Posted in Learning, Life, Melbourne

Is that a light I see before me?

It’s been a tough few months. Not anything health related I hasten to add.

Thankfully.

Although before I venture into the toughness, I’ll give a brief update.

If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that around a year ago I found a lump in my breast. It was cancer. I had it removed in January and then in February through March had radiotherapy. It wasn’t pleasant and I’m still feeling the after effects. Last week I had a checkup with my medical oncologist. My breast tissue is still swollen and still very tender. Of course I already knew that as I feel it every day. What I didn’t know is that it’ll continue for another year or so – both the swelling and the tenderness.

Other than that, everything is fine. I still get days of exhaustion – I went to work on Tuesday last week, worked for an hour or so, went to attend a meeting and just couldn’t. Instead, I went home and spent the day in bed. And that might have had to do with the toughness than any lingering after effects of radiotherapy.

So, to the toughness.

Tim started a new job in late June and in the time between jobs we spent a week in Tasmania, touring around to places we’d been before and places we hadn’t. It was cold and wonderful and punctuated with moments of family just to make it even better.

When I got back to work, I was asked to work on an undergrad ethics unit for financial professionals.

You’re right. I know nothing about financial professionals, but had taught ethics some years before and so knew some of the basics.

‘Work on’ initially meant working with the unit chair to develop materials to ensure students were more active in their learning during the seminars. I’m very familiar with the principles of active learning and with unit design and so this was something that spoke to my skillset.

Not so the unit chair.

He struggled.

He couldn’t fathom why you’d want to teach in any other way than through lecture.

He couldn’t fathom how you’d teach in any other way than through lecture.

He quit.

I became unit chair.

And learning designer. And developer of the materials – both online and for the on-campus seminars. And the builder of the online site.

I had help of course. A colleague would send me ‘content’ which equated to discipline-specific information on things like fraud and tax evasion and fiduciary duties.

I asked lots of questions (beyond the obvious: ‘what’s a fiduciary duty?’).

The question I asked most often was ‘what are students going to do with this information?’ Providing students with information is important. Learning doesn’t happen in the absence of information, but there are ways and ways of presenting information, some more effective for learning than others. And then there’s how students start to make that information real for them – for their personal and professional lives.

We’ve recently had a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Australia. It identified a lot of unethical – and illegal – conduct. It was a gold mine in terms exploring ethical issues, but it was outside the range of interest/thinking/relevance for many of the 662 second-year students in the unit, many of whom were international students.

So making ethics personal before we thought about professional ethical responsibilities was important to me. We started with a case study on ‘what she makes’ – a campaign involving comedian Sammy J and Kmart. He asked, through the medium of comic song, what the women who make the garmets Kmart sells make. Are they paid a living wage and was it ethical if they weren’t? We moved on from there. Some students couldn’t see the point of it and struggled from the start. These are, after all, mostly accounting students.

I’m not quite sure what I’m saying there, but I think my point is around the idea that they’ve been trained in a particular way to think about how university learning is done, and this wasn’t it. Some said it was ‘nonsensical’.

This work took all of my time, all of my energy, all of my intellectual capacity. I had to learn about the finance profession, about governance structures, executive and non-executive directors and organisational culture, the differences between tax minimisation, tax avoidance and tax evasion (which ones of those are il/legal and which are legal but unethical; which one is a tax agent obligated to do?); I had to learn about the ethical hierarchy and the AAA decision-making model, Baird’s four ethical lenses (apparently I sit squarely between the responsibilities lens and the results lens meaning I get the best of both of them, but also the worst), how deontology and teleology relate to ethical decisions in the finance sector; I learnt about APES110 and Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act, and I now have a much better understanding of the role ASIC and APRA play in regulating the finance sector.

And so much more.

SO much more.

I designed seminars the nine male tutors baulked at. This isn’t teaching. Where’s the lecture? Where’s the space for me to talk to students – to tell them what I know? Our students don’t/won’t work/learn this way.

It felt like a fight the whole time. A fight to get the materials up in time, a fight to wrestle some sense out of the information I was given, a fight to record videos and to see myself on the screen without wanting to get a professional makeup artist in to turn this old woman into someone others could stand to watch. It was a fight against time, against my own ignorance, against others’. It was 14 hour days and most of each weekend. It was responding to students’ requests for extensions – when there are 662 students, there tend to be a lot of extension requests. It was finding markers to mark student assignments and providing markers with ideas for giving feedback that was empathic and supportive rather than punitive. It was students coming to see me to ask about how to do a mind map (something I’d mentioned as a potentially useful tool for determining the links between the various bits of information they were engaging with). It was students emailing me to say they couldn’t see the point in what they were doing and ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning’. It was emails asking if [this] was going to be on the exam, even after I’d written in the unit materials that everything was going to be on the exam.

And then there was Charles.

Charles, a 24 year old international student, came to see me late one afternoon. He was struggling, not only with the unit but with life in general. He sat down, started to tell me his story and cried. His business had gone badly, he owed an eye-wateringly large sum of money, his girlfriend had dumped him. He felt that life wasn’t worth living. I sat and listened and thought, I don’t know how to help this young man, but it seemed all he needed was someone to listen. I could do that. He came to my office regularly after that, always just as I was packing up and we’d sit and he’d talk and cry. Over time, his voice began to change – there was more energy and more life in it. He’s back in China now and still writes to me. Life is still tough for him but he says I made a difference.

And then there was Rohit.

Rohit, a 22 year old international student, asked lots of questions in the online seminar. So many that another student asked him if he’d even engaged with the materials. He asked more questions via email. Eventually, I asked him to come and see me. He burst into my office, full of energy, and just as full of questions as he’d been online. He told me, quite proudly, that he was ‘immature’. I asked him how that was working out for him. That question stopped him in his tracks. He wrote that question down, and said how it was an important question for him to consider. He showed me a photo of his mother, who he loves dearly. I asked what he does to make her proud. He wrote that down too. He told me that the exam was on his birthday and so I sent him a happy birthday email the morning of the exam. He came to my office one day last week to give me a box of chocolates. He said that I had had a profound impact on him and that he felt blessed by God to have had a teacher like me.

Before the end of the trimester, when I was still trying to finish the ethics unit, under mounting pressure as the days ticked down to get the work completed but feeling like I was getting close to the end of the tunnel, I was asked to work on another ethics unit. This one was for those who are financial advisers. Sharon, you’ll be academic lead on a unit, taught in two different ways (so, effectively two different units). Please work with the learning designer and the subject matter expert to complete the work by the end of October.

The learning designer and subject matter expert did very little. My workload, which had been easing slightly (I was only working 12 hour days and fewer hours on weekends), skyrocketed again.

But it’s come to the end of November – or close to – and I can start to see a little light at the end of what’s felt like a long tunnel. I only have a few rubrics to write now, and some development work to do on one of the units – and I have my unit chair duties to do, but they don’t take too much time.

Was it worth it? Spending all my time and energy working on the development of the ethics units?

No.

And that’s not being as blunt as I could be about it. I’ve enjoyed some parts of it, don’t get me wrong. I had a great day on Thursday for instance. I had no meetings and sat at my computer and put together resources on the ethics involved in organisational culture and whistle blowing, and that felt satisfying.

But I haven’t been to Tasmania since June – unless you count the day I went down for Emma’s birthday in October. I did manage to get to my 40 year high school reunion and spend the weekend with my 40-year friend Michelle. I also managed to fit in a quick trip to Deb’s. But I haven’t seen Byron since he was a week old and now he’s just over 6 months. I haven’t seen Mum since July. I haven’t been north to see my sons and grandkids since April.

I haven’t written a blog post since August. I haven’t taken a photo of a flower in months. I haven’t been enjoying the little bits of photography I have been doing, and I wouldn’t have been doing any except that I’m doing a part-time photography course and that requires me to take some photographs.

I’m tired. All the time.

ALL the time.

It’s been a tough few months.

Bring on the light.

 

Posted in Life

Un/scrambled

You  might think this is a post about eggs.

It isn’t.

It’s a post about ideas … or maybe not ideas so much as thoughts.

Or threads, but not of the clothes variety.

As an introvert I have a very quiet outer world – I’m not the ‘greeter’ – you know the one, the person who exuberantly says hello to everyone in the office each morning, or the one who bounces up to each person at a party to welcome them even if they aren’t the host.

I’m going out on a limb there you realise. I’m such an introvert that I don’t go to parties – apart from the one I’m going to today. But that’s different because that’s my eldest granddaughter’s birthday party and the only other people there will be my children and grandchildren. Maybe an odd friend or extended family member as well, but ostensibly a family party.

Family parties, when everyone there is an introvert, are interesting, particularly when there’s so much family.

Only three of my five children will be there, but between the three of them they have 10 children, plus four steps. It makes for a lot of people – who, yes, are all related, but who have more conversations going on in their heads than from their mouths.

I’m making it sound as though we stand aroung not talking, and that’s not the case at all. We talk non-stop. We’re just all so worn out at the end of it from talking so much that we need alone time to recharge.

But I digress.

Scrambled.

Thoughts.

Threads.

My sister wrote a comment on my previous blog post along the lines of ‘you have so many ideas’ and she also wrote, in her own blog, ‘I might look like I’m doing nothing, but in my head I’m very busy!’

I completly resonate with that sentiment – it’s a hallmark of an introvert – the quiet on the outside but busy on the inside thing.

And that called to mind this image I saw on social media a while ago. 

unnamed

I love those opportunities to have deep conversation with someone in which the scramble of thoughts/threads gets unscrambled.

I usually pay for those conversations, but that’s okay because the person I’m paying knows how to take the tangle and unravel it a little. Or maybe it’s because they listen so that I do the untangling myself, just by getting the threads out of my head and therefore out of the ravel.

[If you can unravel something, does that mean you can ravel it?]

When my students didn’t know where to begin in writing a university assignment, I’d tell them to just start, to put something down on the page and keep tugging gently at the idea/thought/thread through writing, so that eventually there are lots of ideas on the page and you can re-arrange them as required, throw some out, develop some further, add new ones, so that eventually you have a piece of writing that is as clear and unscrambled as you’d want a university assignment to be.

[Unlike that paragraph, which had too many ‘so that eventuallys’ in it. I could edit it but I like the forceful movement forward it implies.]

Deb’s right. I do have lots of ideas/thoughts and I’m getting much better at recognising when they’re in a tangle and knowing how I might go about untangling them.

I talk.

It’s exhausting. But ultimately far less exhausting than having the thoughts continually scrambling around my mind.

If you want some clarity – talk to someone trained to listen.

An unscrambled mind is so much less exhausting and far less heavy to carry around.

 

Posted in Learning, Life

Confluence

I click on the ‘add new post’ button and a blank page opens, with the blinking cursor sitting in the ‘Title’ box.

The word ‘confluence’ pops into my mind, so I type it in, then quickly check the dictionary definition to make sure it’s the right word for what I want to say.

A title is important. It helps synthesise our ideas in a way that suggests there’s a core idea the author wants to communicate and the author knows, at the start of the writing process, what that idea is.

Sometimes when I start writing a blog post I have no idea of the core idea I want to communicate, and so I leave the title blank. The act of writing helps distill my idea and it’s at that point a title emerges.

But not this time. In this moment, as I sit writing, I know the core idea I want to communicate and so the title is easy. Plus, I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now and that thinking has acted as a distillery.

Over a week ago I saw this on my Facebook feed.

we-only-live-once-snoopy-wrong-we-only-die-once-43819656

I remember being struck by the sentiment because we mostly hear ‘you only live once’ as an exhortation to make the most of things.

I’m currently, with lots of support from others, developing an ethics unit and am constantly on the lookout for case studies, resources, stories of ethical misconduct in the financial services sector (which is not hard to find at the moment), but when you search online for something, you enter into a rabbit warren of ideas and perspectives and views and things the internet believes you might be interested in.

One of those things was an interview Charles Wooley did earlier this year for 60 Minutes. I don’t ever watch 60 Minutes, but on this occasion, when the video was in my ‘Up next’ menu in YouTube,  I decided to watch it because I was interested in who Charles Wooley was interviewing: Ricky Gervais.

The interview opened with them both walking through a cemetery and at one point, Gervais says something like, “you don’t exist for billions of years, and then for 70 or 80 years you do, and then you don’t”.

It’s a cosmic view of life – a long-range look – one that perhaps brings a different perspective to our lives.

And as I sat thinking about his comment, Carl Sagan’s video ‘Pale Blue Dot’ sprang into my mind.

Consider that dot … on it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives … on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan

I could feel the confluence starting – ideas beginning to merge.

The idea that we don’t only live once, we live every day of our lives.

The idea that we’re here for such a small part of all time.

The idea that we’re all together, on this one tiny planet.

How am I living each day? How am I making the most of the opportunities my being here allows? How am I caring for others and for the only planet we can currently call home?

I don’t have answers; I rarely do.

But the questions are a starting point.

A confluence has to start somewhere and it may as well be here, as I sit, musing from the cold.

Posted in Uncategorized

Manners and public discourse

While I have had a Twitter account for just over a year now, I have not, until recently, given it much attention. Nor have I given much attention to my LinkedIn account. Over the past two weeks, for a reason I have yet to understand, I have taken to checking my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts on a very regular basis. I read through the tweets and articles that arrive during the night while eating rhubarb and ricotta for breakfast, and then I check again at lunch time and regularly throughout the evening. My daughters would call “nerd alert” if they could see who I follow (ABC News 24; The Guardian; BBC World News; Oxford University Press, etc) but that’s okay. Nerds are usually quite harmless and I don’t mind being counted amongst their number.

But that’s not the reason for this post. The point isn’t to tell you that I’ve become somewhat addicted to Twitter and LinkedIn, and to the information, ideas, perspectives, thinking, opinions, moments of humour and sometimes outrage to which I am now exposed.

The point is to try to make sense, for myself as much as anyone, of some of the things I’ve read in recent times.

One of the tweets that came through on Friday was news of a message to members of the Australian Army by Lt. General David Morrison, AO who was responding to reports of unacceptable behaviour.

I also read tweets about the questions put to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, by (former) Perth radio presenter, Howard Sattler.

The two things became linked in my mind, and also called to mind the list of things others have said about and to Prime Minister Gillard over the last two and a half years.

One of the things that Lt. General Morrison said in his message to members of the Australian Army (and let’s face it, to the rest of us given that it’s on YouTube for all to see) is that “every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our Army”. What if we were to replace Army with “school” or “workplace, houses of Parliament, radio station or home”? Would what he said still apply? Are we responsible for the culture and reputation of where we work and live?

As an aside, he also said: “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. One thing I find interesting is that this hasn’t already been said loudly and clearly by an editor of a newspaper, a news director in a radio station, a senior executive of a TV station, a leader in the community … 

But I digress.

I stumbled across Angry is a Habit while reading articles on LinkedIn. It is a short blog post about habits. We have habits of behaviour, but Godin (the author of the post) suggests that our emotions can become habitual too.

I thought about this in relation to the words used by some in the media and wondered if the emotions behind their words are habitual ways of being. Why the need to pour hate and loathing and anger into the world? Is it just a habit? Do we, the consumers of these words, buy the emotion as well? Is it a package deal? When we read/hear/watch the angry, hate-filled words that we wouldn’t say to our boss, principal, Dean of the Faculty, chair of the Parents and Friends committee, head of the local arts organisation, do we buy the emotion too so that we get just as angry and hate-filled at whichever politician is being scorned, ridiculed, put down? Do the words cause us to feel particular things? Does hate and anger therefore spread through our communities in the same way that videos go viral on the internet?

From LinkedIn I also read Three words that will transform your career. In this article author Bruce Kasanoff claims that to improve our quality of life we just need to think “help this person” every time we encounter another person: “When you walk into Starbucks for coffee, think help this person about the barista who serves you. Instead of being frustrated that he isn’t moving fast enough, see if you can make him smile. Better yet, tell him to keep the change.” Kasanoff claims that this will “change your demeanour, your thought process, and the entire interaction.”

It is a similar sentiment to one put forward by David Foster Wallace in his now-famous speech to a group of university graduates in the US in 2005. While Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho amongst other works) considers Foster Wallace “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation“, others have been taken with Wallace’s notion of choice … we can choose to behave in certain ways, we can choose to see the world in particular ways, we can choose to look beyond the surface and (although he didn’t use these words) we can choose empathy. We can choose to live beyond our “default setting” (of being annoyed and frustrated by, for instance, the slowness of airplane passengers when putting their bags in the overhead lockers; of being annoyed and frustrated that even when someone is eighth in the queue for the ATM they still don’t have their purse out of their handbag when they “suddenly” find themselves first in the queue, which has now grown to 23 tongue-clicking, foot-tapping withdrawers of money). We can choose to think/live/behave/feel differently.

So what have I learnt from all this reading? What sense am I making from these seemingly unrelated tweets, articles, speeches, thoughts? It has something to do with manners and respectful behaviour … but it also goes beyond that.

For me, one thing is clear: We can change our habitual ways of thinking and acting. To do this, we first need to become aware of how our thoughts impact our behaviour, speech, interactions, emotions. We need to consider our habits of thought and emotion and then to do something about them if we find ourselves thinking/feeling/acting negatively/rudely/in an ill-mannered way on a regular basis.

Through a change in thinking we can transform others’ lives and in the process transform our own as well.

We can stop walking past what we know (deep down) we don’t accept. We can speak up for respect, care, kindness, professionalism and manners. We don’t have to accept the hate and anger of radio shock-jocks and political commentators (of whatever persuasion). We don’t have to accept their hate-filled, angry, vitriolic rantings, and their disrespectful questioning, and their words which claim that we are all somehow implicated in their tawdry games (we continue to listen, to watch, to read, to buy, to comment and thus give them credibility or at the very least our time).

We can choose to think for ourselves, read critically, and ask questions of the texts produced and served to us on a regular basis. We can live by habit, or we can choose to live consciously, being explicitly aware of the world around us and how we are being shaped by the views/words/actions of others (yes, even of me in this blog post), and the ways our views/words/actions shape others.

If we are teachers, then we need to be even more aware of that influence.

None of this is new of course. Educator Wayne Sawyer, in an editorial he wrote in English in Australia in 2005, noted that “our current students face a relentless barrage of shockjocks, media barons, advertising and corporate greed masquerading as common sense” (p. 4). Sawyer called on teachers to ensure that critical literacy was an integral component of their teaching. But in order to do that, teachers too must be aware of how their views are being shaped by the same shock-jocks and media barons that shape our students’ thoughts. And more than that, we need to know how to deconstruct the messages they (and we) consume and know how to teach students to unpack them.

We can choose … that’s what I’ve learnt. We can choose.