I managed to wrestle two scholarship days out of the aftermath of restructure of our centre, completely redesigning all our provision, taking on the lead for a masters programme, finding feed in a new role, managing projects and ignoring the call of NVivo, losing agency of my role and slowly taking up the steering wheel again. Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to being coached by Rich Furman from Write, Publish, Thrive! because due to a combination of a neuro-quirky (not the technical term) brain, English as second language, changes in job roles, and not being permitted to do research–I had developed a serious aversion to academic writing. Some insights from our session and how they work will follow in a different post.
To get serious about the writing every day, even just for a small amount of time. I set myself the challenge to publish 30 posts over the next 30 days. With this challenge I already implement one of the points of advice given.
You just write. Every day. Today is not a special day.
The next 30 days will not mark a full calendar month or some other sort of temporal meaningfulness. It’s just a day that happened to be the first day this academic year I manage to engage in scholarship. The only reason I use today, is that I have despite all the good advice not yet managed to create this every day routine. Which is just generally difficult for me–heck I am glad if I remember to moisturize! So beginning today gives me four days (including the weekend) where there are no excuses for not writing. It’s basically a little bit of a head-start.
Welcome to the ride! Some of the topics I would like to explore further, are related to the tips I obtained from the BBC resources in managing meetings and getting the right information out of these, insights from my coaching session about academic writing, but also actual scholarly themes that relate to Learning and Teaching, and Academic Practice in Higher Education. I have been working on translating creative pedagogies into higher education for years–and apparently my Lego session now has a reputation! So creativity is definitely one of the areas I would like to explore further. So are identity negotiations of learners and folk who teach, pedagogical (didactic, in the German not the English sense of the word) landscapes. I might share some book recommendations, and there will probably be days that amount to as much as one paragraph of content–see how expectation management worked there?
Now that I have adjusted to my official, proper, questionnaires and interviews-filled diagnosis, a very upset mom, a bout of depression, and spend some months reading on all the weird and wonderful stuff the ADHD brain does, I am on a serious quest to hack said Brain.  The following is one of the most powerful quotes I have found so far:
“ADHD is not a disorder of not knowing what to do, it is a disorder of not doing what you know,” (Russell Barkley)
Because of the meandering Brain, things get lost. Brain wanders off into realms unkown. It becomes entirely obsessed with a shiny pen, or your earrings—wonder if they are from Etsy. Look at the colours! I don’t agree with what he just said. The colours are so pretty. All of a sudden there is a surge of interesting information, and the CPU gets a flash-flood of associations and cross-references—all the while still admiring your earrings—thus the world drowns in noise. Staying tuned-in and listening is not only challenging it is outright exhausting.
“Whatever is causing people to lose focus is much bigger than their ability to control it — that’s exactly what makes ADHD a disorder,” Murphy says. 
On the quest for strategies, I had a chat with my lovely colleague and journalist Amanda, whose tips I will share in the following post. I approached her because I was wondering if interview techniques could comprise ADHD strategies. After all journalism is the profession of getting information out of situations and people—right? So far so good. Now, Amanda pointed out that there is something called BBC Academy, so they are THE professionals. I could ask. I mean the worst that could happen was them telling me I am a weirdo and bugger off. So. Deep breath. Write message.
I asked via Facebook chat if they by any chance had resources that might help. Well, guess what! The guys were brilliant, and send me some links. Over the next weeks I will write a series of blog-post about the advice I found, insights from the advice, things that worked, things that didn’t, strategies I extrapolated. So, this is the first blog-post:
“Play dumb: You can get more out of someone by asking why they did something or what they meant. Be curious and ask neutral questions that allow the guest to explain themselves. How so? What do you mean?” (Julien Worricker, 9/10/17) 
You can probably empathize that the two words ‘play dumb’ stood out, but maybe not for the reasons you think. I am an Erziehungswissenschaftler (Educational scientist? There is actually no proper English term for that) and ethnographer. One of the key principles of ethnographic research is to ‘estrange the familiar’ aka ‘play dumb’. For some reason I never made this connection before: treat meetings like ethnographic fieldwork. Estrange the familiar, question everything, don’t make assumptions. That’s what I learned from this article.
Incidentally the advice from BBC Academy came timely. Not only did I have a couple of very important meetings, but also two which lasted well over six hours each. You can imagine these are challenging for people with neuro-typical brains, now throw into the mix a lot of that:
Right, it’s not a meeting! It is ethnographic fieldwork. Redefine the parameters!
I have learned the more successful strategies to cope with ADHD have to do with tricking Brain into redefining situations, or distracting Brain into more constructive distractions (I know! We just leave it at that for the moment.) The strategy worked. I watched the Gorillas: body-language, micro-reactions, what was said, what was not said, phrases, catch-words, reactions of others, obvious reactions, obvious non-reactions, non-verbal communication across the room. Jane Goodall would have been proud! All of this helped me to stay tuned into what was said, as the audience in the back of my head was busy with the show, the front of my head had a chance to listen.
Okay so first rule of journalism worked! 
Sensory overload. There was no ‘private time’ during the long meeting in which one could defragment Brain. So it works really well in short meetings, long meetings come with a side-effect.
 I know, I know but I can try to make things easier, better, forget less, do more.
 First rule of journalism I discovered as rule for me. Not actually first rule as in number one in the rule book. You can tell I had a chat with a lawyer earlier.
1. I want to translate creative pedagogies (as described in various previous blog posts) into higher education. And yes I am very passionate about this.
2. I believe that teaching (and ultimately learning) is a healing art.
Well, I told him, exactly that. I said: To be honest, I believe that teaching is a healing art, but I can hardly write this into my academic practice statement. Can I? The answer was a definite no, and the decision to focus on answer one, was made. I think if I ever want to be able to use this as a proper answer, without the esoteric flair, I will have to establish some serious evidence. An initial search brought up this article by J.P. Palmer about teacher identity and integrity. One theme that seems to emerge when talking about teaching as a healing art is that of weaving. Weaving of identities, realities, in conversation with our students into a shared tapestry of our mutual selves.
Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a “capacity for connectedness.” (Palmer, 1997)
In essence, this work is […] allowing readers to witness how I am weaving together various strands of myself including the personal, emotional, professional, intellectual, and spiritual. (Villanueva, 2013)
Maybe the answer to this in somewhere in there?
I agree on all points made by Villanueva. However, how would this be quantifiable? We imply it in our postgraduate diploma. We ask the participants, who are all in one way teaching at university, to write an account of professional practice, and in this account we asked them, to some degree, to reflect on their teacher identity. We also refer to the UKPSF, our professional standard framework here in the UK. The framework is split into three sections: Activities, Knowledge, and Values. The values speak about respect for learners, equality and diversity, but also using evidence informed approaches and acknowledging the wider higher education context. Now you could question the intrinsic value in acknowledging the higher education context. But you could also just look at it more closely and realize it reflects the elements of weaving Villanueva is writing about—professional, and scholarship refers to intellectual, CPD to personal. So mapping these philosophical, maybe romantic, notions of teaching to more tangible constructs could be a way towards quantifying the less tangible dimensions of teaching.
Another way to approach this topic is through exploring teacher identities. I very much associate with the below quote, and think somewhere in there is how we build the previously mentioned connections with our students. It makes me wonder how much ones self-awareness is related to creating a connected teacher identity.
Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials. (Palmer, 1997)
Five psychological processes were found to be involved in the development of a teacher identity: a sense of appreciation, a sense of connectedness, a sense of competence, a sense of commitment, and imagining a future career trajectory. (Lankveld et al., 2016)
I am currently writing a so-called Account of Professional Practice, which led to some serious reminiscence:
We all start somewhere
When I held my first actual teaching job—teaching English in Kindergarten—I was lucky enough to be able to call my granddad after each of the double sessions. My granddad at this point was a retired educator with over 25 years of experience. He had his coffee and cake at the ready, waiting with the phone next to him for my call. Granny at some point told me that despite his cancer these bi-weekly conversations gave him a boost of motivation, because as a teacher he always rejoiced in the ability to nurture and mentor.
Be viciously honest with yourself
Without judgement we would reflect and talk about all the things that went well, all the things I did struggle with, or felt I had screwed up.
So he had his cake, I had my speakerphone, and on my drive back home we would reflect for half an hour or so. I could be viciously honest about my feelings of anger, embarrassment, joy, helplessness, pride, and happiness. All the things that come with the responsibilities of teaching. The premise of no-judgement is something I try to instill when I am teaching the introductory sessions for our Graduate Teaching Assistants.
We are all human.
I learned so much during these conversations, and the importance of honesty with myself, for growth, and developing as a teacher (educator, if you do not like the label teacher) still echoes today. Today, years after I have lost my granddad, I am having these imagined conversations in a reflective diary, with colleagues, other family members, and sometimes my students (learners). These conversations are still crucial, the reflective exercises are still my strongest weapon.
Reflective Practice: my Greatest Tool
I believe granddad would have thoroughly enjoyed following the trials and tribulations of becoming a teacher in Higher Education, all the stories from my students, finding my feet, becoming a teacher of teachers, and he would have put his hands over his head with all that tech stuff.
So there are a couple of reasons for this post.
1: The first is that our manager found the following definition of an inclusive work-environment in the Microsoft eLesson Unconscious Bias Resource:
What does an inclusive culture look like?
People are respected, valued, and seen
People can be their authentic selves. There’s no need to hide elements of one’s identity to fit in.
People are heard and feel safe sharing their ideas.
Each person is able to bring leadership, influence, and knowledge.
An inclusive environment allows everyone to bring their ideas and contribute their best work.
2: Working in a team where not being neuro-normal is normal. Within the few months of working together, idiosyncrasies have become normalised. We are not generously and graciously given permission to be ‘other’, but just given space to be who we are, and be able to do our work without being told to do it the way someone else envisages it that doesn’t make sense to us.
3: #DisabilityConfidence I saw this hashtag and remembered being put on the spot during an exam board. I was covering for a colleague. I had oodles of these admin forms and tick boxes in front of me. Now, if I see a form, all I see is noise, lots of noise and I start getting anxiety attacks, because I cannot hear words in the noise of the forms. The structures usually do not make sense, and it takes me hours to get into the linear expression of one form, let alone a whole pile of them. A large part of this is that these forms are noisy and boring, so keeping with it till the end of a sentence costs a massive effort.
Anyway, I struggled to make heads and tails of a form, which I saw the first time during the meeting, and was put on the spot by the chair of the board to answer a process question I was not yet familiar with. I desperately scrambled for the answer, and my colleague said it’s in the footnote. Yeah … dense point 8 text of quarter a page length, and I needed to find a tiny piece of information in all of this. All I remember from the meeting was noise, racket. I looked at my colleague and said: ‘I cannot read this right now. I cannot read this.’ The chair was entirely oblivious to my struggle. All the time the paper screamed at me, the darn wall-clock was ticking like a time-bomb, and the erratic colour coding in the tables looked like a printer had vomited all over the documents, making the noise worse. Someone was smoking outside the window, my colleagues were stressed because of earlier arguments, the chair was chewing his pen, and you could have cut the tension in the room with a knife.
4: I stumbled across a blog-post: Unpacking your ADHD and it made me wonder if I should give it a shot, because it focuses on the good things too.
The good thing about hyperfocus is that I can go through thousands of data sets in a short amount of time. I am not kidding I worked for a consulting company during my summer holiday and in 4 weeks time I went through 4 times the amount of data sets, my predecessor took half a year for. During my PhD I could get up at 5 and by 9 I would have written 3.000 to 5.000 words. Okay after I would have a cognitive hangover for a couple of days…
During my undergraduate degree I was working on an assignment. My roomie called and said she would be home in half an hour, would I mind to start the pasta-water she was hungry. I put the pot on the stove (it was a three liter pot, we both did lots of sports and would easily eat 500gr of pasta). I went back to just finish this one paragraph. Perceived 5 minutes later a flatmate knocked on our door and asked if the orange glowing pot in the kitchen was ours. The water had evaporated and the heat had began to make the stainless steel glow orange. Needless to say my friend had bumped into another friend on her way home and ended up chatting and I had entirely sunk into my assignment.
My brain can do the splits. If I manage to find the right amount of ‘drown out’ entertainment for the back of my brain, such as audiobooks, movies I know, or the right music, then the front of my brain can focus on something else—basically the audience who constantly shout out interesting things to contemplate or do, is busy watching a play.
I read in a book description that this surround-sound awareness was actually important for hunters, before farming appeared as a favourable way of life. So I do notice things. I will notice slight shifts in behaviour, face expression, tone of voice. I see disturbances in patterns of behaviour, data, and logic. Actually I see patterns full stop. I am creative, there is a constant flow of output and creation. I can cook really well, usually once I ate a dish I can cook it, unless there is an ingredient I have never encountered before. I find everything fascinating from how a motor works, to a butterfly sitting on a flower, so tell me your hobby and I will truly think it’s awesome.
Meetings are so boring that they are physically painful, anxiety inducing. People speak sooooooo slowly. What is it with not finishing a sentence. It’s like driving behind someone who drives with 20 mph in a 40 zone. Impatience. Why do people always have the need to state truisms and tautologies? Is it not enough to say something once and omit the obvious? To walk the same distance can take me 15 minutes or an hour.
My students regularly tell me, that I am really patient, and that I do have a calming influence. Yeah I know! Beats me, too. I have not yet figured this one out. Maybe it has to do with the complexity of the issues the students usually posed in our meetings. Or my little ‘pre-meeting a troubled person ritual‘.
It makes for really good stories, and stand-up jokes. So, I am going to a Halloween Party, only knowing one person there. Didn’t see that there were a couple of steps down into the room. Fell flat on my face in front of everyone. Did some elaborate stage bows and courtesies. Was a great icebreaker. I hated weeding as a child, really did, it was so boring, so I intentionally pulled out a couple of carrots, and granny never even suspected a rouse to get me out of weeding.
PS: I apologized to the baby carrots and put them back in.
Breaking all my favourite dishes, loosing jewellery, constantly being covered in bruises and cuts, or burns. Literally running (as in walking) over people, I am tallish, I didn’t see them. Food-stains—I know all the really good stain removers and household hacks! If you need tips, ask me. (I guess this is a pro?)
I make my own clothes, and knit, and if I put my mind to it I can play with ancient artifacts and not break anything at all (but am exhausted after and my heart-rate goes up.)
I love stories, and you can tell me your life-stories over and over again and I will find them awesome. It prevents the CPU from overheating. Sometimes it works in my favour, less energy spend on something I should not prioritize anyway. A friend and colleague always describes me as highly organized—yeah that’s just self-defense.
Forgetting to check emails, forgetting to … I forgot. Lunches sitting in the fridge so long that they’ve become out of date.
I forget your name, what your subject or research interest was, or where you are from, but I remember that you were really sad when your dog died, and I brought you that book I thought might be helpful for something in your work or life at the moment. And by the way, while I still can’t remember your name, I see that you struggle with something right now. Do you want to go for a coffee?
A couple of weeks back I had a conversation with a friend who is—by trade—a psychologist. Said friend explained that I am an unconscious expert, to help me identify how to talk about the rational and concepts underlying my pedagogical models and approaches. Because I struggled to enable a smooth hand-over of some of the projects. So here is one of the scenarios I tried to dissect:
One day after a workshop in radiography programme, the class-head came to me and asked what I had done to her students. You might remember the post about Balloon academy; part of the assessment for students was to write a personal development exercise. This exercise was only due by the end of the semester. Although, neither me nor the students mentioned that exercise even once in our session, in the following session with their class-head the students cued to ask her how to get started with the exercise. Normally the students would only begin thinking about it two weeks before hand-in.
So what had I actually done?
I went back to analyse my learning and teaching strategies, and I know that most of it is based on the principles of creative pedagogy I wrote about on numerous occasions: relevance, ownership, control and innovation. But when I had a closer look at my pedagogical approach, I realised there is another principle I am using every single time in teaching:
This is based on Dewey’s paradigm that everything newly learned should be linked or built onto something the students already know. So creating a real-life context of the principles of the object (object as in a social constructivism), something tangible (like the balloons, or the white cups) and then after the experience of the principles, link it back to subject content. It is effectively: learning in principle, applying in the subject (or object as above). So this is a topic I need to explore further, as it links into a variety of learning theories, to bring myself back onto a conscious level.
Lernen im Prinzip—Anwenden im Gegenstand
I forgot to publish this so this is still a work in progress, and for various reasons I cannot go into detail. However, I hope it still makes some sense. The last project in my old role:
Discussions about resilience of students and the rise of mental health issues have been on the agenda for some years now. When I was approached to develop a concept for students who were permitted to repeat a year and hopefully get back onto an honours track degree route, I began to search for a model that would scaffold my pedagogy. Considering that my credo is to help our students to help themselves, and I seek to find strategies that are easy to ‘take away’ and adapt to their needs, as well as impacting across and beyond the students’ life cycle, I did not want a deficit model.
‘So back to basics.’; I thought. And one sunny Sunday afternoon—in the park with my coffee and pastries (hey this is important background information for creating a successful work environment)—I read for the first time in a decade a textbook again. It’s been a long time since I engaged with social and developmental psychology, was happy to find—or rediscover—a model created by one of my all-time-favourites: Bandura … the triadic reciprocal causation.
This model considers: personal characteristics, behaviour patterns, and environmental factors.
I particularly like that there is an emphasis on meta-cognitive knowledge, highlighting the importance of analysing, planning and monitoring ones behaviour. This affords the learner agency of the learning process and initiates control and ownership of this learning process. Incidentally, some of the attributes of creative learning and teaching (Jeffrey & Woods, 2009) I used during my postgraduate research.
During my time working with students in the School of Health and Life Sciences (Glasgow Caledonian University) I had the impression that students who engage in regular reflective writing activities, displayed much stronger academic practice (criticality, writing style, analysis) than students who did not engage in reflective writing activities. There is a limited body of research supporting this experience. I coached the students through the writing process, which took one, one-to-one meeting, and then reading and commenting on their scripts. There were only a couple of students I had to call in for a second meeting. The importance for the goal setting part of the reflective writing was to set skill-based goals rather than task-based goals.
So for instance, if a student would write: I am going to attend every lecture. You, and I, and the student knows this is not going to happen. A skill-based goal would be, I will obtain notes from all lectures, and identify questions to either ask in tutorials, labs, or my peers to help me understand the subject matter. This also introduced elements of self-observation and -evaluation.
The next point I thought would be significant in my approach was how students develop their concept of self-efficacy, and what I could do to have a positive impact on this perception. Self-efficacy is a crucial part of learner identities, and I used this to measure the development of the students’ progress throughout the year. More details will follow after the final analysis but so far there seems to have been a positive impact from this approach. So much so that talks have been given as various college committees to see if this could be translated and scaled up to different cohorts. The social and physical environment: was addressed by setting up institutional structures and processes, as well as strong communication from senior academics in the school, as well as introducing peer-coaching to create an environment of support.