Flashback Friday: The end of the PhD

The end of the PhD. I remember it well, or so my long line of PhD-finishing blog posts might seem to attest. These include (and this is just a selection) …

The end of a doctorate is a rollercoaster of emotion. One, it turns out, I had largely forgotten. While my blog posts act as bread crumbs back to those experiences, the feelings themselves have faded, softened and blunted over time.

Today, I was reminded.

I still connect with the ‘DocVox’ Voxer (voice-to-voice messaging app) group that helped support me through my PhD. This is a group of mostly doctoral (PhD and EdD) candidates from the USA, plus a couple of us from Australasia. I figure staying in the Voxer group despite having finished the PhD helps me to pay back by continuing to support those who are still on their journey. It was via this group that I was today reminded of the visceral nature of the last bit of the PhD.

This morning a candidate from the US was Voxing about the blind panic they were feeling as they near dissertation submission. As I Voxed a response, I tried to reassure the person that their experience was normal. I recalled how in the last months of my PhD I had brutal insomnia. I clenched my jaw in my sleep despite chomping magnesium before bed to try and calm myself down and slow the mania of my obsessive mind. When I did sleep, I had nightmares, a recurring one of which was that I died and my almost-but-not-yet-finished PhD never saw the light of day, but languished, unexamined and unpublished. As I spoke, tears sprang to my eyes and my voice cracked. Some of that emotion returned in an intense flash. Wow, I thought, I didn’t think I was very affected by my experience. I was reminded as I spoke of the isolation of those moments, ones I didn’t really talk about because despite being surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, it didn’t seem something they would understand.

There are times in the PhD when everyone thinks you must be finished by now but you know you have so far to go, and times when it seems you should feel happy but instead you feel strange and empty. It’s a weird, emotional and quite a lonely time.

*                                    *                                    *

It’s almost 13 months since I was doctored. That moment was a glorious one. I awoke in Washington DC, after attending and presenting at the American Education Research Association (AERA) Conference. I had met a number of my academic heroes, as well as colleagues I knew only through Twitter and those that I met at the conference at sessions or in the epically long queue at Starbucks. I had nailed the presentation about my research and spent an hour in the corridor afterwards fielding questions and discussion. One of these discussions carried over to lunch and an ongoing professional connection. I’d had a great conference and was in edu-nerd heaven. It was the perfect moment for doctoring.

So, the day after AERA closed, I awoke in my Dupont Circle Airbnb apartment and checked my email, to find a ‘Congratulations, Doctor Netolicky’ email confirming the conferment of my PhD. I whooped, I shrieked, I clapped. I cried. I fist pumped. I felt overwhelmed and triumphant.

It was my last day in DC and I floated on rainbow-fairy-floss-cloud-nine as I swanned around the city in the magnificent sunshine. I was on my own, so I took this selfie (below) to remind myself of that elation. The iPhone snap mightn’t look like much to anyone else, but whenever I see it, it catapults me back to that moment of pure joy. Unadulterated I-am-now-Dr-Me exhilaration.

Now I have the luxury of being a pracademic, part school leader-teacher-practitioner, part early-career-scholar-researcher. During the PhD, finishing the doctorate always felt like an ending, but as I look back I can see that it was a beginning. I am now able to luxuriate more serenely in the oasis of academic writing, and to enjoy the gentle challenge of scholarly collaboration and conversation. And to apply my doctoral experience to my daily work.

The emotions fade, but it turns out they’re still there, in memory and in deep in the bowels of the iPhone camera roll.

DC doctor selfie

Stop hating on 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, the social media world is filled with hyperbolic despair and cleverly satirical, clicktavistic, hashtagified attacks on the 2016 calendar year. The masses are cursing 2016 and saying it’s ‘the worst’. People are mourning celebrities. They are anguishing over political events including the UK voting to Brexit and the US voting for Trump, although neither of these results have yet to come to fruition. Britain exiting the EU and Donald Trump being president are still joys ahead of us. Educators, even over the holiday period, have continued to stoush over ideological and practical differences. ‘Me at the beginning of 2016 vs. me at the end of 2016′ memes have been ricocheting around the interwebs, showing amusing-but-tongue-in-cheek-horrifying transformations of someone (usually a celebrity such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Hamill or Winona Ryder) going from a state of wellness and success, to one of ravaged dragged-through-the-apocalypse-backwards misery. People’s timelines appear simultaneously grief-stricken and hipster-with-the-program-cool. Facebook feeds are weighed down by outpourings of emotion and strings of emoji. I wonder if this desire to come together in the attack on a particular set of 365 days is a case of jumping on a hashtag bandwagon, feeling part of the global community, connecting with one’s tribe, or shouting into the void in a way that makes us feel heard, or at least like we have spoken.

But.

I’m going to question the hive-mind trend of publicly hating 2016. Of course, there has been plenty of anguish and many deeply troubling events (see the refugee crisis, the siege of Aleppo, terrorist attacks, shootings, bombings, deaths of many from publicly mourned celebrities to privately mourned individuals for whose families’ lives will never be the same). Yet, as Rebecca Onion points out, there have been plenty of other truly terrible years in human history that have seen suffering, sickness and war at an epic scale.

This year I’ve despaired at the direction of global politics, warfare, violence, hatred and education policy, but there is plenty (for an employed white person living without major health issues in a first world nation, parenting healthy children and supported by spouse, family, friends and nerd herd) worthy of thankfulness. The popular hashtagification of attacking the 2016 calendar year doesn’t resonate with me. I’m too privileged to hate 2016 with anything but white middle-class first-world-problem faux angst. My exhaustion, crankiness, hand-wringing at the state of the world and complaints may be real, but are they enough reason to curse the year that was, or shake my fist to the sky? I need to keep myself in perspective.

Besides, I’ve seen and experienced plenty of good this year. A well-credentialed, strong woman ran for US president. Science has done plenty of uber-cool stuff including making robotic limbs that talk to the brain, identifying a new gene responsible for ALS (as a result of ice bucket challenge donations), confirming the existence of gravitational waves, possibly discovering a ninth planet in our solar system, and developing a successful vaccine for Ebola. Less people are dying from multiple diseases (like measles, malaris and HIV) around the globe. World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years. The hole in the ozone layer started healing itself. A bunch of endangered species—like tigers, pandas and manatees—are less endangered. A refugee Olympic team competed in the Rio Olympics.

In my own life, I completed my PhD and became a doctor, fulfilling a long-term goal. I wrote, published and presented (nationally and internationally) on work and research about which I am passionate. I did a rewarding day job: teaching high school students English, coaching teachers on their classroom practice and endeavouring to make performance processes in my school more meaningful. I supported and was supported by colleagues. I was appointed as a university adjunct and also to a new professional role for 2017. I saw my school community come together to support its members. I watched my own kids grow bigger, kinder and more independent, and reap the benefits of their local public school’s wonderful teachers and community. I got to spend time with my family and my friends. I drank French champagne and homemade kombucha. I got to curl my toes in beach sand regularly and clap my eyes on the ocean almost daily. I got to go on holiday. I’ve experienced years that I was happy to see the back of, but this year doesn’t stand out as one of them.

I do think that people have genuine reasons to hate a year, or want it to be over. I do think we should feel like we can express our angst in a variety of forums. I do think that parody, satire, and the cry of communal despair have their place in making sense of and critiquing the world. However, at the risk of sounding like Princess Unikitty smiling and screaming to ‘stay positive!’ as Cloud Cuckoo Land is destroyed, I aim to take a more constructive approach.

I aim to be a part of building positive counter-narratives to that which worries me about the world. Apart from the fact that I can’t sustain a state of permanent rage or hopelessness, I need to feel as though I have some agency and a voice. So I choose to look for the kindness, hope, activism and collaboration I’ve seen this year. I’ve seen colleagues, academics and those on social media fighting for that which they believe, for themselves, for others, for equity. I choose to use my voice to advocate, argue, and agitate, but also to offer up alternatives.

As we ease into 2017, come Sunday, let’s think about doing work that matters, being there for one another and sustaining ourselves. Let’s consider how we might make positive changes towards the kind of world we want to live in, and towards the kind of people we want to be. I think in 2017 we’ll increasingly need alternate narratives, hopefulness, and an eye on the goodness in the world.

me talking to 2016 haters (source: lego.com)

me talking to 2016 haters (Source: lego.com)

Stitching the shadows: Writing & social media

textile detail by Isobel Moore http://www.threadnoodle.co.uk/

textile detail by Isobel Moore http://www.threadnoodle.co.uk/

This blog post is part of a blogversation. It responds to two blogs, both of which came to my attention via my Twitter feed. This one on qualitative research methods by Naomi Barnes, and this one on tracing the social media interchange that followed, by Ian Guest. This is not the first time I have jumped into a blogversation unannounced and univited. The first time was when Helen Kara challenged Naomi Barnes to the #blimage challenge, after I had first challenged Helen to the same. The post I wrote, in response to Helen’s photograph of spider webs in her garden, echoes the themes of this post – the power and messiness of connectivity on social media. Another of Naomi’s posts had me thinking about diffraction.

The great thing about social media is that by engaging we situate ourselves within a public conversation. It’s when people jump in—to ask a question, make a comment, respectfully challenge, add their lived experience, share their perspective—that dialogue is enriched and we influence each other, across time, space and devices.

In Naomi’s recent post she articulates some ways of thinking that are close to my heart and my keyboard: blogging as inquiry and using metaphors as a method of sense-making. As many of you would know, I used Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a literary metaphor through which I viewed and re-constructed my PhD data. Metaphors, as any reader of this blog will recognise, are one way that I make sense of the world. Metaphors also emerged from the stories of the participants of my PhD as they worked to make sense of their selves and worlds.

As une édu flâneuse I was taken with Naomi’s notion of the ‘concept flâneur’. The flâneur, or its feminine alternative the flâneuse, is the attentive observer, the attuned wanderer, a scholar of the world and a chameleonic surveyor of the crowd. The ‘concept flâneur’ reminds me of my own use of bricolage in my PhD that I describe here as rethinking well-worn traditions and stitching them back together in new form. But flânerie is about more than stitching together. It is about rapt observation and devoted contemplation, about deep understanding and applying scholarly thinking. The theoretical flâneur is the insider-outsider, at once looking in and immersed within.

The part of Naomi’s post that challenged me the most was when she stated that qualitative research has stagnated as “the author has become central in the writing. It becomes about writing, rather than the research and the need for change.” It led me to a Twitter exchange in which I explored my own uncertainty around the self in research and the author’s place in writing.

a Twitter exchange resulting from Naomi Barnes' blog post

a Twitter exchange resulting from Naomi Barnes’ blog post

In keeping with Naomi’s metaphor of the sutured-together monster body, I see these kinds of social media interactions as textile. I have written before about textiles as a metaphor for subversion and political activism. We stitch onto shared fabric, adding perspectives, colour, texture, visual elements to a work. Our hands and minds shape the work (our thinking work, our writing work, our collaborative dialogue work), as it shapes us. Needles prick and rub callouses into fingers. We cramp. We struggle with the material. We can be proud of our contribution, working together like a quilting circle on the collaborative work of seeking to understand and to theorise.

Ian, in his post that responds to Naomi’s post, points out the non-linear, messy ways that exchanges happen on Twitter, despite their appearance in the feed as linear threads. I’ve written before about the butterfly effects of Twitter conversations, their serendipitous, surprising and subtly influential moments. Their powerful, unforeseen circumstances.

Ian wonders about the silences and the blurred boundaries between people and thoughts. I agree that it is in the silences, the shadows, the fissures, the dark cracks, of exchanges and of our own thinking, that we are most in a state of becoming and therefore potential change. It’s in the dark and vulnerable spaces that we learn. Blogging can be a bit like this: an exposure, a laying bare, a stripping down.

Ian mentions in his post that he shared a blog post via email despite sitting right next to his colleague; they collaborated via technology despite being in the same room. This reflects the evolving relationship that Naomi and I share. We have begun a co-authorly relationship, via digital tools. Word to word, screen to screen, device to device. When we met in person for the first time recently, we didn’t discuss our writing projects specifically. We saved our writerly collaborations for online spaces: email, Google docs, Twitter. In our fledgling collaboration, for me the digital sphere feels simultaneously a bit sacred and a draft-notebook-type place for working out. We show our workings to each other via our thinking-out-loud digital musings.

The wonderful thing about blogging, tweeting, emailing, writing and reading as inquiry is the acceptance, and even celebration, that it is all unformed. There are moments of awkwardness, uncertainty, openness, weakness, resistance, emotion. It’s all laid bare on screen, and open to tangled-threaded multi-webbed interchanges that have us emerging from the knotted labyrinthine tangles as from a chrysalis, declaring “here I am” so that we can be challenged and changed again.

Arguing on Education Twitter: BINGO

Today I had a draft blog post I was going to finish for publication today, but then I woke up to a tweet in which someone, with whom I’ve had no previous interaction, quoted a tweet of mine (a tweeted summary of an article to which I was sharing the link) and wrote above it the following:

God….. you really do have to laugh. Where do some get their PhDs??? # stupid

I’m still not sure of the reasoning for the tweeter’s ridiculing comment. Were they offended by or did they disagree with the content of the article I shared? It was a long article, at almost 3000 words. With what aspects of the article did they disagree? Did they read the article at all or did they just react to my teaser of its content? While they seemed to question my intelligence—with the #stupid hashtag, the triple question mark next to ‘Where do some people get their PhDs???’, and the suggestion that something about my tweet or my doctorate was laughable—the way in which they engaged with me did little to encourage debate or discussion, or to further either my or their understanding. Perhaps their intention was not to engage in dialogue, communicate their perspective to me, or interrogate my perspective.

This and some of the Twitter discussion that followed, got me thinking about the nature of some debates on edu Twitter, and of the social media tribalism Greg Thompson wrote about on his blog this week.

I’ve written before about the importance of graceful disagreement, such as in this post and in this one. I always learn from listening to the perspectives of those with alternate perspectives and counter arguments. On social media I (mostly) enjoy engaging in debates that help me to understand other viewpoints, see my own perspective from others’ points of view, and on occasion change my mind. If there is one thing my PhD taught me, it’s that there is much I don’t know or deeply understand, and that I have much to learn from others. In my leadership roles I look for ways to get honest feedback from all stakeholders, including and especially those who question, critique and resist. These are important voices to which we should listen.

But perhaps there are those who disagree, criticise or mock without the desire to talk further or understand more.

In anticipation of more enthusiastic debate and derision over the holiday period in the world of education Twitter, I’ve prepared this handy BINGO card for the festive season. It’s an attempt to see the lighter side of what can sometimes get heated as passionate educators fight for ideological corners. I may have thrown ‘Shakespearean insult’ in there as the odd ‘thine face is not worth sunburning’ or ‘thou cream faced loon’ might add interest to some debates.

You’re welcome.

My Edu Twitter BINGO: Watch your feed for these beauties

My Edu Twitter BINGO: Watch your feed for these beauties

Post script (11th December): I have begun to realise that there are aspects of EduTwitter arguing that I left off this BINGO card, like ‘false dichotomy, ‘Twitter poll’, ‘hyperbole’ and ‘subtweeting about someone’s lack of understanding or expertise’. I’d also like to clarify that my intention is not to judge any of these moves. They are used by people with a variety of profiles who argue on multiple sides of various debates. I think many of these moves transgress the debates themselves and reflect more of what brings education tweeters together, rather than what separates us. It’s also my attempt to reclaim my own experiences and to inject some fun into what can get intense or even nasty. I’ve especially enjoyed a few of the Shakespearean insults that have been thrown around since my post. Shakespeare really knew how to write a scathing and masterful take-down (although many of these would be classified as ad hominen or hyperbole in the context of Twitter debate).

I also love that someone made a GIF with my BINGO card.

Use at your leisure.

Use at your leisure.

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

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.

………………………………………………..

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.

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.