Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Open Self Assessment


Crazy, I know, but here is an attempt at open (professional) self-assessment as a starting point to receiving feedback from others (it is also partially built on feedback I have received from others f2f and online recently but i am soliciting more – openly or not – whatever you are comfortable with). Use this this form if u want to respond anonymously. Email or DM of you want open but private, or just comment here if you think that’ll be ok with both of us πŸ™‚

Am I Right or Am I Right?
I am well-known for being argumentative. My high school chemistry teacher asked what the Arabic word was for this (Mujadila) and called me by that name forever. My dad always worried over this, too. Apparently I have not improved. Give me space and I can keep arguing on and on. So I have been told by more than one person f2f and online that I am obsessed w being right and that this bothers them.

It seems funny given this sweatshirt produced by Uni of Sheffield where i did all my graduate work (but having spent only a handful of weeks from my life actually in the city).


I wonder why it is that I keep arguing so long. I think I feel like “if only you’d understand where I am coming from” but I can see how annoying and possibly hurtful this might be. Or arrogant, because I seem more self-confident than I really am. And because the most important thing I learned doing my PhD is that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Heck, I learn every day from my students, and my 3-year old. I learn from everyone around me. So I apologize for overdoing this arguing thing. I’m actually enjoying the arguing not realizing others might not be enjoying it so much. So I am sorry. Will work on it.

Impostor Syndrome
There is a personality aspect to the above, but also a defensiveness that comes from being a bit radical and having impostor syndrome. Knowing some of my ideas look nuts to others, I really want to show I have thought long and hard about what I am doing and I have good reasons for doing it.

I’m in a bit of an identity crisis, too, because I was a member of “staff” then I became “faculty” after finishing my PhD, but I am still the same person! There are a lot of inequalities at our university, as I bet there are everywhere, between PhD-holding faculty and anyone else. I’m not tenure-track but I am lucky enough to have a full-time job. But also, as a young, female, veiled woman, I feel defensive and that sometimes I need to shout really hard in order to be heard. And I am really sensitive when I feel not heard or that my opinion is considered less valuable.

Over-Inititating, not always in strategic directions
In my old job at P&G we had an item in our appraisal called “initiative and follow through”. Obviously, I do follow through, or I would not have engaged fully with so many MOOCs or finished writing so many articles BUT I do initiate much better than i follow through. I start all sorts of collaborations with all sorts of people all over the world and it probably gets too much not just for me but for them.

More importantly for my day-job is that a lot of what I do productively is online stuff. Not necessarily feeding directly into my work (but definitely feeding indirectly and long-term). The main reasons for the online focus relate to my personal situation: having a young child and needing to work my schedule around her means I am most productive after she sleeps at night or really early morning, so I seem to be living on a US timezone! I do get some actual work done at those times,but after a certain time my focus fizzles and i can’t do paid work that late, but can do all sorts of other interesting stuff for MOOCs and such.

Weird approach to reading
This is possibly invisible to most people and not necessarily a weakness, just a change in me. I rarely read a book linearly any more. I skim a lot and jump and dip into places I want and then move elsewhere. But I end up reading a lot more, even if more of it is non-peer-reviewed blogging and such… But it gives me a wider perspective within the time limits. Think about it, i could read 20 blogs of 1,000 words each in the same time it would take me to read an 8,000 word article. Because blogs are also easier to read, not just shorter, and I can engage with the writers and so on…

Shifting Blame
I am guessing I am not the only one who does this, but I do find myself sometimes trying to shift blame for something that does not work. I am often willing to admit when I am wrong, though. But I know I sometimes try to put the blame on something/one external to me and I need to stop doing it unless it is a really strong case.

I don’t perceive this as a weakness, but apparently some people feel that my work style which focuses a lot on caring for individuals I work with sometimes gets in the way of my judgment and effectiveness. I’ll admit it sometimes means I spend long periods of time online or f2f talking to people about things bothering them, etc, rather than working, but it is important because a. We are whole people and I do actually care, and b. we won’t probably work together if i ignore these things.

Too virtual to be true
Yes, probably. It’s again the way I keep myself mentally stimulated and still a mom. It’s also highly rewarding for the kind of effort it takes for me to do it. However, I am happy that more and more of my online is spilling over onto my f2f, like the way my students engaged on twitter with my online network during the scavenger hunt, and the #TvsZ game, and things like Ana Salter’s trip to Cairo this week (yay) and plans for other things in the near future. And like how the #moocmooc reading list is being used for a critical pedagogy book club by a group at CILAS. I have not yet found my balance of doing community service outside my institution so I try as far as possible to make it a collaboration officially with the institution so more of us can help.

Worrying too little – conflicting views of faculty development
I have a lot of conflicting feelings about my role as a faculty developer. I want to support faculty and i care about students getting the best education possible. Obviously.

I just stopped believing that
A. I know better than the faculty member teaching their course. I don’t! I just know quite a bit about ed tech and pedagogy and educational research, but it’s not the same
B. I can in any way guarantee any kind of quality. All the measures administrators need for this are irrelevant to me; faculty will go into their classes and do what makes them comfortable, most of the time. Not what I judge to be better for them. I don’t want to be the policeman, and unfortunately in my new role I sometimes have to be, which bugs the hell out of me.

So… I am sometimes more aggressive on email than I mean to be, especially when I am reactive (also when I am trying to tone down something someone else wants me to write… Long story…).

So the obvious things to do are:
A. Don’t send emails when I am angry (duh)
B. figure out what is best said in email and what is best said f2f (duh, but i keep making mistakes there)

Of course, occasionally I do follow this advice, but sometimes I don’t so I need to start…

Over-theorizing Criticality
Sometimes when your are immersed in thinking critically, you can see things with a particular lens and blow it out of proportion. Someone asking a question can seem like they are trying to exert control; someone trying to speak above you can seem like oppression. To be fair, oftentimes it is. But not always. There’s an Islamic saying by prophet Muhammad to try to find 70 excuses for the “other” person, and if I finish them or can’t find one, then to blame myself. Sure, sometimes there is injustice and oppression to fight, but I don’t want to be a Donquixote either.

I’m a show off and I know it; an only-child, likes being center of attention, blah blah blah. I need to tone it down πŸ™‚ i try not to overtweet my own articles – but i love also promoting other things i love like Hybridped and et4online. I also love what we do at in amplifying the voices of others.

Mistaking that others want the same thing
I know, I know. Not everyone would enjoy Twitter like me. Writing is not the solution to everyone’s problem. Learning every minute of every day is not fun for everyone. Some people like to spend their time at home actually relaxing. Sorry πŸ™‚

Just… I need to focus more…

Confusing where i have authority
If you know me f2f, you know i always behave as if i have authority… And often assume i really do, when sometimes i don’t. This gets me into trouble sometimes but is really helpful other times. I just need to be careful now because there are all sorts of institutional boundaries around what decisions are up to me and which are up to other people, committees, etc., and to know when to defer to another person to take a decision or respond to a query.

Proofread or not?
I’m quite good at proofreading, I’m a virgo and I am good at spotting mistakes; i edit my department’s stuff before it goes out and i usually do it well. Not as good at dong this to my own work (oops) and there were a lot of issues with a departmental report we were doing with many co-authors but for which i was ultimately responsible. It needed more rounds of proofreading than normal!

Too busy?
I hate that i sometimes do this, but i get too busy and have to cancel meetings… I hate it when people do that to me and try really hard not to do it to others but have done it a few times. I need to figure out how to stop it completely, or at least be clear on which meetings are tentative.

I don’t want to spend too longs on the pros, so here is a quick list of things I think I am doing well(ish):

1. Writing, incl blogging which helps organize my thoughts, but also scholarly writing and collaboration
2. Research – though I need to do more internal stuff not just online
3. Learning – i am always finding good low-cost online learning opportunities – i hope i can bring more and more opportunities for others in my department
4. Reaching out and networking – my colleagues call it hypernetworking. I do this both internally on campus (but can always do more) and in Egypt and online. I hope to bring more of my online into my f2f next year.
5. Creative teaching, etc, though i may be getting too radical to be of use to anyone πŸ™‚
6. Collaboration – i think i do this well, with the normal glitches πŸ™‚

I need to stop now…


  1. Cool idea Maha. Have done something like this in marketing classes and usually not too far in the process turns self-reflective and off-topic in interesting ways. Or is that me saying everything comes down to being about me anyway?
    >can we sign the form?
    >haven’t received my copy of Lacan’s “Madness” yet, should I wait to analyze you in his terms, or would Freud be okay?

    • Sure u can sign the form or answer it multiple times. Whatever u like πŸ™‚ didn’t realize i was opening myself up to Freud! But anything from you is definitely welcome πŸ˜‰

  2. I only had time to skim your post; I’ll be back with a longer reply later, but I had to ask: is “mujadila” related to “Mujahideen”? As you probably know, non-Arabic-speaking folks in the U.S. know the latter word from our government’s, shall we say, unfortunate involvement with the Taliban as proxy warriors against the USSR in the ’80s.

    • Ha, its not AT ALL related! “Mujahideen” comes from the term “jihad” which means exerting effort (and can refer to the mainstream understanding of making effort to fight in war, or the more general Arabic meaning of exerting effort in anything else; i think Muhammad once said that the hardest jihad is that which we exert against our own selves, our own whims, desires, etc).

      Mujadila comes from the noun jidal, or argument.

      The trick in Arabic is that the way words are formed is v similar depending on what the word “does”. So almost any term referring to a person DOING something “looks” the same. “Mu-xxx”. So the person who is a believer is called Mu’min; a believer in islam is called Muslim. Person who reads Quran can be Qari’ or Muqri’… The person who says fatwa is called Mufti – u see?

      So the only thing in Arabic common between mujadila and mujahid (a single of mujahideen) is the letter “j”. The “mu” is default and the rest of the word totally unrelated πŸ™‚ ok, i see there is also a “d” but really… It’s like the similarity between the words “bike” and “bake”, you know?

      Bored yet?

      • Oh no, I didn’t see your reply till now! πŸ™

        And no, this isn’t boring at all! I love learning about language. πŸ™‚ The bike/bake analogy makes perfect sense.

        The “mu-” prefix is like “-er” in English, e.g. baker, believer? Does “-mu-” always appear as a prefix in Arabic?

  3. I find it amazing that as a male, raised in the Mennonite faith in southern Manitoba, Canada, that we share many of the same identity stories. I’m known as someone who always wants to be right, but I just want to know as clearly and fully as I can, and that means discussing until I (and the others) come to some agreed understanding or lack thereof. I don’t call it arguing, which to me is more about trying to get someone else to take my view. I too am learning when to stop.

    Trying to run a self-determined, rhizomatic, flexible learning environment within a traditional education building is a huge challenge. My care for individual learners and the hours that we spend talking about our learning and lives is what I’ve come to accept as my job. It’s different than the “teaching” I did when I started my career over 25 years ago.

    I love discourse analysis and critical pedagogy. Turns out many others don’t like being challenged with “whys”. My “relaxing” is reading (too much) and writing (not enough). And focus?? I should be preparing for a presentation, a guest blog post, an article for a journal, a seed funding application…at least I got in a 11.5 km run in -20C.

    And proofreading. That’s that need to have everything right. An extra space or an en dash where an em dash should be sets me off if it’s a public publication.

    So, keep being you. You seem to have a pretty good grasp of who you are. You take the courage here to make yourself vulnerable, a quality I believe is lacking. When we protect ourselves from the judgement of others, we also limit our ability to judge ourselves, to know ourselves, to evaluate and change ourselves.

    I’ve benefited from your hypernetworking and I say, keep going. Thanks for putting yourself and your voice “out there.”

    • Thanks for this beautiful response, Barry! I love how you’ve highlighted the things we have in common πŸ™‚ You’ve been on my mind a lot lately because I cite you in my Hybrid Pedagogy column that’s coming out this week – in fact, you inspired it πŸ™‚

  4. I wish I had some neat insights to add but I just dug deep into your voice here and your insights, trying to place your own view of yourself within the continuum of my interactions with you in various online spaces (and birthday parties). What does come out is the caring, reflective nature of who you are, in all that you do. Yes, I detect some of the defensiveness at at times (usually in email exchanges that I watch from a distance) and I don’t find that a fault. I think you are speaking your mind.
    I was intrigued by your section on reading habits and it connected nicely with a book that I just reviewed yesterday at my blog (self promotion alert!) —
    Anyway … it’s always a pleasure to read your words ..

  5. Too self-critical. Wouldn’t a a self-reflection include some of the amazing things you do as well as your Delta list? You need to highlight what you do well for your assessment instrument to have any real credibility. You are so much more than your faults. Do not be afraid to sell the good.

    • Haha Greg, i just ran out of time πŸ™‚ i listed some of the pros, maybe ppl will send me more feedback on the pros πŸ™‚ fishing here πŸ™‚ but i also have a portfolio that highlights most of the pros. I wouldn’t do this critical self-assessment in a job interview πŸ™‚ but i am comfortable enough with the ppl i work with, confident that they know my pros, so i focused on things i need to improve πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: