Multiple ways of being: Teacher, researcher, coach, vegetable, fruit.

this post's peer review comment, memefied on the advice of Rachel Buchanan

this post’s comment on peer review, memefied on the advice of Rachel Buchanan

Part of what I love about the work of research and academic writing is that it is brain-bendingly hard. There is always more reading to be done. There is always more writing. It can always be better. It can always be improved. Scholarly thinking requires a constant state of being open to critique from self and others, to finding new ways of knowing, understanding and communicating. This week I’ve received two first round lots of peer review comments. Receiving peer review feels to me like getting a high five and a punch in the face simultaneously. There is always something good, to be celebrated, and something that is mercilessly criticised. It’s both encouraging and brutal.

My thus-far-neophyte experience of academic work, is reflected in Inger Mewburn’s post today. She points out that a scholarly identity is a critical and questioning one. It is one in which the academic or researcher becomes someone always in progress, always learning, always working towards a never-finished goal. Becoming a scholar, Inger suggests, is an acceptance (or at least understanding) that the work is never done.

Pat Thomson this week blogged about research as embodied practices and awarenesses. Pat describes her research practice as being an ingrained part of her. Not grafted on or carried around, but deeply etched into the core of who she is and how she operates. An automatic-pilot way of being. This reminds me of my experiences of the internalisation of teaching, coaching and research, which I notice becoming a part of the ways I operate. Through deliberate practice, I find that I am internally transformed.

As someone who bestrides—and intends to continue to straddle—the dual worlds of teaching and research, not to mention the world of coaching, I am interested in discussions about and expressions of professional identity. (Professional identity was also part of my PhD thesis.) A few months ago, Greg Ashman wondered what it would mean if a person who teaches at a university level identified themselves as a teacher, a potato or Napoleon. Stewart Riddle, school-teacher-turned-academic, who identifies as both teacher and scholar, responded with this satirical one-act play. I also had a go, at that time, at exploring identities and who gets to decide who and what we ‘are’; my conclusion was that we get to shape and define our own identities. I do think, however, that when the voices of teachers are sought, the definition of what ‘teacher’ means, in that context for that purpose, needs to be made clear.

Fascinatingly, to my English teacher self, the word ‘potato’, originally used (flippantly, I think) in Greg’s blog post, gained momentum, taking on a life of its own. Linda Graham used it in this post about who might engage with debates in education, and Naomi Barnes used it in this post about what it means to be a teacher. Naomi proposes that “Who are teachers?” has become a radical question. Then, today, a Twitter conversation, in which one person attempted to attach a label to another, turned into a string of potato wisecracks accompanied by potato GIFs, all relating to the notion of identity. This humorous exchange seemed to engage with the question of who gets to attach labels to who.

I wonder about the humble potato amid this flurry of attention. It’s a staple food, seen as part of the tuber and nightshade families. It’s a reliable, fundamental ingredient in many households and restaurants, and can be prepared in many ways. There are over 100 varieties of potato (personally, I lean towards buying the Royal Blue). Yet despite its ubiquity and versatility, it has become an insult and a joke. (And not just on edu-Twitter. This month the Google car was called an ‘ugly potato’.)

If a potato is shorthand for an academic who works and teaches in a university, I don’t qualify. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be accepted as this kind of potato, should I choose to identify as one. While I do some academic writing, have recently completed a PhD and have an affiliation with a university, I cannot claim potato-academic status. Insert sad face emoji.

Perhaps I could adopt as my identity totem another member of the nightshade family. I love the nightshades for their glorious variety. From toxic to medicinal, from ornamentals to weeds, from fruits to vegetables, from spicy to delicious, this family of flowering plants (including the under-appreciated potato) displays the phantasmagoric splendour of the natural world. Perhaps I am an aubergine. Glossy, slightly bitter, smoky and a teeny bit addictive.

The aubergine can be seen as a boundary spanner (a term recently introduced to me by Marten Koomen). It’s often seen as and cooked with vegetables, but is actually a fruit. It has a fancy French name as well as a number of alter egos (eggplant, guinea squash, melongene, garden egg). A vegetable-like fruit that is also called a squash, a plant and an egg! As a teacher-leader-coach-researcher-writer I feel an affinity with the aubergine, its multiple identities and its many labels. My boundary-spanning auberguine-esque self, sitting both astride and between worlds, wonders about my ways of being. Is it possible to embody multiple practices that belong to multiple roles?

If, as Will Durant said (in a quote often attributed to Aristotle),

“we are what we repeatedly do”

then what are we when we do multiple things as we move between multiple roles? How long does it take us to ‘become’ something in the first place? How long does it take for a researcher to stop being a researcher after they stop doing formal research? How long after a teacher’s last class, or coach’s last coaching conversation, or leader’s last formal moment of leading, before they are no longer teacher, coach or leader?

Or do some of our beliefs about the world, and ways of being in the world, become so much a part of us that we continue to embody them? Can we morph from one vegetable-fruit metaphor to another, shedding our potato-aubergine skins? Or do we carry them within us, always?

Gloss and light: On PhDs and education debates

by @debsnet

I love a good metaphor. I really do. I blog around metaphors a lot – coaching as strawberry picking, PhD thesis as stone sculpture, selves as kaleidoscopes, connections as webs. Additionally, my PhD data revealed participants’ identity metaphors, which I found invigorating and fascinating to map and interrogate. Metaphors help us to think in different ways. They provide a powerful vehicle and a coherent frame for defining our realities.

So I was interested to read of Brett Salakas’ use of metaphor in his Education Nation keynote this week, ‘PISA Pipe Dreams’. I wasn’t at Education Nation, so only have Twitter and this blog post by Brendan Mitchell on which to base my response. I tweeted some thoughts to Brendan and Brett after I had read the blog post. In my tweets, I noted that I agreed with Brett’s points that education and what works is contextual, that reliance on external testing metrics like PISA needs continued critique, and that education should begin with and be guided by its core purpose. I also had some wonderings around two metaphors Brett used, a couple of which I flesh out below.

Metaphor 1: The glossy PhD

This one got me thinking. Brett had a slide in which he outlined what he was not. One thing he was not, according to this slide, was “someone with a glossy PhD”. As a newly-doctored PhD, I found this way of looking at the Doctor of Philosophy amusing and bemusing. I understand that Brett was outlining his perspective to the audience (and the English teacher in me loves a good adjective), but my experience of the PhD is anything but ‘glossy’.

Gloss suggests both shininess and superficiality. It is shiny and lustrous. A gloss can be a veneer covering a lack of substance or hiding something sinister below the surface. Certainly, I popped champagne and luxuriated in the joy of the beautiful final thesis document, and I’m kind of looking forward to donning my graduation regalia. Yet, the experience of much of the PhD is about being down and dirty, not glossy and sparkling. And certainly not superficial.

To explain the messiness and struggle of the PhD, the rabbit hole became a metaphor for me. I was Alice, tumbling deep into a new world, on a journey of sense-making and self-making. I was simultaneously the rabbit, burrowing into dark earth. Digging, digging, digging, the light far behind me and the unilluminated darkness ahead. The PhD is all about embracing discomfort. It’s about persistence, sweat, tears, keystrokes, insomnia, the pit of despair and occasionally the triumph when breakdowns turn to breakthroughs. It’s the ultimate in transformative learning. And it is hard. Stories of struggle abound. It’s the opposite of gloss and glamour. It’s wailing at a computer screen while wearing your least fashionable pajamas. It’s furrowing your brow for hours at a time as you pour over literatures in an attempt to understand the world in new ways and through new eyes. It’s spending years obsessing over an issue about which you feel passion deep at your core. It is reading and writing and deleting and re-writing and gnashing teeth.

Am I someone with a PhD? Yep. Is it glossy? I don’t think so (although I might buy some fabulous shoes to wear to graduation). I’m someone deeply marked with that experience in the way I think, read, write, learn, talk, assess evidence, and work through critical feedback from others. I know more now about all that I don’t know. I still have the dirt of the rabbit hole beneath my fingernails and the scrapes on my knees from a personal and intellectual journey that was rough and wonderful, not soft and silken.

Metaphor 2: Be the light in the darkness

In his blog post, Brendan shared that the takeaway message from Brett’s keynote was that we as educators need to be beacons of positivity to stave off the darkness and the negativity. In some ways I agree with the notion of ‘being the light’. I tend to be someone who is less combative and more co-operative. I advocate for compassionate and graceful debate, rather than divisive attack. I celebrate and advocate, rather than confront or complain.

However, I also see some dangers in the notion that educators embrace being positive and shining light, without considering ‘the darkness’ or negativity. Some of the most famous stories have two sides, both deeply committed to their cause and believing that their position is right. Folk heroes like Robin Hood and Ned Kelly can be seen as criminal outlaws or people’s heroes, depending on point of view. The Star Wars Rebel Alliance can be viewed as the goodies, or as a rag-tag band of terrorists disturbing the order of the Galactic Empire. I’ve been in school leadership roles now for 15 years, and the more I have led, the more I have learned to value those who question or resist. I ask myself: What can we learn from the perspectives of those who don’t agree, don’t embrace new change, or who have negative things to say? Where are they coming from? How might this change be made meaningful for them? What might be missing? What might their points of view offer? Negative or oppositional voices are not ‘the darkness’, but rather alternate perspectives to be heard, understood and considered.

Bob Garmston and Bruce Wellman, in The Adaptive School: A source book for developing collaborative groups, point out that high functioning groups are not happy agreeable places. In fact, they say that low functioning groups tend to be polite and reluctant to engage in dialogue about differences. High functioning groups are ones that embrace cognitive conflict and graceful disagreement.

But not all disagreement is helpful. Unproductive conflict, Garmston and Wellman argue, includes disagreements over personalised, individually-oriented matters which are destructive and lead to decreased empathy and poorer decisions. Productive conflict, on the other hand, is where substantive differences of opinion are thoughtfully thrashed out in order to increase empathy, develop understanding and make better decisions. In productive disagreement, the aim is to understand conflicting viewpoints and honour all perspectives while working together towards a decision.

If the education community is to be a high functioning one, it too needs to be ok with being challenged and with productive disagreement. We need to poke around in the darkness, trying to understand and illuminate it. Finding ways forward in education is less about divisive arguments or staving off those with whom we don’t agree. It’s more about seeking to understand competing perspectives in order to agree on the why, how and what of education, so we can do the best job for our students.

Thanks to Brendan and Brett for getting me thinking.

Reflections on coaching after ISCAPPED 2016

ISCAPPED2

The International Symposium for Coaching and Positive Psychology in Education (ISCAPPED) happened in Sydney this week. It involved two days of keynotes, breakout sessions and corridor conversations by academics, pracademics and practitioners committed to researching, implementing and sharing their coaching and positive psychology work in schools around the world, and specifically in Australia. The yoking of two fields meant that it was possible to glean the differences in the arenas and the places at which they intersected. What stood out to me as a point of difference was the language used; while positive psychology sessions tended to use words like ‘self-esteem’ and ‘strengths’, coaching presentations were around ‘efficacy’ and ‘capacity’.

I presented twice at the symposium, once with colleagues, on the journey of our coaching model for teacher growth, and once on the coaching findings of my PhD research, which was set against the context of that school-based coaching model for teacher professional learning.

My colleagues and I outlined the story of the development of our model from its strategically-aligned beginnings, to its teacher-owned development and its whole-school implementation. Our presentation included a structured conversation that used some of the basics of Cognitive Coaching: the pattern of pausing, paraphrasing and posing cognitively-mediative questions, while setting aside the coach’s own patterns of unproductive listening. Our selection of coaches is based on beliefs that, while everyone is coachable and has the capacity to improve, not everyone can be a good coach.

I then shared my PhD research alongside Alex Guedes, who has also conducted research against the backdrop of a school-based coaching model for teacher capacity building. This presentation, which occurred under lights on the stage on which the keynotes were presented, covered the context, foci, method and findings of our PhD studies, with a particular focus on coaching. My findings, which I explore in more detail in this paper in the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, include that coaching can be an empowering, identity-forming, relationship-building and language-shaping experience. They also include that coaching, while not a silver bullet, can be an effective part of positive organisational growth.

These findings resonate with Costa and Garmston’s notion of holonomy, in which the parts and the whole are both separate and together; the individual and the organisation grow and influence one another. Identities, language and understandings are collectively constructed. Congruent tools like Cognitive Coaching and the Danielson Framework for Teaching can be used to grow people, teams and systems, within environments and relationships of trust. In the coaching intervention that provided the context for my study, and that continues to operate in my school, non-judgemental data provides a ‘third point’ in coaching conversations, in order to depersonalise teacher reflections. Another third point is the Danielson Framework, our shared standards of teaching practice.

lucky enough to catch Vivid Sydney while we were there

lucky enough to catch Vivid Sydney while we were there

Coaching is hard cognitive work. This Monday, the #educoachOC Twitter chat will explore listening in a coaching context. I’ve recently been exposed to another string to the listening toolbox I use when coaching, which has thus far included careful listening for spoken language use, purposeful paraphrasing and watching eye movement to gauge what thinking is going on for the coachee. Recently, Bruce Wellman, author of The Adaptive School and Learning-focused supervision, came to work with my school on a variety of things. He worked with our team of coaches on something he calls non-verbal paraphrasing. He ran a workshop with us and shared his paper titled, ‘Nonverbal elegance when paraphrasing’.

Bruce couches this idea in research from anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science and neuroscience. Gesture, he explains, reduces the cognitive load of the speaker, saving energy by communicating information through body as well as spoken language. It is also primal in that gestures can reflect emerging or intuitive understandings. That is, our physicality can express those things we might not yet have words to express, or those things we are wrestling with between our knowing and not knowing.

In a coaching context, our brain’s mirror neurons help us to show empathy with the coachee, and we can also be deliberate about mirroring body language in order to be in rapport. Bruce suggests that additionally, we can “listen with our eyes”, watching for how someone’s body language extends, amplifies or makes clearer their thinking. Paying careful attention to how coachees use their hands—to explain concepts, sequence events or place people in their internal world—is a powerful listening skill. It allows the coach to paraphrase, not just the words the coachee uses, but also the physical referencing. Since doing this workshop I’ve noticed myself paying more attention to gesture, and trying to reflect back coachees’ gestures during my paraphrasing.

(Side note: As I type this I’m finding that I am gesturing between keystrokes as I try to figure out my ideas and the words I’ll use to express them. Perhaps that’s because Bruce Wellman’s concept of non-verbal paraphrasing is new to me, and my primal brain is helping me figure out my understandings. I’ve spoken a lot about writing as a mode of inquiry – writing to understand. I’m wondering now about gesturing as a mode of inquiry – gesturing to understand. *gesticulates wildly*)

So there are multiple skills to coaching, which can be honed and developed over time, but as Christian van Niewerburgh’s keynote pointed out, the coaching process and coaching skills aren’t enough. They are necessary but not sufficient. I agree with Christian when he says that transformative coaches are those who adopt coaching as a way of being. I also agree with him that coaching needs a theoretical and evidence base. Coaching isn’t a recipe on a laminated sheet. It is more than a process, a conversation or something anyone can do after a quick training session in which they are given a conversational formula.

Cognitive Coaching, which is the model in which I am trained and that my school uses in our context, is deeply rooted in research, and layered with multiple lenses and skills. The research base for Cognitive Coaching is most rigourously explored in Art Costa and Bob Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching text, now in its third edition (the previous editions were called Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools). Other references include this 2003 paper on why Cognitive Coaching persists. These references and others (I have plenty!) tease out the reasons why coaching, done well, can be powerful and transformative.

Coaching is not mentoring, or telling, or advice giving, or passing judgement, or giving ‘helpful’ tips that make the feedback-giver feel like they’re being really useful. It is trusting in the capacity of the other person to solve their own problems, decide on their own trajectory of growth and consider how best to improve. The coach’s difficult work is in expertly and deliberately using a toolbox of knowledge and skills. These knowledge and skills are deliberately used as well as internalised and woven into the coach’s way of being, to help move the person’s thinking forward. That’s where the ‘cognitive’ in Cognitive Coaching comes in. The coach mediates thinking, because thought is what drives action. Changing thinking changes behaviour. It’s in the ‘a-ha’ moment, which cognitive coaches call ‘cognitive shift’, that individuals are transformed from the inside out. The magic is that the coach is mirror, conduit, provocateur and nudger, but it is the person being coached who does the thinking and finds their way.

Textiles & academic writing: Material, process, product


This post, which could also be titled ‘remembering my 1990s feminist self’ is a re-emergence of some thinking I did a long time ago in my early years at university. After leaving school, I completed a Fine Art degree, followed by an Honours year. I’m writing this post as a way into self-inquiry, a way to write myself towards my hunch that my early days as a feminist-textile-artist-writer have underscored my more recent PhD work and academic writing. Big thanks to Katie Collins whose wonderful blog post on subversive material metaphors in academic writing sparked my thinking.

I was a painter from a young age, thanks to my artist mother, but I chose to study textiles as a major in my undergraduate Fine Art degree, rather than painting. This choice was due to the meanings inherent in textile materials, processes and products. A textile artist can weave in metal or print on latex. They can make work in the blacksmith forge or the sculpture studio. They can work with cardboard or furniture or paint or dye or thread or canvas or wire or plastic or found objects. The visceral and sensory experience of working with materials is central to the artistic process.

The materials a textile artist chooses, and the scale at which they magnify or miniaturise those materials, are deliberate meaning-making choices. The artist can choose needlework and hand-dying, or industrial Warhol-esque mass printing. They can applique or cut away. They can build or melt. They can assemble or destroy. They can stitch or slice. They can focus on the macro or the micro, staggering their viewer with enormous size or encouraging the viewer to come in, up close and personal.

Textiles is personal and political. It is also a subversive arena for artists, and often a feminist one. It pushes or rails against the stratification of ‘Art’, which has often meant the dichotomising of cerebral, thinking highbrow Art (upper-case ‘A’, often seen as done by men), and functional or decorative art (lower-case ‘a’, often associated with women and femininity). Historically, women were objects of art: she the body to be gazed at and sculpted. Or objects of art were personified as women: she the landscape to be scrutinised and painted.

The art historical devaluing of textiles pivots on its early treatment by critics, galleries and institutions. Aesthetic disciplines depend on recognised ‘powers that be’ to promote and uphold them. Early galleries and history books excluded textiles. Unlike painting and sculpture, textiles was historically seen as an unimportant discipline, undeserving of discussion, not worth deconstructing for message or meaning. The association of textiles with the devalued domestic space of the home, the opposite of the glorified public space of the art gallery, contributes to its dismissal.

So, why am I back here, thinking about textiles as feminist discourse or subversive act? Because Katie Collins’ post brought memories of my past self bubbling to the surface. And I am wondering to what extent my long-ago thinking and artistic practice, around the meanings inherent in working in and writing about textiles, has influenced my current and recent research and academic writing. On reflection, my PhD incorporated disruptive elements. While fitting largely within an accepted academic paradigm, it quietly challenged the ways that knowledge is traditionally written about. I used narrative method, literary metaphor and created three multimedia illustrations for the thesis, corporeal expressions of my thinking.

Now that I’m back in the eye of this needle, I need to think further about how textiles might provide a metaphor for research and academic writing.

In the meantime, below I will type an extract from a paper that won me the Allport Writing Award in 1998, and was published in Textile Fibre Forum. It was an analysis of Vivienne Binns’ artwork Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat. The piece gives a sense of where my thinking was around textiles as feminist activism in the late 1990s. I have deliberately omitted an image of the artwork as I’m wondering if the text itself can paint the picture for you.

(For non-Australian readers, Captain James Cook was a British explorer who claimed to ‘discover’ the south eastern coast of Australia in 1770.)

_________________________________________

Extract from ‘Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat: Rewriting history through cloth’

by Deborah M. Netolicky (1998), Textile Fibre Forum, Volume 53.

Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat may be read as one woman’s attempt to rewrite and reinterpret human history. Here Vivienne Binns contributes to the discourse on journey, adventure, and historical significance, telling the pain-filled woman’s story of discovery and adventure—the burden of waiting and worrying, as opposed to doing and dying. Through this work she questions platitudes of the day, such as “men work and women weep”. Binns demonstrates that women were not passive, but were actively working contributing, storytelling, and recording their own histories, written in needlework.

Binns uses journey as metaphor, identifying with Mrs Cook’s expedition as expressed through the waistcoat for Mr Cook. She challenges the value placed on women’s histories and women’s work by challenging the notion that Mrs Cook’s journey was insignificant in terms of human history. She has chosen to elevate its significance, giving it voice, implanting it in the discourse of high art.

… Captain Cook’s wife is the “Mrs Cook” referred to by the title of the work which tells the story of her laboring over a waistcoat for her husband while he is away on a long voyage. The waistcoat mapnel is larger-than-life, describing the legendary reputation of Captain Cook in Australian myth-making, and the amplified importance that Binns intends to give to the making of the waistcoat.

Binns connects the historical representation and exploration of Cook’s journey with issues of women’s value, women’s history, and the construction of gender. In her version of this story, the ocean water is a metaphor for a bewitching, intoxicating vacillating, unpredictable femininity and female identity … Cook, the white, middle-class male, is discovering, navigating, defining, and fixing the limits of the Pacific Ocean. He is writing the experiences, histories, and memories of and for the water, which has no voice. It is formless, restless, intuitive, irrational, and passive, in need of taming, subjugating, explaining and defining by the rational, scientific logic of male discourse.

Nature is tamed by culture. Binns places herself in the middle ground. She associates herself as water, as a woman employing subconscious, intuitive processes – her own emotions, remembrances, and ideas about certain colours, materials, and ways of working. On the other hand, she calmly calculates, selects, and constructs her images, associating herself with the heroic explorer, just as the artist does on a continuous intellectual journey to discover new meanings. This marriage of antithetical metaphors reflects Binns’ concerns with shaping perceptions of women’s ways of knowing, living, researching, remembering, experiencing, and making. By yoking the two ways of working, she gives equal value to each.

…The waistcoat can be seen as a woman’s way of writing and recording history. Women write history in fabric, men write history in text. Binns makes Mrs Cook’s journey of waiting, sewing, and weeping, as valid as Captain Cook’s journey. The labour and time involved in making this waistcoat explain the wife’s dedication and devotion to her far-away husband. Binns questions the trivialisation of women’s roles surrounding issues of the domestic and ‘crafty’. … She uses the processes, materials, and experiences of women—traditional metaphors of women’s work—to weave a myth about women’s forgotten places in history.

Penetrated openings are created by slicing, cutting, and scarring the fabric, fabric that represents flesh as well a material. … Rolled up papers (the stuff of men’s work) penetrate exposed fabric (the stuff of women’s work); paper penetrates fabric; men’s work penetrates women’s work; culture penetrates nature. The slits in the fabric are peeled back like open sores, mirroring the multiple stab wounds that were the cause of Cook’s death. The ultimate satire of the story is that while Mrs Cook is lovingly creating the waistcoat for her husband, he is already dead, his stab wounds mirrored in her handiwork. This is reflected in the typed and hand-written text, which permeates through a layer of white paint: “Mrs Cook embroidered… this time the Captain did not return and the waistcoat remains unfinished”. This irony elevates her personal anguish, and points to the difference in men’s discourses and women’s ways of speaking through needlework.

…Binns … uses traditionally female and domestic techniques of women’s work: embroidery, pattern-cutting, and sewing. There is a sense of Mrs Cook’s physical involvement in this garment, her time, effort, and care. It is stitched, cut, glued. Elements, images, textures, and metaphors are exposed, denied, revealed, concealed, constructed, deconstructed, veiled, disguised, patterned, decorated slashed, sliced, torn, ripped, reconstructed. The piece is layered with the corporeal stuff of memory.

… Binns does not create a new reality, but reflects and reinterprets the existing one in a way that gives it new meaning. She puts one moment in one woman’s life under the microscope until it boils, making her audience reconsider women’s lives, women’s history and women’s art.

Harvesting good work: Reap what you sow

I’m not a farmer, not even a green thumb really. While I quite enjoy gardening and have a composter, I’ve learned to populate my garden with plants that survive on a healthy dose of neglect. (Side note on the composter: there is something joyful about shredding old copies of my PhD thesis drafts and feeding them to the worms.) Despite my lack of horticultural know-how, I’ve recently been considering the farming—and biblical—metaphor that you reap what you sow.

I often see others I admire reaping the rewards of their work. These people aren’t slaves to the performative measures of a neoliberal system, or narcissists seeking the spotlight of social media celebrity. They are humans–professionals, thinkers, theorists and practitioners–dedicated to work they believe is important. To doing it, sharing it, making a difference.

Since the final throes of my PhD in March, things have been happening in seemingly organic ways. Of course the PhD got done-and-fairy-dusted, and the thesis published online. The first paper from my PhD has since been published: ‘Coaching for professional growth in one Australian school: “oil in water”’, in the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. I have another paper in press, due out next month. Two more are sitting on editors’ or reviewers’ desks. Two drafts are on the desk of a co-author. I have been interviewed on the Teachers’ Education Review podcast and on 2SER Sydney community radio. I had a piece published in The Conversation this week, about the dangers of pursuing performance pay for teachers. I am in discussions about bookish things, too.

And I’ve been on some kind of accidental-on-purpose conference circuit. AERA in DC in April. researchED in Melbourne in May. The International Symposium for Coaching and Positive Psychology in Education in Sydney in June (this Thursday and Friday). Heroism Science in Perth in July. For (little old) me, alongside my work at my school, all this seems like armfuls of hand-picked produce.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised at the pace of my recent schedule of outside-of-work commitments (also known as the unpaid-but-rewarding work that is academic writing and presenting), and the fact that I’ve started to be approached, rather than doing the approaching myself. But I am quietly bemused that I seem to be in a harvesting part of a cycle, even though I know that this is actually the result of hard and persistent work. The seeds for the current abundance were selected, sown and tended a while ago. Papers were written and reviewed (and reviewed and reviewed). Abstracts were drafted and submitted. Relationships were formed and cultivated. Presentations were prepared. Work was done. A lot of it. In my evenings and on my weekends and in my down time, and in all the little nooks and crannies of my life where I could fit reading, writing, collaborating, learning and connecting. Thank goodness for the wonderful people who support me, from my family and friends, to my colleagues and professional learning network, the Twitterati and my Voxer Squad.

I believe in doing good work. For me this is enacted in ways that are without a linear frame. I’m never quite sure where I’ll end up, or even where exactly I’m intending to go. It’s about doing work that I’m passionate about and feel is important, whether in service of my students, my coachees, my school, or knowledge in the world. In my writing, too, I often try things out, head down trails unsure of where they lead, double back, try again.

So, for now I continue to sow seeds I think are worth sowing. Write and research those things I think are worth writing and researching. Say things I think are worth saying. Teach what I think is worth teaching, in ways I think are most worth doing. Seek to learn those things I think are most worth learning.

The fun thing about this kind of sowing is that it’s like planting mystery seeds. I never quite know what influences or impacts something I do now might have in the future. It’s why the reaping feels like Christmas morning.

The best bit is how rewarding all the persistent and consistent hard work is. I like the work itself. I love the struggle and the triumph. I love the connections and the relationships that bubble up and take form. I love the unexpected rhizomatic results. A failed planting. A teeny green seedling reaching up from damp dark earth. A basketful of glossy fruit. A knotted beanstalk reaching up to the clouds.

Reflections on researchED Melbourne #rEdMel

I’ve landed back in Perth after a whirlwind trip to Melbourne for this year’s researchED conference. This post is an attempt to unravel the tangled threads in my head, after what was a big day of thinking, listening and talking.

On coaching: Our panel

Being on a panel with Corinne Campbell, Chris Munro and Jon Andrews was the highlight of the day for me. That included not only the panel presentation but the opportunity to be in the same place, at the same time, able to flesh out our ideas about coaching together (as well as plenty of other educational issues).

Founder of researchED, Tom Bennett, saw the four of us working together early in the day and joked that it was like four Avengers coming together in one movie. That struck a chord with me, because we are four individuals deeply committed to making a difference in our own contexts, in four different Australian cities. But we’ve come together across social media time and space to collaborate on #educoachOC, a monthly Twitter chat on coaching in education, which aims to centralise, clarify and tease out the global conversation around coaching in schools. I met Corinne and Chris for the first time at last year’s researchED conference in Sydney, the first Australian iteration. I hadn’t met Jon until yesterday, yet we’ve been collaborating for months, and talking about practice, writing, leadership and coaching.

So getting together with my fellow Avengers was like landing in my nerd heartland for a day. We are, however, less about avenging and more about advocating for supporting teachers and trusting in their capacities for improvement. Coaching was revealed in the panel discussion as an enhancement and growth process, not a deficit model for fixing underperformers.

Our panel seemed well-received, and I learned from my fellow panellists as we covered what we mean by coaching, why each of our schools adopted coaching, what it looks like in each school, the impacts we’ve noticed, and the broader implications for coaching in schools. We explored issues of trust, implementation and mandation. We considered the conference theme: how coaching might fit with ‘working out what works’. On the one hand coaching does not prescribe ‘what works’ to coachees, and yet coaching has been shown to work. It is a researched but contested approach to learning and growth, with coaching models varying in intent and execution. Coaching is about practitioners being given the time and space to work out what works, for them, in their contexts.

On research ethics: My presentation

My individual presentation was on a topic I later described on Twitter as the unsexy undergarments of research: ethics. Necessary and crucial, but often viewed as unexciting. I looked at ethical considerations and decision making, for teachers researching their own schools, using my PhD study as an example.

I shared this quote from Helen Kara’s book Creative research methods in the social sciences:

Ethics should underpin every single step of research, from the first germ of an idea to the last act after dissemination. And ethical problems require ethical decision-making – which allows for creativity.

Here, Helen reminds researchers that ethics is creative problem solving. It does have to be well-considered, systematic, respectful and just (see the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research), but it doesn’t need to be tedious.

I outlined the ethical challenges in my PhD, and the ways in which I grappled with those and made decisions. My operationalising of ethical solutions included writing information letters and consent forms; using an independent interviewer to interview teacher participants (and a rigorous approach to protecting teacher identities); designing deliberate interview protocols; drawing data together into composite stories; and utilising metaphor to protect participants while making interpretive meaning.

I discussed the benefits and limitations to being a researcher embedded in one’s own context. Below are the implications and questions I ended with.

Evidence-based practice in education

Among other presentations, I saw two on using evidence and research in schools, one by Gary Jones and another by Ray Swann. What I enjoyed about both approaches to evidence-based and research-informed practice in schools, is that they promoted valuing of not only the ‘best available evidence’, but also the wisdom of practice of teachers and school leaders. That is, they valued tacit knowledge and the expertise that comes with lived experience. They also acknowledged the value-laden and culturally-influenced nature of using evidence in schools. I think these are important layers to understanding what works in schools, and how schools can work towards finding what is shown to work in other contexts, and how they might therefore pursue what works in their own.

What I enjoy about Gary’s work is that he provides explicit frames for applying systematic approaches to evidence-based practice. He manages to make sense of the complexities of evidence-based practice, in order to communicate it with clarity, and in a way that educators can understand and apply. I recommend reading his blog and his handbook for evidence-based practice.

The researchED Avengers?

Thinking back to Tom’s analogy of the Avengers, the crowd at researchED is kind of like a room of fantastical superheroes. Here were close to 200 educators—teachers, school leaders, researchers and professors, each with their own individual gifts, talents, passions, stories and arenas of expertise—spending their Saturday dedicated to learning, connecting and talking about working out what works in education. There were some great questions from the audiences in the sessions I attended. Those that got me thinking included:

“Who decides what the ‘best available evidence’ is and how do they decide?”

“Where should coaching happen and how long should a coaching conversation be?”

“If you were start your research again, would you make the same decisions?”

There were also great comments, questions and provocations from those educators on Twitter who were engaging with the conference hashtag from afar, adding another level of richness to the online and offline conversations.

When Dylan Wiliam popped into the speakers’ dinner, it added a further layer to discussions. Here was another educator coming out to talk education on a Saturday night, after coming straight from presenting at a national conference, and before getting up the next day to present all day again. For me, it was great to be able to discuss his new book, Leadership for Teacher Learning, the use of the Danielson Framework for Teaching, and performance pay.

Tom describes researchED as built on and powered by (I’m paraphrasing and embellishing here) blood, sweat, volunteers and fairy dust. That is, those supporting this conference, around the world—including participants, presenters and schools—care deeply about education. These are people dedicated to making classrooms and schools better places for better learning.

It was a pleasure to be part of the conversation for the second year in a row. I’ve been left with plenty to think about.

_____________________

And some more reading …

You can see my reasons for attending researchED Melbourne 2016 here.

Jon Andrews has shared his reflections on Melbourne’s researchED here.

Pamela Snow has written this post about her presentation at yesterday’s researchED on justice re-investment.

Greg Ashman wrote this post about his day at researchED.

Gary Jones wrote this post reflecting on Melbourne’s researchED.

Susan Bradbeer has written this post about her experience of researchED from afar, as someone who followed the conversation on social media and the blogosphere.

Tom Bennett had some reflections after the Melbourne event, published here on the TES blog.

You can see my reflections on researchED Sydney 2015 here.

Liquid becoming: Reflections on post-PhD identity and momentum

Reflections on how

things can change across a year.

Liquid becoming.

 

Identities like

ice floes. Shifting. Writing self

into being. Flux.

 

Mutable quicksand

liquefying, swallowing.

Consumed or dissolved.

 

What does it mean to

be doctor me? One foot in

front of the other.

cherry tree trunk, Tidal Basin, DC

cherry tree trunk, Tidal Basin, DC

I’m finding myself in a moment of reflection, hence the above haiku-ification of my thoughts.

If I look back one year ago, I was blogging about blogging anonymously. I was introducing myself to people at conferences who knew my Twitter profile but would not have recognised my avatar, or my online name. Recently I have been letting go of that anonymity and this month updated my avatar and my name on my social media accounts, making myself identifiable and searchable. Although I’m still not sure entirely how I feel about that.

A year ago I was in the throes of struggling with my PhD thesis discussion chapter. Since then, the PhD is done. I am doctored. But my ‘doctor’ identity has yet to catch up with me. In changing my Twitter name and the title on my frequent flyer account (in-flight medical emergencies, here I come!) I’m hoping that my doctor-ness might start to feel like a part of who I am.

one of my favourite PhD memes

one of my favourite PhD memes

In the last year, wonderful unexpected things have happened in rhizomatic ways. I have been invited to speak at events. This blog was nominated for the Edublog Awards, and came fourth in the Best Individual Blog category. It was recommended by the likes of Professor Tara Brabazon, in this keynote podcast. I have had two peer-reviewed papers accepted for publication. My paper submission to the AERA conference was accepted, and so I went to Washington DC to present it and attend the conference. In the last eight months I have been involved in founding and co-moderating the monthly #educoachOC Twitter chat. The Times Higher Education blog asked to publish one of my blog posts (interestingly, one I would never have put forward). I’ve developed collegial, thinkerly and writerly relationships with people on Twitter and WordPress, many of whom I haven’t met in person. I’m in discussions with scholars about writing book chapters and co-authoring papers. These unforeseeable delights have shaped my year into something rewarding, interesting and surprising.

I write these things down partly to marvel at their coming into being, and partly to wonder about how it is that they have happened while I have quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) gone about my life and work.

In January I focused on a personal ‘one word’ for this year: ‘momentum’. The word ‘momentum’ continues to resonate with me. While I’m sure things will continue to happen and evolve, I have no Grand Plan. I continue to work at my Australian school. I continue to write papers from my doctoral dissertation. I continue to think about possibilities for work, research, presenting and writing that might serve my students, colleagues, school and the education community, while fuelling my own passion and inner nerd heart. I’m hoping that this one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach (the same approach I used to get through the PhD) will build momentum, and that rewarding partnerships and important work will continue to bubble up and come into being.

It is Fred Dervin who writes about identities as liquid. I imagine the liquid mirror in the film The Matrix, which I also talked about in this post on reflexivity. But that liquid mirror was one that consumed the person, rather than the person themselves being liquid, which is, I think, a more uncomfortable concept. To be always shifting, always fluid, always becoming and even unbecoming.

As I simultaneously feel myself unravelling and re-forming, attempting to take some shape, I’m waiting for more stable internal identity ground for myself, post-PhD. In the meantime, I guess I can surf the shifting ice floes or try to luxuriate in the quicksand instability of feeling more inner liquidity than usual?

cherry tree trunk, Tidal Basin, DC

cherry tree trunk, Tidal Basin, DC

Academic activism: Scholars, let your moral passion drive you #aera16

Iwo Jima at sunrise

Iwo Jima at sunrise

The theme of much of my day at the AERA conference yesterday was around scholarly activism. This post, which also shares a few of my photo snaps from DC, reflects on what yesterday’s sessions had to teach me about being a scholar. This comes at an important point in my journey. Now that the PhD is done, I’m thinking about what work I’ll do next in my school, my research and my academic writing.

In one roundtable session, a paper by Stefani Relles and Randy Clemens used the metaphor of punk rock for academics who use DIY scholarship in their quest for social justice. They theorized punk rock scholarship as grounded, activist and disruptive, using comparisons to skateboarders, graffiti artists and musicians of the punk movement. I reflected that a punk rock scholar might circumvent or disrupt traditional academic practices by self-publishing, using social media, blogging, or embracing open access and saying no to pay-walled publishing. But there was discussion at the roundtable about the extent to which an academic can be an outlaw. How disruptive can one be within the system, which places particular norms, pressures and metrics on those working within the academy? How might academics navigate the need for a pay check and tenure with their passion for social justice? Is it a case of corporate Bruce Wayne by day and vigilante Batman by night?

Similar issues emerged in a six-paper session about post-qualitative methodologies in which scholars were pushing at the boundaries of, dissolving, or letting go of, accepted Western ways of knowing and researching. Audience questions included those about how to exist within an academy while challenging or dismissing much of what it holds to be true or important.

Georgetown blossoms

Georgetown blossoms

Yesterday the notion of scholarly activism also emerged in a panel of what some might call superstar or celebrity academics. A discussion between Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch was moderated by Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss. One theme which emerged was the importance of researching and writing from a burning core of moral passion. In discussing their books, the authors talked about what had inspired and driven them to write. In each case it was a sense that a book needed to be written, an argument needed to be made, something had to be said, an idea or group needed to be mobilised. Their writing was framed as political activism and advocacy. It had an emotional and moral component. Andy Hargreaves noted that writing should be based on the nobility of an idea.

Diane Ravitch’s story pointed to the need for persistence with moral purpose. She told the audience that her best-selling, award-winning book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education was initially turned down by 15 publishers. At 77 years of age she is also an example of the power of social media and blogging. Her blog has more than 14,000 posts with more than 27 million page views. This speaks to the opportunities for scholars to leverage social media and the blogosphere to communicate their work and their messages to wide audiences. Tweeting and blogging can be scholarly writing practices.

Jefferson

Jefferson

I wonder about how much career stage and level of influence make a difference to the extent to which it is possible to disrupt the status quo. As a PhD candidate, I pushed at the boundaries of the traditional in my thesis, but I was also keenly aware of the need for my dissertation to be recognizable (by the all-important examiners) as an acceptable academic text. I pushed and agitated, but within the limits of what I thought I could get away with while still passing the PhD. Are those earlier in their careers, or in universities on contracts, less able to agitate, disrupt and advocate? Or is it again a case of Diana Prince sometimes, Wonder Woman at others? Clark Kent and Superman? The acceptable academic versus the one fighting for what they believe at their core to be the most important work?

The AERA conference itself is in some ways an exercise in homogeneity. While with about 18,000 in attendance, there is a wide range of topics being covered, most attending are dressed in variations of the same theme. Outwardly, there is an expectation of the academic, graduate student and educator. Do we wear our capes beneath our clothing? Is it our words and our work that are the heroes and the punk rockers?

Yesterday answered many of the questions I’ve been asking myself about what work to choose to do next. I think the answer might be simple. Do the work you believe at your core to be important. Say what needs to be said. Be guided by moral passion, social justice and fundamental purpose.

Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library

On professional learning: My #AERA16 presentation slides

Yesterday I presented a paper in Washington DC at the American Educational Research Association national conference, in its 100th year. This particular paper outlines my PhD’s general findings around professional learning for teachers and school leaders. It was great that more than 50 people turned up to the session, in which four papers on professional learning, including mine, were presented. The papers were a complimentary combination that really spoke to each other; I learned a lot from my co-presenters. We had plenty of generous feedback and robust discussion which spilled out into the hallway for almost an hour after the session ended, and then beyond.

My full paper will be available in the online repository when the 2016 papers go live. In the meantime, here are copies of my presentation slides. The slides were designed for me to talk to, not read from, so much of the content is thin. That is, they’re light on text and light on references (see the paper for more depth), but you’ll get a sense of my main points. Of course I didn’t get through them all and ended up skipping over the participant quotes (19 slides in 12 minutes? What was I thinking? #overexcited #lessonlearned).

If you’re interested in more, my dissertation, which looks at professional learning in more depth, as well as its interactions with professional identity and school culture and change, can be downloaded here.

From my experience so far I can highly recommend the AERA national meeting. It’s a friendly conference with an impossibly wide range of interesting and important work being shared, and connections being made.

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Teacher efficacy, agency & leadership #aera16

iconic Abe

iconic Abe

This afternoon I spent 3 hours at two round table sessions at AERA in Washington DC, hearing about and talking about teacher leadership and agency. Then on the way home from drinks with Sarah Thomas, who I know through Twitter and Voxer, I stumbled across the #satchatOZ chat on Twitter which was talking about teacher leadership. So whilst I’m jetlagged and brain-exhausted from a day of conferencing, I want to get my raw thoughts down before they’re overrun with tomorrow’s thoughts (with some of my photos, because: DC).

Three terms that came up today in the two roundtable sessions I attended were: efficacy, agency and leadership. Self-efficacy is about how well someone thinks they can do something; a self-belief in their own capacity. Agency is the capacity to act as well as the acting itself; to be an agent is not just to have the internal capability to do, but to actually do the doing. I wonder, can someone be an active agent, capable of action and change, without the self-belief in their capacity to do so? Possibly. Can someone have a sense of self-efficacy, but without the agency to be effective? Probably.

Leadership, meanwhile, is a slippery word. People can be leaders by name or position, but this doesn’t guarantee that people are led by them. Leadership and agency are not just individual, but also collective. Can someone be a leader without a followership? A leader can be defined by their title, but more often they are defined by their influence on others, their organization or the system in which they operate. Teachers without official positions of responsibility can be, and are, leaders in their fields. They are active agents who effectively translate their beliefs and purpose into reality through deliberate and effective action.

In leadership and agency in schools, context is a key consideration. The holonomous* environment of a school is one in which the sum and the parts are inseparable. If schools want teachers to be reflective, growth-focused and agentic, they need to trust in their teachers and provide an environment in which risks and exposing one’s vulnerability are ok. In a culture of teacher-scoring and fear, teachers are less likely to be agents of positive growth and more likely to be compliant servants to a punitive system. Movements like #flipthesystem, which are explored in Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber’s book, advocate for further teacher voice and action in education reform. Localised reforms like my school’s teacher growth model are practice-based examples of in-school teacher leadership in action.

In the introduction to Linda Darling-Hammond’s presidential AERA address this afternoon, she was described as identifying as a teacher, but having become a researcher so that she could be a strong voice listened to by policy makers and powers that be. She saw research as a way enact and propel change.

DC daffodil cityscape

DC daffodil cityscape

While I didn’t frame my PhD research through the lens of teacher leadership and agency, it could be seen through that lens. I explored teachers and school leaders’ perceptions of identity, learning and school change, within a particular context. That context was the coaching intervention I was leading at my school, a formative growth-based model of teacher growth and development.

What emerged from my study, when looked at in terms of teacher leadership and agency, was that teachers are deeply tied to their senses of self within their senses of their context. That is, teacher self-efficacy and agency develop when teachers feel an individual purpose, an alignment with context and that they are empowered with voice and influence in their own organization. In this case, the school empowered teachers to be active agents with a voice in school reform. Additionally, the formative aspect of the coaching model for growth was fiercely protected; teachers are not scored and judged, but are able to collect lesson data and participate in coaching conversations in order to grow themselves. This kind of trust requires some relinquishing of power from those at the traditional hierarchical apex.

As someone who connects with others on Twitter and writes on this blog, I think that technology and social media give us tools to develop our teacher voice and engage in conversations about education. I know of teachers who would be considered leaders both in their schools, and in the wider land of education, due to their public thinking, writing and advocacy. I also know those who are known more for their leadership in the social media or conference arenas, than in their own day-to-day school contexts.

As others have noted, Twitter flattens hierarchies and empowers users. Bonnie Stewart’s research into academic Twitter found that there are different spheres of, and criteria for, influence on Twitter than in higher education institutions. The same is true in other educational contexts. Government ministers are drawn into public conversation with teachers on the ground. Social media and blogging can be leveraged by teachers to allow them voice and agency, to advocate or agitate. As Greg Ashman and Rory Gribbell note in their recent blog posts, bloggers can and have been agents of political and educational change, a pluralistic chorus of voices to which people are listening.

Teachers can and should be advocates for their students and their schools. They can and should pursue research and opportunities to understand, revise and reimagine what is known in education. Those leading schools and systems in official roles can encourage teachers’ growth and leadership by questioning traditionally hierarchical power structures and considering more distributed and inclusive ones. In this way, teachers can be encouraged to lead within their contexts, instead of feeling as though they are fighting against the system or preserving their survival within it.

 

* Check out Costa & Garmston’s 2006 Cognitive Coaching text or my PhD dissertation for discussion of holonomy.

mural at the Library of Congress

mural at the Library of Congress