I can’t do it alone.

This is the first week of the Reflective Writing Club, a professional development offering I am facilitating on behalf of @ONE (Online Network of Educators). Each week, I provide a prompt and the members of our club write a post in response to that prompt and then engage with each others’ writing. You can peek at our posts by searching for the hashtag #CCCWrite on Twitter or by viewing the blog post feed.

This post is my response to my own prompt. This week, I challenged members of our club to reflect on a time in their past, consider how they’ve changed since then, and identify what they know now that they wish they had known then. When I prepared that prompt, I honestly had no idea what I would write about in my own post. When one begins to reflect on such a big topic as this, there are so many things that come to mind. As I reflected, I remembered that, some time ago, I wrote a “letter to my past teacher self.” I  searched my own blog and found that post — from seven and a half years ago. I read it. And I loved it. This is one of treasures of blogging — being able to go back and read your own thoughts when you are at such a different place in life. It is a gift.

This morning while I was pondering a topic to write about, I started to peruse my Twitter feed and I read a post written by my good friend and colleague, Jill Leafstedt. In her post, Jill shared a few ideas from the book, “Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration” by Simon Sinek. One of the ideas resonated with me deeply:

“You can’t do it alone. So don’t pretend you can.”

That’s it. That’s what I know now that I did not know before. But why didn’t I know that? And, more importantly, how do I know it now?

In 2002, when I started teaching art history full-time, I felt like I was the luckiest person on earth. I had a job that rewarded me to my core. And then I realized how much work teaching really is. I was teaching five classes — including three preps, two of which were new for me — and I was pregnant with my second child and had a 16-month old at home. Those were tough days, even with my incredibly supportive husband. Interestingly, when I became a parent I realized early on that I could not do it all alone and I reached out for and took all the help I could get. But in my professional role, things were different.

I dove into teaching as if I was alone. It was one of the most difficult years of my life. I wish I had relied on my peers more. I wish I had reached out for help and support more than I did. But the problem is, I had not experienced an environment that modeled this important message. I really believed my job was my job and I had to suck it up or else I’d be a failure. There was nothing about my experiences in my new organization that encouraged me to reach out. I was part of a “New Faculty Academy,” but this was a 3-hour block of time each Friday that was spent in a room listening to presenters. That did nothing to change my mindset about going about my work in solitude.

It is fitting that Jill was the one who planted the seed about this post earlier today. About 15 years into my career in higher education, I worked alongside Jill for several years at CSU Channel Islands. I’m sure Jill said things to me that conveyed this powerful message or some form of it over the years. However, it wasn’t Jill’s words that resonated so much with me. Rather, it was the way she led that instilled this value in me. It was the organizational culture at CI, in addition to my experiences learning with my professional learning network on Twitter and here on my blog, that shifted my mindset.

When you model community building by unselfishly offering help and support to others and creating opportunities for others experiment, take risks, and learn from failures then you contribute to creating an organization with a learning culture. In my view, most colleges and universities do not have learning cultures; rather, they have training cultures. Training cultures are structured around the idea that people must take a course, attend a workshop, or go to a conference to learn (like my “New Faculty Academy” experience). Learning cultures are different.  Steven Gill, an organizational learning consultant, explains the differences between training and learning cultures:

“…in a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture the assumption is that trainers … drive learning. In contrast, in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with employees, managers, and teams. In that kind of culture, employees are expected to seek knowledge and skills and apply that learning when and where it is needed.

In a training culture, the assumption is that the most important learning happens in events, such as workshops, courses, e-learning programs, and conferences. In a learning culture, it’s assumed that learning happens all the time, at events but also on the job, socially, through coaches and mentors, from action-learning, from smartphones and tablets, and from experimenting with new processes.”


When you are part of an organization with a learning culture, you just know that you can’t do things alone because everyone is trying new things, sharing results, and continuously improving. The values of a learning culture inform how you do your work. Learning cultures are key to an organization’s agility and ability to change. In today’s time of rapid change, we need more schools, colleges, and universities to become learning cultures.

Because we can’t do this alone.


14 Comments to “I can’t do it alone.”

  1. As soon as we figure out that it’s better to go at this profession, this passion collectively, our impact on young people increases exponentially. For when we consider ourselves the experts, the keepers of knowledge, the wise old owls, that’s when the train comes off the rails. Let’s guide together. Let’s mentor together. Let’s learn together. Let’s be sherpas, building the capacity for our learners to scale the highest heights. But, like sherpas, we need to know when to drop their packs and let them summit on their own.

  2. Jill Leafstedt

    I love this post Michelle, your message is so powerful. I think one thing we can do is model the behavior we hope to see. Your work blogging and leading others to share openly does just this. Most often, it is our networks that guide us to change. Rarely does a training do the same. Learning culture requires connections.

  3. Safa Khan

    Very nice Michelle! I never understood the difference between a learning culture and a training culture. You are absolutely right. Both, you and Jill helped create a learning culture with TLI. Michelle, we miss you here at CSUCI.

    1. Safa, it’s so very nice to hear from you! I read your recent post about facilitating an online faculty development course and it made me smile from ear to ear. You’re doing such great work. I miss you too! I hope you are well, my friend. Take care.

  4. Such an important distinction between “learning” v. “training” cultures in higher ed. You are modeling a supportive, collaborative learning culture in your efforts to create and sustain this Reflective Writing Club. I feel empowered to take risks along with all my fellow bloggers on this journey – thank you for an inspiring post and for inspiring me to participate in such a wonderful learning community. Happy to be in this together!

  5. Thanks for sharing the definitions of training cultures v. learning cultures and your experiences through your professional learning network. I have come to realize that reaching out to build learning communities is so vital to our own growth as educators. I echo both Jill and Maria’s comments and thank you for this opportunity to jump start my blog and participate in this “learning” culture.

    1. Thanks for stopping by to read and share, Maryanne. It’s rewarding to see your reflections after just one week as part of our Reflective Writing Club. I hope you continue to learn and grow over the next five weeks. We’re so happy you are here. 🙂

  6. Donna Greene

    Hi Michelle,
    Everything in our lives is really about interdependence. When infants are deprived of human interactions they fail to thrive. Somehow we forget that in our society with our emphasis on personal achievements.


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