In a hurry

This is the 13th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which offers prompts 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.

Since mid-February, once a week (other than a fortnightly mid-session break) I have posted 300 or so words for Over a cuppa, a series of prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa.

The posts have been focussed on the practice of teaching, rather than students’ reflections for learning. My starting point was a belief that reflective practice is a learned skill, as outlined in Macquarie University’s Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework, which includes the following capabilities from Foundational to Expert levels:

  • Articulate the principles of, approaches to, and the values of, reflective practice.
  • Reflect on own teaching, learning support and/or curriculum/assessment design practices.
  • Explain actions taken in response to reflection on, and in, practice.
  • Engage in sustained reflection on own educational practices and critique actions taken in response.
  • Implement strategies to promote a culture that values reflective practice.
  • Develop and support the strategic and systematic embedding of reflexivity into educational practice.

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, as well as numerous journal articles.

I also linked to an interview with Stephen Brookfield, poetry, a meditation, creative non-fiction and my favourite tools for reflective practice – the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, ImaginePhD and the AdvanceHE comprehensive scholarly practice guide.

For each post, my colleague Fidel Fernando created an original digital artwork. Here is a time lapse video of Fidel creating the image for this post:

https://echo360.org.au/media/019d8a01-4bdc-4a38-8434-ed6170ef15d8/public

The reading, writing and drawing that has contributed to these posts belies the fact that this was reflection in a hurry. My initial plans for the series went off-piste as my ‘writing along the way’ took me in unexpected directions, and some of the posts include aphorisms – Put on your teaching cloak, Don’t be the wizard behind the curtain – inspired by conversations with colleagues.

There is still a lot of reflection to be done and the series will continue at the end of July. I am looking forward to finishing Ashwin et al’s (2020) Reflective Teaching in Higher Education and posting about Mary Ryan’s work on reflexivity and Marina Harvey’s ecology of reflection.

In the meantime I want to catch up on some Slow Academic posts that have been sitting in my drafts folder for several months. Slow by name, and slow by nature.

Questioning

This is the 11th post in Over a cuppa, a series which offers prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. I have set myself the challenge of keeping these posts to 300 or so words. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

If I had to sum up reflection in one word I would say: questioning. Reflection treats teaching as an experimental learning process.

After (too much) thinking for one word, I discovered Reflective Teaching in Higher Education (2020) has questions as its table of contents. It opens: Who are we as teachers and who are our students? How can we develop the quality of our teaching? Then questions on spaces, curriculum, communication, inclusion… It ends: How do we develop a career-long fascination with teaching? How does reflective teaching contribute to society? I’ll let you know when my copy arrives! In the meantime, the website includes useful individual and group activities.

I am currently reading Sarah Krasnostein’s (2021) The Believer: Encounters with Love, Death & Faith, a work of narrative non-fiction that resists description. Krasnostein writes:

It is thinking—in the specific sense of an honest interior conversation that tries to distinguish between right and wrong, both factually and morally—that anchors the human world. Arendt speaks of the willingness to hold these inward interrogations as the disposition to live with oneself (p 45).

Bell hooks’ (1994) in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of freedom offers the inward interrogations of reflection as a process of imagination:

Excitement in higher education was viewed as potentially disruptive of the atmosphere of seriousness assumed to be essential to the learning process … Critical reflection on my experience as a student in unexciting classrooms enabled me not only to imagine that the classroom could be exciting but that this excitement could co-exist with and even stimulate serious intellectual and/or academic engagement (p 7).

Initially I thought this post would ask ‘why reflect?’ but the process of writing it, and the books I am reading, made this seem like asking ‘why think?’ or ‘why imagine?’ How could we do otherwise?

Wrapping up 2020

I am making peace with leaving my to-do list undone, and this will be my final blog post for 2020.

The year is ending with uncertainty—a COVID-19 outbreak across Sydney is restricting celebrations and, in my immediate family, the last day of school ended with an epileptic seizure and an ambulance trip to hospital. My daughter is fine now (and even ventured into the surf yesterday) but it seemed a fitting end to a difficult year.

January 2020 will be remembered in Australia for the bushfires. That holiday feeling—certain smells that signal summer, blue skies, a loosening of the shoulders and release from responsibilities—remained elusive. In February, we sought distraction from natural disasters, an emerging virus, university change management and a tree-felling storm that left us without power for several days.

In March, I started a new job in academic development. The beginning of the university semester was marked by an empty campus as Sydney entered lockdown. In April, we continued to work, school and holiday from home. By May, we’d got the hang of teaching, researching and entertaining via Zoom.

In June, we enjoyed the little things: conversations, food, being outdoors and books. I returned to campus a day or two a week in July, and celebrated the “goopy mess” of feelings with Nina Pick’s poem ‘School of Embodied Poetics’. I walked the campus in August.

I wrote fewer blog posts in 2020 than in previous years but, thanks to enrolment in a Master of Creative Writing course, practised more creative writing. In October, I oriented my reflections toward hope in a context of political change. As always, reading offered solace but was at a slower pace than previous years.

The year ends with now-familiar feelings from the emotions wheel: fragility and helplessness. But we are also finding ways to be peaceful, playful and excited. The Christmas tree went up early. We are enjoying the illusion of control enabled by the board game Pandemic. We spent yesterday at the beach. Our ears are still ringing—the cicadas are very noisy this year—and we were awed by Pete Rush’s large driftwood wolf artwork:

We have much to look forward to: presents, swimming, cake and (of course) books. My favourite reads this year included fiction—Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Lily King’s Writers and Lovers, Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds, Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss— and non-fiction—Tegan Bennett Daylight’s The Details: On Love, Death and Reading, Tara Westover’s Educated and Denise Riley’s Time Lived, Without Its Flow. I hope to add others to the list before the year’s end. Later today, I will start Sophie Mackintosh’s dystopian Blue Ticket. The epigraph is an extract from a poem by Lorine Niedecker:

Fog-thick morning —
I see only
where I now walk. I carry
    my clarity
with me.

Thank you for reading The Slow Academic this year. I hope your final days of 2020 are peaceful, and that 2021 brings good tidings.