A life lived learning: a tribute to my grandfather

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. ~ Jorge Luis Borges

New York Public Library by @debsnet

New York Public Library ~ ‘A good Booke is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life.’

In education, we talk a lot about lifelong learning, and about how to inspire in our students (or perhaps preserve in our children) curiosity, passion and the desire to know, to discover, to push at boundaries. To be continuous creators, thinkers, questioners and enactors of their thinking and beliefs.

As an English and Literature teacher, and lifelong reader, who grew up surrounded by books, the physical book is for me a symbol of self-directed, voluntary learning. As a girl I was able to peruse bookshelves throughout my childhood home and pull books from the shelves, at will, to read and re-read. These books were not vetted for age-appropriateness but were a range of children’s books, novels, classics and encyclopaedias to which I had unfettered access.

Other vivid memories are of being in the study of my grandfather, who was a collector and binder of rare and beautiful books. His study was wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcases, saturated with the overwhelming smell of old paper, worn leather and decaying adhesives. It was a paradise for the book lover!

Overnight my grandfather quietly passed away in his bed, at ninety years of age, his spectacles on and a book in his hand. He was a Doctor of Philosophy, a scientist, a professor, a poet and a thinker, who was reading and writing narratives, scientific writing and verse until his last breath. He was the epitome of a lifelong learner, a deliberate scientific questioner of knowledge and someone always willing to engage in hefty intellectual debate. Only yesterday he and I were discussing strategies for academic, thesis and poetry writing.

I discovered today that my grandfather has left me two of his prized books: an early copy of Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World and an antique Chinese text which is a concertina series of Chinese customs, paired with hand painted calligraphy scenes, and bound between curved carved wooden covers. Both are books I remember connecting with the first time he gingerly passed them into my hands in his study. I remember feeling their weight (the Raleigh is heavy!), fingering the irregular textures, and smelling that old book smell (read more about the science of that here in Jessica Leber’s Fast Company post) as I sank into the cocoon of his old chair.

Books by @debsnet  IMG_1399

Raleigh Collage by @debsnet

As well as being objects that I will cherish, these books are symbolic for me of a life lived learning, something I aspire to, and to which I hope my students and my children will aspire.

New York anticipatory reading

Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time. ~ E. P. Whipple

NYC Books by @debsnet

Here is my little pile of NYC reading.

I have collected actual books! I have a Kindle which is much more practical for travelling, but I still like the sensory experience of reading: the look of a book cover, the feel of paper, the smell of the page and the sound of it turning.

In amongst professional reading, book club reading and PhD reading, I will read some of these before I go and some while I am away. The ones that come away with me will be ‘paid forward’ to people I meet along the way, so that they can find new homes … and so that I don’t need to pack them for the journey home.

My picks are quintessential novels of New-York-ness: Kerouac’s On the Road (ok, so only minorly relevant to NYC, but a key text in American travel and psyche), Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Lethem’s Chronic City, Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Cunningham’s The Snow Queen and Bushnell’s One Fifth Avenue.

I am starting with The Snow Queen, a book named after the 1844 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale which also inspired the animated film Frozen.

It’s been coming down since midnight. Snow eddies and tumbles as the point of equinox passes, and the sky starts all but imperceptibly turning from its nocturnal blackish brown to the lucid velvety gray of first morning, New York’s only innocent sky. ~ The Snow Queen

What are your best NYC reads?

Teacher (un)learning: immersive, experiential & ongoing

‘How do your teachers learn?’ Most answers I get follow along traditional lines: ‘They go to conferences.’ ‘They take after-school workshops.’ ‘They read books.’ They see their teachers’ learning as an event, not an ongoing process. ~ Will Richardson, 2012

Will Richardson reminds us that learning is an ongoing process, not a series of disconnected one-off occurrences. Professional learning is about the organic journey of the teacher; it’s not a set of tick boxes to be ticked or a number of mandated hours to be filled.

NYC Collage @debsnet

The self-directed-and-organisation-supported professional learning travel upon which I am embarking brings into focus the concept of teacher learning and how it might look. It is this focus that raises the sort of question I am asking on behalf my school while I am in New York: how can we best support teachers in their self-directed growth as passionate practitioners?

One learning movement with plenty of momentum is the unschooling / uncollege / unconference movement.

In unschooling the intellectual, emotional and physical freedom of the child is privileged over the perceived imprisonment by formulaic school curricula, strict structures and inflexible spaces. Just check out the #unschooling hashtag on Twitter.

At uncollege students are educated by real-world experiences, often outside their comfort zones.

Unconferences or edcamps are free, participant-driven conferences.

Does a travelling fellowship like my upcoming one, which focuses on the experiential professional learning of the fellow as well as the contribution of that learning to the organisation, fit into this kind of free-range self-learning?

Does this kind of learning reflect the best kind of learning for our teachers? It is driven by the learner, involves collaboration with others, and is experiential, ‘real world’ and deeply immersive.

A question many school leaders and educators have been addressing for some time is: How might we more fully embed the edcamp / unlearning / experiential / community-based / learner- driven learning into our schools?

How might we ensure that professional learning is meaningful and transformative for teachers?

Travel anticipation makes the journey last longer

Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage. ~ Regina Nadelson


Mr 2 and Mr 4 are happily helping me plan my NYC itinerary.

Map Collage by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

We have a huge family world map with colour coded stickers which record our travels, but New York City guides might be their new bedtime stories.