the place called home

By robynjay On February 27th, 2017

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since we left Sydney, friends, careers, familiar spaces and packed our precious belongings in pouring rain to head north to Qld. It’s been exciting, blissful, stressful, relaxing, frightening.

Each day is an adventure and it’s time to start capturing that. So here we go. New characters; same loves. New challenges; same focus.

We’ll see where the next year leads.

 

[CC FlickR image by tanakawho]

with grace he goes

By robynjay On January 28th, 2016

Today my beloved Steph leaves his workplace of 16 years for the last time. To those who matter, he will be remembered for his intelligence, energy, unending support, innovation and skills. Those that matter grieve the loss. It is of course not (only) about technical assistance. It’s about providing informed advice and guidance, patiently, generously, at any hour. It’s about designing effective learner-centred solutions to the issues and challenges that appear, often with little warning. Looking from the outside in, the programs Steph led were cutting edge; the organisation as a result, was seen to be a leader in the elearning field.

Despite this, he is ‘unsuitable’ for the reformed institution he has dedicated the bulk of his working life to. The fact that he is a ‘deep thinker’ is now seen as a liability.  Somewhere along the track, someone decided Steph was an IT guy; the person who managed platforms and upgrades. How did they get it so wrong?

He has no role in a space of vacuous agendas, stilettos and gym jocks. Few of the ‘old guard’ do. The Whitlam generation of educators that fought for innovative, learner-centred, service-focussed, life-long public education, driven by social justice and learner centred design, is either retiring, resigning or being retrenched. This brave new world of enterprise, business growth, efficiency, performance, risk management, competition,  and operating models has little regard for the values we hold dear.

Sometimes it’s best to just walk away; he will do this with grace and humility. When the pain has passed I’ll see this man’s spirit revived; I am certain of that. His skill and passion will find new avenues; his qualities will be valued. They know not what they do.

Steph at beach

a return to the fold

By robynjay On February 12th, 2015

OK, so it has been a long time since I blogged in here. It’s been 3 years in fact since I posted I am enough, and a lot has happened in that time.
I was back in a full-time employment role when my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Without hesitation I resigned to spend the little time we had left close by her, and to offer whatever support I could to her and her family.
It sucked losing my parents and then her in the space of 3 years.
I spoke to her about our dream to travel to the Kimberleys, and she confided that it was somewhere she had always wanted to visit but now never would.

So we did. In 2014 after months of preparation and saving, we hit the road. You can follow our adventures on the blog and in FlickR. Traveling in this way is life changing, there’s no denying it.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been home now for as long as we were away.

We returned to a VET system in disarray. To be honest it had been heading that way for some time. In a recent podcast we pondered this and the loss of trust, flexibility, innovation, social justice and the right to life long education.
Insufficient funding, overly complex bureaucratic systems, competition, incompetence and a lack of focus on the needs of individuals has led to a sector that has lost its soul and functionality.

Regardless I ploughed back on in to Seek etc. What I discovered was earth shattering, but perhaps my saviour. There’s nothing much there for me.
With public education in crisis most contracts and work are currently in the corporate space and it appears that (predominantly) coming from the public sphere pretty much labels you an outcast. Now this is an interesting discussion in itself …. why an experienced educator with a wide range of experience and skills would not be competent to fill a L&D type of role in business, but apparently that’s the perception [and a warning note here to all the wonderful educators finding themselves out of work].

The more I looked, the more I decided I didn’t want to be there anyway!

So with that as impetus I’ve retreated back to my first love – design. At school I studied art, and textiles and design. It was made pretty clear to me however that this was not a wise career choice, and so I detoured into education.
With a total change of direction it’s taking time to find my feet and my niche. Thankfully I have the resources to take this time. I’ve been trying out Spoonflower for fabric and paper design, Society6 for readimade textile and homeware products, and I’m investigating Etsy.
I’m weighing up adopting readimade goods or making my own – there’s not a lot of difference in potential income when it comes down to it and the former allows more time for actual design rather than construction.
The drop in the Australian dollar has come at a bad time for those of us importing goods from the US however!

So I’m starting a new category in here for Bunyip Designs and we’ll see how we go.
Thanks for sharing the journey!

and after the rain comes new life

common threads

By robynjay On May 24th, 2012

I’m not sure that I can remember the last time I conversed solidly for 2 days about things that matter. Not work things, life things.
It was a gathering of intelligent minds, varied lives and experiences with common threads: social justice, a desire for change, care for our environment and humanity, equity.

It grew from an increasing awareness that good people were butting heads with systems, values, leaderless bureaucracies, complacency etc. I’ve watched inspired innovators lose their ‘fire’ and burn out. I’ve watched the results of what I call the ‘shit floats’ syndrome: uninspired, conservative thinkers, rising to management ranks recruited by higher level bureaucrats who don’t want their own thinking questioned.

It struck me that we fight this within our own sectors and industries and areas of life but there is little opportunity to move beyond this and to look at the underlying issues, and the common threads that link us regardless of circumstance.

So we gathered, 8 of us, around a table with sustenance, heaters, blankets, and despite not knowing everyone well, a strong unspoken sense of trust and respect. The conversation pretty much flowed freely around areas of concern: the media, education, politics, environment/sustainability, change. The organisers among us brought us back to ground from time to time for refocus and direction, and I attempted to capture the essence of discussions with sketchbook and pens.

Many of us were self-described introverts so the size of the group and the ability to drop in and out was important.

A few of us began the weekend with 2 sessions at the Sydney Writers Festival – one on ‘D.I.Y.’ and one on Resistance -and the ideas raised were remarkably relevant for the weekend as a whole. Day 1 ended with a long walk and a chance to connect 1:1

We didn’t save the world but we did leave with a sense of connection and support that will continue. Michael summed it up well in a post-gathering message:
“The moment I left our little gathering on Sunday I had the feeling that we had just done something amazing. A group of people had spent the best part of 2 days just talking about what concerns us – without time constraints or a goal in mind. An aberration in this speedy world.”

in absentia

By robynjay On January 5th, 2012

I’ve been pondering Harriet’s post If you’re not present, you’re absent over at her Technology Twitter blog.

In the post she describes a period of creative reinvention – a ‘rich and a valuable time, productive and exciting, if challenging and complex’ ; one in which she shut off from her networks for personal reflection.
She says:

The creative process is wonderful – at the end.  In the middle I found it complex and contradictory.  My  online networks felt too public a place to expose such fragile thinking.  Do online spaces in their ephemeral nature provide pressure to present finished thought?  Is it really ok to be fragmented and indecisive?’

Perhaps with the exception of Twitter (which still can be archived and curated), I don’t think online spaces ARE ephemeral. That’s the problem. These are not fleeting remarks; they are there for good. They can expose mistakes, foolishness, naivety and raw emotions.

The public transparent nature of contributing online, which ever media it might be, scares most people. There’s a big difference between scribbling in a journal and posting to a blog. There’s a big difference in confiding semi-formulated ideas with a person you trust, or with yourself, and sharing them with the world or even an extended network. Gauging what to share online, when and with who is in itself a digital literacy skill I think. It will vary from person to person according to the issue, thickness of skin, and personal space needs but I’d certainly respect anyone’s right to withdraw at a time when intense personal reflection and introspection is needed.

Perhaps what we can share is metacognitive. Not the details as such, but an understanding of the strategies and processes. We DO need to encourage wacky creative thoughts, lateral thinking, risk-taking, and change. The final product often fails to illustrate the rich, turbulent and harried nature of the creative process but it is often after the process is complete and a result is evident that the significant moments along the way become evident. We do not, for example, see the working sketches of great artists before the final work is published.

From a personal perspective, whether I’m formulating creative projects or pondering life directions, I do most of it in private. When the change or project is substantial it will become all consuming. Shutting down to enable focused attention is a coping strategy and one to be acknowledged.

Best wishes with your new directions Harriet. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your deliberations when and if you are ready to share them 🙂

[CC FlickR image by Invisible Lens]

trade winds

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

[CC FlickR image by nyoin]

Next week we kick of our Career Clarity Camp with Michelle Martin and I’m really looking forward to some dedicated time to reflect and set a fresh path.

In preparation Michelle has asked us to journal some reflections on our current state but before posting on the past year I thought it might be interesting to look back on where I was at 5 + years ago. Towards the end of 2004 I was privileged with an Adult Learners Week NSW Innovation in Learning award. A week before the ceremony our contract positions with the Community Colleges were axed due to Government funding cuts to an already way under-funded sector, so my speech was seriously deliberated over!

Here’s an excerpt…

Its innovation that allows organisations to adapt to the constantly changing conditions.
Without innovation, an organisation stands still while ideas, technology and pedagogy move forward around it.
It’s about knowing how to make new ideas highly infectious;
It’s also about rocking the boat, and stretching the business as usual mentality and it requires passion, persistence and an open mind

However, innovation does not occur in a vacuum – it requires a dynamic healthy environment that is empowering and flexible, that honours new ideas, tolerates risk, identifies and celebrates champions, and encourages fun.
Innovation is a catalyst – but only one ingredient in a process that must be sustainable to be of value.
In education, the lasting value of any innovation is measured by its uptake by teachers and learners.
Teachers really are the key – unless they are given opportunities to critique, reflect, research and learn new skills; to feel encouraged, supported, and positive about their roles and skills, and are shown strong leadership we will not meet the changing needs of our communities.

In a climate of funding cuts it is tempting to slash easy targets such as Professional development and research
However…. It is at these times that we need skilled innovative staff most of all.
Difficult times are a spur to innovation…. It is the time when organisations must think analytically and creatively

I’m passionate about making that happen – about enabling passionate teachers, about designing innovative solutions. What drives me hasn’t changed and I’m glad.

”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

starting afresh

By robynjay On December 17th, 2011

It’s been an unproductive year for me blogging-wise. I’m not really sure what caused my lack of inspiration. Perhaps time needed to rethink my position and direction after a couple of soul-destroying years career-wise. Michele Martin would perhaps tell me that my reflection could have more productive had it been shared so I’ll do my best to summarise my years thoughts in coming posts.

But first of all I’m biting the bullet and moving any worthwhile content from my wikispace over to this site. I’ve been talking about it for a year but being a long-term wikispace user have been hesitant to actually make the change. Essentially my wiki has been a personal portfolio space and while the wiki format has meant easy editing etc, it has never really been used as a collaborative space for multiple authors so there’s little point in using a wiki platform. Having everything together in one place has its appeal.

So once the move is complete my aim is a post a week (to be realistic). Michele has inspired me to undertake a more structured approach to my personal reflection and I’m looking forward to participating in one of her Career Clarity Camps in January 2012. I can’t think of a better way to kick the new year off.

[CC FlickR image by koshyk]

creative maladjustment

By robynjay On February 9th, 2011

I’ve enjoyed revisiting Herbert Kohl’s ‘I won’t learn from you‘ today. If you haven’t read it it’s an oldie but goody. In particular his final chapter ‘Creative maladjustment and the struggle for public education’ is particularly relevant to our current work on the Bruce Declaration.

Here are a few extracts…

When it is impossible to remain in harmony with one’s environment without giving up deeply held moral values, creative maladjustment becomes a sane alternative to giving up altogether. Creative maladjustment consists of breaking social patterns that are morally reprehensible, taking conscious control of one’s place in the environment, and readjusting the world one lives in based on personal integrity and honesty……

Creative maladjustment is reflective. It implies adapting your own particular maladjustment to the nature of the social systems that you find repressive. It also implies learning how other people are affected by those systems, how personal discontent can be appropriately turned into moral and political action, and how to speak out about the violence that thoughtless adjustment can cause or perpetuate.

Unfortunately, the momentum of educational research and the attempt to turn education into a single, predictable and controllable system with national standards and national tests pulls in the opposite direction. Teaching well is a militant activity that requires a belief in children’s strengths and intelligence no matter how poorly they may function under the regimes imposed upon them.

The book was originally published in 1991, about the time I started working in adult literacy/numeracy. At least at that point in time in Australian education we worked within a system that (although not perfect) genuinely valued and funded education for ALL, personally directed learning, and student-centred engagement. It was a good time to be teaching. It’s been pretty much downhill from there. Grandmothers can no longer gain specific assistance to read to their grandchildren, adult learners are pumped through competencies they do not need or want, truly community based programs have been axed or drastically under-funded, and insufficient allowances mean that our learners must spend every spare hour working in low paid jobs rather than engaging in debate and critique with peers that might rock the system. It’s time for a change.

[CC FlickR image shared by Rose Latka]

the trouble with being george

By robynjay On January 11th, 2011

The trouble with being a George is that the jacket can become WAY too comfortable

embracing the tumult

By robynjay On March 23rd, 2010

I’m doing some design and facilitation work at present on projects that essentially focus on equipping and inspiring teachers to rethink and redesign their practice. It has led me to reread a load of approaches to learning design but also to ponder why it is that we see so little in the way of exemplary contemporary practice.

I think that many (but not all) senior managers and Ministers are genuinely interested in providing ‘quality’ education services. Misguided often its true; outrageously bad decisions are made by incompetent incapable advisors, out of date practices continue or alternatively the latest ‘fad’ wastes inordinate amounts of public monies. But I’m going to be generous and say that its ignorance, and not evil (Mike) that is the cause.

And most teachers too have hearts in the right place. Unfortunately in post-compulsory settings most ‘teachers’ lack education training that allows time to read, revise, connect, deconstruct and reconstruct the models of being a teacher they carry in their minds from their own life experiences. (How some people end up in teaching roles I have no idea – good conditions and reasonable pay I suspect. I watched my sons suffer in the hands of a science teacher who spent each class writing notes on a blackboard for them to transcribe.)

Good teachers are genuinely interested in how people learn. The really dedicated stay in touch with the latest trends, opportunities and theoretical approaches in their own times and by their own means. They are what George Siemens describes as master learners; not only reflecting on what works as a learner in a metacognitive sense, but continually looking at how they can do it better.

“Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of teaching, but technology will never save bad teaching.”

(Tony Bates, 2005)

Good teachers are an inspiration no matter what approach they take;  good teachers armed with effective educational technologies are mighty. Bad teachers are simply a drudge no matter what medium. Tragically education largely reflects the model of 100 years ago. It IS still predominantly something that by and large is DONE to people in courses that run over X weeks…. transmission of ideas happens via hideously bad lectures, readings etc.

So let’s focus on those with potential. A window of opportunity exists if we can capture the good teachers and support them to grow and re-establish momentum. We’ve dangled tools and strategies as carrots until we’re blue in the face but that’s not enough.  What we get in reply is ‘but now what, how do I use these in my teaching?’ For some, models and a kick start are all that’s needed but if your teaching approach is instructivist in nature the best we can achieve is to adjust PDFs to video or the inclusion of quizzes. We give them the tools but not the inspiration and scaffolds to rethink practice. It’s no wonder people cannot see beyond the walls of the LMS – why would you if your world as a teacher is to instruct?

Good friend and mentor Robby Weatherley suggested last week that the pendulum has swung back to a focus on learning design. But we need to think very carefully what that looks like before we turn the clocks back. Too often what WE ourselves provide is instructivist in nature. I’ve seen leading thinkers in contemporary educational thought stand and lecture.

We need to model contemporary learning design in our staff development programs.

We need to acknowledge and what learners (teachers) bring to the environment – their strengths and experiences and passions.

We need to provide the scaffolds for teachers to become independent networked learners beyond their time in staff development programs and under our gaze.
We need to acknowledge their lives and interests and identify areas as launching pads for experimentation and risk taking.

As George Siemens suggests ‘our learning institutions have been created in the spirit of research and openness, yet they have acquired their own neurotic tendencies. Yes we need a dynamic alternative to address our ambiguous, tumultuous personal learning needs and that scares the heck out of most educators.

No it’s not really about resourcing Mike . Some of the very best learning happens in small, community based, lowly resourced programs. It’s about WILL not dollars. And while I agree that stagnant dinosaurs of institutions will and DO lose the innovators its not necessarily to an emerging educational counter-culture –  That has always been present. We are lured to job security and better pay that institutions offer but that’s not where satisfaction lies.

Relationships grow in communities – thats where uniqueness and individuality are valued, cherished and encouraged – within communities of shared values and goals.  Don’t fear the reactive policy measures – they will come and go – thankfully most of us at least in Australia live with freedom and choice. We can opt-out.And we should if it becomes soul destroying.

So in the coming weeks I’ll be working with some excellent minds to play with new designs, and hopefully to give inspirational teachers room to grow and embrace the complex and chaotic beauty of contemporary learning possibilities. I’m looking forward to the challenge.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by radiobrain_