Personal

On Having Fun

Let me start by saying that work has not been all that much fun lately. And that is a terrible thing for someone to post on the Internet for the whole planet to see … I say that fully knowing that no more than say 100 people will actually take the time to read at this, so I’m probably safe. That’s perfectly fine with me for the simple fact that at some point this week I decided I needed to start getting back to what is professionally important to me — having fun at work.

Thinking, talking, and sharing are all critical pieces of the puzzle and up until this week I had forgotten that I hadn’t done any of it in more than half a year. Writing is one of those things and I find that I use it as a way to balance my thinking with the insanity that is the daily grind. Doing that has been quite literally impossible for me for quite some time. I’ve written only two times since October … that has to stop. And just to track my own past half year or so I need to write some of this stuff down. So, read on if you want, but the rest is really for me.

You see, I work at Penn State and I’m not sure if you’ve read about the happenings at our great Institution over the last four months but if not, just type the words “Penn State Scandal” into your little google box and read up on it. It has been a horrible time to be a part of the Institution for so many — the news out of my adopted hometown has rocked this entire community to its core … and it isn’t over. I am an administrator here at Penn State and while that doesn’t make it any more painful for me to deal with the issues, it has certainly made the work I do much more complicated. The people I work with here are unbelievably strong and resilient, but biting the bullet and being that way for months at a time takes a toll on people at every single level of the Unviersity. Our students are still reeling, our staff are still searching, our faculty are still trying to come to terms, and our administration is still just trying — just trying to make sense of it all and what it means to us all going forward.

Did you notice I haven’t mentioned football? Well, since I just did let me say that we know this isn’t about football. In some ways it was, but the reality is something that can’t be boiled down to a game. While ESPN tries to tell us all what it is and isn’t about, the fact of the matter is that this tragedy is so big, so complex, and so painful for everyone connected to this great place that it sometimes makes things easier to just go with the simple answer. The problem in that thinking is that it may work for a headline, but it certainly does nothing to shed light on the way my students, colleagues, and all of those connected to PSU actually feel. I really hate to say this, but if you aren’t a member of this community the bullshit commentary and rhetoric of ESPN and the media at large mean absolutely nothing. Nothing. Sorry, that’s the truth. I’ve listened over and over again to people tell me what is really going on from the outsider perspective and I have had to learn to just sit quietly and listen. You see in a way, we feel like we’ve earned that spot of shame, not because a single one of us did a damn thing wrong, but because we have, since I have been here, all looked at ourselves as different — a place where we knew we were doing things the right way. The fact that we didn’t is the shame. The being a part of the community is the great part. But when those people talk, I don’t have anything to defend. How does one defend the inexcusable actions of the few? I can’t and I wouldn’t try.

Are things getting back to normal in Happy Valley? No. There is still so much lingering pain and confusion throughout all ranks. To be a little cliched, that day in November when the news broke was truly the day the music died. What we were prior to the breaking of that story is history, a thing of folklore. All of us are now focused on what we will become. We are actively trying to become something new, something better, and I can tell you from what I see, something much stronger. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that Chrysler commercial where Eminem is driving through the streets of Detroit and the voice over says something to the effect of, “from the hottest fire comes the strongest steel,” well that is us. We are crushed inside because the place we have and continue to care so deeply for has been wounded in a terrible way. But from the intensity of that pain is coming a new strength. A strength that cries out, “we are” with a new sense of purpose. A purpose that I firmly believe will guide us towards a new beginning. In that is where I begin to find a strength I never thought I had. Tomorrow my family and I will go to the Bryce Jordan Center to visit our students at THON and we will see that strength and in a very real way we will realize that we are growing stronger from this.

In September, my hometown of Bloomsburg, PA was nearly destroyed by record setting floods fueled by Tropical Storm Lee. An event that changed me forever. The day I got to may parents’ house that had nearly five feet of water in it, my Mom fell into my arms in a way that one never wants to feel. The intensity of the pain everywhere is depicted in the photos I took, but the real sense of loss and rage were emotions that I had never felt. In one weekend so much was taken from so many in a place that is my true home. It seems like forever ago now, but the days, weeks, and months that followed taught me so much about the human spirit and the power of community. If you’ve never seen much of your history be taken to a make shift dump in your hometown, you can’t understand the aggregate damage. On the tennis courts I learned to play on as a ten year old I got to see the possessions of hundreds of families, the pile representing decades of love, memories, and importance lost.

The flood reintroduced me to friends all over the US that I had forgotten decades earlier. Friends that have helped form the foundation of The Bloomsburg Daily and the Flood of Silence projects as well as raise thousands of dollars and donations for families all over town. The flood helped me to connect to colleagues here at Penn State who wanted to show how much they cared about what had happened. The flood made me listen to new music and decode messages that I had long forgotten how to do.

Each day during those early months I threw myself into both my on and above campus work. I don’t remember much from September and October — no sleep, no rest, and certainly very little joy. But I did it and I don’t think I destroyed anything or anyone along the way. I just sort of found a way to be, but again it wasn’t with joy that I did my work — and I mean the work of the Unviersity and the work of The Bloomsburg Daily. It was a grind that needed to happen on both fronts.

If I haven’t lost you by now, the last thing I need to document here is in reality the worst of the past few months. The health of my Dad took an incredibly unexpected turn in early January. While hitting a golf ball he heard a pop in the Humorous bone of his left arm. It turned out that he had a malignant tumor eating its way through the bone and the weakened arm finally gave way. Bone cancer. I hate that word — it has taken so many and so many close to me in the last few years.

I went to Florida and spent a full week with he and my Mother trying to help him get the kind of care he needed to stay alive and healthy. Here’s the rub, my Dad is my best friend. He means so much to me on so many levels. It hasn’t always been that way. When I was a kid there was a distance there that was probably caused mostly by me, but it was there. But sometime around 14 or so, things changed and he went from Dad, to hero, to best friend. We talk all the time about our beloved WVU Mountaineers — and honestly while he sat in his chair in FL with a severely fractured arm with a tumor in his body we watched an epic Mountaineer basketball game and laughed and cheered together. It was so emotionally draining that at the end of the game we both cried a bit. I was quietly praying it wouldn’t be the last one.

It won’t be. We went to one of the best cancer centers in the Country and at the moment we have a good prognosis. He had the tumor removed in tact and ended up with a full shoulder replacement, but he kept his arm and he is in amazing spirits. While we haven’t sat down to watch a game together I fully expect us to do just that next fall back in Bloomsburg is his rebuilt home. I bet we even give each other a high five on that rebuilt left arm. I need to just write the following words down so I can express how I feel right now and how much everyone who sent prayers, positive wishes, and energy to me means — thank you. And thank you doesn’t even do it, but it is what I have.

The shit of it is that I know my darkest days aren’t over. Hell, they’ve only just begun, but what I do know is that I can make it through them. I have an incredible family, incredible friends, and am a member of two amazing communities in both Bloomsburg and State College. So I will find time to read, reflect, talk, and share. I will find time to write and be a better member of the communities I feel connected to. I will be a better friend, husband, Father, Brother, and Son. I don’t have any choice. The past six months have changed me, but not in the ways that I would have predicted. I have no bitterness or anger. I have a new sense of resolve and strength. I finally get it. I am the luckiest man in the World.

Running on Faith

I’m breaking a CogDog rule that states one should not blog about (not) blogging here in this post because I have been a mess at writing for the last month or so. I’m not sure what it is — perhaps the TLT Symposium, followed by reading and submitting all the staff review and development plans for ETS, or wrapping up my class, or Alan Levine’s visit, directly followed by presenting at the Pennsylvania One to One Conference, or maybe it was giving a talk at the awe inspiring Faculty Academy event at the University of Mary Washington — no matter, I haven’t made even a moment to write. What is a shame about that is the simple fact that I have missed out on preserving all of my reflections from these events. What that means to me is that I am not practicing what I preach — I am not actively engaging in the notion of ongoing reflection. I’ve let my blogging get in the way of my reflecting, and that shouldn’t happen.

What I think I mean is that blogging and reflecting may have become two very different things to me. If I think of my bog as a place devoted to my personal reflection and growth then I am not using it the way I should be — I’m worrying about fleshed out content instead of capturing moments. I have fallen into the trap of thinking that my reflections are a bore to you — and to tell you the truth I should know they are because on lots of levels they are a bore to me. The thing is that I have to see my blog as a place that I can indulge my own reflection without worrying about you. At the end of the day I don’t sell ads on this site and I certainly don’t take my google analytics seriously. So why should I worry about pleasing anyone? My goal should be to write what is happening in my head and at best hope some folks decide it is worth a comment or a conversation.

That’s not to say I’m not worrued about writing in complete thoughts and provoking thinking from those that do stop by. What it means is that I need to press to use this space as if no one is reading every now and then … I need to use it the way we are hoping the students at Penn State will — as a place to engage your own reflection as much as you do those who read.

So with that in mind I’ll be sharing thoughts about our four Faculty Fellows we have arriving in ETS in the next two weeks, new ideas we’re kicking around for our platforms, Learning Design Summer Camp, and if you’ll indulge me, some thoughts on things that are really not for you.

The End of the Line

For 2008, that is. I don’t have the mental energy or attention span to address the great comments from the Community Question on Identity from before the holiday break — rest assured I’ll get to it as the new year rings in. For now I think it is fair to say that I am enjoying some much needed time away from it all. I’ve checked email a total of three times since 12/24 and it has felt great. The good thing is that while my inbox was overflowing, the number of real issues to deal with was zero. What a relief.

We had an amazing Christmas morning — my son is a little over two and he really got the concept this year. He actually played with the gifts and not just the wrapping paper and boxes like last year! My parents came for Christmas Eve and Morning so we had a full house with my sister and brother-in-law also joining. It was a great day! The evening saw us celebrate our daughter’s 7th Birthday (which I am still amazed at).

We went to our hometown of Bloomsburg, PA to visit more with my parents and to see our great friend KP. KP and his wife brought their newborn son to the East Coast for the Holidays and it was amazing getting to hang with the best of friends. We spent time walking, eating local foods, and staying up and out way too late a couple of nights.

My WVU Mountaineers capped a good season by winning their bowl game and then a little later in the day went into Ohio State and beat the 15th ranked Buckeyes by almost 30 points. My Wife, Mother, and Father all have WVU roots so it was fun watching and cheering for them together.

No matter how you slice it up the Holidays are a great time to connect with family and friends. It is also a great time to reflect on the year and to start setting sights on what is to come. So Happy Holidays to everyone and enjoy a very Happy New Years!

Writing Under My Own Name

After several years blogging at my Camplese Group URL I decided to take the plunge and make a change.  I no longer do work under the C Group name, so I thought it was time to make the move.  So far it looks like everything is working here at my new host!  A big thank you goes out to the people who gave me good advice and showed me how to pull this off with as little pain as possible.  Not too bad, but time consuming.

Here's to Plenty of Fresh Content!

Writing Under My Real Name!

The only real reason for this post is to note that I am now on my new domain — actually named after myself!  After having several domains through the years it feels good to be blogging from my own name!  Why I didn’t do this years ago, I am not sure. At any rate, I’ll be making some changes in the coming days, so please let me know what you think.

Supplemental Activity

So after my post the other day where I was lamenting the lack of opportunities I see for engagement in the school system I got a handful of comments telling me the same thing — “take matters into your own hands.” Good advice and it really got me thinking about some things. My wife and I have always spent time reading with our daughter … as a matter of fact, the little lady has always really been into reading, talking, singing, and all sorts of other really creative and engaging activities. She pushes us more than we push her and that is really cool. But, I’ve never really taken the time to bring my own interests, research, and perspectives home to her.

Night before last, she and I sat down at the kids’ eMac and opened up iWeb for the first time. I decided that I was going to find a way to work with her to create a digital portfolio, journal, blog, or whatever where she and I could spend time reflecting on the work she was doing in school, the things she was thinking about, or anything in between. The goal for me is to get her used to the idea of actively reflecting on her activity in an ongoing way. As a sidebar, I personally think it is an incredible opportunity to develop a life-long story about her intellectual development … that is, if it sticks.

So we created a website with iWeb and published it into a password protected space within my .Me account. Very easy and relatively flexible. The real win here is that with only a little instruction she is getting the hang of it. Last night, for example, she wanted to publish a story reflecting on her kitty, Misty. We sat at the desk searching for a picture at Flickr tagged Misty and she dragged it into iWeb. She then proceeded to dictate the words and I was surprised how she spent time really reflecting on what Misty had meant to her … Misty passed away almost two years ago. The time we spent reflecting was good for both of us. She talked while I typed, but then ran and got her Mother so she could read her reflection to her. She was really proud and I was happy to have spent the extra time with her.

The other thing we’re trying to do is capture some of her analog work and put it into her space. Two nights ago she was showing me a picture and the story she wrote to accompany it on a piece of paper. I grabbed the camera and snapped a picture of it. She helped me import it and drag it into iWeb. She then told me the story of how she drew it, what it meant to her, and when I asked her where the story came from, she looked at me at said, “from my mind.” I probably should have known that. Either way it is reflection and that is something I now can trust she is engaging in.

The Six Children

The Six Children

Disheartened

Last week I went to beautiful Bedford Springs, PA to speak to Superintendents from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit … it was both intimidating and exciting. I am always a little nervous speaking to K-12 educators because I always make the mistake of thinking our worlds are so different. It was exciting because I always end up finding out how similar our problems and issues really are. This was no different. I went in thinking I was out of my element and left with a new found appreciation and confidence in my understanding of our shared issues.

I shared a mix of stories and statistics that described how social computing is being used (typically outside of formal learning environments) to create new and engaging online conversations. I was surprised that this group didn’t come at me with the typical doom and gloom questions — they instead were (for the most part) eager to embrace what was happening in the “real world” and engaged me in a pragmatic discussion over what to do. One of the things that was funny was that many of my answers seemed so basic, yet created so much more thinking. I was particularly struck by a question over how teachers should use social environments … as I answered I heard myself talking about how critical it is for teachers to understand how the environments work. If you are going to use youtube for teaching, understand how related movies are chosen, know when to embed a video instead of using the youtube page, and make sure you can navigate the environment. Talking about facebook felt similar … we stressed how important it is to know how the privacy features work, how to really use the environment, and again, just know how to move around. Not earth shattering ideas, but ones that surprised me how much they resonated.

This was a smart group of K-12 administrators who are striving to do great things for their teachers and the students in their districts. They, in general, were very open to new ways of thinking and wanted me to assure them that the teachers we are producing at PSU are prepared to deliver the kinds of educational experiences that will ultimately make students successful in higher education and beyond. We spent a lot of time talking about how important it is for new teachers to foster feelings of creativity — even in the face of strict state standards and the constraints of the no child left behind initiative. I was a little worried about the emphasis on new teachers and not just teachers, but in general I was heartened to hear it and felt like our schools were in good hands.

I contrast this with the experiences I am having with my daughter’s public school education. I hear very little mention of innovative practice and I am certainly not seeing the ability to be flexible in the delivery of curriculum. I am not pointing fingers at teachers I am just seeing a system that wants so badly to be agile and effective, yet is trapped by red tape and outmoded methods. I don’t see anyone openly discussing learning styles, embracing digital literacy, digital story telling, or portfolio thinking. I mentioned reflective practice to a teacher in my daughter’s school and got a very strange look, as if she were saying, “why do that?” I want so much for my daughter to love school — she is still only in first grade … and I want her curiosity and creativity to be promoted, not stunted. Unfortunately what I see is a path that has been walked on for decades being the only direction, that change in thinking isn’t going to be tolerated, and that a push to the middle is the only option. So, with all the hope and promise of administrative leadership comes the realities of the trenches and I once again realize just how different my environment is than theirs. I am disheartened.

Getting Away and Coming Home

I’m not sure this is worthy of my One Post a Day goals I laid out a while back … I’ve been pretty quiet for the last few days because I have been traveling. As a matter of fact, I am typing this post in the San Francisco Airport. I’ve been in Medford, Oregon since Friday visiting one of my oldest friends, KP. KP and I go way back — maybe third grade or so? KP moved to Oregon about four years ago when he got married to his lovely wife. The chance to make a quick (albeit exhausting) trip to the west coast to see him doesn’t come around all that often, but earlier this summer my wife and I decided I should make the time since KP had just had his first child. So, we picked some dates — we had no idea when we booked that the month of August was going to be a total travel month — and I just packed up and came on out. It was well worth the trip.

Since Friday I’ve golfed (I shot better than I have in years with a straight up 84 with borrowed clubs), visited wineries, sat on his back deck with his little man, visited more wineries, explored small towns, ate great food, and really just relaxed. It is honestly impossible to find ways to capture the beauty of the Souther Oregon Rogue River region … the mountains, the grapes, and everything in between is breathtaking. Nice to stop and taste life a bit.

It was interesting seeing KP in his own element. When he comes east he sort of comes in as the old KP, but in his new hometown he is someone much different. Trust me, KP is the kind of person who can be anyone he wants and still be a blast!

So I am beat and getting ready to take off on a red eye so I can be back in State College by 10 AM. I’ll then race home to spend a week with my family. I can’t wait to see them and to take the rest of the week to get my little lady ready to go off to public school and to spend some “outside time” with my little man watching him play in the backyard. Summer has sprinted by us and Fall isn’t waiting for us to catch up. A great summer and a great way to end it — visiting old friends and getting to spend the waning hours of it with my own family.