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.

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When imagination & hard work collide: making something amazing

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet

If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all. ~ Michelangelo Buonarroti

Today is International Women’s Day and as a woman trying to balance parenting, working, PhD and being a person, I have recently felt overwhelmed. I don’t believe in men or women ‘having it all’ but I do want us all to have the freedom and power to make our own choices. Sometimes, though, the choices we make can feel like difficult paths to walk, especially when something surprising tips us off balance and throws our delicate ecosystem of relationships, roles and responsibilities out of its precarious equilibrium.

On top of the usual teaching, parenting and life stuff, my work at school is currently focused on school-wide implementation of a strategic project focused around teacher growth. My PhD is centred around pulling 300 references, reams of data and over 200 pages of words into a coherent thesis, in time to meet my own personal deadline for submission (of course, this deadline is four months ahead of the official deadline required by the university.) Along the way, I am trying to keep the magic, spark and creativity in my thesis. It is a bit weird, a bit whacky, and a lot me. Part of me is thrilled that I have been able to craft a research project and document which so authentically aligns with my own (lovably weird) identity, and part of me is anxious about the work still ahead. I need to ensure it resonates with what I value in research while also being acceptable (even significant?) in the world of academia.

So, much of what I am presently in the midst of working on requires daily commitment, laser-like focus and hard grafting work. Perhaps this, combined with piles of marking and lesson preparation, has contributed to me feeling drawn to the creative and the crazy. I have been seeking out connections with things which capture my imagination and buoy me with their colour and magic.

As a follow-up, then, to my experience of gigantic marionettes walking the streets and this post on my friends’ amazing interactive sculpture-on-the-beach, here are some more shots from this year’s Sculpture by the Sea exhibition.

Perhaps you will also find solace and escape in the wonder-full, the unexpected and the strangely beautiful. How is a PhD like a sculpture? These sculptures, while capturing imagination, are also the outcome of commitment, dogged determination and hard, systematic work.

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, by @debsnet