This week sees the launch of TeachDifferent: The Diversity Programme, details of which you can find elsewhere on this blog. Since we heard in September that we’d been successful in securing Equality and Diversity Innovation Fund money to run the project, I’ve been working with a team of truly brilliant minds, to flesh out my back of an envelope idea into something really workable. It’s been a privilege and my own thinking has unfolded beautifully, given the framework of tight deadlines and the discipline of presenting my ideas to critical friends.
Already, the learning has been immense. I’ve never been a committee person (I blame ADHD, but really…) I fidget and chafe. I rock on the chair. Sometimes, when the conditions are right, I’ve had a great time in a meeting, come out buzzing with ideas…only to lose them all in the labyrinth that is my brain, before I’ve made it home. The minutes come out and they tell me nothing about what caused my synapses to spark and fizz with ideas. Over time, I came to believe I was a bit of a lone wolf, always outside the pack. Or, worse still, wired up wrong.
The truth was, those weren’t the conditions for me to be myself as a creative, energetic person. Sitting still just didn’t do it for me.
Over the past year, I’ve come to realise there’s another way. The Community of Praxis opened up the world for me; particularly via the live-time #teachdifferent Twitter chats @kaysoclearn has been running over the past few months. The adrenaline of the first of these was unforgettable. And, even better, the vitality of the discussion could be preserved via the tortuous but worthwhile process of ‘Storifying’ it, so that in a calmer moment I could return and work through some of those ideas. And those ideas seemed to have merit; some of them caught on.
I started walking, with my critical friend @ajwright69, talking leadership, identity and social purpose. Some walks transmuted into dissertation supervision; that seemed to work too. No-one called a halt or told me I couldn’t be working if I was walking, if I didn’t have a folder in front of me or a notepad to write it all down. No-one said I should be somewhere else. I got a bit braver and logged the hours on my timesheet. Those ‘Thinking Walks’ became part of my work plan, and the ideas flowed.
When TeachDifferent: The Diversity Programme came along, I sat down to write a Gantt chart. Even the software defeated me. Even knowing I had to get to ‘Z’ before July, I couldn’t get past ‘A’. I came to recognise that I had untrue limiting assumptions about the way in which a research project ‘had to be’ run. It took me a whole weekend to give up on ‘A’ and dive straight in at ‘J’. ‘Z’ quickly followed…
…and finally, after starting right in the middle, I got the breakthrough I needed to finally get to ‘A’. After half an hour’s frantic typing in the #TDblogs real-time writing group, I had an ‘AHA’ moment about differentiation, which turned into the unbeautiful but promising scribble, above. Something about knowing I was writing, in my kitchen, with others also in their kitchens, then giving each other another thirty minutes’ attention to get the job done, unlocked all that had been holding me back in my thinking. Untrue limiting assumptions threw themselves out of the path of the words that tumbled out of me. And, most humbling of all, my writing was only a slice of the wonderful stuff produced that night. My breakthrough was this: that what mattered most in learning and thinking was the ability to be yourself.
I have skills that are my skills and which are rooted in the way my mind and body works, in the experience of my life and in the groups with whom I identify. I am a touch typist, a quick thinker, an adrenaline junkie, a single parent. I’d be the last to say to any of my students that any of those things are ‘bad’. They just are. And in the process of planning for this project, I found the freedom to work the way that worked for me. To be myself, around others…virtually. To be able to honour my values of honesty, humility and openness, sharing my thinking whilst working at my kitchen table where I could switch off if I wanted to or put the washing on if I must. And I took strength from the experiences of others, who were also finding a different way. Somewhere in the middle of all of this I read ‘Open’ by @davidpriceobe, which gave me the hope that I might just be part of a way of being that was changing the world.
This is my way. It may not be yours. But I hope that you find whatever it is that works best for you, as this is working for me. I hope that you can be yourself in your work because, as Nancy Kline says, there’s no chance of thinking for yourself, until you can think as yourself.