From: James Payn <jamespayn@hotmail.com>

To: A.J.Whitehead@bath.ac.uk

Date: Mon, 22 Nov 2004 08:24:53 +0000

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Dear Jack, could you read this and highlight parts that you think convey the

values that are most important to you?

Thanks James

 

 

I HAVE HAD SUCH A GOOD YEAR

 

James Payn

November 2004

 

I am not given to over stating my own story and actually your own story is always exceptional, complex and engaging. We cannot believe in Peter Cook’s character who reads his own diary and concludes it was ‘probably the most boring thing I have ever read’.

 

I arrived in London as an enquiry advocate and was unsure what I was going to do – part of me was nervous because if anyone asked me I would not have had an answer. I had not undertaken any classroom research and my initial thought was that the course might skill me up so I could undertake measurements in order to evaluate the work we were doing as part of Network Learning Bath. But the day did no such thing. For the first time in a long time, the initial meeting was about the initial process – why are we doing this? Marion Dadds led us through a question about the ethics of research. The prepared list of military style thoughts in my mind disappeared and I found myself in a new space and it felt very good. It led our small group to come to a simple conclusion that the research had to benefit directly the children we taught. While this sounds obvious, that thought has recurred to me throughout the process and has helped me get my priorities right on many occasions. We did other things that day which were good, but the ethics question was the one that got me thinking and made me realise I was part of something I hadn’t done before and that it might be of great value; I could not have been explicit at this stage but the implicit feeling of potential was very strong. The other major step that day was being told by Karen Carter that I should seek to make contact with Jack Whitehead whom she had worked with at Bath University. Another important aspect was going along with Sue Adams, the parallel enquiry advocate in the network, who is an intensely caring and supportive person with an obvious compassion for the children she has taught and is teaching; we were able to engage in social discourse about education which was a very good preamble to the more focused meeting of the day. We had a very energising chat to and from London on the train and within this conversation I began to formulate an idea about story telling which sprung from a mixture of our conversation, a recent government initiative and a long term passion for telling stories.

 

The next week, I walked onto the campus of Bath University and again was struck by how uninviting educational institutions are to those who do not belong. I managed to track Jack down and he invited me to an action research group the following Monday from 5.00-7.00. I came along, nervous as again I had little to share. ‘Einstein got it wrong’ was one of the first phrases I heard. I realised I had entered yet another space that was going to expand my view rather than narrow it. Alan was explaining his view of existence and he was explaining the ‘complex self’; I could connect to what he was saying. I knew I did not completely understand what was being discussed but I realised that that did not need to stop me connecting. In fact the conversation amongst the other people in the room went on to clarify that every time we understood someone else it was always an imperfect translation of the other person’s thoughts. I kept quiet but I did feel comfortable and that this space was going to be good for me. I could not specify exactly what I would do as a result of being part of this group, but as I was going along in my own time I only felt accountable to my wife and baby boy. She saw that the discussions were stimulating me and we did actually have deep conversation afterwards, and that was an improvement on the status quo of a husband preoccupied with a mega-to-do-list. So I decided to continue going every Monday night that I could.

 

I did complain to Jack that I might find attending special meeting after school difficult to continue because it was in my own time and I often felt exhausted. Jack was quiet clear; he had felt exhausted when teaching in London but that attending groups with a team of philosophers led by Richard Peters and engaging with the process of reflective practice had re-energized him and that after arriving flat he had left high. Jack is a most caring person who has a passion for inclusive space, which is what characterizes this Monday group, but at certain times he also leaves no space for doubt. And my experience has proved him right; I look forward to being part of the group and it is very pleasurable. In the future I would very much like to understand more about the dynamics/contexts/values that lead teachers to re-energize and rediscover the perception that they are back at the beginning of their cycle and they understand the place for the first time.

 

The discussions at Bath University have a mysterious resonance from one topic to another and from one week to another. The discussions are having complex effects on my teaching and the behaviour of the people within the group is also very important in leading me to transform my values. I will attempt to write down the resonating values that have touched me deepest.

 

The idea of the complex self where I do not divide the universe into two; me and everything else, but instead I view myself in a complex communication between me and my surroundings. Boundaries are not hard and impermeable but instead have ‘holes’ by which this communication takes place between me and the context that I am in. This view of the complex self has changed my behaviour with the children I teach; I view the dynamics that exist within my classroom as a complex mix of what I have prepared to share and the reactions of the children, as well as many extra things the children bring with them to the classroom, often unseen; This has made my story telling more powerful because I am continuously ‘feeling’ the children’s reactions and using them to influence what I am showing at that given point in the learning; before my role was to tell such a great story that they had no choice but to be engaged, and if they were not then there was a ‘fault’, either in my story telling or with the attention span of the children. This had led to great levels of frustration and anger. Story telling from the viewpoint of the complex self has led me to a far more appreciative stance; things still go ‘wrong’ but now I look for the complex reasons, both within my own behaviour and the children’s and often a sensitive moment that reconnects me to the learning context leads us out of the ‘wrong’ and back into the space where the story is helping to create powerful links in our minds.

 

The discussions have also led me to seek that which is continuous. The demands of traditional science have required that discrete, definitive evidence must be found in order to move forward. The curve has to be understood in terms of its x and y co-ordinates. This is how I was taught and then Alan explained how this only made an artificial rendering of the curve and lost so much, if not an infinite amount, of its meaning. I began to contemplate what this meant for me and it helped me realise how beautiful turning is and how infinite its detail is as well. The circle is an important shape in many stories and I made a link between the beauty and complexity of what has been shared at the University with the beauty and complexity of the stories that are told in my class. In evaluating what had been recorded on the video I was attempting to appreciate as much of the child as possible, without attempting to define what that child was doing at that given point. Moving away from defining children from the evidence that they create, which is always a tiny window over an immense landscape of who that person is, to an appreciative stance where in collaboration we decided together where we would like to go next, with as much rigour concerning values and commitment as was possible without becoming disheartening, is re-energising the learning in my classroom continuously. It has also helped me lead staff meetings and network meetings with other teachers. To witness the same dynamics enable adults to enter a constructive dialogue focused on learning has further reinforced my belief that the values are right and the change in my behaviour is beneficial, to me and to those around me. My family is very much included in this learning experience and seeking continuous behaviour with my 14 month old boy is wonderful; those moments where we are just being together and he comes along and falls against me are quite the most beautiful moments of my life; I do nothing at these moments and but instead I am, which is a beautiful tension between the discrete (doing) and continuous (being).

 

I have had low self esteem and within English culture I have been encouraged to celebrate my low self esteem as a powerful badge of acceptance, but recently Jack made me feel so good that it made my eyes water as I drove home and it took my breath away. He said that I had an exceptional energy that seemed to come literally from my chest, expressing itself powerfully to those around, but then, and here is the beauty for me, it allowed, by my sensitivity to the other person, a response and encouraged others to create their own thoughts and feelings. This was not a definition of me, and often I contradict this view as well, but Jack has a wonderful habit of appreciating the value in people and after he spoke these words of encouragement I have found it to be true, at times and much more regularly and deeply than before he said it. Blanket encouragement and a mega positive interpretation this was not. It was finely judged, expressed with commitment, energy and a very respected level of expertise. I cannot define how important Jack’s words are and will be to my development.

 

The group has also transformed my view of what learning might be. I had viewed learning as a process of assimilating  huge lumps of knowing from outside and that often I failed and was cut down by my teachers who had acquired ‘it’ through intelligence and diligence, both of which I had a very little of. And I have transferred this to the children; I have set up knowledge as a far off thing that the higher ability ‘get’ the middle and lower often ‘miss’ and the SEN are not even really part of, they don’t even know that they ‘need’ so let me tell them and then try really hard to get them there. I have often presented learning as a process whereby if I am doing it well I have some-how grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and hurled them effectively at the learning which they have hit full on and there have been lots of these ‘hits’ in my lesson. So if I could become an exceptional marksman, then I can get more and more children to hit more and more of this external, imposed knowing. Through my process of enquiry my perception of what learning is has transformed; I now view learning as a process of the individual constructing his or her own leaning from within; excellent teaching now means a process of showing very beautifully something which is highly complex and is surrounded by continuous patterns and rhythms of care and love. These implicit values are felt and appreciated by the learner and at times there are explicit experiences of how these values are lived by the holder; if the learner feels enough consistency then they believe in the teacher; these consistent patterns that lead to a feeling of well being about learning allow the individual to access immeasurably more from the teacher. If we believe in a world of measuring learning we have to be careful we have not entered a paradigm of diminishing return that undermines the infinite space created by beautiful teaching.

 

I do not apologise for the wide scope of these thoughts, because they are influencing my behaviour in the class continuously. I am also a living contradiction of these values at times and becoming more aware of my values has highlighted my inconsistencies. At first I found this very disturbing and was frightened by the rigour of having a living educational theory that was with me all day long. But embracing my ‘holes’ and realising the powerful dynamics they create and that I will always have holes and never be more complete than I have ever been is a very freeing thought process and has led me to make fewer harsh judgements about where I am, but instead used that energy to look closely at the direction I am heading in, again continuously adapting and curving this direction to appreciate as much as possible of where I am in the ‘now’ moment.

 

I have a deep desire to appreciate the circle that I am in and the ability to understand each place in that circle for the first time. In the past I viewed my development as a set of skills and if I could work hard enough and be organised enough, then I would be able to become part of a circle of teaching where I sat in a huge and comfy armchair of my own competencies; when I need to do fractions, this is what I do and I have the resources to do it etc. I had been taught in that way by many teachers and it presented learning as a body of knowledge/skills that you just had to clothe yourself with, and some people had the nack of getting dressed very quickly while I struggled with my socks. Within this paradigm I was also investing heavily in resourcing myself ready to ‘relax’ when the job was done at some point in the future, which I understood might be some years ahead, say five years of hard work would get me to that place. I began to feel depressed after 3 years of rather hard work, with no sign of comfort anywhere and in fact a feeling that the more I did the more ‘they’ got me to do. I recognised this conversation; I had heard it in many work places apart from school; it seemed to echo amongst the adult world and the wisdom to deal with it was to cut back and please yourself with the amount you put into the system you were part of. I worked with a teacher of 30 years experience and this was his paradigm; he often told me to get out of teaching because the pay froze after a while and never got better, unless you became senior management and that wasn’t worth the hassle. My salary was going up each year and it reinforced my belief that I was improving along a linear scale; I was nervous about the future and what would happen when it stopped going up; did that mean I had stopped as well? I knew that stopping would lead to stagnation and that would lead to deterioration, which would lead to crisis and I was fearful of crisis, having suffered from it as a child.

 

A lot of fear was driving my desire for improvement and while it energised me to become maths co-ordinator and it made me work very hard, which was ‘respected’ by other staff I believe in terms of fear rather than appreciation, it was heavily risk laden. I knew of cases of breakdown amongst teachers and I could see that if I continued to ‘improve’ I could end up in a place where I would burn out. It seemed that either the system was designed for the fittest individuals and you lifted yourself to your own level of incompetence, where you could rise no more and if you judged it right you just held things together or the system needed changing in order to appreciate people’s complex qualities within a complex context. But the problem with the second paradigm was that it still required a benevolent ‘they’ to create and manage the appreciative system. I don’t find a mysterious ‘they’ useful and I couldn’t believe in a ‘they’ that could manage this complexity. I needed to combine the individual responsibility of the first model with the appreciative stance of the second. I did not realise this until I was able to undertake my role as an enquiry advocate. The label was a useful half-way between me and ‘they’. The NCSL are becoming a new ‘they’ in teachers’ minds but I had faces and connections and had become part of the ‘they’. I needed to take responsibility for teaching and learning and the only person I had authority over was myself. The Enquiry Advocate position did not provide me with a specified location within any structure; I moaned about this to myself and wanted the steering group of my network to recognise me and to help me define my role. But looking back I now realise how helpful that simple model of enquiry advocate with no specific location/brief/function was. As an enquiry advocate I had the perfect balance of responsibility and authority; I could follow something I believed in, see what value it had and share that with others, hoping that what was valuable in what I had done would be loved by others and it might transform values and lead to learning in others, but that would be very much up to them. The process has also helped me value and continue to value who I was in the past because it has led me here; my ‘newness’ is not a rejection of my past like being born-again as a Christian where I was encouraged to reject my old life and believe it as dead, but it appreciates who I was; this enables me to understand the dynamics which led me to a place of renewal and it enables me to not judge those who are where I ‘was’ as inferior – within the cycle I will be in that place again in the future – I do not judge/condemn myself or others for being anywhere within the cycle but I do want to encourage the movement around, the convection leading to new life.

 

I believe that I am part of a process where I am rigorously pursuing my responsibility to help transform learning in my school and within my network; the enquiry advocate role has not promoted me in my own mind, but it has promoted learning. My own learning has developed in many different ways and this is transforming the learning within my network; my class, my teaching team, my school, Network Learning Bath, Bath University, the LEA and with my wife and child. The extent of the effect I am having varies widely, but it is interesting to see how far values echo and influence others.