chronically ch(ill) – diversity as a spoonie

FUN FACT: you cannot be inclusive if you’re ignoring the invisible

I think about inclusivity often, but maybe not in the way that people would assume. Visually, I appear to be a completely healthy, happy, active person with a lot of privileges, but I have a secret struggle that I will touch on in a bit- I’m a spoonie. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that- but first, let’s cover the basics of the inclusivity discussion.

Diversity and Inclusion is important to me for many reasons- as an empath, I tend to feel what others are feeling, so a passion for social justice was inevitable. As a woman, I am passionate about advocating for my rights and equality in the workplace. As an individual in an interracial relationship, I have had conversations about how my children will have a different life growing up than I did, simply because of the fact that they will be biracial.  As future professors, we need to address topics related to diversity head on with compassion and the ability to step back and listen to those with different experiences. How do we address white privilege? How can we be inclusive to nontraditional students? How can we better include international students? Students from different socioeconomic backgrounds? Students who are non-binary? We have spoken before about intersectionality before, but while race, gender, and sexuality seem to be at the forefront of this discussion, I think inclusivity ranges far beyond these topics.

Let me ask you a question:
How often do you think about being able bodied?

“The Spoon Theory” was created by a woman named Christine Miserandino in an attempt to help explain to an able-bodied person what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. Imagine that every day, you wake up with an unlimited amount of spoons. Throughout the day, you use these spoonfuls of energy to do various tasks, and the next day you wake up with the same unlimited amount. People with chronic illness have a limited number of spoons, so they have to decide how they will spend those spoons every day, and what goes on the cutting board. Here is a little graphic to help explain to my visual learners!

I am an individual with an invisible chronic illness. I have a form of dysautonomia, an autonomic nervous system disorder that causes my heart rate to skyrocket and my blood pressure to plummet in response to triggers. These triggers range from severe pain, to stress, to simply standing up too fast- my heart starts pounding and my face turns white and WOOPS I am unconscious on the floor, sometimes with some very unattractive muscle contractions. I deal with severe migraines, chronic fatigue, disordered sleep, joint pain, gastrointestinal problems, brain fog, anxiety, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction all on a daily basis.  Basically, the more stressed I get, the sicker I become, and nobody can tell.My cabinet at home looks like a pharmacy. Living with an invisible illness brings with it its own set of issues (if you’re interested, NPR did a great write up about this).

In the classroom, I have to navigate lectures while dealing with fatigue and having to elevate my legs to keep conscious. If you just looked at me, you’d never know that I am not completely able bodied, which has led to professors thinking I’m just lazy or being difficult. Dysautonomia International even has a guide on classroom accommodations for individuals with this disorder. However, when I’ve told professors in the past, I am often met with skepticism, concern, and even exasperation. This past week, in fact, I had a professor tell me that having me in class on a really bad pain day is distracting, because “sometimes you put your head down on the desk because of the pain”. Also, sometimes chronic illness can ebb and flow, with some weeks much better than others. Then, you deal with the “so you’re all better now?” comments. Accommodating me, it seems, is more of a headache than the chronic migraines that keep me in bed for two days with a bag of frozen veggies on my head!

my constant dilemma

In considering inclusive pedagogy, I think we need to start inviting individuals with chronic illness and invisible illness into the conversation. Being inclusive means being accommodating, and understanding, and not dismissive toward people who are facing a private struggle. Just because you can’t see the pain and discomfort I am in, does not mean that it’s not there and making my educational journey more difficult. Let’s start having these uncomfortable conversations about racism, sexism, and ablism. It is only through open, honest communication that we can learn from one another and develop a more intersectional, diverse classroom where everyone has the same access.

Week 4 – Anti-Teaching / Mindful Learning

When I first got the syllabus for this class, I remember reading over the readings for each week and mentally putting a star by this one. In my own life, mindfulness has been such a beneficial resource for my own mental health, physical health, and education. While the word itself may make you think of something like this TED talk, the truth I have learned is that “mindfulness” can be applied to every part of your life- including teaching and learning. As the A New Culture of Learning reading pointed out, we must be aware and utilize the various “motivations for learning across generations, platforms, purposes, and goals” (p. 31). 

I would make the argument that simply “going through the motions” is potentially dangerous to education. While it is true that repetition is important to mastering a skill (we have all grown up hearing “practice makes perfect!), if we are not being intentional about our actions and choices, are we really learning? We have all been out driving to work or class and then realized we just kind of “showed up” where we were headed- how dangerous is this to our driving! Processing information with intention is so important to safety and growth.

I liked how the “Mindful Learning” reading pointed out that teachers have the ability to take large quantities of information and turn it into bite-sized pieces. In my own experience, I can confirm that sometimes it is hard to get students to focus when there is so much information stuffed into one semester. Once you lose the attention of your students, what is the point of continuing to lecture to a dead room?


Here are some of my resulting questions this week:

  • How could mindful learning improve your classroom as a teacher?
  • How could mindful learning improve your classroom from the perspective of a student?
  • What does mindfulness look like to you?

Week 3 – Engaging the Imaginations of Digital Learners

In thinking about how the field of communication can participate in the conversation about digital learners, I feel that the discipline is positioned to be a pioneer in education for the digital age.

I am a media scholar. In laymen terms, I research how media (from videos, to photos, to writings) impact the lives and identities of individuals and their overarching societal culture. Take for instance what classrooms look like- thirty years ago, people were taking notes by hand and attendance to lectures was necessary to succeed. Nowadays, as discussed in class, we are living in an age where information is instantly available and readily shared. The very culture of higher education is changing, shifting, trying to reflect the lives of the students they serve.

I feel the need, at this point, to point out that sentence again. The very culture of higher education is changing, shifting, trying to reflect the lives of the students they serve. I personally struggle with the “research first, students second” approach I have noticed at various universities. Of course, research is an integral part of education and vital to the growth of academic disciplines. However, if we are ignoring our students’ needs, their specific path to success, just in order for academics to pump out research, I think we are failing as educators in higher education.

We mentioned that there is no blanket statement, so clear one-size-fits-all way of teaching students today. However, I would argue that the same applied to students thirty years ago, and will continue to be true thirty years in the future. Students are ever-evolving, adapting to technological advances in society that inevitable impact the way they learn. I think it is vital for educators to take these advancements and changes into consideration and try to apply them in the classroom.

Take communication research, for example. Performative studies can be applied to the way people perform their identities online, so we should be integrating those points into our lectures. We should encourage students to apply concepts to their own lives- their actual, complex, messy lives!

The Talbert article (“Four Things Lecture is Good For“) really stood out to me, particularly how “information transfer” was not on the list. Rather, there is an emphasis on teachers performing their research, engaging students and connecting. I specifically loved the section about telling stories- in communication studies, we are very aware of how narratives shape our sense of reality and help us to connect with one another. Therefore, I think other disciplines can apply their own stories to lectures, offering students an opportunity to connect to their professors deeper. After all, a student who is thriving in their imagination and passions is more likely to be engaged and thrive in your class.

Week 2 – Networked Learning – GEDI

In taking this class, I am hoping to achieve three main goals.

1) to develop a clearer understanding of teaching pedagogy
2) to create a portfolio of works I can utilize in the future
3) to grow in my journey as a student and an educator

This week’s readings have gotten me off on the right foot, I believe, by giving me a look into what the future of education may entail. If you had told me ten years ago that blogging and online presences would be the face of higher education, I would probably laugh and readjust my dial-up connection. And yet, here we are! The advancements that have been made in networked learning just in the span of time when I was as an undergrad to now as a graduate student is astounding.

I especially appreciated the emphasis on using online resources and technology as “experiential” learning, as a way of knowing by doing. The Campbell reading suggested “the experience of building and participating within a digitally mediated network of discovery is itself a form of experiential learning“, and that really struck me. After all, isn’t the point of teaching to help others develop an understanding of a subject? Why, then, shouldn’t we encourage our students and colleagues to extend our learning to online communities and outlets?

In utilizing resources like Twitter and encouraging students to blog, I think we can extend knowledge to the online classroom. With so many of us getting our daily news fix from social media, it makes sense to create an online presence that is focused on furthering academic ideals, rather than simply social ones. I for one am excited to see where our advancements take us, but also hope that the importance of face-to-face education is never doubted.

May we all be like Baby George, excited to fail in order to get that one step closer to succeeding.