Some faculty members are like race horses out of the gate. They’re focused Assistant Professors, they’re publishing immediately in ‘top tier’ journals, they’re presenting at conferences, they’re connecting strategically with grant funders and research colleagues, and they slide right into the tenure track slipstream and travel quickly through the Assistant Professor / Associate Professor With Tenure / Full Professor pathway.
Other faculty members start ABD (all but dissertation) in 1999, get off to a really slow start at University 1 because they need to complete their dissertation and are overwhelmed by department-level service commitments, switch universities in 2001 because of a gracious offer to start over, get ‘distracted’ at University 2 with exciting new opportunities that aren’t valued that much by the institution, extend their slow start even further because their focus is in non-rewarded areas, switch universities in 2007 because of a miraculous tenure offer, finally start to find their way a little bit at University 3, switch universities in 2011 because of a miraculous offer to do some really interesting work elsewhere with some amazing colleagues, find out that University 4 is an extremely poor fit and leave in 2012 after one year, drop out of higher education completely for four years, switch universities in 2016 because of a miraculous offer to return to higher education, successfully receive tenure again at University 5 despite the long absence from academe, and finally find a place that feels like the right balance between research, teaching, and service to the field. These faculty members also may struggle to juggle the demands of the professorship with family commitments, raising children, service to practitioners, a growing social media presence, and innovation in realms that most postsecondary institutions fail to value.
This second path would be me, of course. Which is why it was so gratifying to receive notice yesterday from the University of Colorado system that I was promoted to Full Professor (aka ‘Professor’). The (large p) Professor rank is ostensibly the highest level that a faculty member can achieve short of an endowed professorship or going into university administration. The label is intended to recognize a career’s worth of good work and to validate excellence across all areas of the professorship. I don’t know about all of that, but I am deeply grateful for the recognition.
In addition to my P-12 experiences, I now have been a (small p) professor at five major research universities. They’ve all taught me something, good or bad, and I’ve honed my institutional survival instincts over the years. So much of the tenure and promotion process is a hoop-jumping game (How many peer-reviewed articles do I need? We won’t tell you… In which journals should I publish? The very best, most selective ones, of course…) and/or a political arena (Keep your head down… Don’t make any waves… Watch out for that person if they’re on your review committee…). My journey is not the only long, twisty, bumpy one in higher education (and, unfortunately, we lose too many faculty along the way). And, as longtime readers know, I’ve struggled mightily with the lack of engagement, interaction, and visibility of writing for academic audiences versus what I can accomplish in practitioner outlets, on my blog, with multimedia, on other social media platforms, etc. Every time I publish in a walled-garden, paywalled, inaccessible-but-peer-reviewed academic journal, it feels like I’m burying my thinking and writing in a deep hole. I’d much rather be working with educators, creating new resources, or sharing and interacting with others.
But somehow I made it through and checked all of the boxes necessary for the final hoop jump. I’m incredibly grateful for my colleagues at CU Denver and for the opportunity to do good work here. The School of Education and Human Development is a very special place and I’ve experienced nothing but good will and deep, caring support. I’m also grateful for all of you. I started to blog back in 2006 because I was desperate to find ‘my people’: folks who cared about the same things that I did and who were trying to dramatically change things for P-12 students and educators. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my people. I learn more from you monthly than I’ve learned from an entire academic career’s worth of journal articles and research conferences. Most of all, I’m thankful for my family and some key supportive colleagues (you know who you are) who have had my back the entire way. Everyone should be lucky enough to have the support networks that I’ve had. I’m beyond blessed.
As the gentleman says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!” This latest professional milestone is achieved and I’m looking forward to whatever lies ahead. I know you’ll be plotting and scheming right alongside me. I can’t wait.
Anthony Kronman said:
When it comes to campus speech, the adversaries tend to divide into two recognizable camps. On the one hand are those who say: This is a special community, an inclusive community, we care about the well-being of all its members and we must see to it that they are not made to feel excluded, wounded, or depreciated. And to that end we need to be careful because speech hurts and offends and demeans. On the other hand, there are the speech libertarians who say that the tradition of free expression rests on the axiom that speech is the great engine of truth, and if that axiom applies to society at large, it applies with quadruple force on a campus, which is after all devoted to the truth.
They’re both wrong because they both miss something important.
The speech libertarians fail to understand that a college is a special community, but not the kind that those who are in favor of trimming speech for the sake of protecting feelings and inclusiveness conceive it to be. The idea of free speech, as a political value, has nothing to do with the idea of a conversation, which lies at the heart of the very distinctive community that a university represents. In the book I use the example of a speakers’ corner, a soap box in the park set up for whoever wishes to use it. People come and go, they talk about whatever they wish, they insult, they harangue, they respond. And that’s great, that’s an important part of our political culture. No one would wish it otherwise. The people who speak and the people who listen are trying to persuade or resist being persuaded. But you cannot describe what is happening as a conversation.
But talking past each other in a classroom: That is out of keeping with the requirements of the conversational ideal, and it is the responsibility of the teacher to keep that ideal in view at all times. That is a special, rare, and valuable enterprise which the speech libertarians simply don’t notice. By the same token, the defenders of limits on speech for the sake of inclusion do not have it in view either. What they miss is the way in which institutionalized forms of sensitivity compromise the conversational ideal and reinforce the idea that what ultimately matters is how I see the world, rather than the prospect for achieving some shared foothold on the ground of reason and truth. Always an aspiration that we fall short of achieving – I have no illusions about that – but the fact that you don’t achieve it does not to my mind deprive the ideal itself of its magnificent force.
We need our classrooms to be safe spaces that value a diversity of perspectives and experiences. We also need them to be spaces in which we can have conversations that may push on our existing worldviews and make us uncomfortable…
This past Thursday I created 25 professional learning ‘conversation stations’ for my principal licensure students. I printed them all out and spread them around our classroom (which is a school library). Each printed station contained a link or two – or a short reading (and a source) – and some questions to consider. The idea was to expose our preservice administrators at the University of Colorado Denver to a variety of ways to foster and facilitate adult learning beyond schools’ traditional, moribund professional development sessions.
My students traveled around the room in pairs or trios, visiting whichever stations they wanted (they had a shared notes document that listed all of the stations). Each group stayed at a station for as long or short a time as desired. Most averaged about 7 to 10 minutes per station, but some talked for nearly 30 minutes at a single station. At several points during our two hours on this activity, they got together with another group and shared what was resonating from their station visits. We learned a lot and had some awesome conversations together! At the end of the evening I gave them a link to all of the stations, so that they could later peruse whatever they hadn’t visited yet.
Here are links to both the conversation stations and the shared notes document, as well as the slide I used to introduce the activity:
Both of the main documents are editable. Feel free to modify them and make them better for others. If you use this activity in your principal licensure program or school district, let me know how it went!
We also had 3 pre-class readings and 5 beginning-of-activity provocations just to get us in the right mindset:
If you have any thoughts or questions about all of this, please get in touch. Otherwise, hope this is useful to you!
How are you introducing school leaders and teachers to alternative (better) forms of professional learning?
[Every week a ‘Monday Morning Message (MMM)’ email goes out to all doctoral students from a faculty or staff member in the CU Denver School of Education and Human Development. Here’s my second one, which came out today.]
[Please join Dr. Heather Johnson and me for one or both of our two Spring 2019 social media workshops for SEHD faculty and students!]
In my previous MMM, I noted the power of having an active and visible online presence as part of our professional and scholarly work. In this MMM, I want to follow up on some of the ideas that I articulated in my previous message.
I had an opportunity recently to participate in a gathering of CU Denver faculty and staff at which we discussed and debated the merits of including our digital work in our tenure and promotion portfolios. I advocated strongly for the idea that the more visible we are, the more impact we can have. Not every scholar or educator wants to be a public intellectual. But for those of us who want our ideas to spread and who actually want to influence practicing educators and educational systems, participating in these online spaces is critically important.
Unfortunately, two decades after the Internet became accessible to the masses, many educators still are slow to realize the possibilities that accompany our new digital tools and online environments. As a faculty member who has an outsized social media presence (53,000+ Twitter followers; video series with 100+ million views; one of the top education blogs in the world, etc.), I can attest that there is great power in being engaged in relevant online communities. Every day I learn with P-12 and postsecondary educators who are doing amazing things in their domains.
One of the reasons that I think many educators and faculty are hesitant to participate in social media spaces is that we incessantly hear about the negative aspects of those platforms. Tales of “Bad Twitter” are legion, for example. We hear less often about the numerous ways to use “Good Twitter,” professional blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards, Facebook groups, and other platforms in ways that are productive and empowering. There always will be those who engage with our work in negative ways, but we can utilize a variety of strategies and techniques to manage our networks, decrease our exposure to bad actors, and engage with the audiences that we are trying to reach in order to share ideas and resources and have productive conversations.
I would encourage you to see how the following scholars are engaging online. They are great models for how to use social media in empowered ways for research dissemination, policy advocacy, and educational impact.
- Tressie McMillan Cottom, @tressiemcphd, tressiemc.com (sociology and higher education)
- Julian Vasquez Heilig, @professorjvh, cloakinginequity.com (P-12 educational equity)
- Chris Emdin, @chrisemdin, chrisemdin.com (#HipHopEd and science education)
- Sara Goldrick-Rab, @saragoldrickrab, saragoldrickrab.com (college affordability)
- Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, @vamboozled_, vamboozled.com (educator assessment)
- Bruce Baker, @schlfinance101, schoolfinance101.wordpress.com (school finance)
What these postsecondary educators recognize is that if we don’t engage online, we cede conversational ground, policymaking influence, and mindshare around good educational practices to others who ARE willing to chime in, regardless of how inaccurate or harmful their contributions are. That’s the ultimate point of this week’s MMM. Are we just going to sit back while others offer misinformation and educationally-unsound practices or are we ready to engage?
Image credit: Social media class, mhmarketing
I had the privilege of participating in a conversation today at my university about how (and whether) the digital work done by faculty should count for promotion and tenure. (I also had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes; here are my slides). Here are four thoughts that are spinning around in my brain after a couple of hours of discussion…
First, if we publish an article in a traditional journal which happens to post that article online and it then gets a few social media shares, that does not make us ‘digital scholars.’ That’s definitely a step beyond traditional analog publishing. But to be relevant to the digital, online, hyperconnected, participatory, interactive, highly-distributed information landscape in which we now live and work, we need to expect more from ourselves. Not all of the time, but sometimes. And more often.
Second, why is it that the faculty who ARE trying to be relevant in our new information landscape are the ones that always have to justify their work to those who are less responsive? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Which side should carry the burden of persuasion regarding relevance and quality?
Third, no one owes us anything, no matter how good the work is that we do. We have to prove ourselves every day. Just because we did good work a decade ago doesn’t mean that we are doing so now. Just because we believe that our work is valuable doesn’t mean that others do – or should. As Seth Godin says, “If [our] target audience isn’t listening, it’s [our] fault, not theirs.” Make the case. Be engaged. Help others see the meaning and value in what we do. All the time. (These digital tools can help…)
Finally, we need to be less dismissive of the public and of publishing for non-academics. We ignore engagement with the public and policymakers at our peril.
With appreciation for all of the complexities behind these fairly simple assertions… let me know what you think.