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

CCC: getting started

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

Michele is kicking off our month long Career Clarity Camp with some personal reflection time and we’ve been asked to consider all or some of the following:

  • What questions are you asking yourself right now? What’s the stuff that wakes you up at night or intrudes during the day?
  • Where do you feel clear?
  • Where do you feel muddy  or confused?
  • How do you currently see yourself at work?
  • How do you spend your days?
  • What do you want more of at work?
  • What do you want less of at work?
  • Who are your colleagues? How do you feel about them? Are there people who are particularly inspiring? Particularly challenging?
  • How does your career seem to fit with the rest of your life? How does it not fit?
  • What are your overall feelings about your career?
  • How long have you been having these feelings?
  • What steps have you already taken to find some career clarity?
  • What steps are you considering right now?

A year ago I resigned from a well paid job to work for myself again. Looking back now at my last 2 employee positions I realise the importance of skilled leadership and talent management when supervising and supporting staff strengths. I experienced neither. It was soul destroying.
I love working for myself. Michele sums up the benefits here – 7 reasons most professionals should work for themselves

But it’s not easy! There are two things I battle with most and which keep me awake at night – uncertainty and focus.
That fortnightly deposit that magically arrives in your bank account regardless of effort, outcomes or even attendance is seductive.
How do I find a niche, or should I spread myself widely?

And of course there are archaic systems to stymie opportunity. Do you work with them or treat them as road blocks and head another direction?
Often acceptance brings with it an unnecessary waste of time and money. Probably the biggest road block for me at present remains the Certificate 4 in Training & Education but more about that later.
Right now I know I need to take time to promote myself better, to focus in on particular strengths as niche areas, and to find some detours around those road blocks.

[CC FlickR image by Irargerich]

I know my sanity depends on remaining artistically active, so I need to find the mental and physical spaces to enable that. I know my health depends on more exercise, and I need to allocate time and energy towards that. And when it all feels too hard I need the reassurance and support of a loving partner, and I’m blessed with that.

Mid 2011 those uncertainty fears drove me to begin looking for paid employment once again. What I discovered was a) when times are tight the public service closes its doors and recycles (often) ‘dead wood’ rather than bringing in fresh blood, and b) the private sector wants low paid work horses NOT innovators.
Already, with Michele’s encouragement I’m willing to refocus efforts on making self-employment work. Step #1

Over the next month I’m looking forward to making time for reflection and finding tools and strategies to move forward. Thanks Michele for facilitating this!

i’m done with being owned

By robynjay On January 10th, 2011

Another academic year looms and info days are swarming with fresh faced enthusiastic new students. I feel like Mr Bean in the department store perfumery skit, holding my nose and warning them not to enter! I’m feeling quite disheartened with higher ed. Would I pay $30k + for a degree? NO – yet its a hurdle imposed en route to career. As consumers we need to start demanding value for money but instead we meekly accept the tripe.

I’ve been re-reading my FLL paper from 2003. 7 years is a long time and I blush at it’s naivety but there are important connections there I want to revisit. What I found then was that the most successful, innovative and engaging programs were happening in small community-based media, youth projects and community development areas. I suspect its still the case.

I grieve to hear stories of educators being told that research is top priority and that teaching should/must be compromised if necessary. Academics are told to walk into lectures unprepared if necessary, young innovators are told that their careers will go nowhere unless they stop focusing on learning and instead churn out papers and bring in dollars. It’s all about status and income; a factory line of knowledge. Good teachers who toe the line end up working 14 hour days; doing 2 jobs as researcher AND educator, and as a result get sick and burn out.

I’ve been feeling like the past two years were wasted but a flow of messages are giving me heart that I have made some difference. But I’m sick of battling from within the constraining shackles of being an employee; there’s only so much that can be pushed uphill. I’m hoping to skirt around the edges for a bit and find some new avenues to engage and affect change. For a start I’m heading on down to the Transmedia conference at ACMI in Melbourne and we’ll see if openings appear.

cartoon from gapingvoid

[ CC cartoon by gapingvoid ]

dream job

By robynjay On November 17th, 2010

Jeff Utecht has an interesting post – Online Community Manager: A New Position in Education – that resonates. It overlaps a little with my now redundant position but better represents what SHOULD have been put in place.

Here are the core roles, adapted a little to represent any educational setting…

1. Community Advocate
As a community advocate, the community managers’ primary role is to represent the school/college/university/project community. This includes listening, which results in monitoring, and being active in understanding what community members are saying on both internal and external websites. Secondly, they engage community members by responding to their requests and needs or just conversations, both in private and in public.

2) Evangelist
In this evangelistic role (it goes both ways) the community manager will promote events, student accomplishments and updates to community members by using traditional marketing tactics and conversational discussions. As proven as a trusted member of the community (tenet 1) the individual has a higher degree of trust and will offer help and support.

3) Savvy Communicator and  Shapes Editor
This tenet, which is both editorial planning and mediation serves the individual well. The community manager should first be very familiar with the tools of communication, from forums, to blogs, to podcasts, to twitter, and then understand the language and jargon that is used in the community. This individual is also responsible for mediating disputes within the community, and will lean on advocates, and embrace detractors –and sometimes removing them completely. Importantly, the role is responsible for the editorial strategy and planning within the community, and will work with many internal stakeholders to identify content, plan, publish, and follow up.

4) Gatherer of Community Input for Future Product and Services
Perhaps the most strategic of all tenets, community managers are responsible for gathering the requirements of the community in a responsible way and presenting it to the leadership team. This may involve formal recommendations from surveys to focus groups, to facilitating the relationships between stakeholders (in an e-learning setting this includes between IT and educators/ students). The opportunity to build stronger relationships through this real-time live focus group are ripe, in many cases, education communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.

Jeff outlines a set of responsibilities (school focused) and indicates his willingness to apply for any position that’s established.

Me too – it’s very nice!

CC FlickR image by baratunde

beauty matters

By robynjay On November 12th, 2010

Why is it that institutions think that it’s OK to position those who must participate in their business (as staff or students or patients etc) in soul destroying environments?

Day after day I walk down corridors and into rooms that do nothing but depress. Within these environments we expect people to thrive, to create, to innovate, to stay. If colour exists it’s dirty orange or polyester blue like the uniforms that successfully lead to uniformity. Florescent lighting remains on 24/7, air conditioning recycles the years viruses and windows are dirty or non-existent. We sit children on plastic chairs that can be wiped with disinfectant although a child’s natural position is on the floor. Hallways echo and lift-wells creak.

Very occasionally however you enter a space that inspires productivity and creativity and conversation. I entered an office like this this week. It wasn’t expensively decorated. It had large windows that looked out onto trees and allowed natural light in, the windows opened to allow fresh air to enter, there were potted plants, a few prints on the walls, fresh clean colours, inviting workspaces that were comfortable and practical enabling personal work and collaborative conversations. It was a beautiful space.

We are burdened with the heritage of factory focused schools and workplaces and lecture theatres. Yet instead of redesigning and rethinking the spaces in which we learn and work, we continue to pump them out. The colours may be a little fresher but on the whole they do not change.

In a recent podcast Ken Robinson noted that if you are doing something that does not resonate, 5 minutes will feel like an hour. In the same way we cannot expect creativity, productivity, happiness, well-being, collaboration and innovation in toxic environments of ugliness. In fact for many jobs and tasks we should not be demanding face to face presence at all… but that’s another post.

untapped & unrecognised

By robynjay On January 4th, 2010

With Australia’s finances in meltdown we’re hearing a lot less of the ‘skills shortage’ that ruled the lives of voc. ed providers for years. It doesn’t take much to change the Govt’s tune.What happened to those poor people enticed into retraining only to find themselves yet again unemployed? But this week AIG’s Heather Ridout was once again predicting a shortage of skills in coming years.

What really bothers me is that the missing skills are probably out there already if only our recruitment and workforce development practices & philosophy took a different tack.

The problem is that we take such a deficit, siloed approach.

A position is created. It’s carefully but rigidly sculptured with nooks and crannies that no real person can ever completely fill. They take on ‘the best person for the job’ and then ‘performance manage’ their faults/gaps/weaknesses. At the same time the individual’s true talents, passions and potential are at best ignored and untapped, usually unrecognised. Typically they fall outside the job ‘role’ and, heaven forbid, within another’s.

The result is an unhappy and unproductive workplace filled with individuals who are frustrated, unsatisfied and shoved into moulds they will never fit.

It’s time we stopped thinking about roles and started thinking about talent pools. We can not only manage that pool but adapt the scope of operation over time to maximise the productivity and creativity it’s fluidity enables. I think of it a little like an amoeba. Instead of recruiting for a ‘role’ or ‘position’ we should be identifying the full range of skills of the team, extending skills to meet potential and enable new interests,  and seeking new people with skills that will complement what already exists. Projects would draw on skills as needed and even be designed around areas of skill and energy.

Of course there are challenges; you can’t rework one aspect of work without flow on effects. I can imagine unions smoking at the ears. But with looming shortages and pressures to move away from the remnants of an industrialised past we need to stop and rethink. Goodness, it may even impact on our education system!

[CC FlickR image: dux_carvajal – on vacation 🙂]