It was April 14, 1993 — a Wednesday. I was 17. My sister was 19 and was a student at Wash U in St. Louis, Missouri. I was probably a month away from high school graduation. I’d already confirmed I’d be going to Tulane University in the Fall.

So, I lied. And so did my sister and my parents. I needed to be absent from school for a few days to go ‘check out Wash U.’

“Doesn’t your sister go there,” my principal asked, his eyebrow raised. “And aren’t you going to Tulane in the fall?” Both true. I lied.

Part 3 (this follows Part 2 here

In those first few moments we had done a lot of behind-the-scenes work. You see, in those first moments there is a special opportunity. That is when we either reconcile ourselves to ‘the ways things are expected to be done’ or we commit to doing it differently: we are either complicit or we insist on change.

So, my opportunity in those first moments of class started with catching them off-guard, surprising them and (at least for a few moments) flipping the dynamic. That made everyone curious, naturally — they had no idea…

Storytelling matters, to state the obvious. But storytelling in the context of teaching and learning might matter more than we acknowledge.

What do you remember: the things you memorized a day before an exam, or the things that were contextualized in a moment, in a larger narrative of exploration, discovery, and epiphany? You can already sniff my bias here, obviously. Here are a few moments this played out:

  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as written by Jourdain Searles, is the story of black masculine pain. And it is told in such a deep, cutting way. The stories of scarring trauma are…

This follows Part 1 that appears here:

All of the details mattered: the door I entered, the hoodie sweatshirt I was wearing, my nervousness, my first time on campus and in this room, that split second first impression — this is the context in which we all began something. There were slightly more than 20 of us.

The students weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. As we dove into a conversation about the way the classroom was structured, I could tell they were uneasy with this new perspective, and they seemed unsure what to do with…

Part 1

I was nervous. It was the first day of class. I dutifully got there 15 minutes early and sat outside the classroom — thinking of just how to make a good first impression while feeling my heart beat hard in my chest.

The class was scheduled to start at 7. I slowly entered the room from the rear door (there was also one at the front of the room. I avoided it, intentionally.). I sat quietly in a chair in the back and watched, alone. I was wearing my “good” hoodie sweatshirt, it’s possible I just seemed an older version…

Do we cancel? Should we go anyway? Should we cancel in-person classes? Should we go online? Should we go into the office? Should we encourage remote work? How many people together is too many? Is it time to be deciders? How will we know when it’s the right time to decide? Who will decide??

person holding globe paperweight in their hand
person holding globe paperweight in their hand
Photo by Fernando @dearferdo on Unsplash

It’s a difficult time. No one wants to make the wrong decision, no one wants to be unpopular. I think many of us don’t want to look silly, overly alarmed or dramatic… that is the short vision.

And the medium vision is feeling pressure from other…

So, I want to tell a story of a pretty pivotal moment in my life. I went to University in ‘the city that care forgot’. I knew next to nothing about the place, but I knew that in March, when my hometown in Missouri was a mix of mud and snow and filth, the magnolias and the jasmine were blooming in New Orleans and it smelled amazing. So, I followed my nose…

The city felt like magic…

I spent most of my time with the misfits, the outsiders… and if you saw my OpenEd ’18 keynote, much of my time…

and be ok.

The Last Question

Yours was the last question, Johnathan. You said, “how do you not burnout? How are you still doing this work? So many of the people I’ve known doing this work have burned out…”

and I didn’t quite know what to say.

The following flashed through my mind:

  • I don’t suffer
  • I am not a victim
  • I have enormous privilege
  • I’m flexible
  • I love messy stuff

And instead I answered with an anecdote that I thought might cover some of this. I explained that first thing that morning I stopped by my duck coop to pick up some…

What else are we missing?

I’d never heard of it — zipper merge? That is, I’d never heard of it, or seen it until I moved to Canada.

I grew up in the USA Midwest, where a driver’s license is a right of passage. 15 permit, 16 freedom. My classrooms were, first, driving around in our fields in my dad’s beat up old Chevy truck (yes, very country), then advancing to the back country roads with a manual transmission that dared me to downshift on the uphills.

And when I made my way to the highways I learned the mores of passing, signalling, and of…

(how we misuse both) (Part 1 of 2)

Open, open source, open education, open data, open science, open access, open open open. Are you open? How will you know? What is Open? Is there nuance in Open?

Inclusive spaces, inclusive conversation, inclusive language, inclusive design, inclusive culture. Are you inclusive? How will you know? What is Inclusive?

The good news is that we know what questions to ask. The bad news (I’d argue opportunity for deeper inquiry) is that there are no fixed or absolute answers.

An image of a number of doors to choose from.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines open as any number of the following:

  • not closed or fastened
  • ready to be used or ready to…

Jess Mitchell

I'm just Jess.

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