Gratitude and the Horizon

Another year in school is done (at least in Australia anyway) and so begins a time for myself and many other teachers to have some rest and switch off from work mode for a while. I find it quite hard to switch off immediately although I know I need to. Winding down is gradual. I tend to reflect a fair bit as part of the process, thinking about what was or wasn’t achieved this last year, what I have learnt and what I can be thankful for. I have decided to focus in this piece on my learning and what and who I am grateful for. On Twitter I try to do my bit to share what I am learning,  thinking, researching or reading. I also like to acknowledge the thoughts and generosity of those who do the same by committing to blogging, share their work and draw attention to matters that I feel strongly about.

Normally I am not a ‘list person’, but in this reflection, I am going to share ‘five lists of five’. Why five I m not sure. The lists consist of people, ideas, opportunities and work that I am thankful for in 2016 as they have all challenged my thinking, influenced my blogging, provided me some hope in education, offered support for the work I do in my school and importantly, kept my mind and heart open to possibilities rather than fixed on some educational event horizon or protracted debate where no ground is being made. My work leading teaching, learning, coaching and research in my school keeps me well and truly occupied, but I have been interested in, frustrated by or dumfounded by issues this year such as the ‘quality’ agenda, what does/does not count as research and evidence, the seemingly exponential infiltration of edubusinesses into many aspects of education (products, conferences, technology systems etc.) and the slow-dancing of some sections of the profession with self-appointed ‘experts’ and pseudo celebrity-like eduguru’s peddling their merchandise or ideology.

Before I get started … Disclaimer – I understand that we tend to gravitate towards those we find affinity with, but sometimes even those folk have a deep well of challenges for us, not just confirmation and affirmation. You might get sick of all the links, but it is my attempt to share and connect people and ideas (if you wish to engage them). Let me be clear, this is not intended to be some love-in or me propagating platitudinous guff.

  1. Blogs:

I enjoy reading many people’s ideas, reflections and reviews. Among the hundreds I have read this year, the following five pieces have really made me pause, ask difficult questions and gain some clarity:

  • The Transcendent Educator and the Curious Case of Educational Boards – in which Marten Koomen raises important questions about the murkiness and potential conflict of interests of high profile folk in education sitting in and across multiple professional bodies, think tanks, awarding bodies etc. and who have significant sway in shaping educational discourse and even policy formulation.
  • Do Teachers Care Too Much? is a deeply moving piece by Naomi Barnes in which she broaches the terrifying responsibility of being a teacher; caring about students, advocating for them, never knowing what might happen from one day to the next and the emotional exhaustion that our profession creates in us;
  • Holding Out For a Hattie by Corinne Campbell challenges the ‘hero teacher’ trope, unhelpful binaries and hollow evangelism of eduguru’s who foist the guilt-inducing ‘quality’ agenda on us. Some of their espousals and mantra’s disenfranchise elements of the profession but would have you believe that if you don’t subscribe to the kool aide, you are clearly missing something. We aren’t;
  • What ‘no excuses’ and ‘zero tolerance’ really means by Linda Graham tackles a common discourse (it seems) across edutwitter (and perhaps further afield), in approaches to discipline, behaviour management and the ways in which this is articulated locally through school policies and it’s engagement with families and community around expectations and their philosophical stance;
  • Defining Teacher Professionalism is a powerful recollection of Jean-Louis Dutaut’s College of Teaching address in May this year. He talks about the deprofessionalisation of educators as a result of multiple layers of bureaucracy and calls for a teacher and researcher-led profession that recognises our work, breaks the chain of circling wagons and has us leading the directions of education by ‘flipping the system’ and speaking up into the decisions from the ground-up.

2. Books:

I read profuse amounts for both my role requirements and personal interest. I try to ensure that I keep abreast of as wide and varied array of material as possible so as not to logjam my thinking with too much bias. The following five books have stood out and resonated with me. They all brilliantly articulate their central messages, raise critical questions about issues, players, politics and democracy on the educational landscape. They also offer practical solutions and suggestions for transparency, positive change and a reinvigorated discourse on issues that range from individual teachers to the workforce, students to testing regimes, ethics to philosophy.

3. Papers/Studies:

I try to keep across what my role needs me to be aware of theoretically, practically and necessarily and enable me to learn from engaging with research. The following five papers/studies (sorry if any are paywalled) have deeply challenged me, affirmed the work of my school and created clarity in my thinking about forces that shape education and work of teachers and leaders for better or worse. These works have implications for professional practice at all levels from the classroom to policy levels.

4. Experiences and challenges that I have enjoyed in 2016;

  • Learning from others – there are simply too many to mention, but I have been challenged and caused to reflect on all manner of educational matters by the likes of Danny Brown, Tim O’Brien, Stew Riddle, Andrea Stringer, Tomaz Lasic, Matt Esterman, Mercedes Schneider, Mark Johnson and Donelle Batty to name a few;
  • #educoachOC – it has been a joy this year to co-moderate the monthly chat, designed to pull together educators embedding coaching practices in their respective contexts and sharing reflections, research and ideas. Enormous thanks go to Corinne Campbell, Deb Netolicky and Chris Munro for their support, commitment and hard work;
  • Harvard Project Zero, Shore School Sydney – presenting at, and attending this conference was a treat. Organised by the amazing Cam Paterson, we saw Australian teachers share practice in the areas of cultures of thinking and other aligned Harvard projects;
  • Co-presenting at Education Nation – teaming up with Corinne Campbell allowed us both to explore and present on the topic of coaching in education and teacher agency. Drawing heavily on the work of Biesta, Priestley and Robinson (2015), we were able to challenge the participants with the idea of iterative practice and professional identity formation;
  • Working at my wonderful school – with great leadership, colleagues and a vision and direction that I am proud to be part of.

5. What am I looking forward to in 2017?

  • Blogs: I am really looking forward to more blogging from folk who give me hope, champion causes that matter greatly and really interest me. In particular, the brilliant Natalie Scott, Charlotte Pezaro, Aaron Davies, Nancy Gedge and Whatonomy;
  • An eye on technology: Ben Williamson is doing some stunning work out of the University of Sterling keeping an eye on the pervasive and sometimes uncritical consumption of technology in education. He writes particularly on the influence of powerful mergers of corporations, platforms and products and the impact they have on data and privacy of students and school communities. You can read his blog here;
  • Flip The System: I am excited by the forthcoming Flip The System book focused on the UK and future editions from other countries. I am committed to this movement as a strong supporter of building the conditions for heightening teacher agency, sharing ideas and collaborating on work that make a positive difference for the workforce and students;
  • More watchdog-like activity on corporatising education: the sometimes covert manoeuvres of business and for-profit models of education seem to be rampant around the globe. I look forward to contributions from the likes of Mercedes Schneider, Education International (EI) and Chris Lubienski to keep us across what is being happening, where and by who, and raise our awareness through exposing practices that would see profit prioritised before educational good;
  • Writing another reflection that would suggest a successful and fulfilling year has just passed.

Congratulations for getting this far. Profuse apologies if this came across as an Oscar’s acceptance speech, saccharine-sick and replete with unconnected fragments of my year that looks like some polyvalent mind has been at work. I assure you it has been a challenging but fulfilling year. I fully appreciate that you may not be interested in the same people and work that I am, but I am pleased that there is great diversity and plurality of thought and perspectives here in Australia, and in other folk around the world. I hope 2016 finishes well for you.

2 thoughts on “Gratitude and the Horizon

  1. Phillip @sailpip

    Thanks for the reflections, you have given me some reading when I start my holidays.
    A big thanks for all the sharing you do. Your reflections and links are part of my daily reading.
    Have a restful break and enjoy your time with family and friends

    • Thanks so much Phil. I really appreciate you and your work. Was great catching up earlier this year and hearing about the things happening at your college. Take care and have a wonderful break. Jon

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