Category Archives: The Personal

#WhyIMarch

Maybe you’ve heard — there’s a Women’s March on Washington scheduled for the day after tomorrow. And if you know me at all, you know I voted for Clinton, and you know I was extremely disappointed by the outcome of the election, and you know I’m a democrat, and you know I believe in funded public schools, racial justice, socioeconomic reform and awareness, cultural acceptance, sexual identity awareness, gender identity awareness, and just about any type of “liberal” or “progressive” reform you can imagine.

So it might not be a surprise that I’m planning to spend two nights on a bus so that I can march in Washington, DC on the 21st. In fact, people who know me might assume that the list above are the reasons why I’m marching, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. My sociopolitical beliefs are certainly a major motivator.

But to assume my political leanings are the only thing driving me to spend precious weekend family time away from my one-year-old girl and supportive husband would ignore the many, many other reasons why I am participating. Among them, these five:

Because my daughter is watching me. Posting memes and articles on social media to a crowd of individuals who mostly agree with me doesn’t count as “standing up for what I believe in.” The week of the election, my husband challenged me as I struggled to drag myself out of a deep depressive state. It wasn’t about my candidate not winning — it was a moral, emotional, ethical, deeply personal and also deeply professional loss when the citizens of our country voted for a leader I feel is the embodiment of anti-intellectualism, misogyny, intolerance, and hatred. “What are you going to do about it?” he asked me. Well, I have a long-term plan that I’m sure I’ll share here later, but for now: this. I am going to do this.

Because I am able. I have the means to pay for the bus ticket. I have a husband who supports my decision to participate and will watch our daughter during the 36-hour trip. I have the means to pay for food along the way. I am in good physical shape. I have friends and colleagues who share my cause and passion, and we can stick together in DC on Saturday. I am well-off and able, and many who might want to participate may not be.

Because rhetoric can be harmful. While some journalists are claiming that the march lacks purpose, march leaders have made the case that the march is in resistance to hateful rhetoric (among other things):

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us–women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault.”

This may not seem like a clear purpose to some, but is very clear to me. If studying language, linguistics, texts of all types, and rhetorical theory as my life’s work has taught me anything, it is that rhetoric has power. Protesting the vile rhetoric our new president and his supporters have launched against women, disabled individuals, and minorities is therefore, for me, a perfectly substantial purpose.

Because I know people who are genuinely afraid about their family’s future safety in this country. My daughter’s teachers at her daycare. Some of the students in the schools for which I work, and their families. Teens who have been bullied or ridiculed in the days since the election because of their racial or gender identities. Because our nation was built on the shoulders of immigrants, and yet has hypocritically thrown hatred and intolerance at minority groups throughout our history. Because that needs to stop.

Because sometimes, #thestruggleisreal. And I mean that in a less sarcastic way than usual. I have always worked in a field dominated by women — education. literacy. reading. Until recently, when my career path somehow landed me in the male-dominated tech field and in a leadership position right as our family welcomed a tiny new member. While I am still in education, surrounded by strong and inspiring female leaders, a few of whom will be on my bus tomorrow night, there are days when I can feel that glass ceiling pressing down. Days when I can’t attend an evening work function because of the baby’s bedtime.  Weekends when family trumps (heh) imperative paperwork, rendering me farther behind and scrambling to find the available hours to catch up. Mornings when getting out of bed after a rough night of wakeups is the closest thing to torture I’ve ever experienced. And while I am fortunate to work among men who value the input of female leaders and understand the demands of family, some interactions highlight the very real struggle of women who strive to “have it all;” respect and integrity in their work, love and comfort in their homes.

These are just a few of the not-so-obvious reasons #whyimarch this weekend. To my sisters marching all over the world, stay alert, stay safe, stay strong, stay peaceful, and stay positive.

A Letter to my Daughter on the Eve of her First Birthday

I usually reserve this space for posts dedicated to professional reflection, sometimes with a touch of the personal. But today, I am out of my office, home with my daughter as she fights off an ear infection, and I’m not thinking much about digital learning, professional development, software, hardware, or 1:1 initiatives. Instead, I’m spending time with my daughter, who turns one year old tomorrow. This post is for her.

Dear Josephine,

A year ago today, I knew you were about to arrive, but I didn’t know anything about you besides that you were most active at night, waking me with kicks and somersaults, a nightowl from the very beginning. I knew my life was about to change, but I didn’t know exactly how — or how much. Your Daddy and I were excited to meet you, to find out who you were, to learn how to do this parenting gig together, to hope you would forgive us our inevitable mistakes.

A year ago, Tomorrow.

A year ago, Tomorrow

A year ago tomorrow, on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, you arrived at 3:33 pm, after a grueling 36-ish hours of labor. I vividly remember the moment they placed your squirmy, slippery self on my chest. You were finally here, and you had the lungs to prove it.

I have learned so many things from you, and you aren’t even one yet. You have taught me how to find joy in every moment. You smile big, with your whole face, with your whole body. You have done this since you were four weeks old. You smile at everything. At everyone. For you, life is exciting, beautiful, and most importantly, full of joy. Your smile is contagious, your joy infectious.

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Your four-week-old smile

I have also learned that I only need about three consecutive hours of sleep to function, but I need about five to participate; a lesson I could have done without, but useful information nonetheless. I have learned that hugs and kisses should be given liberally. I have learned that meatballs are the best food in the world. I have learned that socks are overrated, that one doesn’t need toys in a world full of kitchen utensils, and that an open window with a light breeze is the best way to induce a state of pure zen.

Your first year, my love, has been a challenging one in so many ways. Your Daddy and I moved across the country before you arrived, and it’s difficult not to have the helping hands of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins as we teach you about the world. We started new jobs before you arrived, jobs that challenge our minds and our time. 2016 has also been a difficult year for the humans of Earth for a number of social and political reasons, which I imagine (or hope) will be a distant memory for me, and something you’ll read about in history books.

You make any challenge life throws my way easier to face. You greet every single day with a smile and a giggle, sweetening my morning coffee with your still relatively toothless grin. You recently started walking, and whenever you lose your balance, you plop down on your butt and just keep trying. You pick up new skills, preferences, and words at a breakneck pace that astounds me daily. You don’t give up in the face of a challenge: why should we? You never let a day go by witho20160504_182224ut learning something new: why should we?

It’s your first birthday tomorrow, and we will celebrate with presents shipped from the Midwest, with cake your Daddy will bake tonight, with a celebratory supper that you probably will eat some of before you throw the rest on the floor for the dog. It’s a celebration of your first year, but it’s also a celebration of our first year — with you. A year that has looked nothing like the well-organized, schedule-conscious, on-top-of-things life we had come to know before you, and has been perfect and beautiful in its blonde-haired, blue-eyed chaos.

Happy birthday, boop. You are my best thing.

<3 Mommy

On Reading and Finding Stability

I have a confession to make. I have only read three novels in the past year.

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A further confession: two of them, I read because they were the summer reading selections for the middle and high schools in Waltham, where I lead the library team.

Besides these, I have also read a smathering of nonfiction — a few books on the development of baby bodies and brains, given my recent foray into motherhood, and a few pedagogical texts on digital writing or connected education. Some articles here and there on coding and robotics in education, a few about library makerspaces, and of course a million Internet articles on parenting (which I should definitely stop reading, because nobody has any real answers on that particular topic). I do read. But lately, I do not read as I have read in the past.

As an English teacher, I counted the books I read, and so did some of my students. They always read more than me, but I used to easily make it through 50 or more novels or young adult novels a year, working hard to keep up with the most recent titles, because conversations about books promised to permeate my classroom if I modeled the love of reading I hoped to foster in my students.

But this year, three sad little works of (excellent) fiction.

Now, for the second topic implied in my title, and bear with me — I promise it comes together in a moment. Stability. I am entering my second year in my current position as an administrator of #allthingstechnology in Waltham, Massachusetts. In the ten years of my career (wait, what? ten already?), I have done a lot of moving around. This is my third state and my fourth school district. Somewhere in there, I attended two institutions of higher education. I have never stayed. Not because I didn’t want to — many of the shifts were required, taking place after a graduation ceremony… a marriage… But now, with a new little girl and a stable position in a school district I love, I plan to stay. I seek stability, permanence of a kind, and an opportunity to embed myself in a community in a way I have not yet been able to in my adult life.

The word stability, however, implies qualities like sameness, consistency, and security. To be stable in a place is to be rooted there, to have some sense of what comes next based on what came before, to know the ins-and-outs. Entering only year two, stability is something I have not yet found. My day-to-day is a tumultuous hurricane of baby bottles, meetings, troubleshooting, and general mayhem. My role at work offers little routine, each day looking markedly different from the last (this is what I love about it). I am still learning how to lead, how to be an administrator, how to manage budgets and navigate systems, and while I certainly feel more confident at the start of this year than last September, the confidence is with an ever-diligent eye to the many things I have yet to learn, understand, and integrate into my practice.

However, glimmers of “stability,” whatever that might look like, shine through; I have a home and, for the first time in my life, I plan on staying indefinitely. I know members of my community, and can (finally) navigate most of the region without the aid of a GPS. At work, I know the names and faces of teachers, students, and administrators at each of our ten schools. I am growing new initiatives based on lessons learned last year. The foundation is being laid, for my work and for the entire district, for much — and sustained — stability.

So why do I struggle to feel this “stability?” The days, lately, have been rough, for reasons I find difficult to qualify; too many new initiatives, too many tasks on the home and work lists, too few hours in the day, too much demand on my body and mind as I try to both be true to my most important work — being a mom — and to the work-work, about which I am so passionate. A whole lot of too much, most of it self-inflicted, and not enough slowing down for introspection. Not enough of those things that have always been sources of stability and foundation-laying in my life. Like books.

In my work with school librarians, I am reminded how much stability a room full of books can offer. Many students in our district do not come to school from entirely stable environments. Some of them have just moved here from South America, some from nearby cities, some speaking English, some speaking Spanish, Haitian, Chinese, Portuguese, any of fifty other languages. Sometimes, they have been torn from their parents or extended family support networks. As educators, we of course hope these students find something akin to stability in our schools, and sometimes — indeed, often — they find it in our libraries, visiting daily, seeking another book to lose themselves in once they have left our buildings.

And why wouldn’t a room full of books provide a sense of “stability?” In books lie the stories of those whose lives, like ours or not, echo the sentiments and struggles of humanity. In books — and here, I’m speaking specifically of fiction texts — we find characters who remind us of ourselves or of those in our lives. We find situations we can relate to our own challenges and triumphs. Growing up, my life featured far more stability than I see for some of our students, but we moved frequently and my parents divorced when I was 12, rocking my world and rendering what once felt foundational quite unstable. I turned to books for not only comfort and escape, but for help understanding phenomena that my adolescent mind struggled to understand.

Somewhere in my shift from being an English teacher, a scholar of literature and language, a writer first and foremost, and a reader to my core, to being a mom and an administrator of systems, servers, apps, and devices, I forgot how stable I was once made by the simple act of reading. I was recently reminded of this while reading book that I had disseminated to the teachers in one of my projects entitled What Connected Educators Do DifferentlyAt the end of the book, the authors remind us of the importance “Knowing When to Unplug.” They note that in addition to fostering dynamic networks, connected educators know when to balance “being connected” with “disconnecting,” and that these individuals do a few common things… among them, reading. Also, exercising. Often, meditating, or otherwise reflecting during solitary time.

Solitary time? I have none. Exercise, I manage… sometimes. Reading, I seem to have lost along the way, without even noticing. I find this stymying, considering how fundamental to both my personal and professional self reading, and reading widely, has always been.

Of the three books pictured above, I have read two of them within the past two months in moments stolen before I close my eyes for the day, or when the baby goes down for a nap on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. I’m starting a new book tonight, one that I purchasedScreen Shot 2016-09-05 at 3.33.18 PM seven years ago from a used bookstore on Purdue’s campus in West Lafayette, Indiana — in three cities, this book has done little but gather dust on the to-be-read shelf.

 

As I enter year two of my new role and year three in New England, I am promising myself that I will find more stability in those practices that once grounded me — in reading, in unplugging, and in rooms. full. of books.

Thank You, FaceFriends (or, Why I Love Social Media)

First, a bit of catch-up… I’ve been off the blog for a while. A few things have happened in my life since the last time I blogged here:

  • I started a new job as Administrator of Educational Technology in Waltham, MA
  • I bought a house in Newton, MA, and moved into it
  • I had a baby girl

Needless to say, life has been a little distracting, but one of my many goals for the new year is to make time for one of the most important things in my life — my writing — which has taken a backseat to work, family, and running over the past year and a half or so. With a few papers that need to be revised, a book on digital PD that’s been slowly creating itself in my imagination, and a grant project that’s practically begging for some collaborative writing, I need to get my act together. So here’s a promise: I’ll be here more often this year.


Now, for today’s topic: a thank you to my Facebook Friends and a bit of reflection on the role of social media in my (and our) lives. I recently celebrated my 31st birthday. It was a special birthday, in that it was my first birthday as Mommy. It was a completely unspecial birthday, in that nobody really cares that much about the number 31, nothing particularly exciting happened, and I was really too exhausted to celebrate in any way other than getting a few more hours of sleep.

But something struck me on that 6th day of February as I nursed my daughter, talked to my husband, and dinked around on my smartphone: I know the most incredible and amazing people. As they chimed in to wish me a happy birthday on my Facebook wall — a social media tradition I’ve never thought about much — I couldn’t help but notice the diversity of these people and reflect on the experiences that brought them into my lives. My FaceFriends live all over the country — no, all over the world — and I am able to continue knowing them because of social media. This makes my life richer, fuller, and more exciting. This makes me an empathetic human who understands many different walks of life, in different places, through different lenses.

My partner and I are now living in our fourth state since we started dating back in 2002. At each step of my career, I have met incredible people. I have tailgated on muddy, grassy fields at 7am with them. I have established conference traditions that involve 5am runs in new places with them. I have seen some of them only once every other year, others I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, but their lives and experiences are important to me. We swap war stories, we share career wins, and we celebrate life’s milestones together. Sure, we post and comment, but we also message, text, and playdate with our puppies and, now that I have one, our babies.

Many have argued that social media renders relationships “meaningless,” or worse, that social media actually undermines human relationships. See here. Or here. Or here! Or here. Research from my alma mater has even shown that social media can make us “unhappy” (there is also research to counter this argument). These narratives posit that because of social media, we have fewer and less personal face-to-face interactions, we empathize less, and we become obsessed with a “perfect” version of life based on others’ curated social media personas. I’m not here to argue that these perspectives, some of them based on solid research, are false. I’m here to offer an counter-narrative.

Those of you who know my research know that I am particularly obsessed with social ties, what they represent, and how they influence our actions. My dissertation focused on how teachers’ colleagues, friends, and social learning impacted their teaching. As part of this research, I statistically examined not only teachers’ face-to-face relationships, but also their digital ones. This research and my personal experiences have led me to believe that social media, though certainly fraught with problematic issues related to cyberbullying (especially for today’s youth), can be a force of good in this world. Technological deterministic views would have us believe that social media is making us less empathetic and more detached. I take a more constructivist view, believing technology is what we make it (especially considering we made it to begin with).

As I have moved from state to state juggling work, school, and social, I have sometimes struggled to make and keep human connections. We live in such a mobile society, and my life with my partner is an excellent example of just how mobile, and in some cases “uprooted,” we have become. We have never lived in one place for more than four years. We have never really felt “settled.” We’re hoping to stay put this time, but who knows where life will take us? We have followed our careers across state lines and, ultimately, across the country. My social media life has allowed many of my connections to remain stable, and has even fostered new face-to-face connections. Here are just a few examples of people with whom I have digital/face-to-face relationships that social media has either started or kept intact:

  • The woman who taught me to love English
  • The woman who taught me to teach English
  • The new mom down the street
  • A bunch of new moms in my town
  • My running friend from north shore
  • My running friends from Indiana
  • My teacher friends in Michigan
  • My teacher friends in Indiana
  • My college friends
  • My former high school students, who are now doing things like getting married and having kids (what?!)
  • My professor friends in Ohio, Arkansas, Indiana… really all over the place
  • My family in Illinois, Connecticut, California, Ireland, Michigan… really all over the place

…you get the idea.

Many of these relationships would have fizzled, or never existed, without social media. The people I know and keep in touch with online hail from Connecticut, New York, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Florida, and Ohio. They are teachers, professors, students, parents, researchers, and administrators. Some of them, I have only met once — some of them are my best friends in the world. Some of them went to high school with me, and some of them I met last week. Some are coworkers, some are cothinkers, some are cowriters, and some fill many of these roles.

A few times, people have asked me why I display so much of my life on social media. Certainly, I understand why many people keep quiet. There is evidence that posting about your vacation on social media increases your risk of being robbed, for example. Others simply believe that one’s family life should be very private, not for the eyes of friends who wouldn’t otherwise participate in your day-to-day life. I not only understand these perspectives, I agree with them. The “me” that’s on Facebook is only “part” of me, not the whole me. I even curate for particular audiences: some only see the “professional me,” others see the “family me.” The pictures I do post of my family show our joyous moments, because I believe in spreading joy. They show our raw moments, because I also believe in #keepinitreal. They document our story, but only a shred of it. In and of themselves, my posts about my life and my interactions with friends in comment threads, while representations of relationships, rarely constitute the entirety of my social ties with an individual. These posts and comments are glimmers of relationships that have history, that mean more to me than a passing comment on social media or a photo of my dog. My social media self keeps up with my not-so-little-anymore cousins in Illinois, shares pictures of my daughter with her grandparents in a single click, and engages in academic discussions with my friends from graduate school.

Certainly, my anecdotal account is just that. It fails to represent the very tragic things that happen on social media. Teens and adults alike, and increasingly younger children, struggle with being tormented and sometimes are, unwittingly or knowingly, tormenters of others in spaces that feel falsely “anonymous” or safe. Social media can be used to harm one’s self-esteem, one’s public image, even one’s entire life. I won’t rehash these stories here — many of my readers are educators, and could tell ten of their own stories. Others of you have undoubtedly heard more than your fair share of these narratives on the news.

I offer my counter-narrative because I believe it shows how purposeful use of social media — use that spreads positive messages, that shares carefully-chosen moments with curated audiences, and that uses social digital spaces to bolster, not replace, “real” relationships, can be powerful (even beneficial) to our lives and the development of our social intelligence. I also believe this narrative has implications for today’s youth, who rarely hear such narratives. Instead, they hear horror stories about how social media sharing can harm, hurt, or humiliate them. They hear much about how not to use social media, and little about how to use it as productive members of a digital and global society.

So what if we changed the narrative?

Thanks, FaceFriends, for shaping mine.

Why I’m Not Writing

Scratch that, I am writing: this counts, right?

drawing of person face-down on table with sleep "z's" above their headMy plan for tonight was well-hashed. I was going to leave work around 4 and head straight home, knowing full well I’d beat my spousal unit home by a couple hours. I was going to carve out some time to write. And by write, I mean work on an article that received a revise (handily) and resubmit about a month ago, before conference season blew up my calendar (#NCTE14 and #LRA14 were pretty epically worth it, though).

By the time I had gotten off of the train and sprinted to my bus (I made it… barely), I was ready to fall asleep in the seat. There’s something weirdly calming about looking out a bus window on a cold, dark night that makes me comfortably drowsy. By the time I got home and took the pup out for a walk in the freezing cold wind, I was ready for a pot of chamomile tea. By the time I made the tea and sat in my overstuffed recliner, my phone had alerted me to 13 new emails. By the time I sorted through emails, my tea was half gone and my muscles were becoming one with the chair. I opened up the article, tweaked a few sentences, and tried to wrap my head around a shift in my theoretical framework before I gave up and decided to write about why I simply. can’t. write. right now.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. After a somewhat taxing end to last week, today was optimistically productive. Collaborations are rolling, people are communicating well with one another, and I’m excited about the work that promises to fill every minute I’ll let it. So before I launch into my reflections on how my life simply isn’t allowing me to write right now, let me just say: the choice to work in a K-12 institution post-PhD is not one I regret. 

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When I was first considering taking a job in K-12, I met with one of my mentors at my university: someone who knows me well and whose opinion I trust. She was, to say the least, a little surprised… until that moment, I had always voiced wanting a job at a research institution. But at the same time, she was not surprised. She knows me well, and knows how much I enjoy working directly with educators.

She provided me with three warnings related to taking a job in K-12, one of which I forgot. Here are the two I remember, because they’ve proven true: (1) Your time will not be as flexible, and (2) It is hard for such institutions to make the space for you to write and research.

The flexible time thing doesn’t bother me, because I thrive on a busy routine. The research and writing time thing, on the other hand, is proving a bit of a struggle. 

</aside>

Why the struggle to write today? To some extent it’s about being tired at the end of a long day, about there never being enough hours for all the things, and about the fact that I should know better than to check email before I sit down to write. However, it also has to do with a number of other things:

  1. I’m still processing the defense. Even though revisions are submitted and accepted and I officially receive my degree on Sunday, I’m still thinking through the comments and conversation that took place in late October as a room full of really smart scholars helped me further complicate and contemplate my work. I need time to think more about their ideas and comments before I can launch meaningfully into the revisions of the article I’m working on.
  2. I’m still in conference mode. “Conference mode” looks like building and fostering collaborations — thinking ahead to the next project, the next study, the next connection. In the past three weeks, I have developed ideas for future conferences, outlined a few new papers in my head, and even planted the seed for a book (it. will. happen. I don’t know when, but it will.) “Conference mode” makes me look forward, which is making this article-derived-from-the-diss a little mind-numbing at the moment.
  3. Writing is hard. This is obvious, right? No. No it’s not. Good writers make it look easy, but for realsies, peeps, writing is hard. Writing articles is really hard. Revision is when writing gets real, which means revising articles is really, really, really hard. And as you can probably tell from my use of super descriptive adverbs like “really,” I’m feeling particularly articulate tonight (*snerk*). Which brings me to my last point:
  4. Forcing it is futile. Sometimes you’re in the mood to think deep theoretical thoughts, to synthesize those thoughts with concrete data, to process the feedback from anonymous reviewer person who wrote you another article’s worth of comments. And sometimes you’re just not. And guess what? It has nothing to do with how awake you are (not very), how much tea you brewed (three cups), how many miles you ran that morning (none), how many busses you rode today (two), or how many inspiring people you talked to today (five)… it just ain’t happenin’. If there’s one thing that writing that book-shaped thing called a dissertation taught me, it’s that forcing it is entirely futile.

So that’s why I’m not writing. Er, why I’m writing about why I’m not writing. I will need to find ways to work this whole writing thing into my new normal one way or another — even on days when it’s a struggle. Advice, anyone? Tweet me (@lizhoman): how do you make writing happen when, in the words of one of my mentors at #LRA14, “your time is not yours?”