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Toward Personal Learning: Book Club Post 1

I’ve been reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning, which is a collection of blog posts, speeches, and articles (and is free via his website). It is part of my summer learning, making time to do the important things. Reading is one of those important things, and so is talking to people, so I invited people to share their thought about this book as a summer book club, using the tag #TwardPersonalLearning

As I read I keep a copy quotes that jump out at me, and these two really did:

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

They come from a section that is a written conversation – replies to real questions by students. That is the first meaningful thing for me. Conversation with students. Let’s write that again: Conversation with students others. Even before discussing content, valuing the inquisitiveness of others and engaging with people whether they hold ‘respected’ posts in life, or something less outwardly glamourous, but none the less needed, wins for me. Every one of us on this planet is a person. Every one of us learns, as we all breathe, eat, sleep…

A story…

A friend described a situation once, where she was travelling and there was something wrong with the plane that caused a great delay. Everyone waiting to board was left in the waiting lounge, sitting, some tired, some impatient, all wondering what was wrong? It became clear that it was easy to dehumanise the situation and get angry at ‘the plane’. After some time, a very pale woman was escorted off the plane, and had obviously been taken seriously ill during the previous flight. What followed was curious. First there was a face to the problem. Then announcements came. We are sorry for the delay… The captain is doing… (‘the captain’ was an important figure of course) The cleaning will prepare the aircraft… (?? ‘the cleaning’?! not even the cleaning staff) And then a series of people went on to the aircraft to clear up whatever needed clearing up and make it ready for the next journey.

I asked that friend to please, please look at those people, in their eyes, and smile at them as they come off that plane because they are people, not ‘the cleaning’.

I’m sure it happens in everyday life, whether with cleaners, or the person at the supermarket loading shelves, but it also happens in education. We’ve all heard ‘there are no stupid questions, only the ones unasked’. Oh so true, but how many of us really live it? Do we ask, and do we value the asking of others enough to reply? Sometimes there is a divide between teachers and students that seems less of a gap and more of a chasm. I am glad that in this book, Downes respects and answers the questions of students with such considered and genuine answers.

Back to the book…

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

Yes indeed! That reminded me of another section in the book: New Forms of Assessment: Measuring What You Contribute Rather Than What You Collect, p.35, where Downes suggests a ‘what if’ situation. He looks beyond considering process instead of outcomes, Downes also talks about outcomes, but the sort that are byproducts of the process and that contribute to an ongoing learning, instead of the insular, individual demonstration of knowledge that is common in formal academic assessments. He asks what if students were rewarded for cooperation, helping one another, contributing new resources to repositories, contributions to the common good?

It is far easier to pose these questions than to enact them within academic settings, but that is not to say it can and does not happen. It is common for people to be awarded a percentage of a grade for participation, or attendance, so why not provide some sort of framework/criteria/guidance to go with it? Constructive participation with peers and engaging with the wider community to introduce new ideas… (I’m dreaming on paper) Why not?

Two quotes came together to teach me something:

“How many teachers tell their students to blog without giving them examples of what good blogging looks like?” p.59

and…

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

Oh my. On p.59 the discussion centred around internet use for young people, and so the above sentence also said (in brackets) … examples of what (age appropriate) blogging … but for me the message was simpler and really belonged with the paragraph that happened a few pages later, quoted above. It also relates to good learning empowering. With true learning comes genuine exploration. We go into our unknown and that is when we learn, expanding our known. Then we have learned.

How can I expect you or anyone to learn without a hint of what to do? It was a look in the mirror for me, and yes, I do ask students to blog. Although that could be replaced with A.N.Other activity’s name, that example worked for me.

It reminds me of the concept of a gesture someone shared with me:

It’s about good intentions. Do we offer the hand, but give the fist, or hold something back in that closed hand? As a teacher I want to live what I teach. I want to offer the hand and give the hand. That involves respect, patience, and a willingness to learn too. Those are my goals.

So far I am eating up this book like it was made of freshly picked fruit. It is making me think, and it so VERY well referenced! I am curious what parts stood out for you, meant something, or made you think of other stories or instances in your own learning. Please do join in, comment or share your own thoughts.

#TowardPersonalLearning

The State of Music Education

Earlier this month I spoke at the Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar:

The future for music education in England – maintaining standards, music hubs and career pathways, 3 rd July 2017, and my topic was:

Provision, uptake and teaching at primary and secondary level

I was given 5 minutes, which is not a lot of time to cover the ground, make relevant points, and discuss. I was in very esteemed company; the session was chaired by Rt Hon the Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is a great advocate for music education, and other speakers included Darren Northcott, National Official, Education, NASUWT, Kevin Rogers, County Inspector, Hampshire County Council’s Music Service, Marie Bessant, Subject Specialist – Music and Performing Arts, OCR, Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Mark Phillips, Senior HMI, Ofsted. It was a charged and passionate group of speakers and delegates, discussing something dear to us all and fundamental to our children and our society. Below is my speech followed by some comments on the morning.

Here is what I said:

Thank you. My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

Before addressing the take up provision, and what we’re doing about music education, the first question we need to ask is, why, why are we teaching music? Some of these children will grow up to be musicians. However, all can benefit in their future careers, from a strong music education. The value, impact, and implications of what music teaches is not always understood. These values lie at the heart of the National Curriculum, where music facilities independent enquiry, self-management, creative thinking, effective participation in collaborations, team working, and reflective learning. This ethos was echoed by the pedagogue Suzuki, when he said, “Teaching music is not my main purpose, I want to make good citizens, noble human beings”.

Today’s students are under great pressure to achieve on tests, to be measured. Music is seldom included in the understanding of progression via test scores, in the same way as numeracy and literacy subjects. Has the perceived value of music changed over time to parents and schools in light of tests? I hope not. But the focus of the music provision has changed. Music hubs were set up at a time when the funding model changed dramatically, to ensure that all students retained the opportunity to learn music.

The goals of music hubs, as set out by the DfE, and the DCMS, in 2011, were to ensure that every child had the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, ideally for a year, but at least for a term on that same instrument. To provide opportunities to play in ensembles, and to perform from an early stage. To ensure that clear progression routes are available, and affordable, to all. And to develop a singing strategy, to ensure very pupil is singing regularly, and that choirs, and other vocal ensembles are available. This is very difficult to provide for all.

That includes students:

  • who already play instruments,
  • who would like to start learning an instrument,
  • who want a more informal approach to learning music, like playing in a band with their peers, and also
  • those who are not interested in formal study, but are interested in listening to music, and informal enjoying.

There are pressures on effective delivery facing primary and secondary schools; cost is the obvious one. Being subject to changeable Government policies on certain funding, dependency on school buy in, and relying on parental contributions, means primary schools are unable to spend money on specialists, when facing cuts in their core teaching staff.

Much of these provisions used to be delivered my music specialists, now they’re often outsourced. There’s a cost to schools, and this means a strain on what can be offered. Outsourcing music provision is like a patch. For schools, the buy in of hubs also ticks that box of the National Curriculum. Many schools cannot afford the buy in. Though last year West Sussex Music taught 8,700 children, across 137 schools in whole class tuition, that is still a small percentage of the children overall, and covers under half of the area schools. My local primary school lost their music specialist, and only maintains a class provision for a single year group, one class of children, by fundraising through their parent association. Otherwise, the headteacher has confirmed, music would be squeezed out completely.

There’s a dichotomy, whole group tuition has the widest reach, but last year demand for private lessons, from parents and pupils from West Sussex Music, was up 30%. Class sizes are set to grow, magnifying the challenges of inclusion. Teaching 30 to 40 children an instrument at once, means careful organisation, coordination, and communication. Imagine 30 of you, all learning the violin or the clarinet, in one group.

As numbers grow, inclusion becomes even more challenging, yet preserving an introduction to music making is essential. Secondary schools, face the challenge of teaching a hugely diverse student body, from the post-grade eight student, to those who’ve never touched an instrument. Teacher responsibilities are multi-disciplinary, a portfolio career needs portfolio training.

So what are we doing about it? Addressing the future workforce, to enable them to deliver a well-rounded music education. My university students work with employers and schools, with placements, shadowing and gaining paid apprenticeship positions with providers, like West Sussex Music, as they work to reach ever wider audiences of children. At Chichester, we’re aware of what’s happening across our local primary and secondary school networks. We need to prepare our graduates to be malleable, innovative, and highly skilled. As school leavers are looking forward towards higher education, those people want to study music. At Chichester, we have more than 1,000 undergraduates in the music department, and there are six applications for every single place on our Musical Theatre Degrees. We have unique Music with Teaching Degrees. We’re looking to add a top up PGCE year, to add QTS status to the grounding our graduates already receive in individual and group teaching curriculum design, and private studio management.

People equipped with specialist knowledge, to deliver instrumental tuition, national curriculum music, and use their specialist instrumental vocal teaching skills to enhance the delivery of other core subjects, are desirable teachers. In continuing to bridge these gaps, from primary school through to university, through partnership and creative thinking, our graduates will keep music in their future, and in the futures of our children.

Thank you.

____________________________________

A few comments on the morning:

Marie was very respected by the floor and had a large part in personally writing the GCSE curriculum. She spoke genuinely and the floor was pleased that she said to ‘teach the music first’, but I was surprised when she added [that one should] think about the assessment later, as students will ‘accidentally be picking up’ what an exam board assesses. I am sure she did not mean just that; assessments don’t generally just happen. During the morning’s speeches, we were all strictly limited in time and often there were responses to questions and comments that the panel were dying to contribute, but there wasn’t time, and the agenda moved on to the next speaker. Learning, general musical engagement, musicality, and even developing  public performance skills are very different to learning to jump through the hoops for a criteria based assessment, whether GCSE or externally graded exam. A student might pass, but unless the teaching specifically has those criteria in mind as a way of demonstrating learning outcomes, you could miss the mark significantly. On the Music with Teaching degree at Chichester, there is a specific module to teach the distinction between performance and assessment where students learn a new instrument to Grade 1 standard and sit a mock exam, and also give public performances (on their main instrument). They are assessed both on performance and on reflections about the differences in the learning and performing experiences.

As Mark Phillips began to speak I was already slightly guarded. I was Vice-Chair of my Primary School’s Board of Governors when Ofsted came, and I remember trying to anticipate the questions and wondering what they were trying to unpick as they asked and asked and then stopped. I wondered why they stopped asking, it was cryptic and I began listening with that experience at the back of my mind. However, that instantly melted, and what Mark said, his attitude, and genuine belief and concern for education and the future of music really resonated and stuck with me.

It was from his talk that I scrawled notes on my paper:

“Data gives you the questions to ask, it doesn’t give you the answers.”

Yes, I thought. Yes indeed. He went on…

“Curriculum is about education, it’s not about subjects” 

He had a catchy three word saying about curriculum:

Intent, Implementation, Impact

and finally “Assessment measures whether you are meeting your intentions,” which took me back to the point about teaching to the test. Oh, I do not advocate that! Assessment and getting caught up with teaching to a test opens a can of something worse than worms, and it does impact all of us (in education). Even now I have a cohort of students worrying about their essays… Fortunately communicating clearly is one of the skills they are learning, and therefore assessed on, but it does not detract from the unbalanced stress placed on preparing ‘that task’.   At the core of it, we as educators need to be clear what are the intentions for learning and how can those be assessed (demonstrated).

I am reminded of a quote from the UK Quality Code for HE:

(I loved the quote so much I made it look nice.)

There are no easy answers, and one thing that clearly came out of the event is that this needs to be discussed and addressed by musicians (students and teachers) and educators at all levels. Music education is not something we can let dissolve slowly. One delegate suggested that if every music student, parent/guardian of music students, and teacher across the country stood up for music education… He suggested a strike type demonstration, but I am sure that something more outwardly positive and participatory where everyone came together and SANG and PLAYED their instruments and CHEERED…. People would notice. Policy makers would notice. And there would be music in the air. A national holiday for music? Ok, now I’m dreaming… but still

I’d be there.

Summer Book Club!

I’d like to propose a Summer Book Club! Oh my goodness I am so taken with the ebook I have been reading that I’m proposing a book club. Those of you who know me will know that I don’t generally sit around reading, mostly because I read so slowly, BUT I can’t put this book down, even though it is 757 pages!!

The book is called:

 Toward Personal Learning: Reclaiming a role for humanity in a world of commercialism and automation

and is by Stephen Downes. (it is also free!) It is a compilation of very manageable and extremely well referenced blog posts and articles that have been written over the past 5 years. What I like about it very much is that one of the early-on posts explains that this is a real person, thinking, and putting his self into these pages. I respect that and it is very much my ethos too.

So I suggest a book club! Yay! If anyone is interested in having a read and commenting, please do! I promise I’ll read more slowly than you 😉 I have never organised a book club, but have learned from the masters that one of the key things is to comment on other people’s posts, so if anyone does read and write, I will pledge to comment and support you. I joined in with a book club hosted by Bryan Alexander on the Horton and Friere conversational book We make the Road by Walking, and I loved it. So why not another edu book? To get you started, have a few gems that I loved so much I wrote down (well copied and pasted):

“just in the same way as health and fitness are properties of a person, something they have all their lives, something they develop and grow and maintain, something they are themselves ultimately responsible for.” p. 51

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p. 59

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p. 64

“When Abraham Lincoln taught himself to read and write and to be a lawyer, we say he earned himself an education, not a learning.” p.73

Maybe I’m an education geek and get excited about these things. (I should take out the maybe) I do get excited about these things and I find it exciting when I find likeminded people discussing things that are important to me.

I suggest having a go at reading and choosing any (or a group) of the first 80 pages to write about and to post something over the next two weeks. (that gives me a chance to get a head start on the next reading so I don’t fall behind!) I’ll suggest a schedule of 100 pages per fortnight (and you could dip into any section you like). …so

  • July: up to p.80
  • August a: 81-178
  • August b: 179-271
  • September a: 272-375
  • September b: 376-478
  • October a: 479-579
  • October b: 580-677
  • November a: 678-end!

I’ll suggest a hashtag #towardpersonallearning I realise it’s long, but it is yet unused, and heck, if you link a URL and the tag, I can find it. I might post on Mastodon as well as Twitter, because I prefer it there.

Wherever you are, please do join me. I’d love to discuss with you.

 

When intention becomes doing

Intention has come to the forefront of my thinking lately. Intention and action. It originates with a combination of motivation, desire, and questioning what and why. Over the past week or so I asked my dearest friend, how do you do it? He is amazing. This calendar year he made a decision, a bit like a New Year’s resolution, but he kept it. Every day.  He has both done some yoga, which might only be 10 minutes of stretching, and also has done at least 10 minutes of reading. Last weekend he did a triathlon. Last year it was a challenge for him to bend at 90º and now he does handstands in the garden. The capacity for change and growth in human beings is absolutely astonishing, and I am inspired.

How do you do it? Every day? every day??!?

He said: “What I do with my time is a choice.

It is easy to find 10 minutes to do something.

Do it in the morning instead of looking at Twitter.”

(He said that because that was what I had open at the time, but it could well have been Facebook or Amazon, or whatever page has become your habit.)

Ten Minutes. It is easy to dismiss that small amount of time, but it is significant.

Sometimes lots of things come together to point toward something.

(These will be in chronological order, as I can’t choose otherwise.)

  1. There are pressures from the world to be something, especially for those in formal education settings. Looking forward is something, that we all do, but sometimes it becomes narcissistic, and corrosive instead of being the realisation of a dream. It becomes a sort of coercion to adhere to a norm or some societal view. It is difficult to know that there are many ways, and all the worrying in the world won’t make then become now, and if you worry about then now, when you get there, you may find yourself saying – now what?

I realise that is very vague- purposefully so, because it applies to the 10 yr old, as much as the 20 yr old, as much as the 40 and 60 year olds. ‘When I grow up…’ ‘When I retire…’

2. Then I saw something a stranger shared:

It is not as simple as that nice verse alone, but it is definitely part of the context and it made me think of now, and intentionality. Actually, you only really have now. Tomorrow is a gift and I hope to be here for it, but there is no guarantee. (we don’t normally think like that, but ultimately it is true) Of course it helps if things we do in whatever now we are in aren’t solely encapsulated in bubbles, so what I do today can lead to and build toward tomorrow, and longer ahead.

I am brought back to those ten minutes.

Time. My time. Your time. Time slipping away. I was aware this morning, sitting in the centuries old church pew, hearing a clock tick, of the conscious passing of time. I was sitting in a stone building built with time by people. Their time. When? Then. and it was having an impact on my now.

Ten minutes of mindless habit are a waste, whereas ten minutes of intentionality are fresh water to a plant. -back to the story, there were more things that pointed me to a focus.

  1. Yesterday through conversation, I was pointed to this blog post by Sherri Spelic about the struggles   associated with deciding and doing. For me there was a line that stood out: ‘…about me deciding to become and be.’ (you need to read the post for the context, it involves walking and stand up paddle boarding)

Reflecting on that line, for me I need to replace ‘deciding’ with ‘allowing’. Another person who read it reminded me that actually changing habits was difficult and sometimes a change of scenery was needed to clear the air and allow the door to open for change. -ah yes, this rings true. I have done it myself with music as a medium to discuss and workshop learning and teaching, and self-efficacy. I wonder if the ‘deciding’ has to do with conception of capabilities, or awareness of the opportunity, or something else? Maybe several things coming together… For me ‘allowing’ is the step that gives me permission to go beyond expectation, beyond the box – whether that is society, education, another person’s expectations or even my own expectations.

In response to the question: What can I do?  I genuinely am pleased to accept the answer ‘I don’t know’ because it allows for more than I can see or conceive. My epiphany came when I first went to California with my students in 2015. It impacted me so much I wrote it as a book. It’s full of yes, and allowing, and going beyond expectations. (and it’s the price of a cup of coffee in the hopes that people read it 🙂 ) The deciding and believing- yep. Covered. However, I definitely need reminding about the importance of those ten minutes though…

  1. Then this morning, a  yoga teacher I regularly (remotely) practice with posted a video clip of a yoga teacher’s symposium. (I’ve linked the clip to his name below) He said:

‘It’s so easy to check out in the world we live in today. We get on the phone, we get on the tv, we get on the computer, we open the fridge. However we choose to check out, I don’t want you to do that right now. I want you to check in.’ Vytas Baskauskus

That’s all for now. For me, it’s time to check in. I’m off bust through some dreams.

All images by me. CC-BY

California Dreaming: ebook is published

Published!

This is the story of a remarkable few months that took me and 5 students 6000 miles across the ocean.

 

Well, this book (like  me) is slightly different… I had that confirmed when I received this reply (rejection!) from a big publishing house:

Dear Laura,

Thank you so much for your submission. It is a fascinating and inspiring story, well told.

However, it is not a good fit with the publishing program here [name removed]. As you say, your book “is neither a theoretical nor a how-to book,” and those are precisely the central pillars in our approach to professional development material for educators. I’m sorry. So many times I wish we could make room for things outside the box—

Fortunately I can think outside the box, and don’t give up that easily. Perhaps publishing this book is my small way to make room or pave a way for those people who, like me, think a little bit outside…

As educators we hear the great stories of how people achieve lovely things, but we don’t often hear the whole story. In this story the ups are there, and so are the downs- and you get to see how we got through it. It is not all roses, and the rosey picture portrayed by well-positioned selfies can really give a distorted view of reality and of the work needed to get stuff done. That doesn’t mean wonderful things aren’t possible- on the contrary – I firmly believe we can do more than we can understand.

That doesn’t imply that doing things is easy. Heck, even pushing ‘submit’ on that kindle book took me a moment. I hesitated and doubted, and then thought, ‘do I want to do this??’ YES. YES I DO. 

We need examples that are real. I hope that these pages provide some wonderful examples from lovely people. I count myself very privileged to have spent time with them and learned from them.

Here’s the link! California Dreaming Ebook 

Enjoy!

Photo taken by Jess (and the selfie stick)

 

Connection: Meeting a Mastodon for Lunch (IRL)

When my friend from Mastodon came to lunch, the words lifted from the page, they grew tall and full of expression, and intent. They still had the same cantor, the pauses, and even the steady gaze I had somehow come to know, but this time they had breath in a new way. They were tangible, no not tangible – audible, yes, audible. The words less tangible than those on the screen, less permanent, but the person more so. The words drifted like music playing in real time, unfolding as they were spoken and then drifting off, but the connection was there. I found myself saying – what was that – can I write it down, how do you spell it? There were things I wanted to hold on to – even though they had already drifted out to sea on the breeze. What a funny crossover there is between expression in the moment and the semi-planned semi-stasis that communication via printed text can offer. (featured image CC BY-NC by Emily) (post is about an 6 min read)

I am talking about my friend from far away, the one (well, one of the ones) I had never met before, from Mastodon. This actually seems to be becoming a habit. I’ve met several of them now, and I wrote about one of the other meetings in April. This one was different again. and I think (and hope) every meeting will be different, just as we are different in and of ourselves. I like it that way; in fact, I love it.

This is not a post about that friend, or about what we said, but more of a musing on the music of interaction, and how some things (and at present – people, ways, and the thing of Mastodon) work together to facilitate space. Room for growth, change, and blooming.

On being:

This friend and I walked. We walked through an ancient church yard on the way to where we were going, and there was great care for those who have passed- with centuries old engraved stones, and freshly blooming flowers springing from the ground amidst the ivy and the yew trees. Care for them where they were laid to rest, and for the living, to help those left behind to manage what is not here and the differences that we (or at least I) cannot comprehend.

I may have a simple mind, but I find those differences in life too – how can you have a difference in life? can’t have a difference in one thing?? (I did say *simple* mind) 

There is the being, the physical presence, and then knowing, and they are intertwined, but separate. Take illness as an example. We are all too well aware that at the whim or weakness of the body, when fatigue or worse takes hold, all stops. The runner with a cramp must stop. The child with a fever must stop. But our minds do not always stop. Sometimes they go and go in all directions. Oh it is difficult for me to reckon these things. So when confronted with a person whom I had known only in my mind – well, in reality, but not having exchanged words through the air, or shared the same space at a table – and then having that person arrive as normal as the neighbour calling in to tell me about how the beans in the garden are getting on. Well that was genuinely a remarkable experience.

The thing was that it was completely not remarkable. It was as if it had happened every Tuesday, or Thursday, or both, but not at all unusual occurrence. As I heard the car door close outside, I shouted from within the house, ‘The door’s open! You’re in the right place!’

Of course, we already knew one another. Being. Being is more complicated than Sartre pricking his hand in Being and Nothingness and seeing it bleed. Gosh, what if he could envisage the way we communicate now?

Space, Time, and Connection

Mastodon: A space represented by a mastodon, that was a giant creature that was, and is no more. Is that a bad thing that it is extinct? Well if you want something permanent you could choose a cockroach, but really the majesty of a giant elephant-like creature gently roaming the earth has a certain wisdom, and hints at a communal memory in a way that is attractive to me.

This space, Mastodon.social has been an exploration. I came there along with others with no particular expectations, and no particular judgements, and everything that happened was done with a sort of gracious hospitality – it was like we walked into someone’s home. People arrived, they sat down (virtually of course), and it was like a coffee parlour or picnic area and it didn’t have a brand or an association in the same way as people broadcast accomplishments or their research on other platforms to influence work or job prospects or fame or whatever. This seemed to be about the people themselves, and it attracted all sorts of people – young, old, employed, unemployed, ones with fancy degrees, and ones never intending to do that sort of thing, lots of people. All of the people live their lives and interact by sharing different glints of reflections of their lives in this house-garden of a picnic area type place.

Of course not all. There are hundreds of thousands of users of this platform across many instances (there isn’t just ‘one’) and I only interact with a couple of dozen people on a regular basis. However, it is the way these interactions have formed, and the quality of the interactions that is so interesting to me.

There is space

People can communicate more than… more than an isolated thought. More than can there is an active engagement with the opportunity to use the possibilities afforded in communicating. Whether that is 500 characters, using a label to mark something that perhaps others may not be interested in, or using a label so as not to trigger someone’s stress levels. For example, what if, on other platforms you had to choose to read a post that was about politics, because it was hidden behind a label saying ‘politics’. Wouldn’t your day be better already?

And time

Time is ever passing, and yet it is always now. I love that we have now forever. Sometimes there is a sense that actually we need to hurry up and do it all, do it all now, reply now, read it now, know the answer now. Sometimes I don’t know the answer ever. In these interactions, there is time, and somehow it is not so important to be immediate. There is an allowance for people to take a day or a few days to digest, comment, and maybe revisit something from another time and place. I do not think this was something ‘written in’ to the platform, but something that has grown out of a number of circumstances, including the people involved. We are a global community, and as this is about people, or whatever they want to make it, whatever is important to them – that isn’t always something in the 9-5. And besides, my 9 may be your 5 depending where on the globe you are. People have busy lives and responsibilities and to have taken the time to communicate is not an obligation. The nice thing is there is a generosity to both giving and receiving a reply or a comment.

For connection.

Something new? Oh, change can be difficult. Growth can be a pain – just ask a child getting a new tooth. Connections seldom happen like a chain of paper dolls, but in fact they are chaotic and shift from balance toward new forms as new currents form. Watch the galaxies (it’s only a short vid) and how they spin, and pull, and even get torn apart when joining a new one. I would dare say that isn’t how they planned it, if they could plan it at all. I imagine mixing a tea party with a racing car, and watching the china fly and the tea spill, and the driver with a cake-filled helmet. Fun and tasty, but you have to be open to the possibilities.

In life it is not always quite that messy and sometimes forming connections can be quite subtle. Sometimes we don’t see connections coming, sometimes we don’t see the opportunities, and other times we are held back by ?? by something. I would not like to say convention, but yes. Rules, assumptions, our own fears. Remember, those walls are not real. Oh it sounds cliché, but really, the walls are usually there because we put them up.

In this space I have been privileged to be part of the fabric of whatever has formed, at least part of one of the patchwork pieces that has formed. What does the whole of the quilt look like? I don’t know, and perhaps there are branches or segments that are very different from the one I know. However, I would like to think we have more in common than what separates us and I continue to be bemused by the differences and the nuances between modes of communication. I enjoy watching the ever-growing networks of genuine connection develop and intersect.

I am grateful for the gentle hellos, for the reminders that life happens one breath at a time, and that there are others noticing the same things, struggling with the same things, wondering at the same things as I am.

Image CC BY-NC-ND by Bernat Casero

Kith, Kin, and Kindred Spirits

I once had the opportunity to go back to the house where I lived during many happenings – life, death, nearly birth (I left the house 10 days before my first child was born), our wedding, … a lot. When I got there it was all I could do to walk the familiar corridors, feel the bumpy wallpaper, and enjoy the creak of the stairs as a rainbow of emotions welled up inside of me and the water that goes with the rainbow leaked down from my eyes. This was some 10+ years ago and I wasn’t sad. On the contrary it was a privilege to dance with those memories in that space again, and I was lucky that not much had changed yet. That might have been beyond what I could have handled – in that moment.

That story is relevant now, in a different way. It sets a context. As people grow, live, change, return, sometimes they have an urge to search, to seek and this happens in various ways. Through a pilgrimage or retreat. Sometimes people cross continents and oceans, going to far away places to seek a quiet repose, or to get in touch with something…

_____________ Read more

California Dreaming – the book

I haven’t written on this blog in a very long time. Academically it is the busy season… strange though, classes end and it gets busy. I haven’t been idle, and have been writing. In fact I have been writing to the tune of 72,300 words that have come together in the form of my first ebook.

Exactly two years ago I was part of an epic journey with five of my students and it is time to share it. …just as soon as I learn about the last little bits of how to upload these files… Scrivener has been an awesome tool. While I get my head around ISBN numbers and the different files I need to upload, have a peek at the cover. Well, the cover so far – it could still change. I am very grateful to the friends and strangers who have given me feedback about the design so far.

Twin Peaks …coming soon!

This is possibly my first really silly, completely non-academic, non-deep thinking post, but Twin Peaks is coming in just over a week, and I really like Twin Peaks. When I was clearing out big files on my computer and came across this recorded skype conversation from the end of last summer that I had with a friend of mine (we were working on another project and happened to chat randomly in the middle…). When I mentioned Twin Peaks, and he had never heard of it, well my disbelief was tangible. My daughter wanted to share it with a couple of people she wanted to introduce to Twin Peaks, so…

Here it is, posted with permission (thanks Pete!)

If you don’t know about Twin Peaks, there is just about enough time for you to watch it before the new series is aired.

The baby on the train

I travelled a lot by train during the past two days as I went from south to north of the country and back again. The six trains were fine, and besides being vehicles of transportation, they were vehicles for a window into humanity. I saw some beautiful people. Actually there were so many beautiful people and kind people, and people loving their special people that I was really struck and pleased to be part of this thing called humanity. It gave me hope in a time when, if allowed or directed in a certain way, there is so much noise and hatred being spewed into the public arena.

I am not advocating hiding one’s head and putting on the headphones to block out the big wide world, but I was reminded of phrases and images, and I’d like you to indulge me in a short story of the people opposite me on the first train.

Firstly, she was a beautiful baby. Full of sunshine and absolutely not demanding anything from anyone else, but sat next to her mother and softly sang. She was singing. My first thought was, oh, how I wish I was so comfortable and felt ‘allowed’ to just sing. They I thought, hey, why can’t people just sing? Society? Convention? Baggage of the past? I still must believe deep down that some of those walls are real. Letting go takes time. Back to the story:

This lovely child sang, and what did the parents do?

They smiled and they joined in. Both of the parents joined in. They sang little nursery rhyme songs and later they softly sang full songs and the baby joined in on long notes when she caught on to the structure of the song. It was absolutely joyful.

I smiled and said she was beautiful and how lucky she was to have a mummy and daddy who sang with her.

The freedom of learning to express with music and to be so supported. There is far deeper meaning and transference than just a baby singing. There is a message about learning, an instrumental or musical vocabulary, about confidence and motivation, and about community.

I am reminded of words and the images they invoke:

We the people

1000 lights

laughter spreads

sing out

We are not without voice, we are not without purpose, people are not without love for one another. For me, part of humanity is celebrating those we spend our time with along the way, in our everyday journeys.

By the third train I saw this sign:

and on the fourth train, when I noticed amazing people I told them so. On the fifth train were two beautiful women. I told them so. When they got off two stops later, they were smiling and laughing and they thanked me again and wished me well. None of the other passengers had spoken, except to check directions with whoever they were already with. On the sixth train I smiled at the baby across the way. He waved back. The man opposite sighed loudly and took two headache pills. The baby and I smiled. The baby gave everyone smiles even though few smiled back.

Be the one who takes the risk to smile back.