Posted in Family, Life, Photography

I got out!

In April 2021, which seems like years ago, I went to Tumut in NSW. My youngest son and his two children were visiting my mother and as I hadn’t seen them for over a year, I thought I’d make the five hour drive north.

I thought I’d be back in Tumut within a month – Mum’s birthday is in June and I thought I’d at least go up to sing her a tuneless but enthusiastic happy birthday.

Alas, it was not to be. 2021, in case your memory doesn’t stretch back that far, was in a time we still considered to be ‘during the pandemic’. In 2022, with COVID deaths higher than they’ve been since the start of the pandemic – a seeming-decade ago in 2020 – we are considered to be living in ‘post-COVID’ times.

2021 was not a good year. We still had active COVID mitigation strategies in place – lockdown being one of them. I can’t remember all the lockdowns, but lockdown was one reason I couldn’t return to Tumut. There were, of course, others.

As we are now living in ‘post-pandemic’ times, travel is unrestricted. I had planned to head to Tasmania in late April, a place I hadn’t visited since early January 2021, but a car crash put paid to that plan. No one was hurt in said crash, apart from the car, but it meant no Tassie trip for me just yet 😦

While Tim has finished his treatment, been jabbed with the COVID vaccine for the 4th time, and had his flu shot, he is still not sufficiently recovered to travel long distances. I, however, felt it was safe for me to leave the state.

Yes, dear reader, I got out.

Mothers Day was as good a time as any for me to head five and a half hours north to see my mother. And my sister and brother, and uncle, and niece, and great neice and nephews.

I stayed in Tumba with my sister because Tumba is a town where things happen. The Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail is one of those happening things.

Saturday morning was cold. Icily cold. The thermometer inched towards 8C during the day, and then, having hit it, rapidly fell to near zero. You can imagine how cold it was as we headed out the door around 10am, rugged up beautifully. Deb made sure her gloves matched her beanie, channelling the spirit of our grandmother, who used to do the same in the 1950s and 60s (but never with a beanie). Nan would have been very proud of her.

Our first stop was at Forage (rhymes with porridge) for a hot chocolate and a wander around the market.

Forage in Tumbarumba

Mum arrived, the hood of her coat giving the impression she was off to the Arctic, and we wandered down to the creek which was looking decidedly autumnal, to engage with the sculptures.

Mum ditched Deb and I to have lunch with some of Deb’s friends, so I attended a workshop facilitated by Japanese sculptor Keizo Ushio who uses the mobius strip extensively in his sculptures. We made mobius strips with paper and then attempted to carve a bagel – I’d love to see how he does it using stone. You can see Keizo’s sculpture at Tooma if you’re in the area (we didn’t get down there, but I’m very keen to see it).

Sculptor Phil Spelman then led a tour of the Tumba sculptures and we learnt a lot along the way.

Together we are strong – sculpture by Danish artist Keld Moseholm

Together we are strong is a work gifted by the Denmark-based Denmark, New Zealand and Australian Friendship Society.


Pipe and fittings … many cubes – by WA artist Jennifer Cochrane

Jennifer Cochrane works with cubes. They fascinate her. Picture a cube rolling and you’ll see the movement and energy in this work.


Habitat – a sculpture by Marcus Tatton

Marcus Tatton is a New Zealander living in Tasmania, where chimneys dot the landscape. When a house burns down, they are generally the only thing that remain standing. This has inspired Marcus’s work.


Arrowhead Dark Night Shine – Takahiro Hirata

I think this is one of my favourites. This is a piece of granite which is second only to diamonds in terms of its hardness. Takahiro Hirato, a Japanese sculptor, has hand carved and polished this arrowhead. It’s a truly gorgeous piece. The arrowhead sits on a basalt plinth.


Lumina Folds – by NSW artist Philip Spelman

This work by Phil Spelman certainly generated lots of discussion. It’s an abstract work with as many interpretations as people on the tour with us. Some see an ant, others see a bike, I see someone praying … that’s the beauty of abstract work. It doesn’t have to have just one meaning.

There are other sculptures in the area and I’m hoping to get to see them all eventually.


Off to Tumut on Sunday afternoon for a fabulous Mothers Day lunch with my brother and his family. There was so much food they came back for dinner. I must add they they provided all the food … Mum and I just had to turn up!

Later in the afternoon I caught the end of this beautiful sunset.

Tumut sunset

Monday morning and a quick visit from some kangaroos before I headed home.


It was great to catch up with family again after such a terrible year … let’s hope I can get back there within the next one.

Posted in Life

Total control

My youngest daughter rang last week with a confession.

‘Mum, I’m addicted to plastic.’

I knew how she felt. I’d been feeling somewhat the same.

I thought about this confession and my own (very similar) feelings and decided that I would reframe it with a more positive spin. I’m not known for putting a positive spin on anything, so bear with me as I struggle to articulate my reframing.

When Tim, my husband, was diagnosed with cancer in July last year, I took over kitchen duties. When we’d moved in, eight years before, we tended to dump things in cupboards and drawers, and over the intervening years we’d not done a great deal to move things around. It meant the cupboards that might more usefully be used for food and kitchen-related storage, instead stored boxes of CDs, VHS tapes, jigsaw puzzles, framed photos, x-rays, and the like.

I took over kitchen duties and thus kitchen organisation. It started my affair with plastic – specifically, Tupperware. One of my daughters-in-law had hosted an online Tupperware party some months before and I’d bought some modular mates to store basic baking needs (caster sugar, cocoa, icing sugar, brown sugar, etc). In my reorganisation I put them in the drawer where the saucepans used to be. My eldest daughter hosted an online Tupperware party some time later, and I bought bigger modular mates for plain and SR flour (regular and gluten free) and cleaned out the DVDs to create space for them. I got a buzz each time I opened the drawer or the cupboard and saw the containers so neatly labelled and organised.

More recently my eldest daughter decided to become an Independent Tupperware consultant and in the spirit of supporting her business, I quite quickly built up my collection of Tupperware. A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter took the same step. Two daughters, two businesses to support. The outcome is that not only are my kitchen cupboards beautifully organised, so too is my fridge and now my freezer.

The satisfaction this brings me could be put down to any number of things (shallowness, not enough else going on in my life) but my positive reframing led me to see it in a different light.


We are into the third year of a global pandemic. This has meant I’ve had limited opportunities to see my family – I haven’t been to Tasmania since January 2021, so it’s been over a year since I’ve seen four of my children and the vast majority of my grandchildren. I haven’t seen my other son, his wife and their children (who live in Qld) in 11 months. I saw them last when we were all able to visit my mother in southern NSW, and so that was the last time I saw Mum, my sister and my brother.

Tim was diagnosed with cancer in July last year. The day before he was to have surgery, we went into a ‘five-day’ lockdown that extended well beyond five days. It meant I wasn’t able to visit him for the whole time he was in hospital apart from a quick visit on day 10. He had a number of complications and so his stay in hospital (the first he’d ever had) went well beyond the 3-4 days we were expecting. Tim started a six-month course of chemo in August and again he had to go through that on his own as I wasn’t allowed to accompany him to any of his treatments.

Not long after Tim started chemo, I was officially informed that my position at the university was to be made redundant. My last day was November 19, 2021.

There’s a lot we have no control over:

  • COVID isn’t over (no matter how much everyone wants it to be)
  • Chemo affects a person’s body in often uncontrollable ways
  • Universities cut thousands of jobs (around 40,000 staff gone across the sector)

And then Russia invaded the Ukraine.

At roughly the same time, floods devastated northern NSW and SE Queensland.

And mosquitoes brought a form of encephalitis to piggeries in the border region of NSW-Victoria. Some people have now been infected and some of them have been hospitalised.

The other thing that’s been on my mind, in terms of ‘things I have no control over’ is turning 60. Today, as it happens. My sister, Debbie, told me on Saturday that 60 is the new 30 (twice), but that didn’t make me feel much better, I have to admit. It’s not that I’d prefer the alternative, it’s just that 60 sounds so old! I know, when I think about it, that it isn’t old – it just sounds it. Deb wrote about this in a recent blog post – and also added some great photos of us from over the years.

After talking to her over the weekend, and after a (very lovely) surprise virtual birthday party on Sunday night, I’m starting to feel better about it. Well, it’s not like I have any control over it. I’m 60 whether I like the idea of it or not.


While I have no control over wars, the pandemic, cancer diagnoses and treatments, being made redundant, or turning 60, I do have control over my kitchen.

I realised, in my reframing, that I’m not addicted to plastic; rather, I’m addicted to an organised kitchen. A little space over which I have control.

And, I have to admit, it feels good.


In Deb’s blog post, she included a clip of Missy Higgin’s singing Total Control (from her latest album). It took me back to the days of Countdown and so I dug out the The Motels’ version, from 1980.

What do you feel you have control over?

The Motels – Total Control
Posted in Learning, Life, Teaching

Musing on infantalisation in higher ed

I was attending a conference on teaching and learning in higher education earlier in the month. I was only half listening because I was on my way out of the academy – one week away from my final day after my position was made redundant.

I am a dinosaur, an academic who clings to the idea that universities are places of learning. I don’t just mean the formal curriculum, but universities, no matter whether you’re a student or a researcher or an administrator or a teacher or a learning designer, are places that, to me, in my old-fashioned way of thinking, are places for exploring ideas … and to me, exploring ideas is learning.

Ideas can be extended upon, challenged, engaged with, debated, thought about, written about, performed, reflected on, explained, discussed, acted upon, reinforced, extended, justified. They can be tested – literally/actually/physically as well as intellectually. Ideas aren’t, in my old-fashioned way of thinking, things that are only ‘academic’ or ‘theoretical’ or ‘cerebral’ or ‘abstract’ – words often used perjoratively. They can be made concrete and real and are always worth our time and attention.

Exploring ideas can be tough – intellectually and emotionally.

It can be tough intellectually as it requires knowledge and thought and the capacity to see from a multitude of perspectives. It requires us to seek out more information, to analyse and synthesise, to create new ideas from existing ones. It requires the development of our capacity to explain the idea, to communicate it in ways that have meaning for others (verbally, spatially, graphically, amongst others).

It requires us to sit in ambiguity, to not know.

And the not knowing and the ambiguity can lead us to feelings of vulnerability, and that’s tough emotionally.

It’s tough emotionally, particularly when you’re in an environment in which your knowledge and your ideas are being tested or assessed. In which you feel that *you’re* being tested or assessed. Judged. Do you know enough? Do you know the right things? Can you communicate what you know in a way that aligns with the rubric? Can you justify your ideas and the outcomes/consequences/recommendations that result from those ideas?

Except …

I learnt in the higher ed conference I attended earlier in the month that ‘justify’ is a “triggering word for students”. That “while it’s a word academics like to use, students don’t like it”.

The academic, a unit chair in an allied health course, said that she’s changed the triggering word to ‘explain’ or ‘describe’. “It’s a change that’s been well-accepted by students”.

Students no longer have to justify the recommendations they make in relation to a client’s treatment, they just have to explain and describe them.


What are we doing in higher ed? Are we so concerned with student satisfaction that we infantalise them to the degree that rather than supporting them through the challenging aspects of their course, we instead remove any challenge?


I watched my six-year old granddaughter trying to do a headstand recently. She placed her hands carefully, ensured her head created the third point of the triangle, switched on her core, and pushed her feet off the floor. Something in her technique was wrong, and she did not manage to do a headstand. She tried again. And again. And again.

She cried in frustration because she could not do a headstand ‘properly’. Despite her tears, she kept practicing. I didn’t watch the whole session as I was on FaceTime but her mother told me later that she tried for three hours and cried each time she couldn’t do it. Finally, she was successful.


Learning is hard. I was once told I wasn’t allowed to say that to students as it’s a negative message. To me, it’s also a truth. Coming out of our comfort zone to sit in a space of not knowing, of being unsure, of reaching for understanding and not quite getting there (yet) is challenging.

It puts us in a place of vulnerability and that’s uncomfortable. But if we don’t move from our place of comfort, then we don’t grow or develop. We don’t learn.

Learning is hard. The teachers’ role is not to make it less hard, but to support students through the challenges.

We infantalise students when we remove the challenge rather than helping them overcome it.


Posted in Learning, Studying, Teaching

Musing on flexibility in teaching and learning

There’s a conference happening as I type. It’s a conference on teaching and learning in higher education … and a student’s comments bring to mind a snippet of everyday life I heard about many years ago.

Annie lives in a small country town. She is married, has three children under the age of 7, and does not work outside the home. The eldest child catches the bus to and from school.

The family has one car and as Annie’s husband works in the bigger town 30 minutes away, and there is no public transport (apart from the school bus), he drives most days. That leaves Annie without a car. There are no shops or parks within walking distance and the hills and narrow roads make taking a four-year old and a baby for a walk a challenge.

The four-year old has discovered she likes mangoes. The enchantment with mangoes extends beyond the mango-growing season, which she does not understand. She wants a mango. She lets Annie know she wants a mango. She lets the neighbours and the sheep in the front paddock know she wants a mango.

No amount of explaining that mangoes are not available will convince the child that she cannot have a mango. She argues that they could go to the shop to buy one. But even if there was a shop that sold mangoes, they don’t have the car that day and the shop isn’t within walking distance. This is something that is beyond her comprehension. She thinks of herself and not of the wider system of which she, and mangoes, are a part.

Annie takes some frozen mango from the freezer, but the child is adamant it isn’t real mango and so does not want it. She takes it outside to feed to the sheep in the front paddock.


I am reminded of this snippet of everyday life while listening to the conference presenter – a student who wants to attend classes on campus when “I feel like it” and to attend classes online when “I’m not able to attend in person”. She doesn’t want to have to tell her tutor when she’ll attend on-campus and when she’ll attend online or when she won’t attend at all.

The other adults in the conference agree that that’s a reasonable position to take. No one mentions the wider systems of which the student is a part but which are outside of her immediate attention.

Ignore, for now, the administrative processes and the technological systems at play here. Let’s focus on the student experience.


Louise is a student at a university in a major city in Australia. In Week 3 she decides to attend the weekly 2-hour tutorial on campus. The tutorials are recorded so that students who cannot attend synchronously can have access to the material covered and the questions and provocations explored in the tutorial.

They’re also live-streamed so that students who cannot attend on campus can attend synchronously from a place of their choosing (home, work, the train, a holiday house at the beach, a cafe, a hospital room …). The university is known for providing opportunities for students to learn at any time, from anywhere, and at any place.

Louise arrives to find the teacher and three other students in the classroom. The official enrolment for the tutorial is 25. The tutor has connected to the live-streaming software allowing all enrolled students who attend synchronously to interact if they choose. Those who attend synchronously online have indicated that they like to feel part of the class, even if they’re not there physically.

The tutor has planned an interactive session where students have opportunities to actively engage with the ideas being discussed and hear others’ views. She has planned for students to work in small groups and in that way learn with and from each other. They will share their ideas, take a variety of stakeholder perspectives, formulate solutions to problems they’ve identified and justify which of those possible solutions they would recommend if they were working in a professional setting.

Nine students have joined the live-stream. They don’t have their cameras on and so show up as black boxes or initials on the screen. The two cohorts do not interact with each other, as those online keep their microphones off and while they talk when put into breakout rooms, they don’t interact with the four students in the physical room.

Adapted from an image found at the-rampage.org

Louise finds the experience unsatisfying, personally, socially and intellectually. She had wanted to be part of a dynamic group of learners all seeking to explore this highly interesting and relevant area of the course. She wanted to share her ideas and was keen to hear others’ ideas. She had questions of a technical nature of the tutor but her voice sounded too loud in the near-empty room and so she kept quiet. Those who attended via the live stream interacted with each other but not with those in the physical room, and while those in the physical room contributed to the discussion and shared their ideas, the lack of a diversity of views, ideas, solutions and recommendations left her feeling flat.

The following week Louise finds she cannot attend the tutorial and listens to the recording. She finds the experience unsatisfying. She does not have the opportunity to share or discuss her ideas and is not able to hear others’ conversations as the recording cuts out when the students engage in small group conversations.

In Week 5, Louise attends via the live-stream. There are two other students attending in this mode, and two students in the physical classroom. When it comes time to join the breakout room, Louise logs off. It is an unsatisfying experience all round.

At the end of semester, she completes the unit evaluation and scores the tutor poorly. She did not have a good experience and wants the university, and her tutor, to know.


The situation is complex. Louise wants to be free to choose but is unaware, when making her choice, of some of the outcomes of that choice. She wants the choice to study when and where she wants and the capacity to make that decision on a weekly basis, unaware that choice has consequences for her experience.

There is nothing like a room full of students talking, discussing, playing around with ideas and of coming to better understand the skills and abilities they’ll need to be better financial advisers, or engaging and compassionate teachers, or architects who can play with shape and form and functionality. The feel in that room – whether it’s a virtual or physical room – can be energising and motivating.

When teachers create space for students to engage intellectually and socially and professionally, learning is enriched and empowering.

But those enriching and empowering learning experiences can’t happen in the absence of learners. Deciding not to attend has consequences that go beyond the individual.


I fear we’re headed towards an impoverished system of higher education that caters to an individualisation which sees decisions made on what individuals want (more flexibility to do things my way) without thinking about the wider consequences for learning and social and profesional interaction.

Flexibility has enormous benefits to students. It provides many with the only way of studying as they juggle the many other aspects of their lives. It is crucial for students to have options for when and how they study.

But, is there ever a point when we have to accept that just because we want a mango now, it doesn’t necessarily mean we can have one?

Is unbounded flexibility possible? And if it is, will it lead to the desired outcomes?

One final question, though perhaps for another time: Whatever happened to asynchronous learning?

Posted in Learning, Schools, Teaching

Musing on student-teacher relationships

I was one of those kids at school who teachers didn’t like very much. I’m not sure what it was, but I never endeared myself to my teachers.

Some of them hit me, some of them kicked me, some of them made me stand behind the classroom door, or sit under their desk, or leave the room. I can’t remember many of them being terribly nice to me.

I was a middling student who probably had a smarter mouth than brain and said more than I should have. I was clever, but not clever enough to keep my mouth shut or stop my eyes from rolling.

Being a middling student meant I didn’t have the educational needs some students had. I wasn’t gifted and so didn’t get any attention for being particularly good at anything; and I didn’t need remedial attention because I wasn’t really bad at anything. I didn’t have much potential for anything outstanding and so didn’t need encouragement or prompting … and let’s face it, if I was ‘prompted’ I would probably have said something that saw me sent behind the door or under a desk in no time flat.

I come from a family of middling students. None of us excelled academically. We did alright, but our place was firmly in the middle. We weren’t duxes, we didn’t win presitgious academic awards, we didn’t have ATAR scores in the 90s.

I was awarded a merit certificate in primary school one year.

It was for ‘uniform’. I felt it should have been awarded to my mother.

I don’t remember ever having positive relationships with my teachers though, although there was one female teacher in Grade 5 who was lovely.

These days, in teacher preparation programs all across the country (possibly all across the Western world), beginning teachers are taught that “strong teacher relationships are crucial because they:

  • Shape the way children think and act in school
  • Improve how well they do at school

When you have a good relationship with your students, they are more likely to feel positive about class and about school in general. They are also more willing to have a go at hard work, to risk making mistakes, and to ask for help when they need it” (Killian).

Holding high standards without providing a warm environment is merely harsh. A warm environment without high standards lacks backbone. But if you can create a combination of high standards with a warm and supportive environment it will benefit all students, not just the high achievers.

Lee Jussim

I wrote some time ago about punitive education and some of the lessons we learn from school and from the teachers who inhabit it/control it.

What might students learn from teachers who care about them (and let them know they care) and who have high expectations of them?

Why might we teach in any other way?


Posted in Family, Learning, Life

Mothers Day: Living the realities

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning and came across a story on the ABC News site that caught my eye.

After the birth of her fifth child, Roseann Hall decided to do a photography project on the often ‘unseen’ side of parenting – the mess, the tantrums, the food smeared everywhere, the moments of stress and tension and of the ways new mothers coped with them.

After Roseann had her fifth child and again found herself scrolling through photos that didn’t reflect her experience, she decided to use her skills as a photographer to capture something more authentic.

ABC Radio Brisbane

Hall’s images instantly took me back to my early mothering days and I began to wonder if any of them would have been worth sharing on social media. I highly doubt it.

I have recollections of constant mess: of food-smeared surfaces, of unmade beds and unwashed washing, of piles of unironed clothes and of floors strewn with toys and clothes and the debris of life.

None of it was social media worthy. None of it was worth sharing to a wider audience. But for many of us with young children it was normal. It wasn’t pretty that’s for sure, and mothers and mothers-in-law and aunts and grandmothers would sometimes step in, a working bee would be organised and the house would shine.

For a day.

And then the inevitable inertia and overwhelm of being a mother would take over – the monotony, the everyday struggle, the sameness, the mundane decision-making (should I do the ironing first or the vacuuming?), the inevitability of mundanity. Nothing to look forward to but more mess, more washing, more cleaning, more ironing, more vacuuming, more dusting … the finger run along the mantlepiece when he came home for lunch to see if it was dust free.

It never was.

Mothering has been happening for thousands (and thousands) of years, and while, I imagine, no two mothers’ experiences have been the same across those years, how did we come to decide that ‘normal’ is a tiny box that only some people fit in? And who decides what’s in that box?

How have we come to the point of looking at others’ lives and deciding that their life is “normal” while ours isn’t? Or that their life is different and somehow that means better?

In the ABC article, Divna Haslam, a clinical psychologist and family researcher at the University of Queensland claimed that “we should all normalise all the aspects of parenting, not just the pretty ones.”

When did we stop normalising the unpretty aspects of parenting? Does any mother of young children imagine, when she sees images of others’ lives, that they don’t have unpretty moments as well? That their two-year old doesn’t have temper tantrums that can last for hours? That their toddler, being introduced to a new food, doesn’t spit it out or wipe it over every surface they can find? That their three year old hasn’t ever picked up a crayon and drawn all over the walls with it?

Have we really become that naive?

Maybe it isn’t about that. Maybe it’s not naivety at all. Maybe it’s the visuals and the access to other people’s lives we’ve only experienced in the last 10 years or so.

Social media, the thing that’s allowed us to connect in ways we’d never been able to before its invention, has maybe also caused us to unconnect from reality. We see others’ unreal images and imagine they determine the reality of someone’s life. The totality of their life.

But do we really think we’re the only ones with children who make unreasonable demands in the supermarket at the tops of their voices? That we’re the only ones with children who refuse to get into their car seat? That our newborn is the only one who doesn’t sleep through the night? That our two-year old is the only one to have a temper tantrum in the main street, requiring us to carry them – kicking and screaming up – under one arm while trying to wrangle their trike with the other? That our four-year old is the only one who swears like a trooper when Grandma walks through the door, that our eleven-year old is the only one who verbally baits his sister till she’s in a paroxym of frustration?

It’s sad if we have. But we don’t have to, and I know that may be easier said than done, particularly from my vantage point. We know – in the very core of our being – that the vast majority of little children will be unreasonable at least some time before they’re five. And while we might not want to post images of those moments on social media, let’s not forget what sits behind the cheery images of happy-looking kids and the ‘perfect’ settings in which they live.

If you’re looking at others’ lives on social media, imagine the corner of the room you can’t see, full of life’s debris – the clothes that moments earlier where all over the couch, the bowl from breakfast the child threw on the floor, the toys they’ve been told to put away a million times but never do.

Think of the “perfect” images that appear on social media as museum or gallery pieces. They might be tightly curated images of a life, but they don’t represent reality.

Posted in Life

Two years on

On this day two years ago, I had my final radiotherapy treatment. I wrote about my final treatments and the effects on my body at that time, noting that it was “getting boring” and that I wasn’t going to write about it anymore.

That was true for then, but what I wasn’t to know then was that two years later there are still lingering after-effects. When writing about my experience of cancer, I was reluctant to call it a ‘journey’. It’s such a hackneyed phrase, but also one I didn’t want to think of as relevant to me. I didn’t want a cancer journey, I wanted it to be done/finished/over. I wanted to close the chapter on that short part of my life and move on.

But it isn’t over; the chapter isn’t closed. The journey, such as it is, continues.

Not in big, sweeping gestures or debilitating treatments but in subtle ways that slink in around the edges, catching me off-guard.

I drive to one of four annual check-ups (breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radio oncologist, mammogram/ultrasound) and fight the rising panic by calling my daughter Emma or my sister Debbie. Emma drove me to many of my treatments and then to work or to home afterwards and can visualise where I am and that familiarity adds to the comfort she provides. Debbie takes me through the 5-4-3-2-1 technique forcing my focus elsewhere, away from the panic.

I take a pill everyday to help ensure the cancer doesn’t return. I try my hardest to get the same brand each month, but if it’s unavailable and I have to take a different brand my joints begin to ache within a few days, my legs swell, I get dizzy, my vision worsens.

I mention it to my radio oncologist at my annual check-up in March. She says many of her patients have noted the same thing. I’m glad it’s not just me; I was beginning to think it was all in my mind. She examines me and is surprised by the amount of pain I experience at her touch. ‘Things often start to get better from the 2-year mark’ she tells me. I’m sure she told me that at the end of the first year too.

My mammogram and ultrasound results have been fine so far. I am doing well. There is no need to worry.

So they say.

And then I let myself think of this as a journey … I know the starting point, that moment when I felt the lump for the first time. The six weeks that felt like many more between then and getting a diagnosis. The surgery, the healing, the radiotherapy, the pills, the annual checks, the regular massages, the lingering, push-it-to-the-furtherest-corner-of-your-mind fear that pops out every now and then … if this is a journey, what’s the destination?

I think about that for a while and decide that wellness is the destination.

If this is a journey, I want it to be a hopeful one. One with a destination I can look forward to. One I don’t ever want to go on again, but one I can think back on and feel comfortable in how I lived it.

I don’t want to pretend it’s all sunshine and roses, but it’s also not a journey full of menace or foreboding.

It’s a journey to wellness.

I can live with that.

Posted in Life

Diary of a distancer: Week 53

One year and one week ago I started working from home.

It was new then. Novel. Needed. We were unsure how long the situation would last. Time slowed down and then sped up; March dragged, while it seemed we raced through April. Then the year tumbled into some sort of mud pool … there were moments of clarity, and then in the middle of the year the situation became dire. Life changed.

I started my working from home days with my computer on a trestle table in Mum’s/Deb’s/Emma’s room. It stayed that way for 12 months, before I decided I needed a proper set-up. It means I now have a proper desk, with space for my monitors, somewhere to hang my headphones, a place for my morning cuppa, a different place for my water bottle, and a place for photos of my grandkids. I also have a bookcase behind me which has been expertly styled by the very stylish Alison. She happened to pop in on the day the bookcase arrived and was gracious enough to lend her considerable talent to elegantly arranging the items I dragged out of cupboards for her to approve (or not, as the case may be). It provides a carefully curated background to my meetings and more importantly provides me with a beautiful place to work.

My office is now neat, stylish, and slowly filling up with indoor plants. I have a heater, music available, a printer should I require it and a window – a door no less, to the outside world. There’s a huge tree out there and on stormy days, I sit here watching the branches being flung about like countries in the time of corona.

An email drops into my inbox. My workpace announces it is a ‘located’ workplace. After a year of being told we would be able to continue to work from home should we choose, we now have a new term to add to our list of new terms we’ve collected in the previous 12 months, and are being encouraged to return to campus … to add to its vibrancy. I sit and think for a nanosecond and decide that sitting in a cold office with no natural light, no view of a tree being thrashed around in the wind, no music swirling around me, is not for me. I’m quite comfortably located where I am. I’ll let others, those who have been working from their bedrooms or dining room tables, wrangling children and dogs and cats during Zoom meetings, make up the 75% allowed back into workplaces.

Life has changed since this time last year when a number of state premiers announced statewide lockdowns would commence on Monday March 23. The Prime Minister then announced a national lockdown. Toilet paper became scarcer than hen’s teeth; pasta and flour were also hard to come by.

It seems, though, that it’s changed for some more than others – often depending on location. I was fortunate enough to go to Tasmania over the summer. I spent a month there, something I wouldn’t have thought possible in the depths of last year’s winter. It was fabulous to be in a place where the fear of COVID was kept in a small place in the back of my mind. Social distancing was a thing people paid attention to, checking-in to cafes was part of the experience, and hand sanitiser was readily available in all shops … but, these are part of what has been termed ‘COVID-normal’. There was a time when we didn’t have to go through security at airports – and it’s now normal. Some of these new behaviours might also become ‘normal’ and we won’t think twice about taking a mask with us wherever we go.

Although, that depends where you are. When I was in Tasmania over the summer, I didn’t think about taking a mask anywhere. As of today, March 14, 2021, Tasmania has remained COVID-free for 92 days. There was a ‘blip’ in December 2020, when four new cases were reported in Tasmania (from a family returning on a repatriation flight) but if you take those cases out of the equation, it really hasn’t had an outbreak since May last year. That’s really quite remarkable in a world overrun it seems by COVID.

Source: ABC News

Life has changed. The ebb and flow of 2020 saw various members of the family exercising together and then not. It saw some of us involved in photography projects and then not. It saw visits to family in other states planned and then cancelled. It saw low points and lower. It saw the spead of misinformation, daily press conferences by Daniel Andrews and a tide of people expressing disappointment, disgust, distress at much of the reporting emerging from those pressers. It saw less – less going out, less contact with others, less exploration – and for us, less television watching, less reading, less …

In my first blog post in the time of COVID, I wrote

It seems we’re in this for the long haul – a few months rather than days. Perhaps even longer. I’m sure we’ll work out how to live in this disrupted world, but it might take a while.

Has your world continued to be disrupted, and if so, have you worked out how to live in it?

I’m not entirely sure I have.

Posted in Learning, Life, Schools, Teaching

Punitive education

Late last year I spoke with about a dozen small groups of Year 9 students from a local high school. It was part of a program called Future Me; a program designed to help Year 9 students develop a range of ‘enterprise skills’, one of which is communication. In groups of 4 or 5, students spoke with a range of university staff, asking the staff questions about their schooling, their jobs, their career pathways.

A few of the groups asked me what had been my favourite subject at school. That really made me stop and think.

I ended up being honest with them and told them that I hadn’t liked high school much and I didn’t have a favourite subject. They were surprised that someone teaching at university didn’t like high school; hopefully it helped them realise that high school experiences don’t necessarily define your whole life – although in Year 9 it sure feels like they do.

If I’d thought about it some more, I may have said that English was one of my favourite subjects. The problem with it wasn’t the subject, but the teacher. I didn’t like my English teacher. He was punitive and I didn’t like his attitude. For the record, he didn’t like mine either.

Art was good because we sometimes got the opportunity to travel to Sydney to the Art Gallery of NSW – as well as other places – and I enjoyed that. But I didn’t like my Art teacher. She was punitive and I didn’t like her attitude. She really really didn’t like mine!

One of the times I was thrown out of Art class, I saw a boy being caned by a punitive woodwork teacher.

We had weekly assemblies and one of the teachers would patrol around the assembled students checking to see if the boys were wearing the right sort of socks. There were consequences for those who weren’t. Punitive ones.

It was the 1970s and I guess punitive was an educational fad back then. I like to think it isn’t one anymore …

It’s easy to be punitive though, and some still think it’s better for children and young people if their teachers are punitive, if they rule through fear. I read a comment on a ‘tell us about your favourite teacher’ blog from a man who said that getting the cane ‘certainly kept us focussed on doing the right thing’. I wonder if it helped with his learning?

Even back then schools weren’t only about learning – well, not in the academic sense. We sure learnt stuff, but lots of it wasn’t part of the official curriculum. Boys learnt to wear the ‘right’ socks, girls learnt that to get ahead they had to be ‘nice’, ‘polite’, ‘compliant’. Boys learnt not to cry; in fact, many boys learnt not to have emotions at all, or that some emotions were bad and therefore shouldn’t be part of their repertoire. Happy was a legitimate emotion as long we you didn’t have too much of it, and if you were tall and good looking and a favourite with the teachers, you could have pride and conceit in your bag of emotions as well, but others, like sadness or disappointment, were to be internalised or just avoided altogether.

Boys learnt that if you did the wrong thing, you were hit by an adult weilding a stick – and your parents generally thought that was an okay thing to do too. Girls learnt that if you spoke up about things that didn’t feel right – like boys being hit by stick-weilding adults – they were sent out of the room, or to that space behind the classroom door where your only companions were spiderwebs and dust.

Anyone? No?

I would have thought that these days punitive was gone from schools – but it seems to be alive and well. My 13-year old grandson said ‘hello mate’ to the school principal through the year and was then forced to sit outside said principal’s office for almost 2 hours. I’m not suggesting that saying ‘hello mate’ to the school principal is the correct way to address the principal, but sitting outside his office for almost 2 hours didn’t teach Ronan a more appropriate greeting. What a great lesson he could have had in levels of formality and when it’s appropriate to refer to someone as ‘mate’ and when it isn’t. Instead, Ronan felt aggrieved and angry and now feels more negative towards the principal than he otherwise might.

We know that learning in schools is, in large part, about relationships. Being punitive doesn’t help build good ones.

What other lessons might we teach if we stop being punitive?

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Ronan (13) ready for life’s lessons

Posted in Learning, Life, Studying

Chapters

A number of years ago I was feeling stuck in my academic work. It seemed there was no end to what I was doing and no capacity for change on the horizon. As often seems to happen, I stumbled across a journal article that expressed exactly what I was feeling and also presented a way of thinking I hadn’t thought of for myself. That’s one thing I love about reading – you learn of other ways to think, other mindsets, other perspectives.

This particular author suggested that one way to look at the situation was to think about chapters – this is the teaching chapter of your academic life and the next chapter might be the research chapter or the leadership chapter or the something entirely different chapter. It helped me realise that my situation wasn’t going to continue in the same way for the rest of time. And sure enough, over time, the teaching chapter finished and I was able to start a new chapter.

I like metaphors and their capacity to explain a concept, though of course there’s the danger of pushing a metaphor too far. Any good author will know that there are other ways to structure a narrative than in a straight line. It’s the same with our lives, which is, in some ways, a different form of authoring. Our lives don’t travel in straight lines despite the chronology that suggests we take a straight line from one point to another.

We are born, get to be five, head to school, emerge more or less damaged by that experience some years later, and tumble into adult life. We work, we get married, we have children and so on and so forth. Or so the story goes.

But some of us combine highschool with motherhood, either as a teenager or an adult or both. Some of us don’t move through the ‘stages’, the ‘chapters’, of our lives in the right order. We have a baby and then some months later, get married. We have another baby and then finish high school. Some of us don’t do things at the ‘right’ age, and by ‘right’ I mean ‘standard’, ‘accepted’, ‘proper’, but we do them anyway.

We don’t live linear lives.

Our stories get woven around other stories, stories that have already happened, stories we thought we’d shed the skin of, stories that get tangled in our memories and in our retellings. Parts of our lives connect with other parts in ways we don’t necessarily expect; some things we thought we’d finished with re-emerge and take up space again. The re-emergences push us in directions we hadn’t ever expected and we circle back and find we’ve picked up threads of an older story and the newer threads give it added depth.

We change and develop and grow through the chapters of our lives. We cook and clean and harangue and clean and cook and nothing changes. Is it always going to be like this? A sense of hopelessness. Going through the motions. But deep within, a reluctance to accept that this is all there is. Change. Unsettling. Upsetting. Challenging. Difficult. The transition from one thing to another, from one chapter to another.

And then another.

We teach – about language and tone and purpose and audience. About human emotion expressed through movement and words and no words and space and silence. We study and learn and develop, and another new chapter starts, full of more learning and challenge and motivation and no motivation. And struggle. Personally and professionally and we feel stuck. Is it always going to be like this?

With each transition from one chapter to another, we build up who we are. In one chapter we’re a teacher, in the next we’re a teacher-educator, but then there’s the chapter that weaves research with teaching and the two parts sit uncomfortably with each other. There’s no time to do both properly and compromise is unsettling. And then the next chapter adds leadership and it’s difficult, challenging, upsetting. We feel stuck in our academic work. Is it always going to be like this?

Some chapters  are so long we can’t see the end of them. The PhD chapter of our lives can be like that .. it goes on and on and on. Our energy flags, we can’t see a way through; there’s work and kids and your supervisor saying ‘just get it done’. If only it was that easy. It drags. It’s intellectually tortuous. It’s mentally draining. There’s no ounce of motivation left. It becomes a grind. Will it always be like this?


Robyn, one of my PhD candidates, was at that point this time last year. It was intellectually tortuous, mentally draining. It was a grind. Scraps of motivation lay on the ground at her feet. “Sharon, will it ever end?”.

It ended. Robyn submitted her thesis, it was examined, accepted and just last week, Robyn’s doctorate was conferred. All those years. All that work. And now she’s a doctor, by virtue of having a doctorate.

Will she use her title in the next chapter of her life?

You bet she will, kiddo.

PhD bonnet
This makes it all worthwhile! Well, almost.