Category Archives: Tension before change

Forging connections in these times


Sunset WA

Wow! What extraordinary times we are in.

Like millions of people during this COVID-19 crisis, I have been on the steepest learning curve in navigating new ways of communicating with my students and colleagues. I am a teacher. A hands on, in-your-face facilitator of learning spaces. And I have always struggled with facilitating online learning spaces. It feels too remote, too impersonal, too disconnected. Through being connected to my learners in physical space and time, I know that I can fix just about any issue: if we’re all in it together, face-to-face, I can work to draw people into a little community of learning. I now ALWAYS begin my groups, no matter the length of the course (even for a one day session), with processes designed to reveal and forge connections. As reflected in my thesis (in-progress), this building of intrapersonal and interpersonal connections has always been paramount for me:

I’ve heard the saying ’Begin as you aim to continue’… often used like a fist on the table in the corridors of VET… ‘We will establish the rules that will guide your participation!’ Our intention was exactly this—to introduce the tone that would guide our learning spaces, our studies together. As has always been the case in my twenty years of teaching in the VET sector, we began at the beginning, however, not with a fist on the table. We began with connecting people and ideas and opening hearts to new perspectives on self, on learning and on teaching. Our rationale and methodology was grounded in a pedagogy of open-hearted collaboration and inquiry-based, transformative learning. We talked about the collaborative nature of the learning and assessment pathway and the ways in which teachers’ collegial participation could support each other and the group as a whole in succeeding; and our hope that sustainable communities of practice might develop through this collaboration beyond the course, and across the organisation. We encouraged teachers to connect both to each other through an open-hearted approach, and to themselves and their strengths to identify the contribution they could make to the learning space for the period that they would be studying together. Not a pedagogy of instruction and compliance so typical of VET, but a pedagogy of possibility.

I still facilitate teacher professional learning in vocational education and training (VET), and over the last 6 years this has been complemented with pre-service teachers’ learning in higher education. Within these contexts particularly, international borders are crossed, bringing associated challenges related to exploring, critiquing and embracing diverse ways of seeing and engaging in the world of learning and teaching. In physical classrooms where people come together in the pursuit of these new knowledges, I am comfortable in cultivating collaborative, open-hearted, inquiry-based pedagogies to support and optimise the process of social learning and critical inquiry. Sharing stories of one’s learning and knowing is central to the emergence of individual and collective knowing.

In these current times however, where all communication with our learners and colleagues is electronic in response to the social isolation required of COVID-19,  I find myself without the ease and comfort I have associated with personal physical proximity in my learning and teaching spaces. How does one optimally cultivate collaborative, critical inquiry in online spaces without the social, physical proximity of being face-to-face?

The most pressing issue for me during these times has been figuring out the logistics and technicalities of bringing together activities and processes designed to promote optimal engagement with the learning required of each space. I’m using both Adobe Connect and Zoom in various contexts, and am fortunate to be working with brilliant chief examiners ultimately responsible for meeting learning outcomes. Even though I’m quite sure my workload has doubled through this, I’m incredibly grateful for my own new learning as I collaborate remotely with my wonderful colleagues. 

Navigating online learning in such complex circumstances, while so absorbed by the logistical and technical challenges over the last months (including of course the ever-present challenge to our online connectivity from a system that struggles to cope with such massive global demands) has been—as for all involved in online teaching—exhausting. The students are all very understanding of the rapid learning curve we are all facing, and we acknowledge that we are all in the same boat, familiarising ourselves with the platforms and with new ways of learning together. The collaborative, open-hearted spaces of shared stories and knowing that have been central to my face-to-face learning spaces are slowly finding their way back as I find a greater sense of ease in this new environment, and I am now beginning to feel an awakening sense of community and connection in my online learning spaces. 

Forging connections in these times has been tough, and so many are facing enormous additional challenges as the impact of COVID-19 changes our world. Even through these tough times however, I see that it has been an incredibly uniting time. We are all in this together as a global community, and we are working towards the collective achievement of a shared vision. I am hopeful that we can hold onto this sense of community as we emerge into new ways of being – whenever that is, and whatever it looks like.

‘Distress has seized me’


I stand in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters, and reflect on how I can hold hope and courage to enact these heartfelt words at this time…

‘the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better’

My love and blessings to all…

Pondering the rhythms and rhymes of life


Mountain road sunset.jpegI am in the midst of bringing my thesis to life… drawing together and making sense of the collage of sometimes disparate discoveries and ruminations on theorising and practicing education. I am most interested in identifying the conditions that foster transformed perspectives on life, living and learning, in this case within the learning spaces of teacher professional development in Vocational Education and Training (VET).

I have been fortunate to find myself supported by a wise coach (and dear friend) who is helping me navigate the ‘road home’ for my thesis. We have been exploring the key values that underpin this journey to completion, and have both been intrigued by my resistances to certain terms… ‘structure’ and ‘discipline’ to name two. We are exploring the origins of my seemingly irrational response to their inclusion in my positive language bank, and considering ways I might reframe my perception of their value.

As I ponder my responses, I have this morning come across intriguing reflections from Michel Alhadeff-Jones, a fellow member of the international transformative learning community with whom I connect. In a recent blog post, Michel explores the time-related tensions that exist in our fast-paced world, most particularly related to the outcomes-driven world of education. In his article he reflects on the inclusion of Twitter and other social media platforms in our academic and personal lives, and the dichotomous impact they bring to bear… the delights of opening to new ways of seeing and engaging with the world, against the tensions and intrusions into the natural rhythms and rhymes of self:

I am experiencing mixed feelings that seem to be quite common nowadays: the excitement of discovering new people (but not necessary new ideas) and the depressing feeling that keeping up with the pace of social media runs against other rhythms of my life (e.g., the pace of family, intellectual and working lives) … to try to keep this tension alive and to question the deeper meanings it carries. On one hand, the need for novelty, fresh insights, connections and the excitement of instantaneous connections; on the other hand, the need to consolidate what is already there, to preserve oneself, and to embrace the duration of long term perspective and lifelong development.’

The problem is not so much about choosing between one or the other. The issue would be rather to learn how to regulate between openness and closure, instantaneity and duration, excitement and boredom, etc. Those are interesting “motifs de dualité” (Bachelard, 1950) that are constitutive of the everyday rhythms of our lives (sometimes we feel the need to be connected or stimulated, other times we prefer to remain on our own or quiet).

Alhadeff-Jones 2017

Michel’s rich musings have struck a chord for me related to the broader concept of creating honouring spaces for learning… a key inclusion in my PhD thesis… that connects with notions of time explored previously in my Masters:

Just as Rogers (1961) ponders the process of enabling and establishing a relationship that provides the groundwork in which the individual can cultivate their personal growth, the aim of my study was to examine the ways in which undertaking the quietly reflective process of telling the stories of one’s life might foster future growth and productivity. These same analogies relating to the idea of cultivation can be seen in M. Scott Peck’s conceptualisation of education:

“Education is derived from the Latin ‘educare’, literally translated as ‘to bring out of’ or ‘to lead forth.’ Therefore when we educate people, if we use the word seriously, we do not stuff something new into their minds; rather we lead this something out of them; we bring it forth from the unconscious into their awareness. They were the possessors of the knowledge all along.” (Peck, 1978)

To illustrate how this ‘something’ might be enabled to be led forth from our learners, I will return to the notion … of providing the ‘space’ for this process to unfold, and link it the Socratic notion of the educator as midwife. In supporting the ‘birth’ of this ‘something’ that lies within each of our learners, we also need to consider the quality of time required for them to inhabit the ‘space’ most effectively, as creating space for something doesn’t necessarily mean it will emerge. Rämo explores the Greek bifurcation of the concept of time, as it relates to the notions of chronos and kairos, (Ramo, 1999). He highlights that where chronos refers to ‘the concept of time as change, measure, and serial order’, the quantifiable, measurable aspects of passing time according to the clock in a neutral, absolute sense, the kairos notion of time relates to the ‘right or opportune time to do something’. He gives as an example a farmer’s ‘kairic’ or intuitive sense of the right moment to sow and harvest, adding that it is tied to the self-determination of the individual. Smith (1969) identifies three aspects present within the concept of kairos – the right time, a time of tension that calls for a decision, and an opportunity to accomplish some purpose. Jaques (1982) and philosopher Ramírez (1995) also stress kairos as episodes of intentions and goals, while Hammond (2007) proposes that in Hellenistic Greece, kairos denoted a time in which something could happen. He proposes a fitting or opportune time – a ‘season’, a time for ‘something’. Aristotle (cited in Ramos (1999, p312)) suggests ‘What happens at the right time (Kairos – season) is good’ and the Oxford English Dictionary (Simpson, Weiner, & Press., 1989), defines Kairos as ‘Fullness of time, the propitious moment for the performance of an action or the coming into being of a new state.’ (Miles, 2010)

So interestingly, as I contemplate these resistances to ‘structure’ and ‘discipline’, I find myself returning to the roots of my original inquiry, commenced over a decade ago. Whether I consider the tensions inherent in deciding whether to be present and active in social media as an academic; the process of supporting my learners as they unpack and critique their uncontested assumptions, or the impact of the structure and discipline required to be productive and successful in my goal of completing my thesis… I have deepest knowing that fertile space must always be available for the dreaming and emergence of creativity, self-expression and previously unimagined possibilities. Fertile space inhabited by Kairos time, where ‘the coming into being of a new state’ is able to unfold.

I am reminded of Leunig’s eloquent musings:

Let it go,
Let it out,
Let it all unravel,
Let it free
And it will be
A path on which to travel.

Leunig (2017)

Perhaps it lies somewhere on the road between these…that one might ‘structure’ and be ‘disciplined’ in creating and inhabiting these fertile oases in the midst of an otherwise organised space. It is certainly something worthy of deep reflection… in Kairos time…


Alhadeff-Jones, M. (2017a). Time and the rhythms of emancipatory education. Rethinking the temporal complexity of self and society. London: Routledge.

Alhadeff-Jones, M. (2017b). Twitter and the experience of temporal neurosis. Retrieved from

Hammond, J. (2007). Living on and off the clock: Some thoughts on time management. Retrieved from

Jaques, E. (1982). The form of time. New York: Crane, Russak.

Joss, R. (2007). It’s not about you. Retrieved from

Leunig, M. (2017) Let it go. Retrieved from

Miles, J. K. 2010 Restor(y)ing lives: Autobiographical reflection and perspective transformation in adults returning to study. (Master’s thesis) Monash University. Clayton.

Peck, S. M. (1978). The road less travelled. New York: Touchstone.

Ramo, H. (1999). An Aristotelian Human Time-Space Manifold: From Chronochora to Kairotopos. Time & Society, 8(2-3), 309-328.

Ramírez, J. L. (1995). Skapande Mening: En begreppsgenealogisk undersökning om rationalitet, vetenskap och planering [Creative Meaning: A Contribution to a Human-Scientific Theory of Action]. Stockholm: NORDPLAN.

Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person; a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. New York: University of Chicago Press.

Simpson, J. A., Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). The Oxford English dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Smith, J. E. (1969). Time, times and the ‘right time’. The Monist, 53(1), 1-13.