Category Archives: Critical inquiry

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

 

Invitation to participate in a PhD research study

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Startup Stock PhotosMy PhD research project is finally ready to start collecting data from teachers in the VET sector! This might not relate to you, but feel free to pass it on to someone you think might be interested …

Have you completed a Vocational Education and Training (VET) teaching diploma program any time since 2006? This might include:

  • 21697VIC Diploma of Vocational Education and Training Practice
  • TAA50104 Diploma of Training and Assessment
  • TAE50111 Diploma of Vocational Education and Training
  • TAE50211 Diploma of Training Design and Development

Did undertaking this contribute in any way to a transformed perspective of yourself as a learner, of learning more broadly, or to changes in your learning and teaching practice?

My name is Jennifer Miles and I am conducting a research project towards a PhD in Education at Monash University. I am seeking participants who are interested in contributing to a study that will explore the ways in which undertaking a VET diploma program (teaching) encouraged them to reflect on their identity as a learner and as a teacher, and to consider any consequent transformed perspectives on learning and teaching practice that emerged during or since undertaking the diploma.

The study involves two levels of participation, and you can choose one or both. You might decide just to complete the online survey, or to also participate in the in-depth interview process.

If you are interested, please follow the link and read the Explanatory Statement for full details, and at the end if this you will be asked if you wish to proceed with the survey

http://monasheducation.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_cwnbmtcoynsnoGx

If you know of someone else who might be interested, please pass the message and link on to them. Thank you for your consideration!

The secret to a good life

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According to Scott-Peck in ‘The road less travelled’ (1979), education comes from the word ‘educare’, meaning to ‘bring out from within’ or to ‘lead forth’. The art of teaching then, much like Socrates’ allusion to teachers as mid-wives (Plato’s Theaetetus), might be seen as concerned with drawing out what is already contained within the learner, bringing it into their conscious awareness.

In my experience, rather than trying to shovel information into people, the practice of learning and teaching should always be learner-focussed, most often achieved through facilitating a social ‘space’ where learners are given permission to go on a quest – an adventure of personal discovery into the self.

This space of learning can transpire through a social, collaborative process where individuals share and critique their own assumptions, experiences and perspectives of personal learning and knowing. Through this often disorienting quest to uncover/discover/rediscover the truths and strengths that lie within, individuals can begin to find new ways of seeing themselves and the world around them, and begin to consider the rich opportunities they have to engage with and impact on this newly perceived world. For me, mine is a process of supporting the ‘restorying’ of learners’ perspectives on what they see as possible for them in life. As an ‘educator’ of adults returning to study, I find the greatest satisfaction in supporting these transformations of self and potential.

Today, as I’ve been continuing my own PhD learning quest, pursuing a greater understanding of how we can best support teachers in their own transformative journeys of learning, I have come across an article from the Gallup Blog, the company that provides us with a myriad of statistics on all manner of fascinating stuff. The article is entitled ‘Teaching may be the secret to a good life, and in it, Brandon Busteed, Executive (Director of Gallup Education) and Dr. Shane Lopez (Gallup Senior Scientist) discuss their findings about the satisfaction rates of teachers in America.

Even while identifying the second highest levels of stress of all fourteen vocational areas surveyed, teachers rate the second highest level against emotional health and wellbeing. Though not perceived as a vocation pursued for financial gain, teachers surveyed responded that they get to “use their strengths and do what they do best every day”, and are most likely to report experiencing happiness and enjoyment (Busteed and Lopez, 2013).

This leads Busteed and Lopez to propose that as the title suggests, a career of teaching may well be the secret to a good life. They reflect on the benefits of working in such a richly rewarding vocation, and consider the value of great teachers in our lives … those who have inspired and encouraged us in pursuit of our sometimes lofty dreams, urging us to reach ever higher as the experience of life crafts us into the truest expression of ourselves.

I am not alone in knowing that the value of great teachers is true in many contexts. Those who have had the privilege and challenge of raising children and those who mentor, coach and lead with gentle strength each day in their work, sport and recreational lives may well have inspired and experienced the same richly rewarding outcomes.

So thank you to the educators in all contexts who continue to inspire and encourage us on our journey to the fullest expression of ourselves. May they realise the grandest of lives.

 

Busteed, B & Lopez, S. (2013) Teaching may well be the secret to a good life.  The Gallup Blog. http://thegallupblog.gallup.com/2013/03/teaching-may-be-secret-to-good-life.html

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

Plato (circa 257 BC). Theaetetus Translated by Cornford, F. M. (1930) pp148e-151d. http://www.phy.ilstu.edu/pte/310content/philosophy/midwife.html