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Posts tagged ‘education’

Question your answers. BHM

This is Black History Month and I want to do something. I’m not Black and so I don’t share the first-hand experience of Black people. I think it hit me why everyone (certainly in America) needs to celebrate this month and to learn. It’s because this isn’t about ancient history, this is about something that people carry and deal with every day.

I didn’t know I grew up in a white world. I didn’t know I grew up in a man’s world. Heck, three years ago when someone pointed out that I asked permission to speak in a meeting with men (and that was only permission to introduce myself), I couldn’t believe I did that. We often cannot see the air we breathe. Sometimes we feel the wind, but only when it pushes against our faces.

Text books don’t teach you what it’s like to live in a world that challenges some but not others. I first learned how much I didn’t know from a great preacher, the late Rev. Hycel B. Taylor, in Evanston, Illinois. I was drawn there by the music and the preaching. There was freedom in that music and such rejoicing and a sense of purpose and hope. Those years taught me just how much I didn’t know, and that I couldn’t know in the same way as living someone else’s life. For me I go back to analogies – I know what it’s like to be a foreigner in a new country, and I can tell you, but you can’t really know unless you live it.

It is hard to see when you’re in it. Let me give a couple of examples.

1. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and am quite out of touch with it really. A year ago my family were all on a long-haul flight and we decided to watch films on the plane… It was December and I put on Home Alone, remembering it was supposed to be funny. I was absolutely shocked at how white, nam-centric, derogatory, dysfunctional, stereotypical… the list could go on. My son kept asking why is the dad talking like that? Why is the brother so mean? Why does that girl whine like that? Thank God it was very foreign to him. How was this normal and thought of as a good film? Somehow I remember the film coming out and being popular and great – the bias, the prejudice, the definition of roles and people – it is all around us and we don’t know it.

2. It isn’t always like that. My son came home one day talking about his friend and I said which one is he? The one with curly hair was how he identified this boy. It took several days and finally being pointed out for me to figure out which of the 30 in his class he meant. This boy did have curly hair, but also had dark skin. My son could see his skin, that was obvious, just like my son is super pale, but it wasn’t the defining feature of their friendship.

Let me give another example that doesn’t have to do with skin colour –

3. As a person I am many things, friend, mother, lover, teacher, and a part of me is American. I grew up there. The day after the Brexit vote happened, someone said to me – why don’t you go home! My reply was, but I’m British. On that day, they couldn’t see beyond the one part of me that was foriegn. It is when people define others by only one aspect, and decide that they are THAT, whatever that is, that’s when it all goes wrong.

Racism does exist. We can learn from the wonderful children who play and see each other with all the components parts. They are allowed to be who they are. Black History isn’t ancient history, and the day when people can cherish and celebrate each part of their identity is yet to come. There has to be a willingness to see the air we breather and to want to change, because a lot of it is polluted. You can see examples of resistance to changing what is obvious in all aspects of life from mass-produced goods that exploit workers across the globe to the impact of our convenience lives on the climate.

Someone recently shared this advert and later suggested that if people wanted to do something for Black History Month, maybe they should go learn something, especially if it is not their history. The 3 min video made me think, well a lot, but particularly brought to mind the times I have realised that I didn’t see what was around me. I want my children and their friends to grow up in a world where they see. Yes that means change.

(warning: there is strong language in it. DO watch it, it is only a few swear words)

Watching this made me think of my own wake up calls. Bear with me for one more analogy (I’m a very visual person). When I watched this I saw the image of a big tapestry being woven, so big it was automated by a giant machine- I couldn’t see the machine but I could hear it, and I was aware that I, myself, was holding onto a thread – like a rope – and could just catch a glimpse fo the giant needle as it dove in and out of the threads. Weaving with great speed. Holding on. I don’t want to be a part of that tapestry.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to let go and stop perpetuating the machine’s weave. I would really prefer to author my own life’s tapestry, and you yours. We may have to pick up some thread from the floor, and I’ll sit here and untangle a bit while you weave…

It may be a convoluted image, but it’s my effort to step out of the fishbowl.

Thank you to Sherri Spelic for her kind and constructive advice on this post.

Featured image CC BY by Kay Kim

Learning what? Learning how?

So often education is outcome focused. Students are taught to take tests. They are taught to the test.

Rats. What’s the assessment?

In. What do I have to do?

A. Can you show me an example?

Maze. Do you actually have one that you’ve made?

It’s difficult to see a way out; it’s difficult to see a why and even more challenging to figure out how. 

Sometimes it isn’t about the actual tangible outcome- the essay, the script, the thing you make, the most important part is relational, understanding the process. The immediate goal does not encapsulate the longer term benefits of the task. Try explaining this to a student who says – but I need to get a certain grade or I can’t do the next class/task… Just tell me what you want me to do. It’s not just the students who are task oriented. Learning gain is a buzzword, and just after the definition, the section on the .gov website labelled ‘Why does it matter?’ begins with ‘Capturing how students benefit‘. Those two words in close proximity make my neck hairs hackle: capture and benefit. Certainly the concept of learning gain is not at all bad, it is very important, but the wording ‘capture’ makes me think.

Maha’s tweet rings true of how many academics do find themselves learning on the job, but also it is true of teaching in so many other contexts, including for those on the other side of the teacher’s desk. Good performers aren’t necessarily good teachers. Students aren’t born as great learners. Neither ‘teaching’ nor ‘learning’ come from the tap on the head of the fairy’s magic want that suddenly ‘learns you’ something. The learning- acquiring the se skills and understanding the processes- takes place somewhere beyond the textbook. The answers on the exams are not The Answers, they are tools- rungs on a ladder, paving stones in a path you are building, maybe even the trowel used to build.

Why do people miss the how? (especially in formal learning settings)

  • How takes time.
  • How is sticky.
  • How is where the perseverance kicks in.
  • How involves failure.
  • How needs help.

How also takes working with the ‘what’: knowledge, experiences, and a desire and willingness to engage with deeper learning. Even when there are teachers who do understand the how, the students can be hung up on not seeing an immediate why. Sometimes, the development of the how doesn’t produce visible ‘results’ until later, maybe well after that class, publication, event. Those seeds take time to grow, which makes it difficult to quantify in terms of standard metrics.

But I’m not a brick in the wall. I’m a person.

Image CC-BY-SA by Yi-Mei Ho


It is a dilemma to be in it for the long haul, the ongoing goal of learning, and to live in a real world where people are driven by demonstrating things, achieving, quantifying, and monetising. Perhaps as educators and co-learners, we can value the learning space and build some of that elasticity into existing classes, jobs, experiences so that those we learn, teach, and interact with can grow with us – for the sake of developing a repository of skills. Then if and when they build a path with their skills to a certain career, they will be prepared.

Value of Creative Education

@laura_ritchie modelling our own practice as creative educators in different medium @HerefordArtsCol 

—Sarah-Jane (@sarahjfc) 20 September 2017

I felt privileged to be there. Really, it was moving. You reminded us of what we do and sometimes as teachers we forget- Seeing him get it and the look on his face. When he looked at you like that, that is what it’s all about. Witnessing that learning happen was really something. -Holland Otik

What was this all about? I was invited to speak at the Hereford College of Arts 10th Annual HE Symposium to speak on ‘the value of a creative education’.

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Hear our voices: Sing for unity

Last night was the event, a time to be heard and a time to sing and make music. It keeps me thinking there really is no time like now.

A few weeks ago I put out an invitation for people to contribute to what would become a performance piece in a positive (action) event at my lovely university. This was the second event under the banner ‘love music, hate racism’ that we have held, and this like the first was scheduled to coincide with a day (this time the eve of 100) when music, art, and positive voices needed to be heard.

Huge thanks goes to Veronika for organising the event and instilling a real sense of collegiate community – in the true sense of those words. This time we had solo voice and solo piano, the ‘Singing for Health’ community choir (led by university students), original poetry by Kay Channon from her new book, historical poetry (read in the original language first and then translated to English), and an offering by me and Pete, which included a collaborative piece that you might have contributed to. (if you did, sincere sincere thanks to you!)

The thing that made this event so very special is that there were all sorts of performances and there was not an ounce of stuffiness. There was genuinely room for everyone and everyone’s efforts were respected and enjoyed. I did have a moment of nerves and doubt before the event began as the alumni singer rehearsed her aria and I heard her lovely operatic voice fill the hall. I thought, I am singing a Dylan song after she sings. The gulp in my throat was not about Dylan, it was about me singing, but that passed and it was ok. It was really ok, and I was proud to stand up and share what 10 people had come together to make.

The Singing for Health choir sang a magic song about the lightening tree.

Down in the meadow with the wind in the west, the lightening tree faced up to the test. It was hard when struck, when you took the wrap, the terrible wrap of the thunder clap.

Grow, grow, the lightening tree. It’s never too late for you and me. Grow, grow, the lightening tree. It’s never too late for you and me.



We had a Bertold Brecht poem read in honour of Worker’s Memorial Day, and we paused to think of those who built the buildings we use, and for all those who have expended effort that often goes unrecognised. Adam Swayne played two very moving piano solo pieces ‘(speak to me)’ by Amy Beth Kirsten and ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’ by Stephen Montague. The second told the story of John Henry, building the railways until his end, and then his wife picked up that hammer and carried on.

It’s like our brilliant Vice Chancellor, Clive Behagg said in a speech earlier in the day, at his farewell (retirement) event:

It’s [a place is]  about the people.

We must never forget that. This event wasn’t about elitism, or perfection, but about inclusion, coming together, and respecting and receiving what others had to give.

I was very pleased to be among those who came together and made their voices heard in such a positive and celebratory event. Thank you to those near and far who contributed to the Affirmation Quilt and helped me share our voices together.

Making time to create together

I have time; it is a priority.


This is a short reflection on Chapter 5 of the book We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire as part of the book club created by Bryan Alexander. (3 min read)

Paulo: “But we can also create space inside of the subsystem or the schooling system in order to occupy the space.” (p.203)

Zoom in on that sentence:

We can create space.

We can create.

We can.


It is so powerful, affirming, and inspiring. To me it says there is possibility. Stravinsky put it well (I included this quote in my book. Needless to say, it’s a quote I love.):

“Well, in art as in everything else, one can build only upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly gives way to pressure, constantly renders movement impossible. My freedom consists in moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.” (Stravinsky, 1970, p.65)

Back to Paulo’s sentence: yes we can. Yes we can create. –and it isn’t impossible, we CAN and it isn’t something to be done alone. We is plural. You and me, and others: we.

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Meeting on the road

(5 min read) I’ve been reading a book. –reading for pleasure, for my own growth, not for research on an upcoming project, but to stretch my mind. I love that. And I’m a bit behind. The founder of this book club, Bryan Alexander, did his post on Chapter 3 nearly a month ago! I really do read so slowly. Let me give you an example – my daughter has started reading funny tweets to me because she reads fast and gets impatient when it takes me longer to read it than it takes her to say it. The point is, the rest of the book club kind-of finished the book, but it’s a little appropriate that my post on Chapter 3 from We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire comes now.

Myles says: …can’t teach people, they have to learn. Meet them where they are & go together. …So while I insist on starting where people are, that’s the only place they could start. …I can start somewhere else. I can start where I am, but they’ve got to start where they are. (p99-100)

So here I am. This is also the core of everything. Rather like a Dr. Suess illustration, we are all on our own path, somewhere. Paving the way through a series of ‘nows’ as we go. We can carry the paving materials with us, plan for, and mix the mortar to set the stones, but we do in the now and it is impossible to teleport someone to where we are and somehow skip their own road-building. From my experience, when you try to do that, it just means that sometime, somewhere along the journey you have to go back and rebuild what you tried to skip. (Image source

Myles says: Education is abstraction. It is stories that connect. It is the catalyst that entices you to think. (p.100)

Yes, and the stories help to be relatable. If we accept that we are each on our own roads, then it would be impossible to have ONE moving sidewalk for everyone, but we still need the building blocks. Tools, facts, skills, these are separate, they alone are not education, but are both context & mortar in the synaptic creation we build.

Myles: My quest is not to go alone but to go with the people. (p.101)

I have a responsibility to provide whatever light I can on the subject and share my ideas with people. (p.105)

Oh, yes. –but not in a blinding torch in your eyes kind of light, but hopefully more like the glow of the approaching dawn. Well, that’s the ideal dream. That gives people enough light to look and see for themselves and find….

Myles recounted a student telling him: “When you’re talking, you aren’t learning.” (p.114)

And don’t teachers need to be reminded of this. How many have job titles of ‘lecturer’? Language has impact on thinking. It is our translation of thoughts, and as Bandura says, thought mediates action – and I believe that. What you think is powerful. You might not be learning while talking – just as you cannot listen to two conversations at once ( )…but you do learn in the in-between times. After, before, in conversation, in doing.

Reading on… there came something very powerful which begins to crystalise the understanding of education vs. organisation. This is often something that I think many educators feel or sense but haven’t been able to articulate, certainly not with such grace:

Myles: One of the examples I used to use got me in trouble and still gets me in trouble when I use it. I’d say if you were working with an organisation and there’s a choice between the goal of that organisation, or the particular program they’re working on, and educating people, developing people, helping them grow, helping them become able to analyse -if there’s a choice, we’d sacrifice the goal of the organisation for helping the people grow, because we think in the long run it’s a bigger contribution. (p.115)

My first reaction is (wow, yes), and the parenthesis are because, yes, it is something usually thought and not discussed, but then I did think on it and realised that this is less controversial than it sounds. – and we see it in practice all the time. Goals of big organisations and then that we are not aiming to become a machine, because we deal with people – with students, and they are people with their own futures. Then we learn about learning and realise it cannot be done to people – as in a machine, and it has to be about developing people. Sometimes people within the machine mistakenly believe that caring for the individual means you are somehow against the goals of the larger unit, but it is from within that we find strength, it cannot be imposed. That scales on any level, from the individual who either needs the strength of courage or of muscle, they both need time, experience, patience, nurturing, and diligence to build. You cannot impose true strength on anyone, and to teach individuals is a great privilege.

Freire: Education is before, is during, and is after. It’s a process, a permanent process. It has to do with the human existence and curiosity. (p.119)

Yes. Just yes. Freire goes on to explain that an organisation can solve problems, but education is a process. That is such a good thing to remember and be reminded of. There are not answers to problems. Sometimes students expect to learn ‘IT’ and then they will have ‘IT’, but there is no ‘IT’. Oh there are aspects that help you find something. It takes me back to a game I obsessed over as a child. In search of the most amazing thing (ISOMAT) certainly had primitive graphics (compared to today’s games!) with mostly line drawings, and you moved at a rate of pixels across the screen, but intellectually it was amazing. Travelling around the universe, meeting different cultures, learning about their food, their music, their art, and learning how to barter for clues to get to ‘IT’. ‘IT’ was everything. I kept all the clues written on special paper, folded and labeled by country/species in a little glass box with a leaded outline of a butterfly on it. These clues were more precious to me than jewelry. Rings and neclaces didn’t go in that box, my paper clues did. In the end I nearly solved it – I was told by the wise old Uncle Smokey that – the most amazing think was you kiddo! And then there was the quest to get the B-liner (your ship) home through the mire crab desert, but you lost your navigation system and then my floppy disk got corroded after sitting in the basement for 20+ years and I never finished the game. That has been a lesson to me as well. (you can download the dos version of the game here: )

You never finish the game. There are no finite answers. The most amazing thing is you – me? You? Yes. And we are always changing. Nobody can put us into a bottle, and label us, and define us, and neatly compile us into a catalogue. Even this book, gives a glimpse into those conversations between Horton and Freire, but it isn’t them. It is just a glint, a hint of a slice, and how magical to catch that dazzling sunbeam, but it would be foolish to then walk away announcing ‘Ah, I know now.’ There is so much more…

…and as Myles says: Now there’s a big difference in giving information and telling people how to use it. (p.129)

I’m going to leave it there, even though there is more to say, because it’s Boxing Day, and the last day of my holiday in Mexico, and I need to do some more imperfect, inelegant (supremely fun) handstands on the beach and look for turtle tracks in the sand.