We Can Do It!

As educators, we know what works in classrooms. There have been thousands of studies around effective leadership, school improvement and raising student achievement. In schools that have high academic optimism, there is a concerted belief that “Learning and student success is our priority” (academic emphasis/press), a palpable teacher attitude that “We believe in our students” (trust in students), and the knowledge of teachers that “We can do it!” (collective efficacy).

Schools are under much pressure to close the achievement gap between students of different races, those who are rich or poor, and those who live in suburban or urban areas. In the US, No Child Left Behind (2001) was the federal response of calling for more accountability vis a vis Common Core and standardized testing. Australia pioneered a national curriculum and NAPLAN (National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy) standardized testing. But where are we now?

Understanding the social contexts in classrooms and schools allows education leaders to work with faculty in examining current practice in an effort to improve the educational outcomes for all students, even those who must overcome the obstacles to learning posed by their low socioeconomic status. Academic optimism, a schoolwide confidence that students can succeed academically, is crucial to nurture. Below are some strategies to nurture the three aspects of AO in schools:.

Academic Emphasis/Press. Education leaders must work with teachers in order to establish an environment where academics are the most important aspect, in order to nurture and raise student achievement. Leaders must ‘lead the way’ in ensuring that school is a place for learning, not just a place where extracurriculars (such as sport etc) occur. Teachers may need additional training in order to meet the difficult demands of the classroom to meet the needs of all students. In urban schools particularly, where the teaching and learning environment are pressed by many other challenges, it is crucial that school leaders provide leadership and limit disruptions of instructional time and provide training for teachers on ways to build a serious learning community where students work together to meet high expectations and where academics and successes are celebrated.

Trust in Students. Faculty trust can be built in several informal and formal ways. Education leaders can act with benevolence, trusting that stakeholders will act in ways that are appropriate and respectful. If teachers act professionally and fairly and students work hard to achieve, education leaders can assume that parents are willing to collaborate in order to help students meet and exceed their high expectations. Education leaders can further build trust by being reliable and competent. This can be demonstrated by leaders beginning and ending meetings at their appointed times, following through on requests or promises, and backing up teachers as the need arises. When there is follow through with the expectations of the class and the school, stakeholders feel more confident that the leadership of the school is adept at their job of leading the school. This in turn may encourage others to believe in their abilities of professional competence. Finally, education leaders can lead their schools with honest and open communication and transparent actions. Leaders can be accessible through email and telephone, and can also hold parent meetings at various times to meet the needs of working parents. School newsletters, memos, and websites can all be used as communication tools in order to strengthen the relationships between home and school, which in turn may inspire parents and members of the community to become more engaged with the school. Regardless of the ways in which education leaders seek to foster and build trust, it is a necessary component of improving student achievement.

Collective Efficacy. If teachers believe they can influence positively their students, most likely they will. School leaders can work with teachers to nurture their self efficacy. Teachers who attend relevant, targeted professional development or by visiting classrooms of teachers who have high student achievement have the opportunity to learn instructional strategies through vicarious learning experiences. Once they take these instructional strategies back to the classroom, such as metacognitive strategies for helping their students become better readers or more students centered approaches to math using manipulatives, mastery experiences occur as student achievement in math and reading improve, thereby enhancing their affective states. Social persuasion as a tool to build collective efficacy can be powerful. Teachers can work with coaches and more veteran teachers in an effort to provide support, share successfully implemented instructional strategies, and collaborate on ways in which improved student achievement in reading and math can occur. Collaboration among departments may also provide another way for teachers to work together to provide opportunity for vicarious experiences and social persuasion on teaching tasks or instructional strategies as a way to refine their practice in order to best meet the needs of all of their students.

If policy = money, then the public, particularly elected representatives in the United States and Australia, have not exerted enough of their will to support all students on their journey of education. We can do it. Classroom teachers need to be supported.  For a myriad of reasons, however, public policy fails to support the work needed in schools, especially in schools with high proportions of students who are poor. Taking a macro look at both societies enables one to see that money spent on education now saves millions in the future. Again, we know what works in classrooms and school systems, but there does not seem to be the public will to support schools that are ready for students. Instead, policymakers and some education researchers focus on students being ready for school, an age, rather than stage approach, standardized curriculum, standardized assessments and standardized instruction to produce nations of test takers, who will be unable to highly function in the future (for those jobs have not yet been created) because of lack of creativity, innovation and a personal approach to students in classrooms. It is our duty as the public, and those of us who have the privilege to be educators, to not give up ‘the good fight’ in doing everything we can to advocate for our students in order to improve their life chances. We are truly better together and we can do it!

Retire, already! (DRAFT)

There’s definitely an impatient next generation ready to move.

Eric Garcetti is right. The 46 year old mayor of Los Angeles, California is making moves to become a contender for the Democratic Party in the next election.  One thing he has got right is that we are indeed “ready to move”.

There is a glut at the top and the younger generation, the ones behind us, are pushing hard and fast, noticeably to the point where talent eats talent and perception of value is in constant flux.

For all intents and purposes, I’m at the top of my game (except I’m not) and I’m certainly in the decade where I need to have a high salary to pay off my still six figure student loans in the US, as well as support self and son.  And I am not alone. There are many of us, and yet many more who are not in the same privileged position of paying bills (mostly) on time and having more than the basics.

I say that I am part of the impatient next generation because so many tell me I ‘should’ be happy/satisfied/content with what I have. And that’s when I realise, this person in front of me doesn’t get it. I have a comfortable life. It’s not about that. It’s about something bigger. It’s about wanting to do more because I can; I am more than capable; I have the passion. But I am impatient. Retire already. Or change careers (again).

 

Trump This…

DRAFT:

Oh, America.  Surely, I have nothing more to add to the cacophony of conversation around the election’s most recent deeming.

But I do.

I will be heard.

This is not an over-reaction.

This is life and death…for some, at least for the eight sweet souls who chose to end their lives rather than live under The Donald’s rule, where difference isn’t appreciated (ironic for the ‘anti-establishment pres’ who is firmly entrenched in the establishment) and conformity is the norm.

And if I am wrong, please provide EVIDENCE and citation so that I can see it, too.  I am sooo keen to see the counter to my perception, that I beg any Trump supporter with an internet connection and a critically thinking brain to PLEASE send me evidence, peer reviewed evidence, that we who are not white with penises can get behind.

And so help me if any man or woman tries to grab me by the pussy. Yes, I am angry. Yes, I am a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands, lips and penises of more than one white boy, but surely that’s not my objection.

My objection is to my being an object. An object to grab. An object to gain power over. An object to grab, leer, jest and in general, have fun with. It’s open season on difference to white male penis privilege.

Am I being over the top? Perhaps. Am I being provocative? Definitely! Why not? If he can be, then the playing field should be level enough for me to take it on by the balls (oh, no, did SHE just type that?).  FUCK YES I DID.

Ladies, wtf has just happened?!? Anyone who is marginalised will most likely be ostracised.  Difference will not be tolerated.

This is why son and I must gtf out. He will surely be different.  Coming into one’s own is difficult enough without the bullshit of other people’s opinions.   Why make it harder for our fellows on this planet?

Oh, yeah, white privilege.

I get it. You’re disillusioned about what’s going on. You don’t feel your voice is heard.

Well, please, just wait. Your voice won’t be heard, just muted with all the other hate mongerers, just waiting for a chance to begin discord on those who aren’t male, white, hetero…

Yeah, this means you, you white motherfucking entitled asshole.
What are you going to DO?????

Stop talking. THINK.

ACT.

Then let’s talk.

Don’t let that male privilege between your legs fool you into thinking anything less. Don’t talk to me until you’ve been marginalised for at least half your life if you’re too much of a coward to advocate for equity for all.

Oh, you Poets, Philosophers, Teachers, Professors of now, do tell me what’s up. But do so only when you prostrate yourself before those most affected.

I’ll be waiting.

#StopExertingYourMalePrivilegeUnderTheGuiseOfFreedom

#election2016

#entitledmotherfuckers

#YesYou

#ActUp

#FightDumbassery

Photo by Author: Bald Mountain Overlook, 24 October 2016

 

 

 

 

Notes on my Return: On Observing the Madness

As I have trekked across Washington, Oregon and Northern California on my own for the last week and a half, I have noticed that the further south I get, the more difficult it is to tell where I am.

Little boxes, everywhere. And one town looks like the next.

But then I scratch the surface a little more deeply and notice. Fast food abounds, as do gyms…have you noticed? The quick fix is everywhere! Hungry? Drive through here to fill you up. Need gas? Pull into the gas station, pay at the pump, pull away. Feeling fat because you eat all that fast food? Pull into the gym, it’s open 24 hours, and slim and tone that Monster Style In & Out burger away.

Then I start to notice the people, observe, listen.

The Uber driver I used the other day in San Jose, CA commented that he felt like he was just part of a big machine that he couldn’t see. That each day was the same, just work, work, eat, TV, sleep, repeat. He complained there was no time or money for holidays. That when he was younger, his dad made sure they took a trip every summer. But he wasn’t able to do it. With two jobs and two kids, it wasn’t going to happen.

And yet so many persist in the madness, almost intermenably. Seemingly even sometimes gleefully and quite willingly.

I cannot watch. It’s almost too painful.

I was reading an old interview of Sally Mann and in it she said that she did not own a TV. She was adamant that she wasn’t a luddite, that she was very computer literate, etc, but did not own a TV because of the consumerist aspect. What I took from her words is that the television invites it into your home, makes it so accessible.

Then I’m reminded of a moment in some department store outside of Seattle, WA two weeks ago with Son saw some stuffed animal blanket thing and says, ‘Mum, that’s what they told me I needed on the tele’. WHAT?! So we talked about commercials and how their whole purpose is to get you to buy what they are showing.  But often, we do not need what they are showing.

So I asked Son if he needed one of the blankets, and he replied that we didn’t have room, so no.  He said he’d have to get rid of something if he wanted to get something, and he much preferred his ‘Mawmaw quilt’ as a blanket (the quilt my grandmother made for him when I was pregnant).

If a nearly 5 year old can reason that if he doesn’t have room for something, as cool as it is, he can’t buy it, why can’t the rest of us?

And how many boxes do we need for our stuff, anyway?

I’ve enough of observing the madness. Heading out into the woods for a few days…camping, clean NorCal air, cleansing vibes. Some yoga, some walking, some drawing.

Photo taken by Author, Washington State, off of Cle Elem Lake, 6 Sept 16

Space, Grace & Healing

The love we give will free us.

But first, some space to make way for grace and healing,

To allow a place for the possibilities of infinite love

To blossom

and flourish, grow and change

Age and mature. To light the darkness.

And meld into one love, full of grace.

if all of the strength
and all of the courage
come and lift me from this place
I know I could love you much better than this
full of grace
full of grace
my love

~ Sarah McLachlan

#ChooseLove #SelfLove #BuildYourTribe #BetterTogether #Space&Place #41

Everything’s falling into place
Throw me tomorrow
Seeing my past to let it go
Throw me tomorrow

~ David Bowie

Angels

Thirty six years ago today, my father woke up for the last day in his life. At 3am on 8 June, he was pronounced dead at the scene, our back garden, due to a self inflicted gunshot wound under his chin. I was 4.

Nineteen years ago today, I woke up to the day before the ‘big day’, my wedding day, where I was marrying the man I thought was my best friend, soul mate, my everything.  At 11am on 7 June, we began the ceremony to become husband and wife, till death do us part. I was 21.

Eight months ago, at 39, with the unburdening of lifelong secrets, came the uncoupling of a union far from perfect, but one I had tried for more of the over eighteen years than not, to keep afloat, to keep going, dragging and being dragged at times. I loved fiercely. Z loved in his way.

But when the element of trust has been absolutely and selfishly exploited, no matter how seemingly noble the reason, I chose my dignity and self respect over staying with someone who had demonstrated for nearly two decades just what he felt of me, despite the words he says that are in stark contrast to the way I was exploited, blinded and treated.

So, no more.

But my ‘brave’ (aka ‘stupid and silly’ to far too many opinionated people in my life) choice But my life now has many side effects, those of which I am finally emerging as I have gotten accustomed, or desensitised, to doing it all on my own, of course with support from friends, but essentially alone.

Alone, wounded, lonely.

I’d like to let the past just fade out.

Yet here I am, wondering, working, awake.

Working towards reclaiming myself, towards awakening my soul, wondering if it all will work out well in the end, for our son, the namesake of my father and great grandfather. Son is my priority, as my words and actions show, but Z, your words and actions here, yet again, are incongruent. I will trust when your words and actions with our son are in sync, and don’t involve me pleading for a break after orchestrating an international move while grading 90 research proposals and finalising paperwork for the end of the semester.

I am spent, alone, wounded, lonely. And I need to grieve in a way that I have not allowed myself over these past 6-8 weeks since I have been doing what must be done.

So space has been granted today for me to make some time for self care, for me to realise that I am not really alone, although I am wounded and lonely. I know we are all better together and I know I have built a solid tribe, even added to the fam. But it all takes time and I will get there…I just need to remind myself of this. And practice self care and grace.

So hug a friend and let them know they are not alone, today or any other day. It’s the only way we will all emerge from this journey with the ‘better angels of our nature’.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. ~ Abraham Lincoln

#BetterTogether #BuildYourTribe

Another Door Opens

On 19 March, my yogini, Rosie, posted this quote from Rainer Marie Rilke

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

On 19 May, I feel as if I have lived a lifetime since I was reminded to live the questions. I have indeed been living the questions, pushing at the edges, tettering, falling to my knees.

But then getting up.

Acceptance of living the questions for me has meant uncertainty in most everything. Ending a life in one country.  Returning to my home country where there is a very real possibility of Donald Trump becoming President!? Leaving Son’s home, the only place he’s ever known. Being in limbo.(Shame on you, America! He eats his NY slice of pizza with a knife and fork!)

Over the past few weeks, I have had more serious, honest heartfelt discussions about leadership and leading, about higher education from a local to a global level, about teaching and learning, about innovation in higher education, about what technology can offer to enhance learning, about the necessity of real professional development where there is a culture of support in risk taking and innovation, about the possibility of flattening structures and distributing leadership across the organisation, about governance and fairness, about the power of listening and attention. And trust. And how none of it matters if you don’t have relationships.

I realise I am made for this stuff and I am ready to lead with my colleagues. Imagine the possibilities!

Because of these often intense conversations and my further reflections on them, and the questions (always living the questions)…it becomes really clear to me what I need to do in my job search. Exit stage left, but consider returning to acting if my job search leads me back. Be open to the possibilities.

Exit stage left because it is necessary. And illegal for me to continue living here (details!:), so off I go. Return to the States, Land of Income Inequality (Credit Suisse reports). Travel. Consider returning? Imagine the possibilities.

Why not? I’ll give it a fair go. I can learn so much more and I can offer so much to an organisation by being in a position to facilitate innovation, nurture professional development of staff in the name of improving the student experience (you read that correctly). I know the context. So many possibilities.

You want to nurture innovation in your organisation? Let’s sit down and listen and talk to one another. I’d love to hear your ideas and I’ve got some visionary ones of my own for you. Let’s collaborate.

And this is where I am, the thinking revolutionised. The actualisation, the realisation, the reconciliation of what I must do, what I will do. Oh, the possibilities are endless once I let go of the fear and trusted the process. And lived the questions. And l am loving the questions.

For my soul feels much more at peace with this decision, to wallow in limbo, to throw out the anchor and slow the momentum of what is still likely to end the same.  But at least now I am at peace if I give it a fair go. I am so ready.

Lao Zu advised to be still so that the muddy waters could settle. I sat for long enough, finally, that the waters settled. And it was clear that I needed to be open to the possibilities. And I am.

2017 will bring about (paid) work options beyond what I can imagine. I’m being true to myself. I have put myself ‘out there’ and I am dogged in my insistence (!) of high professional ethics and care for one another’s development. This feels good.

So let’s collaborate, let’s love the questions and explore the possibilities of a productive, relevant and rigorous teaching and research cadre, where connections and relationships are nurtured and high quality is everyday practice. Where innovation and risk taking is supported. So many possibilities. I am open to them. Are you?

I am listening. Remember, we are better together.

#BetterTogether #BuildYourTribe

Photo: Property of Author, Pisa, Italy, June 2010

 

Where Have all the Innovative Thinkers Gone?

As I prepare to leave my paid work at the close of my contract 1 July, depart a country I adore and move on into the unknown, having no fixed address until I find work for a January/February 2017 start, I have many mixed emotions! I have been reflecting on many experiences, have written about a few of them even. My vocation is a part of my identity and I accept that. As a result, I have to come to certain conclusions when the environment in which I work is toxic. I have reached my level of toxicity and feel compelled to exit stage left. Below is a letter I crafted with the help of a few wise souls, to read aloud to the board of power, of which I am a twice elected faculty representative — low woman on the totem pole I am. This is speaking truth to power at my finest. It is by far not perfect, but I do hope that ears will hear, that some might even listen and that a seed of change is planted somewhere upon my departure.

Again, when we work against each other, rather than with each other, results are not favourable. Hence my insistence that we are better together.
I must go find my tribe.

Farewell.___________________________________________________________

Dear Colleagues,
In my 6.5 years here as an Assistant Professor in Education, I have had the pleasure of teaching some bright undergraduates, determined Masters students and tenacious doctoral candidates. I have worked across faculties and in the schools sector and have enjoyed many aspects of my work here.

The ad to which I responded in October 2009, stated “We are seeking innovative, futures-oriented thinkers to join our visionary team. This position will make a significant contribution to the attainment of the Faculty’s Strategic Goals.”

The call of the ad was clear. If I was up for 7 years to Associate Professorship-track, which I was, I would join a University that planned for its “bold vision” around “growth and renewal”. They needed “ambitious academics” and I would be able “to contribute significantly to the Faculty’s Research Centres and programs”.

As an added bonus, I not only would have been putting the past five years of work and experience to use, but the decade previous, where I was a classroom English teacher, Union delegate, teacher trainer, Department Chair and Literacy Coach, all in economically disadvantaged schools. My prior experience would be advantageous since the position called for a “strong commitment to maintaining effective university-school partnerships…and a strong social responsibility ethos.”

This position could not have fit me more perfectly. I anticipated long hours developing relationships with schools in order to research and write, adding value to the faculty, university and public schools in Australia. I anticipated the annual academic work cycle, the highs and the lows, the busy times and the busiest times, the teaching, the students, the collegial conversations and debates, as I had observed this in my own professors with whom I worked as a Research Assistant during my PhD preparation.

As I have previously written in the book Dignity of the Calling (in press) on the early years in Academia, my first year here in 2010, however, proved to be a challenge, and a good indicator for the remainder of my employment, which ceases at the end of my contract on 1 July 2016. This is by choice; I have been offered an extension, but I have flatly rejected it.

In my capacity as Assistant Professor for 6 years and 5 months, I have overall been disappointed at my experience as an academic in this institution, which indeed, has a “bold vision”. The strategy is even clear at the forest level. But the governance structure is dysfunctional, and in the midst of it, the losers are ultimately the students and staff who are not part of the decision making. Because governance functions in the way it does, some staff in these roles seem to be more concerned with maintaining their interests and positions over that of anything external beyond compliance and ranking.

Working here, for nearly 6.5 years, under poor management has highlighted the importance of governance structures that explicate the difference between the management and leadership, join them where they are necessary, or even more radical still, get rid of Managers and the managerial mindset, and let those “innovative, futures-oriented thinkers” get to work realising the “bold vision” whether under the VC I had the pleasure to serve, or the incoming VC to which you all will have the pleasure to serve.

I challenge the call in the ad for “innovative, futures-oriented thinkers” who have a “strong social responsibility ethos”.

Working here, for nearly 6.5 years, with mostly a lack of support, lack of caring, an inconsistency in decision-making, repression, suppression, bullying, and at times harassment, has forced me to become better, not bitter. Already resilient when I arrived, working here has forced me to develop at even deeper levels because of the pain, sense of injustice, and sadness around the lack of ethical behaviour in the workplace and the lofty lip service we pay to having a “social responsibility ethos”, or doing the right thing, rather than doing things right, which is the concern of management, not leaders. Leaders do the right thing.

It is my hope that this University flourish in the future. This will be possible if upper management display courage and set an example in modelling the shared values of a rigorous scholarly community. When we staff feel taken care of, we will perform at the highest levels and that performance is sustainable.

On the other hand, in my time here, I have felt exploited, under appreciated, overworked, de-professionalised and bullied. Where I formerly was asked to be creative and innovative in my teaching, lately, I have been required to adhere to rules and models of teaching that serve economic efficiencies over the needs of the students.

I have been managed with sticks rather than led with carrots and the truth that this style cannot sustain a successful organisation is already emerging. Data from students demonstrates that they are not satisfied with their experience. Data from other academic staff, not executive level staff, suggests the strain is showing and indeed, the pace and current work environment cannot be sustained.

So through all that I have observed and been a part of in my 6.5 years here, I know it is time for me to walk away. And that is exactly what I am doing, leaving at the close of my contract, which also means I must leave a country I have come to love and that my son calls home. I have the courage to leave here because going off into the unknown is a better option than remaining employed here.
I leave here with my head high, dignity still intact, despite how I have been treated, knowing that I have tried to bring about positive change within my faculty and at the university level.

May love and kindness find you all,

me

___________________________________________________________________

#BetterTogether #BuildYourTribe

Futures-Oriented Thinkers

The following is a vignette I wrote for a book, Dignity of the Calling, (in press), which is a compilation of chapters from scholars world wide about their first year(s) in Academia.

_______________________________________________

In October 2009, I responded to an ad seeking “innovative, futures-oriented thinkers to join our visionary team”, specifically “a research active academic with a demonstrated commitment to teaching and a capacity to contribute significantly to the Faculty’s Research Centres and programs” who would have “a strong social responsibility ethos.” The Faculty of Education at the university was seeking eight new Assistant Professor academics, a typical entry level job in academe for an American, but an innovation in the Australian university system. This seven year “accelerated career path” would surely be demanding, but I had just completed my Ph.D. while working as a part time graduate assistant at the university and as a full time literacy coach at three high schools. Understandably, then I thought I could cope with the demands of an “accelerated” academic position.

When I landed in Australia on the morning of 18 January 2010, I was greeted warmly by my Head of Discipline. As my husband and I walked with our bags to his car, I felt excited by the possibilities that lay ahead. While I still had no idea which classes I would be teaching, I felt sure that my questions would soon be answered. The trip to campus straight from the airport still plays in my mind. The brown, ruddy landscape, baked hot in the summer sun contrasted the record low winter temperatures of the southeastern United States I had left behind. Despite the lacklustre surroundings of the campus, I remained positive that this would be the place where I would make my mark as an educational researcher and university professor in Australia. Returning to our university sponsored lodging, my husband and I were left to unpack, debrief, and acclimatise to our new country as I awaited the next morning’s faculty welcome morning tea.

Four days later, some of my curiosity was quelled; I would be teaching a projected 300 undergrads in a first year compulsory unit, Education Foundations. I was further asked to teach 60 Graduate Diploma students – the idea being that the learning outcomes were identical and the additional student numbers in the unit would be small. If only. 660 students enrolled.

The first four weeks were a haze of 12-16 hour days, seven days a week. It appeared my department believed me to posses the stereotypical American work ethic, plus it was said that I “didn’t complain”. As the weeks wore on, I struggled to find my place and became more and more inundated with work. I was provided with little support, treated kindly by some colleagues, and ignored by the others. It was a lonely time. My dreams of making time to research evaporated and were displaced to some distant future known as Semester II, when I was assured my workload would be “more balanced”. This issue of balance would continue to haunt me.

So did my students. Many appeared to harbour ill feelings toward me, and others refused to show up to classes, then complained when I would not bring them up to speed via email. During the first week, my office computer had been set to US spelling, which provoked an email response from a student that “Our spelling reflects our cultural heritage and we weren’t colonised by Americans.” A few days later, upon the advice of Senior Staff, I posted the University’s Student Conduct Rules on our unit’s website, to which a student responded, “Were you advised by the Dean of the Faculty to put these up or did you do [sic] without consultation with other academic staff? Or have you made some assumptions about Australians based on your experiences in the Bronx? Perhaps you should get to know us first and our education system first before making assumptions about us.”

Comments like these did little to help me find my place or help me understand the new culture that enveloped me. Rather, it did much to distract me. The distraction was one of concern: how were students like these going to operate in the ‘real world’, full of immigrants and peoples of ‘other’ cultures? Such outspoken attitudes from students claiming they want to teach “all children” disturbed me. I can only hope that with time, education, and exposure to the world, such attitudes change before they are able to impress their prejudices on the next generation.

Nevertheless, I pressed on, engaging in uncomfortable conversations with as many of my students who would participate, and we worked on establishing cultural understandings and mutual respect among each other. I attempted to promote the importance of critical thinking, global awareness, global citizenship, and global interconnectivity (Crawford & Kirby, 2008; Noddings, 2005; Rizvi, 2007). Fortunately, I found more students open to diversity, global thinking, and the notion of cultural competency than not.

These distractions didn’t help bring me greater balance. But when I asked how I might balance 600 students in 21 tutorials while house hunting, settling into a new country, being without a car, or my personal possessions, which were still in transit from the US, the best colleagues could offer me was “don’t answer your emails” and “take the weekends off”. Having just run my first half marathon in September 2009, and been a yoga practitioner for four years, I had fallen into terrible physical shape; I was now moulded to my desk chair, my eyes glued to the computer screen as I poured over ways to engage two lecture theatres full of preservice teachers.

One Saturday in April, whilst bending over to pick up the phone/internet bill, I sprained several ligaments in my lower back. The pain was worse than anything I’d ever felt, but it was a circuit breaker. I realised that I had to change before this job literally landed me in hospital. I had to make time for my recovery – and me. So I did.

I started out by taking that collegial advice to heart. I did not answer email after 6pm or on the weekends, and I began to take a day off on the weekend to spend some time with my husband, whom I had neglected since embarking on my new position. This alone reduced my workweek from nearly 80 hours to a much more feasible 60, which gave me time to see a physio for my back.

Over a year in, I have learned much. I hired most of my tutoring staff before Christmas 2010 in preparation for Semester I 2011. We met, all got to know one another, discussed our goals for our students and how we wanted to achieve those goals. There was ample opportunity for input from and collaboration with my tutors, all classroom teachers. They were keen for the opportunity to work with first years and to be a part of some of the innovations I was attempting with this cohort. Since I knew my units in advance, I tailored the instruction and assessments to a style that better suited my students and me.

As I brought some of my Australian students together online with some of my colleague’s students in the US, some of them engaged in critical thinking and challenging assumptions about the other culture. Although this examination did not go as deeply as I would have liked, it showed all of us of the power of one medium to ‘shake things up’ for each other. Since I had learned so much about my position in the world by leaving my “home country”, I wanted to share a bit of that experience, and the revelations that followed, with my fellow students.

Today, I feel more at home and a less alien than I did four years ago. I feel better acclimatised to my new home and have become a more critically reflexive person (Rizvi, 2007). Students seem to feel more comfortable knowing that I have not just arrived “off the boat”. This for me, took leaving everything and everyone I knew in order to find out how I fit into the world. This is a powerful lesson that I would not have learned had I continued academic life in the United States.

_____

Crawford, E. O. & Kirby, M. M. (2008). Fostering students’ global awareness: Technology applications in social studies teaching and learning, Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, 2(1), 56-73.

Noddings, N. (ed.) (2005) Educating the Global Citizen, New York: Teachers College Press.

Rizvi, F. (2007). Teaching global interconnectivity. Paper presented at 21st Centruy Cutticulum Conference, Sydney, 12-13 November.

—–Photo by author: Sunrise on NSW South Coast 18 Jan 2016

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