ECR reflections on #AARE2016

welcome drinks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

welcome drinks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

As a neophyte researcher less than five years post doctoral completion, I get to claim the label of ‘early career researcher’ or ‘ECR’. I’ve just this week returned from the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) national conference, which provides excellent opportunities for an Australian early career researcher in the field of education: presenting, attending, connecting and thinking.

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Presenting

I was a last minute delegate at AARE this year, so didn’t present myself, but presenting last year was a highlight. ECRs can present alone (but papers are usually grouped with other thematically-like papers), with other ECRs, or with more experienced academics and professors. These presentations are important in helping to refine ideas and develop thinking, of both audience and presenter. While there are some ineffective discussants and unhelpful non-questions from audience members, discussion time after a presentation can be a great opportunity for the presenter to clarify and extend their thinking, thanks to questions, comments and provocations from the audience.

Presenting is also important for refining the precision and effectiveness of your science communication. How have you titled your presentation? How have you designed your slides? How have you distilled the essence of your paper down to a 20 minute presentation? The decision making required in order to present helps to refine ideas, clarify theory and fine-tune language.

Attending

The sessions at AARE are arranged around a number of Special Interest Groups including: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research; Arts Education and Practice; Assessment and Measurement; Educational Leadership; Gender, Sexualities and Cultural Studies; a number of school-subject specific SIGs; Politics and Policy; various theories and philosophies; Professional and Higher Education; Social Justice; methodologies; and Teacher Education and Research Innovation.

This year I was able to spread my time between sessions relevant to my own research and practice, and those that interested me outside of my normal bubble, such as a session on the intersections and interactions between academia and the media, and a particularly indulgent session on theory and writing, which buoyed and provoked me. That theory session, while not seeming directly relevant to much of my work and research, will influence my writing and the ways I consider research and practice.

One thing that struck me this year was what I learned as an ECR watching more experienced academics. Some of the sessions I attended involved very experienced academics presenting as-yet-unformed ideas. They were sharing and modelling the ways in which they explore a theorist they are reading for the first time, or work through a newborn idea. The vulnerability of these academics–willing not to present the workings-out of their practice and not just the result of layered years of thinking–was a great example to ECRs of embracing what we don’t know. Not only do we evolve as researchers over time, but we can embrace knowing what we don’t know and celebrate working through discomfort to interrogate those gaps.

Connecting

As I attended AARE last year in Fremantle, and I also presented at the AERA (the American Educational Research Association) conference this year, I began to see patterns of those who attend these conferences and those who are active in the research community and in particular SIGs. As I am active on Twitter, there were many additional familiar faces in the room. That’s one thing I love about Twitter – that it allows me to walk into a room in which I’ve barely met anyone, yet feel like I know a number of people.

The AARE conference is a great opportunity to connect with academics across a wide range of Australian and international universities, who approach education research in a variety of ways, through multiple different lenses. Many experienced or well-known academics are very open to meeting ECRs, and most are incredibly generous with their time and their advice. And the great thing about kicking on to dinner with a bunch of researchers is that it’s a wonderful opportunity to go full-nerd and explore all kinds of real and theoretical possibilities in a conversational environment. A Melbourne cocktail or two only adds to the conversation. I can see the potential for many a collaboration or co-authorship to be sparked at an AARE conference.

Additionally, editors from academic publishing firms like Routledge and Sage are at the conference venue, so it is a great opportunity to discuss your book idea.

Thinking

A conference like AARE provides a wonderful opportunity to break from the daily routine and think. While the program is busy, it allows delegates to listen to, cogitate on and talk about those arenas of research and education in which they wish to immerse themselves. The time and space for this kind of immersion and thinking is an excellent opportunity in itself.

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Having been conferred my PhD earlier this year, I am an ECR, but I am also a teacher and school leader. I’m a boundary spanner, a ‘pracademic’, traversing and often transgressing the boundaries between practice and theory, doing and research. The AARE conference allows me to indulge intellectually in the education sphere, and to engage in current thinking in educational research.

I live and breathe teaching and leading for most of the year, but here for a few days I get to engage with multiple lenses for considering and improving that work. What does current educational research have to say about areas of practice? How might I—as teachers, school leader and researcher—positively influence my own contexts, as well as broader narratives of education?

AARE provides the time, space and stimulation to help me do this. No doubt I’ll be back for the next round: Canberra 2017.

Cartoons to communicate science? #scicomm

With the knowledge of science we can solve resource limitations, cure diseases, and make society work happily–but only if people can figure out what in the world scientists are talking about and why they should care. ~ Randy Olson, Don’t be such a scientist

In 2015 the Oxford Dictionary word of the year was the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji. This year I have seen PhD researchers communicate their theses via emoji on Twitter. Today Emerald Publishing and the Journal of Professional Capital and Community released the following cartoon abstract of my peer-reviewed paper ‘Rethinking professional learning for teachers and school leaders’. The paper itself, which has so far been downloaded over 4000 times, is open access, and I have also blogged about it.

What do you think of the notion of a cartoon or graphical abstract of a research paper? Is this a way forward for science communication? Can we use visual language to make research more accessible and more widely read? Could you or would you be open to designing a cartoon strip or graphic-novel-style summary of your research?

designed by Emerald and posted here on JPCC website: http://jpccjournal.com/teacher.htm

designed by Emerald and posted on the JPCC website

Anchoring, coping, organising: Post-It power

some of my Post-It moments

some of my Post-It moments

Great results, can be achieved with small forces. ~ Sun Tsu, The Art of War

Sometimes when it all seems too much, we need to distil all-the-things down to their essence. We need to simplify, to find a tangible anchor for the chaos of change or a reassuring system to help us bear the weight of pressure.

1940s Hungarian communist leader Mátyás Rákosi coined the term szalámitaktika or ‘salami tactics’. In order to gradually amass power, little bit by little bit, the idea is to attack a huge goal one tiny and deliberate slice at a time. When applied to big tasks or bold goals, szalámitaktika reflects the cliched saying ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ It’s also reminiscent of Bill Murray’s title character in the 1991 film What About Bob? whose therapist prescribes him ‘baby steps’ to help him get through his day by focusing on literally putting one foot in front of the other. These simple approaches helped me to trudge my way through the work of a PhD. One step, one bite, one slice at a time.

At the moment educators in Australia are coming towards the end of our school year. Many of us dream that this is the time of year that we wind down, gently relaxing towards the summer holidays in a slow-motion dance of joyful teaching and leisurely planning for the next school year. Insert cocktail-drink-with-umbrella emoji.

The reality is that this time of year, for many of us, is manic, overwhelming and crushing in its pace and pressure. My way of dealing with the current mania is by tackling my to-do-lists with military precision and the salami-tactics baby-steps approach. My main arsenal in this operation? Trello? Spreadsheets? A wall of IdeaPaint scrawled with notes? No. It’s a stack of Post-Its.

The humble Post-It, an accidental invention born from a failed adhesive, has potent power. When Steve Jobs died in 2011, around the world people posted Post-It note messages on the windows of Apple Stores around the world. The Apple Store in Munich created a mural of Jobs’ face out of 4001 Post-Its. This month, these jewel-like beacons have been used in Subway Therapy in Manhattan, a post-US-election project incited by artist Matthew Chavez. Chavez set up a tunnel in the NYC Subway as a public art space onto which anyone could post their messages of support, optimism or hopelessness.

Post-Its can be used for collaboration. I’ve enjoyed getting staff or students to use them to draw together and reorganise ideas. Post-Its can be used for annotation, communication, display, feedback, personal notes and even for delight. Last year, a colleague was having a rough week. I took multi-coloured packets of Post-Its and covered her computer monitor with Post-It messages of ‘you can do it’ and ‘you’re awesome!’ and other such platitudes. It was silly enough to lift my colleague’s spirits. She left those notes there for some time.

But what I’m using Post-Its for now is to anchor me, organise me and help me cope with multiple work streams. I’ve used a Post-It note system for some time. I write a weekly or long-term to-do list on a Post-It, or more often a series of notes, and post them up in front of my desk. Sometimes I also have one or more desktop Post-Its going; these are my short term lists.

Importantly, as I complete tasks, I cross things off the Post-It list and triumphantly screw the Post-It up and throw it in the bin when the to-dos are done. The triumphant scrunching and tossing into the bin is an important ritualistic part of this method. It is in the closing of the fist, the flourish of the wrist and watching the note hit the trash that I feel a sense of accomplishment. This year I tried to move to a notepad system, but found that the notepad pages were too big; each could house an overwhelming list of to-dos that grew and grew and never seemed to be done. I could cross them off but I never felt that I was getting near the end of the list. I felt more despair and less success. I returned to Post-Its. They are small. They lend themselves to being do-able.

When I have a lot on the go at once, I adjust my Post-It system. Post-Its can be moved around and re-arranged. I can have different Post-Its for different categories of work. I can colour-code. I currently have a series of long-term and daily Post-Its on the go, but their manageable size means that I can feel a sense of accomplishment when I ‘finish’ one, or I can re-organise my thinking on a new note or series of notes.

My whole year has been about momentum, about putting one foot in front of the other, about being in motion. By deploying Post-It notes with military precision and ninja-like agility (or so I imagine), I am able to slice off one piece of salami, one bite of elephant, at a time. These unexceptional adhesive squares give me something tangible to hold onto in times of intense work. Their modest size allows me to celebrate small, daily successes, and I can breathe deeper and easier as I slowly watch my to-do lists dwindling, changing, or at least becoming more manageable.

It’s the little things.

Managing a rotation curation Twitter account: My week hosting @EduTweetOz

source: gettyimages

source: gettyimages

This week I’m experiencing my first time in the host chair of a rotation curation, or #RoCur, account.

I have followed @EduTweetOz for some time and noticed how different educators seem to breeze through the host chair. I’d never considered the thought they may have had to put into hosting. But once I was invited and then appointed for a week, I felt a greater responsibility than just doing what I do with my personal account, @debsnet. Was what I did and said in my personal account appropriate in a shared account? Surely I couldn’t just dip in and out as I saw fit, jumping down rabbit holes and leaping off on tangents, as whims arose? I felt I needed to have some clarity for myself in terms of how I would approach an account that is not my own; I’m just slipping on the robes for a week.

I was also aware that I needed to manage my time and wellbeing during the week, while honouring the account administrators, the @EduTweetOz community and the commitment I made to hosting. This week I am doing my usual working (teaching! marking! reports! planning for 2017!) and parenting, plus copy editing a textbook, reviewing an academic paper for an international journal and co-authoring a book chapter. So for me, planning how I would approach the account was as much about protecting my mental and physical health in a busy week as it was trying to do a good job. I didn’t want to feel anxious and guilty for letting the account down.

The thing is, there isn’t a clear set of protocols or measures for what doing a good job of hosting @EduTweetOz might be. The host is given carte blanche to manage the account for a week as they see fit. How do the administrators or followers measure a host’s success? Number of new followers? Number of tweets per day? Amount of engagement from others? Tone? Humour? Enthusiasm? Availability? Responsiveness?

Know thy purpose

In the uncertainty that comes with the freedom to do as I saw fit, I set myself my own purpose for the week. I was hoping to engage educators in discussion, and also highlight some of those voices in social media that I rely on in my own personal learning network. What a great opportunity to share with others the value of educators, academics and thinkers who energise and buoy me.

I’ve also been happy to add some of my favourite educators to those followed by the @EduTweetOz account. These were people I think will bring a richness to the community and the account’s timeline.

Be prepared

I knew I wouldn’t manage this week well without a plan, especially considering my multiple commitments. So before my week on the account began, I sat down and scoped it out. To what topics might I draw attention? Which tweeters’ and bloggers’ thinking could I share? My plan was loose but it gave me a sense of direction and I knew I wouldn’t run out of steam or ideas as the week wore on.

I decided to ask a question per day and made up a (regrettably long) hashtag to trace the conversations: #EduTweetOzSlowChat. I pre-prepared slides for each question and scheduled the daily question to be tweeted out each day at 4am Perth time, which is 7am Melbourne/Sydney time.

Scheduling those questions for when I am sleeping allayed some of my worries about being unavailable during the East coast mornings when much of the country is up and ready to engage. Each morning this week, by the time I wake up on the West coast I already have tweets to respond to on the account.

Consider voice

In my own Twitter account I am comfortable with my voice, the way I ‘speak’ and communicate. While I was absolutely comfortable with being myself during my @EduTweetOz week, I also felt a different sense of obligation to the account administrators. Is my authentic social media voice appropriate in an account administrated by others and on which I am a guest? Can I say exactly what I want in precisely the way I want? To what extent do I need to be tactful or restrained?

On my second day I found myself in amongst a lot of humour and parody, and I was wondering if it was ok to indulge in that, or if it might be seen as flippant, and if that mattered, or to whom it mattered (oh, the overthinking!). I found myself, in the first couple of days, hyper aware of what others might think. I have found my groove, though, and settled into it.

Different educators have different styles: friendly, supportive, provocative, intellectual, colloquial, personal, academic. That’s the beauty of a #RoCur account. @EduTweetOz sets this diversity up nicely by posting an interview with the week’s host as a kind of introduction; here’s mine.

Engage with community             

I was aware of the opportunity and responsibility that comes with 10K+ followers, more than double the amount of followers I have on my personal account. I know that if I magnify voices, accounts or tweets across the week, they will have some reach. On what basis am I making decisions about what to project into the Twitterverse from this account to which I briefly have the keys?

I decided to retweet most responses to the account, in order to amplify the conversations being had in that space, and as a mark of respect and appreciation. Most people have been applying the @EduTweetOz Twitter handle to their own tweets for real dialogue rather than blatant self-promotion.

So far, I’ve been pleased with my daily chat questions as a way to begin conversation. Interestingly, my first daily question was the most positive, and has received the least response. The questions that have been around more controversial or complex issues have incited the most community engagement.

I also attempted my first Twitter poll, which is still open for voting at time of writing. I figured that with a large, diverse following, I could canvas a range of community opinion. The options I offered in the poll were crowd-sourced, emerging from the day’s responses to my question around what causes educators to feel skeptical or despairing about education.

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I still have a couple of days left of hosting the @EduTweetOz account this week. I’m enjoying the foray into a different social media experience. In addition to my own reflections, I can recommend this post that Aaron Davis wrote after he hosted the account last month. Both of us reflect that a rotation curation account comes with ethical decision making and an opportunity to give back to the village.

Meanwhile, I’m here all week. Try the veal.

Writing productivity this Academic Writing Month #AcWriMo 2016

acwri at Melbourne airport

acwri at Melbourne airport

November isn’t just Movember and Dinovember. It’s also Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), the time for academics to publicly shout their writing goals from social media soapboxes everywhere. Ironically, at the moment work is taking over all my working and spare hours and my academic writing pipeline is suffering from inertia as a result. I haven’t been able to make the time to acwri, despite making constant lists that include acwri targets (respond to revisions! write draft paper! scope out argument! complete literature review!).

For me, academic writing is both unpaid work and a labour of love. While I don’t need academic publications for the work I do in my school, I write journal and conference papers because a) I think my research and writing have something to offer, something to say, and b) I enjoy the writing, the writing-thinking, the off-shoots of ideas from my PhD thesis that I now get to play with, and opportunities for co-authorship.

This blog both gets in the way of my academic writing and helps with it. It takes time and discipline to blog (I try to blog at least once a week, usually on a Friday), but I find that blogging keeps my writing wheels oiled and turning, which flows over into my scholarly writing. By blogging weekly, I never feel out of writing practice, even during these times when my academic writing slows to a barely perceptible drip.

Despite my inertia of the last few weeks, I share below some of my own approaches to academic writing productivity. I could call this ‘5 tips for productive writing’, but I agree with Naomi Barnes that tips aren’t always helpful.

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Count more than you can count

I wrote last AcWriMo that successful writing is more than word counts. Sure, sometimes it’s motivating to hit a word count milestone. Every time I hit a 10,000 word number during my PhD felt like I was getting closer to somewhere, something, the end product.

If, like me, you write a lot and often too much, it can be satisfying to cull words, to watch the count go backwards. I cut 15,000 words from my PhD in the final editing stages. There’s joy in word cutting, too. Refining, pruning excess, making the writing better, stronger, clearer.

Sometimes it’s useful to use a Pomodoro timer or a bomb timer to give a sense of writing focus and urgency. I rarely use timers, but I often write to the time I have. One hour while the kids nap. Forty minutes between weekend commitments. Stolen moments before the family wakes. Having such little writing time means that I am highly absorbed when it comes. There’s no time to be distracted, dithery or unfocused. I prepare writing goals and materials for the times I map out, and when they arrive I write like a tropical cyclone.

Write where it works for you

I need quiet or a steady hum to write. Total silence works, but I can’t often get silence, or even solitude, at home, unless my husband takes our sons out.

A busy café with indiscernible noise also works for me. I love writing in cafes because a) I don’t feel alone as I‘m surrounded by people, b) I’m not distracted by domestic chores, c) there’s good coffee and d) it can make writing seem more pleasurable, like a holiday or an indulgence. I love the low hum of indistinguishable conversation as the soundtrack to writing.

I even considered acknowledging some of my favourite writing cafes in m PhD acknowledgments. The owners and baristas recognised me. I was the polite woman who would sit alone, drinking two coffees over two hours, tapping away at my keyboard or shuffling through annotated drafts. Quarantining myself in a public space for a specific block of time allowed and motivated me to just write.

Write when it works for you

Know your most productive times. I am at my best between 7am and 11am. This is when I zing with energy, ideas and the kind of focus that means that words and solutions come easily.

I am at my productivity worst from about 3pm to 6pm, during which I usually have the least physical and mental energy. Then I have a strange energetic renaissance between 8pm and 10pm, which are often the hours that I blog. Yet, sometimes in the evening I am too tired for anything but the most menial tasks: calendar entries, checking references, basic admin. I’ve learned that it’s better to close the laptop rather than stare uselessly in a kind of slo-mo catatonia.

To write my PhD, I had to leverage my best writing times and avoid my worst ones. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending time writing and not getting anywhere.

Use the in-between times

The shower, sleep, a walk, standing at the checkout, taking children to the park. These are all opportunities for cogitation and idea percolation. I often find, especially if I know I’ll be racing between commitments, I will deliberately plant a writing problem in my mind by thinking deeply on it for a time, and then let go of it, knowing that my brain will somehow continue to chip away at it while I do other things. Sometimes I revisit the problem mindfully, and sometimes a solution or idea will bubble up, unsolicited. Our writing solutions and growth often happen while we aren’t watching.

Work with others

I am new to co-authorship, but am finding that the writing relationships I am now nurturing push me beyond the kind of thinking I do on my own. I’m exploring new theorists and fresh methods. Collaborative writing can grow us beyond our writing selves.

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Despite my inactivity thus far this #AcWriMo, I appreciate the social media reminders of the importance of academic writing, and of making time and space for it. This is true even for someone like me who is on the academia outer, an adjunct and a practitioner in another field.

I can give myself permission to ride the ebbs and flows of work, writing, parenting and being a friend/spouse/daughter/sister/colleague. For now I will keep scribbling my acwri lists, keep revisiting my acwri goals, keep putting my eye to my acwri pipeline. I’ll get it moving again soon.

Fear and hope on US Election Night 2016

I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Today as I watched the US election result roll in, I was reminded of my reflections on Brexit and of my Halloween post last week about the dovetailing of humanity and monstrosity.

From afar I see the humanity of people fighting for what they want for their country and the world.

I see the monstrosity of words that fuel fear and hate. Words that wound and splinter, rather than heal and unite.

I see Jekyll and Hyde duality reflected in hard-fought political arenas.

I see democracy and freedom, but also lies, inconsistencies and uncertainty.

I see our glorious human imperfection, our perfectly imperfect selves.

I remain hopeful that parents and teachers and friends around the world continue to live and breathe kindness, inclusivity and authenticity every day. That maybe mess might have something to offer.

While social media can be a slippery beast, it can also be a place for people to come together. It can offer webs of connections that sustain us.

Tonight, the Literature teacher in me looked to dystopian fiction to tell me something about the world I was experiencing. I was reminded of Lionel Shriver’s 2016 novel The Mandibles, in which the USA economy collapses and Mexico builds a wall to keep illegal American immigrants out. I tweeted quotes from novels out into the void as a form of sense-making.

The parent in me vowed to raise my boys to be respectful, kind, loving humans who understand the privilege and responsibility that comes with being male and white in a society that rewards being male and white. To become men with integrity, generosity and a sense of responsibility.

The teacher in me committed to maintain positive relationships with my students and a classroom environment in which everyone feels safe and heard, as well as challenged to consider their own context, beliefs and assumptions, and to contribute positively to one another and the world.

The school leader in me wondered about how to ensure that staff and students are safe, nurtured, compassionate, challenged to think critically, and strong enough to advocate for those who are marginalised, bullied or Othered.

Among the fear and hope, monstrosity and humanity, darkness and light, we cannot accept the legitimisation of exclusion or hate against groups or individuals defined by gender, race or religion. We cannot allow ourselves to be worn, bent or broken by hatred, racism, misogyny or fear-mongering. We can only try to live Gandhi’s challenge to be the change we want to see in the world. Be your awesome, beautiful selves.

The gift of failure

surf fail from redbull.com

couch surfing fail from redbull.com

This blog post is a bit of a sequel to last Friday’s blog about the influence my teachers have had on my educator self. It’s a continuation of the reflections about what kinds of life-wide experiences have shaped me professionally. Telling my own story is related to this paper in which I wrote that those things that affect our professional educator identities are collaborative and individual; occurring in life, school, and work; and requiring elements of support and challenge. Personal life experiences, as well as professional experiences, shape educators’ beliefs and practices.

I’ve alluded to some of my wobbly moments when I talked about embracing my discomfort zone, learning that I grow most in times of challenge. But I’m often not always up front about those times. I usually prefer to paint my own narrative with a rosy hue. I tend not to focus too much on failure, but rather on areas of celebration and of improvement. I don’t enjoy lingering too long on soul-crushing defeat, although I am comfortable learning from missteps. Below, however, I provide a glimpse into my long and ordinary history of failure and disappointment, and how that has shaped me.

My childhood of course consisted of experiences in which I was not successful.  The Mathematics classroom and the sporting field were arenas in which I learned what it felt like to be a failure. I distinctly remember a moment in primary school when I asked my mum to keep me home from school on Sports Carnival day so I could avoid having my lack of athleticism paraded for everyone to see. I was thinking of the events in which I would have to compete, against children at least a year older than me, and in which I would ultimately lose. I distinctly remember her answer, which has stuck with me: “You are good at school every day. You get to be the person who enjoys success in class and feels good about herself. Today is the day for other students to have success and feel good about themselves.” I’m pretty sure her response was along the lines of, “Today is the day you get to be crap at something; now go and be crap at it,” and the insinuation that this was somehow valuable for me. Of course my primary school self was mainly upset that I had to have a day of feeling sub-par and coming last, but even at that age it allowed me to feel grateful that I only had to feel that occasionally. What about the students who felt like failures every day in every lesson, for whom school was a place of constant embarrassment and not being good enough?

This experience shaped my teacher identity. I try to remember in my teaching (especially as my subject is a compulsory one), that many of my students may not be enthusiastic about the subject or good at the subject; they may come with preconceived negative emotions, reactions, and expectations. They may have been imprinted with years of feeling failure in English, feeling exposed when asked to read aloud or feeling alarmed and distressed by corrections on their written work. How, I ask myself, do I engage and ‘get’ those students for whom being in an English classroom is a challenge or makes them feel like a failure, an idiot or a fish out of water? How can I make the experience of my classroom a more positive one? How can I make them feel understood and confident?

Much later, I was shaped by my experiences of failure in my PhD. I have described before the pits of PhDespair. I remember the moment when one of my supervisors said to me about a draft chapter, “When I read your research proposal, I thought you were a really good writer (pause for effect) and then I read this.” My supervisors told me that I needed to make the argument of the chapter clearer. This advice bemused and frustrated me. As a teacher of English and Literature, and someone who has ghost-written, copy-written, and creative-written in various contexts, I felt like I was now the remedial student in class who could not comprehend what was expected of her, or what good (academic) writing looked like. At these meetings I would nod, and afterwards I would go home, still confused. (It felt a lot like when my dad would help me with my Maths homework; eventually I would nod and say I got it, but I remained confused about how to achieve success.) I repeatedly went between my notes from my meeting with my supervisors and my draft chapter, trying to find a way to action advice that I did not fully understand. What would it look like if I was a critical reader and a clear academic writer? Clearly not what it looked like at that point in time. The proverbial sweat and tears on those early pages was intense and immense. I struggled, grappled, tried, yearned to ‘do it right,’ to understand what doing it right looked like, and still felt as though I was poking around in the dark with a flaccid stick, blind and impotent.

This experience was uncomfortable, squirmy, and difficult.  And it was in that space in which I started to make incremental changes, small steps towards understanding, towards ‘doing good research’ and ‘doing good academic writing.’ It is that space in which I which I was growing, transforming and learning. 

Meanwhile, that same week I provided my English classes with exemplars of good answers and worked through what it looked like to have written a piece which clearly addressed the criteria. While providing models is a part of my normal teaching practice, it certainly came to the fore while I was searching for it for my own writing.

As time has gone on, I have found that place of struggle less dark and more invigorating, because I’ve grown to see it as a place of breakthrough, rather than a place of breakdown. Peer review continues to be a place of growth for me. As I said in this post, receiving reviews often feels like simultaneously receiving a high five and a punch in the face.

We all fail at some things, some times. Some of us fail more than others. We hear terms like ‘growth mindset’ (which has been almost decoupled from Dweck’s research in some  buzzword-happy arenas) and phrases like ‘FAIL = first attempt in learning’ and ‘fail fast, fail often.’ But failure is not a catchy slogan or a viral meme. It is a deeply felt experience that shapes us. 

The more I fail, the more I’m able to see failure as an opportunity, rather than a slight. Failure and disappointment are inescapable parts of being a human. From childhood we develop strategies to sit with the emotion (disappointment! despair! anger! anguish! incredulity! imposter syndrome!) before, hopefully, rationally moving past the emotional to a place where we can be logical and take positive action. We have choices in how we respond to success and failure. We can develop ways to approach those moments in our lives. Acknowledging failure as a part of our cycles of being, doing and feeling means that we can face it, sit with it, and see what gifts it might offer us.

There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts. ~ Richard Bach