Indra’s Net: We are all connected

There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe … At every crossing of the threads there is an individual. And every individual is a crystal bead. And every crystal bead reflects. Not only the light from every other crystal in the net but also every other reflection throughout the entire universe. ~ Anne Adams

This post itself is a tangling of threads. It is in part a reflection on the first day of the national Australian Association of Research for Education (AARE) conference, which I am attending and at which I am presenting a paper. It is also part of a wider conversation I’ve been having through blogging. It was incited today by Robyn Collard’s Welcome to Country in which she used the above Anne Adams quote which refers to Indra’s Net, a Hindu and Buddhist concept that articulates the interconnectedness of the universe. It imagines each individual as a dew drop, jewel or pearl: reflective and distinctive, but also interconnected with all the other dew drops via the threads of the web. Parts and whole. Dazzling individualism within collective network.

This quote and concept added a layer to an already-layered conversation I’ve been having in the blogonet with Helen Kara and Naomi Barnes. It started with Steve Wheeler’s #blimage (blog + image) challenge. When Helen shared a photograph of tangled dew-bejeweled spiders’ webs in her garden, both Naomi and I responded to the image. Naomi wrote about the messiness of research. I wrote about how technology connects people to one another. I’ve since also written about the web-weaving spider as a metaphor for the researcher. And today I was connecting at AARE, in person, with a web of academics who I know mostly through their work and through Twitter.

So here I am again. Contemplating the web. And the dew drop jewels. And their infinite reflections and refractions. Their beauty and fragility and separateness and togetherness.

I spent much of this first day of the AARE conference in a four hour symposium in which scholars brought diverse perspectives to the same general topic of leadership in education. They agreed and disputed. They converged and diverged. It was a great example of respectful, well-considered and articulate debate. Graceful disagreement. Elegant contestation. Research as conversation.

For instance, in conceptualising leadership as artistry, Fenwick English noted the webbed connections between research, art, leadership and creativity. Scott Eacott discussed the relational aspects of leadership and of research, asking scholars to consider how their work relates to that of others. Christina Gowlett approached school leadership from a perspective of challenge and critique, agitating against dominant approaches, norms and expectations by embracing alternate theories of uncertainty and transgression.

Additionally, Gabriele Lakomski and Colin Evers discussed thinking in schools as a wide cognitive net. They define cognition as a dynamic system, comprising reciprocal interactions between people, artefacts, resources and environments. They noted that thinking is not just computationally logical-deductive; it is interpretive, intuitive, behind consciousness and beyond awareness. They explored the notion of the extended or supersized mind which distributes cognition. Our tech is our selves. Our communities and social networks are change collectives. Gabriele and Colin noted that cognition occurs “beyond skin and skull”, challenging the myths of the stand alone thinker, the heroic leader and the change agent. Individuals influence and are influenced by each other. Thinking and being is connectivity. Web not hierarchy.

These ideas resonate with the perspective I will be presenting at the Heroism Science conference in 2016, which suggests a reimagining of heroism in school leadership. That is, that school leader ‘heroes’ can work subtly, fluidly and invisibly in the service of their school communities. In education there needs to be shared vision and individual purpose, collective and individual capacity. Strengthening the web while protecting and nurturing the dew drops.

Like Costa and Garmston’s (2006) notion of holonomy (which is based on Koestler’s 1972 conceptualisation of the ‘holon’), Indra’s Net shows the dual importance of the individual and the collective. The jewel and the net. All are simultaneously together and separate. A change in one is reflected in a change in all.

So as I reflect (like the dew drop), I imagine webs of learning, webs of emotion, webs of relationships, webs of identity. I wonder: What influences the symbiosis between individual and collective? In what ways might we shape others? In what ways might others shape us? These could be questions for families, friendships, organisations, communities, nations, the world. What about our selves can we control and what choices are we making about what our own self-jewel reflects onto those around us and onto the universal web? In what ways could we harness the global mind, the universal self and the interconnectedness of humanity?

Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning, covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. ~ Alan Watts

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Happy birthday to the édu flâneuse: Reflections on a year of blogging

I don’t think there is any truth. There are only points of view. ~ Allen Ginsberg

happy 1st birthday

happy 1st birthday to me

Over the weekend the édu flâneuse blog had its first birthday, and so I’ve been reflecting about what a year’s worth of blogging has meant for me.

As a blogger, I am small fry. But with 15,000 views in over 100 countries in a year, this blog is being read. That’s many more views in many more places than I am sure my PhD thesis will receive! When I see my analytics I wonder how those people in Libya or Uzbekistan or Iceland have stumbled across my words. What drew them in? In what surroundings and on what device did they read? What did they take away?

The blog’s top 5 most-viewed posts have been:

  1. Teacher Growth: Helping teachers open their gates from the inside. A post about the beliefs underpinning my school’s teacher-growth-focused coaching model.
  2. Can and should teachers be (viewed as) researchers? The first post where I dared to say something which might be considered controversial.
  3. Work-family fulfilment: The elusive sweet spot. In which I attempted to explain my approach to making the family-work-study-self ecosystem work for me.
  4. No grades? No marks? No worries. An explanation of a term of Year 10 English with no marks and no grades, and its surprising outcomes.
  5. 2015: The Year of Writing Boldly, Abundantly & Dangerously. Where I set myself the challenge of being deliberately writerly in 2015, in my blog, my thesis and elsewhere.

Blogging has allowed me the opportunity to reflect, to work through my thinking, to share snippets of those things about which I am passionate, and most importantly to connect with others. It is an antidote to isolation (for me this is so important in my PhD, where I am largely without a face-to-face community of peers). Sometimes it just feels good to throw some thoughts out into the ether in the hope that they might resonate with someone else who comes across them, a kind of blogging message-in-a-bottle tossed out to sea.

Matt Esterman has written about the separate-together-ness of our offline and online identities. This blog allows me to explore parts of myself online which would be mind-yawningly dull to many in my offline life. It has allowed me to find a tribe of like-minded (lovable) weirdoes who want to engage with me around passions, interests and experiences.

Blogging has allowed me to make real connections, with real people, some of whom I chat to on Voxer, and some who I’ve since met with in real actual life. It has expanded the depth of my participation in the online world in a way which isn’t possible in even a long line of 140-character tweets. While Twitter forces us to haiku-ise our ideas (therapy for my verbosity), blogging allows longer-but-still-focused explorations of thought. And it is a free form of writing which provides reflection on, and escape from, the constraints of academic and thesis writing. I find that the more rigid my thesis schedule and the more rigorous my PhD work, the more lyrical and creative my blog posts become.

My favourite posts have been those which opened up online and offline discussion, in which I responded to someone else’s thinking or writing, or from which I was responded to. These posts, connected as they are to other people and other posts in the intricate spider-web network of the blogosphere, add layers to blogversation or lenses to well-worn issues.

Today, Naomi Barnes published a post in direct reply to one of mine, about the knowledge-building nature of blogging in a kind of collaborative parallel dialogue. She writes:

We stop being experts and start being co-learners. We have part of the knowledge. Not all of it and not necessarily true. We break the teacher-student archetype and become networked learners. Use the Web, the network, the connections, to create new knowledge. Crowd sourced, collaborative knowledge. Wikipedia on steroids. ~ Naomi Barnes

Naomi’s post challenges us to consider what the blogosphere and online knowledge might look like if we spoke more collectively, rather than as a cacophony of voices speaking in our disparate shadows or on our disconnected milk crates. She is daring us to harness blogging, the web, social media and technology for what they could do, for what they have the potential to be.

Thank you to my édu flâneuse readership so far, for indulging my pursuit of flânerial being and blogging, and especially to those who take the time to comment, retweet, respond and connect. This blogging thing is a vehicle for personal learning and global communitification. I’m in for another year.

Spider-web connectivity: Technology for networked learning

Nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle. ~ E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

This image was passed from Dr Helen Kara to Dr Naomi Barnes, after I had challenged Helen with an image for the #blimage (blog+image) blogging challenge (see how messily interconnected that is?). You can read Helen’s post here and Naomi’s post here. You can see my first #blimage post, with an explanation of the challenge, here.

Helen’s image spoke to me. It reminded me that one of my research participants used the metaphor of the spider’s web to describe the school as organisational web. It is reminiscent of the symmetrical black and white webs in my mandala colouring book. Mostly, it speaks to me of connectedness in education, in our schools and classrooms, but especially through technology and social media.

So the image forms the basis of this post about technology which connects.

The labyrinthine tangle of webs are like snow-flake-like in their perfect imperfection. The wintery stems provide angular anchors for the fragile delicacy of the web strands which stretch and overlap. Some strands extend long distances, while others are strung tightly together. There is symmetry and asymmetry. Strength and vulnerability. Flexibility and rigidity. Beauty and disorder. A clamour and a stillness.

These dewy webs evoke my experience of the professional connections I see and experience through technology and social media. My journey through various tools of connectivity as an educator has been one mirrored by others. Often I adapt before educators in my own school environment, but after those in the global spheres. As this blog approaches its first birthday, I am reflecting on how blogging has transformed my use of social media and my connections with others.

mandala sunburst

mandala sunburst

Twitter has been a place of learning for me since 2009. As with most educators, I began lurking in the background, figuring out what might be in it for me, or consuming information. I moved on to curating others’ content, and then participating in education chats. That is where I stayed for a number of years, although the more chats with which I engaged, the more people with which I connected. The chats were a place for me to participate in conversations. In fact, my favourite part of being in a Twitter chat is when a small group goes off piste into their own tangential conversation. These are moments of connection and engagement, which are epitomic of Twitter’s rhizomatic chaos; its tangle of webs. In one Twitter chat Adriano di Prato and I came up with an accidental concept of ‘leaning environments’, showing the unexpected possibilities of connecting via social media.

(I enjoyed this recent New York Magazine article about why the messiness and “vast confusion” of Twitter should be celebrated.)

Last year, I began this blog as an experiment in blogging, and as a way to log and record my fellowship experiences in New York. My continued blogging has shifted the boundaries of my self and my connections.

Not only does exploring my thoughts and ideas in 600-1000 word blog posts allow me to thrash out and clarify my thinking in more than 140 characters, it also opens up conversations with others who might want to engage with me or with the content of my posts. It is this opening of conversation which has expanded me and my network. My spider-web tendrils reach out and curl together with others’. Some connections are tentative while others are strong. Some traverse long distances while others are at arm’s length.

mandala web

mandala web

As an individual, my blog feels like an extension of myself. Colouring outside the lines of my demarcated self, I share parts of my story, my thinking, my experiences, and my teaching, researching or writing practices. These tendrils of me reach out and entangle with the labyrinth of connection and conversation in the blogosphere. I respond, and am responded to. And so I become absorbed, in part, into the often unpretty cacophonous jumble of thoughts, hyperlinks and voices.

More recently, thanks to the encouragement of Andrea StringerI have started using Voxer and I’m loving the immediacy and personal, conversational, collaborative nature of the medium. Right now, I’m involved in different professional learning groups and a doctoral researcher group. Valerie Lewis, who I’ve connected with on Voxer, in this blog post calls her Voxer PLN her ‘Vox Squad’, a kind of A-Team of professional learning and solidarity (‘I pity the fool who doesn’t Vox!’). I’ve introduced Voxer to my students as a collaborative tool for group work, and to my team of coaches as a tool for our collective growth and the ongoing refinement of our practice.

To finish this reflection on connectivity, I’ll leave you with a very different web, as a contrast. Below is a picture I took in Richmond Park when I lived in London. A solitary dew-jewelled web at sunrise. This image doesn’t speaks of connectedness in the same way that the first image of webs does. It shows a beautiful but lonely structure, tenuously clinging to the solidity of the fence posts.

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Which would you rather be? The solitary web or a web in a mess of other webs? A lone voice or one of a cacophony of voices? Are we better alone or together? Can our individual voices be heard in amongst the noise of social media?

if the web were perfectly pre-set,

the spider could

never find

a perfect place to set it in; and

if the web were

perfectly adaptable,

if freedom and possibility were without limit,

the web would

lose its special identity. ~

A. R. Ammons

* Note: this is what happens when I am in the middle of tough PhD work. Lyrical, metaphorical musings and colouring-in become my creative antidote to the hard systematic work of thesis revision.

The Connected Learner: Reflections on Connected Educator Month #CE14

spring in my garden: iceberg roses blooming

spring in my garden: iceberg roses blooming

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. ~ Mark Jenkins

As Spring springs here in Australia and Fall falls in the USA (where I am headed in two weeks), I have been reading a lot about how October is Connected Educator month. You can read more from Craig Kemp (Twitter as PD), Tom Whitby (on the connected mindset) and Pernille Ripp (the downside to being a connected educator).

It has me wondering: what about being a connected learner? Because for me, being a ‘connected educator’ means connecting to be challenged, to be supported and to learn.

Twitter is a platform which allows plenty of connection and learning. On Twitter I …

  • Learn from others around the world – educators, thought leaders, researchers, students, people in other industries, friends and like-minded individuals. I get to read others’ ideas and share my own, and this means I am in a constant place of learning.
  • Contribute to a localised community hub of learning and thinking, sharing ideas on-the-spot such as at conferences during presentations; I simultaneously contribute to and consume the stream of learning-community responses.
  • Engage with people with whom I disagree, thereby engaging in debate and widening my perspectives. Corinne Campbell has written about why we need to be careful about the ‘echo chamber’ and only connecting with those who mirror ourselves.
  • Connect to those in similar situations to myself. This is why I follow #phdchat and #acwri, because as a working parent who is also a PhD candidate (read more about that here), I am not part of a student or researcher community, apart from during my supervisory meetings. Engaging with these hashtags allows me to learn from others while feeling that I am not alone in my PhD experiences. It means that when I am deep in my researching or writing burrow, I can send a shout out (a Twitter SOS, if you like) about my research experience (something that most people in my day to day life don’t connect with) and feel connected to others in the same boat. It allows me, in my moments of isolation and academic struggle, to feel heard by someone out there! I agree with George Couros in his post about why we need to be able to find these kindred spirits outside of our own immediate contexts.

Now, with this recently-begun blogging experiment (Will it continue after my professional learning New York trip? That is yet to be decided!) I have been connecting by sharing my musings (in more than 140 characters), my photographs and my journal scribbles. The very act of writing helps my thinking and the growth of my professional ideas. The subsequent connections with others is about mutual interest and growth. Blogging has helped me refine my own thinking while widening my global learning community (or professional learning network).

Similarly to the ACEL Conference at which I presented this month (you can read my reflections here), my upcoming visit to New York will have me really connecting, face to face, with inspiring thinkers, school leaders, educators and researchers, with whom I have found connections through various avenues, from introductions to cold-emailing. Here Clara Galan reminds us of the importance of connecting in real life as well as in the virtual world.

So for me October is definitely Connected Educator month, but more than that, it is about connected learning. Educators and others around the world connect online and in person, learning together to grow themselves and come up with better outcomes in their arenas of work and influence. Fellow nerds of the world, unite, in any and every way you can!

O, Manhattan!

O, Manhattan!