As January comes to an end and we grow more firmly ensconced in the new year, I have been writing a lot. In my role as program administrator for faculty development at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), my intention to do more of the two things:
Note: These two acts are iterative and twinned processes. If you want to read more, I highly recommend Adriana Kezar’s article “Sensemaking/Sensegiving.”
But for now, here’s the quick and dirty: I first attempt to “make sense” of complexity . . . and then I try to create opportunities for others that provide them access to what I have made sense of.
An example of this is the Assessment, Teaching, and Learning Podcast.
After a series of first attempts to vision what the ATL Podcast might do and be . . . my boss, Bill, asked me to answer two questions:
- What will this podcast be about?
- Why would faculty members listen/care?
The potential answers to both those questions are infinite and wide ranging. Cue to long, intense writing sessions as I attempt to flesh this out.
As I attempt to answer those two questions, I’ve had the pleasure of some great conversations with Bill, and I’m discovering/un-covering how he, over his time at SBCTC, has “made sense” of assessment.
He pointed me to two texts that really inspired him:
- Assessment as Revolution: “Whether or not we’re comfortable with it, Assessment is Revolution,” writes Lee Knefelkamp (Bill’s mentor!) in “Assessment as Revolution”;
- Assessment as Community Organizing: Can change happen despite the inertia of organizations? Bill was very inspired by Parker Palmer’s unpacking of the 4 Principles that constitute the “logic of a movement” in “Divided No More.”
While these articles are old, they are not dated. In fact, they feel very fresh and timely and exciting.
Last week, as I was sensemaking (through my writing) in response to Bill’s questions about the podcast, I remembered a wonderful story about Bill that I think will really explain exactly how he embodies the notion of “Assessment as a Movement.”
Just before I took this job in August of 2013, I attended the National Summer Institute on Learning Communities (NSILC) as part of the team from Clark College, where I was English faculty.
And Bill, my just-about-to-be-new boss, was resource faculty for the teams from two and four year colleges from all over the nation who came to work on a two year action plan centered around designing, implementing, revising, or expanding their learning community programs.
The keynote speaker that year was the fantastic and dynamic Greg Hinckley, Sociology faculty from Seattle Central. He gave an inspirational address about learning communities at their institution. At the end of his presentation, he showed us a short Ted Talk by Derek Sivers called “How to Start a Movement.”
Gregg got a standing ovation, and for the rest of the Institute, people just couldn’t stop talking about how inspired they were by what was happening at Seattle Central and how they wanted to do some variation on “The Water Project” at their institution . . .
and everyone loved that video.
At the end of the Institute, there is a celebration dinner: every team performs some sort of creative piece (a haiku is suggested) that shares the essence of the two year plan created collaboratively during the Institute. My Clark colleagues and I performed an original screenplay, inspired by Lord of the Rings, penned by the lovely Mel Favara and our inspirational/fearless leader Ray Korpi.
The resource faculty always conclude the event with a skit of their own.
So that year, 2013, the resource faculty reenactment-ed “How to Start a Movement.” Jillian Kinzie of the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) narrated the script . . . and Bill . . .
Wait. If you haven’t watched the Ted Talk yet– do so now. Otherwise the rest of the blog post won’t make sense.
It’s about 3 minutes and it has 6,824,476 views. I promise it’s worth your time.
So . . . Jillian narrated the script of the video you just watched . . . and Bill took the role of the crazy dancer.
If you know my boss, you’ll know he is very dignified. He’s very deliberate, thoughtful, cautious, and, as he is fond of reminding me– he’s an introvert.
During those first moments, when I saw my about-to-be-boss dancing alone like a crazy person in front of 300 people from two and four year colleges all over the nation . . . I knew I was seeing something very special.
And then, one by one, the rest of the resource faculty followed and imitated his dancing.
At the time, I also knew it was super perfect that Bill enacted the “lone nut” (as Sivers puts it) in the skit, because in the year early years of my teaching career, back in 2001, I was one of the followers of Bill’s first followers.
I didn’t get to be one of the “first followers” because I was too young. The work started in the 90’s, and I didn’t start teaching until the early 2000’s. So I came into the statewide assessment movement fairly late in the game, comparatively.
But it wasn’t until 2017, when Bill and I started talking about the ATL podcast when it really hit me exactly how perfect that video describes how Bill has embodied his role at SBCTC over the years.
Let me put it another way. In a recent meeting, Bill asked our colleagues in the Ed Division: “What’s the theory of change?”
“How to Start a Movement” is a great way to explain Bill’s theory of change.
So higher education is like we’re all this big concert and there’s a band playing, and we’re all hearing the same music. And Bill moves away from the crowd . . . he’s not in the thick of it or down in the mosh pit and he’s DEFINITELY not on the main stage (he’s not a performer– he literally HATES the limelight) and he just starts dancing all by himself far away from everyone else.
And people notice . . . just a few. And they go over and dance with him because that looks FUN. And after all you’re at a concert, and you’re here to experience the music.
At a concert, some people stand around with their arms crossed, and some people try to climb up on stage . . . and some people start dancing. Some people go where all the other people are and dance with them so they don’t feel too out there.
So Bill has enough courage to dance by himself. And not just that . . . to be the “crazy” dancer.
In terms of the ATL department . . . after I started following . . . the next thing you know there’s more people with you and YOU’RE the crowd. But you’re still in this different location– you’re still not in the center. You’re always sort of out in the margins. But you’re dancing, it’s fun, it feels good . . . and you’re not alone.
We’ll be talking about all this more concretely about all this on the podcast. I’ll be posting the details to this blog, so stay tuned.
For now, I’ll say that Bill is still dancing, I am still following, and we both hope you’ll join us!