Continuing to reflect

This is the 14th 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 blog with an original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

Here is a short video from Fidel Fernando on how he flash brews his cup of coffee, initially created to demonstrate an example for participants in the Beginning to Teach program. So sit back, take a sip and enjoy the opportunity to reflect on your teaching practice.

Last semester, these reflection posts were published weekly with approximately 300 words based on scholarly reading and an accompanying original artwork. Reflecting in a hurry felt rushed and unsustainable. This semester we return to teaching online and balancing work with coping and/or caring or schooling from home. This context has prompted a slower schedule for these reflection posts and a loosening of the word limit, akin to the comfort of elasticised clothing during lockdown.

The starting point remains the same: a belief that reflective practice is a learned skill that is invaluable for teachers and students. The Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework outlines what reflection looks 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.

Reflection can be challenging, but a month into semester is a good time to consider what is working well and what needs rethinking. The prompt for this week is: How full is your cup?

This image has been created and shared on Twitter by Susan Wardell (@Unlazy_Susan), an Anthropology academic from New Zealand. It is a crowdsourced diagram of ‘What a lecturer does’ which has been liked 1400 times and counting. If this reflects your work, it might explain why you are feeling overwhelmed. You can likely add additional responsibilities as well. For the purposes of this post, the image offers an opportunity to reflect on the tasks listed for teaching.

Your time and energy are finite, so think about the activities you need and want to focus on. What do you value most? What makes you feel energised? What needs concentration and what can be done while distracted? What demands immediate attention? What do your students need right now? What tasks can be shared? What can be managed with limits and rules? Where can you ask for more time or additional support? What can wait?

When asking myself questions of this nature, I often think about an article published in a special issue of Australian Universities’ Review on Activism and the Academy that I co-edited with Karina Luzia and Kate Bowles. It was Niki Harré, Barbara M. Grant, Kirsten Locke and Sean Sturm’s The University as an Infinite Game:

In the university, as in life, there are two kinds of games. One is the infinite game, the purpose of which is to keep the game in play and invite others in; the other is finite games, in which the purpose is to win … The infinite game is a symbol of our potential as people living together to be open and inclusive, and to promote the life, and growth, that helps us flourish as individuals and communities. This game imagines a world in which our heartfelt, personal response to life, our deep listening to others (especially those who don’t fit in), and our careful observations and thought about the social, natural and physical world come together to create and recreate our institutions.

At home, in lockdown, my children schooling from home, I like to think I am sometimes choosing the infinite game.

Next post in the series (deadline undetermined): Connecting through reflection.

You are here

Once again, Karina Luzia (aka @acahacker) puts in a tweet something that takes me a few more words.


As careers progress, many academics find themselves in the middle.

I’ve mentioned Winter’s work Academic manager or managed academic? in a previous post. Winter (2009) contends that managerialist attempts to align academics to corporate values lead to a schism between the “identities of ‘academic manager’ (values congruent with the managerial discourse) and ‘managed academic’ (values incongruent with the managerial discourse)” (p 121).

Academic managers have internalised values and constructed goals and working patterns that reflect the imperatives of a corporate management system, such as strong hierarchical management, budgetary control, income maximisation, commercialisation and performance management indicators … Managed academics have defended and promoted distinctive accounts of their own professional identity and that of the institution by invoking values of self-regulation, collegial practice and educational standards.

What about those whose identities straddle both? Or who move between these positions?

Last year, Times Higher Education posted an article on academics who accept senior leadership roles in universities. These voices resonated:

  • I gained 11kg in my first year as a VC, and wasn’t able to lose it until after I finished.
  • I began … to study the university itself. My administrative work always seemed like fieldwork of a kind.
  • I have gained a more nuanced understanding of the wider complexities within and beyond my university.
  • It was an unusual opportunity for a woman and a non-scientist to have a voice.
  • It was painful to find myself on the wrong side of a “bosses versus workers”.
  • You have the chance to influence change directly.
  • One question insistently echoed in my brain: What am I doing here?

In navigating life in the middle, this is what helps me. Learning to listen. Aligning my work to my personal values: nurturance, openness, cooperation, challenge and humour. And remembering that the university and its work is far more complex and variable than a list of two (or even three) kinds of people.

Lost in thought

I love those moments while reading when the mind drifts, when the reader’s thoughts flow towards other ideas and become untethered from the text.

In The Pleasure of the Text (1975), French literary theorist Roland Barthes writes of the experience of reading: “[A text] produces, in me, the best pleasure if it manages to make itself heard indirectly; if, reading it, I am led to look up often, to listen to something else.” He refers to drifting, when the reader is “driven about by language’s illusions, seductions, and intimidations, like a cork on the waves” but chooses to “remain motionless, pivoting on the intractable bliss that binds me to the text (to the world)” (1975, p 18).

These inner reveries of drifting and returning to the text reveal something of the self. In this post, the drift of thoughts I had while reading Raewyn Connell’s The Good University are also revealing of what Barbara Grant calls my ‘tiny university’, one of a thousand possible versions of the university held individually and collectively.

In The Good University, Connell writes about the lies universities tell themselves. At least, that was how I remembered a section of the book. That’s the direction the drift had taken me. On rereading, the text was different. Recollecting the renowned 88 year old jacaranda tree in the quadrangle of the University of Sydney (a tree with its own wikipedia entry), Connell writes:

Around 2013 [the university’s corporate advertising] featured a tutorial or discussion group of students, sitting in a semi-circle on the grass in front to the jacaranda tree in full bloom, talking earnestly together in the bright Sydney sunshine. Marvellous image!

But the picture was lying to us. No class or discussion group is allowed to convene on the quadrangle lawn. It is therefore redundant to observe that jacarandas in Sydney bloom mainly in November, after tutorials are over. The tree died in 2016.

This is a small example, which I noticed because I was fond of that tree. The point is, this kind of falsification has become routine. Every managerial university now puts out a cloud of imagery, text and sound intended to misrepresent the way the way things really are.

File:Jacaranda carpet, Sydney University.jpg

Image source.

I  considered the lies universities tell in advertisements to be one version of a thousand tiny universities (some admittedly less tiny than others). I connected these marketised visions of the university with artists’ representations of buildings under construction, the utopian visions that occupy an imaginary landscape of a university and the people within it:


Image source.

For Connell, the marketing reads as falsehood or deception. I was thinking imaginary. In my tiny university, I was holding the utopian image alongside a counter-image. The jacaranda tree is simultaneously alive and dead. The campus hub will be better than before, after it is worse than before:


Image source.

Image source.

I started thinking about our complicity with the stories universities tell. And I think Connell captures that with her comment ‘Marvellous image!’ In the final chapter, Connell offers the following criteria for a good university: democratic, engaged, truthful, creative, and sustainable. Interestingly, these values are espoused by institutions around the world: social justice, academic integrity, innovation, shared governance, equity, student engagement, scholarship, and building better futures.

There is a tangle of thoughts here: where is the truth? Who is telling lies? Can goodness be used for bad? Or vice versa?

My son has recently watched the three original Star Wars movies, and is very taken with Darth Vader’s redemption. We are having lengthy conversations about Darth Vader’s goodness.  He’s for, I’m against. Before I can think too long about what my stance on Darth Vader suggests for universities, the drift has taken me into different waters.

If you keep reading Roland Barthes, he writes this about drift: “Drifting occurs whenever social language, the sociolect, fails me … Thus another name for drifting would be the Intractable—or perhaps, even: Stupidity” (1975, p 19).