Put on your teaching cloak

This is the second ‘sip’ in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching reblogged from my institutional learning and teaching blog. Once a week during Session 1 and Session 2 I will publish a short post (250 to 300 words) which prompts you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

At the start of a new session, consider how you ready yourself to teach.

The experience of lockdown challenged (and continues to challenge) the separation between work and home. The rituals and routines that allow us to begin and end the work day became slippery, and our personal spaces were revealed as we met online from home.

A psychologist shared with a me a strategy for signalling a boundary between work and home (even if they are the same place): put on your work cloak. And, when you have finished work, take it off again. This is an embodied movement: you shrug your shoulders and loosen the weight that has gathered there.

It may take practice. Until you can shrug your ‘teaching cloak’ on and off easily, here are three slightly longer warm-up activities that academics use to prepare for teaching. These are particularly helpful for those who find teaching anxiety-inducing.

Count down while you are walking. Every day Narelle Lemon pauses for five breaths: notice 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you taste. She does this on a daily walk, the countdown varies and she posts a photograph on Twitter. Read more about her mindful walking as an act of self-care.

Listen to a guided meditation. Kimine Mayuzumi shares a five minute audio recording that “will help you be calm, compassionate, wisely responsive, curious and motivated not only to teach but also to learn” on her blog Being Lazy and Slowing Down.

I am excited about the topic the class will discuss.
 I welcome the positive energy.
 I am not an imposter.
 And I belong.
 I am not perfect.
 But I am enough.
 I see the students as full people with complex needs.
 I set compassion in the space.
 I acknowledge my privilege and power to teach.

Take your reflection into the classroom. The name of this series ‘Over a cuppa’ is a nod to the work of Marina Harvey and colleagues. One of the tools they use with students as a reminder of their creativity is called ‘Imagine a teacup’. Here is a six-minute video of Kath McLachlan guiding this reflection for learning activity.

Things to remember

I took a longer break from work during January than I have in past years, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are a few of the things I want to remind myself to hold on to for a bit longer:

  • Keep singing sea shanties on TikTok with my son (will he fulfill his ambition to be a bass?)
  • Walk the dog while listening to Zombies, Run with my daughter, and move faster!
  • Record the changing moods of the casuarina forest near our home
  • Continue to use the little free libraries nearby – this month’s best pick was Josephine Rowe’s short story collection Here Until August – and make regular donations as I work through the unread shelf challenge
  • Go to the theatre (ideally more than once a year) – Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray was awe-inspiring!
  • Visit the dog beach. That joy is infectious:
  • And continue to seek novelty and travel from home: visit random street view and sound of a forest, watch movies from around the world (I still have The Red Turtle and Zarafa waiting for us), try new foods, read the International Booker prize winners (I loved The Memory Police), listen to Belle Chen’s Sounds From Home (she describes it as “a global exploration where listeners around the world share their city’s sound & story, and I improvise music in response”)…

Goals for today

This post is simple. Perhaps too simple for these complex times; and written from a place of safety and privilege as I watch and listen to the turmoil of the world.

Every day—weekday or weekend, work day or holiday, ordinary day or significant in some way—I hold on to the same goals.

These quotidian goals offer a means of self-care, and resist a productivity mantra that suggests looking years ahead and working backwards through the achievement of daily tasks. They are also a way to challenge myself to listen to others and to read from different perspectives, and offer an chance to reflect on our complicated and delicate lives and world.

1. Join an interesting conversation

Still working from home, I am missing informal and impromptu social interactions. With most of my communications happening via Zoom (or Teams or Skype or FaceTime or phone), I am also missing conversations where people can interrupt or talk across the top of one another! (Those who know me well know my love of interrupting, to my shame).

On the positive side, I have needed to focus on listening. Some of the conversations I am finding my way into are via social media, podcasts and webinars. In a time when our lives are contracted and closer to home, viewpoints such as Listening to the City in a Global Pandemic, which shares the voices of academics in various countries, open up the world. From a non-academic perspective, the BBC’s The Documentary podcast tells powerful stories of isolation and togetherness.

Today I listened to presentations from my university’s Widening Participation team about the impact of COVID-19 on student learning.  Perspectives included charity, government and university, with a focus on vulnerable students. The insights about student experiences of food insecurity, racism and domestic violence were frightening, yet the speakers were hopeful activists.

2. Eat something good

Right now, I am eating a scone my daughter cooked at school in food tech, with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

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3. Spend time outdoors

On many days, being outdoors is as simple or as brief as the walk to school or time in the garden. On bad or impossible days (few now), I enjoyed the view out a window or the pine cone on my desk (a gift from a colleague—thank you Linda).

We regularly walk together as a family—bushwalks in and around Sydney are truly wonderful. A fortnight ago, we took the Callicoma Track with friends. Last weekend lasted three days in some parts of Australia; we visited the coast an hour out of Sydney and enjoyed a windy clifftop walk to the sound of the waves (thankful for our puffy jackets).

4. Enjoy reading

I typically read multiple books at once: a 2am book (a page-turner on Kindle when sleepless in the middle of the night), a memoir, a daytime novel, a poetry collection and an audio book (as a podcast alternative). Right now, I am focusing on black writers, in response to National Reconciliation Week in Australia (which had the theme In This Together for 2020), NAIDOC week (postponed this year) and international Black Lives Matter protests.

My 2am book is the zombie boarding school book Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. The memoir is Frank Byrne’s Living in Hope, winner of the Most Underrated Book Award in 2018, a short and powerful story of a boy taken from his mother in the 1940s. The daytime novel is Alexis Wright’s Plains of Promise (after reading the first chapter for my creative writing class). The poetry is Kirli Saunder’s Kindred, a book I won in a giveaway on ANZ LitLovers blog, including poems on self-care, motherhood and country. And the audio book is Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, on precolonial agriculture, engineering and building construction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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Next on my list (on my Kindle and in the pile next to the bed): On the Come Up (for young adult book club), Tara June Winch’s The Yield and Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. Any other recommendations?

This month I am adding an extra goal: write for 25 minutes every day (or thereabouts) as part of Helen Sword’s 30 day Show Up and Write challenge.

What are your daily goals?