Posted in Learning, Life

For richer or poorer …

In a throw-away society, it’s affirming to witness things that last; that endure; that go on … that despite setbacks and difficulties and challenges, keep going.

Fads come and go … fads in fashion and food and where to go for coffee. One day ‘this’ place is in favour and you wait half an hour for a table (if you’re lucky and if you can be bothered waiting), and the next day it’s empty; tumbleweeds blow through eyeing the perplexed owner with disdain as he sits with his head in his hands wondering what on earth went wrong. The tumbleweed has no answer and blows right through to the place next door which, at this very moment, has a queue of people out the door, all prepared to wait at least half an hour for just the right blend of MoroccanBrazilianHighlandofNewGuineaUnderwaterPoland coffee that’s suddenly all the rage.

Big hair is in; then it’s out. Shoulder pads come and go, more or less subtle at each reincarnation. The ripped jeans that I wore in the 70s are back, this time with more rip and less jean. I’m waiting for a resurgence of the gozunder – the pot that’s squished into the under-bed space, along with the bulbs waiting for planting, and the kids’ Christmas presents.

And then there’s marriage. It seems to go in and out of favour, depending on which celebrity endorses (or trashes) it. And most of the marriages we hear about – the ones featured in magazines, not the ordinary ones we live – don’t last. We seem surprised when they do, or maybe we just don’t hear about them very often and because it seems so usual to hear about the ones that fail we are surprised to hear of the ones that don’t.

But weddings still happen and marriages are still celebrated. My son Daniel and his wife Cathy just celebrated their first wedding anniversary. Tim and I have just celebrated our fourth.

And yesterday, my parents, Noel and Sheila Pittaway, celebrated their 56th.

Yes, 56 years together. Through richer and poorer; in sickness and in health. They’ve been together through the tough times and the good times. Through the Navy years and the many years since then: learning to live together after sometimes months at a time living apart. Through the business years driving up and down the coast, and helping people make happy travel memories. Through their own times spent travelling and living overseas. Through the work years and the retirement years. Through living on the south and north coasts of NSW, into Queensland, and back to NSW. Through raising three (gorgeous) children, and welcoming a flurry of (gorgeous) grandchildren (ten at the last count), and the same number of (gorgeous) great-grandchildren (I don’t know how they keep up because I’m not sure I’ve counted them all) into the family.

At his wedding just over a year ago, Daniel (grandson number 2) paid his respects to his grandparents when he spoke about them in his speech, acknowledging their place in his life as role models – for their love and commitment to each other, and to their family.

It seems fitting then, that to celebrate their 56 years together they should spend the weekend with Daniel and his wife Cathy, together with other grandchildren: Eliza and her partner Shawn, and Chase and his wife Megan, along with two great-grandchildren, Hunter and Lily.

The younger generations, spending time with the family elders – learning what it is to work hard at what matters most, sharing quiet moments together, laughing, eating, doing the things families do. Celebrating those things that count.

Happy anniversary Mum and Dad. Still dancing after all these years!

Newlyweds Noel and Sheila Pittawaystill dancing
My sister wrote a beautiful tribute to Mum and Dad earlier in the week. In her post she said that ‘I love the fact that I am a part of them’. It’s a sentiment I share. Thanks for putting it so beautifully Deb.

Posted in Learning, Life, Studying, Teaching

Do unto others …

My husband, Tim, and I are different.

One of my colleagues highlighted this difference when she said, “Tim’s nice. And Sharon, you have good ideas. Together you make one decent person.”

It’s become something of a refrain for us and we joke about it at odd times in that way couples do when the truth of what’s been said hits us between the eyes.

It serves to bring our difference into sharp relief.

Tim is nice.

And I do have good ideas.


In our work as teacher educators, we assess a lot of student work. Tim writes nice comments on the work he marks; his language is positive and his niceness exudes through his words. When students receive their assignments, they feel reassured.


He loads his presentation, gathers his papers and asks me if I’m ready.

I am.

I love listening to Tim’s presentations because his thinking is so clear, he uses language beautifully, and the connections he makes are interesting ones. His voice is soothing and controlled and warm.

My mind flashes back to November 23, 1999: the first time I heard Tim speak. It was his Honours presentation and I was impressed by the clarity of his thinking and the way he communicated ideas. Even though I didn’t know him then, I was determined to introduce myself to him afterwards. Three months later we meet again, both new PhD candidates, in adjoining offices. I listen to him speak on numerous occasions over the next few years and he impresses me each time.

This presentation is different though. It’s not Tim at his best. He finishes and looks expectantly at me.

I am not nice.


I load my presentation, gather my papers and ask him if he’s ready.

He is.

I start and a few slides in, I stop. I had had an idea. I tell Tim I’ll be back in a moment.

A few minutes later I am back, and I start again.

Tim listens respectfully. I finish and look expectantly at him.

Tim is nice.


I give Tim some feedback on his presentation: “I was confused by this slide because it didn’t reflect what you were saying”, “the information you spoke about [at this point] was very complex”, “on the fourth slide the information you present is in the opposite order to what you say and that distracts me”

Tim is upset.

“Do you have anything nice to say?”


Tim gives me feedback on my presentation: “It’s great. Well done. You’ll be fabulous. I really like how you have organised your ideas”

I am upset.

“Don’t give me nice. Tell me how to make it better.”


And there’s the difference.

Tim wanted me to be nice. He needed to be reassured.

I wanted Tim to be critical. I needed to be better.


Tim’s feedback to students reassures them. They feel that they can do ‘this’, that they can succeed, that they can achieve their goal of getting through university and being a teacher.

My feedback is anything but reassuring. It points out how they can improve their work, how they can communicate in writing more clearly, how they might connect their ideas in more logical ways … it doesn’t reassure.

Tim placates.

I challenge and question.

I struggle to write nice things. I object to the ‘bollocks sandwich’ approach (as one student described it): the say something nice, then say something constructive about how the work could be improved, then finish with something else nice.

To me it feels like I’m writing platitudes and empty words: “Thank you for your submission. You have used a clear font and met the word count.”

It feels wrong to me, and not at all reassuring.

And it’s because I wouldn’t want to hear it. Don’t tell me stupid stuff, tell me what I can do to improve my work – don’t waste my time with things that don’t matter.


We are taught from a young age that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

But that’s quite patently wrong.

What’s really at work here is this: do unto others as they would be done unto.

When I ‘do unto others as I would have them do unto me’, I give the kind of feedback that I want to hear.

But there are plenty of students who want something different: they want to be reassured.


Tim is going to have to get more critical.

And I’m going to have to learn to be nice.

It’s going to be a struggle for both of us.

Posted in Uncategorized

In between spaces pt.34

I like my husband’s photography and writing so much that I want to share it with you.

Timothy Moss

As photographers, time is all we have. It’s our canvas, the base upon which we apply light.

But we don’t control it. Sometimes it’s a lumbering thing, and the moments between seconds stretch out like a slowing heartbeat.

Sometimes it’s running, and the hours melt away beneath its feet like water.

We don’t own time. We borrow it, but we can’t stop it.



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