Pondering the rhythms and rhymes of life

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Mountain road sunset.jpegI am in the midst of bringing my thesis to life… drawing together and making sense of the collage of sometimes disparate discoveries and ruminations on theorising and practicing education. I am most interested in identifying the conditions that foster transformed perspectives on life, living and learning, in this case within the learning spaces of teacher professional development in Vocational Education and Training (VET).

I have been fortunate to find myself supported by a wise coach (and dear friend) who is helping me navigate the ‘road home’ for my thesis. We have been exploring the key values that underpin this journey to completion, and have both been intrigued by my resistances to certain terms… ‘structure’ and ‘discipline’ to name two. We are exploring the origins of my seemingly irrational response to their inclusion in my positive language bank, and considering ways I might reframe my perception of their value.

As I ponder my responses, I have this morning come across intriguing reflections from Michel Alhadeff-Jones, a fellow member of the international transformative learning community with whom I connect. In a recent blog post, Michel explores the time-related tensions that exist in our fast-paced world, most particularly related to the outcomes-driven world of education. In his article he reflects on the inclusion of Twitter and other social media platforms in our academic and personal lives, and the dichotomous impact they bring to bear… the delights of opening to new ways of seeing and engaging with the world, against the tensions and intrusions into the natural rhythms and rhymes of self:

I am experiencing mixed feelings that seem to be quite common nowadays: the excitement of discovering new people (but not necessary new ideas) and the depressing feeling that keeping up with the pace of social media runs against other rhythms of my life (e.g., the pace of family, intellectual and working lives) … to try to keep this tension alive and to question the deeper meanings it carries. On one hand, the need for novelty, fresh insights, connections and the excitement of instantaneous connections; on the other hand, the need to consolidate what is already there, to preserve oneself, and to embrace the duration of long term perspective and lifelong development.’

The problem is not so much about choosing between one or the other. The issue would be rather to learn how to regulate between openness and closure, instantaneity and duration, excitement and boredom, etc. Those are interesting “motifs de dualité” (Bachelard, 1950) that are constitutive of the everyday rhythms of our lives (sometimes we feel the need to be connected or stimulated, other times we prefer to remain on our own or quiet).

Alhadeff-Jones 2017

Michel’s rich musings have struck a chord for me related to the broader concept of creating honouring spaces for learning… a key inclusion in my PhD thesis… that connects with notions of time explored previously in my Masters:

Just as Rogers (1961) ponders the process of enabling and establishing a relationship that provides the groundwork in which the individual can cultivate their personal growth, the aim of my study was to examine the ways in which undertaking the quietly reflective process of telling the stories of one’s life might foster future growth and productivity. These same analogies relating to the idea of cultivation can be seen in M. Scott Peck’s conceptualisation of education:

“Education is derived from the Latin ‘educare’, literally translated as ‘to bring out of’ or ‘to lead forth.’ Therefore when we educate people, if we use the word seriously, we do not stuff something new into their minds; rather we lead this something out of them; we bring it forth from the unconscious into their awareness. They were the possessors of the knowledge all along.” (Peck, 1978)

To illustrate how this ‘something’ might be enabled to be led forth from our learners, I will return to the notion … of providing the ‘space’ for this process to unfold, and link it the Socratic notion of the educator as midwife. In supporting the ‘birth’ of this ‘something’ that lies within each of our learners, we also need to consider the quality of time required for them to inhabit the ‘space’ most effectively, as creating space for something doesn’t necessarily mean it will emerge. Rämo explores the Greek bifurcation of the concept of time, as it relates to the notions of chronos and kairos, (Ramo, 1999). He highlights that where chronos refers to ‘the concept of time as change, measure, and serial order’, the quantifiable, measurable aspects of passing time according to the clock in a neutral, absolute sense, the kairos notion of time relates to the ‘right or opportune time to do something’. He gives as an example a farmer’s ‘kairic’ or intuitive sense of the right moment to sow and harvest, adding that it is tied to the self-determination of the individual. Smith (1969) identifies three aspects present within the concept of kairos – the right time, a time of tension that calls for a decision, and an opportunity to accomplish some purpose. Jaques (1982) and philosopher Ramírez (1995) also stress kairos as episodes of intentions and goals, while Hammond (2007) proposes that in Hellenistic Greece, kairos denoted a time in which something could happen. He proposes a fitting or opportune time – a ‘season’, a time for ‘something’. Aristotle (cited in Ramos (1999, p312)) suggests ‘What happens at the right time (Kairos – season) is good’ and the Oxford English Dictionary (Simpson, Weiner, & Press., 1989), defines Kairos as ‘Fullness of time, the propitious moment for the performance of an action or the coming into being of a new state.’ (Miles, 2010)

So interestingly, as I contemplate these resistances to ‘structure’ and ‘discipline’, I find myself returning to the roots of my original inquiry, commenced over a decade ago. Whether I consider the tensions inherent in deciding whether to be present and active in social media as an academic; the process of supporting my learners as they unpack and critique their uncontested assumptions, or the impact of the structure and discipline required to be productive and successful in my goal of completing my thesis… I have deepest knowing that fertile space must always be available for the dreaming and emergence of creativity, self-expression and previously unimagined possibilities. Fertile space inhabited by Kairos time, where ‘the coming into being of a new state’ is able to unfold.

I am reminded of Leunig’s eloquent musings:

Let it go,
Let it out,
Let it all unravel,
Let it free
And it will be
A path on which to travel.

Leunig (2017)

Perhaps it lies somewhere on the road between these…that one might ‘structure’ and be ‘disciplined’ in creating and inhabiting these fertile oases in the midst of an otherwise organised space. It is certainly something worthy of deep reflection… in Kairos time…

References

Alhadeff-Jones, M. (2017a). Time and the rhythms of emancipatory education. Rethinking the temporal complexity of self and society. London: Routledge.

Alhadeff-Jones, M. (2017b). Twitter and the experience of temporal neurosis. Retrieved from http://alhadeffjones.com/blog-autoethnography-of-a-rhythmanalyst/

Hammond, J. (2007). Living on and off the clock: Some thoughts on time management. Retrieved from www.smcm.edu/rivergazette/_assets/PDF/may07/may07/reeveschair.pdf

Jaques, E. (1982). The form of time. New York: Crane, Russak.

Joss, R. (2007). It’s not about you. Retrieved from http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/joss_you.html

Leunig, M. (2017) Let it go. Retrieved from http://www.leunig.com.au/works/poems

Miles, J. K. 2010 Restor(y)ing lives: Autobiographical reflection and perspective transformation in adults returning to study. (Master’s thesis) Monash University. Clayton.

Peck, S. M. (1978). The road less travelled. New York: Touchstone.

Ramo, H. (1999). An Aristotelian Human Time-Space Manifold: From Chronochora to Kairotopos. Time & Society, 8(2-3), 309-328.

Ramírez, J. L. (1995). Skapande Mening: En begreppsgenealogisk undersökning om rationalitet, vetenskap och planering [Creative Meaning: A Contribution to a Human-Scientific Theory of Action]. Stockholm: NORDPLAN.

Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person; a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. New York: University of Chicago Press.

Simpson, J. A., Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). The Oxford English dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Smith, J. E. (1969). Time, times and the ‘right time’. The Monist, 53(1), 1-13.

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Finding meaning and making sense of the everyday

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I’m into the seventh week of my family’s annual beachside holiday on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. Every year we come down to immerse ourselves in the soothing, natural delights offered by seaside living. Endless, changing vistas of magnificent skies and calming seas provide soul-healing space for us all.

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Traditionally, in previous years I have luxuriated in a daily early-morning swim in these divine waters to reconnect myself to nature, however this year has found me struggling to relinquish the warmth provided by my bed in favour of the invigorating seas.

I am also here in this peaceful place to bring my PhD thesis to its conclusion. I have managed to set aside a significant time period to achieve this, and have found myself more focused on paying greater attention to the need to sit down and commit to my writing. Even for this though, I have on many occasions curled up on my bed and allowed myself the luxury of immersion in the inner world of my thoughts.

Today is different. As I awoke to the sound of the seas lapping on the shore, I checked my emails to find this commentary from Heather Plett. Just as I did when reading  her article ‘Waking up is hard to do‘ (see also the link within this to ‘Holding space’), in ‘Trauma and Trump’ I found incredibly powerful words that connected deeply and provided me with a sense of profound personal meaning related to my response to Trump, and to others who have behaved towards me in ways that are cruel, dismissive and lacking in emotional intelligence.

Heather speaks, amongst many other things, about the somatic response of trauma and grief we experience and the ways our bodies unconsciously react to deeply disorienting situations.

Her words stirred me intensely, and I suddenly found myself longing to step into the comfort of the sea, to feel her soothing balm on my skin, to luxuriate in her embrace. So while most of my fellow seaside companions were still slumbering, I returned to the sea for my early morning swim.

I have much sense still to make of this, but it has affirmed, most significantly at this point, the emotional and physical connections we have… across our own times and across generations… and the ways in which these past experiences inform our present realities.

In response to the cognitive understanding of my past emotional and physical reactions, my body yearned to reclaim its power, to counter the unconsciously expressed trauma and grief, experienced through an act of reconnecting with healing rituals. It also reminded me that we are always in a state of becoming… we are always learning and unlearning our ways of being in the world.

Heather’s words spoke to me at a very deep level and uncovered personal revelations. Her may not connect with you, but I encourage to have a read to see if her thoughts stir anything for you.

I wish you a magnificent day ahead…

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Who do you want to be when you grow up?

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The new love of my life ... I wonder who she wants to be when she grows up?

The new love of my life … I wonder who she wants to be when she grows up?

What a busy year it’s been. I’ve been relishing life as a first-time grandmother, immersing myself in my university teaching with pre-service teachers, and continuing along the way of developing my PhD thesis.

As a reward to myself for a big year, I recently attended a writing workshop with Heather Plett in Noosa’s Hinterland on the Sunshine Coast, where I spent ten days contemplating writing from an open heart in preparation for writing up my thesis. It caused me to reflect deeply on the purpose of all I’ve been working towards over the last years – the point of my research in both my Masters and my PhD.

Reflections on my learning

Last year I read a post of Heather’s on holding space. I was incredibly touched by her words, by the insights she expressed, and by the sense her words made of so much of my experience. She gave me words for something I had known but not named, and I was affirmed by the power afforded the practice of holding space for others. I held her sense-making words and continued on with researching my PhD – speaking to VET teachers (vocational education and training) about their own experiences of returning to study, and the conditions and learning spaces they identified that were catalysts to transformative change.

fb_img_1477780611931Before April of this year, I had never heard of The Big House. Somehow though, I received notification that Heather Plett was coming to Australia to run two workshops. The Big House’s custodian Georgia Bailey had managed to whisper Heather from Canada to Australia, so I came from Melbourne to sit in circle, to learn more about holding space, to learn more about living with an open heart. My schedule for completing my PhD saw me to planning to write up my thesis in December, and I knew I had to be in Queensland in October to learn how to speak my authentic, academic truth from an open heart. Let me share a few insights attained during that time …

Opportunities for growth

For many years I have been on a path of learning. I left school early, married young and made beautiful babies, and ultimately chose to live separately from my boys’ father after eighteen years. Caring for three young boys required a good return on time invested, so a return to study was needed to lift my qualifications and earning capacity. I commenced tentatively and (with various degrees of success) managed to juggle the demands of work, study and sole parenthood. As I completed each necessary qualification and applied the learning in my vocation, I always found myself presented with new opportunities to explore, new spaces I could enter into and learn to inhabit. New identities I could try on.

When I look back on all the iterations of me along the way, the most constant knowing I have had throughout is that of the power of love. I didn’t call it love at the time … it was not until a few years ago when I was researching for my Master of Education and speaking with adults about their experiences of returning to study, that I was able to name it. Through undertaking a critically reflective essay on my own experiences of learning and stretching, it became so apparent that in all the faces of me – daughter, sister, friend, hairdresser, wife, mother, community services worker, fitness instructor and personal trainer, TAFE and teacher developer – I had unconsciously identified the power of love in supporting (or failing to support) people along their way.

In all vocations I fought for recognition in systems that seemingly took no heed of the individual and their unique strengths. Against typically industry-focused perspectives in education, I pushed for recognition of the need to create safe spaces where people could find themselves, so that they could succeed in learning whatever they chose to do, according to their strengths. That without these safe, nurturing spaces to stretch and grow … and fall over as is always part of true, sustainable learning … ultimate potential could never be reached. Truly fortifying life changes could never occur. I also realised after a time that it wasn’t enough just to affect individual students in my classes – I knew I had to research ways of developing and embedding an open-hearted approach within this industry-focused, standardised education system.

Consequently, my work as an educator and researcher in teacher professional development focuses on identity work as the primary foundation for cultivating potential learner capability. I have supported teaching practitioners across a broad range of professional development programs in universities, TAFE colleges, Adult Community Education, private and not-for profit sectors and have contributed to an International Boys School Coalition (IBSC) research project exploring masterful teaching practices in the education of boys. My current PhD research examines the experiences of vocational teaching practitioners as they unpack their own transformative stories of learning and teaching, and I am passionate about cultivating learning and learners.

My students and I speak a lot about social justice, about how our responsibility as teachers is to cultivate safe spaces where our young people – and adults returning to study – can learn about the world, locate and exercise their voice, and find courage to speak their truth. We speak about contesting our assumptions about life; about how we have the opportunity and responsibility to take action; about waking up to our place in the bigger picture of life. Heather Plett wrote a poem about this journey into the self – Waking up is hard to do (referenced in my last blog post). It is an incredibly powerful reflection on this journey, and I have shared it widely in my learning community. It asks us to consider how we experience new ways of being as we begin to wake up.

Applying the insights gained through my writing retreat

20161104_071430I have realized great gifts through my time at The Big House with Heather, Georgia and the learning companions I have come to know and appreciate with love and deepest gratitude. Previously unnoticed connections in my life, and long held truths have been reinforced and brought to the fore. For example that the spaces I create for people, and that people have created for me, are spaces where we ‘hold space’ for each other as we stretch and grow in understanding … that I am part of a container of magnificent souls who are here for each other in this life. I have also learned … and am beginning to integrate … to have the courage to be me, in all my quirkiness, in all my peculiarity. And to accept and celebrate others in their difference as they try to make sense of this often disorienting life … to accept others in their humanity.

Are we asking the right question?

Today I’ve been reading feeds on Facebook and LinkedIn about investigations, from various sources, into the professional development of teachers, and the education of our young people. It dawns on me that my inquiry into education – building on the inquiry of so many critical pedagogues – is asking a different question to that typically posed in traditional educational approaches.

When our children are growing up and entering the world of learning, we often ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And as we move along through life and take up additional personal and professional development, the same question is often presented … “What will you be once you’ve completed this qualification?” This certainly has been my experience, and I’ve always wondered why I felt so stuck in knowing how to reply. I wasn’t doing it to take on a specific title, to be able to tick a certain ‘box’, to become someone else’s notion of who I should be. I wasn’t able to name it at the time, however I’ve come to see that all the personal and professional development I undertook was because of what I intuited the learning would help me ‘become’.

I believe that education is about ‘becoming’. It is an evolving process that calls us to continuously interrogate what we know to be true about ourselves, about the world, and about our place in the world. I don’t believe it is about locating ourselves in a place that we can be squeezed into, I believe it is about locating ourselves. It is about finding the truth of who we are so that we can offer the strengths of ourselves to the world in the most authentic and powerful way.

So I think we’re asking the wrong question. Rather than ‘What am I going to be?’ I believe it must be ‘Who am I going to be?’. If we are to truly steel our society, to build strength and capability in our learning spaces and in the broader landscapes of life, we must create spaces where individuals – children, young people and adults returning to study – can connect with the strengths of their own offering. In all contexts, but particularly when there is an imbalance in power or privilege related to gender, ability, age, educational achievement, race, culture or socioeconomic standing, we need to hold space for people as they rise to the fullness of themselves.

We have one life to make our gifts count, and I believe an open-hearted, truly person-centred approach is the way to achieve the most authentic and beneficial expression of ourselves.

 


 

This article draws on another, submitted by me for publication in The Big House’s blog