Posted in Learning, Life, Schools, Teaching

An inspiration

I was already a grandmother by the time I started teaching at university in 2000. Phil, who turned 20 earlier this week, and his brother Scott were my only grandchildren till Ronan arrived in the world eight years after Phil. Then Jordan and Hunter and Sakye – and then more and more and more!

As my list of grandchildren grew I started to think more and more about the student teachers I was teaching and I’d often say to them ‘You never know, one day you might be teaching one of my grandchildren – they’re scattered all over Australia – and that might mean me popping into your classroom to have a chat and see what the grandkids are up to’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s come to pass. Some of my grandchildren have had the pleasure of being taught by some of the very special people I taught at university and it’s always lovely to wander into their classrooms and see them as teachers now, after seeing them as students. I don’t pretend to have any influence on who they are as teachers, but it’s lovely to see them nonetheless.

I’ve been teaching for over 20 years now. Being a teacher was something I never imagined I’d do. Debbie, my sister, had always wanted to be a teacher, but it hadn’t been on my list of career choices.

I no longer teach those preparing to be teachers in primary and high schools; rather I find myself running workshops for academic staff who are teaching university students studying for degrees in commerce and accounting and information systems and business analytics. While I know nothing about accounting and commerce and business analytics I do know something about teaching.

And, what’s more, after running six workshops in the last week I’ve been reminded that I love it. I love teaching. I love asking questions that generate thinking, I love putting ideas out there and seeing how others develop them, or consider them, or debate them, or draw insight from them.

Those who know me in person, know that I’m not a dynamic person in ordinary life, but I seem to get another sort of energy when I’m teaching and as I get older and therefore more comfortable and confident with my teaching persona I find I turn into a warm and funny and energised person who is enthusiastic and passionate and insightful.

Well, at least that’s what I’ve been told.

I’ve had a few positives in terms of my teaching and supporting teachers over the last twelve months. I (successfully) supported a team of academics in their application for a VC’s award for outstanding contributions to student learning, and on the back of that award the team was encouraged to apply for a national award.

We found out earlier in the week that we’d been successful at the national level and so, as part of a team, I now have an AAUT (Australian Award for University Teaching) citation for outstanding contributions to student learning under my belt. They only awarded 60 across the country this year, so I’m pretty chuffed with that.

Last year I was successful in applying to become a Senior Fellow of the (UK) Higher Education Academy. Being a Senior Fellow means I ‘demonstrate a thorough understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as a key contribution to high quality student learning [and] impact and influence on other colleagues through, for example, responsibility for leading, managing or organising programmes, subjects and/or disciplinary areas’ (www.heaacademy.ac.uk).

It was a 6,000 word application supported by two referee statements (thanks Robyn and Sharon B) and required a lot of evidence to support my claims.

The awards are great – even though they require a lot of work and the collection of a lot of evidence from over my 20 years of teaching and are a great recognition of the work I’ve done.

But much (much) more meaningful than the awards and fellowship came in the form of a text message from one of my daughters-in-law last week.

It turns out that Jada, one of my granddaughters, is being taught this year by someone I taught at university. Here are the messages I received:

Met with Scott [teacher] for a parent-teacher meeting this evening. He may have lit up like a Christmas tree when Jada mentioned your name (we had to go through the “Do you know Grandma Sharon” *blank look* “my grandma Sharon Pittaway” dance before he twigged).

He said you were his all time favourite lecturer and that you allowed students to give their own perspective on things and that you never just read or regurgitated information from a textbook. He said this made you inspiring. He also asked for me to pass on his regards.

He ALSO said that Jada no longer needs to come to school as she is now an A+ student because she knows ‘Grandma Sharon’.

I’m glad he took the no school rule back-Jada would have run with that!
I made Scott out as being kind of excited, he was more yelling “oh my god” and “really??” He was flailing his arms around a little and slapping his thighs haha. Congratulations to you on making such an impact on people and allowing them to filter their enthusiasm for learning and growing through to the next generation. I’m especially grateful they are our kids!

He said the way I taught made me inspiring.

That’s worth more (much much more) than a VC’s award or a national citation or a senior fellowship.

That’s real!

Jada, reading … because teachers are amazing!
Posted in Learning, Life

A hard reset

Tim messages me late on Thursday afternoon: We can get to Tassie for $750. Will I book it?

I thought for a nanosecond and despite not having been to Tasmania so far this year, and despite my usual ‘nothing will keep me away from Tasmania when I have a few days off’, this time something was different. I simply didn’t want to go.

Tassie is known and familiar and I wanted, desperately needed, intuitively knew I needed to be somewhere unknown and unfamiliar. And somewhere a long way away. As far as it was possible to go in the six days we had available to us. Somewhere we hadn’t been before. Somewhere where all the people were strangers and all the roads new.

I wanted to go to Broken Hill.

Tim turns to me late on Thursday night: So. What are we doing over Easter?

It’s 9pm. I mention Broken Hill for the first time. Tim doesn’t blink an eye. It’s no wonder I love this man!

By 11pm our trip is organised, accommodation booked, distances calculated.

By 9am we are on the road, bags packed, keep cups full of tea/coffee, water bottles full, lunches tucked into the cooler bag along with a rudimentary first aid kit, snacks, tea bags and a tea towel – just in case!

I drive out of Melbourne – our usual arrangement – and then over the next six days keep driving.

Photo by Tim Moss

Driving means I’m present, aware of ‘now’, focussing only on the road not on writing rubrics, determining how to publish the children’s stories I’ve written and had illustrated, responding to online discussion threads, reporting on how many law academics I’ve worked with, drafting journal articles and performance objectives, organising photo shoots, exercising, keeping up with social media …

… all left behind, all fading into the increasingly hazy distance as the road unwinds ahead of us. 

Importantly we have a bag of CDs, all compilations we put together for my radio shows over 10 years ago. It’s only on day 6 we have to replay a CD. We have music for every part of our journey, even if it means pressing pause on Damien Rice’s Eskimo until we’re out of Wentworth because it’s a song that deserves space and the open road.

I drive and am present, focussed on this moment, on seeing new landscapes, new combinations of colours, new horizons, new destinations.

I drive and keep my eyes looking forward, into the distance, into the immediate future. I shed the city like a skin by the second day and there’s only the road and the wide-open spaces to contain me. I can feel myself expanding under the warmth and width of the bluest of blue skies.

The ribbons of road shimmering into the distance are my favourite – endless horizons full of possibilities and discovery, full of newness and unfamiliarity. Roads without curves, one line on the map, taking us to the edge of the outback.

The road stretches out before us. The compass says west and then north and they’re the only directions I want to head.

Warmth, colour, distance, the unfamiliarity of the landscape … the only place I want to be.

Broken Hill sunset

Away … so far away … into the desert where the hills gently whisper, and where, right before sunset the silence is audible. The desert where the horizon sits in some distant space way, way over yonder and where time and space mean different things. The desert where my grief for Dad pales against the vastness of the landscape, and I can drop it here, knowing threads of it will return to the city with me but also knowing that it’s safe out here in the warmth and almost limitless space between the far horizons.

The dying ends of the day

It’s a hard reset on a hard start to the year – a chance to stay in the ‘now’, to not think beyond the next bend in an arrow-straight road, to simply be.

Away … so far away … and then home.

Re-evaluated.

Refreshed.

Reset.

 

 


A few days after we came home, we made a book about our journey and published it on Blurb. You can see a preview here if you’re interested. I wrote the blog post above for the book, which also features essays Tim wrote and a selection of our photos from the trip.

It was one of the most significant and important trips I’ve ever taken.

We made it!
Posted in Learning, Life

Because you are my Dad

Monday 22 January 2018

Dad lies completely still apart from the rise and fall of his chest, his breathing regular though shallow: a quick breath in, a just-as-quick breath out, count to four, another breath in. On the odd occasion his body misses a breath my heart races and I watch closely for the rise and fall of his chest.

Music wafts gently around the room Dad’s called home for the past 18 months and despite the scurry of nurses outside in the corridor there’s a sense of peace and calm here in this room.

I never imagined keeping watch over my dying father, but here I am, sitting on the hospital bed the nurses brought in and placed next to his, thinking about what I know and who I am because Noel Pittaway has been my Dad.

I know the importance of spit-clean shoes – polished and buffed till they shine. People notice shoes, Sharon, he’d say as I’d present them to him for inspection. Make sure they’re clean.

I know how to spell by breaking words into pieces and sounding them out.

I know that it annoys Mum when we do that (you’re just like your father, she says in that tone she has that indicates she thinks we’re clever but a bit show-offy.)

I know to eat my vegetables first before even touching anything else on my plate.

I know it’s best to eat cauliflower and cheese sauce while it’s hot.

I know how to swim because Dad insisted I stand in the shallow end of the Nowra pool and while all the other kids got to muck around I stood there and practiced my strokes and my breathing. I was never a fast swimmer but I had a nice style (just like your father, Mum used to say in that tone she has that speaks of admiration).

I have an eclectic musical taste because Dad had an ever-expanding record collection that ranged from Rachmaninov to Ray Charles via Ravi Shankar.

I know how to be comfortable with silence; that I don’t have to fill it with words and that in the silence there’s still warmth and togetherness.

I know that reading fiction opens up worlds I would never have been able to imagine on my own. Some of those worlds were beyond the comprehension of my 11,12,13-year-old self, but I discovered that being stretched imaginatively is important and immensely beneficial to a teenager’s developing mind and spirit.

I know the thrill of the rollercoaster, big slippery dips and rides that spin and whirl and fling you upside down and inside out and the added thrill of experiencing that with your granddaughter. Again and again and again.

I know it’s wrong for a girl to swear.

I know how to snorkel. And not to be afraid of the ocean. And the delight of walking on the squeaky white sand of Jervis Bay.

I know that travel is an adventure to be indulged in whenever possible and part of that adventure is the spontaneity of a detour or an unplanned destination or heading down a one-way street the wrong way.

I know that creative expression is an important part of life, whether that expression is theatrical, literary, artistic, musical or photographic – and the importance of taking the lens cap off.

I know what love for your wife(husband) looks like because of the depth of love Dad has for Mum … and I know that romance is not dead.

I know that people are deeply complex and that an external quiet doesn’t necessarily mean an internal quiet.

I know that laugh-yourself-silly fun is contagious and being surrounded by your grandchildren and great grandchildren is joyous and delightful in ways that can’t be described in words …

and that when you’re in your 60s and you think you can still somersault off the 1 metre board at the Murbah pool and get up there only to find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, that a poolside cheer squad led by your grandchildren will push the fear down and turn you into a hero as you run along the board and somersault effortlessly into the diving pool.

I know that the rougher the sea the more you enjoy the ride. Just hang on tight and ride the swell.

And I know that while the taste of beetroot is a flavour they serve in hell, Dagwood Dogs are a tiny taste of heaven.

I know that what your dad teaches you can be hard to learn and that you can fight against it (and him) and that what you learn might not have been the intended lesson, but I also know that Dad has influenced my life enormously and I am who I am in big measure because my Dad is Noel Pittaway.

The movement of Dad’s body … the rise and fall of his chest … stops in the afternoon of Thursday 25 January … but the movement of his life and his legacy have transcended his body and spread through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren … it’s a legacy that moves invisibly yet steadily across and through the generations.

On February 14, 2016 Dad and I flew over Antarctica. It had been a life-long ambition of his. Here we are ready for our 14-hour adventure.

*Many thanks and huge appreciation to Alison Cosker for providing feedback on this post. It has been strengthened because of her input.

Posted in Learning, Life

I think I can …

Actually, I know I can. Because I did!

Okay, I’ll back up a bit.

In February 2016, I went to the gym. Not for the first time, I hasten to add, but this particular occasion was quite memorable because it was my first ‘seniors’ class.

Yes, I snorted too – but it appears, in the world as we know it today, ‘seniors’ means those over 50. I had not, until that point, considered myself a senior and even though it’s a year later and I’m a year older, I still don’t consider myself to be a senior.

But I went anyway. I wasn’t working, the class was included in my gym membership, and it was on a Friday morning when I had nothing better to do with my time.

It may come as no surprise to you that I was the youngest person there (apart from the instructor) … by at least 10 years. And I quickly realised that’s a highly motivating factor. Here were all these oldies doing things, sometimes more quickly and with greater flexibility than I was doing them.

Yikes!

It got me moving I can tell you!

But I also discovered something important that day. I discovered that I couldn’t jump. I stood in front of the box I was to jump on to, and all sorts of thought processes went through my head but none of them helped get my feet off the ground and onto the box. While my mind was very willing, my flesh was anything but.

I simply stood there and stared. And then when we moved to the next exercise, I watched the old lady following along behind me nimbly jump onto the box, and off again, then on again as if she’d been doing it all her life. Well, let’s face it, she probably had.

But not me. I thought back to the last time I’d jumped and drew a blank. It wasn’t something I’d been called on to do in my professional life – metaphorical hoops are much easier, I learnt, than actual boxes, to jump through (or on as the case may be).

And it wasn’t something I’d had any reason to do in my personal life either.

So there I was … a non-jumper. I went home and in the privacy of my loungeroom, turned my attention to jumping, but to no avail. It seemed I was destined to be a non-jumper for life.

Fast forward to three weeks ago when I remembered my inability to jump and mentioned it to Josh, my personal trainer. “Josh”, I said as I was pushing 80kgs of metal with my legs on something appropriately named a ‘leg press’, “I can’t jump”.

He looked at me, slightly stunned that I would say something so outlandish. “What do you mean, you can’t jump?”

“I can’t. I just can’t do it. I try, but I physically can’t do it”.

He saw that as a challenge, and once I was vertical, he held my hands while I launched myself off the ground. With both feet. At the same time.

It turns out I can jump, and now not only can I jump, I can also star jump, and squat jump, and rope jump (as in skipping) and do burpees, and forward bounds, and I’m even getting the hang of running man (my coordination still needs a little work).

So there you have it. When you think you can’t jump*, hold someone’s hands, start out small, gain some confidence, and you’ll be jumping* all over the place in no time.

*Insert any other thing you think you can’t do here 🙂

Body by Josh; photo by me.
Posted in Flowers, Learning

339

It seems ages since I’ve posted a photo … in fact, it’s been over a week. This was a flower I captured a few weekends ago, in the Castlemaine Botanic Garden. Do you know what kind of flower it is? If you know, could you write the name of the flower in the comments please?

My absence from blogging has been due to the amount of marking I’ve had to do over the past week or so. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a university lecturer and this semester, in addition to my new full-time job (which I started two weeks ago), I’m teaching a unit at a different university on facilitating engaging learning experiences.

I’ve come to recognise that my approach to marking is a dialogic one. I tend to comment on students’ ideas, or I ask questions of them, or I put forward an alternative perspective. I seek to affirm, yet challenge and extend students’ thinking, and that’s challenging because I also have to be nice – and that’s one of the things I find most difficult to be. One consequence of this approach is that marking takes ages! Markers are allocated about 20 minutes per paper for marking, but I often take an hour per paper – even longer when the ideas are trapped inside somewhat clumsy expression.

So that’s what’s been taking lots of my time and attention. Up at 6 most mornings, mark a paper or two before the hour-long commute to work, work, hour-long commute home, more marking. It’s an intellectually draining process and I find that I don’t have much headspace for other things. Getting my head around a new workplace, new colleagues, new relationships, new places and ways of storing information, new processes, new location, is difficult enough when that’s all that’s going on in your life. Marking on top of that means my head is well and truly full.

Except, that I have to keep some space free because my youngest daughter is getting married! In 13 days’ time. In Tasmania. There are so many decisions to be made, so many details to organise, so many conversations to have, so many others to consult … not being in Tasmania is making the whole thing a tad more difficult, but we’re on the phone to each other a few times a day, and sometimes late into the night, and that helps in terms of decision-making and keeping each other informed of what’s happening.

There’s a lot going on!

Posted in Flowers, Learning

338

Robbing the flower of all its colour doesn’t rob it of its beauty – it just allows us to see differently. There’s a lesson in there I’m sure.

Posted in Flowers, Learning

329

Another dahlia today – this one with loads of squiggly bits (which will only mean anything if you read yesterday’s post). This dahlia was dancing in the slight breeze- which is fabulous, but it does make it slightly tricky to photograph.

Imagine, if you are so inclined, your favourite music and this dahlia moving along with the beat – whether that’s dreamy, or pumping, or folk-y, or blues-y, or pop-y, or perhaps a little bit classical. The flower doesn’t care what it looks like when it’s dancing, but most of us are not so free.

Over the summer, Tim and I went to the Queen Vic Night Market a number of times. We’d grab a chair and sit and listen to the fabulous music from the likes of Opal Ocean and Horns of Leroy. One of the delightful sights was the little children creeping away from their parents to move to the middle of the stage, stare at the musicians and then dance. Their delight in the music was clearly evident and they felt free to express that delight. Most of the adults were like Tim and I – happy to listen and to dance on the inside.

This dahlia wasn’t keeping it on the inside … that’s something we can learn from flowers. And from little children!

Posted in Flowers, Learning

328

I think I’ve picked the wrong time of year, but I’m going to return to flower photography for a while. I’ve concentrated on portraits for the last little while – although I haven’t featured many on this blog – but now I want to return to flowers.

I love photographing flowers – there are so many colours, so many shapes, so many sizes, so many types. An endless array – and we celebrate that. We cultivate variety, we actively plan for it in our parks and gardens if we are of a gardening bent, and if we aren’t we wander through the park or garden enjoying the variety, looking out for that one different flower. We are amazed at the size of some flowers. We take photos, paint them, adorn our homes with them. We buy them and give them as a token of our love or a symbol of our sorrow, or our appreciation.

There’s no pressure for flowers to be a particular way – they can have whirly bits, and squiggly bits, and movement-y bits; they can be white or yellow or pink or mauve or any colour they happen to be – and they’re all beautiful.

Wouldn’t it be good if we thought of ourselves and each other like that? If we celebrated our whirly bits and squiggly bits and movement-y bits? If we celebrated the variety of colours and shapes and sizes. If we were amazed by each other? How much kinder might we be if we looked at others and celebrated them the way we do with flowers?

Here’s today’s dahlia. Who is your dahlia?

Posted in Learning, Life

256

I can remember when my brother-in-law turned 25. He was the oldest person I knew outside of my parents and grandparents. At the time (when I was a teenager) he seemed SO old!

Today he turns 60 … so I guess he really is old now! 🙂

Happy birthday Grant.

Grant

Posted in Flowers, Learning

250

I keep returning to the sunflowers – there’s something captivating about them: the depth of colour, the detail, the symmetry of each petal (or perhaps the lack of symmetry).

As I wrote in my long post on Monday last week, I enjoy the creative process. For me, photography isn’t capturing the scene in front of me – it’s not ‘taking a photo’ – it’s creating an image with a deliberate creativity that explores and plays and experiments with light and shape and form and style and depth.

What is photography to you?

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