Nothing To It But To Do It

Between completing years of coursework and conducting the dissertation research project, I think we can all agree that earning a doctorate is hard work.  I wonder, though, if sometimes we (read: I) make it harder than it has to be.

I spent the better part of May & June collecting survey and interview data for my research, and in early July took a much-needed weeklong vacation with my wife and kids.  Unfortunately, instead of relaxing and recharging, I spent the better part of the week stressing about the dissertation work I’d need to do when I got back.  When we got home last Friday I had a stack of papers with means and p-values and standard deviations all over them waiting for me, and I found myself experiencing a paralysis very similar to what I experienced this past December.  Thankfully, I was able to snap myself out of it this evening, and after sitting down with a cup of coffee and background music courtesy of Weezer (on repeat several times), I not only organized a good chunk of the statistical data, I also made a little headway on the organization and interpretation for my Chapter Four.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to break my funk and get me rolling again.  The looming monster I had built up in my mind over my vacation was vanquished easily enough; all I had to do was just get off my ass and start working.  It wasn’t the work itself that was difficult, it was overcoming the mental block that was intimidating me.  Then again, that’s been the story throughout much of the process.  Thinking about the work is always – ALWAYS – much worse than sitting down and actually doing it.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, until we decide not to be.

Ceci n’est pas un blog post

It’s been nearly two months since my last post, and even longer since my last post of any substance.  I could lie and say that work’s been crazy, or the holidays have been hectic, but none of that would be true.  In fact, this has been the least hectic lead-up to Christmas I’ve had in years, certainly since starting my doctoral program in Sept. 2011.

Most of my evening hours the last several weeks have been spent working on my dissertation.  I completed my 300-hour internship early in November, I’m nearing the end of my coursework (kind of hard to explain fully here, but for all intents and purposes, one more class in Jan-Feb and I’m done), and I’m preparing to be raised to candidacy for the Ed.D.  After that, all that’s left between me and the degree is the little tiny matter of the dissertation.

Some background: my university program embeds the dissertation writing process into the coursework, to some degree.  Students write the first two chapters during two different courses in Year One, we typically write Chapter 3 (or most of it) during one of our courses in Year Two, then we go to committee at some point early in Year Three, get approval to start our research, conduct our research during the second half of Year Three, finish writing, and defend by November to graduate the following January of Year Four (or Three-and-a-Half, as I like to consider it).  Long story short, I’ve been working on this document since October or November of 2011, revising and polishing along the way, on a topic that is very important to me.  To say I am invested is an understatement.

I spent most of November and early December this year majorly overhauling my Chapter 3 and preparing for my committee meeting.  While I expected to be asked to make some revisions prior to moving forward, I was also expecting to be approved to begin my research upon making those changes.  Instead, I was told to make more changes than I expected would be necessary and told the committee would reconvene in January to determine whether or not I could proceed.

Maybe this is par for the doc student course, but I wasn’t ready for that, especially after the hours I had invested in this project.  The drive home felt like an eternity, my shoulders hunched around my ears out of a growing sense of stress, and I found myself seriously questioning how I was going to move forward.

Typically, when I have a task to accomplish, I like to get on it right away, no matter how daunting.  But I came home from that meeting, put down my laptop bag with my notes in it, and haven’t been able to open it since.  Not “haven’t wanted to” – “haven’t been able to”, as in, I go to take out the notes to get cracking and I just start to feel overwhelmed and anxious.  It’s been a week since that meeting and the bag still sits untouched next to my couch.

I’m not writing this post for “oohs” and “ahhs” and “poor babys” from the Internet.  In fact, I think part of the paralysis I’m dealing with right now is my own shame at how paralyzed I’ve become by this task that, until now, I have been handling with relative competence (or so I thought).  Maybe I’m hoping that reflecting in writing will help me to knock out the cobwebs and be able to get over this funk or malaise or whatever it is and get down to business right after Christmas.  Perhaps seeing the problem in writing will help me to realize I’m blowing it out of proportion in my mind and it’s not as insurmountable as I’m making it out to be.  I’m not really sure, but whatever it is, I hope it works.

If nothing else, hopefully it will be an entry I can look back on this time next year, as I’m preparing to graduate, and laugh at, remembering that time I panicked unnecessarily and frantically spat out a blog post full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

300 Miles

While my surgery to correct FAI is now nearly two full years behind me (December 2011), I continue to reap the benefits of goal-setting during the recovery process.

As I wrote last year, my long-term rehab goal was to get fit enough to run Tough Mudder Tri-State in October 2012 (exactly one year ago today, coincidentally).  I achieved that goal, and then continued to focus on increasing my running.  My follow-up goal from there was to run 300 miles in 2013.  As much as I enjoy running, I figured having that target to shoot for would keep me more motivated to keep at it even when I wasn’t feeling it as much as usual.

I’m happy to report that I achieved my goal of running 300 miles on 12 September 2013, a solid 3 months and change before my deadline:

300 mi 1


And here’s a breakdown of mileage by month:

300 mi 2

I’ve continued to run since then, albeit at a much reduced rate, as my fitness focus is now back on weight training.  I’m lifting four days a week and only running occasionally, but at least that’s by design (a conscious decision) rather than by default (“I don’t feel like running today… or tomorrow… or this week…”).  My son has also developed an interest in running, so we go out for the occasional mile together as well.  A mile with him at his pace doesn’t do much for me physically, but does us both worlds of good emotionally.

My educational leadership program is grounded in the Educational Leadership Policy Standards, which emphasize goal setting to guide growth and program implementation.  While I’ve done all the coursework and understand it all from an intellectual standpoint, nothing has driven the point home for me quite like the experience of setting, achieving, and re-setting my own physical fitness goals over the last two years.

Now that I’ve hit my goals of completing Tough Mudder, running 200 post-surgery miles in 2012, and 300 miles in 2013, I’m still working on a goal related to my weight training.  My short term, “interim” goal is to make linear progression on all lifts 2.5-5 lbs per session, but I know that will only take me so far.  Once I figure out my long-term lifting goals, I know that having a target to shoot for will further help motivate and energize my fitness regime.

What’s Good for the Goose

Amidst the seemingly endless parade of art projects, desk clean-outs, and partially depleted school supplies that have been coming home over the past few weeks, my son brought home a portfolio of his work from his Gifted Support program.  My wife and I sat down to look at the contents this weekend and, of course, were very proud of both the quality and creativity of the work, as well as the progress our son has made over the course of the year (especially with regard to his handwriting; he’s definitely my son in that regard).  As a point of reference for the reader, my son was in second grade this year.

Beyond my son’s work, however, what impressed me was the structure and the content of the portfolio assignment; i.e., what the teacher asked the students to do, both in terms of class activities and their own reflection on the learning process.  Among other things, I noticed evidence of ongoing reflection, particularly on using different strategies to solve problems.  There were multiple references to Paideia seminars, as well as discrete examples of how to generalize skills learned through these units into everyday situations.  Clearly, both my son and his teacher did a lot of thinking about thinking and learning this year, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Where I get a bit tripped up is wondering how many students in the general education setting, who don’t have the benefit of this sort of instruction outlined in a GIEP, get that kind of metacognitive approach to learning?  I don’t necessarily mean in my son’s district, but across the board – why are we limiting this beneficial instruction to a subset of students?  I’m glad my son has that exposure, but really, could that not benefit all students, not just those labeled as gifted?

I also wonder how the overall instructional model will change, if at all, in third grade next year, when my son and his classmates will take the PSSA exams for the first (but sadly, not the last) time.  I have no reason to believe it will impact my son’s Gifted Support program, but I’ll be interested to see if/how the shadow of this test impacts his general education classroom experience.  Will there be fewer projects and more skill drills?  What percentage of the year will be comprised of practice tests?

I don’t really have any solid answers to offer in this post; it’s really me just spilling some of my thoughts and concerns.  They’re not even about my son’s district in particular, but more about the state of education in general.  It’s one thing to think and write about this stuff from a professional perspective, but there’s another layer added to it when not only your profession and livelihood, but also the educational well-being of your own kids, are impacted.

Coming Attractions

Ever since my initial headlong dive into blogging in 2007, experience has taught me that I need to pace myself in order to avoid running out of things to write about.  Maintaining a twice monthly posting schedule, as I have done (more or less) since 2009 or so, has helped me to survive those dry spells by writing, stockpiling, and auto-scheduling blog posts for the future while the iron is hot.

Not that I’ve run out of things to say, but unfortunately my time for writing and reflection has been overcome by an unusually heavy run of both personal and academic obligations lately – even now, I’m dashing this post off on a break from writing a research paper on educational funding in the state of New York.  I’m even writing this post as much for myself as for my readers, so I can publicly bookmark some ideas that I wanted to write about as we head into the summer months.  This is what I’ll be thinking about as we approach the home stretch of the school year:

  • You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley, a kindergarten teacher who noticed some of her students habitually excluding others.  She writes about her new classroom policy and its short- and long-term impacts.  Haven’t read it yet, but heard about it on a This American Life rerun a week or two ago, and it’s going to be one of my first downloads for my Father’s Day/birthday present, the Kindle Paperwhite.
  • Acronyms in Special Education – Anyone who moves in special education circles, personally and/or professionally, knows that the field is awash in alphabet soup.  Jim Gerl asks us to think about the ethical ramifications of this jargon.
  • Edcamp Leadership 2013 is coming back to the Garden State this summer after a successful inaugural run last July.  I’ll be attending as an organizer, aspiring school leader, and possibly a presenter, so I’ll surely be writing about my day from all three perspectives.
  • I’m not only a proud member, but also a part-time employee, of the New Jersey Education Association, and I’ll be attending their Summer Leadership Conference in August and hopefully writing about my takeaways from that.
  • Summer provides an excellent opportunity for professional reflection, and I’ll look to do that as I get back to my on-again, off-again Habits of Mind series.
  • This has been a hell of a year as far as grad school is concerned, and this summer I’ll be looking to wrap up most of my internship hours, polish up the first three chapters of my doctoral dissertation, and prepare to take my research proposal to committee by mid-fall.  As long as I’m not all written out by then, expect an update on that as well.  I will be done with my coursework by February, and I’m (perhaps naively optimistically) targeting an August 2014 graduation date.

Lots to think about, but unfortunately very little time to write about any of it at present.  Here’s to the last two to five weeks of the school year, depending on where you are!  Stay tuned…

2012 By The Numbers

I don’t know if it’s my school psychology training or the ZOMG DATA craze that has gripped all facets of public education in the last few years, but I’m becoming increasingly interested in looking at the role numbers play in my life, specifically in terms of goals and accomplishments.  Dan Meyer and his readers have been doing their annual reviews visually for the last few years, but I’m not quite there.  I’m just going to throw out a few numbers that played a role in my life in 2012 in boring old text:

  • 208: Miles run since hip surgery and physical therapy
  • 1: Tough Mudder completed
  • 13: Pounds lost via Intermittent Fasting (in a 10-week period)
  • 950: Pictures taken (and kept) in my family digital photo album
  • 3: Edcamps attended and co-organized
  • 1: Cruise taken with my wife, kids, and parents
  • 1: Nationally syndicated game show recorded featuring a relative as a contestant (to air in Feb 2013 – more info soon!)
  • 6: Doctoral courses completed
    • 8: Doctoral courses completed in total
    • 8: Doctoral courses to go
    • 0.6: Doctoral thesis left to write
    • 4,060: Approximate mileage traveled from work (Lawrenceville, NJ) to grad school (New Castle, DE) to home (Perkasie, PA) (not even gonna tally the tolls paid; too depressing)
  • 5: Years I’ve been blogging (as of 1 Aug 2012)
    • 199: Total blog posts published as of 31 Dec 2012 (I published #200 on 1/1/13; this is #201)
    • 25: Blog posts published in 2012
    • 0: Months in 2012 in which I didn’t post at least one blog entry
    • 1: Months in the last five years in which I didn’t post at least one blog entry (damn you, November 2008!)

In 2013, I’d like to keep track of these:

as well as whatever else happens to catch my fancy.  What numbers were important to you in 2012?