Thursday, 29 November 2012

Task 3c Sources of information

The third task in this module asks us to write about our current 5 most important sources of information, or "the methods by which you, and others, gather and organise information" (Reader 3, p22). In the blog I posted earlier today I tried to look at how other people on this course gather information, and whether these were the same, similar or different to mine.
My general conclusion is that there does seem to be a majority of overlap areas, such as, for example, personal contact, web 2.0 and social-networking, but that there is also great variety within these common sources that reflect both the differences in personality and the different professional practices of each person.

Having reflected on my own practice, and personality, here are the 5 current sources of information that I consider as most important to me, at this particular point in time:
  1. People
  2. Websites
  3. Books/ magazines/ articles/ videos/ DVDs
  4. Notes
  5. Web2.0 technologies

People are probably the most important source of information to me both as a human being and also within my field of practice.

I know that, although I am not the most gregarious of people, I wouldn't survive for long without other people in my life to share the highs with and to support each other during the lows. The reciprocal nature of contact with others means, for me, the forming of relationships that go way beyond the giving and taking of information or help; they create the feeling of belonging, of being valued and having self-worth.

In my role as dance teacher I also deal with people on a daily basis. My students aren't quantities to be processed, or robots to be programmed, but are unique entities that come with their own agenda and that provide me with a wealth of learning possibilities.
Each student has someone who provides them with support - be it a parent or parents, other family members, carers, or foster parents - and the information gained from these adults is invaluable in understanding their children, whether from direct verbal communications or from observation and understanding of attitudes and outlooks. They also provide other points of view, and, because of their various professions or experiences, a wealth of knowledge that I might not otherwise have access to.

My work colleagues and employers provide me with so much in the way of information, whether this is directly - in the form of instruction, comments, discussions or ideas - or indirectly - by observing their different teaching styles or the way they handle problems. They are also people who have similar ideals to me and understand the technical language of our shared practice.
Friends and family are also information providers and, generally, have the opposite benefit to work colleagues and employers in that they don't share the same understandings of my profession and so can offer a completely different and objective set of thoughts, knowledge and ideas. They are also the people with whom I can share the deepest, darkest, most troubling aspects of my soul without fear of judgement or reproach; they are my sanity and rationality!

Websites are useful in all aspects of my professional practice. I can:
  • find out about legal or ethical aspects of my practice from the two society's that I teach under (the R.A.D. and the I.S.T.D.)
  • keep up-to-date with syllabus changes or modifications and news
  • download current examination forms, syllabus outlines, and specifications
  • find out about courses, jobs and opportunities for CPD
  • buy the latest books, syllabi, dance shoes and clothing, props, etc.
  • find articles (both past and present) and access library catalogues
  • find out about current shows or performances
It is clear from the list above that I use websites when I require, what I shall call, 'black and white' answers, or information that is not subject to interpretation.
I have to be careful that the information I gather is correct so that I am not putting my students or myself in any danger or becoming out-dated in my practice, so I do use a lot of the same websites that have been tried and tested over the years for their reliability.

Books/ magazines/ articles/ videos/ DVDs are all invaluable sources of information to me as a dance teacher.
I have many books on my shelves that I delve into on a regular basis. Some are non-fiction and cover such wide-reaching topics as, for example, child development, anatomy, and dance history. Others are fiction and provide me with ideas and inspiration for classes, shows, costumes, etc.
I receive regular magazines from dance societies that provide me with news, current thinking and debates, articles related to dance and dancers, and more.
Articles, both in magazines and on the internet, are important sources of information both in terms of gaining knowledge and in widening my outlook. I also find that I can be reading something in a newspaper or magazine that at first seems unrelated to dance but that becomes useful as part of my professional practice.
I use videos and DVDs of the syllabi that I teach to ensure that I have accurate knowledge of each exercise and constantly refer to them when planning my classes so that I don't forget any of the details or make mistakes in the settings.

I make all sorts of notes and find them invaluable as reference tools or reminders of information that I may have forgotten about. They are taken in a variety of different settings, for example, during courses or after lessons, and for a variety of different reasons, for example, on particular students or after accidents or incidents, and, as of very recently - in my journal.
I would also include copies of examination reports, reports on progress, and letters I have written within this category.

Some of my methods of note taking are more organised than others but I usually find time to get the more important onces into some semblance of organised chaos so that I can locate them when I need to!

The most recent source of information I use is Web 2.0 technologies, and it is even more the case since starting on this course.
I have been using social-networking sites for several years now, to keep in contact with people I don't see regularly, to keep informed about events and breaking news, and to discover new connections. However, this is the first time I have ever really been involved in the blogging world, and can really see how much there is to be gained from sharing with others - whether by writing my own or by commenting on other people's blogs.
I have always found youtube to be a great source of information in the form of dance routines, show clips and choreographic ideas, but I had never really realised how much other information there was available. In the last three months I have found so much on there to help me with the topics of this module, and, by setting up my own channel, now have the ability to store all of this information in an easy to access way. I shall definitely continue to use it for exploring...
Google, and applications like Zotero and Delicious, have also taken more of a leading role in the discovery of information. I was aware of some of the functions of Google but have now found so many more options within it, which I will continue to use.
The use of bookmarking sites to store information and links, so that they can be easily accessed, is such a great tool.
I'm also sure that there are still more exciting discoveries to be made!

Sources of information - looking at others

I've been attempting to complete my Task 3c  - Sources of Information - blog for about three days now, however every time I log in I end up reading someone else's post and it makes me stop, think, and take time for reflection.
So, instead of writing about my own sources of information I thought I'd post my thoughts/ ideas about what I've read in other blogs!

It is very interesting to see that, in Hannah Stewart, Clare Orlandi, Melanie Brown, and Emily Hunt's blogs, they have all put interaction with people as their first source of information:
  • In Clare's blog post she entitles her interactions Conversation and discusses how even the most seemingly "weak" connections can lead to surprising results (para. 1-2).
  • Emily writes about Personal contacts and the awareness she has gained recently about how 'who you know' leads to more opportunities in her professional practice (para. 3).
  • Melanie and Hannah both talk about friends and the reciprocal aspect that making close connections with other people leads to.

Other sources of information that are valued all involve face-to-face interaction, but differ from person to person depending on their current professional practice. For example:
  • Melanie, Hannah and Katy Thorpe, who all describe themselves as 'performer,' write about the importance of class, auditions, and agencies. 
  • Clare and I talk about the parents of our students as part of our sources of information - in our profiles we identify ourselves as 'dance teacher.' 

Everyone's blog, that I've read so far, talks about social media, and Facebook in particular, as an important source of information.
  • Clare makes a brilliant point about the more immediate nature of this source as opposed to the old website based technology but also how this 'instant information' may not be as accurate or reliable as that presented on 'official' web pages (para. 3-7). 
  • Chelsie Johnson seperates social networking from Web 2.0 in her sources of information - the first being a practical tool, whilst the latter a more personal/ emotional source of information. 
If I put my own spin on this, I would suggest that Facebook is the Web2.0 version of conversation and personal contact, that allows us to build 'form close relationships' (Crisp & Turner 2007 p266) but with a wider, albeit partly virtual, group of friends; I may not be able to meet my FB friends for a coffee but I count my interaction with them within the context of affiliation.

It would seem that we all, myself included, place extremely high values on affiliation, in all it's forms. Is this just human nature, as suggested by social psychologists, or is it more heightened because we are all practicing within the Arts? Do other professionals rely as highly on personal connection within their networks?

It's so great that all of us are working through the same topics at the same time, and quite a novel experience for me as, most of the time, I feel that I'm the only one looking for answers or struggling with problems that everyone else seems to have solved! Deep down, I know that this isn't really the case, but it is a really clear example to me of a) how important it is that I regularly connect with, and build up my network, and b) just how isolated I feel if the only conversation I've had all day is with small children!

Onwards, to my own Top 5...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Constructionism with a Connectivist twist

Today I re-read the Reader (p8-16) on Social Constructionism and Connectivism, along with several other articles related to the topics. I thought I'd take a look at both concepts in this blog...but then I changed my mind! Here's why:

In his article called Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age (2004), George Siemens writes "Decision-making is itself a learning process" (para.23) and that "Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories...can now be off-loaded to , or supported by, technology." (para.3) The idea being that the connectivist model includes the learners ability to decipher what is relevant to learning, and to use the internet as storage for information that doesn't need to be retained in the learners' brain, except for the knowledge of where to access it.

With this in mind I have decided not to regurgitate the information that I have been digesting today in the form of a blogged explanation of concepts, when this information is readily available by clicking on links that I can embed or by using the reading list at the end of this blog. Instead I can use critical reflection on these theories, attempt to place them within the context of my professional practice and contemplate their value. By doing this I hope that I might better engage anyone reading this blog and encourage discussion or debate on the subject.
In my reading, so far, most of it has been accessed on-line, in the form of articles by other professionals, or via blogs related to the topics of Social Constructionism and Connectivism. In using the internet in this way I have realised that there is a whole other side to the Web that I have only just begun to discover. As Siemens says, "Know-how and know what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)." (2004)
In accessing links, embedded within blogs or articles, and using sites such as, for example, Google books, Google scholar, or Summon, I have been able to discover article after article that have expounded on the theories touched on in the course readers, which have, in turn, lead me to link to, or search for, other articles or books. This new skill has opened up so much more potential learning for me, not only in this module or on this course, but for the rest of my life.
In my professional practice it has made think about the fact that I don't always need to be the one to provide all the answers to my students, whether by retaining that knowledge internally or by being able to access it and then transfer it to my students. Instead, I just need to be able to provide them with directions for how and where to look...
Something that has been troubling me over the last few years of teaching is the increasing difficulty more and more students seem to have with retaining the settings of syllabus work. I have had several thoughts as to why this might be the case:
  • increasing demands on their time
  • the opportunity to do more - learn instruments, take classes in various disciplines, homework, extra tuition for school subjects - means less time spent on any one thing
  • not having to remember things by repetition, for example, times tables or poems
  • lack of concentration and focus due to constant stimulus of information technology, for example, texting, instant messaging, game-playing.
  • lack of parental guidance to support practice
  • a lack of balance in my classes between skill-development and setting-reinforcement 
As you can see, some of these thoughts seem pretty out-there!
However, in reading the brilliant article by John Seely Brown (2002), I have realised that my thoughts are not so outlandish, even if my reasoning was way off base.
Brown talks about the "short attention spans of today's kids" (para.13) being similar to "that of top managers, who operate in a world of fast context-switching." (para.13) So, far from being unable to concentrate, as I might have put it, perhaps the key question I should be trying to answer is, how do I approach dance instruction with the needs of the modern student in mind? A huge leap forward in thinking from my own point of view but not an easy problem that I'll be able to figure out on my own. Hang on! I don't have to! If I know where to look, how to engage, how to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and who to ask for ideas and support then I might achieve a "cross-pollination of ideas" (para.49) that gets me closer to an answer.
Earlier today I posted a link to a blog by Benedict Dellot - Web 2.0 and the rise of the partisan, which I found raised some interesting points about the less positive side of networking. I feel that this point doesn't just apply to the engagement of others via the internet but has resonance in all forms of networking. The part of the article that has stuck with me is where Dellot talks about another professional's theory:
According to the ‘networked individualism’ theory of Canadian sociologist Barry Wellman, a new social phenomenon has emerged whereby people increasingly seek out communities that can affirm their chosen identities, rather than allow their native communities to naturally mould their identity. No doubt the internet and Web 2.0 tools are playing a central role in driving this further forward (2012, para.6)
This connected in my mind with another article I had recently read, by Karen Stephenson. In it she suggests that networks are "exclusionary groupings, based on like seeking like, and mask a fundamental fear of differences."
The main question that both these articles raise for me is, if I am drawn to create networks that contain people with similar views to mine how can I be sure that I am not just perpetuating my ignorance or deluding myself that my thinking is correct just because a lot of the people who surround me agree with me? This question makes me picture, for example, the king who is surrounded by people too frightened to disagree for fear that they will lose their life; or the big boss of the company whose "yes men" only say what he wants to hear.
Is there a way to ensure that I don't unknowingly stray onto this path? Is being open to reflection and other points of view, the ability to be discerning and make decisions on the relevance of information, and having the capacity to know more than I currently know (Siemens, 2004) the way to avoid being "seduced by the Dark Side?" (Star Wars, 1977)
My last section for this blog has to do with the meaning placed on what is said both from the point of view of the speaker and the listener. In her blog on Social Constructionism, Clare Orlandi wrote about how it is her job, as a teacher,
to help my students to find meaning in what they are doing. I can tell them this is a demi plie (and demonstrate), but in order for them to fully understand, I must explain that a demi plie is a bend of the knees in first position, etc etc.. Once I have given them this help, they can process this and find meaning in the move for themselves in order to perform it the way it has been constructed previously by many people before them. (2012, para.4)
This really got me thinking about and forming connections between other things I had read or experienced:
  1. the suggestion in the Reader that "through social interaction human's 'construct' meanings of the world" (p8)
  2. the section from Michael Crotty's book (2005) where he talks about constructivism as "the view that all contingent upon human practices" (p42) and,
  3. the task which Adesola started the second Campus session with (see my blog on the campus session)
By connecting all this information I can see two main points emerging:
  • In my role as learner I will adapt and construct meaning in direct correlation with both my past and present experiences and the normative views of the society/ network (both in the narrow and wider senses) I reside in. I will formulate views that are of my own making (Reader p8) and construct truths that are neither entirely objective nor totally subjective (Reader p9). I will make my own decisions about the value of the information, networks, and experiences I have.
  • In my role as "dance teacher" I will introduce students to new meanings, concepts and networks that they will then engage with, in their role as learner, in entirely individual ways. I need to understand exactly how to communicate this meaning or concept, how to connect, it in my students' minds, to the correct object or aspect of the world, and to accept that the value and meaning that my students places on it will differ from my own.
An example from my past has jumped into my mind as I've been writing so, in the spirit of sharing, relevance, connections, and everything else I've discovered along the way, I'll share this last thing!
Up until I was 18 years of age I had never been on a plane. My family spent holiday time in the UK and in all my young life neither of my parents ever took a trip anywhere by plane. At the end of my GCSE's a close friend's parents invited me to join them all on a family holiday to the Algarve. I was adamant that I didn't want to go and, when pushed to explain why, blurted out almost hysterically "because I don't want to die in a plane crash!"
Now, the reason I mention this is that, having never been on a plane, how had I developed a fear of flying? Or rather, how had I come to construct a meaning that aeroplane = death? I'd never known anyone that had been killed in a plane crash, wasn't aware of any big news stories involving accidents in the air, and I hadn't come from a society where air travel was a source of mystery and intrepidation.
It was only two years later when another friend suggested a short trip to Europe that I unravelled the mystery. Speaking to my mum about wanting to go on the trip but being frightened she told me that I shouldn't go, and then it all came out about her absolute fear of flying, which, coupled with her claustrophobia, was the reason for not going abroad as a family. Over the years, and in such a way that I didn't realise it, my mother had passed her constructed view of flying on to me!  
In case you're wondering, it took me a little while and a lot of support, from a wonderful friend, but I got on a plane. And do you know what...I love it! And I don't mean that I quite like it or will do it to get from A-to-B, but really LOVE IT! So I'll end with a quote from George Siemens that seems to sum up my story very nicely,
...the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to the alterations in the information climate affecting the decision (Siemens, 2004)

Brown, J.S., (2002). Gorwing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn. United States Distance Learning Association.
Crotty, M., (2005). The foundations of social research: meaning and perspectives in teh research process, London: Sage
Dellot, B., (2012). Web 2.0 and the rise of the partisan.
Durrant, A., (2012). Reader 3 - The Networked Professional. 
Siemens, G., (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.
Stephenson, K., (Internal Communication, no.36) What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole. (Accessed 24th November 2012)

Web 2.0 and the rise of the partisan

I came across this blog today:
Web 2.0 and the rise of the partisan ( November 22, 2012 RSA Action and Research Centre, accessed 25 November 2012)
and thought it linked in well to both the debate a lot of us were having over the pro's and con's of Web 2.0 technologies as tools for professional practice, for example, that availability of information but not necessarily its reliability, and also to the current discussions on the pro's and con's of engaging in networks.

Would be great to hear any thoughts...

Friday, 23 November 2012

"No man is an island" (Donne, 1624)

I thought I'd title this blog with a quote by John Donne as it seems to sum up the concept of affiliation very well; that human beings are programmed to seek out interaction with one another and "form close relationships" (Crisp & Turner, 2010 p266) that are both enjoyable and beneficial (Reader 3, p5).

The relevance of this concept to professional networking seems to be in:
  • understanding why we make certain affiliations
  • how each individual strives to achieve their ideal balance, and therefore their ideal network
  • why some people will seek out affiliations to a greater degree than others
  • what allows, or prevents, how actively a person can form, and then engage with, their network
Crisp & Turner talk about our need for affiliation as "providing us with a network of support" but also say that there are "chronic differences in people's desire to affiliate with others" (p266). This means that although making connections with other people is a fundamental part of being human, the degree by which each individual engages in affiliation will be very different. But why?
The main consensus seems to be that it is all to do with personality types (Crisp & Turner, Altman, O'Connor & Rosenblood, Buss), although it can also be affected by culture (Hofstede).

The type of person you are will determine where you comfortably sit on the solitary - interaction scale. For example, I'm quite a private person who likes to spend time on my own, and the time I spend with others generally needs to be when I desire it or I feel uncomfortable and anxious. If I were to put myself on the solitary - interaction scale, where 0 = solitude (i.e. no human interaction) and 10 = social interaction, it would probably look like this:

solitude                                         |                                                 social interaction
 0          1        2         3         4     me    5           6            7           8          9            10

This personal desire for solitude or contact is suggested by O'Connor & Rosenblood as operating according to the principle of homeostasis (Crisp & Turner, 2007 p267). O'Connor and Rosenblood call their theory the social affiliation model (or SAM) and liken it to the intake of calories: If I am hungry, I will eat until I reach my desired level of fullness, if I am lonely I will seek out my desired level of human contact and vice versa (O'Connor & Rosenblood, 1996 p513 - 514). They suggest that "social affiliation, like caloric intake, is relatively stable over time" but also that,
the various people with whom we interact, like the different foods that we eat, may provide us with different amounts of "social calories" or "social interaction units," which correspond to the quality of an interaction. Our optimal range of affiliation, therefore, may be affected more by whom we affiliate with rather than how long we affiliate... (p514)
I really like this concept as I am someone who likes to forge long-lasting bonds with people, rather than have lots of passing acquaintances, and who prefers to spend quality time or one-to-one meetings with friends or colleagues rather than quick interactions or social-network messaging.  I also feel that it explains the reason I have been at my current places of work for such a length of time, and why I don't have many Facebook friends!

An alternative model to SAM is the privacy regulation theory (or PRT) (Altman, 1975). In his theory, Irwin Altman suggests that each person requires a certain level of privacy, but that, contrary to SAM, these desires "fluctuate over time" (Crisp & Turner, 2007 p267). He goes on to say that our individual privacy needs affects four key concepts in people's willingness to affiliate:
  • personal space,
  • territory,
  • privacy and
  • crowding (1975, p3).
and that feelings such as isolation and over-crowding are what happen when "privacy mechanisms have not functioned effectively" (p3).
I particularly like this concept as it seems to explain my occasional feelings of "being trapped" in a social situation and the overwhelming desire I sometimes get to remove myself from a social situation that is "becoming too much."
Altman also discusses the way that people approach or deal with situations in order to help them to achieve or maintain their desired levels of affiliation. He says,
Based on past experience, immediate possibilities, and general personal style, a person or group sets a series of mechanisms in motion to adjust self-boundaries so as to realize the momentary desired level of privacy (1975, p8).
 The idea that things from my past and the options I have in the moment act, together with my personality style, to create a given reaction to my situation, really makes me think about both the way I engage with my network and the way I teach.  This links back to the reflection-on and reflection-in-action (Schon, 1987) we have previously looked at; if I look back on a past experience (in this instance a particular moment of isolation or social contact) and find it unsatisfactory I will put plans in place to stop it from happening again; if I am in a situation where I feel overwhelmed by isolation or contact I will implement a plan to even out the situation by using the tools and options available to me in the moment.
Another idea of Altman's PRT is that we use "a number of different behavioural mechanisms" to gain the equilibrium we require. For example, if I'm in a grumpy mood I might not look forward to a particularly noisy, energetic bunch of students but, when it comes to the class I end up teaching a group of angels. I have always, jokingly, put this down to the fact that I must have on my don't-start-with-me-I'm-not-in-the-mood face! However, I can see now that it probably has to do with what Altman calls "boundary-control mechanisms" - speech, voice intensity and tone, distance from others, control of objects - in short, the way I present myself that opens me up for social interaction or closes me down to it.

Another theory that I found I could particular relate to is that of Selection, Evocation, and Manipulation (Buss, 1987). Buss talks about the "three processes that are hypothesised to produce person-environment correspondence" (1987, p1215) and how,
people are not passive recipients of environmental presses, that persons actively avoid social situations and selectively enter others, and that persons elicit and manipulate the social behaviour or persons who reside in situations that have been selected (1987, p1220).
In relating this theory to my network I can see that I:
  • choose to enter groups which I feel are "my kind of group" 
  • avoid making connections which I don't feel fit in with my needs or desires
  • go to places that I know or feel "safe" in and avoid others that I think might be outside of my comfort zone.
  • choose people to affiliate with based on reputation, and whom I feel fit generally within my boundaries, i.e. that don't have extreme viewpoints.
  • adapt and manipulate to help me cope with a situation until it becomes one that I am comfortable with or one that helps me to achieve the desired end.   

To finish this blog I want to look at one more concept related to affiliation, although not from the viewpoint of professional networking.
In Deprivation and Satiation of Social Reinforcers as Drive Conditions (1957), Gewirtz & Baer write about how periods of isolation or social interaction changes the effectiveness of "the reinforcing effect of approval" (p165). They also use a food analogy to explain this idea; if I am hungry and no food is forthcoming my need for the food grows over time (if I don't have any social contact my need for approval grows), the length of time before I receive food is related to my behaviours as I try to get some (if I am deprived of approval for a long time I will try employing tactics to get it), and how I react to the food when it comes is also relative to time (if I have to wait ages for approval I will be all the more happy to receive it).
It reminds me of the child psychology module taken as part of my teaching exams, the puppy-training I did with my dog, and something that I think I remember Stephen Fry saying once - " too much is, by definition, too much!" As a teacher I really feel that effort should be rewarded but if I am too liberal in my use of praise the meaning will be lost from my words. However if I am too restricted with my praise will my students change their behaviours in order to elicit approval from me?

I'd be interested to know what anyone else thinks about this so here's the link to the full article.

Altman, I. (1975). The environment and social behavior (p. 46). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Buss, D. M. (1987). Selection, evocation, and manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1214.
Gewirtz, J. L., & Baer, D. M. (1958). Deprivation and satiation of social reinforcers as drive conditions. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57(2), 165.
O'Connor, S. C., & Rosenblood, L. K. (1996). Affiliation motivation in everyday experience: A theoretical comparison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), 513.
Turner, R. N., & Crisp, R. J. (2010). Essential social psychology. Sage Publications Limited.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pass me a tissue, please

I'm full of cold and unable to get my thoughts organised through the cotton wool that seems to be filling my head. It's also hard to type between the runny nose and the coughing! I'm not looking for sympathy but just wanted to write something that explains why I'm not blogging at the mo...even though I'm full of thoughts, ideas and inquiries.

I've been reading instead of writing though, and have found lots to contemplate. I've been particulary inspired by Emily Hunt and Clare Orlandi's blogs, which makes my inability to formulate coherent sentences all the more annoying as I'm itching to talk about the topics and ideas that they have both raised.

Hopefully the amount of thoughts will push out the cotton wool and I'll be back soon...


Monday, 19 November 2012

The Cooperation Game

I have been reading the next part of The Networked Professional Reader, and other related articles, about the concept of Cooperation. This blog is not going to be a finished essay on my understanding of the concept but more of a collection of what I've been reading and how it has made me think...

In the Reader, Alan Durrant writes: "Cooperation (the will and the way to win)..." and defines cooperation as: 1. an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action. Both these phrases really got me thinking about whether the interactions I have with my network are win/lose scenarios or whether they lead to situations of cooperation and, therefore, mutual gain.

I then went on to look further into other work related to the concept of cooperation:

Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution talks about the concept of "survival of the fittest" to suggest a natural tendency for self-interest rather than cooperation, whereas Richard Dawkins writes about how the purpose of his book The Selfish Gene is to "examine the biology of selfishness and altruism" (1976, p1), which he suggests both exist in nature.

This got me thinking about the nature of my connections and whether my behaviour is truly selfless or only appears so but actually conceals selfishness and self-interest...
For example, saying I'll cover for a teacher who is ill sounds very altruistic but, leaving aside the bonus of possible extra pay, am I truly "helping her out" or noting down that by covering for her she will "owe me one" if I need cover later in the year?

In his essay, The Social Contract, Rousseau says that,
it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience (The Social Contract and Discourses, p.186). 

In this idea of a social network there can only be the winner (absolute authority) and the loser (unlimited obedience). If I were to enter into this type of contract in my professional practice, no matter which role I assumed, there would be no opportunity for personal growth and development; as authority I would never reflect on the knowledge or skills that I possess as "my way would be the right way", and as obedient I would have give up my autonomy and skill-set in order to be "ruled by the higher power".
However, I surely have to lose some of my autonomy and adapt my ideas in order to be able to cooperate? But, as Rousseau goes on to say,
Instead of renunciation, they [the individual] have made an advantageous exchange: instead of an uncertain and precarious way of living they have got one that is better and more secure;...instead of power to harm others security for themselves, and instead of strength, which others might overcome, a right which social union makes invincible." (p.207)
By cooperating and sharing equally, within a network that shares similar goals or outlooks, I really only lose the extremes of my autonomy - areas that are probably best kept in check - but gain a wealth of knowledge from the other members of the group, who all contribute from a different perspective. Ideas that are brought to the group can be shared, discussed, and improved upon within sight of the main aim, whereas on my own I may not see the flaws in my plan until it has already been implemented.

Game Theory is important because it focuses upon the results of cooperation and the decisions to cooperate or not (The Networked Professional, Reader 3, p.3). In reading about Game Theory, in particular Robert Axelrod's The evolution of cooperation (1984) I have begun to think of cooperation from the strategic aspect of planning "what will making my move mean for me" as well as from the reflective stance of "how did making my move work out?" and "which way shall I move next time?"
In the game The Prisoner's Dilemma, the invention of which is credited to a mathematician called Albert W. Tucker, there are several ways of behaving that each involve differing levels of loss or gain. However, the outcome of your choice is entirely dependent on how the other person chooses to move. And as each move is made without awareness of the other person's decision, what is the best strategy to adopt?
Robert Axelrod's experiment with cooperation set a challenge to find the best strategy to employ when playing the Prisoner's Dilemma, i.e. the one that worked most successfully in numerous encounters with the game. He found that a strategy called TIT FOR TAT was the most successful using, as its plan, cooperation as a starting point followed by "thereafter doing what the other player did on the previous move" (1984, p. viii).

It seems that this is a concept that is easily recognisable in the day to day interactions of life, both professional and personal. For example, if I meet you and my generosity of spirit is not met with reciprocal generosity then the next time we meet I'll approach you with a more defensive or selfish stance (thereby approaching you in the manner you previously met me). If your initially defensive action is repeated then I will continue to interact with you from a wary point of view, whereas if you adopt a more open and cooperative approach I will reassess my original idea, and so on...

In his article Launching "The Evolution of Cooperation" (Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 299, 2012, p21-24), Axelrod looks back at the original experiment and discusses what he calls "noise" - misunderstanding or misimplementation - and how "in the presence of noise, reciprocity still works well provided it is accompanied either by generosity (some chance of cooperating when one would otherwise defect) or contrition (cooperating after the other player defects in response to one’s own defection).
This added information has real relevance to me in my real-life experience of social interactions. It allows for the accommodation of such personality traits as shyness, social awkwardness, embarrassment by "giving the benefit of the doubt" to an initial encounter and allowing for a less aggressive response to what has been misunderstood as a "defective" move. I know that a lot of past arguments between myself and my students have come from a mutual misunderstanding of the exchange. For example, many years ago I used to say "pull your tummy in" until the day a body-conscious teenager ran out of class in tears because I had "called her fat!" Thankfully, after a long discussion between myself and my student, the misunderstanding was resolved. It also afforded me the opportunity for reflection that now means I ask pupils to "engage their core" thus eliminating any misinterpretation that I am commenting on weight or body shape.

So to sum up this blog, in terms of what it means to me as a professional practitioner, I can see the vital nature of cooperation. Here are two examples, of the many I have scribbled down in my journal, of how I see cooperation in terms of benefit to my professional practice:
  1. The common purpose of my work is, in the most basic terms, to enable students to become dancers. In order to do this I should be working with the students themselves by building up a relationship of mutual cooperation - I guide you, the student, on your journey by providing you with the knowledge and tools at my disposal, and you, the student, agree to take both a leap of faith, by trusting me, and by your willingness to enter into experimentation and discourse.  I find that this links, in my mind, to one of Donald Schon's theories, in which he says,
  2. ...the process by which they fail shows how a student's initially resistant and defensive stance and a complementary stance by the instructor lead both partise to create a behavioural world (an interrelated context that shapes their views of their own and the other's actions) in which it is impossible for either to break through the mutual misunderstanding. The create for each other what I shall call a "learning bind" (1984, p126-127). 
  3. As a teacher, I do not work in isolation. I work alongside other teachers (colleagues, other dance instructors and teachers in the wider field of education), and also with the parents/ family of my students. As we are all, hopefully, heading in the same direction - to produce well-rounded, skillful, confident adults - then a level of cooperation is vital to achieve balance and harmony. For example, a student wishes to attend dance class at another studio as well as mine. Do I a) tell her she can't take classes outside of this school or b) encourage her to experience as much dance as possible? Or perhaps a show rehearsal needs to be scheduled on a Sunday and a student can't make it because the family goes to church. Do I a) tell the student she can't be in the number if she can't make the rehearsal or b) find a way to either move the rehearsal to a later slot or coach the student separately? If I choose a) in both instances the student will be placed in a position of having to make a choice of me or them - a very win/lose situation - and there is no cooperation in our interaction. Whereas, if I choose to behave in a more cooperative way, or b) in my examples, the student isn't forced into a battle between one dance school and another, or between parents and teacher. The cooperative way also builds a relationship where there is more likely to be reciprocal "give and take" which benefits both sides in the long term.
However, I do realise that cooperation is a two-way street and I'm not so blind to realise that in life it is not always easy to be cooperative. I do believe though, just having the knowledge or skills to encourage cooperation can be enough to start the ball rolling...

Friday, 16 November 2012

Task 3a - Current networks

Following on from my initial scribblings about my network I have been thinking about the questions in the module handbook (p21 - 22). I thought I'd blog some of my answers, rather than writing it in essay form, as I feel it might be easier to read. I am also hoping that it will show me where and how I can improve on areas such as, for example, my current interactions, the effectiveness of the tools that I use, and what I gain from my network.

What are the current and different ways (tools) that you have, or do, engage your professional network?

This question I approached as a mind-map as I felt that a lot of the tools that I use currently, interlink with one another:

Link here, then click on view, followed by full screen, to get a slightly bigger version*

I also felt it might be interesting to identify which of these tools allowed "realtime" interaction, or "instant networking." Looking at the diagram I notice there are less bubbles taking place in real time, but, when I actually think about it, I realise that this is, conversely, where most of my networking time is spent. I think that, for me, having an emotional connection with the people in my network is my preferred way of interaction. I also find that in realtime interactions, particularly face-to-face ones, there is less chance of being misunderstood or misinterpreted, whereas tools like, for example, email or text are devoid of intonation and can easily be misconstrued.

What are the established (and different) ways that others use their networks, especially if they are more established or experienced practitioners that you admire?

There are two main ways that I can see, at the moment, where others use their networks differently to me:
  1. self-promotion
  2. social interaction
It occured to me, as I got further into this exploration of this topic, that I don't use my network for promoting who I am and what I can do AT ALL! The main reason for this is two-fold, I think! Firstly, I have been with the schools I am at for a number of years, have quite a hectic working week as it is, and am quite content, so am not looking for anything else. And secondly, I'm not very comfortable with pushing myself forward, and the idea of "blowing my own trumpet" leaves me cold.

I am very aware of the blurring between professional and personal lives that has come with the onset of the social networking phenomena. However, I am still not comfortable with the idea of sharing everything with everyone!
There has been many a "slip-up" reported in the news, where too much information has caused harm or embarrassment, because people have lost sight of what is personal and what is professional. I don't think the two mix, particularly in my job as teacher, and am very aware that my dealings with all aspects of my network don't include over-familiarity.
I do see, on places like Facebook, a lot of dance schools and can understand the benefit of using a tool like social networking to advertise your school, connect with both parents and students, up-date information quickly and easily, and to show pride in achievement. If I ran my own dance school, would I use social-media? My honest answer right now is...I don't really know. 

When you reflect upon your current networks, can you think about the motives of others to be in the network and what values and purpose they have in mind?

Looking back at my first blog on Professional Networking, which I linked to at the top of this page, I immediately noticed two things:
  1. I didn't include the parents and students in my diagram. Is this because I don't see them as part of my network? Initially, I think I only thought about other professionals, then friends and family, but now I have looked deeper I can see that the parents of my students provide me with support, knowledge (both about their child and also their wide ranging professions), and feedback. In addition, my students provide me with feedback, lines of inquiry, inspiration to learn so that I can be better, different ways of thinking about dance, and so much more.
  2. I like to think that I am a pretty good judge of character, and can honestly say that I believe everyone in my network is there for the benefit of all rather than personal gain. The societies I work for, the people I attend courses with, my employers and colleagues are all working to achieve the highest level possible, whether that is through promotion of dance, good teaching practice, safety and duty of care, etc. My newest network group is everyone on the BAPP course, and the motives of everyone I have interacted with so far seem to be about learning, sharing, and growing as professionals. I can't think of anyone in my network who is purely driven by selfishness - "take what I can get without giving anything back", monetary gain, or the desire for power.

What would your ideal network look like and why? What realistic things could you do to work towards developing your ideal network?

In my reading on the subject of Professional Networking I have been looking at John Rousseau's The Social Contract (1792). One particularly thought, which I think is relevant here, occurred to me and I scribbled the following down in my journal,
[My] ideal network leaves me room to be who I am, with the ideas I have and the skills I possess, but pushes me to be better  - more skillful, more knowledgeable, more ethical - by the very nature of its own skills, knowledge and ethics (Journal, 2012).
In terms that are more realistic, I think that I need to feel that my network values me for my contributions in the same way that I value everything it gives to me. In order to develop this ideal network I now realise that most of the work needs to come from me! I need to:
  • engage more with other professionals by not always feeling like the subordinate, the dunce or the novice. 
  • realise that I do have something worth saying.
  • not feel that, by asking for support, that I am weak.
  • see that I have something worth promoting.
I have known for a long time that certain aspects of my personality have a tendency to stop me from making the most of what is available to me, but I have never realised quite how much this also spills over into my professional practice.

I think this blog has ended up being less a reflection on my professional network and more a journey of self-realisation. The challenge now is to act on these thoughts...

*if I can find a way to make it clearer then I will alter it later 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What is a Professional Network?

In the Networked Professional reader, Alan Durrant suggests that a Professional Network might be seen as, 'a work related community held together by either close working affiliation or more distant but common work interests or needs' (p.2).

I thought that, before I get into looking at the different theories behind the idea of Professional Networking, I would look into what I currently see as my own network. The thinking behind this is, that I can look back on this diagram, in the light of the further reading, and see how relevant or irrelevant I find these concepts. As Alan Durrant says, 'You should treat each idea in a critical way, questioning its utility and value' (Reader 3 - The Networked Professional, p.2).

When I started looking at my network the first thing I did was to jot down a diagram of ideas and initial thoughts in my journal:

I can see, from these initial thoughts, that I view my network from the point of view of the people I connect with. The emotional connections I make with the people I come across seem to make (or break) for me their importance within my network. In every circle I have created, I visualise a particular person, or group of people, and it is the role these particular people play within my network that I have scribbled underneath. For example, within course leaders I immediately picture several lecturers that have really inspired me; in BAPP I picture all the people I have met or whose blogs I have read.

The second thing that I notice in my diagram is that pretty much every bubble has a link to another circle, or circles, apart from 'Family' - I'm not sure that this is necessarily correct, but as I say this is my initial thought process. It does make me realise, however, that I don't seperate my professional relationships from my personal ones as much as I thought I would, for example: I can see that some colleagues and employers are also people that I consider friends.

Since I jotted down that diagram in my journal, I have looked at the three examples on the libguides page - Campus Session Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, and can see how differently people have described their networks. My diagram seems closer to the Group 1 map, but I find the Group 2 mindmapping picture very interesting, as it takes the idea of the Professional Network out further by exploring  the how?, why? and if? I think this might be a good thing for me to do so that I can see how effective my engagement is with my Professional Network (Reader 3 - The Networked Professional p.2), and, therefore, how I can improve on it.

The other area I need to reflect on further is how technology, both existing and the newer skills I have developed, should be represented in my network. Yes, I use things like FB, youtube, email, and websites to connect with the people in my network, but I also use the internet to discover new ideas, articles, film clips, etc. Should it therefore have a bubble of its own?

I think it's time I got scribbling again!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Time to share...

This morning I read Adesola's blogs on her experiences of the last few days. I found her writing really made me think about dance within the bigger picture, which is something I've been struggling with over the last, well, since forever; the ongoing battle that rages in me between getting my students "exam ready" and allowing them to explore their world and be a dancer.

Adesola wrote about several lecturers in her posts and as I read on I found that I was interested to learn more about some of the people she had mentioned. The first person I have searched for is Susan W. Stinson, and, after reading just one of her papers, I have found myself talking to my laptop screen, nodding my head in agreement with the things I have just read, scribbling furiously in my journal, and generally becoming more and more enthused by what I have read.

Instead of blogging about my thoughts and feelings, as I want time to digest and carry out further reading, I thought I'd link to the particular paper that I have found so inspiring this morning:

What we teach is who we are: Reflections on the stories of our lives by Susan W. Stinson (1999)

Thank-you, Adesola, for turning what could have a been a dull, grey Monday morning into one that is now full of possibilities...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Task 2d - part three

I found this blog quite difficult to write. Not because I couldn't think of anything to say, in fact the exact opposite was true, but because I found it very hard to put what I wanted to say into words. I hope that what I have written makes sense!

What do you feel you don't understand? Who do you admire who does seem to understand it or who has found a way of making not understanding it interesting or beautiful, or has asked the same questions as you?

The first word that popped into my mind, when I looked at this question,  was "EVERYTHING!" Most of the time I feel that I've just got a handle on something and then life throws me a curve ball and I'm left wondering what on earth made me think that I knew anything in the first place. However, I realise that this is a little melodramatic, very unhelpful, and that I'm in need of some perspective! So here goes,
  • I sometimes feel that I don't understand what is within my control, and what is beyond it, and this leads to situations of frustration and stress.
 I am very keen to do the best that I can for my students - help them achieve good examination results; produce happy and confident dancers; prevent injury or harm; motivate each pupil without placing them under unneccessary stress. I also "know" that I can't control everything that my students think or feel, or the effect that certain external factors can have, in the same way that I understand that I can't get every physique to achieve the same height in a kick or achieve proficiency in pointe-work. However, this doesn't stop me, for example, feeling disappointment in low exam results or getting frustrated when physically capable students don't push themselves to achieve bigger and better things.
I think the crux of this lack of understanding is not knowing when it is ok for me to let go; to accept that I have done everything within my power and can do no more. I can, however, see that by refining my reflection-in- and reflection-on-action skills I will be better placed to identify those areas within my responsibility from areas that are the responsibility of others, or of unique and unpredictable external factors.

I don't really have anyone I can think of that has figured out this problem...well, that's not strictly true! I know several teachers that, to use my examples, don't get phased by poor exam results or students who don't fullfil their potential but their outlook doesn't really fit in with my theories. Phrases like "Well, she's just lazy!" or "She always goes down in exams!" don't sit well with me, as my personal reaction to such statements is usually "you obviously haven't found the right way to approach this student" or "you haven't helped this student to overcome their particular issue with..." Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that they are bad teachers, or that I'm right, I'm just saying that I find it hard to lay "blame" at the foot of anyone but myself for my students failures.

I'm not sure that I will ever "understand" when to let go, and this may mean that I put myself under undue pressure, but perhaps I can find a more positive way to deal it...

  • At the moment I don't understand exactly how I can get my students to adopt reflective practices to help them take responsibility for their own learning.
With time constraints in class, the nature of learning in schools and the busy lives of my students, can I promote reflective skills as well as teaching dance, achieving examinations, and putting on shows? Also, is it only higher grades students that can benefit from this or can young children be encouraged to look at themselves and their learning?
I'm not talking about the reflection-in-action that goes on in class, when a pupil attempts to refine their performance so as to achieve a step or sequence of moves, as from reading about reflective practices, and from past experience, I can see that the very nature of dance allows for this particular skill to develop anturally over time. What I don't know is,
  • Can I expect to achieve reflection-on-action outside of the classroom?
  • If I encourage my students to practice outside of lesson time is this reflection or just reinforcement?
  • Does my approach or verbal instruction make the difference between repetition and improvement?
For example, a student who doesn't know how to do a step before they leave class is unlikely to be able to master it just from thinking about it. Conversely, a student that is competent at a move is unlikely to see the benefit of repeating the step as, in their mind, they "have already got it!"
However, that said, I know that the very nature of thinking about why they can't do the step, or repeating an already learnt move, will afford them insights that reflection-in-action cannot. 
I can see that some of the discussions that I have had with older students (11+)  - about using the internet as a learning tool, and how they might use their phones or other media for recording and then watching back their work - have resulted in several students asking me: can they record me doing a particular step they are struggling with so that they can watch it back; to write down a word I have used or a name that I have mentioned so that they can look it up online.

So many questions here that I can't yet answer, but I think that I will continue to try to encourage reflective practices in my students, and hopefully gain more reflective skills myself in the process. After all, to use Schon's term, it's not a win/lose situation (1983), and, I think, can only lead to a better understanding, and therefore relationship, between myself and my students.
All the people mentioned in the Reader 2 (Dewey, Schon, Kottcamp, Moon, etc.) have asked questions about: how learning happens; how to improve education; how to reflect on your practices. They have formed theories or suggested methods of approaching these problems and pushed forward the thinking within their areas of expertise.
It is reassuring to read that rather than finding a definitive solution, most of them have end up asking as many questions as they have answered. This has not only revealed to me the ongoing process that is reflection, but has also given me strength to keep pushing forward with my own inquiries/ learning as I now understand that it is "ok" to end up with more questions than I started with!

Although I found it difficult writing this, it has really reinforced for me the fact that I'm not going to find any "quick-fixes" to the things that I don't understand. However, I believe I have gained better insight into myself and the way that I think, and perhaps brought myself a little closer to moving forward...

Friday, 9 November 2012

Task 2d Inquiry - part two

In the second blog on the task, I am only looking at one question as I felt that yesterday's blog was a little too long to read in one go!
This question, I found, was the easiest to write about so far. It makes me realise that, although I get bogged down with the nitty-gritty and day-to-day of my practice, I still love what I do!

What do you love about what you do? Who do you admire who also seems to love this or is an example of what you love?
  • I love the fact that, although I've been at the same schools now for over ten years, every day brings variety, with new challenges and rewards.
  • I love the fact that I have the opportunity to share my love of dancing with others and, if it all goes well, hopefully find and explore their love of dance too.
  • I love it when I can come up with a way to make a child's confusion disappear or to have created an atmosphere so that a shy or nervous child can find their voice or come out of their shell.
  • I love how I can experiment with new ideas and change/ adapt the way that I teach so as to give myself more skills/ knowledge to pass on to the next group of students.
The schools at which I work give me the ability to do all of the examples above because of the nature of the type of educational environment they provide. There are so many things in them that I admire, and every day I see examples of:
  1. Time and effort put into how things are run
  2. Care and responsibility taken by both employers and staff to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the students in their care
  3. Quality of teaching
  4. Sharing of ideas and the discussion of problems without ego or attitude
  5. Staff and employers going above and beyond what is required of them
  6. Everyone working together for the benefit of all
Being part of a team, even though I spend most of my time working alone, gives me a feeling of support, encouragement and belonging. Most of my jobs don't feel like jobs but like being part of a family!

  • Attending courses makes me realise how much I still love to dance and gives me the opportunity to gain insight from other peoples perspectives and learn from lecturers and choreographers that I would not otherwise get the chance to dance with.
I admire Diana Malin, who currently runs the Imperial Tap and Modern Group that I am a member of. She provides courses for teachers in many different areas of our professional practice and does her best to keep the subs at an affordable rate so that we, as teachers, are able to attend more lectures and therefore widen our professional knowledge. For example, this Sunday (11th Nov) is a Street/ Rhythm Tap class, and the last lecture was on how to approach the teaching of turns.
Diana always asks for our feedback on classes and for ideas for future courses, ensuring that she keeps in touch with what her teachers want, and she always books high quality lecturers.
The opportunity to regularly connect with other professionals is both inspirational and invaluable, and the opportunity to dance keeps up my enthusiasm for what I do. I always learn something from taking part.

Last, but by no means least,
  • I love the fact that, although I can moan and complain with the best of 'em, I never wake up in the morning with fear or dread about the day ahead.
In a world where so many people are doing jobs that bring them no satisfaction at all, are unable to find employment, or are having to work every hour of the day or night to make ends meet, I feel humbled to be doing the work that I do and getting more enjoyment than I do heartache.
I admire anyone, and everyone, who is committed to their work, who seeks to do the best that they can in whatever field of work they inhabit, and who contributes something to the bigger picture rather than just taking as much as they can for themselves.

Reflecting back through my journal entries I can see that one big topic that keeps recurring (up to this point) is: how better to reach my children and inspire or motivate them into achieving their full potential.
I wonder whether there is something there to make an inquiry out of...?

To finish this blog I wanted to end with a story that really touched my heart earlier this year, and reminded me of just how awesome human beings can be, and that it's the little gestures in life that mean so much...

Shoep's story

The next chapter

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Task 2d Inquiry - part one

In this blog I am tackling two of the questions from the module handbook (WBS 3730, p19) to hopefully begin to identify areas of inquiry that I may want to look into later in the course. I have read back over my journal and my blog, as well as thinking deeply about each of the questions. Here are my thoughts so far: 

What in your daily practice gets you really enthusiastic to find out more about? Who do you admire who also works with what makes you enthusiastic?
  • I'm very enthusiastic about self-expression and making a movement or sequence your own. I really feel that unless you can become a part of your dance then the exercise you are performing will always look like it is stuck on the outside. It is also a way to work through feelings and emotions, both negative and positive - if a student has had a bad day then I try to encourage them to "take it out" on their dancing! I think trying to pretend to be one thing when you feel something else is dishonest and encourages you to keep things inside, where they can brew into something altogether more damaging. If I'm feeling bad I tell my students - let them know that everyone feels that way sometimes, and that it's ok to feel a certain way. It's how you deal with it that is important.
I admire dancers and choreographers that I feel embody the emotional aspect of the art form:
The choreographer that I find perhaps the most inspiring is Kenneth MacMillan. He created ballets that felt "real" and didn't just deal with happy or benign subject matters. His creations were "warts and all" productions that covered such topics as death, disease, poverty, betrayal, rape and murder. Every movement in his ballets is there to further the emotion or the plot, nothing is there for the sake of it or to show off a particular move. I have so many favourite scenes and can talk the hind legs off a donkey about him but I'll stop here and just leave you with a link to The Judas Tree. The clips embedded on the page also show two dancers that are in my Top Ten of emotional performers - Irek Mukhamedov and Viviana Durante.
Other people who inspire me are:
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Gregory Hines
Gene Kelly
Dean Pierry (Can you spot a very young Adam Garcia dancing in the clip?!)
Colin Dunne and Jean Butler
Now I've just gone off into a tubeloop again...!

Someone whom I admire that has the same feeling as me is my good friend, surrogate little sister and dance compadre, Dee. She, like me, adores and aims for perfect technique but, in a world that is increasingly all about the "show" and the "fake" and the "trickery", finds watching dance that has no passion or emotion is like watching paint dry! We often get together and always end up talking about how to get more out of our students or discussing something we have seen on the telly or at the theatre. She is my kindred spirit but also has very different ideas and works in very different places to me so there is always a lot to be learned from her and ideas to be shared and discussed.

  • I get filled with joy when a student has a "light bulb moment," for example, they have suddenly mastered a step that they have been struggling with for weeks, or that they make a connection between two different ideas or realise that "this... " is because of "this... !"
  • I find teaching students who struggle to "get" a movement, or that have difficult bodies that don't naturally fall into the shapes I ask of them, more rewarding than coaching someone who can just pick things up easily or who has a physique that just allows them to do any movement with ease. It is these children that I generally find experience more satisfaction when they finally "get there", but equally these are the children who face more confusion and frustration.
Trying to understand the process through which each individual goes, in order to arrive at this moment, is something that really interests me. And understanding what, if any, part I played in them achieving this enlightenment is something that continually makes me strive to find that magic equation that switches everybody's light bulbs on!

There are lots of students, both past and present, whom I admire and who have proved that having passion and determination can overcome a lot of the problems that you encounter along the way. Some have gone on to perform, some to teach, whilst others have taken a different career path, but I hope that they all know how proud I am of them and what an inspiration they are to me.

  • I love it when a student throws out a question to which I don't have an immediate answer or that talks about a connection that they have just made to which I have little or no understanding or prior knowledge.
It becomes a role reversal and an opportunity for me to be inspired by what my students bring to the class. The skill, as I see it, is to be able to provide a classroom environment where these ideas, however big or small, intellectual or silly, can be freely shared, tested and evaluated without judgement.

What gets you angry or makes you sad? Who do you admire who shares your feelings or has found a way to work around the sadness or anger?

  • I get both angry and sad when a student tells me they are giving up dance because their parents say that they must concentrate on their school work. Or when someone tells me that I dont have a proper job and spend all day just "prancing around!" Arrgggh! I feel that dance is such a valued and equally high-standing form of education and get frustrated that not all people think the same way.
The question that sums this up for me is - How do you promote acceptance or understanding of what a lot of people see as "just a hobby" or that is less important to them than, for example, maths or science?
I really admire programmes, like So You Think You Can Dance, and Strictly Come Dancing that have brought dance into the general public's awareness and promoted the "dance is for all" ethos that crosses gender, race and social background.
I also admire the two dance society's that I teach under, the Royal Academy of Dance and the Imperial Society of Teachers' of Dance, who, after working for years, have finally got their qualifications recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). (The links that I have embedded above will take you to articles relating to the QCA and the National Framework on each society's website). I feel that, as a teacher, having what I teach my students recognised as just as valuable as what is taught in their day schools gives both validation for what I do, and more weight to the argument as to why students should continue with their dance education throughout their GCSE and A-levels.

  • I feel sad when a student leaves without any contact to say why. I get emotionally involved with all my students, to varying degrees, and try to do the very best that I can for each and every one of them. It hurts when I lose a pupil, after whatever length of time, and, when there is no reason given, leaves me blaming myself for having let them down in some way.
  • I get angry when employers take advantage of good nature or don't communicate
  • I get angry with myself when I lose control and shout at a student in a way that is disproportionate to what they have done.
I think that, from doing this course and reading into reflective practices, I am really beginning to understand the benefits of reflection-in-action!
Someone whom I have recently begun to admire is Donald Schon. I have found, by reading into his theories and ideas on the subject that it is possible to change my  defensive, and potentially single-loop thought processes into more effective double-loop learning skills that will increase my effectiveness in so many aspects of my professional practice. Just by looking at the examples I have written above I can see that there is a great deal of learning that I need to do to change the way that I "see" a situation and steps that I can implement to change both the situation itself and my reaction to it.
Below are two tables from Schon's book Educating the Reflective Practitioner (1987, p.257-258), explaining the two types of thinking that he calls Model 1 and Model 2, and the effect that they can have:

(I think that these pictures may be too small to read so here is a link to a clearer version of  Model 1. I can't find a Model 2 link at the moment but will post it later if I can find it)

I've really enjoyed this task, so far, as it has really been an eye-opener for me to write something about both the positive and negative aspects of my professional practice. I am looking forward to tackling the other two questions.

Please comment on any themes you can see running through this blog, or post any thoughts you have had. It is always helpful to have other people's opinions to inspire further thinking...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Task 2c Reflective theory

As with everything I have delved into in the course so far I have found that the Reader has thrown up so many other places to investigate and people to read about that I didn't think I'd ever be able to finish this task. Then I thought, why do I need to finish it? If I've "learnt" one thing on this journey it's that there really is no finish to anything and that, with the ability to keep blogging or writing in my journal, I can continue to discover new information and aquire more knowledge as a continual process...

Ever since I was young my dancing has been an important part of my life, and the training I received appears to not only have shaped the kind of dancer I am, but also the kind of learner and, ultimately, the person I've become, both personally and professionally. However, who I am has also shaped the world I live in, the experiences I have had and the learning I have assimilated. In other words, without "me" there would be no experience or learning, but without experience or learning there would be no "me"!

Having been through the Reader and done some further reading, I can see that I use several "tools or practices for reflection" (Module handbook WBS 3730, p18) in my professional practice. In this blog I shall look at three of these practices, and how they relate to certain reflective theories:
  • Previous experience
  • Lesson planning
  • Different teaching styles 

An example of previous experience is how I feel I have been shaped as a teacher by the people who have taught me. During my college years, I remember a particularly vocal teacher who, although we all moaned about it, managed to get us all going during her 8.30a.m. ballet lessons by her sheer enthusiasm and physical presence; she would leap around the room, voice at a high pitch, hands waving. I also remember feelings of worthlessness brought on by the manner, and language, in which a particular teacher at my dance school critiqued my weekly performance.

In my present practice I am very aware that the behaviour I exhibit towards my pupils - the language I use, the way I act towards them, how I present myself, how I react to unexpected situations - can make the difference between a positive and a negative learning experience. By reflecting on experience, I have been able to see that some teachers from my past produce very negative feelings within me and so I have consciously taken steps to try to avoid creating the same feelings within my own students.

I think that this example fits in with the theories of both Boud and Dewey about how reflection turns experience into learning (Reader 2).  Boud suggests that "reflection is a form of response of the learner to experience" (Boud, Keogh, and Walker, 1985, p.18), whilst Dewey sees reflective thought as:
‘Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it includes a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of evidence and rationality’ (Dewey, 1933, p9).
Before every lesson I make a plan of the topics/ exercises that I am going to cover. To help me do this I look back at the previous lesson's plan to remind me what I covered, what I didn't have time for, what needed more time, problems or ideas.
During the class I adapt and change the lesson plan if, for example, I feel that it's not working, or if external events affect my ability to achieve what I had planned.
After every class - sometimes straight after but more often than not at the end of the day - I make notes on how the lesson went, for example, what was achieved, whether my plan was realistic, how balanced it felt.
I also have a term's plan in mind, along with an overall plan for the year, for example, to take an examination or to produce an end of year piece for parents to watch.

In reflecting on the process by which I plan my lessons I can see that I can apply Kolb's learning cycle.
Informed by Dewey, Kolb developed a learning cycle (Reader 2, p5), which creates a four-point learning process:

Picture from Curve

Kolb theorised that every reflective experience follows through the cycle but can start from any point. In my example, I clearly enter at the planning stage of the cycle, implement my plan by taking the class, and follow that with initial reflection on what I did before making sense on what I did.
In her blog Adesola talks about how you can be in several of Kolb's learning cycles at a time, and that you won't necessarily have entered each one from the same point. For example, I also go through a second cycle whilst in the midst of the concrete experience phase of the first cycle - during a lesson I will deviate from the plan if necessary, for example, I might be taking a class and a child has a nosebleed!

Another tool for reflection is keeping a journal but I've never kept one before I started this course...or have I? Isn't planning my lessons a form of journal keeping?
My lesson plans:
  1. Are written records concerning an aspect of my professional practice
  2. Take the same format so that I can easily compare one to another.
  3. Are a place to reflect on past lessons and prepare for future classes
  4. Allow me, by reflecting and writing on every plan,to be able to take steps to avoid making the same mistakes in the future or to expand further on successes.
  5. Mean that I can see one class, or a whole series of classes, in one place
As Moon says "Journals come in any shape, size or form" (2006, p.51) and that "there is an overall intention by the writer...that learning should be enhanced" (2006, p.2). The latter statement could be said to be, in this case, true in two instances; I wish to learn from my planning so that I can build on strengths and weaknesses, but I also plan so as to enhance the learning experience for my students.

In order to be able to provide a positive and fulfilling learning experience that maximises potential I need to be able to "reach" every pupil in the way that I teach. Yet in every class, in every school I work, there are no two children the same - I'm not talking about physical attributes but about the way that they learn.
For example, I know that if I stand still and give instruction whilst taking one of my "baby" classes, where the average student age is roughly three years, I will end up with a riot on my hands! Or, if I break down a tap rhythm into a series of mathematical beats I might be speaking loud and clear to one student but another will just hear goobledygook.

To understand that there are different ways of learning is a vital tool, and Gardners Multiple Intelligence theory is one of many theories suggesting that "people had different ways to engage with understanding and learning" (Reader 2, p.7).

Gardner, who researched into developmental and neuropschology, believes that:
human cognitive competence is better described in terms of a set of abilities, talents or mental skills, which I call intelligences. All normal individuals possess each of these skills to some extent; individuals differ in the degree of skill and in the nature of their combination (Gardner 2006, p.6)
He goes on to suggest seven intelligences,
  • Musical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Linguistic
  • Spatial
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal 
and describes them as a repertoire which human beings have that allows them to solve  different kinds of problems (2006, p.8-18, 21).

However, being aware of these multiple intelligences doesn't just put me in a better place to understand my students, and therefore present information to be learned or skills to be developed in several, more user-friendly ways. It also allows me to look at my own combination of intelligences so that I can be more aware of the areas where my practice may be weaker, and reflect on whether, perhaps, I teach with a slight bias towards my own particular strengths.

Of course, there are many more theories, ideas and concepts on reflective practices, which I hope to carry on exploring outside of this module. I also look forward to finding those writers that disagree with some of these ideas.

So much information, so little time!