Sunday, 14 January 2018

Becoming Radical

What does it mean to be 'radical' in England today?  When I think of the word itself, lots of things spring to mind.  As a kid in the 80s 'rad' was a slang term for cool (I think it was also used by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - don't feel particularly 'rad' for mentioning that though).  Being 'cool', different, wanting change, seeing new and unusual perspectives... all of those things, plus probably having a beard (women don't immediately spring to mind when I think of 'radical', which is troubling).  I also think of Saul Alinsky and his 'Rules for Radicals' - a guide for community organisers, taken on board again in recent years by US Democrats.  Alinsky's Ten Rules for Radicals are here:

Reflecting on the word and Alinsky's philosophy as outlined above (often accused as polarising and anti-feminist) reinforces my sense of 'radical' as a problematic term.  The word is now of course also used freely throughout the government's Prevent policy, undergoing an etymological shift from the OED definitions of a person '...characterised by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive' to a person undergoing a process of being influenced by and joining extremist groups that are violently opposed to the general way of life in Britain today. Carol Wild, in her article Going to Extremes - How Radical are you? (2016) suggests that terms like radicalism are being 'made strange' by constant repetition in a particular context.  Certainly the word seems to have fallen out of use in terms of education; more emphasis is put on being a progressive, or a 'critical educator'.

Given this strangeness it felt timely to attend the University of Kent's 'Radical Pedagogies' Forum 
Richard Hall's Keynote
along with my colleague from University of Leeds Lifelong Learning Centre, Catherine Bates (@cathpuppeteer).  This event was the brainchild of organisers Claire Hurley and Tom Ritchie, who, on their university teacher training course realised that there had been very little mention of progressive, critical or indeed 'radical' education. Universities are often labelled as hotbeds of radical, snow-flakey, SJW thinking, particularly where teacher education is concerned, so it may surprise some to see an instrumental approach being advocated internally for teaching and learning. Given the creeping neo-liberalisation of our HE institutions however it is likely we will see more of this shift in the days and weeks to come.

Rather than recount the entire conference (which was brilliant, incidentally) I have attempted to distill the sessions I attended into 25 questions.  My aim is to turn these into tools for reflection for educators in HE institutions (you'll also find some of these appearing over on Twitter for #30DaysReflectResist).

From Paula McElearney's session - What 'gives life' to critical pedagogy?'

1.What is 'critical pedagogy' and what does it look like in England today?
2. How can we sustain ourselves as critical educators in a system that makes sustenance feel impossible?
3. Critical pedagogy has its roots in the work of Paulo Freire, who was writing over forty years ago. How different should the principles look today? Is there a need for (post) human critical pedagogy, and what might that look like?

From Darren Webb (University of Sheffield) session - Exploring the archeology of consciousness as an aspect of utopian pedagogy'

4. 'There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.' (Leonard Cohen).  How do we know when we have found the cracks, fissures or gaps through which we can reimagine teaching and learning? How do we spot this happening in our classrooms?
5. Should we also seek to create these 'cracks' in the system - and if so, how?
6. What 'disruptive behaviours' can we undertake to shake (even if temporarily) the status quo?

For more on Utopian pedagogy, read Darren's piece for Open Democracy here

From Kathleen Quinlan (University of Oxford) session - How Higher Education Feels: Commentaries on Poems that Illuminate Learning and Teaching

7.  Powerful learning experiences have emotion behind them. If this is true, why do we only focus on the cognitive domain?
8.  What 'unwritten' rules around emotion affect our teaching?
9. How can we better use emotion as a catalyst for reflection and growth?

For a preview of Kathleen's book, How Higher Education Feels: Commentaries on Poems that Illuminate Learning and Teaching click here
The Master's Office
The Master's Office

From Geoff Bunn (Manchester Metropolitan University) session - The Student Journey, Power Relations and the Development of Agency'

10.  Why do we always use the linear journey metaphor to describe student progression, and how does this limit how we teach our students?

11. Bureaucracy is not neutral...It creates students who are good at fulfilling (or subverting)
bureaucratic processes. What is the impact of new bureaucracies on our students? How does it affect the relationships between us?

The Student Voice - session with students from the University of Kent

12.  Students and lecturers are increasingly suffering the same issues with mental health, precarity of employment, poverty and debt. How can we narrow the gap between us to find spaces of support and solidarity?
13. 'I don't need you to sit there and use long words with me - just chat to me like a normal human being.'  How do we address issues where individual academics misuse (and abuse) power through 'micro-aggressions'? Is this a problem of growing feelings of threat and vulnerability? And is there a wider concern about the demonising and 'othering' of young people today?

From Richard Hall (De Montfort University) session - Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

14. How white is our curriculum?  How democratic?  How feminist?
15. Is it possible to re-imagine and re-create the academy from the inside, or do we need to find another way?

Read Richard's article 'The Rise of Academic Ill-Health' here

From Lee-Ann Sequeira (London School of Economics) session - The Problem with Silent Students - It's You, Not Them

16. Why do we fetishise extroversion in education?  How can we better value silence, attention and listening to others?
17.  Why don't we ask students about how they prefer to participate in learning?
18. How can we build in more time for reflection? (for students and teachers)
19. What can we learn from non-Anglo/American practices and ways of being?
20. How often do we praise good listening?
21. How aware are we of how much space we take up by our own vocal contributions?

Read Lee-Ann's blog, Silence in the Classroom here

From Shahidha Bari (University of London) keynote - The Art of an Education

22. How can we make universities more like a medical triage system - where we treat those in the most need first?
23. How can we build in more critical reflexivity - in our students, our colleagues, ourselves? And what can we (should we?) do about those who don't want to engage in critical dialogue?

From Malcolm Noble and Tracy Walsh - Learning and Teaching for the Post-Capitalist Economy - Co-operation, not Competition

24. What might a 'co-operative' curriculum look like?
25. Is a co-produced curriculum truly possible when students are becoming consumers of a product?

Find out about Leicester Vaughan College (new co-operative venture) here 

Becoming Radical

The reflective space offered by this conference has helped me consider further what it means to be radical in education today.  I get the sense that it is a process of 'becoming', very much connected to personal values and something to reconsider, reframe, and question continually as we try to navigate the shifting world around us.  It isn't a process that can be done alone - and I'd love to hear your comments and your own questions, either on this blog or on Twitter via #30DaysReflectResist.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Philosophical Inquiry

Finding Spaces to Dance


Image result for twelve dancing princesses sheilah
Image by Sheilah Beckett

Twelve princesses, each more beautiful than the last, sleep in twelve beds in the same room. Every night, their doors are securely locked by their father. But in the morning, their dancing shoes are found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night. The king perplexed, asks his daughters to explain, but they refuse. The king then promises his kingdom and each daughter to any man who can discover the princesses' midnight secret within three days and three nights, but those who fail within the set time limit will be sentenced to death.


This fairytale by the Brothers Grimm is used in the book 'Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses' (Daley, Orr and Petrie, 2015) as an analogy for the state of the FE sector today.  The neo-liberalisation of education in England is spreading - and affecting the freedoms of students and educators so that, like the princesses, we have limited 'spaces to dance'.  In Teaching to Trangress (2014), bell hooks suggests that '...the classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.' Is the classroom still the place where we can enact our own 'midnight secret'?  As educators, are there other spaces that we can escape to to avoid oppressive and managerial regimes? And as students, what does it mean, to dance, in the educational sense?

Philosophical Inquiry

Take a look at the image and consider the story in the context of your educational life today.  What thoughts, ideas and questions does it raise for you?  You can post your ideas and discuss in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter using the hash tag #30DaysReflectResist or #RadicalKent.

Daley, M., Orr, K. and Petrie, J. (2015). Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses. London. Trentham Books.

Hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


As educators, we have little time to reflect on our practice.  I'm convinced that the reason for this is largely political - who knows what we might think, share, or decide to change if we have time to really explore and consider the issues affecting our practice?  Means of resistance are becoming more squeezed, as we fight the bureaucracy of 'academic capitalism', where time is money, and less time is our own.  It is easy to feel defeated - yesterday's appointment of Toby Young to the board of the new Office for Students (along with a former director of HSBC bank and a managing director of Boots, yet no representative from the National Union of Students),  was yet another blow for those resisting the neo-liberalisation of universities in England.  I know less about the picture in the US, but can imagine the feelings and frustrations of teachers there too.

Yet we need to continue to seek out affirmative approaches to change, that take us out of places of pain and inspire hope. These might just be temporary 'lines of flight,' but the disruptions to the status quo can produce a ripple effect that lead to lasting change, even if we can't see what these might be right now, or know where they might take us. 

The wonderful Benjamin Doxtdator (@doxdatorb) put together a podcast which encourages us to take a pause and reflect on the 'productive interruptions' which might create small ruptures in the systems that limit and constrain us. You can listen to it here:  On the back of his brilliant idea, I suggested we take the first 30 days of January 2018 to continue pausing and reflecting in response to different questions about social justice in education, grouping them with the hash tag #30DaysReflectResist.

The first question was 'What is your social justice goal (big or small) for 2018?' and the responses so far have been inspiring (I have started to capture these on the 30 Days Google doc).  How much or how little you join in is up to you, but if you would like to pause and reflect with us, take a look at the questions coming up here and perhaps add your own too.

As a result of day one I have connected with some new and exciting international thinkers on Twitter and can feel myself emerging from my turn of the year stupor.  It's in our interests to stay awake and alert to means of resistance, even when anaesthetizing (in whichever way we choose) feels like an easier way to deal with the pain. As the structures within which we work become more restrictive and stultifying, it may be that the rhizomatic connections we make through projects like this really are the best hope we have for change and transformation.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts and tweets and many thanks for sharing.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Towards an Anti-Fascist Curriculum

Last month's Warsaw demonstrations were shocking in their scale (60,000 nationalists marched on Poland's independence day; many calling for 'a white Europe of brotherly nations'), but were also disturbing in the way that, whilst confronted with new displays of far-right extremism almost daily - we just don't seem shocked enough. Fascism is like that, of course. It is out-there in the Charlottesville marches, echoed in the words of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson, yet it is also insidious. It creeps into lives - and becomes normalised in our language and behaviours. As Umberto Eco wrote in 'Ur-Fascism' (1995, p.8), 'Fascism..can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances – every day, in every part of the world.'

The warning signs

I won't use this blog to attempt to summarise important political discussions or try to analyse fascism in any detail; I am not a historian. But given the international rise of the far-right I believe that, as educators, we have a duty to be sensitive to these shifts and as a result should be reshaping our curricula and pedagogy to take account of it.

According to Merriam Webster, fascism is 'a political philosophy, movement, or regime... that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition'. Eco suggests a list of features that are typical of what he calls Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. As he states, 'These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it'. The first principle, that fascism derives from individual or social frustration, is enough in itself to set alarm bells ringing. Four other key features are:

1.The cult of tradition. The desire to return to a better age, and a fear of modernism: 'Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message'. (It should be noted that the first thing that fascist states seize is the curriculum).

2. Irrationalism, and the promotion of action over thought. 'Distrust of the intellectual world'.

3. Fear of difference (fascism is racist by definition). 'The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.'

4. The fostering of a spirit of war, heroism and machismo. 'Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual 8 habits, from chastity to homosexuality).'

An anti-fascist curriculum

I suggest here that an anti-fascist curriculum should take account of warning signs such as Eco's, and should also pay heed to Lawrence Britt's 'Fourteen signs of fascism' which include Cronyism and Corruption, the suppression of organised labour, obsession with national security and identification of scapegoats as a unifying cause.

The word 'curriculum' here refers to more than just the syllabus; it incorporates all influences on a child (or adult's) education (buildings, pedagogy, classroom management, the implicit and explicit things that are taught). As teachers we often distract ourselves from the bigger picture; arguments about the specifics of practice give a sense that our classrooms operate as micro-entities, where children are unaffected by the social dysfunction surrounding them. Managing behaviour is seen as a battle of 'them versus us,' and the 'othering' of pupils causes us to neglect the development of our own self-awareness. For this reason, such a curriculum can only start with the teacher.

Below are a few ideas for what an anti-fascist curriculum manifesto might practically include. It can only ever be a guideline; wanting it to become policy or enacted in some way defeats the object of a movement that should sit outside the state. Likewise, it should not dictate the behaviour of teachers, only act as a stimulus that has the potential, not to make large-scale change, but to spark a 'line of flight' that disrupts the status quo. If any of the manifesto chimes with you or you want send any thoughts or ideas as I continue to extend it, please do not hesitate to comment or get in touch with me.

Towards an Anti-Fascist Curriculum - A Manifesto for Educators

1. We start by examining the 'fascist inside us all.'

“The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.” (Foucoult, 1983)

We recognise our own interior desire for power and accept our responsibility as educators to reflect on this with others in spirit of critical challenge. We undertake critically reflective processes that make us question our own assumptions and prejudices, such as tests of cognitive dissonance to expose gender, race, age, disability bias, and intersections of these and other identities. We examine our own values, as individuals and within our organisations and consider the roots of these and their influences on our practice. Our reflective activity extends to our roles as leaders; we aim to continually refine and develop ourselves as human beings, alongside our students.

2. We promote difference over uniformity.

This includes de-centring the Enlightenment idea of the 'perfect human' in order to augment the voices of oppressed 'others'. We celebrate the living knowledge of our students, and examine the genealogy of the subjects we teach to decolonise and diversify our curricula. We make efforts to connect with others globally to inform our practice and maintain perspective. We challenge the threat of toxic masculinity through deliberate educational approaches which liberate men and boys from the need to conform to 'gender-specific' ideals (which further male supremacy). We reflect on our own privilege.

3. We accept complexity and uncertainty.

Whilst welcoming research-informed practice, we reject the fetishisation of science and the search for the 'ultimate truths' of education theory, which can limit educational autonomy.

4. We resist the reduction of 'education' to instrumentalism.

We widen the purpose of education to take into account the socialisation and subjectification of our students (Biesta, 2010). We believe in education as the practice of freedom (hooks, 1994) and consider each subject we teach as a potential vehicle to promote agency and social justice.

5. We are pro-social, critical pedagogues.

We use teaching methods that place an emphasis on the building of community, togetherness and belonging, which have a strong critical and reflective focus. Specific teaching innovations may include philosophical inquiry, restorative practice and thinking environments (and would include the implementation of critical digital pedagogies).

Biesta, G. (2010). Good Education in an Age of Measurement. New York: Paradigm.

Eco, U. (1995), Ur-Fascism. [Online]. Available at: Accessed [12 November 2017].

Foucoult, M. (1983). 'Preface to Anti-Oedipus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia'. Preface. University of Minnesota: Minnesota Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Posthuman curriculum

"Not all of us can say, with any degree of certainty, that we have always been human, or that we are only that". (Braidotti, 2013, p. 1)

How often do we consider what we mean by 'human' or 'humanity', terms so often used but rarely analysed or questioned? We assume a consensus about what a human is - an entity based on common shared identities, with certain relationships to the environment and the globe - explained for us via philosophies that position 'man' at the top of the chain. But the notion of what is human has also been exclusive and binding - denying the 'other' that does not fit the ideal, holding on a pedestal the 'Vitruian man' of Da Vinci's drawing - perfect in its geometry, white, male, able-bodied, European, well-off, probably heterosexual (although Da Vinci was reputably gay).

Post-humanism asks us to change this paradigm, to 'de-centre' the white, male human and to look at other possibilities for 'humanity'. Technological change (we are all mediated by technology in some way), the need for a new politics, and looming environmental imperatives require us to look differently and creatively at the world; and in turn to examine ethical considerations, as we “investigate perspectives we usually leave aside” (Ferrando, 2012).

So if we agree that it is time to rethink what it means to be human (and of course, we may not) - what might this mean for education? There's no doubt that conditions for teachers have worsened considerably in recent years; rising workloads, increased casualization, low pay, intrusive performance monitoring and interventionism - all causing increased stress and widespread mental health problems. In Further Education, increasing emphasis on ‘skills’ and ‘employability’ has reduced students to marketable commodities. Creative subjects have seen a decline in recruitment; Art and Design at AS Level has seen a 33.4% drop in candidates (National Society for Education in Art and Design, 2016) and further education pathways are being streamlined around English, maths and employment-focused subjects. The value of lifelong learning is minimised, as the focus has shifted to apprenticeships and 16-19 provision; we are very far away from the Workers' Educational Association's founder R.H. Tawney’s call for 'education as an end in itself'.

Global concepts of inequality and environmental predicament are impossible to address alone, and can feel overwhelming; especially for educators already oppressed and marginalised by the systems within which they work. Posthuman thinking, however, calls us to move beyond 'places of pain', towards an ‘ethics of affirmation’ that ‘functions through the transformation of negative into positive passions’. (Braidotti, 2013).

So as a starter for ten, these are my ideas for a posthuman curriculum.  It is education that:

1. Rethinks what it means to be human
(and what that means for our students)

Reflective Practice - Hannah Cambé
If we de-centre the Enlightenment idea of the 'perfect' human, we start to truly promote the voices of of the oppressed. We should also consider non-human agents; animals of course, also but 'things' and the influence of objects, places and space on our capacities to learn and interact. Jane Bennett's 'Vital Matter' talks of 'Thing-Power': ...'the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle'. What 'things' (spaces, places, objects) have been animated in our educational systems and why?  What impact does this have on teaching and learning?

2.  Decolonises the curriculum...

...and embraces the living knowledge of students, 'to challenge received wisdom, to ask questions about society and to generate the insight needed to change the world' (Sabaratnam, 2017).

NUS Black Students' film 'Why is my curriculum white?' and Dr Meera Sabaratnam's blog, 'Decolonising SOAS' are great starting points here. We need to examine the 'genealogy' of the subjects we teach (whatever these may be) - while we strive to promote equality and diversity in our teaching, this is often piecemeal, shallow, or restricted to special events, such as Black History Month. A forensic examination of our curriculum will likely reveal deep biases, prevalent in reading lists (take a look at teacher education) or the way in which traditional cultural practices have been appropriated (Beauty Therapy).

Subject knowledge and expertise is important, but it is also vital to move from a search for absolute truth to an acceptance of complexity and uncertainty.

3. Rejects subject silos

And perhaps turns towards a Finnish model which uses “phenomenon-based” teaching; moving away from “subjects” and towards inter-disciplinary topics.

Collective - David Ball
A posthuman curriculum also embraces art as a ‘thing that does.’ Clover and Stalker (2007) suggest that “… art-based adult education and learning provokes radical and creative visions of an alternative world; ‘as if’ things could be otherwise – a hopeful goal much required in these neo-liberal times.” (2007:2).   Including art across the curriculum can help '[break] open a dimension inaccessible to other experience,'  allowing us to re-imagine the world and our future in it. (I have written previously about the use of art in a teacher education curriculum here).

4. Accepts that we are mediated by technology...

In every sense. Our bodies are changed by medicines, genetic modifications, adaptations to help us hear and see, prosthetic limbs, smartphones soon to be implants... If we truly acknowledge these things, how might education be different?

We can also embrace technological interventions in our teaching, of course (whilst not allowing tech to be the tail that wags the pedagogical dog).  Considering digital resilience, digital criticality and importantly digital responsibility (the ethics and impact of digital waste) are vital considerations.

5. Acts in rhizomatic spaces, outside formal structures
Bluebells @aandpbikephoto

Posthumanism emphasises the role of connections - 'constellations' -, and the construction of new knowledge through rhizomatic assemblages’, in present times often mediated by technology. Educators are already acting in ‘rhizomatic’ ways; coming together on social media to take action, and forming grassroots organisations such as @tutorvoices or @ukFEchat. Like the rhizomatic bluebells, such assemblages pop up in unexpected places; they are persistent and form complex invisible networks of roots and nodes.  For educators, they are often the connections that sustain and revitalise us.  Who influences your rhizome?  And how do your students interact during and after learning has taken place in order to form their own?  How can we work with these networks to extend our learning into global spaces, or as a means of activism?

6. Employs pedagogies of belonging and togetherness.

Placing an emphasis on pro-social teaching inventions such as philosophical inquiry, critical pedagogy and restorative practice could result in a bottom-up move for change and allow teachers to gain agency while waiting for the slow wheel of politics to turn.  

These ideas are a mixture of the easily realizable and the more fantastic; and much further thinking is needed to refine and build on them.  Which are the most important and why?  And what can we do practically and rhizomatically right now, to begin to shift our ideas of what it means to be human in the twenty first century and beyond?

Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter - a Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press.
Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press
Clover, D., & Stalker, J. (Eds.). (2007). The Arts and Social Justice: Re-crafting Adult Education and Community Cultural Leadership. Leicester, UK: NIACE.
Ferrando, F. (2012). Towards a Posthumanist Methodology. A Statement. In Narrating Posthumanism. Frame, 25.1, May 2012, Utrecht University, Utrecht, 9-18.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

From resilience to activism - Art and Reflective Practice

' learning provokes radical and creative visions of an alternative world; ‘as if’ things could be otherwise – a hopeful goal much required in these neo-liberal times.' 

If life as a teacher is hard, life as a trainee teacher is even harder. For my in-service and pre-service Cert Ed/PGCE trainees, navigating new identities, battling behaviour issues, balancing work and study and the daily grind of planning and marking is challenging to say the least. Recent research suggests that more than half of teachers in HE are on insecure, impermanent contracts (The Guardian, 2016). In addition to this, 84% of teachers who undertook the Education Health Survey (2015) reported suffering from a mental health problem within the past two years. I would say that around one quarter of my students have had to deal with significant levels of anxiety, stress or depression within the past year.

In the midst of this, trainee teachers have to produce significant amounts of reflective practice to evidence a mindful approach to teaching and learning improvement. Often this takes the form of a journal or diary, which can often be repetitive, restrictive and boring to complete. For a while I have wanted to explore whether the use of art in reflective practice presents an opportunity for teachers to reflect in a different way.  Can expression and creativity in reflective practice help teachers to break free from an oppressive and harmful education system, even if that freedom is fleeting? Can art provide ‘freedom of spirit’ (Gordimer, 1984) and can this influence trainees' own resilience? What might be the impact of creating art or poetry on the teachers themselves and the wider world?

Not everyone considers themselves an artist, although I would argue that every single human being has the capacity to be creative in some way. For teachers this creative impulse often shows up through a love of their specialist subject. In observations, talking through a concept or exciting idea I will often catch them in a state of 'flow' where the rest of the world disappears for a while.  Given the decline in the study of creative subjects (Art and Design at AS Level, for example has seen a 33.4% drop in candidates this year) my first idea was to use art as a stimulus for initial reflective work.

In Barnsley, we are lucky enough to have the Cooper Gallery on our doorstep; the exciting Picasso lino-cuts exhibition is on until the end of April. The challenge for my students was to visit the gallery and find a piece of art that spoke to them, in some way, of their journey as a teacher.


The resulting reflections are worthy of much more than I will say here, but proved to be a pathway to a much deeper level of self-awareness and understanding.  Connections were surprising, and emotional for some.  Yet for us all, the process was affirmative and enlightening; as Clover and Stalker (2007) point out Art breaks open a dimension inaccessible to other experience’.  

Some trainees are going on to create their own poems, stories and pieces of art to illustrate their journeys as teachers. This is perhaps the next stage in the use of art for reflective practice; moving from stimulus to creative experience.  Where this is happening it is proving therapeutic for many; a form of escapism, exploration or distraction, with a tangible and often beautiful outcome.  We plan to move our art from the private to public sphere, in order to share with the world our painful, emergent and embodied experiences of 'becoming teacher'.  This posthuman idea of affirmative action for social change (Braidotti, 2013) has proved to be an exciting and unexpected by-product of our new approach to reflective practice.

Art is clearly a vehicle for trainee teachers to explore emerging thoughts and subjectivities, rejecting fixed identities and allowing scope for ‘becoming’ teacher, in a posthuman sense. It seems clear that there is scope within a heavily academic teacher-training qualification to push the boundaries of the curriculum, allowing creative expression to give teachers a form of almost meditative escape, which may in turn allow scope for greater creativity and innovation in the students’ own classrooms.  In a time where FE teachers need resilience and community more than ever, encouragement of this kind of practice seems paramount.

This research will be presented in full at the 'Beyond Words: Privileging the unspoken in arts and communities in a posthuman world' Conference, University of Plymouth this March.

Trainees' own works of reflective art will be exhibited at Northern College this summer in an exhibition entitled 'Becoming Teacher'. Join us for the full education conference here.

Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Clover, D., & Stalker, J. (Eds.). (2007). The Arts and Social Justice: Re-crafting Adult Education and Community Cultural Leadership. Leicester, UK: NIACE.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. London: Random House.
Gordimer, N. (1984). The Essential Gesture: Writers and Responsibility. Available: Last accessed 22th Nov 2016.

Thursday, 1 December 2016


This is one of those posts that I hoped I'd never have to write.  Teacher education doesn't prepare you for the biggest challenge of all - coping with the death of a student.  It feels outside the normal order of things - unnatural and alien.  At a time when I should have been encouraging, cajoling (and for some, nagging) my Northern College students towards their final stages of their Cert Ed/PGCEs I've had to go into class to share the hardest news.

This is Beth, our beautiful, kind and funny friend and colleague.  She passed away suddenly at the age of 45 and words can't really do justice to how it feels, or what I want to say. But I want to write about her and what she meant to us.

Beth taught at Learn for Life in Sheffield.  If you're not familiar with this wonderful place, you should be.  It is a hub in the local community for local residents, refugees, asylum seekers and older people; people can learn English and maths, ICT and arts and crafts.  Beth taught English there for seven years and was very much loved by her students and colleagues.

I was lucky enough to observe Beth's teaching on a few occasions.  She had a very warm style and gentle humour that was reassuring and endearing.  She also had the knack of offering a calm and caring presence, helping her students to navigate the many learning barriers - but also being firm where needed, due to an absolute belief in the potential they had to succeed.

Colleagues and students made a remembrance book which we gave to Beth's family at the funeral today. In it were many lovely stories about her time at college, tales of joy, laughter and companionship. We learnt more about her life, from friends and family who talked about her childhood, teenage years and time at work. Stories were important in Beth's role as a teacher of refugees; she would help them to share their own journeys while giving them the skills to forge new paths.  The stories we heard and shared came together today to give a picture of the whole lovely person that was Beth. 

Teacher education is truly a two-way process; you learn just as much from your students as they do from you. In my last conversation with Beth she talked about the stories of the refugees she taught, and how little their original careers or previous talents were known about or respected. She reminded me of the importance of getting to know individuals and not making assumptions about their abilities; but instead celebrating their stories and journeys. I try to remember this every day.

The story of our Cert Ed/PGCE will go on, but it won't be the same without Beth.