Today I heard from an OER leader, and s/he described the work of OER as operating “Sub Rosa” at her/his institution. Because I’m learned woman of letters, my brain blew up in a ten different directions wider than the sky. Here’s a sampling of my inner dialogue and how I completely went away into my own thoughts for a good ten productive minutes.
Leadership Sub Rosa. Sub Rosa. Rosa. Rosa. Rosa. Sub Sub Rosa Subrosa. Brosa!
Fabulousa! Rosa Beggeriana, you take over my garden. Lay me down in a bed of your delicate petals, Rosa Beggeriana. Sub rosa. Under the rosa.
Where is my mind? Rosa! Surfer Rosa by The Pixies. Rosa rosa rosa rosa!
Sub of The Rosa: A Sandwich Made Of Red Coldcuts
Under the rose. Secrecy. Clandestine.
Off the record.
Sub Rosa: A Memoir of Lady Leadership
That’s it. Yes. That. Is. It.
How much effective leadership happens sub rosa? Who chooses to operate sub rosa? When do clandestine plans become openly strategic? Why? When? With whom?
Whether it is open education, pedagogy, or organizational change, you sometimes have to make space to meet below the roses. If you can’t find that space, you may need to create a new garden. I’m simplifying–it’s not that easy. Everything is complicated.
Let me tell you a little story. That’s the bloggy blog of blogginess, right? What I write here may or may not connect to any projects or anything at all. Just write. A rose is a rose is a rose.
This is the first summer that I have done zero gardening. Zero. Haven’t pulled a weed. Planted a plant. Watered a garden bed. Nurtured seeds to sprout. Transplanted plants from pots. Hung out in the garden wasting time. My garden. It’s been a very long year in the City of Roses, and this lack of gardening is starting to get to me. This time next year, I hope to be typing with calloused hands overlooking a little garden of my own.
As I started to type this, I remembered my post Tending Other People’s Gardens where I complained at length about my passive aggressive landlord. How odd that I would use my blog to complain. How predictable! I was really writing about something else not just the garden, truth be told.
Here are a couple of highlights:
But I’m tired of tending other people’s gardens. I’m ready to plant my own garden and get so nutty with experimenting with landscaping design. I want to build a little forest with a bunch of different beds. I want to mix vegetables and flowers and let ferns get huge. The clematis would grow all over the railings. The daisies would grow over my head. Sunflowers would grow up to the roof and then slowly fall to the ground heavy with seeds. Then the birds would have a party eating the seeds. Then I’d clean it up. I’d have a whole front yard of tulips right now. I’d have one little patch of the grass for the dog, and the rest would be xeriscaped with plants and rocks. I’d grab a shovel and help the husband build his BMX pump track and then I’d landscape hardy plants around it. I’d sell the damn mower. I’d ditch the awful planters and buy handcrafted pots from art students.
In short, I’d let it get kind of wild and just see where it goes. Every spring and summer it would get better. I’d make sure everything was healthy, but I’d landscape it in a way where plants would benefit from being close to their friends—just like in a forest. I wouldn’t have to weed as much because I’d have every bit of land covered by plants or rocks. Right now there is a lot of weeding because the landscaping is that of a golf-course resort. It’s manicured. It’s tame. It’s predictable. It’s decidedly not me. Or the me I hope not to be.
But I tend somebody’s else garden because that’s my job. That’s what I promised. That’s why I pay less rent. I thought this plan was only going to be a year and now it’s turned into six. And here I am back again at the point where the weeds of winter must be tended. Torn up. Manicured. Tamed. Again. Shaped into a design that I can’t change or control.
At the time, I was frustrated that my “hippy aesthetic” didn’t align with the vision of the person who owned the property. Looking back at that post, I was tired of maintaining something I didn’t own. Looking back at that post, I had no idea then how much I’d eventually miss that garden. Looking back at that post, I was really lamenting how I’ve lost sight of the book I want to write. Again. And again. Looking back at that post, I was brewing up a plan to openly license a grant application so that no institution could own it. So that anyone could use it. Looking back at that post, I’m reminded of how much I used to read about leadership. How I was keeping my best idea of 2014-2015 completely, if you will, sub rosa. Change management is a thorny issue.
And here’s the thing. The quote I can’t let go:
Shaped into a design that I can’t change or control.
I wrote that sentence almost a year and half ago. Okay, ready for some leadership talk? Here we go.
Recently I travelled to a college, and I got to have 15 minute conversation with one of the most engaging interesting inspiring senior administrators I’ve ever met. I talk to a lot of them these days, and she is the bees’ knees. No exaggeration. I was eager to ask her so many questions that I’m sure I talked too quickly. Jumped around without transitions. Said something ridiculous. Had to stop myself from taking notes as she talked. Had to resist hugging her twice because I loved what she said about teachers. Resisted crying when she complimented me.
No sub rosa collaborations under a leader like this.
She told this story about helping a student figure out how to register for classes. She took the student to the area of the campus where she could get help, and the VPI noticed that everyone on staff looked unhappy. Everyone behind the counter looked tired. Grouchy. Worn down. Inhospitable to the student.
She said, “I realized then that these were people who had been left out of our transformation as an institution, and I needed to do something about it. So I put together a committee, and we looked at how to include these folks who were on the front lines helping our students. Turns out, they had a lot of really great ideas and moved our initiatives further faster.”
It took everything I had to not drop my jaw in awe. Who was she blaming? Herself! How was she doing it? Productively. Oh my gosh, the things I could learn from this woman!
Here’s another example. Over dinner, a dean was talking about how they had a problem with daycare on campus. A lot of their students are single moms struggling with day care and school. Typical woes of community college students. “We need more room for the babies. There just isn’t enough room for all of the cribs,” he said.
The VPI, his boss, asked about his strategy. She looked at him like he was the only person in the world. Listening. Intently. This is a woman who stops to smell the roses in life.
He said, “I just need to find a building, so I’ll draft a plan and send it to you on Monday. We can fix this.”
“Great!” she said. “Let’s make room for the babies! What a great challenge.”
I about dropped my fork and choked on my food. Wait? No mention of the budget? No mention of what he couldn’t do. No mention of things to consider. No mention of anything negative.
I’ve never witnessed such grace from a senior administrator. Such optimism. Such simple support for the people who report to her. Such faith that they will do the right thing.
Here I was, a vendor taking out a group of leaders for dinner listening to what could have been a mood-killing conversation about budget challenges or staffing issues. Instead the dean pitched an idea for a solution that he knew she would support. He knew he had her support to do his job, and he was going to do it well.
Nothing under the roses here. It’s all out in the open.
How refreshing. How lovely. There is beauty in the sub rosa collaboration. Truly.
But how nice to be open about the thorny issues.