Monday, September 25, 2006

23 Sept. 2006

In the Saturday class with Tony McArthur he asked us to take five minutes and create a mind map exploring the reasons why we teach. It was a good opportunity to spontaneously “free associate” with myself about my reasons for teaching and to consider what my “spin” is, that is, to identify what is important to me and what I want to pass on.

So what does all this mean? I like the term “making connections in terms of relationships”. The word “connection” (Latin: necto; to bind), is one of the buzz words in the Byron Shire and it’s a good one. People here don’t “ring”each other or “meet up”, they connect. Regardless of this New Age speak, it’s rings true of individuals and communities trying to consciously interact with each other. This, I think is a response to the myriad of pressures upon us all in “post-modern life” and how these stresses can creep up on us and sometime overwhelm us and all of a sudden we ( I ) find that I’ve created emotional walls that start to separate me from other people. I get too self absorbed to connect. I am trying to build into my daily meditation a simple chant that stays in my heart all day. It goes like this,” Don’t forget to smell the roses” Nothing deep or profound, not even original, just an intermittent reality check.
I’ve been reading a paper by Margaret J Wheatley (1999) and she is a strong advocate of connections and networks. I find her writings refreshing, stimulating and in some instances, revolutionary. Here is someone speaking from the heart. Whilst I enjoy her approach and honesty there are a few issues that she raises that I feel I need to reply to in relation to me and my outlook as a teacher and individual trying to “make connections in terms of relationships”.
In Wheatley’s paper, “Bringing Schools Back to Life: Schools as Living Systems” (1999) she uses certain words/concepts that elevate her ideas to a universal level that bypasses the head (rational/intellect) and goes straight to the heart (irrational/feeling) She uses words and phrases such as “learning to partner with confusion and chaos as opportunities for real change…. participating in the mystery (of life)…. Surrender….to factor in instability, chaos, change and surprise”.
Wheatley quotes and gives anecdotal examples from Masters such as Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the martial art of Aikido. The idea of using the wisdom of accomplished “Masters” in their field is nothing new to the West, especially in education and the arts but where Wheatley offers a” revolutionary edge “ is to include the wisdom of Eastern mystical masters and applying their insights into the Western education system.
I feel that whilst Wheatley offers a viable challenge on a profound and fundamental level to teachers and individuals to begin a journey that embraces change, her article doesn’t offer (nor does she acknowledge) what strategies to adopt when things go wrong and how to deal with this on a personal level. She insists that we all need to let go of the reigns of control and trust in the “dance of life”. I understand this and have experimented and experienced this “letting go” and have tasted the fruits of surrender. It’s a big call to expect individuals to heed the call” and take a leap of faith into he unknown” either personally or professionally.
I read a book recently by a Buddhist nun Pema Chodron (Shambala Publications 2000) called ‘When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times”. This book concentrates on the Buddhist perspective of bringing order into disordered lives. This book offers insights and practical advice on how to use what you have handy in these difficult situations namely, your despair, painful emotions and negativity as tools to begin to begin to cultivate wisdom, courage and compassion.
It is signposts like this along the way that I draw a true sense of direction. They offer fundamental building blocks for psychological health and as a guide for navigating through what Wheatley calls the “instability, chaos, change and surprise” in our lives. I have found that the Buddhist perspective of life and death doesn’t shy away from looking for and confronting and integrating the dark side of the individual and collective experience and offers easy to follow guidelines for cultivating personal consciousness and awareness of our whole selves. As the eminent Swiss psychologist Carl C Yung states that the “shadow is ninety nine percent pure gold”. Here Yung is emphasising that the seeds of true personal growth are nurtured in our fears and insecurities and by facing these fears the seed germinates and grows to it’s full potential when we develop our courage to love and turn the darkness into light.
Some quotable quotes (and potential mantras)

A new world is just a new state of mind. John Lennon.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Mohandas P. Gandhi

And a prayer to finish on

Lord grant me the courage to change the things I can,
The humility to accept the things I can’t and
The wisdom to know the difference.


Wheatley,M.J. Bringing Schools Back To Life: Schools as Living Systems
In Creating Successful School Systems: Voices from the university, the field and the community. Christopher-Gordon Publishers, September 1999.

Yung, C.J. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Harper Collins London 1983



So what are the fruits of my idealism/realism combo? And why do I find teaching an effective vehicle for these realistic ideals? I recognise that the quest to become an expert teacher does not happen in a vacuum. The personal challenges and tasks facing the individual need to be confronted, the experiences learnt from and used for growth. It’s as if the teacher has to become a student of life and assume the mantle of an alchemist of old, and learn the art of turning the lead of everyday experience in the classroom into the gold of the wisdom of an expert teacher. In other words, Know thy self.

As my wife so sagely offers, that’s all well and good, but how do you truly feel?

Ok, one reason for the lateness of this journal entry is that my HSC Design and Technology students have just reached critical mass with the finishing of their major works. This has been a work in progress since October 2005. The students, like myself, have experienced the whole gamut of human experience from the heights of inspired confidence to complete disillusionment. With regard to my effectiveness as their teacher, I have spoken to mentor teachers, read about other teacher’s experiences, talked to peer teachers and done much soul searching and still I wrestle with uncertainty.

The writings of Margaret Wheatley(1999) have cast light on my dilemma and illuminate my way somewhat with their perspectives on uncertainty, the constant of change and the ever present challenge to embrace my fears. In my daily ruminations and reflections I try and apply them to the reality of my experience in the classroom and workshop. Needless to say some days are more “enlightened” than others. I endeavour to build effective working relationships with students and this tends to work well in a workshop with its informal and creative setting. Even within this context it is a constant juggling act, as it is in any relationship, where awareness, care, sensitivity and feedback (Hattie 2003) continually challenge me personally especially when that occupational hazard of fatigue sets in.

So far,so good. Recently, as stated earlier, the reality of dealing with fatigue, and 8pm finishes each night with yr.12 students and their major works for two weeks prior to their completion deadline and trying to provide an effective classroom climate for eighteen year olds who are often tired, disinterested, over it and despondent due to personal problems can prove overwhelming at times. I realise that this is probably a common lament of teachers throughout the ages.

One strategy that I have adopted is endeavouring to capture the enthusiasm (from the Greek, entheos- inspired by god) of my students and encouraging them to base an idea for designing their major work on a product that they are passionate about. This generally provides impetus to varying degrees throughout the year for the students to self regulate and self motivate the completion of their usually significantly difficult design tasks. (appropriate challenging tasks and goals for students.(Hattie 2003) . This combined with regular feedback and encouragement with individual interviews regarding the state of their major works help build this working relationship.

One personal issue that I have found coming home to roost this year was the profound disappointment I found myself experiencing when students appeared to not really care about the subject and completion of the assessment tasks due to 1. Lack of commitment. 2.Poor time management skills and 3. Lazyness. I recognize several roles that I play in these situations. Firstly is my attachment to their perceived lack of interest and repeatedly fall into the trap of taking it personally. I find I have to consciously take stock of my own passion for the subject and realise that most students at some time are not going to share my enthusiasm and that they have many other subjects and are not always going to be inspired by me or the subject matter. The three issues I outlined above can easily be understood when I reflect that the students are only seventeen or eighteen years old and respond accordingly.

These times lead me to re evaluate my approach to becoming an expert teacher. I do tend to become intense about the importance of the subjects I teach and the need for the students to achieve the best that they and I can. This approach works well usually but sometimes my single mindedness can lead to my losing objectivity and becoming despondent at the thought of the students lack of interest. Of course the students do care and after talking to the students, other teachers and usually a good sleep, objectivity returns and I adjust my approach and “pace myself” and my passion and develop a better understanding of myself and my students. I recognize that I need to become more professionally objective and be more conscious of my personal and professional boundaries and develop a “wider scope of anticipation and more selective information gathering (Cellier et al., 1997) Because of their responsiveness to students, experts can detect when students lose interest and are not understanding. (Hattie 2003)

References: Hattie,J. Building Teacher Quality. Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference. University of Auckland. 2003.

16 Sept 2006
The BOS Itinerant Markers visited the school today to assess the Major Works and Design Folios of my HSC Design and Technology students and whilst they are tight lipped about their thoughts and marks they did inform me that three of my students Major Works have been short listed to be considered as exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney for Design Week later this year because of the students commitment to excellence in the complexity of their design, innovation and originality. YEE HAA!

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Reflective Journal

1 Sept 2006

I came to teaching, (or did it come to me?) in a rather circuitous fashion. I had never entertained the idea of becoming a teacher until I was in my forties and even then my primary motivation was to secure a job that offered a regular pay cheque. Prior to teaching I had many jobs as a Builder, drainage contractor, youth worker, project manager, furniture designer/maker, traveller etc. Surprisingly enough, I find myself reflecting on my current role as a teacher and the previous smorgasbord of jobs and see a pattern emerging, indicating that these past “jobs” and experiences have prepared me for and lead me to my current “vocation”.
Experience in the building industry provided me with insights into the process and nature of structures. I developed strength and willpower in the process of hand digging long trenches through rocky ground. Youth work taught me patience and understanding. Fine furniture making demanded discipline and precision. The wonderment and awe experienced in immersing myself in diverse cultures have all contributed to providing essential growth, insight and skills for teaching. This current study through Notre Dame University is the current stage of my journey in exploring, gathering, refining and sharing of these ideas and insights.
I have been teaching at Shearwater for six years now and enjoy the challenges that teaching/learning involves. These constant challenges (daily) that arise provide grist for the mill for my personal and professional growth. Prior to this current study with Notre Dame University I had not engaged in any formal study apart from a two year stint of a Social Work degree. I consciously discontinued this study at twenty one years of age, full of ideals and optimism and a realization that whilst my fellow students and I were being groomed to be “good” social workers we were also becoming facilitators of the very social system that reinforced the polarization of a power hierarchy that kept the our disenfranchised “clients” in a downward spiral of poverty and disempowerment. So in the end I came to realise that if you weren’t a revolutionary (social worker) at heart then you weren’t going to be worth anything to the people that you are trying to “help”.
Twenty five years on and a little wiser, life, in it’s infinite wisdom has watered down that youthful idealism with a healthy amount of realism and I find myself by accident (or design?) teaching in an educational environment that encourages and supports revolutionary thinking and teaching based on the theories of Rudolf Steiner. A thinking that nurtures the fundamental growth of the individual and supports and empowers them through their own creative impulse. I now find myself exploring my own creative passions of Industrial Design and Photography and the sharing of these skills and insights in turn empowers me both as a teacher and individual.

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