First conference presentation of the year only a day away…

Presentation written (including a short story, references to muppets, wolves and other animals), clothes ironed, boots polished… all I need now is an early night. Leaving home at 6.30am tomorrow to travel to University of Leicester for my first conference presentation of 2015.

It’s going to be a looooooonnnnggggg day! But I am really looking forward to it – the sessions look really interesting, and very relevant to my research. In fact, I told a colleague I was going and they manage to book on too, so I ahve company for the journey – in true kermit fashion “Yaaaaaayyyyy!”

More info on the conference is available here: http://emotionalmethodologies.weebly.com/

I hope to be tweeting through the day and will write a blog entry afterwards. For those who are interested, this is what I will be presenting:

Title: Developing an academic identity – It’s not easy being ME!

Abstract: Challenging behaviour in children can be really… well, challenging! Challenging behaviour amongst researchers can be even harder to handle – for their supervisors and colleagues – and for themselves! How do you ‘handle’ a creative researcher who is reluctant to use academic language, actively welcomes emotions in research, refuses to put away their toys and insists on playing at every opportunity? What about when they influence and inspire others to do the same? Perhaps most challenging of all is my preference for first-person language in recognition that I am embedded and embodied within my research.

I will be exploring what it means to be ‘different’. Some of the questions I will be asking:

  • Different from what…?
  • What role does emotion play in my research?
  • Does this approach affect my credibility – is it wise to be ‘childish’?
  • Will my research be perceived as insignificant if it is communicated in a playful way?

I will also be asking you some key questions for you to consider about yourselves – after all, despite the title, it’s not all about me!

  • What about you, how different do you think you are? What does that mean for you?

Research has greater impact at every level (personal, social and cultural) when we have the willingness to take risks, to break with the safety of tradition and to creatively be ourselves – but who is that? Perhaps I’m not being different, I’m just being ME? Let’s explore this together…

Weaving golden threads into a tapestry of life

Choosing an image that encapsulates this post has not been easy. Which bit do I choose to focus on: the threads, the weaving process, the end result/outcome? Is it really possible to separate these without losing the overall meaning? In the end I have opted for a picture of a tapestry created by one of my favourite artists, the delightfully controversial, persistently challenging Grayson Perry.

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Like Perry, much of my work is auto-biographical in nature, and I aim to employ political, social and sexual criticism – although not as graphically or violently as he does. I also draw inspiration from many other people, including Rachel Carson, the environmentalist who has been described as a ‘gentle subversive’. I like her approach, less overtly challenging but still aiming to bring about change.

Grayson Perry is quoted as stating that, “I’m perhaps more self-conscious than some artists of the mechanisms that make me who I am. They’re happy to ride the waves of their lives but I want to see how the waves work.” I too want to find out ‘how the waves work’ – I also want to enjoy riding the waves. This has led to exploration of my identity in an attempt to answer the question “Who am I?

The photo used here is of Perry’s creation titled “The Walthamstow Tapestry,” which has been described as a sensitive depiction of the journey through life. In this picture of the tapestry the sails of the boat appear to be woven from golden threads – another metaphor carrying me forward…………….

The voices in my head…

voices in my headThe voices in my head are memories of the people in my life captured within my mind. They combine to provide the guiding golden thread of inner dialogue (my intuition) which I use to navigate the world and attempt to make sense of it.

The photo here is of a creative reflection of my learning on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice. It is a paper sculpture of a circle of four people, representing the four themes of the course. They are joined at hands (support) and feet (grounding) and wrapped in a friendship band of interwoven threads. The threads represent social, emotional and theoretical strands of learning. The red thread linked my creation to those of my peers within our group of four (working together on this task). Their creations were very different, however we were united by the threads of conversation. 20150414_110927_resizedMy thread was red, the others used green, blue and gold. Starting separately, they became twisted and entangled into one twine, which when viewed at a distance, looked like an umbilical cord. I have been inspired by their stories, thoughts and experiences…I carry some of these forward with me. To capture this I took a small piece of each of their threads and rested it on the heads of my paper sculpture (see photo).

On leaving the room I realised I had lost these small threads. I looked around but couldn’t find them and sighed, ‘oh well, I have them in my head‘. Before I made it through the door, a gentle hand stopped me, tucked the small threads into my hand and a voice whispered, ‘I found them on the floor, here they are.’ I looked up and we shared a smile. ‘Thank you‘ I replied, meaning for so much more than just those threads. It was one of the others from our group, she had instinctively understood how I had been feeling and we had talked about it in the session. She had noticed that I was unhappy (a combination of her high emotional IQ and my expressive face), and had taken care to find out why. She could see that I do not like negativity. My default reaction to situations like this is to play the clown, diffuse tension, emphasise the positive, to ‘jolly folk along’. Like others on the course I have ‘issues,’ I have too much I want/need to do, and not enough time. I just choose to view it as a challenge, to take a positive approach.

I am enthusiastic about learning, I cherish opportunities to learn with and from other people. My approach has taken many years to form, and is the result of many different encounters with other people. I share a few of those voices (memories) here. These are the ones that have most helped me recently – perhaps they may prove helpful to you?

Seriously mate, you need to re-frame that in a more positive way! Why so negative?” The voice of a past colleague helped me to feel less isolated – she was by my side, seeing it from my perspective. This helps me to maintain my enthusiasm for learning when I feel trapped in a negative environment.

Remember the Wizard’s first rule: Look at the potential not at the problem.” A voice that guided me to take my first tentative steps as a youth worker, and continues to help me focus on the important things in life.

Flick the bird of doubt off your shoulder.” A metaphor for the self-doubt that plagues many of us as we start learning something new – it reminds me of a very special fellow PhD student, and makes me smile when I think/say it as I feel her presence nearby.

Boggarts featured at the … conference yesterday. I sensed your presence!!” A small comment within an email from a learned, critical friend. Reading his work had prompted me to apply to University of Cumbria to do my PhD – I wanted to meet him, know him better, learn from him – as I now can (and do).

I also have to acknowledge that some of the voices I carry are less overtly positive. I share a few here:

“Higher education isn’t for girls…”  “You’re just an over-opinionated housewife.” “You never finish anything…remember when you tried knitting?” “You’re being too reflective…” “Teddies? really? But these are academic people, they’ll expect something more clever! Better think again.”

These voices can also be interpreted in a positive way – they motivate me, they have helped me to understand who I am, and enabled me to be able to explain this, and if needed justify it to others.

I thank you all.

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls butterfly…

The title for this post was taken from a chapter within a book by Ralph Metzner, who attributes the quote to American author, Richard Bach.

Within this chapter lie many words of wisdom, including: “Our experience confirms what the elders and wise ones of all times have said that we live in a constant state of change… We grow up. . . we grow old. . . but we always grow. Our lives appear to unfold in multiple inter-weavings of cycles of change at many levels, punctuated by discontinuous transitions.”

I found this book whilst searching for the derivation of the word ‘metaphor’. I found the quote on an online site, then traced its source back to this book (not ordered as yet, but saved to my ‘wishlist’). I understand now that Metaphor is a word that has Greek (is there no escape from those Greeks?! – see earlier posts) roots: meta – “beyond” and pherein – “to carry”. It represents a ‘…carrying beyond, a transferring of meaning from one domain into another’ (Metzner, 2010: 7).

The golden threads of learning link this wonderful new find to my earlier treasures… I am aware that it takes determination and patience to become a butterfly, and a willingness to move forward.

My learning journey continues…

You touched me…

This post follows on from my last post, and it is directed at those who chose to tread softly on my dreams. Some I have met recently, others I encountered many years ago. You may have forgotten me, I have not forgotten you. I carry you forward with me, you have become a part of who I am. This is for you, wherever you are now.

You Are Part Of Me

By Lloyd Carl Owle (Cherokee)

You are part of me now

You touched me,

With your kindness and love

So enchanted.

Your soft lips are kind.

Your eyes glow with life.

I’m glad you touched me,

You’re part of me now.

The poem is available from http://www.firstpeople.us/html/You_Are_Part_Of_Me.html

The picture What you carry with you is by Lisa Martin and is available on her Blog titled: Dreaming Life as Art. You can see this, and more of her work at https://dreaminglifeasart.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/what-you-carry-with-you1.jpg?w=540&h=369&crop=1

Tread softly… turning reflections into actions

Well I am nearing the end of the first module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice and the final task is to write a reflexive commentary on my learning in which we identify the ‘golden threads’. I love a good metaphor 🙂 so I have started this task by considering what we mean by the term a golden thread. My explorations are leading me back to the world of the Ancient Greeks – something that seems to happen to me a lot, which justifies the purchase of another book (see earlier posts on my book addiction) – this time on Greek Mythology.

Metaphors relating to threads / weaving / cloths have been another pretty constant feature in my life. Thinking back to when I was a teenager, studying English Literature, I fell in love with the poems of W.B. Yeats. When, along with my twin sister, I was awarded a school prize for English I chose to spend the book token on an anthology of his poems – I still have it, it’s looking a bit old and dusty now (a bit like me) and still has little bits of paper in it (homemade bookmarks made from scrap paper, cut with pinking shears) marking my favourite poems. Over 30 years later these are still some of my favourites, and as I look back at them I realise that my very favourite then (if there can be such a thing) has formed the backdrop to my life.

With my sincerest apologies to W.B. Yeats I am going to add a letter to the title he used, turning ‘he’ into ‘she’:

She Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

En-wrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

but I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Why is this poem so important to me? Because as I reflect I realise that the golden threads for me represent people, memories of spending time with them, of sharing dreams – they with me, and me with them. Some have trampled across my dreams, for many different reasons they have dismissed my dreams as irrelevant, unimportant, a waste of time. They are wrong, but these encounters have helped me to be determined and motivated.

Others have shown great care, compassion and respect. They have nurtured and supported me, even when they don’t understand what I am doing, or why I am doing it, they have been gentle (yet firm) with me, and with my dreams. I thank them. Their voices still resonate within my head…these are the threads that I carry forward. I treasure them as they help me interpret and re-interpret my experiences, both good and bad. Their support enables me to learn from my mistakes – we all make them, especially when following our dreams.

So what is my learning from this in terms of my role as a teacher? When we share our dreams with others as we do so often when learning, we make ourselves vulnerable: some will tread with care; others will trample heavy-footed. I know which kind of person I want to be, and I understand why. When the people I teach spread their dreams before me, I will step forward with great care and respect…I will tread softly.

I love learning… why can this be so difficult to admit?

f80f4e4141f5d70f4f85e937e82bbaa3I love books – I’ve said that before within this Blog. I love books because I LOVE learning – they feed my imagination and inspire me to continue to develop my knowledge and skills. They fill me with wonder and awe – there are so many wonderful people sharing their imaginations with us. They inspire me to aspire to be a writer too…

I am currently reading lots of books and journals about learning and teaching – this hunger to learn eats up much of my time. I am either reading, or thinking, or thinking about reading… and I love it. I want to be a better teacher, the kind of teacher who is compassionate yet challenging. Who cares yet can ‘kick ass’ when needed.

In a teaching session this week (I was a student) the lecturer was using Harry Potter as a metaphor, I heard myself admit that I am proud to be like Hermione, the much maligned, mis-understood character in Harry Potter, who too often is singled out for ridicule. For example: “Tell me, Miss Granger, are you incapable of restraining yourself, or do you take pride in being an insufferable know-it-all?” Said Professor Snape.

Why did I feel the need to do this? Because I felt a sudden strong kinship with Hermione… the swot, the geek, the one who ‘needs to get a life’. Why do some people find it necessary to mock those who want to learn? To scorn those who want to succeed? To dismiss them in favour of someone who has a more important ‘issue’? Why do these people seem to encourage an air of negativity rather than one of optimism and hope?

Unlike Hermione it has taken me a long time to find my voice, to be sure of my identity and bravely raise my hand to speak out. I have fought for the right to higher education, as a result it is precious to me. I make the most of every opportunity that I am offered, I value it for what it is, and most of all I enjoy it. I will never apologise for that. And I will do my best to ensure that others have opportunities too.

What I need to do now is put this learning into action. I will continue to look out for, and care for those who are struggling to begin their learning journey. But I will remember to look out for those who are aiming higher, it is just as important to meet their needs, to support them as they unfurl their wings and begin to fly. They may soar higher than me (I hope so) and I will gaze up at them with wonder and awe. I will learn from them, and be grateful for the privilege of having accompanied them on part of their journey.

So yes, I am proud to be a Hermione, after all ‘Without Hermione, The Boy Who Lived would be dead as shit.’ I just wish I had her Time-Turner then I could spend even more time reading and learning…

For more from Hermione’s perspective, check out

If Hermione were the main character in “Harry Potter” : Hermione Granger and the Goddamn PatriarchyAvailable at http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/boss-witch#.mq156o2eK

A reflective ‘snap shot’

A short reflection on the power inherent within the role of a lecturer…as part of the work for my Pg Cert I have been reflecting on teaching sessions – those I have been observed to deliver/facilitate and those where I have observed others undertake this role. In an ideal world (whatever that is?) I would prefer power to be equally shared between lecturer and students, however I have to acknowledge that I am responsible for designing (or amending pre-designed) activities – and this is a powerful position to start from. I attempt to ameliorate this by encouraging students to suggest activities, and wherever possible to facilitate them for each other (and me). But most are reluctant to do this…as they point out, that is what I am paid to do 🙂

Power is inherent/implicit within the role of lecturer and is implicitly conferred on this role by the students, especially those who have come directly to university from statutory education and have little awareness of different modes of teaching. I am also accountable to colleagues on the courses I teach, the wider team, department, faculty and university; therefore I do not have the ability or authority to level the ‘normal hierarchical relationship between teacher and student’ – that is not within my power (Gosling, 2007: 21).

The most explicit way that students exert their power is through non-participation, not joining in discussions, playing games/shopping on their phones during lectures when they think I am not looking (I am, I see you, I wonder why you are doing this?)

Pausing to reflect on this has caused me to consider if it may be effective for me to adopt a more didactic, authoritative approach to address this behaviour. However, this would then be in conflict with my personal and professional values, and I feel this behaviour is more effectively addressed through conversation.

My reflections help me to understand that whilst my approach (be more engaging than their phones) may have a less visible, immediate impact than more authoritative approaches (switch your phone off!), the longer term impact may be more effective. Time will tell…

Gosling, D. (2007) Micro-Power Relations between Teachers and Students using Five Perspectives on Teaching in Higher Education, Available from: http://bit.ly/11jcS3T

Back to today…

“Enid Blyton? Really? But I thought you were a youth worker? Wasn’t she a sexist and a racist? She had some very bigoted views…and I hate to mention it, so very middle-class!” A colleague’s comment when I shared my plans to include Enid Blyton’s work within my research.

P1010367Perhaps she was all of those things, but she was of a certain time and place, as are we all. This is reflected in her stories that now appear quaint and old-fashioned amongst more modern children’s literature. However her work helped to shape and guide my childhood: rereading the stories and poems I realise that I have absorbed them into my subconscious, that they have imperceptibly affected the way I write. I determine to find out more about her, to be able to respond to some of the criticisms about her and to justify her inclusion in my own work. I buy some more books…and decide the best way to approach my auto-ethnography is to write my story. Then I can draw on established theories and academic literature to understand my story to help me make sense of my relationship with nature. Understanding the steps that lead me to where I need to go………………

This is important as it determines how I facilitate outdoor learning experiences for others; how I conduct my research, and the way I interpret my findings. I have to expose, explicate and appreciate my experiences – this will help me to ensure that my research is both honest and valid. Instead of viewing the criticisms of her work as reasons to ignore it, I decide to embrace them. They help provide a framework for my auto-ethnography. In the words of Enid:

“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones.

Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.”

(Blyton, 1992: 122[i])

[i] Blyton, E. (1992) Mr Galliano’s Circus Reading: Cresset Press. First published by George Newnes (1938)

Part 3 – Becoming an academic…

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Adventures at Hayes Water, Christmas 2013
My youngest child left home for university and we moved to the Lake District to commence doctoral research: some books were shed along the way as we attempted to downsize to a smaller house. However within a short space of time even more academic and studious books were added to my collection. Alongside these some more children’s books crept in: Aesop’s fables, Icelandic fairy tales and various nursery rhymes, bought with the intention of helping to bring to life my presentations (oral and written).

One day I woke up with a story in my head, which was soon followed by several more. My subconscious was making sense of my research findings and my experiences, weaving them together through a creative, interpretive process. I attempted to explain this to my doctoral supervisors, it wasn’t something I had planned to do, it just seemed to happen. I openly acknowledged that I drew inspiration for my writing from Rachel Carson, who had written a fable[i] to demonstrate what would happen to the natural world if people continued to use pesticides. I liked her approach, it is markedly different from those who quote statistics and use scare tactics to attempt to change behaviour. However, her work still differed from mine in that it seemed to be planned, a result of conscious effort to write, whilst my creative writing felt sub-conscious: it mostly happened when I wasn’t expecting it. Whilst most of my stories were about people, other characters crept in: Boggarts, bunny rabbits and bears – lots of bears!

I began sharing my stories, cautiously at first, expecting to be rebuked as non-academic, not suitable for a doctoral candidate. That didn’t happen; instead I was praised for being different, for making my work accessible and understandable. But what to do with them next, what was their purpose? And perhaps more importantly (to me anyway) why was my brain working in this way? The first question was relatively easy: I developed a concept called ‘Adventure Bears’, a small handmade fabric teddy bear designed to be played with outside which I gifted to recipients with a short story making the links to playing outside. One year later I had made over 60 of them and had begun selling[ii] them to raise funds for charity.

I determined to address the second question, as to why my brain was working this way, through the auto-ethnography section of my PhD: but how to go about this? I stepped away from the computer and studied my book collection. It represents the different phases of my life, as I have grown and developed into the person I am now. One book caught my eye: Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book (2008[iii]). The book was purchased when I was working for a conservation charity, with the aim of helping me to develop some inspiring and engaging activities for families and young children. I hadn’t looked at it for several years. I opened it and began to read: the words felt familiar, memories stirred deep within me.

The lilting, sing song text spoke to me, calling to the little girl within…………………………..

[i] Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring Boston, USA: Houghton Mifflin

[ii] I call it an adoption fee and the bears are gifted along with instructions on how to care for them; profits are donated to a children’s charity.

[iii] Blyton, E. (2008) Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book (centenary edition) London: Evans Brothers Limited