Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finding the way

It is July?!?!

As always, I deluded myself into thinking the ever-present list of items to tackle could be handled in the magical (but oh-so-misleading) freedom of summer. Not surprisingly based on my previous posts, I have again somehow forgotten that I teach two summer sessions, take a class on a study abroad trip, maintain a consistent meeting schedule, have grants and assessment projects due, have two research projects due, and must prep my newly assigned (and with new texts, ugh!) courses for fall. 

As a way to avoid squandering the meager weeks of summer that remain, I am clearly mapping priorities. My final summer class ends tomorrow. This produces an eerie sort of dread because I have used my 8am class to fuel my energy this summer (I have a fabulous group of students), but also fills me with a confusing glee (I will be done with the class and therefore gain two hours a day of my schedule back). As always, #facultylife continues with its strange dirge where emotions push and pull simultaneously. 

I'm revisiting my "make the most of your summer" blog from 2013 while reassessing some goals -- I've also reminded myself that this over-planning of "off" time is part of my (apparently never-ending) cycle of self-delusion (see also "Over the break...") that I must accept, especially when working as a split position. 

With all of this in mind, I'm spending a lot of time reflecting, writing, and exploring my work world, as indicated in my recent post, "shedding light," I am really honed in on honest internal conversations about myself, my work, and the ebb and flow of my energy. 

So bring it on, July. I can take it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Shedding light

I had a recent conversation with a friend from out of state that has compelled me to dip back into the blog. It was one of those conversations that begins very surface-level, but before you know it, the insight of the other person zaps you like a laser and highlights an area of yourself that you have been struggling to accept or understand.

Because of this conversation, some changes have to be made or tough topics explored.

These conversations should be treated like the gift they are. It is rare that we are shown ourselves in a new or different light.

For me, I started to really reflect on what motivates me. During the conversation, I had mentioned being exhausted. Not the typical "oh it is finals and I am drowning" feeling of exhaustion, but a deeply rooted feeling that is steadily nearing apathy. That scared me. A lot. I can't do what I do if I'm apathetic.

I can't count on many things in my life, but I have always been able to count on the love and passion for my work. No matter how weary, that energy has propelled me. Until recently. During this enlightening and unexpected conversation, I realized that I sounded jaded and detached from those tasks or efforts in my life that historically drew me through rough times. My friend, who inadvertently focused this beam of insight my way, said, "Girl, if you don't protect what you LOVE about your work, no one else will. Find your zone and forget the shenanigans of others." Simple right? I nodded my head in that stunned way we have when we are blinded by new information. I have reflected deeply since the conversation.

Here are some things I realized.

  • I still LOVE what I do. Teaching and students are my passion. 
  • I'm living in an odd state of fear, worried about losing this love because of a bunch of things outside of my control: meetings, administrative responsibilities, the endless fight for funding, etc. Strangest thing? I didn't know I held this fear. But it has driven a lot of my behavior and mental processing that leads to this chronic exhaustion. 
  • No one can take away this love, but I can harm it by not valuing it or by over-relying on it. Something has to give or burnout is imminent. 
  • I am not powerless in this process. It is my responsibility to protect and grow this love, regardless of the rest of my work life. 
So, what do I do about this revelatory conversation and new observations about myself? What any good faculty member does. I write through it. I process and explore it. I value it as data that can assist future actions. 

Additionally, I strive to keep that light turned on, focused on this previously shaded area of my world as I continue to navigate new demands, processes, and procedures on my #facultylife. After all, it is a passion worth protecting. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

August - Again!

Somehow, the days fly by and summer, full of shortened summer semesters, whirlwind classes, administrative preparations and assessment, and even a study abroad trip is gone and we are--again--staring at August.

Despite my tendency to make summer task lists that have no hope of getting done, I was able to stumble through this summer without a full blown panic attack about not accomplishing everything. After all, whether the check marks are placed on the items or not, August is here and another semester looms ahead.

I'm going through my typical August emotional tornado: sadness that my summer classes are over, excitement that I have new students in August, concern that I don't have enough time to overhaul a class or the energy to teach effectively after such a busy summer. How can I get in the classroom full of energy and life when I feel a tired and drained?

But then I begin my August checklists and I start getting that anticipation that there will be another class, another group of students to engage with...there's just no feeling like connecting in the classroom. 

So, I'm preparing. I'm following my First Week Tips and my Preparation Quirks that I thought were unique to me (practicing in the room you would teach in, testing whiteboards, reflecting on first-time student emotions, and considering clothing when reaching up to write on the board or leaning over to help a student). I feel ready. I feel excited. I feel thankful.

Perhaps it is the summer graduation ceremony - where two of my students were mentioned by the President and one gave a great commencement speech despite being nervous, but I'm feeling very thankful for the opportunity to be a tiny little part of a student's educational journey. This time of year, it is important to remember that it is an opportunity and that we do have an impact--even if we don't always realize it in the chaotic midst of a full semester.

This year, I'm beginning my semester outlook with that gratitude as a primary emotion. It has helped me to regain energy, to focus, and to trust myself and my teaching approach. This is going to be another great semester!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Determining your energy: Work time & place

In the past week I have heard many conversations about work/life balance, the perceptions of when others work, and even comments on when to email others. At times, I can find these conversations bothersome. After all, we are each on individual journeys when it comes to work and the ways we do it.

I tend to go with my energy levels and work when I feel most aware, awake, and inspired. This is almost always early mornings and weekends. As I wear dual hats at my institution - both administrative and faculty - I find my typical work week is full of urgent, time-sensitive work efforts. A grant is due, a position is opening, an event needs planned, papers need graded, and oh! the endless emails. The interruptions, flitting from class to meeting and on to another meeting, and the phone ringing means my 8-5 work is typically surface-level only. If I want to do in-depth work like draft that IRB, dig into program assessment, or create my classes, I have to do it during other times.

If I come into the office a few hours before most of the building arrives, I can power through a LOT more! I've been able to edit research articles, connect with assessment (it really clicked!), and write more productively than twice the time during the day. Better yet, a Saturday or (sometimes and) Sunday are almost perfect -- five hours of uninterrupted morning-time productivity. Call me a happy camper!

I find my early mornings and weekends flummox others and they often feel compelled to advise me to take a break or take time off. I take breaks. My home is a sanctuary. I walk away from the office (sometimes late, yes, but I leave my work there) and I have such peaceful amazing times at home in the evening allowing my work world to calm itself at the office. I implement Digitally Down Days. I protect my space and time. I'm not a night person -- I do not think well in the evening. I no longer try to grade until midnight or fall asleep with my laptop on my lap while propped up in bed. I have learned to capitalize on my energy, to determine my work time and place. 

As we move through the summer, and your ambitious (some might say impossible) task list isn't shrinking as quickly as you'd like, it is important that you don't get overwhelmed by others' perceptions of your work and it's time and place --- that is an individual decision and journey. Some of us might find we want to slow down, create some boundaries, find some non-work time to absorb non-work life elements. Others of us (me! me! me!) might find that work IS a huge part of life, identity, and happiness and it is okay to have work time that is different or distinct from colleagues' perceptions on their journeys. "To each, their own" - You go your way and I'll go mine. No criticism, no judgment, just different journeys.

So, expect me to send early morning or weekend emails and to not answer your late night ones right away. Expect me to be in the office well before 7 a.m. and to nearly always be comfortably typing away on a Saturday morning. It might not be your way of working, but I've determined where work time and place are in my little corner of this world and it maximizes my energy flow.

When do you work best?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Texas Bloggers UNconference

Near the Dallas/Fort Worth area this summer? Looking for ideas to spice up your blogging efforts? Consider the TSMRI (Texas Social Media Research Institute) "UNconference" for Texas Bloggers. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Digitally Down Days

In the faculty/administration world, you stay "on" all of the time. Digital devices are rarely turned off, our brains stay somewhat connected to work at all times, and we find little distance from the working world.

Because of this, and the fact that I am working a LOT of hours and most weekends, Spouse and I implemented Digitally Down Days and Digitally Down Zones. I prefer to stay at the office and get work done there so I can come home, power (mostly) down, and feel that home is a stress-free zone. There are times, usually after lots of conference travel or tons of huge projects/events at the office, where I find myself slowly powering down: my productivity lessens, my focus is sporadic, and I start to have low-quality sleep. 

An easy solution has been to implement a Digitally Down Day. This is an ENTIRE day where I do not check email, voice mail, texts, or Blackboard. I avoid all things digital. Now, realistically, I can't do this every week--but I can easily do this every now and again. It just takes some boundary-setting and then ruthless boundary protection--something I have to seek assistance in or I will simply never do it.  

I try to have a DDD each month and, though hard, I protect it aggressively. I also work to have my home remain a relaxing place--so you might see me in my office on campus throughout the weekend or during late hours, but I can truly shut down once I arrive home.

These are small things that make a big difference in my world. What works well for you?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Over the break...

"Over the break..." what famous last words for a faculty member. No matter how realistic I think I am, I seem to fall into the trap of thinking that I will accomplish massive amounts of previously unconquerable work during a break -- no matter how short that break is.

With a dual appointment, it is even more challenging to consider what I can or cannot accomplish in the breaks (few and far between in a 12-month appointment). For some reason, I think I will re-design an entire course or review multiple texts and prep for new courses. Or, the biggest break from reality, write an entire grant.

I often start back bemoaning my far-reaching goals and wondering "what was I thinking?" when looking at that massive to-do list.

We truly do need actual non-working down time. It is challenging to get that mental release when we feel behind at work and then like quasi-failures during vacations from work when we don't accomplish everything we've promised ourselves we would.

It is almost a set-up-to-fail cycle and I hear many of my colleagues doing the same thing, semester after semester, break after break.

Will this be the time I break through this cycle?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Call for papers: International Society for Educational Biography 2014

Explore this conference! Great for first-time presenters, those in education or related fields examining qualitative research, narratives pedagogy, phenomenology, ethnography, auto-ethnography, and other related concepts. In April 2014, this conference will be held in beautiful Toronto!

Learn more:

See the call here:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Faculty life and "hidden" work

Forbes just released this article about "hidden work" within our faculty life -- a familiar concept as this blog has often shared the hours of at-home work, the lost pockets of time in meetings, and the often unseen elements of this career. Thank you, Forbes! This career can be one where those hidden work hours become stifling and our stress levels can really spike just when someone outside academia mentions how our schedules "must be nice" - it seems to happen most often in summer or on a "break" from teaching.

Is it just me, or do we often find ourselves working into the wee hours sneaking time to grade around other, non-work events, logging into the email to answer students questions when we sit in meetings. How often do we find that the work we have to accomplish is done on a laptop as we try not to fall asleep in bed? Surely, I am not the only faculty member attempting to milk more out of our 24 hours each day than is humanly possible.

Explore the Forbes article and consider your hidden work...and any strategies you have implemented to protect the way the work creeps into our lives.

Consider also:
Professional Development - On A Budget!, Summer 2012
Tenure, Retention, Binders, and Budgets - Oh My!, Summer 2011
Make the Most of Your Summer, Summer 2013
The Stages of Spring Break, April 2011
Service: Who Participates?, March 2010

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conference for research on social media (Call)

The Texas Social Media Research Institute is accepting papers, panels, and training session/workshop ideas for its 3rd Annual Social Media Conference on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013.  Deadline for proposals is June 30.

NEW CONFERENCE LOCATION - Join us at the Tarleton SW Metroplex campus in Fort Worth this year. We expect about 250 attendees.

To discover more information about the 2013 Social Media Conference, please visit http://www.tarleton.edu/TSMRI/SocialMediaConference.html

This conference consists of a few tracks: a SOCIAL MEDIA RESEARCH, SMALL BUSINESS, NON-PROFIT, K-12, HIGHER EDUCATION, and TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT tracks. The conference planning committee is actively seeking papers, panels, and training workshops focused on, but not limited to the following topics:

- Mobile applications, interactions and technologies
- Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, Instagram (How to Use the Technologies)
- Social Media in Business (Ideas for Entrepreneurs and Large Organizations)
- Social Media in Education
- Social Media in the Non-Profit Sector
- Social Media in Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication
- Practical Solutions for Social Media Problems
- Benefits and Disadvantages of Social Media in K-12 and Higher Education
- Social Media and Generational Communication
- Social Media and Information Sciences/Library Sciences
- Social Media and Mobile Applications and Devices

Additional Information
Possible forms of submission include: panels (including roundtables and discussions), papers/abstracts, and training workshops. Complete the conference submission form (http://www.tinyurl.com/SocialMediaConferenceCall) AND e-mail papers/panels to TSMRI (texassocialmediaresearch@gmail.com) no later than JUNE 30TH.

Participants will have an opportunity to publish their papers in the conference proceedings book, which will be published on the Texas Social Media Research Institute's website. The top paper will be considered for publication in TSMRI's peer-reviewed publication, The Journal of Social Media in Society.

If you have any questions, please contact the Texas Social Media Research Institute via e-mail (texassocialmediaresearch@gmail.com) or telephone (254-307-8211).

Feel free to forward to your colleagues and graduate students.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Free webinar! Student Success and digital changes on campus.

Communication on our campuses has changed a lot over the past decade--the Chronicle of Higher Education shared this opportunity to explore what the University of Oklahoma is doing to boost digital tools to foster student success. 


FREE webinar on Thursday, June 27 at 11 a.m. Pacific (2 p.m. EST) to explore the ways the University of Oklahoma implements "24/7 business automation tools to deliver superior student services faster and cheaper-and the totally unexpected quality of education delivery and morale benefits they experienced as a result."

This webinar is not hosted by the tech folks on campus, but by an educator and an administrator. 

To register, click here!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Make the most of your summer

Summer has me focusing on productivity. How can I get through the task lists that build up during traditional semesters? How can I find the energy for summer classes and new fall preps?

Whether you have a nine-month appointment without summer classes, enjoy a nine-month appointment with summer classes, or have a 12-month appointment with administrative duties, you can maximize your summer efforts. Here are a few tips that work for me.

  • Change your work space. Spend a few hours a week at a coffee shop, library area, home office, or empty conference room. A change in the walls (or fresh air) around you can stimulate your mind and rejuvenate you after a long semester. Or, simply close your door--a small, seemingly simple feat that took me a long time to accept, as you can read in "Closing the door--Prioritizing Research" post from last summer. 
  • Compile your notes. You've probably got scattered sticky notes, e-mails to yourself, half accomplished task lists, and various research ideas thrown around your work areas. Take a morning (or evening) to compile all of those amazing ideas and start to make a plan of attack to accomplish them. Do this regularly to stay on top of the ideas that can easily get "lost" in the chasms of our tumultuous semesters. 
  • Consider using a "power hour" method to tackle tasks that are looming large and that you might be dragging your feet over. Yes, professors can procrastinate, too. Try this technique to help conquer the biggies and move through tough projects. Read more about "power hours" in a post from a few years ago, "Research Power Hours."
  • Don't shudder, but one great technique is to put your phone away. I turn my phone on silent and shove it in my drawer for the first few hours of some high-output days. I have also heard of others using plug-ins and apps to block Internet access during productivity/writing times. I haven't gone to that degree, but if you are interested, LeechBlock for Firefox is one option.  
  • Watch out for "Mock Productivity" -- the time eaters that steal away any chance you have at tackling your to-do lists. 
  • Don't create such a massive task list that you dread facing it each time. Chunk items into projects, split up your tasks, and set realistic goals to avoid burnout or frustration. 
I also set a "summer goal" for my professional life. What item is my top priority, which is second, which is third? Those are the go-to areas for my time and, when August rolls back around, I can mark of the major areas and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Share your tried-and-true practices to make the most of your summer.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Appreciating our educators: Save on Adobe.

From flyers to t-shirt logos, our office uses Adobe products to make our name stand out. Students can get really creative with Adobe options.

Check out this deal for educators and students.

Happy creating!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Android App: Any.Do

As regular readers know, I very much love to explore the latest, greatest productivity tools. This may simply be a way to organize research projects into a spreadsheet format or it might be a nice app. I've explored many, from Astrid to Toodledo. I really like the options that these task tools use to help us increase our productivity.

I've just started working with Any.DO. This is a neat little app from This is a free app available on many operating systems. I use Android and find it works beautifully. Once you've installed the app, you can sign in with Facebook or your Google account. You can import your Astrid tasks, or start fresh with Any.Do. Like Astrid and Toodledo, you can add a social component with your tasks. This can increase your motivation to complete an item and can allow others to collaborate with you. The easy way to move tasks and modify them (you can drag a task from today to tomorrow) is very user-friendly. I especially like drawing a line through a task or speaking my task directly into the app.

Check out this video overview:

If you like productivity apps like I do, consider reading other posts here on Communication and Higher Education, including:

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Student leadership

It is wonderful to see just how much our students can do! I was especially impressed the past few weeks as we have taken students to undergraduate leadership conferences. Students presented and did a GREAT job. Additionally, they learned about being responsible conference attendees and active participants.

First, we took students to the Southwester Black Student Leadership Conference. There, they learned about becoming more marketable, embracing leadership opportunities, and formed networks with students from many universities.

Following that trip, we took another group of students to the Diversity Leadership Conference at Sam Houston State University. The students submitted panels and were accepted as speakers. They learned a lot about facilitating discussion, leading a panel, and working with fellow presenters.

How can you engage your undergraduate students to embrace new leadership opportunities? It does not have to happen at far-off campuses. Work to get them involved, listen to their ideas, empower them to act, and see what they can deliver. It is key to offer specific and focused guidance throughout the process and have both pre- and post- trip meetings to help students prepare and process their journeys.

Consider which conferences or opportunities you could offer your students and then watch as they surpass your expectations!

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