It’s Sunday and I feel like the kid who’s not supposed to be excited about something in the future, because it may not really happen, but is excited anyway. The “may not happen” part is in fact not fair because I was notified by the president of my school, Capella University, that I had won a teaching award for which my name will be listed tomorrow under my department, the School of Business and Technology, on the Capella University website. I will also receive a piece of paper telling me that I have won this award.
Let me hasten to say that there are many higher awards at Capella that come with money (mine does not) and Oscars. Let me also say that there will be other people who will win this same award, and be listed right alongside my name. But it is important to say that of all the things I could win at Capella or anywhere else, an award, nominated by students, for quality teaching, means the most to me. Would I like to have money–sure. Would I like to be the speaker at Capella’s graduation–sure. Would it mean any more to me–no.
I love my students. I’ve learned so much from them. As an armchair liberal for most of my life, I looked down my nose at the military. Many of my students are military. They have taught me about commitment, taking care of their troops/family/class/department, sucking it up when what they have to do is right, but not fun or pleasant, and about a kind of leadership (my specialty) that appreciates everyone under one’s command and looks actively for what they do well, so that they can be encouraged to do that thing better and better. None of my students, including my military students, is without thoughtful criticism of the environment in which each works. All of them want to be appreciated, feel proud of what they are doing to better themselves, and shine in someone else’s eyes as well as gaining confidence and pride in their own performance.
Thank you all for recognizing and appreciating that I want to shine on you, and help you to be proud of your struggles and your triumphs, whether they are educational, professional, or personal.
I just took my daughter Lindsay, her husband, Kelly, and my adored grandson Lachlan to the train. After almost a
month of being grandma day in and day out, the boy I love the most left to go home to Minnesota. He leaves a big hole. It is a hole made bigger by the death of my mother exactly one week before Lach came home with me following her memorial service. Now there is quiet in my house. Now there is time for me to think. Now there is time for me to mourn.
Lachlan went to day camp the first two weeks he was here. He got his face painted. He got to play with new friends and one friend he’s known for four years. The weather in northern California was perfect–foggy in the morning and then blazing sun by noon. He took over my iPad in the evenings and mornings before camp. He played tennis with Grampa, and I took him to a Vietnamese restaurant we both love. We went to the library and the pool. His Auntie Blake and her friend Jennifer wanted to entertain him as much as I did and, for a while, we struggled like dogs over a piece of meat. (Sorry for such an un-kid friendly analogy.)
While Lachlan was here our erstwhile contractor painted our living room and plastered, sanded and painted its ceiling. Lachlan asked, fairly I think, “Grandma, why did you decide to paint your house while I was here?” I hadn’t planned it. It just happened. More chaos kept me from my feelings.
Now there is quiet in my house. I want to feel my feelings. I don’t want to feel my feelings. I want to give them space. I want to crowd each day with things I love to do. Perhaps I will find that my own mourning for Lachlan’s leaving and mom’s death will have its way with me, whether I plan it or not. For now, all I know is that the quiet is oppressive.
I had the juiciest piece of gossip to tell you today. Guess what? I didn’t go so far as punching in your number, but I did have the conversation with you in my head. No one liked to hear gossip more than you, and no one passed it along faster than you. Sometimes this was a source of pleasure–when you were passing it to me, or when we were laughing or pretending to be horrified by something someone else did. Other times, when it was my secret, and I had stressed to you that it was indeed a secret that you passed on, I didn’t enjoy it as much.
Earlier this evening when my grandson, Lachlan, couldn’t get his butt far enough back in the lounge chairs you loved so much, to teeter into a prone position, I thought of how impatient you were with me when I couldn’t do it either. ” Just lie back,” you would say, and I would. Still I found myself in an upright position. And you’d get mad, as if I were doing or not doing something to thwart you.
When my first husband called, the day after you died, and reminisced about how there had never been any recriminations for either of us after she found us in flagrante delicto almost 50 years ago, I said, that wasn’t exactly true. ” She may have loved you unconditionally, but there had been plenty of conditions on her love for me.”
One sister in law wishes her adoptive mother had been you. I understand that. You two had a wonderful close, and loving relationship. The other sister-in-law had a more day-to-day relationship with you and loved you at arms length. You called this selfish. I called it smart.
I spent years in expensive therapy, believing that I needed you more than either of my husbands (at that point). My lovely and wise therapist would routinely say, “You don’t need your mother.” I think now that he may have seen maturity in me that I wasn’t able to claim for myself. When I finally stood up to you in my late 50s and realized that I did not indeed need you, my therapy was mostly complete.
But in this, your final year I needed you again as if my life depended on your loving me. I got jealous of the sister-in-law closest to you and of your friends, particularly of the one you described as your adoptive daughter. I wanted to be needed. I wanted to be important. It took most of the year to realize that I was important, that I was needed, and that our love for each other, while never unconditional, was a powerful force in both our lives.
Margaret Davies Orem died June 29-30 at 92. My brothers and I had dinner with her the night she died. She died looking forward to whatever might be next.
I have to start with a scholarly term, and for this I apologize to any reader who wants “the three paragraph version” as my dad used to say to his extroverted mother-in-law, wife, and daughter. The term is identity construction and comes from the overarching belief and theory (to which I subscribe) that we all have our own versions of reality, and “construct” ourselves based on our family, culture, and environment. We also construct ourselves differently in different environments. For instance, I am different with my mother (still stuck in my painful teenage years), than I am with my husband (a strong woman and caring partner), or with my children (still the maternal approver even as they are in mid-life). So, do you get the idea? We are, in fact, different people in different environments. We change according to what we believe is our best “presentation of self” in each–see Erving Goffman’s wonderful book by the same name.
Learners in my classes construct themselves in roughly four ways. This is a simplification of course, and one I apologize for but for this blog, these should suffice.
1. Learners who want to learn, who will do anything to improve–take a writing class, study social science’s crazy making formatting system (American Psychological Association–APA), or go back and write an assignment over for no credit just to cement new learning.
2. Learners who want to learn when it is convenient or fits their identity construction (I am an A student, why should I put up with being told I need to learn to take an informed position?).
3. Learners who just want an A and will spend untold amounts of energy better put to genuine learning, arguing with an instructor about the injustice of a B or C, no matter what the metrics say.
4. Learners who want to fly beneath the radar and get through the course with as little disturbance as possible.
Since I coach faculty with all of these learners in their classes, here is the best I think we can do:
Learner #1 gets challenging feedback, encouragement to open her mind to the next level of learning, the next more complex set of ideas.
Learner #2 gets the same thing with perhaps a nudge in the direction of learner #1.
Learner #3 gets firm verbal and written feedback encouraging them to see themselves in a slightly different way. The challenge and encouragement are to see themselves as more open to new ideas and less demanding and aggressive about grades. This is difficult and takes a light touch combined perhaps with self-deprecating humor on the part of the instructor.
Learner #4 is the mystery. Perhaps this learner is really a learner #1 in hiding. Perhaps this is a shy #2. It is up to the instructor to engage this learner in a positive identity construction, someone who can achieve self-efficacy through learning.
Finally, Daniel Pink in Drive suggests that workers and learners thrive on autonomy (self-direction), mastery (of meaningful work), and purpose (to work in the service of something larger than an A). We can provide the opportunities, and even ways to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose, thereby changing the identity construction of the learner
. In the end, learners have gotta wanna achieve these things (learner #1) with our challenge and support.
Two weekends ago I attended a memorial celebration of my dissertation mentor’s life at Fielding Graduate University. Two other graduates who were slightly behind me, Linda Blong and Kate Creede (also his mentees), and one faculty member, Frank Barrett, who was also on my dissertation committee, planned and facilitated the wonderful two hour meditation, small group exercise, and witnessing to W. Barnett Pearce’s life and accomplishments.
So many graduates spoke of his listening capability. He gave his whole being to a conversation and was open and curious about his student’s lives, worldviews and work. He was a rigorous scholar. It took me a long time to dare to work with him as I thought I’d never live up to his expectations. In my defensive first approach to Barnett, I said I wasn’t really sure I wanted to work with him. He was unruffled. He shrugged and said he had plenty of good work to do and didn’t need to convince me to work with him. That, of course, was all I needed to want to work with him.
When I cried all the way through my first committee meeting (I was afraid I couldn’t write a dissertation), Barnett was kind but not patronizing. I said I could cry and think at the same time. He took me at my word.
Toward the end of my Fielding journey Barnett asked me at a national meeting how I was doing . I said that it always took me a few days to feel like I really belonged at Fielding. His response: “I wonder why you construct yourself that way?” Throughout the day I noticed all the ways in which I DID belong, and was a valued member of the community. His question expresses what we call in Appreciative Coaching, the Simultaneity Principle. This principle tells us that a question, all by itself, can send us down a path of change and insight. It certainly helped me to see my own worth.
At his retirement celebration, the committee chair asked me to “roast” him. At first I thought, “Who wants to go to Kansas City (site of the meeting) in August?” Then I thought, “I’m not THAT funny!” But I did the roast with love and that seemed to be OK. He and his wife Kim did a skit about Barnett the house-husband after his retirement. This was not to be, however.
About a month after his retirement Barnett announced via his website that he had cancer. Although the doctors never found the origin of that cancer, it took his life in November of 2011. He had been the soul of appreciation for so many of us, and the encourager of scholarship and self-esteem for many more.