Recharging

When I tell my family I am going to recharge, they know that means I will be plugging my neurostimulator into the wall and getting the battery back to 100%. I’ve mentioned the neurostimulator for pain management in previous posts, and here’s how I described it in my article Details Optional:

A neurostimulator is an implanted medical device that delivers electrical stimulation directly to the nerve, interrupting pain signals before they reach the brain. It is a small metal box with two leads emerging from it, fine insulated wires that conduct electrical impulses along either side of the nerve. You can feel it through my skin. Stroke your hand across my abdomen—flesh, flesh, and then recoil in shock at the hard metal underneath. No, it doesn’t hurt. It tingles. I recharge it regularly with a hand-held programmer against the skin. My mum is a cyborg, my son says.

Over the last month, I have had the opportunity for recharging of a different kind, despite the shocking covid case numbers in Sydney that have impacted family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The outbreak made for a quiet holiday spent walking, swimming, reading, napping, watching, eating and playing. Here are my favourites of what we enjoyed:

As always, I want to take the holiday feeling into the working year. This New Yorker article on slow productivity offered a timely caution against inflating workloads and the role of managers. And, on management, Sandra Jones and Marina Harvey make the case that living with covid makes distributed leadership imperative in higher education. At a farewell for a colleague who is moving to another university yesterday, I was reminded of the importance of collegiality, critical thinking and constructive dissent. My goal for the last couple of years has been to amplify others; I plan to continue this and make these values to my priorities. I will keep you posted on what it looks like in practice.

Tending to reflection

This is the 16th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which prompts you to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

What a year! As it closes, I hope you have the opportunity for a reflective break in whatever form most nourishes you. I will be spending time with friends and family, visiting the beach, gardening, cooking, reading and ruminating. Thinking of the sensory immersion of the upcoming holidays – especially the beach – I can already feel my shoulders loosening.

While relaxing, I will be idly considering questions such as: What have been the most memorable experiences of 2021? What have I learnt? How have I spent my time and energy this year? Is this how I want to continue using these finite and precious resources? What am I  grateful for this year? What am I proud of accomplishing?  What would I like to do differently in the new year?

This is a different type of reflection from the learning and teaching prompts I have written about in previous posts. The aim of these posts has been to ask questions (what are your teaching intentions? What are your memories of learning? What makes your teaching shine?), build a reflection toolkit of readings and resources (lenses for reflection, go to resourcescircular reflection), and share ideas that develop reflective practice: put on your teaching cloak, make your learning visible to students, and use your senses.

I believe reflection during the holidays still fits within what Harvey, Coulson and McMaugh (2016) call the “ecology of reflection” which they describe as the “situational, contextual and complex … setting … for reflective practice.” They write: “Ecology is used in its broadest sense of an holistic, interconnected system such as those used in human ecology, social ecology and systems theory … which examine the bidirectional interrelationship between humans and environments.”

Hence the prompt for this post: tend your reflection garden. By this, I mean focus your reflective skills towards yourself. If you are fortunate enough to have a break, what activities will allow you to renew your energy? How can you recharge in order to continue the work of caring and connecting with students and guiding their learning? What keeps you in balance?

This will be the final post in Over a Cuppa, at least for now. In the process of writing these posts, I have read (or reread) several books, including Schön’s (1983) The Reflective Practitioner; hook’s (1994) Teaching to Transgress; Brookfield’s (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher; Carter’s (2020) Academic Identity and the Place of Stories, and, most recently, Ashwin et al’s (2020) Reflective Teaching in Higher Education. For each post, my colleague Fidel Fernando created an original digital artwork. Sadly (for us), he is leaving Macquarie University for an exciting opportunity at the University of Technology, Sydney.

There is still more reading and thinking to do about reflection, but this will take different forms. Over a cuppa will be replaced with a new series on the ABCs of pedagogy, designed to give teachers the language to describe their practice. This may be for the purposes of reflection, but can also encompass scholarship, career progression and recognition.

Harvey, M., Coulson, D., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2). https://doi.org/10.14453/jutlp.v13i2.2

Unread book audit

With my to-be-read pile growing ever higher, and the rest of the family undertaking absorbing lockdown projects of their own (knitting, Lego towers, cooking, gardening, bottle flipping), I decided to audit my unread book collection. I was inspired by the Unread Book Challenge and Modern Mrs Darcy.

I first tackled my unread physical book pile, housed on a tower bookcase (scarily tall but perfectly stable!) and a small wooden shelf. Having passed on a third of the physical books to the community library, this collection feels more manageable. Here are some after images.

I moved on to e-books, and deleted almost half of the samples on my Kindle. That may sound like a lot, but I still have 220 samples and 12 unread books remaining. To ensure I really wanted to read these, I wrote out a brief description of each book by hand – twelve pages that look something like this:

To enable quick searching of this list, and my Kindle, I created my own categories (with books tagged in multiple categories):

  • Light and fun / 2am/ comfort reads
  • Dystopian/ speculative
  • Non-fiction/ memoir
  • Challenging/ award-winning/ non-fiction/ literature with a capital ‘L’
  • Crime/ psychological thriller/ horror
  • Contemporary fiction/ literary fiction
  • Travel to other countries, other worlds, other times, other lives

To support reading according to mood, I refined these further into one word categories: Think, Relax, Wonder, Puzzle, Witness. With e-books sorted, I applied these categories to the physical books. Wonder and Think pictured below:

I realised I have a lot of books about books and writing, and books featuring university campuses:

My reading is tending towards the Light and fun/ 2am/ comfort read category. If you are in lockdown and missing your university campus, try a few recents reads from my collection: Never Saw Me Coming (psychopaths on campus), Plain Bad Heroines (queer gothic on campus), The Love Hypothesis (scientific romance on campus) or Legendborn (magical fantasy on campus).