A new focus

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Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the day I quit my job at NHA. I started this blog just a few days later, to mark the beginning of what I had expected to be  crazy year, full of uncertainty but also accomplishment and excitement. I was not disappointed with this year by any means. I did accomplish quite a bit, including proposing, collecting data for, writing, and defending my dissertation. I also taught 4 different classes to nearly 100 different students. I traveled the world and the US– to Germany, Austria, Hungary and to Hawaii, Seattle, and San Diego.

My year has been full of uncertainty at times. I often stressed about whether I was making the right decisions with writing, teaching, or life in general. There were times when I was positive I had made all of the wrong decisions, and times when I felt like everything was falling into place. This will be a topic for another blog post soon, but more uncertain times are ahead, along with more times of accomplishment and excitement. Ultimately, I don’t regret the reason why I started this blog in the first place–quitting NHA.  As I said in my first blog post, I will never forget what NHA did for me to develop my professional career, but leaving there was the best decision I ever made. Now that I’ve had a year of hindsight, I can safely say that working without a net this year was good for me. It was nerve-wracking at times, but ultimately worth it.

I called this year and this blog “The Year of Writing.”  But now what? This blog was about my dissertation journey, and the year of working without a net, but now that year is over.  I think this blog needs a new focus, and possibly a new name. I know that every year of my life will be a year of writing, so should I change the “the” to an “a?” Should I blog about my future projects? Or abandon this all together? I am still unsure of what to do next.

I went out last night to celebrate things– graduation, Mike’s birthday, him finishing the Riverbank Run, the end of a rough semester and the beginning of a great summer of relaxation ahead. We went to our first bar for dinner, and once we were seated, I looked up and saw this sign:

one adventure


I thought this was so fitting for what we were doing there in the first place. Maybe my year of writing (and therefore this blog) has to end so another great adventure can begin? I know I have at least one more blog post left in me, but I might need to find a renewed focus to mark the next great adventure…

The big day is here!

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That’s the what the little counter on the side of this blog says: The big day is here! The countdown to my dissertation defense is over. Yesterday, I officially became a Doctor!

The defense went well I thought. Everything is always bigger in my mind than it is in real life, and this was no exception. I prepared a 25 minute presentation about my study that I tried to cut down to 20-22 minutes each time I practiced it. Anne-Lise wanted me to keep it to 20, so I was trying to be brief and not go into too much detail. I wanted to leave something for them to ask me about. I practiced it a bunch out loud to myself, to my cat, to Mike.  My defense started at 2, and by 1:00 I was restless and ready. Mike & I had driven to campus and I tried to do normal things to keep my mind off it– ran errands around Erickson, checked my email while eating lunch in my office, etc.

In addition to my committee, some colleagues and friends of mine were also there– Gerardo, Yuhan, and Sally. Mike was obviously there too. There was a funny moment when the committee told Mike he could ask questions at the end. He replied, “I will be keeping quiet.”

I started in on my presentation and almost immediately Anne Lise motioned to me that I was talking very fast. At that point, I stopped caring about the 20-25 minute time limit and just talked. Then, it was question time… I didn’t get any questions that I wasn’t expecting, and sometimes the questions were mostly comments about things I could revise. Every person preceded their comments with kinds words about the work I did on the study, which made me feel good. Everyone took their roles:

Cheryl had comments for me that were about the One Hen unit and about what I could do to write about it. She kept referring to idea for future writing, not necessarily revisions. Like, “When you publish articles on this…” etc. Peter had sent me his questions that morning, which was so nice. I had worked on some possible answers on the car ride over. Sure enough, every time he went to ask me a question I knew exactly what I would say. Kyle commented on the things in my paper that I knew he would comment on. At one point, he talked for a long time about Chapter 5 and then said, “Would you like to comment on that?” I was ready for his criticism this time, but it was also very helpful to hear it. Anne-Lise helped me with answers when she felt I needed it. It was strange, but as we were all talking I got NEW ideas about different angles to examine this experience and ideas about different pieces I could write about these data. That’s how I knew it was going well. It felt inspiring to chat about the study with all of them. It felt like the beginning, not the end.

I could help but yell in excitement when Anne-Lise came out of their deliberations to tell me congratulations. After that, it was a whirlwind of hugs, signing forms, and Anne-Lise telling me we would talk later about revisions. After they all left, Mike & I just hugged each other, alone in room 116A. We were both a bit teary-eyed. I have had 4 defenses in that room over 5 years–practicum defense, dissertation proposal defense, ANOTHER dissertation proposal defense, and then this one. After each of the others, I left feeling the weight of all of the work I had left to do, and to be honest, feeling the weight that I still hadn’t quite gotten it right. This time, I felt light as a feather.

We had a mini-celebration with Danny, who defended his dissertation right before mine, up in his advisor’s office. It was nice to cram in there with my friends and toast to our success. Then, we all went to El Azteco and split a few pitchers of margaritas. A last hurrah with my MSU crew. I’m not sure when we’ll all be together on the same day again, sadly.

defense celebration


I am writing this blog post the day after the defense, and I have to admit it feels a bit weird to not have anything to have to do tonight. Or tomorrow. I can take some time, but then I need to contemplate my next move. The big day was here…and now it’s gone.


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Yesterday was the official end of the 2012-2013 school year and the end of 5 years as a student at MSU. I was officially given my “hood” and my PhD degree yesterday as well.

It was an early day as I picked my Dad up around 7 am and I went with him and Mike to Erickson Hall for the ceremony. A bunch of us were herded into the Kiva (which seemed quite small with everyone in there) about 9:30. The Kiva is just a large lecture hall, which made it interesting to squeeze into a little desk with my giant gown on. There ceremony was a bit different than other graduations. There were 13 different PhDs being given out in the College of Ed to nearly 60 people. Each person’s advisor came up to say a little about each person: what their research was about, where they’re heading next, etc.  It was fun to hear about everyone’s dissertations. I was unaware of even what some people in my own program have been studying. Believe it or not, we often talk to each other about our work in general terms unless we’re specifically asked about it. “I’m collecting data now” or “I’m finishing soon…” etc. It was cool to hear about what everyone else has spent working on for this entire year.

When I got up there, Anne-Lise said some nice things about me and my work and a little about my journey. To hear someone else explain it sounds nearly impossible that I even did this. I tried to soak it all in and enjoy the moment they put that hood on my shoulders.



Afterwards, we visited with people upstairs  on the 3rd floor. It was nice to have Anne-Lise meet Mike and my dad. It was definitely like worlds colliding there.  I showed them the board on the 3rd floor where all of the doctoral students’ pictures are and saw my picture that was taken in 2008 on my first day of orientation. My goodness a lot has happened to me since then.

I took Mike & Dad to Crunchy’s afterward to celebrate. It only made sense since that’s my go-to place to unwind after some days at MSU. I will miss those burgers being  just down the street. When I took my dad home, I stuck around a bit to celebrate with my mom, sister, nephew, aunts, and uncles. By the end of the night I was incredibly exhausted.

The big debate is whether or not you can call me Dr. Whitlock now, or if I need to wait until my defense is over on Tuesday. The only problem with graduating yesterday is that I know I still have this major milestone ahead of me (and not to mention, a lot of grading to finish as well). I suppose you can call me Dr. Whitlock but I won’t really feel like it until Tuesday afternoon.

My Baby’s All Grownsed Up

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As of 7 am this morning, I sent my dissertation to my committee. These last 72 hours have been a flurry of revising, editing, and reading this thing over and over and over again. It’s ready, it’s time.

I feel a little bit like a mom sending her kid off to Kindergarten for the first time. The kid is ready, but I am contemplating my own journey of raising her, reminiscing about where the time went, and feeling very anxious that she’ll have a good day, that she’ll be liked by other people, that’ll she’ll make a positive impression… Hitting Send this morning was like watching your child get out of the car in front of the school. Time for little One Hen to make her own way now…

Now, on to preparing for the defense. Only 13 days to go, and there is no time to rest. I am heading to campus today to watch my friend Selena defend her dissertation since I’ve never seen one done.  Best of luck to her! I bet at the point of the defense, she feels like her dissertation project is like sending her kid off to college. You might be a little sad, but mostly you just want him out of the house so you can enjoy yourself.

Desperate Measures

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When I envisioned how these last few days would go before handing in the dissertation to the committee, I envisioned making last minute line-edits, and taking my time to get formatting perfect, and reading and re-reading the entire document over the course of a week.

Well…the reality…not quite.

This last week has been a bit hectic. I am making significant content revisions to my Chapter 6 and 1, not to mention making some important edits to the rest of everything else. This week, the time has come for some serious desperate measures. Here is a list of things I have done this week that truly signify grad-student-deadline-desperation:

1. Instead of re-working a sentence like Anne-Lise suggests, sometimes I just delete it. Especially if it’s taking me more than 10 minutes to figure out how to re-work. I think, “Eh, do I really LOVE this sentence? No. Then forget it.”

2.  I am citing 8 different articles/books written or co-written by Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman. This sometimes means that I forget which one I pulled which idea/quote from. I also discovered that one claim I wrote in my lit review I had attributed to a 1993 article of theirs. When I went to add more, I realized that it’s the wrong citation. So then I had to search through all 8 articles/books to find it desperately. I can’t half-ass that one since Anne-Lise has worked so closely with both of those researchers that if I use the wrong word, she notices. 🙂 Guess what I ended up doing when I couldn’t find the right citation? That’s right! DELETE!

3. I am so fed up with APA citations that I found myself Googling:  “How do I cite the Common Core Standards?” Yes, I am now so sick of the APA manual I am just asking Google to do it for me.

4. I never thought I would do this, but I am now citing articles  I have read one sentence of (or sometimes less). We’re at the point that if the abstract looks good, and I can find a key sentence that I need, it’s going in there.

5. I only just recently put the entire dissertation into one document and that’s so that Mike could read it. Yes, I am so desperate that my hubby is making edits for me. That is, if he can make it through all 220 pages without falling asleep.

My goal is to hand this thing in to the committee on Tuesday. When I finally hit send on that bad boy, it’s going to be so glorious. However, it’s not going to be without some hard work tomorrow and Monday night. As if this wasn’t enough, I also have a job interview tomorrow at Grand Valley–the only university on the west side of the state that has invited me to campus. So this is big, but it hasn’t even been on my radar. THAT is desperate.

Save the Date

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This week has brought some big steps for me.  These steps indicate that an end is near. Although I am not sure how I feel about the end of my “year of writing”, I am encouraged this week.

First of all, I spent a lovely Saturday getting to know some new/old friends from Twitter at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. It was nice to socialize with some people that previous to this I had only conversed with on Twitter. And I got to spend a day discussing books, reading, writing, and research with some super-smart people. That is a good time any day and it was much needed to get me out of my stay-at-home-alone-and-write funk that I was in.

Being alone much of the week must have been somewhat successful because I accomplished a lot writing-wise. I submitted a draft of my Ch 5 to Anne-Lise (a chapter about the classroom teacher in my study–another blog post coming on this) and I submitted a journal article for publication. The journal article came back within two days with a resubmit (“This really didn’t come alive for the reader”–blerg) and a deadline to resubmit within the week. More writing ahead!

I also got a call for another on-campus interview at U of M Flint. I had a phone interview with them a long time ago but since so much time had passed, I had written it off as a rejection. It had been so long since any news on the job front that I had resigned myself to not having one next year. This perked up my spirits a bit and helped me see that I need to stop being so discouraged so quickly. I have such a hard time being patient and my mind tends to go to a dark place where I assume the absolute worst. They want me to come out next Thursday. Mike said “Don’t they know it’s March Madness?” I don’t even care that I’m missing my favorite “holiday”–that’s how excited I am to go there.

I also decided to get out a bit more to break my cabin fever. I had dinner with friends and family this week and babysat my 4-year-old nephew. It was kind of nice to spend the afternoon dressing up like super heroes, schooling him in  Just Dance on the Wii, and playing with his Star Wars action figures. His collection rivals any adult nerd’s, trust me. Even I was a bit geeked to see his Millennium Falcon, compete with Han Solo at the helm.



But by far, my biggest news is that I have an official dissertation defense day set. The big day is Tuesday, May 7, at 2:00 pm. I booked the day so nonchalantly that it took me a couple days to realize what that day represents. It represents the last day of my MSU doctoral career. I started back in August of 2008, a middle school teacher that needed to read every article for every class with my Dictionary app in front of me. Five years later, I have turned into an educational scholar. And I truly feel like I have. I feel more and more confident in what I know with every passing year. I’m assuming this confidence will continue to grow regardless of where my career takes me after this. On May 7, I unveil the biggest work of my career this far. And I am really excited to do it, not nervous at all. Yet. I changed the date on the countdown clock on the side of this blog from a general day to the specific time. Time to keep working toward that end.

Fighting for Human Rights in Holland

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It’s time for everyone to go back to school, even the 5th graders from my dissertation study at Lanley Elementary. Except this time I won’t be with them. I am staying home today (and 3 days a week this entire semester) to write about them. I have a little under 4 months to write their story; I officially applied for graduation last week.

The largest part of their story was the last few days before winter break. These days were some of the most rewarding of my entire career, showing me that the type of social justice oriented, authentic curriculum can be beneficial for the teachers as well as the students. First of all, the students spent time at the beginning of our final week together deciding to donate their money to the Barnabas House. We had a great discussion about where to donate where they had to analyze the information from our guest speakers, make a decision (backed with evidence) about why their profits should go to a certain place. (Hello Common Core Standards!!) In the end, the students decided on the Barnabas House. The Barnabas House is raising money to build a huge facility for homeless youth in Holland. I think this organization appealed to the 5th graders because of Michelle, their director. She was great with the kids, telling them personal stories of children she knew that didn’t have homes. Without me prompting her, she just naturally talked to them like colleagues. Like she would anyone else who had taken an interest in helping children. She also gave them choice. When they asked her what their money would help do, she told them that they could personalize their donation and have their money go toward anything that they thought a house would need. This lead to another discussion about what they could do with the money. In the end, I think the students one of the things they wanted to donate was a fish tank, so the homeless youth could have pets to take care of and be able to watch the calming water. How amazing is that?

The very last day before break the school had a Christmas program. We decided that right before the program, the students would present the donation to the Barnabas House and tell the parents what they’ve been up to. The few days before, a few students took on the job of writing a script to read and then the afternoon before break the students practiced what they would say. We also tie-dyed T-shirts (blue of course) as our “uniform” for raising awareness of child abuse. They wanted to make a “big check”, so we did that as well. The last day before break was pretty much entirely planned by the students and guided by us, and they loved it. The other 5th grade had a pizza party and cupcakes and none of our students complained that we didn’t have a “party.” We were too busy having fun learning.

In the end, the students made about $650 profit, which is an insane amount of money from selling the little things they did. This was after they paid back their loans to me. The “Whitlock Store” had collected about $150 in costs from them buying supplies, so I agreed to donate that as well (after all, that was Whitlock Store profit–I can be a social business too!). All in all, we had $800 to give to the Barnabas House. When the students all got up in front of the parents to tell them what they did, and when Tommy read the total amount, the entire audience cheered and clapped. Neither the students or I expected this reaction–the looks on their faces were priceless.

The Barnabas House is buying a fish tank (among other things) with the money, and all the students’ names are going on a plaque by the tank (Michelle is going to make sure of this). But, more importantly, the students now have “real proof” that they are helping a need in the community. After interviewing them for the post-data, I could tell they now have a broader understanding of human rights and human rights issues both here and around the world. If they haven’t completely transformed into human rights activists by the end of the semester, I can say at least One Hen opened the door for the conversation. And, we opened the door for them at age 10, instead of like 18 or 20 when most of us go to college or travel and realize there is a world bigger than us. The students are also planning to help with the Barnabas Winter Silent Auction and even with construction in the spring. They have found their “cause” and passion.

For the 2011-2012 school year, the ISD in our county has  888 students registered as homeless. Of that number, 127 are listed as unaccompanied. A student self-report survey in 2011 showed that 113  8th, 10th and 12th graders had no place to sleep at least once this school year in our community.

These are obviously not national statistics, they are right where I live. And a group of 5th graders did something this year to alleviate this problem. Just that is pretty amazing.

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