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First Steps

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A baby taking a step
The First Step

This week I began the first class for an Ed.S. in Educational Technology and Learning Engineering. As I sit here reflecting on the past six days of this first week, I'm finding it difficult to label my thoughts and feelings. It's not because I feel overwhelmed. That would be easy to label. What I feel right now is something different, but equally flustering.


The metaphor I keep circling around is that I feel like a child that's just learning to take her first steps. I see that the places I want to travel in my academic and professional career are just outside my current reach, and I feel every muscle in my body straining to get there. I feel this urgency to run. But I also feel the awkwardness of standing on shaky legs as I step outside my comfort zone and risk falling.


I'm trying to remind myself that each wobbly step I take is making me stronger and better. This fear, uncertainty, and doubt will pass. A day will come when the awkwardness will disappear and I'll be grounded and confident again.


Hopefully.


For now, I'm going to continue putting one foot in front of the other and trusting this process.


Each week, I'll reflect on what I've learned, struggled with, overcome, and changed. It's my hope this practice will remind me to enjoy the journey.


Key Things I've Learned


Students reading and taking notes
Lessons Learned

There are three things that stand out from my first week of study, including:

  1. It is vital for a professional educator to have a digital presence;

  2. A Professional Learning Network (PLN) can benefit an educator; and

  3. Project-based learning with real-world products is powerful.

The Power of a Digital Presence

I'm not sure why I had not realized the importance of a digital presence for educators. I had certainly recognized its importance in other fields.


In grad school, we were encouraged to create a digital resume to serve as our professional calling card. I didn't see much value in it at the time. Most job applications required a traditional resume, so I quickly lost motivation to keep it updated after graduation. Instead, I kept a free site for work samples, and eventually took the resume site down.


But this week, I discovered a digital portfolio could be much more than a collection of work samples or a resume. If I allow, it can be a statement of who I am professionally and personally. I can include professional accomplishments and personal philosophies. It can serve as resume, portfolio, brand manager, life and work journal, and connection builder.


I'm most excited about building this site so I can represent myself and my professional passions and discoveries in the manner I choose. I'm not limited here to a character count (as the length of this post demonstrates). I can use media where and how I want. I'm in complete control of this presentation to the world. Though it is daunting, it's also inspiring my expressiveness.


The Power of a PLN

I knew a lot of professionals used social media to make connections, but until this week, I didn't know there was a name for this network or that there was research on the subject. This week I learned I already had the beginnings of a PLN through my LinkedIn account.


I started the LinkedIn account years ago to keep connected to people for professional reasons. I rarely posted anything. I rarely messaged anyone through the app. I mostly just linked to it on my resume and tried to keep the experiences and skills up to date. In retrospect, I primarily used it as a "looking for work" sign, or digital resume.


A curriculum vitae
Looking for Work


This week I've learned that investing time into building a vibrant PLN can help me create a network of people that share and challenge my interests. I don't think twice that I stay connected with friends and family through social media, but I previously felt it was somehow irresponsible to do that professionally in any kind of public way. I'm not sure why.


I think my reluctance to interact professionally in that way may be related to stories I've heard about employers making hiring and firing decisions based on employees' digital presences. I also have a habit of being very certain about ideas and beliefs for a time, and then later discovering I'm mistaken or I have changed my mind in some way. I resisted creating a professional trail of these kinds of transitions. I guess I was afraid it would make me look unpolished somehow.


While there are some legitimate concerns about how a digital presence may affect my career prospects, I'm more challenged at this point to find the place in this world where I truly belong. Do I want to work for an organization that would fire me because something I said challenged their ideas? Probably not. Do I want to work for an organization that can't value that I have grown over time and matured in my behavior, interactions, and beliefs? Definitely not.


So, I'm going to step way outside my comfort zone and have faith that building a vivid and genuine digital presence and sharing myself and my ideas with others in a network of passionate professionals is going to ultimately be a positive experience.


The Power of Project-Based Learning

There are some things you learn about, talk about, practice, and even champion, yet still don't fully grasp until you experience it firsthand. Project-based learning is an example of that for me.


As an instructional designer, I knew about the research of its effectiveness. I coached others to use it as a strategy. But my own attempts to incorporate it into training lessons was lacking something.


I discovered the missing link this week.


The course I'm currently taking is a project-based course. Every week we are tasked with producing real things that will be beneficial beyond this program. This week, it's this site, this blog, and the start of a PLN.


What I didn't realize until I experienced it firsthand, is the motivation I get to fully experience these activities that I know are going to benefit me far beyond this course. This site may help me land a job or promotion, or meet a professional that inspires a whole new direction in my career. My blog posts might inspire others to take their first steps down a similar journey. Minimally, having one place to hold and share a record of my professional journey feels akin to creating a living autobiography. The writer in me is already composing the Final Acknowledgements section!


As I added to this site each day this past week, I found myself inspired to find another way to express myself and my career perspectives through this portfolio. As I looked for more connections, I got excited about the relationships waiting on the horizon. I look forward to sharing this, not only with my professor and classmates, but also with colleagues, friends, family, and strangers, alike.


As educators, we have these opportunities to create transformative, magical learning moments through engaging assignments. We get the chance to initiate joy, excitement, passion, and purpose in students. But it starts with understanding where our learners are and what they really need and value. We have to set aside the learning objectives for a moment and think of the learner objectives.


If we let it, project-based learning can provide incredible learner value through tangible products they carry through their life.


Challenges

While I learned several things this week, I also experienced some challenges, including:

  1. Merging my professional and personal identities; and

  2. Defining myself publicly.


Two Faces Become One


Two girls stare at each other
Two Faces

Up until this week, I had kept a clear separation between Jules, the Educator, and Jules, the Individual. It's not that the two are drastically different. Both share the same values, the same overarching goals, the same experiences. But they didn't share the same connections.


As much as I kept my personal life away from my work, I equally kept my work life away from most of my personal connections. I felt both needed that protection from the other, somehow.


This week, when I first read through the projects and discovered I'd be building this network of connections and sharing it publicly, I had to challenge those ideas. What or who was I protecting?


I think part of it was a desire to control the narrative of who I am and the influences that have shaped the professional I am today. My personal connections are varied. Some of these people are deeply involved in shaping and supporting my values. Others are mere acquaintances. Some I would give a kidney. Others I would refuse to give a personal reference.


We all have skeletons, mistakes, or regrets in our past. We all have that crazy relative whose ideologies and behavior are extreme. We have those friends that say embarrassing things or remind us of our own embarrassing moments. And most of us have done our own share of ignorant things. Why did I think a professional image had to distill or filter that complexity? Why did I think my professional persona could not acknowledge my mistakes? Why was I afraid for my colleagues to learn of my personal missteps, or my friends and family to learn of my professional ones?


As an educator, I know the value of failure. I know learning requires confrontation of previously held beliefs. So, I decided for this site I'm going to let go of the division of professional and personal. I choose, instead, to strive for a unification of the two faces of Jules. My hope is that any challenges this may introduce will ultimately serve as opportunities for growth and tolerance of challenging beliefs.


That is the real Jules. That is the person I want everyone to know, both personally and professionally. Those are the values that drive my passions in the field of education.


Me and Not Me

Once I accepted that I was going to merge my professional and personal identities in such a public way, I was confronted with another challenge. How do I express to the world who I am?


Defining myself creates boundaries. Boundaries create separation. Separation is the opposite of connection, which is what I'm trying to build.


I don't like the idea of labels, in general. I feel like we are all such complex beings, it's misleading to label. It creates false connections.


You're an American? I'm an American! Do you know any more about me, or I you? What does being American mean to you? What does it mean to me? Maybe it's the same. Maybe not. The label is never the context. Context is what I value.


And then there's also the reality that we change over time. People that were democrats change to republicans or vice versa. People who were atheists have conversion experiences, and some religious folks become atheists. We are all in a state of flux. Life changes us. Labeling one moment in time doesn't communicate where we've been or where we will end up.


As I pondered all these thoughts, my head began to spin. Whatever I put on this site does not truly define me as long as I am capable of change. I accept that I exist in a world that demands all sorts of labels. I'll try to share the ones that feel most unchanging. I'll probably get some of them wrong. I have to have faith the world can handle that, and so can I.


Changes

This first week has been full of many changes, including:

  • I started a blog;

  • I began networking beyond my circles;

  • I began incorporating more meaningful project-based components in training I develop;

  • I allowed my personal identity to be present in my professional identity;

  • I proclaimed my guiding principles in a professional outlet; and

  • I allowed myself the freedom to fail publicly.


First steps are not always pretty. Sometimes my foot doesn't even make it back to the ground before I fall flat on my behind. I'm going to make mistakes here. Some of them might be embarrassing. Some may even lead to difficult consequences. As many connections as I form, I may also end up alienating some of my current connections.


But each day, I'm going to pick up my foot and take another step.


Then another.


And some day, maybe months or years from now, I'm going to come back to this post and see just how far I've traveled.


To first steps!


A young child walks between two adults, holding their hands.
The Journey Begins

 

All images contained within this post are courtesy of Media from Wix.

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4 Comments


Theresa Henderson
Theresa Henderson
Aug 31, 2023

Jules,

To say that I am captivated, encouraged, and inspired by your first blog writing would be an understatement! You have the unique gift of inviting your followers/readers into your story. I truly believe the Lord is equipping you for something greater! Very well done. Stay close to Jesus, T.H.

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Julie Stoltz
Julie Stoltz
Aug 31, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your kind and supportive words.

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Blondie.crabtree
Aug 28, 2023

I had read this but hearing your voice made it a greater experience.

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Julie Stoltz
Julie Stoltz
Aug 28, 2023
Replying to

I'm so glad to hear that. Thanks for letting me know. I was hoping the message might come across better through my voice.

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