Thoughts on Teaching and Learning

One of the many blessings of being the rabbi at The Davis Academy is that I’m afforded daily opportunities to reflect on the most basic components of education: teaching and learning. Here are a few gleanings from my day (in no particular order).

  1. True learning is, by necessity, transformational. If we’re truly learning then our future self will, by necessity, differ from the person we are today.
  2. Classroom learning is most impactful and exciting when students are able to connect their learning to real life.
  3. Two people can look at the exact same thing and see completely different things.
  4. In all great classrooms there are multiple lessons being taught at the same time.
  5. You can’t bake bread without flour.
  6. Growth is wonderful, healthy, necessary, and beautiful. And sometimes it’s also painful.
  7. Teaching in the absence of learning is not an absurdity, but rather an impossibility.
  8. We all connect to passion and do our best when our motivation is sincere and compelling.
  9. It only takes a moment or two to know when you’re in the presence of a master educator.
  10. The sound of deep learning is as glorious as any symphony and in many respects more redemptive.
  11. Thoughtful, respectful, and authentic dialogue and conversation are cornerstones of teaching and learning.
  12. Children have many teachers and are constantly learning.
  13. Reflection is that set of activities, skills, dispositions, and capacities that allows any learner to become his or her own teacher.
  14. Teaching and learning are not only about imparting knowledge, but also about helping one another to encounter the wisdom within.

It was a great day! So was yesterday. And I’ve got a pretty good feeling about tomorrow! Educator friends: what did y’all reflect on about teaching and learning today?

“A Palace in Time” – TMI/ Liner Notes

It’s Shabbat, what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called both a “cathedral” and a “palace” in time. My daughter’s eating raspberries and watching Beauty and the Beast and I’m seizing a few moments while the rest of the family is napping to jot down some thoughts and recollections about the 2nd album of original Jewish music I wrote and created for The Davis Academy, A Palace in Time.

Let’s start with the basics– A Palace in Time is a musical exploration of the psalms and other liturgy that make up the traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service. Kabbalat Shabbat is the portion of the Friday evening service that precedes Maariv. It’s a time when we focus on opening our hearts, minds, and souls to the possibility of Shabbat. Kabbalat Shabbat is about creating within ourselves the capacity for active receptivity. It’s about fine tuning our ears, our eyes, and all of our senses so that we might behold the beautiful imperfection of our lives and our world, all with God’s blessing.

Pretty much every contemporary Jewish songwriter/composer has set pieces of Kabbalat Shabbat to music. Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat generally are the anchor of the Jewish people– a weekly reminder of the core values of our people and a  time to be together in sacred community. I am drawn to Kabbalat Shabbat for these reasons and because Kabbalat Shabbat is both well-known and shrouded in mystery for many Jews. Some liturgical passages are sung weekly, others remain whispered. There are recurring themes such as God’s sovereignty and creation’s collective praise and affirmation of God and many others. It’s ripe for musical exploration.

Here are some things to I want to remember about the process of creating A Palace in Time:

1. The title of the album was never a question in my mind.

2. Will Robertson, my musical chevruta and the album’s producer, remarked that he’d never started a project knowing in advance the entire track list, track order, and album title.

3. Many of the initial seeds of the melodies came to me all at once– I’m talking about 10-15 songs in a single sitting. I remember in those moments a profound sense of feeling that I was discovering rather than writing music. I continue to believe, perhaps foolishly, that “discovering” is more accurate a way of thinking about my role in creating this music than “writing.”

4. Initially I wanted and continue to want the music to feel instantly familiar and author less. Those who know Jewish music know that there are many melodies whose composers names are unknown or meaningless to us as the melodies are a part of soul. That’s my dream. My dream is that when people hear these songs they’ll feel like they’ve heard them before, like they’ve always been there, like they’re old friends.

5. Initially I envisioned very simple instrumentation for the album so that congregations would instantly be able to hear how the songs could live in their worship services. Though the recording studio seduced me into pursuing more dynamic arrangements the fact remains that every song could be rendered a cappella or with whatever instrumentation a congregation has available. The songs are meant for Jewish congregations across the religious spectrum and could easily be sung in Orthodox shuls.

6. In a similar spirit to the aforementioned musical simplicity the songs were originally intended to be only in Hebrew. I chose to include English because I felt like I wanted to participate in the poetry of Kabbalat Shabbat by interpreting the words in ways that reflected my understanding. All the English is optional. Some people really don’t like English in their Jewish music and I totally understand this. In the end I feel very strongly that the English lyrics are really quite beautiful and remain very true to the spirit of the liturgy.

7. The L’chah Dodi on the album was “discovered” (i.e. written) in the city of S’fat– the mystical city where the original words of this prayer were written in the 15th century. The melody came to me as I was chaperoning a group of Davis Academy students on our 8th grade Israel trip. We happened to be in S’fat on Erev Shavuot (the day leading up to Shavuot). The fact that Shavuot commemorates the giving of Torah and the revelation at Sinai isn’t lost on me. Another way of saying that I want these songs to sound familiar or that I “found” them is to say that the melodies are “mi-Sinai” from Sinai. That’s a Jewish way of saying that they’ve always been here, waiting for us to find them.

8. The percussion on the song Mizmor Shir is comprised entirely of things you’d find at or around a Shabbat table– candlesticks, spoons, a challah plate, bread knife, and trash can.

9. Even if no one else likes this music my daughter loves it and has learned much of the Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy by singing along.

10. The first couple of tracks on the album aren’t actually from the Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy. They’re included as “opening songs” in the siddur of the Reform Movement, Mishkan T’fila. For the song Hineih Mah Tov I reached out to the faculty and students of the Marist School, a local Catholic school with which we have an interfaith partnership. The message of Hineih Mah Tov– that it’s good for brothers and sisters to dwell together in peace– is a perfect message for Jewish and Catholic teens to share with the world. There’s a deeper story here but it will be told elsewhere.

11. The student artwork is incredible. Rebecca Ganz, Davis’ visual arts teacher and I together came up with the idea of merging the traditional Hebrew Illuminated Manuscript with 1960s psychedelic music poster art. The cover, which she created with some input from me, captures one of Shabbat’s key ideas: the dual remembrance of the original act of creation and the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. Shabbat is fundamentally an affirmation of creation and liberation. Rebecca’s profoundly beautiful cover tells this story. I’m sure many people will be drawn to this incredible artwork and the cover in particular without ever noticing the fact that Rebecca hid the word “Shabbat” in the candles flames.

12. The closing song, Bar’chu, is what’s traditionally known as the call to prayer. It typically comes towards the beginning part of the worship service. That the Bar’chu is the closing song on this album symbolizes a couple of things. First, it reinforces the fact that A Palace in Time is truly focused on Kabbalat Shabbat– the beginning of the Friday night prayer service. Second, it subtly implies that, having taken this musical journey, whatever you do once you’ve listened to the Bar’chu has the potential to be a form of worship or devotion. Typically the Bar’chu is followed by specific liturgical passages. On this album it’s an invitation to think differently about what you’re about to do next.

13. One tough part of this album is the fact that many melodies I “discovered” for Kabbalat Shabbat didn’t make the final cut. 18 songs is more than any album really should have. God willing there will be future opportunities to bring even more Jewish music into the world.

14. A Palace in Time is inspired by a quote attributed to musician Mickey Hart who said of The Grateful Dead, “We aren’t in the entertainment business, we are in the transportation business.” Hopefully this music will transport the listener spiritually and emotionally.

The album will be available for complimentary download on all major music sites.


Thoughts on Mentoring

Today I was presented with and accepted a sacred invitation– to mentor a child. The child’s parents approached me after I reached out to them to share some thoughts I had about their child on the basis of a series of classroom interactions. Sitting in my office, discussing their child’s personality, interests, and needs, was very powerful. Now I find myself reflecting on what it means to be a mentor, and more particularly, a mentor to an emerging young adult.

Children should be surrounded by a host of trusted adults that have the child’s best interests in mind. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, clergy– all of these trusted adults wield tremendous power and therefore bear profound responsibility for the wellbeing of the children in their care. Any of these trusted adults can serve as a mentor for a child but it’s wholly possible that none of them will serve that role. To be a mentor is to self-consciously reframe the nature of a relationship toward certain positive aims. What are those aims?

It seems to me that a good mentor should be committed to certain values and principles. I’ll list some of them for clarity’s sake:

1) Promoting reflection– encouraging both the mentor and the mentee to become more reflective and self-aware. To provide occasions for reflection and to take the mentee’s thoughts and ideas seriously. To help direct reflection when appropriate particularly by asking good questions.

2) Asking questions– expressing curiosity, taking an interest, wondering aloud– a good mentor will do these things with a sense of joy and authentic interest.

3) Taking cues– knowing when to engage and when to step back, leaving plenty of room for the mentee to disengage without ever taking it personally.

4) Reciprocity– a good mentor should own up to the fact that they value the gifts that they receive from their mentee be they new ideas, new energy, new ways of seeing the world, or simply the fact of being appreciated and supporting another person on their journey.

My life has been enriched by various mentors on my journey. I know I’m not alone in this. My prayer is that, when called upon to serve as a mentor, we are all able to accept this sacred invitation and pay it forward.

Ruth, Friendship, and Spirituality– Thoughts on Shavuot (on Shavuot)


Apologies for the pseudo-Shakespearian translation but here’s a familiar passage from the first chapter of the Book of Ruth:

16 And Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; 17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.’

I have a confession to make. It’s Shavuot, and I didn’t go to Shul today.  Even though it’s Shavuot– one of Judaism’s three pilgrimage festivals. Instead, I met with and interviewed a recent alum of The Davis Academy as part of my doctoral research on adolescent spirituality. (Incidentally this is the 2nd year in a row that I didn’t go to shul. Last year I spent Shavuot at K’far Yehezkel, a moshav in the Southern Galilee. It was an incredible experience and you can read about it here.)

Though I didn’t go to shul, it turns out that I learned an incredible lesson about at least one aspect of Shavuot during my interview today…

My doctoral research is on the topic of adolescent spirituality. My goal is to advance both the academic and colloquial understanding of the phenomenon of spirituality as it is experienced by adolescents. I come to this topic not as an “objective” researcher, but as a rabbi and educator who works with adolescents and cares deeply about this aspect of their lives and their development. I also believe that this is a largely neglected area and that most educational contexts fail to protect, nurture and celebrate adolescent spirituality. Rather than circulating a questionnaire or survey I’ve chosen to conduct in depth interviews with a small cohort of recent Davis Academy alumni. Today I conducted an interview with one of my research participants. And yet again I was blown away by the depth of thought, the depth of caring, and the depth of insight that I witnessed in the adolescent sitting across from me.

As the interview unfolded both the participant and I developed a deeper understanding of what spirituality meant to him. Toward the end of the interview I attempted to summarize his definition of spirituality as he understands it:

Spirituality is about realizing our potential as human beings. It starts with self-knowledge and self-awareness but quickly extends to our relationships with other people. We realize our potential when we connect with other human beings in meaningful and socially redemptive ways. Spirituality is the foundation of the connection that we make with others, particularly when this connection is deep and true. All true friendships have a spiritual component. 

I’ve conducted several interviews, and the theme of “connection” has been present in each. But no other research participant has more emphatically emphasized that his/her definition of spirituality is so firmly rooted in the act of connecting with other people, in forging relationships of various kinds, and friendship in particular. When I asked him directly whether all of his friendships had a spiritual component he thoughtfully and unabashedly said yes.

On Shavuot we read the book of Ruth. Ruth is all about relationships, human connection, and friendship. The connection between the name Ruth and the Hebrew word for friendship/companionship Reut has been noted by others. Ruth chooses to cast her lot not only with Naomi, her mother in law, but with Naomi’s people– the Jewish people. At the beginning of this post you’ll find the most famous passage from the book of Ruth. Ruth’s words to Naomi when Naomi implores her to return to the Moabites.

While I didn’t go to shul today I do feel that I encountered holiness. I’m motivated to do my doctoral research because I believe in the importance of the topic. I think we all need to develop a more nuanced and respectful vocabulary for thinking about and discussing adolescent spirituality. I’ve conducted 4 in depth interviews and, while each participant has experienced spirituality slightly (or very) differently, if at all, they’ve all been incredibly reflective, generous in sharing their experiences, and appreciative to have been given a voice. Collectively and individually, they’ve reaffirmed my belief that JFK got it right when he said, “Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.”


Why I Love Graduation and the End of the School Year

While standing in the hallway waving goodbye to Davis Academy students headed off to enjoy their well-deserved summer vacation I observed a group of 5th grade boys joyfully singing the refrain of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” I figured what the heck and joined with them for a chorus or two as they proudly paraded down the hallway. Many educators greet the end of the school year reluctantly, I think it’s a beautiful and important time. It’s a time that I greet with joy. Here are some of the things I love about graduation and the end of the school year.

1. Summer is to the school year what Shabbat is to the work week. It’s a necessary time that allows children, families, and educators to reflect on what has come before. Everyone involved in full time education– students, parents, teachers, and administrators eventually reach a point during the school year when the pace, the demands, the obligations, and everything that comes with a typical Fall or Spring semester is overwhelming. The fact that our work is sacred and that this sense of overwhelm affirms most educators in the importance and value of our work doesn’t change the fact that time to reflect, read up, and rejuvenate can be scarce at times. Though many of us work during the summer, and many kids and families keep very busy, the arrival of summer offers the possibility of meaningful perspective, truly self-directed personal and professional growth, and a chance to be intentional about our aspirations for the upcoming year.

2. Students  teach us a bold and enduring lesson as they look forward to and embrace summer. It’s not that they don’t love school, their teachers, and their classmates. It’s simply that they resiliently and optimistically look toward the future. They embrace growth and change. We might not be ready (or we might be VERY ready) to let them go, but they’re ready to move on (or at least they think they are). As many adults are both consciously and unconsciously afraid of change we can look to children to find an authentic alternative that embraces change and growth. I asked a group of 5th graders if they were nervous about the transition to middle school —  they said they weren’t and I believe them. In chatting with graduating 8th graders many expressed nervousness about leaving Davis– but they’ll all do it and greet the challenge head on.

3. Educators  need to remember that our task is to inspire and empower students during the time that we have them in our care. Though the “school year” is an artificial construct, it’s one that carries with it a certain measure of wisdom. Judaism teaches, “Who is truly wise? Someone who learns from all people.” Each of us is meant to have many different teachers over the course of our lives. The unique “Torah” that each of us has to teach is meant to be shared with many different people. Stated differently, each of us is meant to have many students. Relationships typically don’t die, they change. Our students of today will become our alumni of tomorrow. They will find new teachers who will give them new insights and present them with new challenges. At the same time we will welcome new students and the “Torah” that we teach will evolve and change as we navigate through our lives and our careers.

Graduation and the end of the school year are unavoidable facts that all educators know well. That they cannot be avoided is a blessing to students and teachers alike. It’s humbling to know that we have one another for a finite period of time, that despite our best efforts our work will remain imperfect and incomplete, and our relationships will grow and evolve. These are existential truths that all people experience. As educators we get to experience them head on and try to glean the wisdom that they offer us.

Why Am I Studying to be a Doctor of Education???????

This is a question I’ve asked myself again and again over the last couple of years. It’s a question that any sane doctoral student asks, again and again. I can almost feel the universe of doctoral students pulsating with the rhythm of this question being repeated over and over again with a mantra-like hypnotism.

My answer(s) are many, ranging from the mystical to the practical, from the inscrutable to the babbling. Let’s start with a few of the “nots.”

1. It’s not because I’d rather be inside clacking away on my keyboard on this beautiful, sunny precursor-to-Spring sort of day.

2. It’s not because I enjoy eavesdropping on the weekly men’s club group that occupies the seminar table at my local Panera.

2a. It’s not because I enjoy the two near deaf folks sitting across the restaurant who are engaging in delightfully banal “small scream” (as opposed to small talk) for the pleasure of all other guests.

2b. It’s not because I like asking strangers to watch my computer when I inevitably need to run to the restroom during my 3-4 hour cafe sagas.

3. It’s not because my vision of good parenting involves entrusting my kids to a legion of fabulous babysitters on Sunday mornings.

4. It’s not because friends and family queue up to hear about my doctoral research at social gatherings.

5. It’s not because I believe the doctoral dissertation is an under appreciated genre of literature in need of a revival.

I’ve entertained all these notions before, and let me assure you, they fall definitively in the “nots” category!

So why AM I studying to be a Doctor of Education??????

Panera JPEG


1. I love learning.

2. My work at The Davis Academy warrants more than curiosity, it warrants deep and sustained inquiry.

3. My students at The Davis Academy warrant more than appreciation, they warrant serious study and consideration.

4. My research topic– adolescent spirituality– deserves to be more than a buzzword. It needs academic study to broaden respect and understanding.

5. To be the best practitioner I can be I need to be engaged in ongoing study. I need to force myself into a reflective place, a place of critical inquiry, and a place of ongoing curiosity.

The list goes on…

To my fellow Doctor of Education journey-people, let’s be strong and strengthen one another! Whatever cafe we find ourselves in, whatever conversations we’re overhearing, whatever babysitting fees we’re paying, let’s keep our eyes on the prize and remember that the destination is only as meaningful as the journey.

Thank You Robert Coles

I’m working my way through Robert Coles’ beautiful book, The Spiritual Life of Children. It’s a great “Elul” read.  Here are a few of the insights that speak to me as a rabbi and educator with an eye toward the Blog Elul theme for day 15: “learn.”



1. In all child/adult relationships power always resides with the adult. In the introductory chapter of Spiritual Life Coles describes how he systematically deemphasized spirituality and religion for the majority of his career. In reflecting on his younger self he writes, “A shrug of my shoulders (a thought to myself: who will ever know?) and a remark of mine that moved us into quite another realm of discourse– such are the fateful turns in what later gets called ‘research.'” Whether we are researchers or not, the lesson is clear: we see what we want to see. In our interactions with children are we patient or rushed? Do we sincerely listen or do we pretend to listen? Do we give children opportunities to explore ideas or do we shut them down? Children are undeniably and irrepressibly spirited. But as adults we actually do have the power to celebrate their spirit or slowly crush it. The power is ours.

2. It’s natural to seek evidence to confirm our preexisting theory. In differentiating his work from that of James Fowler (who developed a faith development theory based on stage development) Coles critiques the idea of stage development theory noting, “If a child fails to respond to a researcher’s predetermined line of questioning, the researcher is likely to comment on a ‘developmental’ inadequacy.” Coles is saying that, when we have a theory that we whole-heartedly believe in, we begin to interpret the world accordingly. Human beings are meaning making entities. We can’t help the fact that we greet each experience with a myriad of predetermined ideas and beliefs. The more compelling and subtle of these might qualify as “theories”– assumptions about what meaning we’ll find in a given experience. The tricky thing is letting our theories guide us but not letting them define us. If our theories define us then they actually hinder our ability to construct new meanings and insights.

3. Wisdom can’t be acquired in a day. We want to know, we want to understand, and we tend to be inpatient with ourselves and with others when we or they don’t “get it.” Coles reminds researchers that in order to truly understand something, to acquire wisdom, we need to be open to the idea of prolonged encounters. Coles argues that to truly understand a child’s spiritual life takes at least a year of engagement. During his career he interviewed some of his research subjects as many as 25 times. Many of us are quick to trust our instincts and to make snap judgments. Often we’re fairly accurate in our initial assessment, but to acquire true wisdom, we need to slow down and be patient as well as reflective.

4. The best teachers are first and foremost committed to learning. Coles writes, “A good way to initiate… research is to sit down with children, tell them what you want to learn, and then hope that they will become colleagues, instructors, guides.” Too many educators are trapped by the notion that we have to provide the subject matter and represent the voice of mastery. Meanwhile, a lot of lip service is paid to the idea of child- centered education. In a truly child-centered pedagogical framework an interesting possibility emerges– that the adult teacher will actually come to learn important lessons from the child teacher. While we can’t always flip the classroom quite so dramatically, the idea that children are great teachers is one that we need to continually revisit in our classrooms and our schools.

I’m sure many of us have read Robert Coles’ work. What has resonated with others that have had the pleasure?

Anachronistic Faith

I’m reading James Fowler’s classic work, Stages of Faith, as part of my doctoral research. To say there’s a lot going on in this book is an understatement. It’s dizzying at times, especially as I’m trying to read it both critically and with an open mind. I’m also reading it not only as a doctoral student, but as an educator, rabbi, and person of faith. One idea that resonates with me is the idea of “anachronistic faith.” Fowler writes:

To approach a new era in the adult life cycle while clinging too tightly to the structural style of faith employed during the culminating phase of the previous era is to risk anachronism. It means attacking a new agenda of life tasks and a potential new richness in the understanding of life with the limiting pattern of knowing, valuing and interpreting experiences that served the previous era. Such anachronism virtually assures that one will settle for a narrower and shallower faith than one needs (Fowler, 1981, p. 114)

Fowler is describing a costly disconnect that I have observed at times. The journey through life is necessarily one of maturation. We are meant to grow in so many ways: in wisdom, in compassion, in appreciation, in our capacity to love and so on. As spiritual beings we are also meant to grow in our faith.

Faith is a dynamic concept. It isn’t necessarily religious though it can be. It isn’t necessarily individualistic, though it can be. Rather faith represents the capacity to respond to life experience with a certain set of characteristics or dispositions. Faith is a way of knowing, a way of being, and a way of doing.

The tragedy that I think Fowler accurately describes is for the person who encounters the complexity and richness of life, having failed to mature in faith. To greet the challenges of life as a mature adult with a faith that has not been reflected upon, challenged, or expanded since childhood or adolescence ensures that we navigate life from a place of deficit and immaturity (at least as far as faith is concerned).

In my work as an educator I find myself committed to helping children and adolescents develop their spirituality and faith. Already by Middle School it is evident that some children are less motivated to develop their faith lives than others. I believe it is the responsibility of adults to promote dynamic faith development in children and adolescents. I fear that anachronistic faith in adults undermines our ability to do so. Like most things, we must educate ourselves before we can educate others, especially our children.


An Analytic Memo to My Fellow Novice Researchers

Please note, this analytic memo is not in APA format! The findings haven’t been verified or tested for trustworthiness!! There is no methods section and there are no research questions!!! And, it’s written from the perspective of a novice qualitative researcher/ EdD student!!!!

This analytic memo is dedicated to all my EdD colleagues around the world, and particularly at NEU.


My beautiful wife and daughter AKA my support system AKA the poor people who have to live with a doctoral student.

Having completed my EdD coursework I stand now on the threshold of embarking into the bold world of doctoral researcher. Here are a few key insights regarding qualitative research design that I will carry with me on my adventure:

1)   Alignment. The most effective way to conduct research is to make sure that everything is aligned. The research orientation, research purpose, research questions, research methodology, and data analysis—these things need to relate to one another. The linchpin in this equation is the research questions. If questions aren’t clear, measurable, and appropriate, then the entire research design may fall apart at any time. I may find myself months into data analysis wondering how I’ve gotten so far from my initial intent, and not for the better. Best to avoid research that ends up being nothing more than rearranging lounge chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

2)   The importance of rich data. Impoverished data will lead to impoverished research. Rich data won’t necessarily lead to rich research, but it is a necessary precondition. Rich data means thinking through the issues of data generation and storage. If my research is in the form of interviews then I need to pilot interview questions so that I can acquire the data I need. I also need to become adept at conducting open ended/ semi formal interviews. It is very unlikely that I will acquire rich data if I only read the questions on the interview protocol, never looking up from my interview template, sweating at the thought of going off script. I’ve got to be open to exploring a topic or theme that emerges during the organic unfolding of the conversation.

3)   The role of the research participant. Rather than a simple subject/ object relationship between researcher and research participant where I, the researcher (subject) poke and prod at the research participant (object) until I render said object totally lifeless, there are many different possibilities in terms of the relationship between researcher and participant. Most intriguing to me at this moment is that of co-researcher, more of an I-Thou relationship if you will, rather than an I-It relationship. When I think of the research I want to conduct, I envision my participants bringing a spirit of curiosity to the research. I want my participants to join with me in a collective attempt at shedding light on the research problem. It has been my experience that all creative and complex processes ( I guess research qualifies) are enhanced through collaboration. A collaborative relationship between researcher and research subject requires the researcher to recognize the humanity of their research subject. Otherwise we could refer to research participants as research objects, rather than research subjects.

4)   The role of the researcher. There is no doubt that the researcher is the primary instrument of data collection and data analysis. The most important factor in the research design is the researcher. A good researcher must be reflective, humble, curious, honest, and motivated. A good researcher must think through issues of epistemology, bias, coercion, and ethics. These aren’t easy topics, but they are fascinating ones! Having thought through these issues, the researcher must think through them again! If the researcher sucks, so goes the research.

5)   The cost of research. Becoming a researcher and conducting research isn’t cheap. Coding software costs more than an all-inclusive stay in Cancun. While there’s not much that can be done to reduce the cost, at least initially, it’s a good thing to know, and something that emerging researchers should be made aware of so they can avoid springing one unwelcome bill after another on their unsuspecting spouses, thereby testing the limits of spousal devotion! It’s helpful to remind your wife that you can’t take a vacation this year because of the coding software you had to purchase to do your doctoral work! The cost of research also extends beyond the financial to the time factor. Right now I’ve got a babysitter watching my 18 month old daughter on a beautiful Sunday morning. That could be me, but instead I’m committed to becoming a researcher! It’s no walk on the beach.

6)   Entropy. It’s wholly possible that the research project slowly gets weaker and weaker as it unfolds. Clarity becomes confusion, rich data becomes poor analysis, and promising design becomes unverifiable rubbish. The researcher must be on constant guard against this process. The researcher might not even recognize the entropic process as it’s kind of the nature of all reality, and therefore subtle at times. It is tempting to allow time to elapse between recording an interview and transcribing it, between transcription and analysis. It is tempting to rush through open coding or push it off until a more convenient time. Research requires good habits, resolve, and focus. Otherwise it will slowly wither and die, like everything else in the universe: the plant you keep meaning to water, the push ups you keep meaning to do, the trip to Cancun you keep planning to take!

7)   It’s all about the methods. I now understand why researchers are interested in reading the methods section of an article before they look at the findings. It’s helpful to know if the findings are based on a pile of malarkey. Unfortunately the methods section of the article often reads like the fine print at the back of the user’s guide.

8)   Iterate this! Research is an iterative process. Most people don’t even know what iterative means, but researchers must. As much as one may strive to align all the aspects of the research design and methodology and strive to code data properly on the first pass, the reality is that the researcher can expect to visit and revisit everything from core assumptions to research questions to codes and categories. The trick of research is knowing when the iterative process looks more like a hamster on the wheel than a vehicle for pushing research to excellence. If, as a researcher, you don’t often ask yourself, “What was I thinking?” then you’ve neglected your iterative duty!

9)   The analytic memo. Write analytic memos. They’ll save you a bunch of time and are very therapeutic. The analytic memo is kind of like a rant or a brain dump. The great thing about analytic memos is that, unlike most rants and brain dumps, these are considered an integral part of good research. The truth is, when you revisit last month’s dumps they actually help you remember what you were thinking. Considering the fact that our brains are also undergoing that entropic process (see #6) it’s a good thing to distribute some of your sweet cognition to your word processor lest your insights wash away like last summer’s sand castle on the beach in Cancun that you never visited.

10) Support system. If you’ve got one, find some way to put down your stack of reading and your copy of Creswell, and let them know you appreciate them. I know this may be hard to do as you’re likely several hundred pages behind, but please don’t make the tried and true mistake of assuming that getting an ‘A’ on your next paper is the same as showing your loved ones that you appreciate the many sacrifices they’re making so that you can continue to be a “student” even though you’re a grown man/woman.

11) Love it or leave it. If you’re not in it to win it. If you don’t really love it. If you’re trying to be something or someone you don’t really care to be. If that’s the case. Do us all a favor. Do yourself a favor. Quit now! Research is like pop music. There’s already enough garbage to go around. If research isn’t something you love, then don’t bother. If you’re content with putting up a poor performance and then having some slimy producer come in an auto-tune your work to some sort of superficial digital perfection, save yourself the trouble and take that much deserved vacation!