My cello project to document my learning of the Kodaly sonata every day leading up to a lecture and performance on October 18 at the University of Chichester.
What a pleasure to be invited to talk here. It is always with a combination of anticipation and excitement that I go to a new place. I was invited by Celia who is wonderful. She reminded me last night that we had never actually met in person. wow. We worked together on a project a couple of years ago, and we got to know one another – funny how online and face to face can bleed into one. It was lovely to meet in person and share time together.
The programme advertised my talk as something about student efficacy and resilience, and yes, I talked about that and about learning – learning out loud. (my chosen title) About 100 sat in the hall’s plush red raked seats. What great colours and a great design for the space, just what you would hope for from a university boasting an array of wonderfully creative programmes. The full keynote is embedded below and the slides have also been uploaded separately, here.
I owe a special thank you to Margaret, my volunteer, who risked learning in public and played beautifully. As a presenter, while I was speaking, I wasn’t sure what the general audience thought. They were listening, and it wasn’t until afterwards that the thoughts came out. Individuals said things as we passed in the corridor and met over coffee – there was connection, and just like the tapestry of connectivism that I talked about, it was wonderful that for each person, they took something slightly different, as related to their practice. I am very greatful for the chance to be here today. Thank you Celia for taking the risk and inviting me. Without the limitation of time, if I had all day I would like to say so many other things… On some topics I only alluded to the tip of the iceberg. Good thing I’m an explorer and I can guarantee I will keep walking and climbing, and falling down and getting up, and definitely connecting.
I would love to hear your comments. Please feel free to get in touch.
The past 24 hours have been spent with a load of varied people coming together to play Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon, yes, FOR 24 HOURS without break. My friend, colleague, and head of Jazz at uni, Nick Reynolds had this idea of doing a big performance for International Jazz Day that started as a dream, but then when we were in America, Nick was really moved by the school we worked with and decided to use the occasion to raise funds for the school. (you can read about the event here)
Nick organised the players from the university community and I organised the logistics and the tech side of the event – so we could stream the full 24 hours and make this accessible for people to view and potentially join in. Together we made a good team and the event went off without a hitch. Many thanks go to all who helped from set-up of sound equipment, to the performers, to the student who brought us coffee just after 3am, and the audience – special shout out to our Deputy Vice-Chancellor who came three times during the 24 hours, and stayed until 3am !!! and also to David, the sax player from my community orchestra who came for over 12 hours of the event – was there at the 8am start and came back pre-dawn to play with us to the 8am finish.
What’s so special about this event? Why was it not just another concert?
It is a fairly unique situation and I’ll use an analogy to explain. Read more
Sometimes when we sit with those we respect, our teachers, friends, our elders, and we listen, our hearts open.
There are some people who are like sunshine or like water or like the breeze and have certain qualities that are both etherial and penetrating. Being with them ignites my mind and makes my heart smile.
These past few days I have been at a conference in Galway with wonderful and diverse people and I’d like to share two (of many) #smallstories that happened over the past few days.
1. I sat at the table with Brady and Kate as they talked about life, and I mainly listened. Being in a new situation can be daunting. Sometimes we are afraid. It’s human; we’re human. We talked about retreat to the seaside to think and almost sit with the fear. – and being able to acknowledge it as a thing there next to you, yet look at it as something that perhaps can sit beside you and that’s ok. You could turn and look and say, ‘hello. I see you. You can stay there, while I go on. But yes, I see you.’
It was a powerful conversation, mainly Kate and Brady’s ideas, bouncing off one another. I listened and near the end could add something a friend and former colleague taught me: Everyone gets butterflies, the trick is to teach them to fly in formation.
There was much more, but that is not my story to tell. It was a gift to be at that table.
2. The previous day, in the big lecture auditorium I listened to the keynote panel. I had met the three women talking last year at a conference in Delft, when we sat at the same table for a meal. In the keynote, Taskeen spoke about teachers and not the content or the methods, but being present and the value of learning from life, citing a Mauritanian scholar. (you can hear her words here and they are transcribed below)
“In this epistemological foundation, it’s entirely different where just sitting with the teacher, being in their presence, and following them around in their daily life is counted as valuable learning. because one can be blessed by their spiritual presence, and here the connection between the student and the teacher is one the heart and the soul and not just the mind. The teacher is not just the source of the knowledge, nor are they the facilitator of knowledge, they are the embodiment of knowledge, and who the teacher is is much more valuable than how or what they teach. My question to you is how do we even begin to bring such pedagogies into openness?”
This moved me, and I tweeted what an aspirational challenge I felt this was. I had a teacher like that.
Upon coming home I was asked what was the highlight of the conference for me. For me it happened after the conference. Everyone was invited to meet to carry on the conversation, and in the most unlikely setting, a pub, I stood eating cheesy chips talking to Taskeen as she sipped her pint of water. Amidst conversation about PhDs and publications, munching cheesy chips, laughter, and the loud music, Taskeen recalled that type of learning she spoke of in the keynote and gestured to me and Brady, saying, ‘It’s what we have here, I can feel it’. (Brady was my co-presenter at the conference, but is also my student). Whatever made her say that was a gift. I certainly wasn’t teaching anything and cheesy chips aren’t a pedagogical method and I don’t think somehow I became a guru. I do aspire to more moments of being teacher and learner and of being that way, and in the first story I was that learner. My students (this time one student), colleagues, friends teach me so much.
There is something that connected many participants at this OER19 conference – beyond the hope mentioned in the closing plenary. There is a concern and commitment to life, a noticing, a meeting of attention and intention to create and curate our lived experiences. I appreciate and value the people I met for the first time, friendships rekindled, and the time spent with people, sharing and learning from them, from their words, and from just being with them. My heart did a lot of singing. I am tired now, because of working hard, playing hard, and I feel completely overflowing with connection.
below are some comments that appeared on Twitter, but I wanted to keep them, so have posted them here too.
This question is a tough one. (A little secret… I don’t have the answers to most of the questions I ask.) Here’s some context: In one of the classes I teach, my students make a website as their semester’s project. We discuss all sorts of things about online content, layout, purpose, accessibility, and then there’s the question about how this can all be used. In the past there were all sorts of terms that have gone in and out of fashion having to do with digital literacy or being tech savvy, and whatever buzzword there is, the important thing is that tech is a useful tool for many people in many professions.
My students are primarily musicians: performers & teachers. I’d like to think they will be future leaders in education. Part of what allows people to be successful in an ever-changing tech-infused profession, is at least dipping your toe into the river, even if there’s a lot of water flowing faster than you’d like to swim in. That’s sometimes how I feel about tech. I know a bit, and I can figure stuff out, but I am not a professional sound engineer, nor am I a professional web-designer, but I can record my cello and make a website. What then?
I know that connection is important. For me it’s a quest. A passion even. Connection through learning is just about as good as it gets – to know that someone else ‘got it’ and you might have helped give or point them to some important piece, or perspective, at the right time.
But how to connect with the wider community across the globe? Those waters are fast and I don’t like getting my face wet. I decided to phone a friend. I did literally phone a friend, and I also asked online. I got four very useful replies, and this wonderful 10 minute segment from my friend and colleague Jonathan.
“Everyone has a story, you just have to enable them to speak.” – Jonathan Worth
The online replies to my question:
I asked, ‘How do you leverage your writing and your professional profile with your networks online?’ and these replies came from around the world. (leverage was not a very good word choice, I would like to have said ‘share’) Each response adds useful insight and a valuable perspective. I am grateful to each for taking the time to write and reply.
- From Marc Jones, an English teacher in Tokyo: “I don’t think there’s much actual intentional leverage on my part. I know I do get offered chances to do things by being enthusiastic and, if not knowledgeable, curious enough to get answers.”
- “Consistency and understanding which act as drivers and which as access points.” – Grant Scott, United Nations of Photography, UK
- “It’s something I rarely ever think about. I write for myself, for a way to understand, to articulate ideas, to explore new thing, to curate what I am doing (my blog, I have come to realize, is my best curation space). That said, sometimes my writing has led to offers to present/keynote conferences, and to be invited into projects/networks. Maybe for your students, consider it as a choice: is this my professional identity? or is this my writing identity?” – Kevin Hodgson, an incredibly creative 6th Grade Teacher, USA
- ‘My networks are for sharing. That’s their full purpose. If people have questions, need advice, want to listen, whatever.. True, some good things have come to me from networks, but not as a result of me planning to use them for that purpose. It’s a Taoist approach – don’t seek power, wealth, fame, etc. – I never want to ask for any of these. … [and] networks are for sharing.’ – Stephen Downes, an educational pioneer, Canada
I had planned to link to this post by Alan Levine, ‘On Sharing, Teaching: Network Amplifying / Blog Signal‘, because of how relevant it is, but I hadn’t realised he told a story about Stephen amplifying one of his (Alan’s) posts until I re-read it. (I do highly recommend reading that post.) Funny how things connect sometimes.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. And let’s take Jonathan up on his offer. Listen, watch, and comment – here, on Twitter, Mastodon, or wherever you do your online thing.
I love this question. It was suggested as part of David Hopkins‘ #OpenBlog19 initiative and the idea is to choose a topic from a curated google doc and then to write… so I chose this topic. Innovation? What does it look like? By nature the word implies something of newness, and possibly we understand it to have creative elements – creative in terms of new, having created.
Innovation in teaching makes me think of an open door.
For me innovation is not one thing, but can be many things, or maybe I should say many opportunities that could come in all shapes and sizes.
In a post from Stephen Downes about what things can scale and how they work, one sentence jumped out at me, and it fits here quite well. He said:
“Instead of trying to design learning, which is focused on content, we should create environments in which people can practice.” (p.570)
This immediately connected with something that happened to me recently. I was abroad with students and a colleague, and when we returned one of the students sent me a photo he snapped while we were in Los Angeles. It was taken on our first afternoon and we had all walked along the beach as a group, and we came upon loads of fun ‘stuff’.
There were rings and bars and ropes and balancing tapes (the things in the picture) and it was magical. What you can’t see in the picture is an older-middle aged man standing just off to the left giving advice, and the student taking the photo standing behind us, and my colleague standing next to him. The older man told my student to step up onto the rope, and then directed me, ‘Stand there and let him put his hand on your shoulder. That’s it,’ he said turning to my student, ‘One foot in front of the other, and just step out….’
The image has become my favourite picture and I jokingly said that it was the best tutorial I ever gave (or should say was part of!).
As far as a metaphor for learning, teaching, and innovation, I am somewhere in there, but as teacher I am not the focal point, actually I’m on the sidelines – accessible if needed, and (hopefully) reassuring. The student is completely in charge and he directs what he does, chooses the course, how far he goes in which direction. It’s not a traditional classroom, and I love that. I certainly can’t claim it’s anything I ‘did’ or ‘designed’ but I did let it happen and that door was open to the possibility of play and of participating (and failing) alongside my colleagues and students.
It has to be said I tried walking on that rope thing too – and fell off instantly. 🙂
Both are designed environments, that can be used in so many ways – there are possibilities to engage with various aspects of the elements within it, each person choosing to do as they like, and their enjoyment or benefit is not dependent on being proficient or particularly mastering any aspect of it. (although it is a possibility to achieve and display mastery) It is not built for some end-game about or dependent on facts, but on the fluidity of someone’s growth and perspective on that day. Engagement is set by the parameters they dictate. (image CC BY-NC-ND by James Tapparo II)
Innovation in teaching allows for that learner-driven, learner-controlled perspective and mobility. It allows for possibilities. It means the teacher does not know the answers, and perhaps can’t even plan for them. If we knew what was going to happen, it wouldn’t be innovative, would it?
I love the featured image at the top of the post (CC By-NC-ND by Jean Gazis), just because I’m sure the children are not doing what whoever put the sand or brought them there thought they would do- and they’re loving it!
I cannot understand. I don’t want to understnd. That is the sort of think sympathetic people say when someone has slipped up – oh, I understand. No, I do not understand. There is no understanding hate.
I sat in church on Sunday and listened to the prayers for the people senselessly killed, for their loved ones, for their community, for their country. I looked around: Heads bowed, people reverent, and I counted. 1, 2, 3, 34, 35, 42, 43… 49. I was sitting in the back of the church and 49 was everyone in the front half of the church. everyone in the congregation, all the choir, the clergy. All of them? They were praying. praying.
I couldn’t understand.
Then I thought of who they are. My neighbours, my friends, my former student, my son – my son was singing in the choir. I couldn’t understand.
I can’t understand.
I walked this morning back to the church, and inside, up by the alter, in the wall is a memorial to a child. It is unmarked and centuries old, but I couldn’t stop looking at it and thinking of the unbelievable hole that loss makes.
And I thought of my own children.
I cannot imagine.
Fear, sadness, desolation must not win. Flowers and candles, symbols, yes, but more than that – teaching love and living tolerance, protecting one another; these are things we need. Talk about why hate is wrong. Talk about how to show kindness. Help one another notice the good in each other and to cultivate this. Do something good. The world needs more random acts of kindness, and more than random – we need always acts of kindness.
As a featured image I chose the image I took when walking to the sea this morning of two old friends on the bench. I aspire to this.
I started reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning quite some time ago, and various projects have interrupted my reading and reflecting on it. This post, number 6 in the series, is themed on communication, meaning, and of course connection in learning. What follows are my reflections and thoughts on pp478-565.
Let’s begin with a short quote from a Q&A section:
Q. “We are using terms in education that people believe they already know and we are using them in different ways. How did you grab people and help explain the complexities?
A. First we make everything as conversational and without jargon as possible. And second, we say we are not out to make the definitive lexicon of things. Words are shifting and changing.” (…the context was in a discussion about authoring Wikipedia articles) (p487)
Talking, teaching, my mind moved to the very important practice of naming things. We each have a name and it is a wonderful thing to be called and known by your name. Take us (people) as an example. I have a name, yet over the years I have developed and changed. Some of us may be quite similar to how we were a few years ago, where others are hardly recognisable. Across some periods of time in our lives we change more than others, but the fluidity of self somehow remains, and people still recognise us even after years apart.
In teaching, people name concepts, methods, even learners get labelled and categorised into boxes. Names, titles, or other words used to help us understand are absolutely essential, but no name is fixed. Ideas grow, understanding changes with changing perspectives and gained experience, and someone will invent another concept with another name. We do not have a definitive dictionary for learning, because after all, we the learners keep changing day by day.
- Communication is essential
- It takes a bit of wisdom to successfully communicate in ways your listeners/learners can understand, as each has a unique perspective.
- Nothing stays the same.
That last one is so important to remember and truly realise. With use and development we expand, and with an absence of use we atrophy. We are shifting and changing, like plates on the Earth, sometimes slowly like the growth of a mountain, sometimes quickly like an earthquake or volcanic eruption, wherever we sit on the spectrum of motion, change is our constant.
“When a stone is thrown in the water: The waves do not ‘represent’ anything, they are not ‘about’ the stone, and indeed, you cannot infer to the existence of the stone merely from the presence of the waves” (p.493)
Some 50 pages later Stephen also talks about stones in water. (I will comment on this then) Hold on to this image as it is important. (image CC BY-NC-SA by Vijay)
Downes provides a recipe for learning and reasons to explain the associative nature of learning. I propose a small change to his definition, and for me, the reasons represent general axioms or descriptions of how-to.
“[Learning is] based in practice and reflection resulting in habitual recognition of relevant phenomena”
- Networking and interaction are essential components of learning, that new experiences must be based on past experience, which entails the development of personal and experiential learning environments.
- This understanding of learning necessitates a shift “from a formal class-based outcomes-based learning paradigm to an ongoing informal learning network, hands on support systems, and personal learning program.” (p497)
(Downes aimed that last point at employers, but to me it is equally for teachers and students.)
…I’d like to propose a small change to the initial definition:
[Learning is] based in practice and reflection resulting in habitual awareness and recognition of relevant phenomena.
Downes makes an interesting point on abstractions and commonalities. He says (I hope I convey this accurately) that completely different things can have representative neural maps that cross, perhaps with some commonalities between them. He gives the example of the words/concepts ‘dog’ and ‘couch’ – maybe the dog sits on the couch, and the paths for these concepts cross.
What if (this is my spin on it) it is more about something we can’t see- so if waves travel on the water and cross, it’s the medium they use. Waves in sound. I can hear the car outside the window distinctly from the bird, yet they both produce sound that agitates the air, and surely it is more than the direction that allows me to separate them or allow them to melt, whereas dog and couch do not melt. If I hear many instruments coming out of one speaker, as a recording is played, I still can distinctly hear the harp and distinguish it from the baritone – even the first and second violins. What if we can infinitely share inputs via a particular medium and something else within our perceptive or conceptual understanding allows us to separate or blur? I certainly don’t have answers, but enjoy the provocation to think.
When communicating understanding often we need support, and Downes gives a lovely nugget that demonstrates how ‘evidence’, although peer-reviewed and published can still reflect the bubbles around us. I love this on types of evidence:
“But more significant is the question regarding the type of evidence, which is specifically focused around the question of whether the evidence is representative of the population as a whole. That’s why you don’t just ask your friends how they’ll vote when you’re predicting an election; chances are, your friends will vote like you do. It should also be why a class of 50 Midwestern undergraduate psychology students should not be used as the basis for drawing conclusions about anything, but journals keep publishing the studies.” (p502)
So true… these are more thinking points than answers, and at the end of this section of writing, Downes leaves this in-depth post on p505 with a vision for the future (paraphrased and summarised) with a new understanding,… based not on power and control and collaboration and conformity, but one based on autonomy and diversity and cooperation and emergence that is for education and for life.
“The great proclamations that MOOCs were the greatest invention ever- since the pencil… and they could reach a billion students in a year….” (p514-515)
This makes me think of a parallel where people trivialise music education by presenting a large-scale outreach concert without follow-up. Don’t get me wrong, every experience is valuable, but a single trip to hear a concert without guidance, understanding, and or any explanation is… Well, I can tell you about the first time I went to the opera. I was in 5th grade and my wonderful (late) teacher Mr. Price took all the children in the orchestra programme to the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I brought my great-grandmother’s opera glasses (still have them) and I couldn’t understand a word of whatever they were singing, and sitting in the third balcony up, the stage was far away, and I fell asleep. !!
Was it worth it? taking a child with so little musical experience to something they didn’t half get?
YES. Because Mr. Price took us to the opera again, every year and several times in the year. He taught us to play the music from the opera La Traviata. We learned the rhythm and the harmonies. We laughed while we learned as he taught us about dances in music, and even though we still didn’t understand everything about it, we loved it. He didn’t simply ‘give us a pencil’ and say ‘there, now you have a tool’.
Recent initiatives in some UK schools are so thinned out that students might get that token experience of hearing something once. Like giving them a pencil. Now, a pencil could be a tool, and might be the start to something, but if those kids were like me – without an already musical family, and without a fabulous teacher who did extra things, then what? What are they going to do with that pencil? You can play darts with a pencil, you know, or use it to hold your long hair in place, especially if you don’t know how to write with it.
Tools become useful when you know how to use them and have a context to apply your understanding.
“It’s about what it is to know and to learn at a deeper level, which can then be applied to new disciplines whatever they may be.” (p533)
I certainly believe that one of the greatest responsibilities of a teacher is to teach people to learn, and crucially, to know (for themselves) at a deeper level. Then all manner of formal learning outcomes follow.
In a discussion of the role of teachers and perspectives of students on p563 (yes, I’m going out of order just for a moment), Stephen mentions the idea that when dealing with terms like ‘authority’ and ‘expert’ these can be loaded, and there is a great difference between something presented to and ‘imposed on the student’ as opposed to something ‘recognized by the student’ (Italics are Stephen’s). E.g. when told Xx is an authority it is very different than seeking someone’s advice because you value them as an expert. Stephen goes on to qualify that an expert, in keeping with connectivism, models and demonstrates.
Downes takes a momentary deep dive into truth, value, syntax, and semantics between pp533-538, and if you are at all interested in clarity of communication and the concepts that swim in these waters, then I thoroughly recommend settling down with a nice cup of tea and having a slow, thorough read and think.
Stephen says something key thing on p539: People see what they believe. I’d go on to develop that into:
- people pursue what they believe possible and
- people do what they believe they can.
It brings me back to self-efficacy: that belief, the core understanding and conception of what is and what can be is very powerful.
Remember that water and stone image I mentioned, here’s the follow-up:
“Knowledge is recognition. Water doesn’t really retain the impact of rocks, which is why ponds aren’t intelligent. But other more complex and more stable entities will retain traces of the impact. One thing influences the next, and each thing preserves a trace of that influence, such that after a while characteristic patterns of input produce characteristic responses. This is recognition.”(p540)
We retain the marks of what happens to us. We carry the impacts of our experiences, thoughts, interactions and what an incredibly powerful image. Just like the impact of the stone on the water, this video presents a striking yet simple illustration of the same thing, intended for an audience of children.
I introduce this topic to my students by showing them the power of positives. We are all so capable of the negative. Last Friday I was teaching my second year students about ‘the language of achievement’ in terms of the psychology of learning and teaching, and whooooeee there is power in saying I CAN. I challenged my students to notice and replace two negative words/comments/thoughts that they had with positive versions, and then to note down what changes they made.
Make a habit of being positive. Build one another up. Thank each other. Notice our humanity. Be kind humans to one another, and I dare say, learn to love yourself too.
“I think that the reason we are alive is because it’s possible, and the reason we die is to continue to allow it to be possible, by allowing our form of existence to grow and develop and adapt and flourish.
I’m still trying to embrace diversity, and I’m still seeking harmony.”(p545)
Me too, Stephen. We’re on the same page.
This month I’m taking a course with violinist Zach Brock called ‘In the shed with Zach Brock, Structuring Practice for Spontaneous Performance’. I first met Zach when were were both students at Northwestern University and I still have a cassette tape he gave me of the Turtle Island String Quartet. (that’s a link to them playing Night in Tunisia, have a listen) He said, hey these guys are cool. They are indeed.
My musical training started with dots on the page, and has moved from all dots to far fewer dots as time goes by. I don’t mean that I play fewer notes, but that the quest for expression and communication has taken me off the page and more and more into the realm of plasticity and personal control over the different components of expression under my fingers. As a classical player, there is endless scope for expression with tone quality, colour, nuance of tempo, connection between the notes, vibrato, and dynamics. I am sure you could add to this list. However, in classical music the notes are one parameter of the music that is relatively fixed.
I have become more and more interested in how the mind maps without the dots in front of you. We each have different minds. The possibilities for both studying the brain and music, and implications for life and health are staggering. Below is just one diversion to show just how intense and diverse the research and the brain can be. I would LOVE to do something with a cello in an MRI scanner. This is the first experiment of its type with a cello:
Learning theory and self-regulation, metacognition, and skill acquisition all interest me very much (along with self-efficacy of course!). I have traced my own learning and explored the differences (in me) when I learn classical music and when I learn non-classical musics. For example, I learn singing without dots. No dots at all – just listening, and that means the mental conception of the music and all its components start from a different place inside, a different vantage point somewhere in the brain. I don’t quite have the words to explain it, but it’s a bit like following a map and then later learning your route as opposed to actively finding your way through something and perhaps the map emerges, but it might be made of different clues beside the road names.
Up to now I have pretty much done dots on the cello. I dabble without the dots on cello – I compose and record music, usually for films/documentaries, as improvised music that I never score, and work out the layers as I go, but I don’t ‘name’ the chords or notes, just play. For example here’s the end of a little jingle I wrote this for a friend last week:
I’m also comfortable in certain keys, with certain scales, or with a limited vocabulary. I stress the ‘limited’. I’m still in the children’s section of the dot-free library. Maybe dot free is free range music making, or conversational music. Whatever it is, I know that it is a different skill set, a different part of the brain (for me) than learning a classical piece. What really interested me in Zach’s course is his thinking of course, his music making as well, and personally the systematic approach is hugely intriguing. I have never systematically learned how to work without the dots on the cello. With singing, yes. With cello, maybe I wasn’t ready. I am now. (That’s where the self-efficacy kicks in – turning what may have remained potential, into something possible. No guarantees on the results, but I am willing to take that step.)
I very much looking forward to stretching my brain, crossing over, and lighting up some new places in my brain.
Learning, experience, living. These all go hand in hand for me and to be honest, I crave and thrive on them all. Last week I had the privilege of teaching an intensive module that takes the form of an international trip. (this was the fifth trip of its kind, and the first one was written up by the participants as an ebook) It was a select and dedicated group and everything about the trip is in the hands of the students. The most pleasurable aspect of the class is that the idea of my being the teacher is given up. Instead we adopt a scenario where we are all colleagues – Howard Rheingold coined the term Peeragogy, others call it co-learning, it certainly has to do with connectivism, could be called experiential learning, but I might go as far as to call it a way of living. For me it is how I work and I spend much of my ‘normal’ teaching time working to get students to realise they are learners but they are also teachers. We are all somewhere on that path.
As a part of this module, we formed a musical group, and as with any small group or working party, there are different roles to play, individual needs, and aspects of the working relationship that require degrees of support and/or freedom. We had not worked intensely together before preparation for this trip, and there were elements of musical learning where the students and I were challenged, but there were also the other aspects of travel and working together that tested and taught us so much.
I enjoy pushing myself, physically, mentally, musically – daring to be authentic as opposed to somehow conforming to someone else’s expectation or limits. That freedom to expand and explore is not always something facilitated in a typical day-to-day workplace, not because of any weakness of the place, but because of the nature of routine and familiarity. It can be difficult to see any situation for its potential when it is right in front of you. Sometimes removing the ordinary, the habit, and the associations that go with our usual people and places gives a freedom and makes it that much easier to grant ourselves permission to learn through living.
Someone asked me to describe what it is that I do, and I thought (in an esoteric way):
On both a small and large scale I enable and facilitate people to go beyond boundaries.
I think I can
Taking a step out to do something new, can be daunting for anyone. That step can be a small thing or something mind-blowingly large. One of the first things I dared to do last week was play on the rings at the beach. Sounds silly, right? I had walked past those rings several times over the years and never touched them. -sure I wanted to have a go, but something kept me back. Giving yourself permission to take that risk (even if it doesn’t seem like a risk to someone else) and feeling safe in making that effort to have a go makes all the difference.
It was a typical demonstration of the self-efficacy theory that I’ve both studied and written about for years. Having the ability to do something is not enough to make you do it. That self-belief that you can is everything. The people around me, their acceptance of me as person, learner, part of a team – meant that even if I failed, it would be ok. I didn’t fail, and the sense of accomplishment of having gone back and forth across those rings was tangible.
It reminded and taught me the value of allowing myself to believe and daring to act on it.
The walls are not real
As a teacher, musician, and person I find the biggest deterrent to both belief and action is me. Of course whatever boundaries I perceive are real to me, but they are seldom things that cannot be overcome with time and persistence. Usually they stem from something I have seen or heard – either something I’ve witnessed or experienced, and then it stuck. In my mind I may have decided ‘I can’t do this because of that‘. We watch and learn, but whether about body image, gender expectations, career prospects, social expectations, or whatever – others do not have a right to define us. Rightly or wrongly I’m sticking firmly to the idea that we can create our own paths. Sometimes the walls around us come down slowly, brick by brick, over time, but it can be done.
My voice is valid
Metaphorically and literally each of us has a voice; we have thoughts, words, and perhaps express this through music, poetry, or art. The expression that we are capable of contributing to conversations, to others’ lives, can have impacts far beyond anything we may know – from a simple smile to some profound statement. How often do we keep to ourselves? Different cultures encourage various levels of interaction and communication and each will feel comfortable with our own levels of discourse and engagement. That said, there is always room for personal growth and development and this might be in unexpected ways.
One thing I have learned is that I cannot do it alone. Bizarrely, I’ve gained great freedom by making that a part of my practice (not just knowing, but believing and realising – like making it a reality). When I allow myself to be a true learner, I am vulnerable. Connection, support, feedback, someone else on the path too – Learners need teachers, learners fail a lot, but then they get up again. Having a hand, an encouraging glance, or even just the expectation that of course you’re going to join back in with whatever it is – makes all the difference. I am grateful to the three people who came with me for this past week and to the friends we worked with, for trusting me and for letting me trust them as we explored, experienced, and lived.
Learning out loud. Living your learning. Going beyond boundaries.
Yes please, I’ll have some more of that any day.