We’re small; the job is huge

I’m at the end of holidays, so permit me to get a little whimsical. I don’t blog about my thoughts often, so don’t be shocked.

I’m sitting in my circa 1923 living/dining room admiring the work my family and I did this summer. It all started when we moved of the furniture into the sunroom and refinished the floors. That was the entire plan.  But hey, the floors looked great and the walls were kind of…awful…by comparison.  So we hired a professional painter who could deal with our crown moulding.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention we also sold our dining room furniture.  We replaced it last weekend and I assembled it last night. I’ll know I’m wealthy when I buy furniture I don’t have to assemble. Then there was the deck, and the family room, and the colour of the kitchen.  You know what happened next.

Then I do a 180, and I see our magnificent back yard and garden.  Wonderful.  Really, an oasis I often use to decompress from a department meeting or something unpleasant from my Dean.

But here’s the point:  it’s wonderful, but it is so small.  I take great comfort in puttering around in my own small family environment.  We plant, we transplant, we manicure, and we fertilize.  We even talk to a few of the plants, and nearly every evening we do grand rounds in our little plastic shoes to visit with our perennials and veggies.

And similarly, I so often feel like I make such a small difference in my own professional environment. I build a course. I help move a program.  I do my best to reach out to students. I slave over discussion boards and the kinds of things so many of my colleagues think don’t matter.  I worry about the design of my courses.  I get concerned about the quality of the experience my distance students are having compared to the students in front of me. I lose sleep the night before my student defends a thesis — every time.  I fret over the last draft of a paper submitted for publication, and I die a little when I see a typo in the first paragraph — my fault, not theirs.

All of it is so small.  And all of it is so wonderful. I regularly mention to anyone who will listen that I have the best job in the world. I get paid to chase ideas I think are significant, and share and argue about them with anyone who will listen.

Yes, it is small, but I don’t think it is insignificant. I admire the people who move, or try to move, nations — Mandela, Kennedy, Trudeau, Obama, Gandhi, Suzuki (go ahead, make your own list). But just as much, I admire the people who are moving big ideas — Rheingold, Couros, Wiley, Siemens, Downes,  But here’s the point again:  I’m proud to be a member of a legion of other people, a chorus of voices, who believe in moving nations and ideas, and who are willing to jump into the yoke to help move everything forward. I encounter so many positive people who care about making a difference. These same people create ideas, motivate change.  These are the folks who blow me away, and I’m proud to be in their number. We’re comparatively small in stature but greater in number, and we small make a difference.  Each of us contributes.  We really do. And isn’t it a wonderful place to reside?

There’s change happening, and it’s finally happening because the numbers are shifting. We are becoming the majority.  What will we do with that responsibility when we finally have it?  Most groups drop the ball.  Will we? I don’t think so. I know you.


16 thoughts on “We’re small; the job is huge

  1. It’s so easy for me to be overwhelmed by the ‘hugeness’ of the job ahead — but then I remember that I’m in leagues with people like you, and it doesn’t feel quite as daunting.

    Thanks for these thoughts! I’ll need to remember ’em during the doldrums of the impending fall term.

  2. This description of your home magically transported me to the memory of being there a year ago – it so much fits who you are. You may feel small but your spirit is huge. Thanks for the uplifting message- more small!

  3. The big ideas are good and necessary, and those who champion them important, but the big ideas often require a great many things to change before they can be realized, and that often takes time.

    In the mean time there’s a myriad of things we can do to make a difference right now: today, this week; this term. When we make a positive difference for our own students (and colleagues), it creates ripples that can spread very far. Sometimes the ripples get bigger as they spread.

    When I was at the Education Arcade (about games in education) in L.A. in 2004 there was much discussion about what was wrong with formal education and what needed to happen to fix it. There were many big idea people there who, of course, had many fantastic ideas, but there was one comment that keeps coming back to me again and again. It was the one made by Marc Prensky, who stood up several times and said (paraphrasing), “What can I do right now to help make this happen?”

    This really resonated with me and it has shaped how I approach trying to effect change. Change, especially in formal education, happens through small steps, and it’s significant.

  4. I love the metaphor of ripples that grow and spread. It’s true; we probably never get to see the good things that happen as a result of something we did or said, sometimes in passing. I’m moved by the times when a note arrives from a student from 20 years ago who mentions something that was meaningful for them, and while I always remember the student, I seldom remember having done what they say. I wonder if Marc remembers his comment at the Education Arcade? Maybe, but I’ll bet he’d be surprised to learn that his idea stuck with you for eight years (and counting).

  5. So eloquent, Rick. I really miss your wisdom and philosophizin’! But this post reminded me again of two things I have always carried with me from my time with you: “the devil is in the details”, and “sometimes it’s just about getting things done”. In my experience, both couldn’t be more true in the real world, as is your observation that we will never drop the ball.

  6. I just read this and am struck by what seems to be you saying that what you do is small, but then you get to the significant part, so now I feel better. So much of where I am in my life right now is because of you. I had never heard of instructional design until I met you. You introduced me to Alec and Dean and Rob. Every former student of yours that I’ve ever spoken with speaks of you with reverence and passes on all they can to anyone who will listen.

    Please, please blog more.

    Oh, and Wenona just called me “weirdly cute” as I explained my reverence for you.

    • Ha! You are definitely weirdly cute! 🙂 Yeh, sorry for the bait and switch message. The writer in me was really just going for the “great things in humble contexts” idea. And what we do is monumentally important–or has the potential to be. Thanks for the kindness — it’s fun sitting back and thinking about all the great things you and others do!

  7. You look at your garden and it drives you to philosophical thinking. I look at my garden and see work-and that work seems big not small. (although the end result of my labor I agree is quite small) It’s wonderful to have people in this world, like you, that really want to make a difference. For me, I’m going to go cut about five acres of grass today. In the big picture, it really won’t matter, but maybe it will make my neighbor jealous. Your brother

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