Work Reflection: Importance of Building Something

We make things all the time in this business … websites, digital bits of stuff, documents, and everything in between. I have found that as my career arc has moved forward (and admidtely upward) the amount of tangible stuff I make has decreased. I post all sorts of stuff quickly all over the place, but I have gotten very bad at pointing to the things I am most proud of and wanted to try and challenge that. I was reminded the other night that I even though I am not making the same kinds of things, I have been heavily involved in new forms of maker behavior the last few years and I feel like I need to reflect on that a bit today.

The other night I had the pleasure of hosting a group of the TLT Faculty Fellows at a dinner. Not all of our current and past Fellows could be there (for all sorts of reasons), but the ones that were there all greeted me with a giant smile, hearty handshakes, and hugs. We spent a few hours having some of the best and uplifting conversations I have had around our shared core values of teaching, research, learning, and technology. It was really what I needed in this moment.

fellow_dinner

Then today it hit me — I made that. I wrote a proposal several years ago that was basically laughed at … “no way faculty will want to hang out with IT people!” I didn’t listen. I modeled my ideas after the vision that I discovered a couple of years earlier while visiting the Berkman Center in Boston. I didn’t listen. That is the lesson. A lesson I need to start remembering more. There are times that you get to the point where you know too much to challenge the status quo — you fall into the “that will never work” crew. I need to stop listening — and I am talking about both to those around me pushing those messages and my own inner voice. I need to remember that not listening can lead to great and unexpected things.

TLT Fellows will play a critical role in the success of many initiatives across ITS. Fellows will become essential to the future of TLT’s network as connecting points of intelligence, insight, energy, and knowledge-sharing. TLT Fellows will help to drive projects from within and to share fresh ideas and skills with the larger Penn State community. In addition to the two Fellow programs contained within this proposal, you will find a request for permanent funding for a related set of projects called Engagement Awards. Our goal for our Fellows is that they further work that we agree upon and help TLT create tangible outcomes that can be shared widely with the teaching and learning community through presentations, publications, and new services.

If you want a recipe for successfully engaging faculty on your campus, you need something like this. This isn’t secret sauce or anything as so many people do these kinds of things, but you need to care deeply about more than just the projects. You have to care about the people. This isn’t about money, it is about finding ways for people to make deep and meaningful connections — and trust me, that takes time. As I sat and listened to the group talk and laugh the other night I was struck by a sense of deep satisfaction. A satisfaction that comes from making something, a space that provides an opportunity to do the thing I value most deeply — connections to each other.

I could write a 12 step program on how to launch something like this, but I can boil it down to one simple thing — build a team that is so excited by thinking, sharing, and cultivating connections. Killer relationships will follow. Amazing inventions will happen. New forms of teaching practice will emerge. Innovations will go from thought to reality. And “that can’t work” will go to, damn this is awesome.

Finding a way to make space for connections is the thing that I am reflecting on today and so that is what you are going to get.

I know this is a miserable post — I haven’t taken the time to write in ages and it shows, but I need to start taking some stock in the things I am building and have built again. All of this is part of a larger eco-system of thought and action … I should get back to celebrating it and the people who have given so much to help make it real. I’ll consider this a step back onto that path.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for that, RB … there was a time when I was writing *a lot* and I had a high degree of confidence in what happened when I typed and tapped publish. Writing is a habit that must be constantly cultivated — especially when you are trying to share things that are near and dear to you as a person. Might as well just get back at it and stop apologizing for what the Internet sees on the other side of my keyboard. Thanks, boss!

  2. Far from a miserable post. An inspiring and valuable one. Thanks for the good reminder and confirmation. It’s great to remember that the teams we build and the people we touch are part of a creative and productive process. It comes from faith and respect in your peers, and true collegiality. I love it when it happens and I loved reading about how it happened to you. Thanks again.

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