Wednesday, 30 December 2020

A Work In Progress

In 2013, I began posting my blogs and initially, two close friends reviewed the first few before I hit publish. While not concerned with number of views, I simply wrote to unload my thoughts. Recently I was asked to reflect upon a prior event and provide a response to suggested questions. Memories were triggered and I found myself reviewing previous blogposts. The benefits of having this collection of my thoughts was highlighted. Like diaries or journals, these posts captured moments in time that reflected my professional direction, portrayed my headspace and documented my current thinking. Events, thoughts, experiences all detailed with words, diagrams, gifs, and photographs. While appreciative of any comments, I simply wrote for me. It was at this recent review of my blogposts that I noticed I haven’t posted in 12 months. I was astounded to learn that I have written 92 blogposts that have been viewed 141,115 times. 

Capturing my momentary thoughts, each entry evolved from an article, a book, an event, or even a simple tweet. Sometimes, I write to get things off my chest, in the hope of letting go. Recently, I read Phosphorescence (Julia Baird) and Emotional Agility (Susan David), which has generated many wonderings. I wonder how to work on self-care without becoming self-obsessed; becoming confident while staying humble; staying curious while having an opinion. Should we focus more on others than ourselves? Do we become paralysed when we overanalyse? If action is a reaction to the thought, how do we alter our thoughts to change our actions? Are we thinking too much or not enough? This entry selects and reflects on 4 quotes from each book that generated deeper thought. 

Part of validating your own story is finding your voice and claiming your authority, especially for the women & introverts. And a crucial part of all of this is the need to accept your imperfections ... (p.86).     
Finding your voice is important, as Russ Quaglia states in his book, Teacher voice: amplifying success (2017), when teachers have a voice, they are three times more likely to value setting and reaching goals through hard work. As a research student, I’m in the process of finding my voice in a new context. Your voice may waiver or even quiver at times depending on the context. When it comes to voice, strong does not equate to loud; less is sometimes more; being pretentious does not denote confidence. Baird includes claiming authority, which is often defined as a person or organisation having political or administrative power and control. As an educator, I struggle with the term authority. To me, authority aligns more with a power from outside, in which I have no control. From my teaching perspective, I prefer agency and autonomy, which are viewed as power from within, facilitated in a supportive environment. However, since writing this piece, I learnt about Palmer's definition. Rather than following a scripted role, authority is afforded to those who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives (1998, p.33). Evidently, the meaning of a word is influenced by contexts and lived experiences but can be broadened with new learning.  

Sharing your lived experiences and the importance of telling your own story isn’t lost on me. Preferring to organise public events and presentations than to be a public presenter, a few years ago, Briony Scott enlightened me. "No one knows your story better than you. It’s a safe space and a great place to start and build your confidence." I accepted my imperfections, stepped out of the shadows and became braver by telling my story. I realise not everyone gets a stage, but everyone has a story. I remember one person who had known me for a few years, expressed that she never knew anything about me. It’s essential to accept that if you want to build a genuine relationship, investing in knowing someone’s story is essential. As a coach, questioning helps reveal coachee’s story. As a primary teacher, writing uncovers a student’s story. As an educator/coach, I tell my story through blogging. As a friend, do we make the time and effort to listen and learn, so others can tell their story? 

 “I meet people and they become chapters in my stories.” ― Avijeet Das

Meeting wonderful people is luck; keeping them in your life takes thought, care, forgiveness & devotion. Friendship is an art & a gift, and some people are brilliant at it (p. 154).

So true! One element I would add is effort. The year of 2020 has provided the opportunity to strengthen wonderful friendships, ignite those just forming, and develop new ones. Whether through a brief text, a phone call, a Bitmoji message, or a parcel sent overseas, friendship requires effort. Baird suggests to be purposeful regarding friendships. Acquaintances becomes friends with consistent effort and care. Value your friendships, irrespective of the effort being reciprocated. Meeting, conversing and connecting with people, simply fills my bucket. An introvert, I am not.

Beauty is warmth, conversation, intelligence and a certain grace or magnetism too. Our social media imprints have narrowed the definition of beauty to what can be photographed, filtered & posted (p.117).  

Regarding social media, I never warmed to Instagram. I don’t use filters but admit to selecting and posting my most flattering photos. Beauty, according to Baird, is a mixture of personal traits, not simply intelligence or charisma. I have heard and viewed polished presenters and read well written journal articles or books, only to be somewhat disappointed when I met in person. To extend the concept of magnetism, I searched for a word/s that refers to when one makes others feel positive in their presence. When they actively listen to you and you leave the conversation feeling better and brighter. Do you have people in your circle who make you feel good just by being in their presence? Positive affective presence appears to embody this quality. Recently, I told Ellie Drago-Severson that every time we chat, or I receive an email from her, my mood is uplifted. Drawing on Maya Angelou's famous quote, "People don't forget how you made them feel". For me, beauty includes having a positive affective presence.

So much of what is broadly called wellness now involves an expensive kind of burrowing into our selves, wobbling on the plank between self-care and self-obsession (p. 276).

I remember going to a presentation where I was advised to focus on me and put myself first. Wonderful in theory but waking 2 hours earlier or going to the gym before work as suggested was not practical nor possible. If we aren’t careful, sometimes self-care can create more anxiety or stress. Currently, teacher wellbeing isn't a focus, although Karen Edge and I recently made it the focus of our #CuriousConvos chat. I worry how teacher wellbeing will be implemented to ‘help’ teachers. I’m reminded of the concept of a growth mindset and mindfulness, which became the new shiny thing to implement into your classroom. Another top-down initiative that became a buzzword and lost its power and effectiveness. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in education. David explains that mindfulness became ‘overdone’ and that… 

…mindfulness is about more than knowing “I’m hearing something,” or being aware “I’m seeing something,” or even noticing “I’m having a feeling.” It’s about doing all this with balance and equanimity, openness and curiosity, and without judgment. It also allows us to create new, fluid categories. As a result, the mental state of mindfulness lets us see the world through multiple perspectives and go forward with higher levels of self-acceptance, tolerance, and self-kindness (p. 100). 

One outcome of coaching is developing awareness and through coaching, one may develop a broader perspective. The intercept between coaching and mindfulness is apparent. The concept of noticing resonates with me (see van Nieuwerburgh, 2020). As a coach, I work hard at noticing what I’m thinking, doing, saying, feeling and projecting, both verbally and non-verbally. I am cognisant that words need to be chosen thoughtfully and carefully. Noticing my coachee’s response through words and nonverbal cues is essential. Tone, expression and even silence speaks volumes. While in other contexts, silence may represent a lack of interest, in coaching it often reflects deep thinking. Coaching requires effort and skills like noticing, while staying curious and without judgement.

When we make quick judgments, we often overvalue the information that is readily available and undervalue subtleties that might take a while to dig out (p. 31). In general, experts—or people who are highly regarded in any field—are often hooked on their own self-importance (p. 34). 

Noticing and valuing subtleties can reflect and unlock one’s thoughts. Spending time building a trusting relationship’s by digging into one’s story or thinking is the foundation of coaching and strong friendships. However, when your expertise or your advice is drawn upon too early, you diminish their potential, instead of unlocking it (Bungay-Stanier, 2020). Generally, teachers around the world are not highly regarded as professionals. They have to continually prove and defend themselves as education professionals. Teachers are required to demonstrate their expertise and make decisions based on their judgment. Often leaders and coaches are selected due to their expertise. Teachers can also be members of the feel-good rescue team. After judging the situation, the rescuer appears, often because the situation is viewed as needing control or time is limited. Have you heard yourself say, it's just quicker if I do it! Please don't interpret this to mean that you must withhold your expertise, not at all. But withhold judgement and stay curious longer. Identifying when and actually ‘letting go’ of your expertise, the judgy advice monster or the feel-good rescuer is the quandary.

Letting go is difficult. I have reflected on situations where my emotions and thoughts took over. I’m sure most have experienced situations such as, receiving feedback that landed harshly or the offhanded comment that shattered you. Trying to stay present while being curious about my emotions, I continue to work on avoiding the bottling or brooding of my emotions. David states it succinctly, “Thoughts and emotions contain information, not directions" (p. 105).  One chooses how to react to the information and the direction you take depends on your emotional agility. Developing my emotional agility is yet another work in progress.

So I wondered about the balance of self-care with self-obsession, confidence with humility, curiosity with opinion, amongst other personal traits. These nuanced concepts that are contextually influenced, are simply more than antonyms. It is not one over the other; it is not black or white. It is grey, balanced and ever-changing and as a consequence, a continuous work in progress. Through blogging, I create meaning of author’s words and stories by connecting the text with my life experiences. Intending to write more in 2021, these women inspired me to write this, so thank you Julia and Susan.   

The learning continues...



Baird, J. (2020). Phosphorescence: on awe, wonder and things that sustain you. HarperCollinsPublisher

Bungay Stanier, M. (2020). The advice trap: Be humble, stay curious & change the way you lead forever, Box of Crayons Press.

David, S. (2017). Emotional agility: Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life, Penguin.

Palmer, P. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life (10th ed.). Jossey Bass.

Quaglia, R. & Lande, L. (2017). Teacher voice: Amplifying success. Corwin.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2020). An introduction to coaching Skills: A practical guide (3rd ed), Sage Publications Ltd.