?


Just remember that things are going to change. It’s the nature of our field. Remember and be quite aware of what you’re going through. You can watch the ripples change their size but they never leave the stream (really poor David Bowie remix).

I’ll conclude today with a bit more Alain de Botton because I think this quote gets at the heart of what it’s like to be a part of change management in your other duties as assigned in educational technology:

“Much of life is spent on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151).

One thing is for certain, we’ve got a great conference for you. Enjoy it and your time together.

Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Story That I Wanted To Hear

“I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.” Carrie Fisher

I’ve spent the last month trying to write an article, my elusive book, and a serious essay, and I failed miserably on two of three. For a month of Thursdays, I rode my bike after to one of my favorite little bars to dork out, write for a few hours, and edit solo. Such joy.

On other days of the week, I woke up early in the morning to get it all down on the page before I started my day. So hard.

On other days of the week, I burned the midnight oil to write things I’ll never share. So weird.

I got one of the three goals completed, but I loved the trying. Loved the trying. Loved the tryna. And let me tell you, I write and talk all the damn day, so it’s hard to make time in front the magic machine for writing. This ritual of September felt really special.

I submitted my piece a few days ago, and now I can die a million times with the thoughts of another people reading what I wrote. Other people reading the words. I need to use this space to talk about how I tried tried tried to write a reflection of a bike ride that I attempted but did not finish. How I tried to mourn my failure without sounding like sappy jerk. Tried to reflect on how much I love really long bike rides now. How I fell back in love with my road bike this summer. Tried to explain in three different short groupings of sentences my experience of riding. It was hard. And get this. I whipped myself into a lather over publishing something in a bike zine.

I told the folks who are creating the zine that they can choose one of the stories and I’ll publish the rest on my blog. I noted confidently: “I’ll publish the rest of these words to die on my blog” (A Memoir).

When I submitted my writings, I half expected that they would hate everything. Regret asking me to write for them. I was, of course, shocked that they liked one of the three pieces, and, GET THIS, it’s the one I spent the least time on. The one group of sentences that I obsessed about the least. The one I like the least. The one I wrote quickly and just included at the last minute. A kind of rough draft that just appeared on the page.

Type. Type. Type. Fuck it. Submit. Send. Dammit. But that’s okay. I’m so stoked to see the finished product. It’s quite possible that I may not even be listed as an author. They have no idea how much the warning about a “lack of attribution” made my heart skip a beat.  But that’s a story for another day.

Today’s story you ask? A teacher told me this week that she’s not interested in all the Open writing because it’s not done by professional writers. She knew nothing about me. Nothing about the origin of any of the courses we were talking about. Knew nothing about me. Personally. My background. She was ready, however, to tell me all about professional writers and it was my job to listen. My job to invite her into another way of thinking. Some days are easier than others.

“Writers who are worth anything,” she said, “get paid for their time if their ideas are any good.” I imagined her face scrunching up like she smelled shit as we chatted more on the phone. “Professional writers of content get paid for writing their ideas,” she said, “otherwise I can’t imagine anyone reading it and caring. It’s hard for you people outside of academia to understand.”


You People.

Yet here you are.

Here I am.

I probably spent about 30 hours unpaid time on that zine piece so I’m clearly a fucking loser. Not very professional. Not worth your caring. Not worth your time.

Unpaid Time: A Memoir.

Yet here you are. Here I am.

I need to relive the whole experience of writing this past September here. In this space.

For the zine, I was given a certain space instead of a word count, and that’s really hard for me. Not much of a spatial thinker, this gal, so I stressed out about what to write. People always think I’m going whip their ass playing Scrabble, and it’s really not about vocabulary. It’s about spatial relations and the luck of the draw. Space to write?

What to say. How many words can I fit in 4×6 space? Do I write it by hand? What do I write? I settled on one idea. Decided to write something joyful. Something positive.

A story that I wanted to hear.

So here’s what did not get selected. I can’t really say it got rejected. More like postponed for another day. Like today. Here’s what what I wrote about the RAMBOD.

RAMBOD stands for Ride Around Mt. Baker in One Day, which pokes fun at the more serious and much more expensive ride around Mt. Rainier. The plan among some frens was to roll out of Bellingham, ride mostly gravel to Baker Lake, hike up to Mt. Baker Ski area, and then ride back to Bellingham. There was a ragtag support system for our gear in the transitions, and I was aiming to make the ride/hike in less than 18 hours. Even if it killed me. Or I planned on my husband picking me up at the dive bar of my choice somewhere in Skagit or Whatcom counties. He just shook his head every time I mentioned this ride (not his gig) and he quietly tuned up my bike (it glistened).

Of the 15 people that started, 7 completed the ride. Only one of the six women finished and she’s a fucking badass Canadian. Ladies who grew up riding bikes up north of where I live?

Hats off.

Okay, that’s the context.

Here’s what I wrote:

The RAMBOD Rains

Submission One: Three Thoughts

First Thought: I know very few people who’d get up at 5am in the morning to suffer on a bike all day. Who are you people? Where have you been all my life? Didn’t you see the forecast?

Second Thought: If I complete this ride, I’ll give myself gold stars. In the form of IPAs. A lot of gold stars in the shape of delicious IPAs. I’ll work off those Structures’ Fuzz calories. I might need to choose the bail out line for this ride. I’ll then forgive myself. And let me be clear, every Grind Corps ride that I showed up for in 2018, I planned to be rescued. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I’m getting old. Either way. I was going to try.

Always know the location of the bail out line. Even if you don’t use it.

Third Thought: Good golly goddamn, there are a lot of logistics to make this happen. Should I pack a bottle of whiskey just in case I bail out at Mt. Baker?

Submission Two: Practice Suffering (this one got selected so I won’t publish it here, but OMFG a bike zine, y’all! I’m like the oldest most unhip fucking zine writer in the history of zines).

Submission Three: Raining Around Mt. Baker in One Day

The painful love of living in the PNW is accepting that summer can disappear in August. Winter can show up for a day or two. No autumnal transitions. No slow progression of color. No leaves to peep. Nothing. Just rapid ass-kicking cold. Winter rains on you during the summer months. Perfect predictable PNW.

Here’s the thing.

When the RAMBOD rains hit at first, we loved it.

Amber remarked how wonderful the rain felt after weeks of smoky air when our forests to the north, south, and east burned. I smiled yes and tilted my face towards the early morning mist as I rode down a relatively car-free quiet Chuckanut Drive. Felt glee as I gazed out at the lowering clouds over the San Juan Islands. Kerri stopped to take a video. We rejoiced.

Then the rains fell harder. Temperature dropped. The white ceiling of the sky dropped lower.

Within an hour, we finally hit gravel. We were really soaked.

I calculated at least four dive bars where I could get a whiskey and some coffee until my rescue ride arrived.

No. Keep going, I thought. Keep pedaling. Keep pedaling. Pedaling. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

That’s when I started to pay attention to the sound of gravel under my tires.

How different it sounds from the scraping braking sliding on loamy downhill mountain bike trails.

How different gravel sounds from the steady consistent buzz buzz buzz at speed on a road bike.

How the tiny pieces of gravel create their own inconsistent hum under your tires. How you feel every shift in texture on the road through your handle bars. Gritty gravel gliding under your tires for miles is really quite a sweet sound.


On my ride back to Bellingham after my group split at the Birdsview Brewery, I was solo for another 50 miles home. Still a respectable day in the saddle. A cold as hell century.

That’s when I started looking around.

Long stretches of bike trail filled with puddles spanned for miles. Misty fog in the foothills rose. Saw big mounds of dirt. Farmland. Working soil. Baby cows.

On the paved roads back to the Skagit/Whatcom line, the rains and clouds lifted. The front of my body was dry with grit and I had on every bit of clothing I had packed. My exposed skin was gritty with sweat and dirt. My bike was covered in mud and tiny bits of dust and dirt.

All the while I kept thinking: Next year. Next year. Next year. Be happy you rode 100 miles. Feel joy. That’s an accomplishment.

I looked east towards Mt. Baker as I rode into town. My house.

Mt. Baker? Nowhere in sight.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Right Time to Burn A Match

There’s a saying in bike racing that I always find interesting.

“You need to be strategic about where you’re willing to burn a match in a race.”

In race reports, you might read, “I burned a match on that switchback and I couldn’t recover.”

Or if somebody won or did well, they might say, “I burned a match trying to pass a few people and it paid off on the last lap.”

If you’ve ever tried to create a fire from a limited amount of matches, you know you  have to be strategic.

If the wind blows a certain direction, you have to wait until the time is right to strike.

You have to be patient or you burn a match and your effort is all a waste.

I recently had a heart to heart conversation with a person who is in a position to be such leader in all things Open.

And she/he/they is choosing to not take the opportunity. Thanks. But.

No thanks.

The demands are too high. The hours are too long. The work is too thankless. The work removes all possibility of a work/life balance. The work removes all possibility of joy.

Really hard frickin’ work.

And I gotta tell ya, the work takes its toll on people.

Here’s the sentence I can’t stop thinking about. This is the sentence that haunts me:

It’s more work than I can possibly do and still enjoy my life.


I also caught myself saying this week that I love this time of year because I can work 12 hours and still have enough daylight to rip it up on my mountain bike. That’s a crazy fucking statement when you think about it and I’m probably drinking way too much coffee right now. But I digress.

It’s more work than I can possibly do and still enjoy my life.

Wait. I know that tune.

That’s the familiar drum beat on the songs about burning out.



How do you do this work and not burn out? (A Memoir)

How do you do it, I get asked.

Okay. Sure, I say. This. That. I say.

I can’t say for sure that I know what I’m talking about. Ever.

Perhaps I have a few answers because I’ve already lived through two career burnouts. Thus all of what’s hard about the current work I’m doing is still very interesting. Fascinating. Positively engaging. All good problems to have. I’m ya girl.

I could have gone into restaurant management if I hadn’t seen that work as a dead-end. The metrics of success were simple. Boring. The shorter my skirt, the greater my tips.

I could have been a contender. I coulda been somebody in that business.

I could have also become a lifelong adjunct quietly teaching section after section until I died.

I could have been a variety of things if I hadn’t always been obsessed with the idea that there was something more interesting right around the corner. Right around the corner. What I’m involved in now is so interesting there aren’t enough hours in the day.

And as tired as I may feel sometimes, nobody has asked me to clean out the fryer after working a double-shift because the cook is passed out drunk in the walk-in freezer. Good times. Nor am I asked to work a double shift because the person who is suppose to relieve me did too much cocaine last night and is still asleep at the dinner rush. We need you to cover until he gets here, I’d hear. Good times. Nobody has asked me to mop up barf in the bathroom because the bachelorette party of 12 got a little out of hand and I knew what I was doing serving them another round of margaritas (Hell yeah, I did, they drank top shelf margaritas for hours, which meant a higher gratuity for me). I should have cut them off, but I knew they had a stretch limo ready to take them to their hotel. Can’t let that mess sit until the janitor comes in the morning, I’d hear. Here’s the mop, Indrunas. Good times.

As burned out as I may feel, when I work hard, I see the rewards of that work. I also don’t have to figure out how to pay my bills four months out of the year because the organization I work for can’t find the funding for a full-time position for me. Refreshing.




I’m laying it on a little thick. This I know. Career Burnout; It’s What’s For Dinner.

How to avoid burning out your teachers at the start of another school year?

I think the most powerful you can do right now for your staff, your teachers, and yourself is to be upfront about the potential of burnout during your Welcome Weeks. Convocations. Week 0s. Before you start another year, be honest about how hard it all can be.

If we tally up all of the things we are asking teachers to do to be a quality educator, it’s an oppressive list ripe for cultivating burnout.

Let me get this straight. You need to make sure your students have access to a food pantry. Check.

You need to remove as much of the cost of their educational materials as possible. Check.

You need to change everything you do as a teacher to meet every avenue of inclusivity and accessibility. Or you’re a fascist pig. Check.

You need to use at least five digital tools to show innovative practices. And you need to apply for a major grant in less than 20 days to fund all that work. Check. Wait. What?

You need to generate data to support the latest initiative that your local/state government has created to improve teaching and learning. Check.

Oh, and while you’re at, let’s dismantle every woe of late capitalism with a smile on your faces.

Check. And after a long day of teaching and committee work, we need you to attend this campus safety meeting just in case there’s a shooting on campus. Check.




Okay, before you get offended, let me just be clear. I’m exaggerating for the sake of my point. We’re asking for a lot these days. And we’re so outraged when we don’t see what we believe is The Right Solution.

There’s so much to be outraged about right now. So much to be outraged about right now. There’s a lot we can’t control. There’s just a lot.

Personally, I’m tired of being outraged. It’s too easy.

I’m more interested in talking about solutions. I’m more into talking about what’s easy to solve.

What can make a teacher’s life easier? What can help a student learn?

Welcome Week is an opportunity to plant some seeds for the spring. Or for the next year. Or next week. Why ignore the potential of this opportunity? Burn the match and take a few chances with being creative.

Classes start soon and I promised a few of you that I share some ideas, and I’m frankly drowning in things I want/need to do. Who the fuck isn’t? Here goes.

Five Big Questions

Here’s a short reflective activity for faculty who are game for professional learning opportunities. Gather your teachers together and ask them to write short brief thoughts answering the following the questions:

  1. What‘s the best thing you teach your students? In other words, what’s one thing you hope they remember from your class five years from now?
  2. What do you wish you had time to do differently?
  3. What’s the hardest thing to teach your students?
  4. What would you like to learn from your colleagues today?
  5. What would professional learning look like this year if nobody could say no to your ideas? If time and money were no issue, what would you do for your department? 

You can use these questions to facilitate a good discussion about what faculty want for the upcoming year. Focus group style. Create time for a small group activity where you have fun gathering ideas. Just enjoy talking and listening. It’s the start of the school year, man. People are usually happier than they are come February. You can get a lot more from people by talking face-to-face than you can from surveys.

What follows are my greatest hits that I’ve been sharing all week so I thought I’d write them down here. I keep sharing these ideas over and over and over again. Indy, what should I do during this time? What should I do? What would you do?

You might think that talking about the same things would lead to burnout, right? Saying the same things again and again can be a bore. Sure. But you know what? It’s way better than asking if you want wheat, white, or sour dough bread with your sandwich.

Or pretending like you’re the most fascinating man on Earth because I think you’ll leave me a great tip. Good gawd if only I could get those hours of my life back–standing in beer soaked Doc Martens listening to some rich dullard drone on and on. My current gig is The Shit compared to that, y’all. And if I cut buying books from my monthly budget, I can donate a tiny bit to Audrey Watters and WMBC. And I utilize my public library more to free up the money we use to spend on books. What I donate isn’t much, but it’s a tiny bit of generosity that makes me happy. Win. Win. Win.

All I have to do is close my eyes and I can remember a time when I thought I’d be a 50 year old waitress. Good times.

So when I hear people complaining about burning out, it takes every bit of strength to not snark, “You know what’s really fucking hard? Being poor.”

Oh shit. Hold up wait a minute. Let me put some Ranty Indrunas in it. She’s having her way with my blog again without knowing when to STFU. She’s got deep class resentment issues and she’s kind of a saucy unpleasant bitch who I really don’t like too much.

Where was I?

Hot Tips For Welcome Week: WOOT! 

Number One: Count The Students Not The Teachers

When faculty members attend your session, count how many students they teach with your reporting to the Budget Big Dogs. Don’t just list how many faculty are in attendance. Count the students that they teach.

Let’s say you JUST have four faculty members in your session. You loser! For the record, I’ve flown over 2,000 miles to have that happen to me. Good times.

Before you cue up the sad trombone and don that hair shirt, consider that each of those faculty members might teach 125 students per term. Each.

So that’s 500 students with those four faculty. All those students. Or 1500 hundred students a year if you’re on a quarter system. Or 1000 per semester. The return-on-investment with professional development dollars go way up when you calculate it that way. If you want to account for the labor you and your team invested in to create that one hour workshop, it looks a bit more worthwhile if you count the students that you’ll reach.

I can’t use the phrase to “touch students” by the way–I know it’s all the rage, but I hear how successful somebody is by “touching 100 students” and I’m grossed out. “High-Touch/High-Impact” just sounds kind of sick and dirty to me.

Number Two: Keep Everything So Simple. Easy. 

When I have a free minute sometime after the start of classes, I’m going to listen to the keynote recording of Jade E. Davis from the Digital Pedagogy Lab. I dig her work because she blends a pragmatic message about teaching and learning with the real substantive issues of inequality both from the a systemic and personal perspective. She’s got the pulse on how the infrastructure of digital technologies limits the potential of teaching and learning. Her “Frugal Innovation in Digital Literacies rocks my world. Hot damn!

Note her use of “Keep it simple” in the article I’ve linked above. Wisdom!

So what do you do for your faculty to keep it simple? For your workshop? How do you think of small solutions that will have a big impact? If you have one match to burn, what fire do you want to start? 

For instance, if there are thirty things that you think is really cool about Open, just talk about five things. Maybe less than that. Tone that shit down, man, you’re overwhelming people.

That last sentence is advice for myself, by the way.

In fact, I’ve learned from a colleague who teaches math that maybe you just focus on three items. Five things, Indy, are just too much when there are a lot of hard things to learn. Give me three things, he says, I don’t have the attention for five. That’s all I can remember when things are hard. So okay. Yes. Three things. Simple. Just not in this blog post.

Number Three: Start with what faculty want to learn.

It’s super scary to teach teachers. Holy mother of all the gods I don’t believe in. So hard.

They are the best and worst students. Mean. Direct. They are the best because they care about their work. They love learning.

They are also the worst because they multi-task and they talk while you’re talking. They don’t like the vulnerability of appearing like they don’t have all of the answers. They’re used to being the smartest person in the room. They’ll sass you. Put you up against the ropes before you can even make fists for the fight. And they get angry when you waste their time. Gloves off if they do not agree with your version of Open. Your version of teaching. Of learning.

So I recommend starting by asking for their questions. What do you want to learn today?

Just roll with the questions. If you don’t know something, admit it. The best facilitators I’ve seen use this approach. You can establish a clear ethos from the start. People stop checking email and they listen.

The willingness to go off script changes everything sometimes. Or this is the lie that I tell myself most often.

Number Four: Document every damn thing.

Follow-up messaging is really important. Make promises and keep them. Even if what you deliver totally sucks. A Memoir.

In my eLearning Director days, I loved loved loved sending All Faculty emails. I loved sending messages to people that I thought I could help. All Faculty emails! Yes! Clicking submit made so happy.

Yet the only people who would respond were the ones who just wanted to bitch. After six weeks of not hearing anything positive, I stopped writing those emails. I gave up.

I fell into the familiar vast pit of despair I call my self-esteem, and I assumed that nobody read anything that I wrote. That I was wasting my time. That I was biggest loser in the world. That I had nothing to offer anyone. That my words were meaningless.

Then I held a Canvas training on their rubric function and when I walked in the room, several adjuncts asked if I was okay. They looked so concerned. They were crushed that they hadn’t heard from me in weeks. Why had I stopped sending the eCULT emails? The eCULT was eLearning & Canvas Users Learning Together and prolly my best acronym.

They launched into talking about the things that they learned from my emails. They laughed quoting some of my jokes. They talked about how they looked forward to those tips and read every single one of them.

One teacher said, “I like to sit down with a glass of wine after midnight and I learn so much from your emails. It’s awesome to sit down in my home office and learn at the end of my day.”

Two things of note here. 1] The end of her day was after midnight. So file that tidbit under substantiating How Teachers Burnout. 2] And she was digging on asynchronous learning. With wine. So ten thousand rainbows bloomed in the sky for me.

They also told me they didn’t respond to my emails because they knew I was busy. We didn’t want to cloud up your inbox, they said. Meanwhile I responded HOURLY to a few haters about why we left Blackboard for Canvas. FFS.

I learned a valuable lesson that the haters have all the energy in the world to share their outrage but the people you really want to reach respect you, your time, and what you’re doing and they are often too busy to take the time to express gratitude.

Haters thrive on sharing outrage. It’s so easy, but nothing seems to please me–just like Axl Rose told us circa 1987, amirite?

Number five:  Explicitly include your adjuncts.

State directly “Adjuncts are encouraged to attend.” For every event on your campus. And don’t remind them that they won’t be paid for attending the event. They know. It’s insulting.

Better still offer the same training/professional development online. Asynchronously, you radical. Or hold online office hours. You can work while you’re waiting to hear from somebody. Be consistent with those hours and be patient.

Are you skilled enough to virtually connect people with face-to-face folks? Check out what Virtually Connecting does--you could easily adopt that model if you’re confident with the technology. Their on-site/remote buddy model is one of the strongest examples of online hospitality that’s adjunct-friendly that I’ve seen. I just wish I had more time to participate in what they are doing. Maybe you do. Maybe someday for me.

If you’re not up to that style of facilitating, that’s okay. It takes does take some practice to run it all smoothly. But why not jump in? What the hell? Nobody needs to know it’s your first time.

And honestly, if everything goes off the rails, have a real honest to goodness heart-to-heart with the people in your workshop. At the point where everything is falling a part. Pivot to these three questions and pretend like it was part of the plan the whole time.

Have them fill in the blanks for the statements below:

1. What scares me the most about teaching with technology is__________.

2. This year I would like to try _________.

3. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite teacher helped me understand_______.

Listen. Write things down. Look everyone in the eye and quote James Baldwin from The Fire Next Time.

Because there are no easy answers to any of this work.

Tell it, James:

The impossible is the least that one can demand.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Why I Race: A Memoir

I’m 39 years old and I’m finally learning how to race my bike. ~Katie Compton

I’d like to start by expressing gratitude to all of you who read my last post. I thought it was so silly when I was writing it, and your positive response was a delightful shock. One of the reasons I love the bloggy blog bloggery is that it’s a medium where you never know who the audience will be, and thus it forces you—forces me—to write for myself. If you are a fan of the professional learning/Open/teaching/learning blatherings of this blog, I’m working on a post on planning Welcome Week for faculty. Stay tuned.

Riders ready? Beep beep beep…This post is about bikes!

I got some very good news this past week that will allow me to continue helping my bike team–The Queens of Dirt–put on the first all-female race in Bellingham! Yay! I was feeling beyond panicked about feeling over-booked, stressed, and I was losing sleep agonizing about how I was going to be able to fit everything in. Then everything worked out after one difficult conversation. Deep breath.

Here’s the thing.

Kirsten, our co-caption, Sabrina, who just finished the BC Bike Race (woot!), and I met last week, and we’ve got a plan to make it all happen. The women of the Queens of Dirt are magic. They get shit done, rock my world, and they are all so smart! Every member of the team will help in some way or another, and we all have one job: Bring The Awesome. We put that phrase on the job duties spreadsheet because you know, spreadsheets are too serious sometimes. We all need to share one job and it’ll be to Bring The Awesome.

Speaking of bringing the awesome–I got a couple of essay-like text messages from Kirsten Jensen, and she mentioned a book that she is reading, Start With The Why, by Simon Sinek which I read when it first came out. And like all motivational leadership books for me, there were really useful parts, good parts, mediocre parts, platitudinous parts, and parts that test my patience. Thinking about this book is very timely for me, actually, because I’ve been trying to read a lot of leadership books for a talk I’m doing in the fall, and I’m still searching for one that I love. What I like about Sinek’s work is that his message is grounded in pragmatism about human beings and emotional appeals–people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Yes, and I wish it was that simple all the time.

For the purpose of this bike race, it’s easy to express The Why using one photograph.

Imagine every category at a bike race from Juniors to Masters having this many women.


Queens of Dirt MTB Weekend 2018, Bellingham, WA  Photo Credit Bryce Barry @brycebarry_ facebook.com/brycebarrydotcom website: brycebarry.com

And you see those little girls on the picnic table in the middle of the photo? Those are our Little Big Whys.

We’ve decided that we are going to ask women who race to explain why they race as a way to motivate other women.  Yes! So I’m going to get this party started with a hashtag and a social media campaign.

#QoDMTBRace here we go.

Why do I race?

I race because I love the camaraderie with other women, the act of scheduling my entire week around attending a race, and the conversations that I have with my friends after the race. Before I go into great detail about these three reasons, I need to admit to you, my dear readers, that I’ve never won a race. Ever. My best result is 2nd place with the Seattle Cross Revolution Cyclocross series as a Cat 4, and I got passed on the last corner towards the finishing line. I’ve “won” the Cascade Cross series C and I’ve been on the podium for the Bs–only because I show up the most. I don’t race to win; I race because it’s really frickin’ fun.

Make Frens. I’ve met a lot really good friends at bike races. Turns out most people who race bikes are Good People. A lot of folks show up for their race and leave immediately afterward, and that’s fine, but you’re missing out, man. Sure, you can totally get an awesome workout in before noon, and still have a Sunday for other things if that’s your scene. Or you can do what I do, and hang out to watch other people race and chat with folks. I’ve met a lot of strangers who turned into friends just from hanging out at bike races.

Hot tip: Talk to other women in the lineup. Look closely and you’ll see the really fast women are joking around and talking before the start. They’ve known each other for years. Race face commences just before the start, but prior to that, there’s a lot of banter. Look to your left and right, and if somebody is quiet, lean over, and admit how nervous you are and smile. Everyone is nervous and chatting and joking will help you relax. If you see a woman who is stoic and quiet, let her be. Chances are she doesn’t like talking on the line but she might throw down some Fireball whiskey and party hard after the race. Everyone is different. Me? No surprise, I like to chat, and these days a lot of my friends are faster than me, so I try to make frens with strangers.

When you pass a woman during the race, don’t just say on your left. Be encouraging!  If you have the breath to say so, grunt “Good job, lady.”

And most importantly when you make a new race friend, say “See you next week?”

Time is a Jet Plane. Sometimes it’s really hard to carve out a Saturday or Sunday to race because of the jobby job, amirite? Do you have kids? A spouse who travels for work? Take care of a parent? Are your kids competitive athletes? The list can go on and on to substantiate why you can’t find time to race. It can be expensive. Intimidating. I understand. Believe me I understand.

There is something deeply special me about dedicating the time to a race. I need something to look forward to. Something to plan for that’s just for me. I’m hopelessly devoted to the Cascade Cross series in Bellingham, so barring some disaster in my life, I’m going to be a season pass holder for life and support my local series. I used to race the other two series in Seattle regularly, but I got a little burned out with their early season schedule. September is glorious for the high alpine hiking or mountain biking, so I’ve adopted a new philosophy that helps me. If it’s a dusty, flat, grassy crit-like course, I’ll prolly stay in Bellingham and mountain bike. Or I’ll hang out with my hiking friends. If I’m coming off three weeks of non-stop work travel, I’ll go to spectate and sit out a race. If the weather forecast is looking treacherous, muddy, and cyclocross magical, I’ll consider driving down the I-5. I never miss Enumclaw and Woodland Park because I love love love those courses.

My entire weekend–and thus my work week–is shaped around being able to make these races in the fall.  I can’t sustain this pace all year, but every autumn, it’s on, y’all.

Hot tip: Do you have kids? Talk to the race ladies who have older children. Chances are they have some lesson learned that can help you, especially if you and your spouse race. I’ve seen children passed as batons between races, and I’m really impressed with how many families pull off racing. When I see the kids who go from toddlers to junior racers in a full-on family affair, I die from all the cuteness. Those Skuut Bike races are adorable defined. Most of the fast ladies I know have kids, and they will talk your ear off on how to train while having kids.

I love Race Reports: A Memoir. So what’s just as fun as racing? Talking to people after the race! Save for the races when my Mister has a mechanical or DNFs (so grouch-tastic), I love talking to him about the course and his race. All my lady and dude racer friends? Love hearing about it. My team will post race reports and I read and respond to every single one. Love it. One of the reasons I love cyclocross is the hecklers.

How was my first race you ask? Well, I crashed really hard and slid down the flyover near where the Hodala team gathered it was probably the worst–and best–place to crash–right in front of a team of drunk smartasses. Get UP, lady! They yelled. This isn’t slip-n-slide, this is cross! What are you doing? Etc. I had a lot of mud on my feet so I was having a hard time getting back up the slippery muddy ramp, so I felt like I was struggling in front of them forever. They were yelling all kinds of inappropriate things, and it was cracking me up. So, I looked at them and yelled, “SCREW YOU!” and oh my gawd did they cheer. When I came back around the next lap, they cheered me on and I overheard one of them say, “Here’s The Screw You, Lady.” Go Screw You Lady! Screw you!

To this day, I’m so glad they were too drunk to remember that nickname.

Hot tip: Everyone crashes in bike racing. It’s okay. Check your body, check your bike, and if you can, get back on it and pedal. As you race, take note of who heckles you and give it back ten fold. For years. Keep it family friendly if there are kids around and be vicious to the sandbaggers. Heckling is an art.

These are my three reasons and quite honestly, you’ll need to find your own. I can’t tell you how to live your life. I can tell you that I’ve seen racing empower women and girls and grow confidence off the course. I’ve seen women cry because they had so much fun and didn’t think they could finish a race. I’ve seen women go from Timid to Total Killer in a few years. I’m inspired by every woman who shows up to race in a sport dominated by men.

I know plenty of women who aren’t very competitive but they love racing because it’s silly and fun. You do you. And when you hear a woman talk about her love of racing, you can say “ME TOO!” to her without craving a gin & tonic when you say that phrase.

If I had to distill why I race, it’s because it’s fun comraderie with really cool people on bikes. I like a good party, Good People, and bikes—all three come together on race day.

If you’re in the area, I hope you will consider joining us on September 22, 2018 at Lake Padden for the first ever and (hopefully) annual Queens of Dirt Mountain Bike Race. I’m hoping that the fun you have on this day will get you excited about #CrossIsComing and you’ll Bring The Awesome to our local series.

All participants who register for QoD Mtb Race prior to August 15th will be entered into a raffle drawing race day for a full entry to QOD Mtb Weekend (value $350, see photo above)! The weekend is magical because we have some of the best coaches in the NW (and Asheville, NC) show up to teach their hearts out.

Here’s how you sign up. Check out our page on Bike Reg: https://www.bikereg.com/qodmtbrace

Do you want to share your Why as a bike racer? You don’t have to windbag it up like me–you can do it in a Tweet! We’d love to hear from you. Respond below, email us, post to FB and Insta using the hashtag #QoDMTBRace and tag @queensofdirt

Thanks in advance to all the Queens of Dirt race and club members, Jack’s Bicycle Center, Liv Cycling , Cascade Cross Series, Bellingham Grind Corps, The Bellingham Parks Department, & Matt Curtis (our photographer) , & Angi Weston/Radical Roots, and everybody else who is going to make this happen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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,


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Progression Doesn’t Have To Be Painful

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


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.



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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments