Promoting Intergenerational Leadership With Natalie Miller (Part 2 of 2)

November 13, 2020

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Natalie Miller, a systems engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, active member of the ShapingEDU community, and a University of Maryland graduate student. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Switching gears, has broadband access been an issue for you and your colleagues in online learning environments?

In a work and personal setting, yes.

In a personal context I have mainly just had connection issues on different days that prevented me from getting work or school done online. It is amazing how much we rely on these connections and how much stops when they disappear.

The hardest situations I have heard today are the power outages in Los Angeles county. The power companies in the area keep shutting off power because of the risk of downed polls and fires, but every time there is a power outage, it sets students and teachers a day behind, keeps individuals from working, and takes away connections for everyone in those areas. At the end of the school year, students are going to be in classes much less than other areas because of this situation, meaning they may be behind other students and may not be meeting the mark as often as other districts.

Seeing how broadband can affect an individual so dramatically shows how essential it is for everyone to have equal opportunity to resources, and how stressful not having these resources could be. I actually took the train up the coast this past weekend, and I know I was stressed when my call was cut out for five minutes! With public locations including libraries and Starbucks being closed for a period of time, it was even more difficult. 

During the pandemic, having outdoor Internet cafes, or opportunities to receive more reliable, battery operated/remote access equipment are two ideas that could be helpful.

One last switch to hit a topic that clearly is of interest to you: I know you have a long-standing passion for and impressive involvement in advocating for open education resources. Care to add anything more to what you’ve already said about how you were drawn to that topic under the tutelage of your dean, and some of the work you’re doing or have done?

Open Education is the future of education, and it can teach everyone so much. In times like the pandemic, creating open materials could help to foster the communities everyone misses, and help individuals to gain development or show progress from opportunities they may have lost. Today’s emotional climate has been so unstable; by working on open publishing or assisting on making materials for students, individuals can provide the assistance and compassion that these students need in times where funds and emotions are tight.

Natalie Miller

From my experience, groups like College of the Canyons Open Educational Resources and ShapingEDU have been some of the most positive and supportive communities I have been a part of, which is why I continue to come back and be a part of them. The synchronized mindset of wanting the best for others, and for the community is what drives them, and that is honestly the type of communities America and the education system need right now. Education will always be the future, and supporting the students in the system is how to support the future.

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover regarding learning, leadership, broadband access, or open education resources?

“How would you advise someone to become a leader in education?” 

One of the most unique things about education is how many different individuals are involved. In the educational community, there are almost no limits to the number of backgrounds, races, specialties, ages, genders, or any other identifiers that exist, but with all this diversity I want to remind everyone that you can be a leader, especially in education. 

“How?”

Find what you are passionate about. Surround yourself with individuals that will support you. Make a plan. Think about what you see that needs to be improved. 

When I just started school, I made the mistake of thinking I was just there for the degree and all I needed to do was show up to classes. When I started doing more than that, I became more than that. When you become passionate about something, like education, you should learn about it enough that you have no doubt in your mind that you are an advocate, and then people will listen. 

Being a leader is also listening. Once we all start listening to each other, we can all lead each other to better systems and processes that will drive us toward equality, equity, and opportunity for all. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Intergenerational Leadership With Natalie Miller (Part 1 of 2)

November 13, 2020

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Natalie Miller, a systems engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, active member of the ShapingEDU community, and a University of Maryland graduate student. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s start with an easy one: what initially drew you into ShapingEDU?

When I was doing my undergrad at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (I was a transfer student), the CSU Chief of Innovation, Michael Berman, had suggested me for this event because of my work in Open Education. Being so involved in Open Education, and just passionate about my own journey, as well as other students’ journeys, I wanted in. I wanted to make a difference in the education community, and the fact that there were others who would be willing to listen to an undergrad student is amazing. The act of listening to students alone is what brought me on board and gives me hope for an education system that listens and caters to their students more. 

You have, since that introduction, actually jumped right into a leadership position in the community as one of two “co-mayors,” with Trevor Ellis, for the “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures” neighborhood. Can you describe what you and Trevor are doing there?

In the “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures” neighborhood, Trevor and I are working toward creating proposals, solutions, and ideas to help integrate different levels of learning and leadership in an educational path. 

There are two ways to look at “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures:

*Having different levels (i.e., elementary, high school, college) come together to support each other and learn. This could be extremely effective because less-developed-level students could learn from more developed students, and more developed students could prove their knowledge by sharing it with less-developed students. The leadership would also promote confidence.

*The second way one could look at it is simply giving more leadership to students in classrooms, which is closely related to the concept of Open Pedagogy, a close cousin of Open Education. Open Pedagogy is the idea that students should be able to create their own classroom: e.g., make their own tests, help create their materials, and even teach lessons to each other. The professors are still very much involved, but it is more [that] they are encouraging, correcting, and cultivating students minds than lecturing. Students should have more of a say in what their education path is, and by doing Open Pedagogy, they would have more control over what assignments and things they want to learn. 

Detail from ShapingEDU 10 Actions document
Illustration by Karina Branson/ConverSketch

Trevor and I are specifically looking into what communities we could cultivate to meet goals like the ones above, as well as what materials would be helpful in guiding individuals to understand how to encourage leadership at different levels. In the end, I think a toolkit will be helpful in doing so.

Your description of Open Pedagogy very much parallels what I experienced in connectivist MOOCS [massive open online courses], where “faculty” and “learners” were co-conspirators in the learning process. What experiences have you had with that experience of being a co-conspirator in learning?

In my education path, I have had more opportunities to be a co-inspirer than most students, but I hope to not be the exception one day. 

One of the best classroom settings I was in, a professor split us into groups of three to four students to teach different lessons throughout the quarter. This was great because it made sure that the group presenting knew the material front and back, and it also gave the class a slightly different style of learning each period that would keep it interesting. The professor would look at our lesson plan ahead of time, advise us, and bring up anything that we missed, but it allowed students to control what was talked about a little more, and make it in a language that was relevant to their peers. 

Outside of classrooms, I have been so fortunate because I was pulled into Open Education by the Dean of the Library and Distance Learning at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California, James Glapa-Grossklag. When I was nineteen, James pulled me into a position where I had no idea what Open Education was, and told me to run with it. I ended up creating a full program: a workflow, marketing materials, and a website [Zero Textbook Cost] that grew so fast that five individuals had to replace me when I left the program. Seeing a previous teacher—and current Dean—give me that opportunity and responsibility so young in my educational career allowed us to be inspired by each other and opened up other opportunities like public speaking, faculty assistance, and heading grants. This allowed me to believe there is no limit to what a student can do. [Note: the website has changed, but still all work is done by other students.]

Returning to the theme of leadership: would you mind telling a story of how a leader in education or elsewhere has fostered your own interest in promoting leadership for learning futures?

Open Education Consortium logo

Honestly, the Dean at College of the Canyons, James Glapa-Grossklag, is the individual that inspired me to want to promote leadership for learning futures. After working with him at College of the Canyons, he continued to promote me: helped me to receive the Open Education Consortium’s first global student award in 2018 for my work at College of the Canyons, continued to introduce me to individuals in education who helped me on my journey, allowed me to give advice to one of his sons and mentor him, and advocated for me to be a keynote at multiple conferences. He had so much confidence in me and spent a large amount of time mentoring me even after I left College of the Canyons, I knew I wanted to help empower and encourage others. It was all for the wellbeing of others and my peers, and he just made it look so easy. He also mentored many individuals after me which was amazing to see as well. 

At Cal Poly I also got involved in Entrepreneurship. Seeing my peers inspired me to promote leadership for learning futures because I could see how ready and eager they were to learn, and they were creating startups while in college, which is very ambitious. Seeing how my peers hadn’t had the same opportunities of having a voice in their education as I did, I knew I wanted to take on the role of raising awareness and empowering these incredible students who were already capable of so much.

This all sounds closely related to the ShapingEDU “Connecting Student Voices” initiative that ShapingEDU Innovator in Residence Anita Roselle is beginning to develop. Do you have any connections to that initiative?

I don’t think I have any direct connections to that initiative yet, but I can easily see how it would connect. What I love about ShapingEDU is how closely everything is connected because it has the intention to improve education for students. 

[The] “Connecting Student Voices” initiative sounds inspiring because a consistent gap in student’s education is often that there is a limited span of two to four years to accomplish things in school. If there was an opportunity to help students come together and unite their educational thoughts, their education would be improved even more!

“Coming together” has always been an issue for students, and it has become even more challenging given our current pandemic/shelter-in-place situation. How is that affecting you and your colleagues in school? 

The pandemic has been a hard time for everyone, and it I have seen individuals from my undergraduate degree, workplace, and graduate degree suffering because of the lack of social interaction. I actually signed up for online classes knowing I would be starting my graduate degree in the pandemic, and although they are not in person, I have been able to chat on the phone with many individuals, chat online, attend online classes, and still make a few friends. 

The difference between pre-pandemic classrooms and post-pandemic classrooms for me is that I was able to meet strangers just by asking for the homework, or greeting them, where now it seems more direct. I am still learning a lot, but losing the lessons of social interaction are rough because in undergrad, the social interactions are often where one learns the most. At my workplace, I have been fortunate because in all of my undergrad I was able to practice communication in person, over email, in stressful situations, and public speaking in front of others, but so much of that connection between individuals is disintegrating and it is hard to gain if one does not already have it. 

Education is so strongly based on personal connections, convincing and critically thinking together, and pushing the limits together, and online education has not pivoted to meet that fast enough. Seeing students suffering because they are limited to individual paper projects is isolating and lacks the human nature education needs. Education needs to make sure it continues to shift to bring individuals together and keep it collaborative and approachable to everyone involved. {done}

What steps would you recommend to anyone (instructor or learner) who is struggling to succeed in our current learning environment?

Disclaimer: I have become more of an extrovert over the years. 

Individuals who are currently struggling in this isolated learning environment should start with the basics of forming or assigning groups. Throughout my whole education, having individuals to talk to and ask for support on missing assignments, or not understanding topics, has been essential. Most individuals were not made to function alone, and everyone needs a support system. Plus, everyone’s learning style is different, and the kinetic and auditory learners (because they often like to have conversations and visuals to think through things) are the ones suffering the most. Being away from a traditional learning environment is most likely limiting everyone’s learning abilities. With groups, each individual could get the attention they need, collaborate, ask questions in a more private setting, and socialize virtually. Be sure to also organize meetings just for socialization because it is just as essential! 

Besides groups, I think it is essential to understand how to step away from screens. Lately, I have been finding myself on a screen for 10+ hours a day, and when things don’t make sense, it is essential to stand up, stretch, and get some fresh air. One thing many individuals who are not on computers as often may not realize is how positioning to the computer can cause pain, and to remember that humans were not built to live on a screen. Getting up from a screen and doing a little exercise is a great mental reset.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Voice, Collaboration, Virtual Choirs, and Rising Up

October 10, 2020

There’s a heartbreakingly beautiful story to be told here—the story of how online interactions involving music, collaboration, the human voice, and activism are creating light and fostering positive action in times of darkness. The story of how online collaborations are drawing us together at a time when “social distances” are overwhelming so many people. And the story of why the arts remain an essential part of the human experience.

The story is rooted in the realization that there is something primally comforting and deeply inspirational about musical collaboration involving the human voice. It flows from the recognition that singing together can be a language of community. Creativity. And hope. Singing together and hearing others sing together in our online/social-distancing/sheltering-in-place/pandemic-plagued world are proving to be ways—for those of us not facing barriers to our access to the Internet and the tools needed to use it effectively—to build or further develop strong social connections rather than succumbing to isolation and social distances. Singing together and/or hearing others sing online are ways of using technology to overcome rather than to create distances, to bring us together in ways that allow us to build upon our shared interests and social needs rather than being dispirited by challenges that appear to be too large to tackle.

My own introduction to the concept of virtual choirs and online performances came a little more than a year ago (in May 2019), in a pre-coronavirus world, when I was lucky enough to see and hear virtual-choir pioneer Eric Whitacre demonstrating and embracing us with the power of global online choral collaborations in a closing keynote session presented during the ATD (Association of Talent Development) annual International Conference & Exposition (in San Diego). Hearing Whitacre describe and demonstrate what was involved in creating and nurturing virtual choirs and producing online performances was world-changing; it was a first-rate example of what we foster when we use technology as a tool and focus on the beauty of our creative spirit in the arts and many other endeavors—including training-teaching-learning, which draws the thousands of ATD members globally together.

Thoughts of virtual choirs and online performances receded into the inner recesses of my mind for several months. Then, in March 2020, we entered the “three-week” (now seven-month) period of sheltering-in-place guidelines put into place here in a six-county coalition within the San Francisco Bay Area and, soon thereafter, in other parts of the United States, in response to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic on our shores.

It was a recommendation from friend/colleague/co-conspirator in training-teaching-learning Jill Hurst-Wahl that rekindled my interest that month in virtual choirs and what they suggest in terms of online collaborative possibilities for all of us: the recommendation to watch a virtual-choir rendition of “Helplessly Hoping,” performed and recorded by Italy’s Il coro che non c’è (The Choir That Isn’t There). As was the case with seeing and hearing Whitacre’s virtual choir a year earlier, the experience of hearing and seeing the students in Il coro was transformative. Encouraging. Emotionally-engaging. Inspiring. Tremendously moving. And it made me want to hear more. Which led me to the work of Canada’s Phoenix Chamber Choir. The playfully creative online performances of musicians involved in a live virtual “coffee house” concert, complete with audience interactions via a conference backchannel, during the ShapingEDU Learning(Hu)Man weeklong summer camp in July 2020 for dreamer-doer-drivers working to shape the future of learning in the digital age. The virtual sing-along videos (including two versions of “Vote Him Way (the Liar Tweets Tonight”) created by singer-songwriter-satirist-activist Roy Zimmerman and his co-writer/wife Melanie Harby. And so many more.

But it’s Zimmerman’s work that most effectively shows us how we might use social media and online interactions to create that intersection of music, collaboration, the human voice, and activism. Because he is engaging. Because he is part of that ever-growing group of first-rate artist-activists who are exploring online alternatives and environments in response to the loss of the onsite venues and interactions that were their lifeblood before the coronavirus arrived. Because he is effectively using Facebook and YouTube, through his “Live from the Left Coast” performances, to not only to stay in touch with and further cultivate his audience, but to nurture relationships between those audience members through his use of online chat within those platforms. Because he is among those participating in the new “Trumped By Music” project initiated by a Dutch/American team “that wants to provide a platform for anti-Trump musicians to be seen and heard… We want to provide maximum exposure for this passionate and vocal community! Our aim is to help our featured artists gain exposure for their message, as well as stimulate musicians to send us new content.” And because his work is reaching and inspiring others equally committed to using music in deeply-emotional ways to foster social change—as was the case with Wilmington Academy Explorations teacher Sandy Errante and her husband, Wilmington Symphony Orchestra conductor Steven Errante.

The pre-coronavirus virtual meeting of Zimmerman and the Errantes is centered around Zimmerman’s incredibly moving song “Rise Up” (co-written with Harby). It was inspired by the students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [Parkland, Florida] on Valentine’s Day in 2018 and who turned their experience into the March for Our Lives/Vote for Our Lives/Never Again movement that, six weeks later, inspired marches in more than 500 cities around the world. His rendition of the song as a duet with Laura Love was included on his Rize Up CD in 2018. And that’s where the story becomes very interesting, as Sandy Errante explained in a recent email exchange we had:

“My husband and I had heard Roy perform at the Unitarian Church in Wilmington before. We loved his satire, his energy, his passion, his humor and his music. And then…

“One Thursday evening after my rehearsal with the Girls’ Choir of Wilmington, I was on the way home when our local radio station, WHQR, started advertising an upcoming concert at the UU with Roy. The radio announcer, George Sheibner, played a song I had not heard before—Rise Up. As I drove along listening, I was captivated by the lyrics, the music, the harmonies and suspensions, and the message. By the end of the song and the final chorus, I was in tears. I knew the Girls’ Choir had to sing this piece. But how to make that happen? 

“I reached out to my husband, who was on his way to a rehearsal with the Wilmington Youth Orchestra. Steve is an arranger and a composer, and I needed him to know right away that this was something we absolutely HAD to do. He asked me to find a recording of the song. I did. And I hunted down the contact info for Roy, using my contacts at the UU church. Once we had permission from Roy to proceed, we started imagining this song as told from the children’s perspective. We altered the lyrics just a bit [changing it from the point of view of adults addressing the Parkland survivors to the point of view of the students themselves]. Now we had a song that the girls could sing from their hearts. We had a youth orchestra that could accompany. We had a performance in the making.­

“After all was said and done, we concurred, this IS their world and this was their song.”

And it remains our song—our anthem—in this pandemic, shelter-in-place world, through its availability on YouTube (with the girls’ choir) and on the CD. It’s there for them—and for us—as we continue seeking light and inspiration while living through devastatingly tragic times. Times of great division and conflict. Times that are, for many, overwhelming. And, as is often the case in tragic, divisive, conflict-ridden times, times that are also inspiring tremendous levels of creativity and opportunities for collaboration designed to foster positive change—which we nurture through our support and engagement in any and every way we can.

Update: Roy Zimmerman and Melanie Harby have posted a piece about the collaboration that produced their recent “My Vote, My Voice, My Right” video and included links to other virtual collaborations of that particular song: https://www.royzimmerman.com/blog/my-vote-my-voice-my-right.

–N.B.: This is the twenty-first in a series of reflections inspired by coronavirus/ shelter-in-place experiences.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: The Caffè Is Open, the Learning Continues

May 1, 2020

I engaged in what I’m going to call a “not-so-guilty pleasure” this morning: I joined approximately 30 colleagues for coffee and conversation in an intimate, wonderfully welcoming caffè while attempting to follow shelter-in-place guidelines which remain in effect for many of us in response to the coronavirus pandemic and which may last for at least another month. I have to admit that I had begun to forget the pleasures of walking into a coffee shop that serves as a community meeting place—Ray Oldenburg’s Third Place. Hearing inviting music in the background. Looking around to see familiar faces. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Sitting face-to-face with inspiring friends/colleagues who form the heart and soul of a tremendous community of learning. And discovering, once again, the hidden gems that/who are within that community, just waiting to be discovered.

We met. We talked. We laughed. We learned. And we adhered to the best, most stringent social-distancing practices possible. Because writer-trainer-presenter Joshua Fredenburg, the person at the center of that “Virtual TD [Training & Development] Talks” gathering of ATD [Association for Talent Development] South Florida Chapter members, created the feeling of a face-to-face caffè gathering online through a combination of creative use of Zoom, his first-rate presentation and facilitation skills, and his commitment to fostering a conversation rather than placing himself at the center of a stage in a virtual learning space. This was a virtual caffè extending from South Florida all the way to where I was sitting, in San Francisco—a 3,000-mile wide caffè which managed to feel as small, intimate, and welcoming as any caffè, virtual or otherwise, that I have ever entered. We could see each other. We could hear each other. And we could even pass virtual notes under the virtual tables via the chat function within Zoom.

ATD South Florida Chapter leaders deserve a lot of credit here. For effectively and positively responding to shelter-in-place and the potential disruption of our community. For quickly and creatively organizing and hosting a dynamic, flexible, informal set of online gatherings. For providing ample opportunities for interactions, during these sessions, that create a sense of presence (telepresence) through brief (45-minute) online sessions. And for making us aware of the “hidden gems” like Fredenburg who routinely draw praise for the way they operate at the national level while those of us “at home” remain (tragically) unaware that we have people like that nearby—until our Chapter brings us together.

And presenters like Fredenburg deserve a lot of credit for creatively and positively exploiting the possibilities created by the online TD Virtual Talks format. When I logged into the online session this morning, I expected to be joining a presentation on and conversation about “Keeping Yourself and Team of Remote Workers Engaged & Productive During COVID-19.” And I certainly wasn’t disappointed; Fredenburg’s expertise and excitement about best practices in leadership was on display and fully engaging from start to finish. But, as so often happens, there was as much to learn from a colleague’s—Fredenburg’s—presentation/facilitation style as there was to learn from the content he was sharing.

Joining the session approximately 10 minutes before it was scheduled to formally begin—I always like getting my coffee and getting settled before caffè conversations, onsite or virtual, are fully underway—I was pleasantly surprised to see Fredenburg (whom I had not previously met) using a Zoom virtual background that made it appear that he was sitting in a wonderfully inviting coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #1: Provide plenty of surprises; they can help make a learning session more memorable/effective.) And I was particularly surprised to hear background music exactly as I would hear if I had been walking into a physical coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #2: Create an inviting learning space online as well as onsite; it adds to engagement and keeps us alert.) Fredenburg, who usually is suited up and ready to roll for his onsite presentations, was dressed casually—which, of course, added to the informal nature of the caffè conversation he was about to facilitate. (Presentation Tip #3: Details—e.g., what you are wearing, how you “set the space”—can help make or break an online as well as onsite session.) And he, like any good host, immediately reached out to me online with a warm welcome as I virtually entered the room. (Presentation Tip #4: Warm up the online room just as you would warm up an onsite room; create the sense of a virtual lounge or virtual gathering of colleagues around a water cooler to foster social learning.) He, the host (Chapter Director of TD Talks Selen Turner), and I immediately began chatting about how he had created that ambience—using a jury-rigged green screen that allowed him to incorporate the caffè background into his teaching-training-learning space, and having music from a YouTube video audible in the background. (Presentation Tip #5: Make every moment a learning moment—without making learning in any way seem like a chore. It’s all about being ready to engage learners in terms of what they want to learn as much as it’s about making sure you foster learning that the session is designed to nurture.)

There was plenty to learn and admire from the session. And much of it revolved around the way that Fredenburg treated everyone as co-conspirators in learning. The result was another spectacular example of turning-challenge-into-opportunity. Community members supporting community members in time of need. Colleagues supporting colleagues by simply doing what they/we do best: working with what we are given. Learning from each other. And remaining committed to, as ATD so often suggests, making a world that works better. Because we can. And because we will.

–N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


ALA Annual Conference 2014: Ernie DiMattia and Learning Moments That Change Our Lives  

June 28, 2014

Conference attendance, whether onsite or online, can be transformative. The planned and unplanned encounters with colleagues, the vendors with whom we work, the authors we adore (or are going to adore after encountering them and the work they produce), touch and change us in ways that sometimes are immediately evident and at other times require the passage of time to geminate and bear fruit.

ALA2014--LogoWe seek, come across, and learn from people whose work we have avidly followed in print or online, and sometimes are stunned to find that they just as avidly following and learning from ours. We have unexpected, intensively personal conversations in spaces like the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference Networking Uncommons and, in the process, deepen relationships with people we might otherwise not have come to know. We learn how much more challenging and rewarding the conference-as-learning-experience can be when we learn how to blend our onsite and online participation via the conference backchannel.

Relishing the collaborations that produce significant results through our volunteer service on committees or through participation in efforts like ALA Membership Development’s Ambassador program is just another part of mining conference opportunities for all they are worth; they help us understand how welcoming and supportive the ALA community can be—and is.

And even though the size and scope of the ALA Annual Conference has us sharing space with more than 20,000 colleagues, it’s amazingly easy to find the individual members of our community we want to find—and equally stunning to realize how much the absence of even one cherished colleague can affect us.

I had known that Ernie DiMattia, the chair of the ALA Publishing Committee, would not be with us here in Las Vegas this morning for our semiannual onsite meeting. All of us on the committee had been notified earlier this week that he was dealing with “ongoing health issues.” But I had had no idea, before arriving at the meeting, that he had been in the final stages of a long-time battle with cancer and that he had passed away last night.

Ernie_DiMattiaThere was a moment of silence as we all, in our own individual ways, struggled to absorb the news that this gentle, literate, vibrant light in the ALA community had been extinguished. And while I can’t speak to what others were thinking, I found myself reliving the moment, a couple of years ago, when Ernie approached me during an orientation session we were both attending, asked me how I was doing, was insightful enough to ask a thought-provoking question that significantly changed my perceptions about what all of us were learning to do in that session, and, as a result, sent me down a very productive year-long path as chair of an ALA advisory committee that completely changed the way it did its work.

Ernie’s simple question at the moment I was about to become a committee chair: “Who will you be serving as a committee chair?” And the obvious answer—ALA 2012-2013 President Maureen Sullivan while working with (rather than for) ALA staff—inspired a series of interconnected partnerships that was rewarding for all of us and the larger ALA community we served.

When my year-long term came to an end and I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Publishing Committee with Ernie as chair, I continued to learn from the inclusive, collaborative approach he took to our work. I appreciated the fact that he went out of his way to stop and chat whenever our paths crossed in those wonderfully expansive conference hallways. I admired the way he fostered productive partnerships with our ALA staff colleagues to help craft a forward-looking strategic plan that will continue to make ALA Publishing an essential part of the ALA community’s operations.

I wish I could say that I knew Ernie better. I wish I could say we had numerous lovely and inspiring conversations, but they were far too few. And as I walked those Ernie-less halls today, I knew they would never again feel quite so vital as they were through Ernie’s presence. But I also sensed that they would remain important, comforting, and essential to all I do as long as I continue acting upon and sharing all I learned from Ernie’s unofficial and very informal mentoring.


New Librarianship MOOC: Contributing to Our Communities Through Leadership and Innovation

July 29, 2013

Connections between librarianship, training-teaching-learning, innovation, and leadership continue to become increasingly obvious as we move further into R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and further into his book The Atlas of New Librarianship.

signorelli200x300[1]It’s that huge theme that Lori Reed and I explored in our ALA Editions book Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Nonprofit Trainers, in which we proposed that all trainer-teacher-learners need to be taking leadership roles in the organizations and communities they serve. It’s a theme that colleagues and I continue to explore when we have face-to-face and online conversations. And it’s a theme that provides stronger foundations for the suggestion that library staff and others working in training-teaching-learning might even more effectively contribute to strengthening the communities we serve if we find ways to collaborate more regularly regardless of the type of organization we serve.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoLankes, in his course lecture on improving society though innovation and leadership, addresses his target audience—librarians—with words that are a call to action for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning: “Innovation and leadership are fundamental values [for us]…You are to be an innovator….You are to be a leader…It comes from this: We must model the positive change we want to see within our communities.”

He reminds us that the places in which we work, those places we provide (onsite and online libraries for libraries, any learning space in my extended view of what Lankes so aptly documents), “are places of constant learning and therefore constant change….Learning is change…[so] we must be constantly changing.” And leadership, he maintains, is part of the equation.

This is far from a utopian cry for ill-defined results. In connecting these assertions to a broader goal of “improving society,” Lankes helps us see that if we are focused and successful with our efforts, we are contributing to meeting an essential need within the individual communities and larger society we serve: facilitating the conversations and other learning opportunities that strengthen communities. It comes back to a theme running through the course and the book: we can make substantial positive contributions if we are part of the conversations taking place and affecting our communities, and if we are helping to facilitate positive change through implementation of the mission statement Lankes consistently promotes: “The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities”—a mission statement that can equally be applied to any trainer-teacher-learners and, again, that begs for collaborations between anyone involved in those endeavors within or outside of libraries.

Lankes does a wonderful job at emphasizing the importance of what we do collectively: “We can’t have one person in charge of innovation. Everyone must be in charge of it,” he reminds us, and I would extend that statement to say the same of leadership, of training-teaching-learning, and of the social media tools that so many of us are using to facilitate the conversations Lankes is promoting.

“Librarians are radical positive change agents,” he reminds us, just as any trainer-teacher-learner is a radical change agent—and the best are the ones who are not rolling out the same lesson plans year after year, or avoiding opportunities for innovation not only at the large-scale level that generally comes to mind when we talk about innovation, but also at the small, personal levels that each of us has the possibility of pursuing—if we view ourselves as potential positive change agents who must assume leadership roles whenever we can.

“We need to evangelize our profession,” Lankes adds near the end of his lecture on innovation and leadership. “We need to take every opportunity to tell people that we are here for them. And we’re not simply here waiting for them. We are here to make their world better, and we’re going to do it in an active way.”

And if all of us take the time to read The Atlas or view some of those wonderful lectures that will remain online long after the current course formally ends, we might be inspired to make magnificent strides for our communities, the organizations and clients we serve, our learners, and ourselves simply by reaching across the aisle and embracing collaborative opportunities with other trainer-teacher-learners with whom we haven’t yet collaborated.

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


Leading and Participating Effectively (Pt. 2 of 2): Mark Samuel on Making Ourselves Indispensable

July 30, 2012

We could easily make the mistake of thinking that Mark Samuel’s thoughtful and thought-provoking book Making Yourself Indispensable is all about us. But we don’t, as trainer-teacher-learners who need to be playing leadership roles in the organizations we serve, have to move very far into his work to see that Samuel has his sights on more than individual endeavors—and his well-received presentation on the topic for ASTD Orange County Chapter members last month shows that his message resonates with our colleagues.

You are “not indispensable unless you use your gifts and principles in service to other people’s success, improvement, or survival,” Samuel suggests (p. 13), and it’s a theme that makes what otherwise could have been a very self-centered endeavor take on much greater importance for all of us and those we serve.

If, in fact, we move directly from the book surveyed in the first of these two articles (Eli Mina’s 101 Boardroom Problems [and How to Solve Them])–a book that helps us understand the structure behind effectively facilitating meetings and dealing effectively with leadership issues—into Samuel’s exploration of how our actions to support the organizations we serve can foster results that go far beyond what any of us can accomplish alone, we have two interdependent points of view that effectively help us understand how the act of embracing and encouraging interdependence makes us—and our organizations—indispensable.

Samuel’s work is centered on a personal accountability model. He first takes us through what he calls “the victim loop,” where we ignore and deny problems; blame others for situations we ourselves could be correcting; rationalize actions or situations we could be changing; resist change; or simply hide from what we need to be addressing. He then offers an accountability loop that begins with us recognizing and owning situations requiring our attention and action; forgiving ourselves and others for what has not already been done; and engaging in a level of self-examination that leads to effective learning which, in turn, produces action.

“Truly playing big is about using your talents and gifts in service to a cause greater than yourself,” he reminds us repeatedly. “Playing big is linked to your purpose” (p. 26)—an action that he quickly connects back to the path that allows any of us to serve as leaders “regardless of your position” (p. 42).

The theme of interdependence is never far from the surface here. In fact, it’s an essential part of being successful and fostering success within an organization: “Ask for assistance!” he insists (p. 94), and remember that in sharing our unresolved challenges, we may learn from the success stories that colleagues will offer as guidance in our moments of need—a practice encouraged in ASTD through the Sharing Our Success program for chapter leaders.

One of Samuel’s greatest achievements in the book is his effective use of anecdotes that help us viscerally understand the points he makes—a practice that extends to an admission that he almost lost his own thriving business by ignoring the very lessons he had been helping others to absorb. We can’t help but appreciate and learn from his frank discussion of the situation: “It didn’t matter how many times I had taught the Personal Accountability Model; I was now immersed in my humanness and experiencing all of the pain and suffering that comes from victimization.” We certainly walk away from that particular sharing-our-lack-of-success story inspired by how much his own self-examination and honesty shows that we, too, can make a positive difference if we’re willing to learn and take action rather than succumbing to the lethargy that at one time or another threatens every one of us.

Trainer-teacher-learners also can’t help but react positively to Samuel’s focus, late in the book, to how much the learning process is part of our efforts to be indispensable in the terms outlined in this book. Beginning with writer-futurist Alvin Toffler’s assertion that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn,” Samuel reminds us that we need to continue learning—and implementing what we learn—rather than hiding behind timeworn clichés about how we’re doing what we do simply because that’s the way things have always been done.

“Learning,” he suggests, is “the outcome of every relationship we are in and every action we take” (p. 161); if we approach our relationships with the spirit of teaching-training-learning that is at the heart of all we do, we’re likely to reach one of the many useful conclusions Samuel offers: “Being indispensable doesn’t start and stop with whatever job you are currently in. It is a lasting state based on the value you represent to others” (p. 115).

Ultimately, he concludes, we find an ironic guiding principle to making ourselves indispensable: “…you gain your independence not when you act in your own best interest but when you realize your interdependence and act in a way that serves both others and yourself” (p. 210).  And if that makes us more cognizant of the value of both leading and participating in the meetings and other activities that comprise so much of our work day, we will be well on our way to having more successes to share.


Leading and Participating Effectively (Pt. 1 of 2): Eli Mina on 101 Boardroom Problems [and How to Solve Them]

July 24, 2012

Reading Eli Mina’s 101 Boardroom Problems [and How to Solve Them] leaves us with the impression that he has seen it all. Or, if he hasn’t, that he has the wonderful breadth and depth of experience to help us see the challenges of leadership so we can recognize and resolve them when we are running meetings.

Mina—a clear, concise, and thoughtful writer whose decades of consulting experience makes him a valuable resource for any trainer-teacher-learner serving as a leader within an organization—leads us through the sort of structural overview of organizations that help us anticipate and prevent problems effectively. He also, through his 101 brief case studies with summaries of potential damage and recommended interventions, takes us where we need to be with the best teaching-training technique we know: effective storytelling.

The structure of the book itself makes it an essential primer and refresher for anyone conducting business through meetings. From start to finish, in 10 chapters, he takes us through a variety of situations beginning with faulty direction and governance/structural issues within organizations; explores situations involving ethical and procedural issues; provides scenarios and solutions involving problematic board members, ineffective board chairs, and dysfunctional boards; then circles back to the larger picture with chapters on unproductive board meetings, flawed interactions with management, and flawed interactions with the communities we serve.

There’s a gentle spirit at play throughout this book: “Consider this thought,” he counsels us in his introduction. “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to misunderstandings, a lack of knowledge, or systemic weaknesses. Even if you are certain that someone is acting maliciously, it is more productive to examine the systemic deficiencies that may be the root causes of a specific Boardroom problem. Only then can lasting solutions be found.”

Which is not to say that Mina can’t and won’t be blunt in his advice when the situation merits it. Faced with digressions that threaten to derail the decision-making process, Mina suggests that we be direct and use phrases along the lines of “‘Can we please get back to the agenda?’ or ‘We need to focus on the core issue…’” rather than trying to spare participants’ feelings to the detriment of a group’s ability to accomplish what it needs to accomplish.

The real value of the book is that it’s driven by a clearly-defined philosophy: “An effective Board generates quality decisions, together, and within a reasonable amount of time,” Mina proposes in words that can serve us well in any meeting, not just the board meetings which are the focus of his book. And he consistently guides us through the process of implementing that philosophy by returning to the need for openness and transparency in the way we conduct business; reminding us that mediocrity and dysfunctional or unethical behavior has no place in our decision-making process; and insisting that impediments to effective decision-making need to be addressed rather than ignored.

A particularly interesting and helpful remark is offered in the context of meetings where participants are seen—or see themselves—as representing a particular constituency’s point of view and therefore feel compelled to vote as directed by members of that constituency: “When it comes to voting, Board members should vote with the organization’s interests placed ahead of any other interests, even if their constituent units expressed a strong desire that they vote differently or even ordered them to do so,” he writes.

It’s through this level of advice that Mina provides the strongest guidance to any of us involved in accepting leadership roles within the organizations we agree to serve. He is, at once, reminding us that leaders listen to those they represent as well as to others who presumably have the best interests of the organizations in mind, weigh all pertinent information, and ultimately vote in a manner consistent with an organization’s mission, vision, and value statements; its goals and objectives; and the needs of those it exists to serve. We may not win re-election or reappointment during fractious times, but at least we know we met our greatest responsibility: to put the interests of the organization and its constituents at the forefront of our thoughts each time we act to meet the responsibilities with which we’ve been entrusted.

Next: Mark Samuel on Making Ourselves Indispensible


ALA Annual Conference 2012: When Learners Create Learning Objects

June 26, 2012

Put a group of trainer-teacher-learners into a room, and you’ll quickly see barriers dissolve and information flow, as happened yesterday during an ALA Learning Round Table “Nuts and Bolts of Staff Training” discussion here in Anaheim at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference.

Facilitators Maurice Coleman and Sandra Smith, who serve on the Learning Round Table board of directors, facilitated a 90-minute session that informally took participants through a start-to-finish tour of problems and solutions in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. And most of the solutions came from participants themselves as experienced colleagues shared ideas and resources with those new to the profession—and those relatively new to the profession quickly learned that they had plenty to contribute through the questions that they raised and the suggestions they themselves contributed.

The session also served as a good example of facilitated and experiential learning. Participants initially identified key challenges they face in their workplace learning and performance programs. That exercise helped establish the start-to-finish overview: how to successfully manage programs with a one- or two-member training department; identify and respond to the needs of different learners (including those with diverse cultural backgrounds); choose the tech tools that allow us to manage course offerings, registration, course content, and feedback through evaluations; make learning accessible to learners; deliver effective learning opportunities; and decide how to effectively manage the evaluation process.

Attempting to tweet the responses provided a learning opportunity in and of itself: how to create a learning object from learners’ class discussions as documented through a Twitter feed in TweetChat. By capturing comments in 140-character summaries, we were able to produce the Twitter feed (available at @trainersleaders for June 25, 2012) that participants can review, and I’ve also written this article in the hope that it can alone as a useable lesson/summary of best practices cited by active trainer-teacher learners.

Several samples from the twitter feed, edited and expanded since we are not constrained by the 140-character limit in this posting, are offered here:

  • To be an effective trainer-teacher-learner, strive to play a leadership role within your organization.
  • Reach learners who are new to tech tools by using peers as instructor/facilitators rather than always relying on those seen as “techies,” e.g., members of the organization’s IT staff.
  • Connect learners with learning opportunities by making information about training sessions clear and accessible.
  • Be sure that training sessions support organizational goals and objects so learners are effectively served by the learning opportunities they accept.
  • Provide clear, concise, and measurable learning objectives so managers and learners know what to expect and so that we have the framework to conduct successful and meaningful evaluations after learners return to their worksites and begin using what they learn.
  • Recognize that learners best absorb new information in relatively brief chunks—generally no more than 10 minutes in duration, although there is quite a bit of disagreement among trainer-teacher-learners on this topic—and offer learners frequent opportunities to apply what they are learning.
  • Incorporate playfulness into learning to decrease stress (which limits a learner’s ability to absorb new information) and to make the learning experience memorable, e.g., offer “sit and play” sessions where new learners become comfortable by actually using the tech devices they are going to use in their workplace.
  • Create online sandboxes for learners—spaces where they can find tools and resources they want to try and master.
  • To be sure learners use what they learn, create clear tools and avenues for accountability.
  • Use evaluation models including Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of learning evaluation and Jack Phillip’s model for Return on Investment in Training and Performance Improvement Programs.

There was, of course, much more to the session than can be captured in a relatively brief summary—including the idea that some of the best learning occurring yesterday came from the realization that people from small training units are far from alone when they turn to their own communities of learning, including the ALA Learning Round Table.


ALA Annual Conference 2012: Learning, Leading, Engaging, and Transforming

June 23, 2012

If you were in the right room but weren’t paying attention yesterday at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference here in Anaheim, you easily could have missed one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of experiential and transformative learning and leadership in action.

The set-up was simple. Members of ALA staff, along with members of ALA’s Training, Orientation, and Leadership Development Committee (TOLD) and incoming ALA president Maureen Sullivan, worked together seamlessly to deliver the association’s annual orientation session for volunteers who will be serving as chairs of ALA committees for the next 12 months. The traditional set-up for the session, according to those familiar with it, has been for the incoming president to offer a few words of welcome and then leave others to conduct the session.

Sullivan, as the association’s lead volunteer for 2012-2013, suggested a different model for this year’s offering. And program organizers immediately agreed, she noted at the beginning of the session as an example of how change can sometimes easily be implemented. The standard “orientation” became a “strategic leadership meeting.” We were active participants in determining how we all will work together and with others during the next 12 months. And, by time we left that room three and a half hours later, we had not only become familiar with what was expected of each of us as volunteers, leaders, and potential facilitators of change within an association we very much love and admire, we had been reminded by a master trainer-leader-consultant/change agent that the first step in being effective is believing that we can be effective in the roles we choose to play.

Because I’ve known Sullivan for several years and have had a few opportunities to work with her and see her in action, I wasn’t surprised by any of this. When she facilitated a two-day conference for students who had not yet completed their graduate-level work to enter the library workforce, she completely inspired those participants—and her work has paid off as we’ve seen several of those conference attendees begin working their way into management positions with libraries across the country. And when I was struggling with a less-than-satisfying educational experience, Sullivan was there not only as a willing and sympathetic set of ears, she was among a small and cherished group of people who helped me find a way to turn a bad situation into something full of potential—and tremendous results.

So as I sat with other incoming ALA committee chairs yesterday; was engaged by the energy, dedication, and inspiration that Sullivan, author-consultant-presenter Eli Mina (101 Boardroom Problems [and How to Solve Them]) provided; and saw how my volunteer efforts might effectively make a difference in further supporting ALA and all it serves, I realized how lucky I was to be in that particular windowless room—with the most spectacular view of what a few involved people can accomplish under the tutelage of a trainer-leader-consultant who sets the best example possible through her own efforts as an association volunteer.

Others may have been enjoying quality time by a pool. Or preparing to visit the conference exhibits hall. Or tweeting wonderful (or snarky) observations about the conference. Or frantically trying to decide which sessions they wanted to attend and which ones they reluctantly will miss. Or trying to acquire another ribbon to attach to their conference badges. And I have to admit I hope to make time for all of those activities myself.

But being in that room, with that group of people, with that level of inspiration, reminded me once again of the absolute pleasures and rewards we find through volunteering to support those causes that appeal to us. We all know that it’s easy to make commitments. Set high standards and goals for ourselves, and encourage others to set high standards and goals they believe they too can achieve. And then, with the best of intentions, return to our day-to-day work and lose sight of the essential elements of what we set out to do. This, however, is an opportunity where I don’t think that’s going to happen.

It’s completely possible that the association will, a year from now, look exactly as it does today; and the average member will continue to pay dues, attend conferences, complain about bureaucracy, and wonder why nothing ever changes. But those of us inspired by Sullivan certainly hope that won’t be the case. And if we’re effective in reaching out to foster an even greater sense of engagement than already exists within ALA—remembering to listen and to act—we may actually have a report card well worth taking home when the time for our final exam as learner-leader/change agents is administered a year from now.

N.B.: Sharon Morris and I, on Sunday, June 24, 2012, will be facilitating a 90-minute workshop on how to engage workplace learners and others in libraries. The session, under the auspices of the ALA Learning Round Table, begins at 10:30 am at the ALA Annual Conference here in Anaheim, in Convention Center Room 203B. Hope you’ll join us for what promises to be an engaging discussion.


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