Monthly SoTL-walk: Emergence

I have fallen in love with the SoTL walk. It is a great way to engage in reflective practice and with colleagues across the world. This month’s topic was more challenging than I thought. Once I began writing it grew vines and tentacles all over the place. So instead of sharing directly on the padlet, I am trying to disentangle here first. My walk began in our garden and looped around an overgrown path along the canal (because on this side there are barely any people). So nature gave me quite a bit to reflect on.

Roots in garden

Tree Roots emerging from grass

Due to erosion and soil compacting tree roots emerge all over our garden like in the image above. Lockdown, pivot to online learning, and now the frantic planning for the new academic year (with its remote to physically distanced campus) have eroded the structures we used to teach and work in. To some degree it also has compressed our working life into a two-dimensional virtual space. And this erosion and compression of our soil has let to the emergence of professional roots. At least for me. I have gone back and bought the now 13th (getting old!) edition of one of THE textbooks when studying Erziehungswissenschaften (educational science). Because I felt I needed to reconnect, go back to basics, connect with my academic roots, before moving into the next season of this strange different life series. The outcome was unexpected. The authors suggest a set of nine questions to guide Didaktik (the Theory and Praxis of Learning and Teaching), which I have interpreted for HEI context and with comments from colleagues, this is now one of the guiding documents we use.

So back to the roots, which have become exposed by the storm we wither.

– me being a bit polemic

Dead tree

dead tree amongst blooming hawthorns

Another aspect emerging are all the things that don’t work, that are redundant. I question more, why am I doing this, and doing this in that way? My master level research course, I did not like how it ran. I felt there was so much more I could do to make it a great experience not just a learning experience. So I am revamping the whole course design. But also on a smaller scale, some aspects of my other courses or the dissertation year that simply do not work well, emerged more clearly. Like the dead tree, blending in over winter, into the barren landscape, but now that everything is in bloom sticks out like a sore thumb; so do all the things in my practice that don’t quite work, don’t quite fit in. Or maybe since we as educators are constantly self-emerging, don’t fit in anymore?

The shift in our circumstances, places, spaces and within ourselves has also put a magnifying glass onto aspects that don’t work well (anymore).

– learning from a dead tree


waterlily emerging between two leaves

Luckily, not only the dead wood emerges during this crisis but so do many unexpected good things. Like waterlilies emerge from the muddiest water, in bright colours. The situation amplifies my strengths, often the aspects of my self and my professional self I have to hide or at least turn the volume down. I am relentlessly enthusiastic, so much so, a critical friend and colleague calls it overwhelming–this is what we need right now. I believe the enthusiasm helps to encourage, coach, support. Communication which in real life would maybe be experienced overexaggerated (by neuro-typical people, I don’t always get the adjustments right), in the flattened 2-D world it is just right. It was also the first time I have explicitly been asked to use my super-power, to be creative, lead a team with other creatives and combine our superpowers to solve wicked problems! I love wicked problems!
Also I thrive working from home. I don’t have to share an office. I am privileged to have a small attic space (with the most amazing wallpaper) to call my office. It suits my working patterns of stretching the day out and I exercise more than ever.

Relationships emerging

black background person in red coat making heart out of light with sparklers

The other positive aspect emerging (the image this time not from my walk) are relationships: on social media, in professional networks–internationally like this one–there is a moving closer together, more sharing, more collaboration. I feel somehow the world despite the restrictions on travel has become smaller and closer, at least in academia. I feel more connected and embedded than I did before the crisis.

Let joy and gratefulness emerge in a time of crisis.

– it does help


sandy path through wild flower meadows disappearing in the horizon wide sky above with clouds

This image is from another walk, in the Outer Hebrides through acres and acres of wildflower meadows.

Last but not least my thoughts went to self-emergence. Being locked-in physically, until recently with only a daily walk/cycle, meant also being thrown back onto my self more than usual. It has led to thinking more deeply about my own professionalism and practice. I am writing more. Maybe I will be emerging with a different voice–or maybe with a stronger voice. A colleague on Twitter gave the advice that in online (remote) teaching one has to amplify, amplify my voice and my presence. So this will inevitably influence the self-emergence. First feedback from students indicates that this amplification was well-received and helped tackle feelings of isolation. So emerging are also new practices.

The new found confidence let me to decide to start-up the SoTL network activities in my institution again. I was too worried about potential backlash (as not everyone is in a position to focus or work on their SoTL) but again the response has been positive so far.

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