As budding scholars, we gravitate to the evidence: robust lines of research, rigorous studies, and statistics. As human beings we gravitate to stories: the power of the individual experience to illuminate general trends. Growing evidence supports the notion that one of the features of exemplary principal preparation programs is an emphasis on high quality mentoring relationships. Last week, I was sent out into the field to gather individual perspectives or stories of why and how mentoring works. Practicing and aspiring principals are busy people. Their work days are usually long and often fragmented. Getting in to see them is the first hurdle. Making excellent use of the time they have so generously allotted is the second. I needed a tech tool that would be simple to use and that would enable me to get enough video to capture their experiences as mentors and proteges. One of the other professors needed the office Flip video that day. What to do? Enter the video feature on a tech tool I carry in my purse everyday – the iPhone. Ease of use meant being able to explain the purpose of the conversation while I was turning on the video feature. The size of the phone meant being able to hold it and make eye contact and encouraging facial responses to the interviewees as they talked. Familiarity with the features meant being able to concentrate on the content of the conversation, rather than fussing about the tech tool.
“Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded” – Virginia Woolf
This semester, I have been part of a set of Faculty Development Workshops on Global Citizenship. They have been interesting extracurricular activities allowing me to think about how we can globalize our syllabi and teach that next generation of global leaders. At the same time, they have been interesting escapes during the day that have demanded reading of interesting articles and critical thinking/discussion of our world around us. That being said, today was a busy day, and one where I could not attend my much-enjoyed seminar. I am also a note-taker for those meetings, so the need to get an accurate read on the meeting was not only critical for my own enrichment, but for the ability to post a quality summary for the other participants. This got me thinking about my trusty Sony voice recorder and, regardless of brand or toy, the ease and benefit of using voice recordings for a variety of educational and research purposes. It may sound obvious, but with the number of tools and software available today to facilitate this task, I thought it would be of benefit to write up a post that gave an overview of the many options that are available today.
“Arms out at chest height. Shift your weight onto one foot. Lift your opposite leg from the hip. Cross one foot over the other. Shift your weight onto that foot. Glide.” No, I wasn’t re-learning how to walk. It was my weekly skating lesson and doing crossovers was a lot more complicated than it looked. Persistence, however, comes in handy for a whole host of activities, from ice skating to dissertation writing. And time on task counts. In his recent book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly references the “10,000-Hour Rule,” his hypothesis that success or mastery of a skill is there for anyone willing to practice for the aforementioned number of hours. I don’t aspire to mastery, nor do I have that kind of time at this stage of my life to devote to ice skating; however, about 3 hours of instruction and close to 30 hours of practice have yielded graceful, tick-tock gliding, one step crossovers, and backward swizzles – none of which I was able to do six weeks ago. Of course, part of my progress has been due to “just in time” feedback from one very experienced coach. The kind of on the spot, timely feedback Doug Reeves recommends that teachers give students in classrooms and that instructional leaders look for from teachers as they visit classrooms. As for the 30 hours of practice? Well, for that I have to thank Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian born psychologist who first defined flow, the state of being totally absorbed in a voluntary activity that challenges the mind and/or body. Concentrating on remaining upright while listening to directions and attempting to twist all parts of my body into the positions my skating teacher has just so effortlessly demonstrated, is both absorbing and challenging for me. Time dissolves. There’s no room in my brain for anything else. Just this movement. Just this challenge. Just this moment. It’s self re-enforcing, almost addictive.
The reopening of the Library in January meant digging my way through my inbox, checking in journal issues that had piled up in the intervening weeks. The colleague who delivers the mail had filled the box as full as possible and left the rest on my desk. Normally, as I prepare the tables of contents for distribution, I browse and find at least one or two articles of personal interest to me. At least three periodicals had December or January issues with “best articles of 2011″ or “most important x of 2011″, and as these articles traditionally provide good synopses of 2011 from different perspectives, I had expected these issues would provide rich and intriguing content.
Instead, I found myself trotting over to Google Reader (which I still use as I am still evaluating some of the options SES suggested in “Google Reader Fail”) and scrolling. It was a mixed bag, but there were some very good and helpful year-in-review style posts that might have been otherwise overlooked in the first month of the year, when suddenly one realizes that there are hundreds of new e-mails and thousands of new posts and one really needs to invest in a better strategy to manage information overload.
Now that February is giving me a chance to breathe, I wanted to share the few end-of-year review posts that I think are not to be missed.
It’s billed as a distraction-free writing time. There’s a pledge to sign, a basket to park your cell phone, and a vast silence broken only by the clicking of computer keys, the turning of pages, and the occasional clink of shifting ice as some poor soul tries to unobtrusively pour a glass of water from one of those diabolical plastic jugs. (A great goal, but impossible.) It’s Lehigh’s dissertation boot camp and one of the best of many activities organized by the Graduate Life Office. After a full breakfast, replete with plenty of protein, fruit, and grad student fuel (read coffee) there’s always a motivational speaker to kick off the day. This morning, Greg Skutches, Lehigh’s Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator, spoke to the group. I collect quotes, so the one he started off his presentation with made me laugh out loud, “You either wrote today. Or you didn’t.” His advice was practical and included such commonsense tips as organizing one or two writing spaces where all you do is write, resist temptations to clean up your writing site instead of writing, limit your social interactions, write every day, and give yourself permission to write an awful first draft. He even referenced one of my go-to researchers on scholarly writing, Robert Boice.