In my Master’s program, there was no formal annual review process.
Broadly speaking, my first year was dedicated to supporting Black teachers’ instruction; developing curricula, planning professional developments, being around their schools and learning bits of educational psychology theory along the way.
In my second year, because everything was swirling in my brain with no real structure, I struggled miserably to synthesize the literature, make sense of my data and thoughts AND write a thesis. In hindsight, I wish there had been a review process in my first year. Some type of formal process to explicitly review all the skills I was learning and refining, and then modify or refine my research interests before embarking on another season of research.
Coming into my PhD program, I knew the annual review process was pretty standard. One of those things people call a “big deal” while trying to convince you that it’s really not that big of a deal, ya know?
In my program, the annual review or preliminary exam is a portfolio of exemplar writing samples from coursework, summaries of teaching and research assistantships experiences and a series of questions about strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments and future plans.
All year the annual review or preliminary examination was largely talked about as a distant benchmark; but, as the end of spring semester approached, it felt like an unwanted self-assessment.
Although I doubted my committee would scrutinize my year-in-review as harshly as I would, it was hard to remember a year of experiences with the last nine weeks of Rona shrouding a nine months worth of memories.
As writing and grading papers turned into editing my CV, and skimming Finder for Fall 2019 assignments with professor feedback, I realized that the most profound or inspiring moments and interactions this year would not be captured in the annual review. The annual review did not ask about or attend to my mental and physical health. It would not capture my inconsistency around In Her Lane or how fulfilling and aspiring intimate check-ins with Black faculty were this year.
In other words, my program’s criteria for in annual review was not holistic enough to critically assess myself as a woman, graduate researcher, teaching assistant, daughter, friend and blogger. For this reason I wanted to pose and share questions that may be worth reviewing as we close out this past semester/season and continue to walk into the next. I also wanted to briefly respond to them and invite you into my reflection.
1. What promises were revealed to you this year?
When I decided to move to Michigan to begin at Michigan State University, I had no idea what would be revealed to me in terms of personal growth, my research or the communities in which I would find belonging. Deep inside I knew the desires of my heart, but of course it was a mystery which ones would be attended to.
Here are a few of my favorites:
I turned 26 and was able to celebrate with my mom and sisters. I applied for and received a summer fellowship that will allow me to explore my own research this summer. I discovered that I did not like the particular research project I was working on and after advocacy and patience was moved to another. I prayed and asked for new and creative ways to talk about my research and I have been invited to do two webinars. I launched a blog and published a book. I learned that I can uproot my life and bloom wherever I am planted.
2. What/who supported you this year or had a significant impact on your experience?
I was blessed to enter grad school with an all-women cohort. For me, having a cohort to ask questions to, to vent to, be frustrated with, to celebrate with was invaluable to getting through this first year. In particular, Harmony and Madison were my backbone -- shoutout to them for understanding me without requiring me to over-explain myself.
In addition, my dire need for connection led me back to myself and God this year and towards exploring my spirituality. I plan to go into more detail about this later, but knowing that I was yearning for an indescribable connection had a significant impact on how I thought about and navigated through this academic year.
3. What challenges did you face this year? What limiting beliefs held you back?
“Inconsistency is a form of disbelief.” I love this tweet by Mattie James. In a nutshell, I struggled with consistency this year and much of it had to do with the limiting beliefs I held about asking for help, being a procrastinator and unfortunately believing that my work and creativity were not good enough. I can see how this statement not only applied to my coursework and research efforts, but also when it came to starting and promoting The Write Playlist.
4. How did your research interests evolve this year?
This year I explored the literature on ‘belonging’ -- What does it mean for Black students to belong in school and out of school learning environments? How do teachers and instructors support Black students’ sense of belonging? Growing forward, I am interested in studying the process in which Black teachers deconstruct and construct meaning to the word and how they support variation in students’ sense of belonging. This semester I also learned a great deal about educational technology and amid this pandemic, I have growing questions about how Black teachers are supporting the motivation of their students via online learning.
5. What are your new goals? What strategies and/or resources have you identified to support you in achieving these goals?
We all take different approaches to goal setting. This summer I have three research goals, one business goal and one personal goal. In hindsight, do I recommend five goals? No. But it’s also important to create goals that speak to different aspects of yourself.
Research-wise, my goal is to develop a classroom observation protocol with one of my colleagues (based on my summer funding), finish writing a qualitative paper about design-based research with another colleague and begin to write an academic book chapter with one of my advisors and another colleague. Whew!
Related to business, my goal is to rebrand In Her Lane this summer and expand to a platform that will allow me to dig into theory + real life more profoundly. Lastly, my personal goal is to take more pictures (short, sweet and practical)!
Honestly, for each question I could probably write paragraphs about the lessons learned in this academic year. By no means were these brief responses supposed to dig into the fullest of these questions, but hopefully they present the opportunity to think about the year as more than a period to get things done and yourself as more than a do-er.
You probably noticed that in my response to the fifth question, I decided to list my goals and come back to the strategies part for later. Super intentional. The annual review is about the reflection. How are you checking in with yourself?
In a later post, we can move into the prioritizing, planning and preparing to work towards our next set of goals.
Until next time,