Find your space. Choose your place.

It’s important to create spaces that people like to be in, that are humanistic. ~ Frank Gehry

Once a colleague and I spent one working week taking a ‘holiday’ in our own workplace. Looking at our everyday space with fresh eyes, each day we found a place we could envisage as a vacation destination, and took a photo of ourselves there. At the end of the week we printed a collage of the photos on A4 postcards, signed off ‘wish you were here’ and gave them to our colleagues. We were looking for ways to experience the expected in unexpected ways, to find magic in our own backyard, to discover new ways of seeing our daily environment.

I was asked today at a barbeque how I ‘find the time’ for all the things I am doing: parenting, teaching, implementing a strategic school initiative, blogging, PhD thesis writing and all the life-and-relationships stuff. Partly, I think, doing-all-the-things works because I have found ways to feel like each of these bits is a little holiday from the other bits. And part of that is around choosing to be in places which make me feel grounded, inspired or joyful.

beach spaces - for grounding & play through learning

beach spaces – for grounding & play through learning

My favourite place to go with my two pre-school age kids is somewhere in nature. In winter that means muddy puddly bushwalky places, and now, in summer, it means the beach. Do I love parenting at the beach because it’s enjoyable, free, feels good and keeps the kids busy? Yes. But also because hippie ideas like ‘grounding’ resonate with me, as do educational theories of nature play, play-based learning and maker education (where creating and tinkering are central to learning and problem solving).

Watching my children experiment with sand and water is joyful for me. I see them building while figuring out the impacts of the environment and of themselves. They work together to develop systems for creation (and destruction). They discover critters and examine shells for their beauty and individuality. They clamber, climb and explore, being careful and daring, inquisitive, and sensitive. At the beach my children learn through play while being active and getting the vitamin D, fresh air, ocean salts, and the exhilaration and balance which comes from curling your toes in the sand, digging with your bare hands and feeling the silky ocean against your skin.

The beach provides a space for immersive learning and intentional be-ing, fitting perfectly with one of my 3 words for 2015: presence.

learning spaces at my school

learning spaces at my school

So how might all this beach frolicking relate to work or academic writing? It comes down to designing and finding spaces which work for individual and purpose. Schools are being inspired by incredible offices like those of Google’s Engineering Hub, Zurich; LEGO in Denmark; Skype, Palo Alto; Innocent ‘Fruit Towers, London; Capital One, Virginia; Saatchi & Saatchi, Bangkok; and Palotta Teamworks, Los Angeles. In contemporary work and school spaces, some of which I have had the pleasure of co-designing and furbishing, there are choices for individuals and flexible furniture arrangements (much of this based on the work of Prakash Nair and Randall Fielding). High benches for those who like to perch, low couches and beanbags for those who like to lounge, collaborative campfire spaces for working together, quiet nooks and cave-like spaces for nestling into lone thinking (Bianca Hewes explains this nicely from a teacher perspective; ‘match the physical space to the mental space’). The SCIL building at Northern Beaches Christian College in Sydney and the Green School in Bali are worth a look for interesting school spaces.

Personally, when I want to do my work or academic writing, I try to find my own inspiring, grounding or playful space.

I talked on the PhD Talk blog about my thesis as sacred ‘me time’, and one of the things I do to make it so is to write in places which feel like an indulgence. I have favourite cafés with the right amount of people-buzz, good tunes, quirky touches and sometimes a view. These make me feel like I’m sitting down to a treat in which to luxuriate, instead of an arduous slog which must be endured. I order a good coffee, find a comfy spot and start to work. Today was on a daybed in this outdoor courtyard with mellow lounge music, waterfalls, buddhas and frangipani trees:

today's academic writing space

today’s academic writing space

Other favourite writing café spots are pictured here (I do love a good coffee and a good view):

working spaces collage

working spaces collage

One of my favourite spots is a cushioned bench seat in a café housed in an old hardware store. Above the seat is painted: ‘Not the sharpest tool in the shed.’ Perfectly ironic for PhD writing, don’t you think?

So – where do you find the space for your intention? Where are your sacred, inspiring or playful places? How do you choose your physical place to transform your mental space?

'Not the sharpest tool in the shed.'

‘Not the sharpest tool in the shed.’

 

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Presence not presents: connect, unravel & be this Christmas

Joy is not in things; it is in us ~ Richard Wagner

Western Australian Christmas

Western Australian Christmas

With only three sleeps until Christmas many of us are wondering how to wind down, how to enjoy time with our family and friends, and how to continue or create meaningful traditions for this time of year. Perhaps we are trying to avoid a hurricane of over-receiving and over-indulging, trying instead to connect with Christmastime as about giving, faith and connectedness to others and ourselves.

One of my big challenges this year is winding down. In many ways I would like to switch off my work and research selves so that I can be present with family, friends, nature and the present moment. But the hybridity of my roles (teacher, school leader, researcher, connected learner, parent) makes it hard to power down. My leadership work in my school is closely related to my PhD research on teacher growth and school change, so I am constantly immersed in reading, acting and thinking about these things. Being a participant in education Twitter chats this year (like #satchat #sunchat #aussieED, #BFC530 and #whatisschool) has also kept my brain buzzing with ideas sparked by stimulating conversation with inspiring individuals, most of whom I have never met (thank you, my learning network). It appears you can’t turn off a turned on brain!

So to ground myself and connect to this time of year I have been taking time to be present in holiday tasks: playing with my children, swimming at the beach, reading Christmas stories, enjoying music and wrapping presents. Surely I’m not the only one for whom the careful, mindful process of wrapping gifts is meditative and grounding? Anything can be meditative and grounding if we approach it mindfully and with presence.

gingerbread house with dinosaur

gingerbread house with dinosaur

I also find creativity and making to be grounding and connecting acts. Things we make ourselves seem to have a magical energy, an investment of the person or people whose hands forged the object or made the marks. I have been hand-making ornaments, recycling found materials into eco-decorations and picking foliage from the garden for vases. Our Christmas tree is one made by my eldest son and I (he was two years old when we banged it out in our garage) out of upcycled scraps of wood. The physicality of painting, cutting, pasting and glitter-shaking can anchor us to the holiday spirit.

making our Christmas tree

making our Christmas tree

decorating our DIY Christmas tree

decorating our DIY Christmas tree

I was reminded recently that being a flâneuse is about being a ‘human being’ not a ‘human doing‘. Christmas is the perfect time to focus on what is important, in whatever way is meaningful for our family. Coming together should be about celebrating our connections with those we care about – in all their perfect imperfection – and taking the time to really be with them and with ourselves. Happy being.

The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present. ~ Eckhart Tol

bauble-licious with freshly picked garden foliage

bauble-licious with freshly picked garden foliage