Things I’m learning


In my previous post on questions for this year, I asked: What have I learnt from what went well, and what felt uncomfortable or difficult, in 2017? I learnt a hell of a lot last year, and here are some of the lessons I have been reflecting on.

That work matters a lot to me

My daughter has been back at school full-time for five days. We are reorienting ourselves—adjusting to the rhythms and tensions of school life again having got used to differently paced days in and out of hospital. I also need to recalibrate at work. It’s interesting to experience the shock of change in reverse. My ability to focus and undertake deep work has suffered. Nevertheless, throughout this slow and stressful time, work has continued to be important to me. Sometimes it has provided the distraction of shallow work. Sometimes it has offered an intellectual and creative outlet (writing, reading, talking and listening). I have achieved things I am proud of during this time, and I am looking forward to so much this year. At the very top of the list is attending the 6th International Academic Identities Conference, and (because work isn’t the only thing that matters) having a family holiday in Japan afterwards.

That I value care and community

I realised when I wrote my list of work that makes me proud that it looked very similar to the list of people I enjoyed working with: higher education scholars, PhD candidates, co-authors and co-teachers, and academic activists. I’m sure to have left several people or groups off that list! It’s impossible for me to separate the work I enjoy doing from the people I enjoy doing it with. I have several collaborative projects on the go at the moment: looking at community and care with Academic Identities conference project colleagues, collaborative writing and speculative work for future research and teaching projects. One of the great things about connecting with colleagues is the exquisite care they have shown when work has not been my number one priority.

On a related note, this week I am reading Robyn Barnacle and Gloria Dall’Alba’s paper Committed to learn: student engagement and care in higher educationThis conceptual paper, using the work of Martin Heidegger and Nel Noddings, explores how we can create learning environments that build students’ capacity for care. The article has now been recommended to me by two colleagues so I am keen to read more.

That it is difficult to live with uncertainty

While my daughter has been sick, life has been uncertain. We have not felt in control or able to make plans for the future. It’s an uncomfortable space to occupy. In an academic context, this is articulated by participants in my early career academic research with colleagues:

I’m not sure I have academic career plans anymore after more than six years of semester-length sessional teaching appointments. My earlier dreams have been shattered

I would like a permanent position because without it I am crippled. It’s very hard to explain to outsiders like friends and family and this has led to a certain isolation.

Quite frankly it is impossible to make plans … This situation is clearly absurd, and I know I am not alone.

I am doomed. Don’t know what’s gonna happen. Scary.

I don’t know whether the capacity to live with uncertainty improves. I guess it must, but it feels more like something that must be endured. I’m still learning. I’m not very good at meditating but, on a colleague’s recommendation, I bought a modern bed of nails, and have found this discomfort means I am better able to focus on a guided meditation.

That reading never stops giving

I have just finished reading Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius. This book has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize (writing by Australian women). It’s an uncomfortable read at times, but I learnt a lot from it. I will highlight one passage:

Robin Hood, Jandamarra, Yagan … all fought with whatever small resources they had, all became thorns in the sides of the administration they were fighting. All became legends in defeat.

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I must confess I needed to look up these Aboriginal leaders—Jandamarra, who organised an armed resistance against Europeans in the late 1800s and Yagan, a warrior who resisted European colonisation in the early 1800s.

With my 5 year old (and sometimes 11 year old), I am reading the ABC of Mathematics—so many concepts I don’t know or don’t remember— and with my 11 year old (and sometimes 5 year old) I am reading Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls—so many amazing women, many of whom are new to me.

I still have much to learn.

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