#TDReflex14 – Week 1

Reflexions on Week One – ‘Finding a Voice’

The theme of Week One is ‘Finding a Voice’ and it’s been interesting how identifying this starting point for the uncourse has strengthened my teaching on the Reflexion Days, the way in which I articulate my own reflexion – why we are doing what we are doing on this programme.

Why is it so important to find our voices as teachers?  In the adult learning sector, I believe it’s particularly vital, because we have such a low cultural and public profile.  When people hear the word ‘teacher’ they think ‘schoolteacher’, a perception strengthened by media attention (including the focus on the ‘main’ teaching unions).  Projecting our voices against any of the diverse backdrops in which we teach means cutting through this cacophony to expose a world of zero-hours contracts, sessional work, short-term funding, uncertain futures.  One of the comforts I take from Twitter is the company of others who teach in contexts I recognise and ‘know’.

This is not just about campaigning (though it is that as well, and this foreshadows our Week Two topic).   It’s about recognition, about being present in society as (me and) YOU.  To have to begin every conversation by countering an assumption (“I’m not a school teacher”) tempts us to be almost defensive about the work we do, to undervalue it (and, consequently, our skills, sophistication, judgement).  As a profession, we have low self-esteem.  I profoundly believe that this is why it is important to define ourselves as teachers (though I love the word ‘educator’ too), to side-step the unspoken ‘less than’.  For everyone who says proudly, “I’m a trainer”, there are a dozen who hold fast to that unspoken ‘just’ (“I’m just a facilitator”.)  Add into this all the other aspects of our identities that we may hide from a judgemental society and there’s no wonder we don’t make our voices heard.

Teaching in school is tough, for a variety of reasons.  The kids are not the half of it, though they carry most of the blame, a situation which is only going to get worse after the shocking murder of Ann McGuire at work this week in Leeds.  But this is not a competition.  Our work is tough, too, and easily as skilled.  Yet even the most skilled of us are often under-qualified and under-employed (by which I mean on vulnerable, minimal contracts).   One of the joys of the Reflexion Programme has been watching it dawn on people that, for one day at least, it really is OK to be present as themselves.  (One of the very best end of study day comments, in response to the question, “At what moment today did you feel most engaged, and why?” was this:  “When I realised you were talking about ME.”)

The social media buzz around #TDReflex14 is beginning to raise some important questions. I’ll never do justice to all of these here, but my hope is to at least record them, so that we can come back and worry and dig our way through them, time after time.  I’ve attempted a few theme clusters, but have kept my hands off as much as possible:

Is it possible to have congruent offline and online identities?  Is it even desireable, given that it is not always safe for people to be present as themselves in their work?  What if you have more than one online identity?

How important are names?  How important is place?  Are our voices different in different ‘real’ spaces too?  What do we do when we don’t like the sound of our own voice?  What are we assuming? 

How is public speaking anxiety connected to the fear of literally losing one’s voice?

What if you are responsible for an organisational identity online?  What if more than one of you tweet as that organisation?

How do we process learning from the things that we hear?  “Is the speaker’s view contested? what might be an alternative viewpoint? have they discussed this?”

How can we strengthen ourselves to ‘speak up’ on- and off-line?  What part does the written word play?  Where can we speak up, if not in the written word?  When must we interrupt to stop abuses of power?  When is a Thinking Environment not a Thinking Environment?

It seems important that our values stay the same, even when our voices differ.  Why?

What happens when we choose to withhold our voice via our ‘absence’ (or non-participation)?  Does this impoverish others?

Peripherally to the theme of ‘Finding a Voice’ (but no less importantly), we began to niggle out what online teaching is – more precisely, how can good teaching be taken online? There’s a million miles to go with this yet, for us as individuals and for organisations.   We started to think about the links between reflexive practice and action research (follow the #NTENRED hashtag to get your mind buzzing about this one).  And we reflected on the process itself – public vs private writing, publishing, the attention of others and the focus of the time-limited writing group.
My personal journey has been revelatory.  I began by assuming that having congruent voices in all possible spaces was desireable; indeed I might have claimed to be able to pull this off.  I end the week realising that one of the ways in which we keep ourselves safe is by subtling coding the way that we speak:  Freire’s notion of the ‘dominant syntax’ having relevance here.  And that’s OK – crucially – if our values stay the same.  It’s our values that need to stay congruent, not our voices.  In the TDReflex14 Facebook Group, Jane Weatherby reminded us that bell hooks deliberately keeps her writing voice (‘bell’) separate from her teaching voice (‘Gloria’).  In ‘Teaching to Transgress’, she actually records the transcription of a conversation with herself in both voices; a surprisingly unweird exchange to witness.  The value base of both bell and Gloria remains clear and congruent; she may approach things differently in each persona, but what drives her from deep in her bones remains the same.  Ellie Trees testament to exploring her own voices has been a mesmerising read this week (check it out here) and others too have explored this, both publicly and semi-privately in the #TDReflex14 Writing Room.
The impact of this thinking for me personally has been to strengthen my confidence at a time when I’m putting myself ‘out there’ more and more.  Talking with others via #TDReflex14 about regional accents and judgement (and ‘getting over it’ because there are many other ways to judge and be judged) has been humbling and has helped me find a little more backbone.  I go boldly into the challenges of the week having separated out in my own mind my ‘voice’ (what I have to say) from my ‘accent’ (how I say it).
Building on these fabulous threads of discourse, the topic of Week 2 is ‘Speaking Out’.  Check back here for more details of how you can join in as YOU – it’s you that we need.

Finding a Voice (April 28 – May 4)

Welcome to week one of our ‘uncourse’, Teach Different – The Reflexion Programme 2014 (known on-line as #TDReflex14).  Here’s Lou saying hello on a screencast.

What’s it all about?

At this point you might be wondering what on earth an ‘uncourse’ is, and how you will engage with it! The idea is that the community is the curriculum.  The primary goal, rather than being about a particular topic, is to participate with people in our field. You’ll need to forget all those traditional ‘teachery’ ideas about learning outcomes, start and finish times, progression routes, assessment – just find a space that you are comfortable with, and join in!  It is all based around the concept of rhizomatic learning – as defined here:

‘The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain. It is also, as anyone who has ever had one in the garden will tell you, extremely resilient. As with the rhizome, the rhizomatic learning experience is multiple, has no set beginning or end, – “a rhizome creates through the act of experimentation.”
(Cormier, D., 2013, http://open.media.mit.edu/ed366/)

Where is it happening?

You’ll find an intro to each week posted here, on the Teach Northern blog, every Monday of the course. Then join us in one of these spaces:

  • Twitter.  Share your thoughts, ideas, stuff you like and links to writing here using the hash tag #tdreflex14.  To view what other people are doing, just type #tdreflex14 into the Search box, and reply to tweets that interest you.
  • Facebook.  Join the group TDReflex14, where you can chat to other people, just like you would usually do on FB. Search for the group using the search bar at the top of the screen – you will need to request to join it first, and we will approve you.
  • Yammer.  If you are not already a Yammer user, email us at teachnorthern@gmail.com and we will add you.  Once you’re on, just look for the TDReflex14 group and say hello!
  • Write Night.  Each Wednesday at 8pm for the next four weeks, we will be hosting a writing evening, where you can have a go at writing your own blog in a supportive space. As it is a Google site, you will need a gmail email address to post – again, just email us your address and we’ll set up a page for you.  Check out the site here https://sites.google.com/site/tdreflex14writeroom/home

And if you already have your own blog, don’t forget to share a link to it in any of the spaces above, and in the Comments section on this page.

What’s week one about?

The theme for this first week is ‘Finding a Voice’ – themes for the following weeks will hopefully emerge!  Here are a few things you might want to think about to get started:

–       Have you ‘found your voice’ as a teacher?  How do you share your reflections, ideas, thinking?

–       Does your on-line identity (if you have one) match your personal identity?  As a teacher, does your classroom ‘voice’ match your own personal voice or are there differences?

–       What are you assuming that is stopping you from sharing your thoughts on-line?

–       Is it difficult to find your own voice in the midst of other experts and thinkers?  Is there a tendency for us to ‘imitate’ others as teachers and writers, and is this a bad thing?

Still confused?

Dave Cormier, instigator of another rhizomatic course, #rhizo14, sums the ‘uncourse’ concept up really well:

‘Try to forget everything you know about ‘traditional education’ and imagine that you are going to camp for 6 weeks. The first thing i would do is find out where the food is. But that’s me. You might like to just chat with people. You might want to create a map of the premises to make sure you were never lost. You might try to make one really good friend. You’ll notice that some of the people in camp already know each other, you’ll see an eager person in the corner that no one is talking to. You might have gone to camp to challenge yourself or to just kinda hang out a little. These things are up to you. There are no straight lines and no clear answers coming from me. I’ve been scratching my head about rhizomatic learning for 7-8 years because i think the story is important. These weeks are me inviting you to scratch your head along with me.’

Want to get started?

Here’s some things to do:

  1.  Join the Facebook group (TDReflex14) and say hello.
  2. Let us know your gmail address and take a look at the Writing Room, ready for Wednesday night’s write night.
  3. Post your thoughts about one of the questions above on Facebook, Yammer or Twitter.
  4. Ask everyone in the groups a question of your own.

And remember that we don’t know where this journey is heading either, but really hope you will join us for the ride!

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3 thoughts on “#TDReflex14 – Week 1”

    1. Many thanks Cathy and I love your blog, it’s joyous! Already some really interesting questions are coming out about about online (and offline) identities, which are well worth exploring. There’ll be a book in every week – eeek! We need to get writing! And create some of those spaces where we can be face to face, you are right about that 🙂

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