Inspiration and motivation for reflection, reevaluation, and assessment can come from anything. Personally, I find the out-of-nowhere and seemingly random opportunities for reflection to be the most valuable. Something seemingly so unconnected can really get me thinking.
A meme. A one-off conversation. Or, maybe, an episode of a horror show is all that’s needed to inspire and kick start some reflection on, say, the mission, values, and work of a writing center program.
A few weeks ago I was watching an episode of the Roanoke season of American Horror Story. It’s not the best season, but Roanoke takes a novel and intriguing approach to the show itself. It holds true to the horror conventions, but it also turns those conventions on themselves and twists and turns to break conventions loose. After that episode, midway through the season, I was thinking wow that was good, but was it actually effective for this season?
Then I got a bit teacher-level nerdy and thought some more.
I won’t go too in-depth with my nerdom, but I was thinking that given what that episode reveals and what I think they want us to learn through it, things could have been done more effectively. I didn’t feel like the process to the revelation was right. Something was off. So of course I spent all night thinking about what could’ve been better. But hey, I’m not a writer or director or producer for AHS; what do I know?
I am, however, the coordinator of the Collaborative for Multilingual Writing and Research (CMWR), and there I saw a connection.
Flash forward two weeks as I’m sitting in my office having a conversation with Kate, my fellow CMWR team member. We talked about what the CMWR should be doing and what our goals should be. While those goals and values are not quite related to the goals and values of American Horror Story, the connection is still there. I see something really good. We facilitate good programming to provide good opportunities for learning. But why not try and make something good even better? Why not reevaluate the process of fulfilling our team’s mission? I want to make sure our process to achieve our goals is the most effective one for our participants.
So I put the team to work. We started with our values, having a productive conversation and reevaluation. What do we truly value? We picked apart literacy to decide what it means in our context, and whether or not it is the best representation of one of our core values. Over the next few team meetings we will continue to work through our values, mission, and the what and how of our events. With backward design in mind (first thinking of our end goals and then working backward from the mission to the individual instances of events), the team will continue to reflect and reevaluate. What should the CMWR mission and core values be? And why? How then do those dictate and guide what we do and then how we do it? We will continue to consider our participants, place within the university, values, and goals along the way.
While we don’t yet have formal revisions to propose to our director, I am incredibly excited to continue these conversations and challenge ourselves to reevaluate and revise our work. I am really excited for this process. As a team that does a lot of events and collaboration with other programs and departments, it can be easy to get comfortable in a groove and just continue on the path of least resistance. But as demographics and needs change, our mission, goals, and values should change too.
What really excites me about the process is the collaborative nature of it. Rather than me, the coordinator working on it alone, we are doing this as a team. I now realize that over the last few years, a lot of this kind of work was saved for summer, when I had more time to dig into the CMWR’s work and try to improve it. But that’s also a time when my team members aren’t there, so it becomes one-sided—my ideas on what we should do and value. Just after this one meeting though, I have so many more thoughts and perspectives from my team members—they really are the brains of the team—and I feel so much more confident in the direction of our work. I mean, after all, collaborative is the first word in our team’s name. It’d be pretty silly if this process wasn’t.
So while our new approach may not involve horror and fear, we can thank American Horror Story for that random reflective moment.