Full

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.

Professor Letter REDACTED

What I’ve been up to: Silver Lining for Learning

[I’ve been fairly quiet here during the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve been doing for the past year…]

SLL title imageLast March about this time, Yong Zhao, Chris Dede, Punya Mishra, Curtis Bonk, Shuangye Chen, and I launched Silver Lining for Learning. The initiative was meant to highlight interesting technology-enabled learning around the world and to spark some discussions about schooling possibilities during the pandemic and afterward. Although I bowed out after Episode 32 due to other commitments, my colleagues have done an absolutely fantastic job of keeping the dialogues going.

Below is a list of the first year’s worth of episodes. You will see that Silver Lining for Learning has addressed a wide range of topics. One of the strengths of the project is its incredible global emphasis and reach. If you want to learn from and interact with other educational innovators around the world – and hear about some really interesting learning and teaching happening elsewhere – Silver Lining is a wonderful place to start. I love that numerous guest bloggers have been willing to share their experiences as well.

The site just got a new look for Year 2, and Yong, Chris, Punya, Curt, and Shuangye do an excellent job of sparking rich conversation with their inspiring guests. I am honored to have helped launch this initiative and hope that you will subscribe to the blog and join the hosts for their weekly discussions (which also are archived for later viewing). 

Year 1 Episodes

What I’ve been up to: 5Sigma EduCon scavenger hunt keynote

[I’ve been fairly quiet here during the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve been doing for the past year…]

2020 5Sigma McLeod Keynote SlideMy very last face-to-face engagement with schools before the pandemic was for the 5Sigma EduCon at Anastasis Academy. Kelly Tenkely is the Founder and Executive Director of this very innovative private K-8 school in Centennial, Colorado. Michelle Baldwin teaches there, so I have two good friends at Anastasis and always love visiting the school. Their students are doing absolutely incredible work.

The conference was a blast. I told Kelly that I wanted to try something different for my ‘keynote’ on Saturday morning. Instead of standing and delivering, I put attendees into small groups and sent them on a scavenger hunt around the school. Each group was given a ‘mission packet’ with ‘top secret’ instructions. Inside the packet was:

  • a Team Directive document with instructions (“You are an elite team of code crackers and problem solvers…”) and warnings to beware misdirection from other groups,
  • a Mission Checklist on which they could mark their completion of each mission,
  • a Code Card for deciphering clues to their next mission,
  • a packet of stickers that designated their team (e.g., Team Zebra, Team Tiger), and
  • an initial coded clue that, when deciphered, sent them to their first destination within the school.

At each destination, there was an envelope with their team logo on it. Inside each team’s envelope was a Mission Document that explained the conversation station at that location (i.e., their ‘mission;’ an example is below), a sticker for their Mission Checklist, and a clue to their next destination. As you can see if you follow the link on the Mission Document below, the goals were to spark rich discussion and for each team to complete all six conversations. 

We had about 90 minutes total for the keynote session, and teams were created randomly to spark learning across different school systems. Instead of them sitting and listening to me for that time, they got a little exercise, laughed a lot, and had some amazing dialogues. I am appreciative of Kelly’s willingness to let me try something different. Our time together was super fun and everyone really enjoyed their six conversations. Thank you, Kelly!

2020 5Sigma McLeod Keynote Scavenger Hunt Example

We shouldn’t pretend neutrality in the face of injustice

Following up on my previous post, I’m going to share a fantastic blog post from Michael Kaechele:

I have grown weary of the call to avoid controversial topics and stay neutral. Silence is compliance. There are many things in history that do not have two equal opposing sides: slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, segregation, etc. There is only one side to these events that is fair, just, and equitable. Educators should help students understand how oppressors justified their actions in history without giving credit to their arguments. Done properly it would be a warning against similar tactics used today.

Educators don’t take stock in conspiracy theories. We stand up for truth, justice, and decency. Please do not let students defend positions based on speculation and hearsay. It is our job to present truth to students even if they and their parents don’t want to hear it. We can not necessarily change their hearts and minds, but we can force them to confront the truth. Teachers should interrupt and challenge any student who presents conspiracy theories and false information with questions of its source and legitimacy. We can not allow bigotry, racism, sexism, or any other discrimination in our classroom.

I would add administrators and students to this list. We shouldn’t let them defend those positions either, and we surely shouldn’t pretend neutrality in the face of injustice. Nicely said, Michael.

How are the conversations going in your school system?