“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” — Brené Brown
I’ve been on a blogging hiatus. It has been awhile since I’ve written a blog post, and I’ve been pondering why that is. Being busy and having this platform not rank as high as it could and should in the academic hierarchy of work-related tasks is likely part of it. Someone who is not a blogger, but who knows me pretty well, recently suggested to me that blogging seems like a very public ‘personal’ forum and I probably don’t just jump in on a regular basis because I’m a bit of an introvert at my core and shy to boot. Maybe. But I think there’s a little more to it than what either of those easy explanations proffer up.
The weird thing about my self-imposed hiatus is that I like this platform for engagement and exploration. I really do. I actually enjoy blogging, and when I give myself permission to go enjoy myself and do it, to go for a blog, so to speak, it feels good. It feels authentic and useful and important to do. And, oddly, that feeling is not necessarily based on the response the blog does or does not generate. The act of blogging itself, of discovery, of reflection, of engagement, of narrating and curating and sharing is empowering and interesting.
While I don’t know all of what might be behind sporadic or hesitant blogging for academics, I have a hunch that it has to do with being present and vulnerable and open and excited and passionate, and that, sadly, those are qualities we seem to become self-conscious about sharing as we become enmeshed within our academic identities. It’s as if we somehow learn that controlled and contained intellectual pursuits (and even intellectual posturing) are more valuable. In many of our institutional forums and arenas it seems that a well-groomed penchant for sharp-tongued critique and criticism alone inform the de rigueur posture of an academic. (I have too many colleagues who might be much more comfortable with the form and content of that last sentence than with the form and content of blogging, and that troubles me. It is the fear and loathing of blogging that perplexes me the most.) I guess we worry that we may be perceived as weak or as an amateur or a neophyte if we share our excitement about ideas, our passion for our areas of inquiry (whether old or newly stumbled upon), our delight about teaching and learning with colleagues (young or old), our curiosity. If we are too worried about that exposure or that misperception, we won’t let our uniquely individual and interesting intellects and authentic voices out for a walk, or a blog, in the hallways of academe.
Yet those are the very qualities required of anyone who is being (or in the process of becoming) an active and engaged participant in learning, discovery, and engagement. An open curiosity and an excited focus on, and excitable delight in, the adventure of discovery are exactly what should be driving our critical engagement with our research, our teaching, and all of our learning whatever our academic position, whether undergrad or grad student, faculty, staff, or administrator.
There are many ways to be curious and engaged in the process of learning and discovery, and I think blogging is one of them. It encourages a voice less staid and formal than those we use in other formats–the academic journal, or the term paper, for example. It practically begs us to celebrate the first person pronoun, rather than erase it from our prose. At our best, blogging requires of us ‘being present’ and authentic. I think the blogging platform challenges all of us to be inquisitive and vulnerable–not a vulnerability that is borne from feeling like a victim, but rather the kind of vulnerability that Brené Brown suggests comes from an awareness of our strength. That is the place of openness from which innovation and creativity and change can emerge. Blogging that welcomes and explores innovation and insight can, I think, impact the power of our academic voices in other formats in a good way. Academe should be encouraging more of it from all of us–students and faculty, alike.
So, I have been reinspired to reenter my blog space and narrate, curate, share. I have been inspired by all of the HRCuleans who are blogging their hearts and minds. I get to learn from them on a regular basis. One delightful first-year student with the wisdom, insight, and courage of someone four times her age ‘schools’ me each time I read one of her posts. Her treatise on learning embedded within her most recent post does so in the most generous and encouraging of ways for all of her readers. I am also continually inspired by former GEDIs, who are blogging with the compassion and openness and creative exploration that inform, teach, and role model what critical engagement and critically engaged optimism in blogging can do. I am also inspired by the current GEDIs who are blogging, all of ‘em. I am inspired by all of them because they are challenging themselves to step outside of their comfort zone to see what else they can discover. And, in particular, I am inspired by those who are exploring and blogging with an open curiosity and are exhibiting what I’d call the strength from which true vulnerability is always an asset and never a liability.
On a recent dive into the GEDI blogs, I stumbled upon a wonderfully powerful entry on vulnerability—it was open, inquisitive, and pondering if we in academe mask our vulnerabilities because of a fear of failure, and how messed up that is because we need to learn from failure, not be afraid of it. And at the end of the post is a link to one of my fave TED talks, and I got excited and celebratory and it made me “simply pause” and take my feet off the pedals indeed and glide for a moment on the idea of it. Wow. And, then a post that reminded me, and all of us who teach, not to participate in the negative banter we too often hear about student motivation. It made me think about how the dynamic we set in our own classroom determines so much about what kind of learning does or does not go on in those environments. Rather than lament what seems too hard or too difficult to tackle, or fixate on binaries, so many of our posts focus on discovering better methods. Not all pedagogical approaches work for everyone, of course, and we are reminded to be critically engaged as we choose our pedagogical praxis in any context. Some approaches may be newfangled. Some approaches may work as an effective creative innovation in another course or learning context. Flexibility is key here, as is recognition that our choices and decisions for engaging learners should be guided both by the specific contexts/courses in which we teach and our own comfort level with our pedagogy. Encouraging our students to “actively engage and seek knowledge/wonder” and understanding that perhaps we need to be willing to be temporarily uncomfortable in order to figure out what our next best pedagogical steps might be make me optimistic about the continual evolution and upward progress of teaching and learning in the 21st century. Today’s most recent post brings up Stephen Shapiro and Sir Ken to ask me to think about stress and creativity, as well as to remind me that one of the productive ways to engage with blogging is to remember that it can “allow for a creative cultivation.”
Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right. This is the kind of platform that allows for a kind of Freirean critical hope and critically engaged optimism that can foster effective change. It allows for the kind of optimistic, forward-looking, problem-solving engagement of hearts and minds that John Boswell’s remix of TED 2012 captures for me. I think a critically engaged optimism and strength are crucial for exploring how our ideas can help higher education remain one of the “birthplace[s] of innovation, creativity, and change.”
Thank you, GEDIs, for inspiring me to reboot and reenter the blogosphere. You are all full of the “wonder, insight, ideas” that will continue to invent and reinvent the new academy of the 21st century.