Teacher education and partnerships with galleries: What do pre-service teachers think?

Partnerships with cultural organisations such as galleries and museums are under utilised by teacher education programs in Australia (Abeles, 2004Bybee, 2001Falk, 2001; Lemon& Garvis, 2014; Nichols, 2014; Wilson, 2004). Cultural organisations are community assets that offer a range of rich and diverse learning resources and programs for learners encompassing all levels of education (Eames & Coll, 2010; Grossman & McDonald, 2008). This project aimed to investigate how a partnership between Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) and La Trobe University could begin to understand how working in partnership while embedding a site visit into teacher education curriculum could support future teachers awareness of resources available.


The project was a case study that gathered the voice of pre-service teachers in order to understand the impact of cultural engagement within teacher education.

There were three stages to this study: 1) pre survey, 2) participation in visual arts workshop at SAM, and 3) post evaluation.


The participants were pre-service teachers (students) of the Graduate Diploma of Education (Middle Years) course. A total of 59 participants were involved in this pre-survey of the study, with a return rate of 54.6%. In the post-survey 82 returned the survey with a return rate of 78%. 108 pre-service teachers were in the class who participated in the education program at SAM as a part of their teacher education studies.


Pre-service teachers background in creative participation:

Visual arts participation saw largest numbers in crafts like ceramics, jewelry making, sewing or woodcraft (53%) and photography as an artistic endeavor (45%). 61% play a musical instrument while 58% sing and 35% participate in traditional or contemporary theatre. Creative literacy practice participation sat in the writing of a biography, memoir, essay or history (52%) and novel or short story (48%).

Background in arts and specifically receptive participation:

The pre-service teachers indicated that they visit galleries (71%) and museums (79%) as a part of their personal time. 91% attend live music, 70% attend traditional or contemporary theatre, and many read a novel (85%) or read a biography, memoir or history (83%).

From this pre-data collected there is a strong percentage of pre-service teachers in this cohort who participate (creatively and receptively) in cultural activities connected to visual arts, performing arts (music and theatre/drama), and creative literacy.

Access to cultural organisations as teachers:

54% of the pre-service teachers indicated they had visited a gallery or museum for education purposes. The top reasons for this visit was for: a) School excursion (74%), b) Public program (19%), and c) Artist talk (16%). Only one pre-service teacher had visited these sites for teacher professional development.

In reflecting upon the reasons for not considering cultural organisations as educational resources, the pre-service teachers indicated that they had not made connections to these sites as resources. There were also reflections indicating lack of confidence, not knowing how to engage the site for education and were not too sure about moving form personal engagement to professional engagement. These are significant findings for partnerships between teacher education and cultural organisations and indicate the importance to engage future teachers who currently do not engage with cultural organisations for educational purposes in order to support them to make connections. While for those who do already engage with cultural organisations connections are reinforced and reminders are provided in how personal to professional links can be made to enhance both curriculum work with young people in school settings and for professional development as a teacher.

 Evaluating the learning experience at SAM:

The visit to SAM stimulated thinking:

  • About pedagogy from the perspective of art and thinking skills
  • How to engage students

The top ideas or curriculum connections emerged while at SAM:

  • Integrated curriculum approaches
  • Utilising the collection for literacy

Strength indicated were:

  • Gaining awareness around curriculum links
  • Gaining awareness pedagogical ideas
  • Experiencing SAM as a site for learning

Weaknesses indicated were:

  • More unpacking of art in the classroom (how to)
  • Too much talking (by educators)

Observations indicated were:

  • Enjoyed opportunity
  • Enjoyed the variety of art
  • Could begin to make connections to their role in teaching

Threats indicated were:

  • Logistical areas (time, location, travel, seeking permission from leaders to attend)
  • Perceived value to the curriculum (finding time, justifying need/value, working in a crowded curriculum, miss understanding how cultural organisations support/enhance curriculum and are not an add on)

Adolescents, their relationship with teachers and coping skills to adjust to teacher classroom management strategies.

School days we have all been there  (accessed from Shutterstock)

School days we have all been there (accessed from Shutterstock)

The classroom, as a social setting for learning, provides a dynamic, yet bounded, set of conditions that engage and affect the learning process. These conditions serve either to support or constrain development of learners (Grossman, Smagorinsky & Valencia, 1999; Martin 2004). From this sociocultural perspective learning is viewed as an active process in which knowledge and meanings are constructed and reconstructed through participation in social interactions (Cole, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lemke, 1997; Marshall, 1992; Rogoff et al., 1995; Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985; 1998). Thus engagement in the classroom as a learning environment is an important contributor to success of being able to negotiate the world and meaning making. It is then Important for students to connect to the learning environment and indeed the teachers who lead and facilitate learning opportunities. This highlights the significance of student connection to teachers and learning, and thus relationships in the learning environment.

As Bourdieu (1986) reminds us, relationships, produced through reciprocal exchanges are repositories for social capital. Furthermore, an individual’s ability to benefit socially and/or academically may be reliant on resources such as information, norms, and support converted through relationships (Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988; Crosnoe, 2004). For the classroom this is extremely important and highlights how learning experiences are organised in relation to how they impact students in schools and how they engage with teachers, content, and indeed each other (Hopkins, 2001; Hopkins, Munro & Craig, 2011).

Student academic and social success may significantly benefit through the provision of classroom supports such as established norms of expectations, trust, communication, and engagement (Crosnoe, 2004; Stanton-Salazar, 1997). Student-teacher communications may also be indicators of the internalized expectations and trust levels teachers have of students (Good & Brophy, 2003). Crucial to the classroom, these communications transmit norms, which can positively or negatively affect student-teacher relationships (Stanton-Salazar, 1997). Furthermore, Muller (2001) states that the probability that an educator can produce a supportive classroom environment is affected by the quality of individual student-teacher interactions.  Thus, indicating that a supportive classroom is built on social relationships that should nurture students’ sense of belonging (Murray & Zvoch, 2011; Sergiovanni, 2005) which can then increase student classroom engagement levels, students’ beliefs of their own academic and social capabilities (Fan, Williams, & Corkin, 2011; Larson, 2014; Lee, 2012; Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan, 2007; Thapa, Cohen, Guffey, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2013) as well as classroom responsibility (Lewis, 2011). Subsequently, if a teacher is perceived to alienate students this can lead to disconnection within the classroom (Brown, Higgins & Paulson, 2003). In order to generate effective social classroom environments, both students and teachers need to sustain reciprocal relationships through an acceptance of obligations to and expectations of the other party (Bryk & Schnider, 2002). This is essentially important, as Sullivan et al (2014) reveal in their research, that of all unproductive behaviours that occur in classrooms, disengaged behaviours by students are extremely prevalent and teachers consider them difficult to manage.

Maintaining orderly learning environments is important because they are associated with high student engagement and achievement (Angus et al., 2009; Creemers, 1994; Hattie, 2003; Lewis, Romi, Qui, & Katz, 2005; Overton & Sullivan, 2008; Sullivan, 2009; Sullivan et al., 2014). Hattie (2003) reminds us that:

 …an optimal classroom climate for learning is one that generate an atmosphere of trust – a climate in which it is understood that it is okay to make mistakes, because mistakes are the essence of learning…expert teachers create classroom climates that welcome admission of errors; they achieve this by developing a climate of trust between teacher and student, and between student and student. (p.29)

Illuminated in this quote is that a classroom environment built on trust comes from focus on relationships, engagement, and responsible classroom behaviour. This is where Pearson et al. (2008) reiterate that relationships “create unique and often lasting attachments among individuals … that influence behaviors such as cooperation, communication, and commitment to a common purpose” (p. 958).

Importance is highlighted then for students to adapt to teacher expectations and style in order to be able to negotiate the student-teacher relationships and to adapt to the requirements of school. As Hanewald (2013), and Mello and Nader (2013) reiterate, students are required to learn to act responsibly towards others and towards their learning across all age levels and transition times of schooling (for example, from kindergarten to primary, primary to secondary, or so on). Adjustment, therefore, requires coping skills to be manifested by young people (Davis & Humphrey, 2012; Keefer, Parker, & Saklofske, 2009) in order to be able to negotiate relevant expectations and thus display appropriate and responsible social behaviour. As equally important to the classroom environment and student responsibility is also teacher use of engagement and management strategies. If there is not the appropriate classroom management strategies utilised by the teacher disconnection by the student can be present. A lack of positive student-teacher relationships in the classroom may cause students to experience a disconnection (Angus et al., 2009; Creemers, 1994; Hattie, 2003; Lewis, Romi, Qui, & Katz, 2005; Overton & Sullivan, 2008; Sullivan, 2009; Sullivan et al., 2014; Trahan, 2013). In a study by Trahan (2013) with Grade 6 and 7 students (aged 11 to 13 years) findings specified that when disconnection occurs, students may become disengaged. This disengagement subsequently produces difficulties in developing self-efficacy which facilitate potential academic and/or social growth.

We argue in the research we have carried out with over 1000 adolescents in Australia is that student coping is a mediator of disconnection in the face of teachers’ classroom management. Coping strategies utilised by young people relates to their manifestation of appropriate social behaviour. This is important as coping skills are closely connected to adaptation, social functioning, and social, physical and emotional health (Hanewald, 2013; Hines, 2007; Lasarus & Folkman, 1987; Mello & Nader, 2013). Discrepancies in social skills and social competence, including coping and adaption, can lead to adjustment issues and behavioral problems in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (Bru et al., 2010; Elizur, 1986; Hines, 2007; Kolbe, Collin & Cortese, 1997; Mello & Nader, 2013; Spence, 2003). In this research it will be assumed that effective coping may lead to appropriate adjustment, and be used as a mediator of disconnection in the face of teachers’ classroom management. We highlight that there is a productivity connection between time on task and achievement for the student and therefore anything to do with the teacher and their classroom management strategies. However teacher use of aggression and thus subsequent distraction leads to a tension between the teacher-student relationship (Lewis, Romi & Roache, 2012). As a result students coping strategies assist in the adaptation to liking school, what the teacher pedagogical displays and manifests in the learning environment as a part of their classroom management strategies.

This research findings highlight the significant relationship between teacher and student. Regardless of gender those students who utilise Productive coping strategies are significantly more likely to like their teacher and to express more interest in learning and the belief that it is important. Findings also indicated that these students are more likely to remain attentive when their teacher enacts classroom management strategies to address responsible behaviour of peers. In contrast those adolescents who utilise Non-Productive coping strategies indicated that they are less likely to like their teacher and believe that learning is interesting. This non-engagement is a significant reinforcement of why teaching adolescents coping skills and how these skills can support both academic, social and emotional development is vital (Larson, 2014; Lee, 2012). If those students are utilising Non-Productive coping strategies, do not believe in learning as an interesting endeavor and thus have greater distraction as a result of teachers dealing with misbehavior in class, the maintaining of a productive and supportive classroom community where all learners can succeed according to their needs and learning styles is impacted. It could be assumed that the adolescents in need of a positive teacher-student relationship in the classroom environment to scaffold learning are the ones who are, distracted and indeed the target of the teachers classroom management that in turn is making them feel disengaged with liking learning. Whether the teacher behaviour and classroom management strategies are justified or not, for the student this is a significant issue where crucial life long learning is disrupted and impeded. These findings highlight the significance of student connection to teachers and learning, and thus relationships in the learning environment. The findings of this research reinforce how important it is to teach adolescents coping strategies. The findings contribute to the evidence that teaching adolescents to improve their coping results in positive outcomes (Carter, 2010; Frydenberg, 2004; Frydenberg & Lewis, 1999a; 1999b; 2002; Lemon et al., 2004; Meller & Nader, 2013) and influences responsible behaviour (Cook, Tankersley & Landrum, 2012; Holen et al., 2012; MacCann et a., 2012; Mikolajczak, Petrides, & Hurry, 2009) and their sense of positive student-teacher relationships (Wang & Eccles, 2011; Wigfield & Cambria 2010).


What are your thoughts about the student-teacher relationship and impact on classroom responsibility?

How can teacher pedagogical decisions engage all learners, but especially those who feel disconnected?

How can we meaningfully teach coping skills to young people?

What are your experiences?



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The 9 commandments of Tweets that add no value

A fellow passionate social media user for professional connections pinged me a great blog post that made me think about the value of tweets and how we critically read them. Jan (@Janpcim)  and I have regularly talked about the value of social media for us as educators. We are both advocates of this way of working and openly share with others.

I was nodding my head upon reading the blog post in how Twitter is a resource for educators. There are numerous opportunities to focus on content and interactions that are professionally valuable. There are resources, ideas, research, literature, live Twitter chats, collaborations, question posing and responding, and opportunities to access innovative and current concept. Most importantly there is a global perspective.

Many of my face-to-face colleagues have been initial connections through Twitter. Through this link I have had the chance to meet them and we have had the chance to further grow our professional relationships. For me this has been so exciting as usually research opportunities have been presented that enable some exciting new findings in regards to learning and teaching across K-12 and higher education and for teacher professional development.

What I liked the most about the post was the comment that many don’t articulate –

“But then there are tweets that add little, if any, value…”

I’m going to call What Ed Said list (with slight embellishment and rewording) as The 9 commandments of Tweets that add no value.

  1. No one really wants to hear how fabulous you think you are (Self promotion) – I have to admit I do turn off when I read a tweet that tells me how great you are, especially when this dominates most of the original content you share. BUT a RT from someone else who has acknowledged an achievement is okay but don’t RT it too often!
  2. Don’t canvas for voters to showcase how great you are – this goes in partnership with commandment number 1. You can send the link but don’t tweet continuously as this is just another version of a door-to-door salesman trying to get me to change my electricity company.
  3. Please do not share your minute to minute life updates on your professional account – although interesting at times (and only some times), perhaps a different social medium will be better for this type of sharing. If you would like me to engage with you professionally the professional tweet content equals lots of engagement. If you send through too many photos of your dinner, your dogs dinner, your neighbours cat’s dinner, etc etc then an unfollow will come pretty soon after.
  4. Please do not share your children’s minute to minute life updates on your professional account – this equals an immediate unfollow on a professional account and an initial non connection when you follow me. If you have a professional account then there are certain expectations around content, perhaps set up another account to share this content.
  5. Popularity stats are for your eyes only – at times we are all interested in various stats that come with social media engagement for professional connections BUT they are for you and not for all your followers. There is no value at all in me seeing how many people followed, unfollowed or RTed your weekly tweets.
  6. Inspirational quotes about education and life can be overwhelming – the random quote is great to share but if you fill my Twitter stream up with RTs of inspirational quote posters and no other professional content that is original then I’m afraid this will equal disengagement. What is much more inspirational is hearing your voice and stories.
  7. Critically think about sharing someone else’s infographic – these can be “all colour and movement” as we would say in the arts world. Sometimes the sources and information is not accurate or contextually relevant so a good critical read is needed before an infographic with ace colour and icons is shared. Would you share this many infogrpahics in your classroom as posters on the wall?
  8. 100 best anything and everything is a turn off – Although it is great to share resources, links, fellow social media educators in a list, 100 is overwhelming and a list of between 3 to 5 with detail and context would be such a more stronger contribution to possible future professional connections.
  9. Negative Nancy tweeters are such a downer – energetic professional engagement with content, ideas, and possibilities offers much to the Twitter community, and your professional reputation.

What do you think?

Would you add or change any commandments?

Renewing and reinvigorating to work smarter

AristotleOver the end of year period I stopped. I think it was the first time in over 12 months that I actually truly stopped to reinvigorate my body and my mind, and most importantly to reflect about how I wanted to approach this new year. Some might call it a new year’s resolution but for me it is not this. It is so much more.

The time away from my work, colleagues, university space, and research was required. I was exhausted. My time away was about renewing and reinvigorating how I want to take care of myself so I can continue to do what I love. A part of this was a stopping and rethinking how I would do this. The stopping was the most important part of this process. Then I decided I would read about how others do this. How can we renew and reinvigorate our ways of working so that we can be smarter in our approaches? I was searching for some triggers that will reconnect me to approaches that are caring to my mind and body while also providing me with new ways of working. The article I read that most captured my attention was 12 Weekend Habits of Highly Successful People. This is what I learnt…

We are what we repeatedly doExcellencethen, is not an actbut a habit.” – Aristotle

  1. The mind is the freshest in the morning so utilise these most productive hours.
  2. Purposefully plan.
  3. Align goals and tasks for the day with a focus on 2 key items to be achieved per day.
  4. Make time to exercise each day. Find the sport or activity that you like.
  5. Exercise assists in counteracting the work dinners.
  6. Spend time with those who you care for – this is just as important as work deadlines.
  7. Make the time to spend with friends and family.
  8. Practicing mindfulness and meditation is a daily advantage to assist the mind, thinking and how you approach life.
  9. Resist FOMO (fear of missing out) and focus on JOMO (the joy of missing out) – for example, is it really that important to check your email late at night, first thing in the morning and on the weekend? Resist the checking and find balance.
  10. Give back and be generous. Re-energize your thinking in other areas.
  11. Use the weekend to do all the other things you love alongside of your work. Activity and reflection are the key to becoming refreshed to continue to work productively.
  12. Look after yourself and you must find balance.

What 2014 has taught me…

It’s coming to the end of the year and Chat with Rellypops blog is going to take the time out to relax and refresh after an action packed year. I’ve been slightly more reflective than usual about the events of 2014 and thought it would be timely to consider what I have learnt from the various amazing brains I have interacted with this year. I’m going a personal and professional spin as between my institutions restructure and announcement of future visions, lots of travel, and writing I have also under taken major home renovations.

Photo: Keeping hydrated with tea while writing (N.Lemon, 2014)

Photo: Keeping hydrated with tea while writing (N.Lemon, 2014)


What I’ve learnt about writing….

  • It is hard to find good co-writers but when you do it is one amazing learning experience. Treasure these thinkers and doers!
  • Establish your own writing habits and stick to these no matter what else is happening.
  • Keep a balance between co-authorship and solo-authorship.
  • Mentoring colleagues with their writing is very invigorating.
  • Don’t juggle too many different ideas at once but keep a balance to allow for thinking and action to remain in your space.
  • Keep reading while you are writing. It is amazing how many stylistic ideas and approaches begin to shape your writing.
  • Bad posture at the laptop is not sustainable long term.
  • Feed your brain while writing.
  • Write everyday.
  • Stop on the weekend.
  • #Circleofniceness
Photo: Wee Jeanie is power point heaven (N.Lemon, 2014)

Photo: Wee Jeanie is power point heaven (N.Lemon, 2014)

What I’ve learnt about a flexible work office and work travel

  • Before you settle into a café in the location where ever you are working (whether it be near home, work or while you are travelling) check that there is a power point so you can keep charged. There is nothing worse than being in the moment of writing and finding that your laptop’s power cuts your thoughts.
  • A tiny notebook is a must for capturing thoughts on the move. This year I changed the size of my notebooks for hand writing ideas to a tiny A6 (half of an A5 which is half again of A4). Best move ever especially space wise in bags (can sneak it into travel bags no problem) but most importantly it shifted the majority of my note taking to digital.
  • Travelling for work means staying in different locations. Learn to travel light, especially in regards to the toilet bag and shoes! This was a challenge for me but after about 20+ trips this year in various locations I am happy to say I can travel light now and this can only assist with time to pack, ease of movement, and giving a little breathing space for that funky must have item discovered while travelling!
  • If you can travel with hand luggage only then this will be one of the best decisions you can ever make especially when it comes to the airport, queues, and crowds.
  • Hotel pens are the best as they are lightweight and when you misplace them on the road (which we all do) then it is not as worrying as the lovely weighted pen that was gifted to you by someone close to you.
  • Ask for a weak green tea everywhere you go…I don’t need to really say anymore!

What I’ve learnt about renovating

  • Communication is the key but what communication type and style is important. It’s a challenge but worth figuring out as silence is not a great option!
  • Just don’t take the word of one person who claims to be an “expert”. Investigate!
  • Plan, plan and then plan some more as there can be options you never even thought of as you research, seek varying opinions and think outside of the square.
  • Be flexible and have a back up plan (or four) when it comes to dates and timelines.
  • Know where you can buy new underwear as never under estimate how difficult it is to keep on top of the laundry when you don’t have a working washing machine or access to water at home while working full time and living in a building site.
  • Laundromat’s like to eat your clothes. They are most fond of towels.
  • You meet the most interesting people at Laundromat’s.
  • You can get used to sleeping on a blow up mattress…it only takes 3 ½ months to become desensitized.

What I’ve learnt about work restructures

  • New vision can be exciting especially when you discover where you fit.
  • Stressed colleagues equals varied behaviours, some of which are generous, thoughtful, and inspiring.
  • Change is okay, as opportunity exists.
  • Just listen.
  • Some colleagues need to repeat the same stories while they are processing their thoughts and this is okay.
  • Advice from those who have been through a major restructure is priceless.
  • Some people make it all about them and forget it involves the entire workplace.
  • Admire those who take control of their own destiny.


What have you learnt in this past year? How have you been inspired and challenged?

#AcademicsWhoTweet meets #digitalacademics

Over two days I was involved in what I’m calling a Think Tank. Great brains from different parts of the world, at different stages in their research, and indeed careers, all in one room discussing what is means to be a Digital Academic in the contemporary environment of higher education. As a part of the events hosted by Professor Deborah Lupton and Dr Inger Mewburn  at both Australian National University and University of Canberra we were responding to the notions of the digital scholar. Research undertaken by the Think Tank participants on academics’ use of social or other digital technologies as part of their work was explored from a variety of perspectives.

Martin Weller (2011) has talked about scholarship and how this term is itself a rather old-fashioned term as traditionally it is associated to thinking of scholars as being academics, usually employed by universities. In our current environment, digital scholarship broadens this way of thinking. As in a digital, networked, open world individuals become less defined by an institution where they may be employed and rather can become more defined by the network and online identity they establish. As Jude Fransman (2013) and Goodfellow and Lea (2013) would reiterate, digital practices associated with networked collaboration and co-creation of knowledge and meaning making are central to academic work. Academics thus:

must develop the capability to work productively with digital knowledge, and to participate in digital networks of collaboration and co-creation as digital practices evolve with extraordinary speed. (Goodfellow et al., 2013, p.127)

Therefore, it is possible that a well-respected digital scholar may be someone who has no institutional affiliation. The democratization of the online space opens up scholarship to a wider audience (Weller, 2011).
twitterbird_capOne of the events involved a presentation by my colleagues and I, Megan McPherson, and Dr Kylie Budge. In a symposium called Academic Work in the Online Era we had the opportunity to share our research on Academics Who Tweet. This was the first airing of any data and a wonderful opportunity to receive feedback and move forward ideas.

Building from our own practice and participation on Twitter professionally, we have been interested in the questions of: Why might academics in higher education use the microblogging site Twitter to communicate and to what end? What ways do we use Twitter to communicate academic identity and how do we understand how others do this work? How does this engagement contribute to our fluid identities as scholars?

Social media is now a significant issue in the university because of the ways it is being used by academics. Thus, academics are using social media in a variety of visible and public ways that may conflict with policies, values and behavioral expectations of the university. In our paper we focused on why academics and scholars think that they use the social media platform of Twitter. We discuss preliminary findings from a small study of academics and scholars (N=34) using Twitter and draw on ethnographic methodologies in order to show that there are many reasons why academics participate professionally in this medium.

The early analysis of the findings show that there were a variety of interconnected reasons that academics used Twitter. Our interviewed participants discussed a range of issues and we have themed some of these as: transforming academia; new identities; networks; changing in enacting scholarly work; communication; ways of use; academic identity; branding; engagement and reflective/reflexive practice; inquiry; and (non) strategic.

As we continue to meander through the data we will continue to share further findings and outcomes.

So why might you engage with Twitter professionally?


Fransman, J. (2013). Researching academic literacy practices around Twitter: Performative methods and their onto-ethical implications. (pp.27-41). In Robin Goodfellow & Mary R. Lea. (Eds.). Literacy in the Digital University: Learning as Social Practice in a Digital World. Research into Higher Education. Routledge.

Goodfellow , R., & Lea, M.R. (Eds.). Literacy in the Digital University: Learning as Social Practice in a Digital World. Research into Higher Education. Routledge.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming academic practice.  Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.


Supporting early career researchers

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Over the past twelve months a colleague and I have embarked on a challenge together, that is to co edit a book that provides a voice for early career women in higher education. We had been on a journey ourselves and found reflective practice and seeking social support rewarding as we decoded expectations and ways of working and wanted to share a version of this through the book. For me, I also wanted to give back to the academia and those embarking on a career in it. Through giving opportunities to colleagues to publish and share their lived experiences was a key driver for the creation of the book.

This week the book was published through Sense Publishers. Here is a quick little snap shot of the opening….

When you start teaching at a university, there is no handbook on what to do. (Mueller, 2003)


Beginning the conversation

We first met as researchers at a conference. Over a coffee break we shared experiences of being younger female academics. Our stories were similar. We soon realised that our discomforts amongst the discourse of academia were shared.

In our own personal observations we had noticed a shift from the rawness of our own experiences and moving towards noticing practices of women’s participation in universities. There is a need to understand the practices and heightened awareness of the need to decipher, decode and begin to understand further the rhetoric that is academia.

Although we were both aware of reports that highlighted that more women than men were enrolling in universities in Australia and New Zealand, and particularly in professional schools such as law, medicine, education, and business management, we were mildly discomforted because we recognised that numbers of women as deans, professors, senior administrators, heads of school and (fulltime and permanent) lecturers wee not subject to the same statistical shifts. (Fitzgerald & Wilkinson, 2010, p.7)

As Fitzgerald & Wilkinson (2010) reflect in their considered work on gender, leadership and higher education, there is some resonance with the complicated intertwining of academia and the complexities that is required when one is an academic. The challenges and complexities are not just situated within the higher education structures and policy practices and implementations; there is indeed a layering of what women do to women in this environment.

This reflection is not about, nor has it ever been about, exclusivity, gender bias or rights. It is about moving forward, is supporting one another to be the best we can be in an environment that is at the best of times turbulent to maneuver. This book is about a network of women who as a collective and individuals can share their stories to indeed help themselves as well as others. Our stories assist in the telling and retelling of important events. Reflecting on these events allow the ‘processing’, ‘figuring out’ and ‘inquiring’, leading to behavioural actions to change situations.

Our reflections offer embodied ways of looking at our work as academics and how we undertake our multiple roles within this context. The fact that we are women unites us as we have common elements with our roles both within academia, in our families, and in society. All of us are juggling multiple identities and roles within our personal and professional worlds. All of us value sharing. Our connecting “with self and the identities that we carry merges past, present and future, histories and memories. It is not about self-importance, self-reference or perfecting self” (Fitzgerald, 2014, p.107), rather it is about ongoing self-awareness, monitoring, and evaluation.

All of the authors of this book are familiar with academia. All ‘are’ or ‘have’ gone through the process of undertaking doctoral research. Some authors are working within the academy in different roles – part time, full time, causally, researching, teaching, administering, leading, or supporting. All authors feel aspects of being “in” and “out”. The feeling of being “in” and “out” comes from “newcomers who join an established and homogeneous group” (Fitzgerald, 2014, p. 85) and in some ways the tension of being new is not visible due to the camouflage of having been in academia previously and being able to act the part. It is the quiet spaces between the pressures and familiarity of academia and that allows a community of women to form.

The authors in the chapter all desire a sense of belonging. All authors describe experiences of entering the higher education environment and trying to actively search for information, relationships and advice to support their belonging. While search, the authors also describe navigating institutional politics and group dynamics.

The authors also share multiple identities. There are layers of PhD student, active researcher, teacher, leader, academic or professional staff. As Fitzgerald (2014) and Kaner (1993) reiterate, academics constantly scrutinize to see if they fit within a group and organisation. There is a “risk of being isolated”(Fitzgerald, 2014, p. 85) if you are not acting how others expect you to act.

“Establishing or belonging to a supportive and trustworthy network of women leaders can lesson feelings of loneliness and isolation” (Fitzgerald, 2014, p.106). These networks offer an opportunity for social exchange where “reciprocal and trust can be built around informal relationships and professional obligations” (p.106). There is a safe place and a space created and grown that allows for the sharing of experiences, creating ideas, and reflecting about actions. In the creation of this book, a community formed through these practices. As Fitzgerald reinforces, women “participate in ongoing informal networks that [rely] on a range of self-directed and self-selected activities such as meeting colleagues for a coffee, seeking out colleagues in similar roles” (p.106).

All the authors come from different positions with academia – they are in, out, moving in, moving out or a combination of being in and out. Some of the authors share insights where they are positioned within the ‘third space’ of academia (Whitchurch, 2008); that is employed in academic development roles in central teaching and learning units in universities. The conceptualising of this space offers a blurring of perceptions and identities as academics and professional staff and thus this continually contested and problematic space (Land, 2008; Handal, 2008) forces those who work in this space to continually reflect upon identity. These lived experiences provided different lived experiences for us to consider when paralleled to most of the authors who are teacher educators or work in the field of education within industry. Becoming a teacher educator is often filled with tension. As teachers enter graduate school, they often make the transition to the role of teacher educator with little formal support from the university institution for continuing development (Cochran-Smith, 2003; Korthagen, Loughran, & Lunenberg, 2005). Thus, the socialization from a school teacher to teacher educator is filled with tension, as teachers attempt to re-establish their identity within their new roles with new expectations. In this book, many are dealing with the change in identity. Dall’Alba (2009, p. 34) believed that, “the transformation of the self is integral to achieving such practice”. The transformation requires more than just simple programming to teach particular things in particular ways. Rather, there must be a sense of openness that ‘being’ is not predetermined by a tertiary institution or government and that the purpose of education is necessarily one of forming an identity (Novinger & O’Brien, 2003).

The women in this study share their narratives in an open dialogue. Their journey into and out of academia is constructed from “a metaphorical three-dimensional inquiry space” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 50). The space enables the authors to capture and communicate the emotional nature of lived experiences (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). The self-studies explore the changes in social and contextual approaches that are attached to working and studying in higher education.. The book provides a narrative of the “ups” and “downs” that female academics have individually and collectively encountered.

Researching one’s practice provides opportunities to uncover understanding about the complex relations between learning and teaching, and how such knowledge can be enacted (Loughran, 2007). It also allows the exploration of leadership. This narrating and engagement in the practice of story telling offers “social interaction that other modes of communication do not” (Riessman, 2008, p.8). . Individuals are able to construct their identities through storytelling and thus “encourage others to act” (Riessman, 2008, p.8). Through self-study researchers recognize that, “there is an important relationship between personal growth and understanding and public discourse about that understanding” (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001, p. 15). This is how the authors of this book have approached sharing their stories.

In our role as academics we see ourselves as ongoing learners. We learn, teach and use reflective and metacognitive processes (Wilson & Clarke, 2004). This space is where we as authors position the importance of self-study. Self-study through reflective practice is the thoughtful, systematic, critical, exploration of the complexity of one’s own learning and teaching practice (Samaras & Freese, 2006). We live, tell, retell, and relive our life stories (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) as we negotiate our selves within and across various contexts. This book reports on the reflective self-study of thirteen early career researchers who engage in reflection on their career trajectory ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the academic profession. Authors include:

  • Individuals wanting to enter into academia after completion of doctoral studies.
  • Individuals already working in academia and undertaking their doctoral work.
  • Individuals seeking balance within the early stages of being in the academy.
  • Individuals who have chosen to change institutions and locations (national and international)
  • Individuals who have chosen to leave altogether.

All use Schwab’s flights from the field. The flights from the field act as an interpretive tool revealing similarities, differences and tensions through the perceived experience of academic life in Australia.

Schwab, through, his deep commitment to his personal pedagogy and his unwavering support of ‘‘teachers…looking at their own practices and the consequences of them’’ (Schwab, 1959/1978, p.168) resonates with the authors of this book. The thirteen early career researchers align themselves to this way of thinking as both come from teaching fields within education and are now working as academics in teacher education in universities located in Australia. As a self-study Schwab (1969) informs the method used in this inquiry with a focus on understanding all educational situations in terms of four interacting commonplaces; subject matter, learner, milieu and teacher (Schwab, 1970).

In this self-study, the experience of being early career researchers unites the authors. All have been individually reflective on their roles and experiences and have engaged in conversations with and in some cases between each other and as a collective about what they have learnt. Connecting the authors is also a key goal of becoming well-rounded academics, learning from others and focusing on building research profiles within the higher education context. All are focused on being well-rounded individuals that is explicitly looking at how we take care of ourselves personally and professionally while we maneuver being early career researchers.

This shift prompted the authors to ponder the practical and to connect with our feelings of excitement and trepidation in this climate where much is invested in the success of being an active researcher. The authors were interested to explore their career trajectory so far as a female within the academy that was confronted with many problems. Schwab believed that such problems were slippery to grasp because they ‘intrinsically involve states of character and the possibly of character change’ (p. 3). Flights are “not all or equally reprehensible” (1969, p.4). Rather, they can be positive and/or negative and can take many paths. Schwab (1970) identified six flights from the field. These included:

  • General flight from the field (‘A translocation of its problems and the solving of them from the nominal practitioners of the field to other men’ (p.17)).
  • Flight upward (‘from theory to metatheory and from metatheory to meta-metatheory’ (p.17)).
  • Flight downward (‘an attempt by practitioners to return to the subject matter in a state of innocence, shorn not only of principles but of all principles, in an effort to take a new, pristine, 
and unmediated look at the subject matter’ (p.17)).
  • Flight to the sidelines (‘to the role of observer, commentator, historian, and critic of the contributions of others’ (p.17)).
  • Flight with marked preservation (‘a repetition of old and familiar knowledge in new languages which add little or nothing to the old meanings embodied’ (p.17)).
  • Flight (debate that is ‘eristic and contentious…[with] warfare of words among contending exponents of [for example], different theories of personality’ (p. 18)).

Each author collected data over the space of 12 months by writing reflective notes and thoughts about their place in academia and their positioning as early career researchers. A framework guided the narratives shared:

  1. General flight – experiences that contribute to you want to enter/entering academia.
  2. Flight upwards – opportunities that are exciting in your career trajectory/what is inspiring.
  3. Flight downward – the challenges/barriers/questions you ask about experiences, lack of opportunities or how you have been treated/or seen others been treated.
  4. Flight to sideline – moment(s) when you have stepped to the side to observe, reflect and reconsider how to look after yourself or reconsider where you are heading and what you would like to achieve.
  5. Flight of perseveration – looking after you and your needs as a women in academia/trying to enter academia.
  6. Final flight – where to next, what do you want to achieve, what strategies help you in focusing on yourself and your career?

Ways Forward

Part of the process for the way forward has been to create a community of practice for early career females. This is the creation of this book that has allowed women to come together and share stories. The term “CoP” is defined as a purposeful social structure where teachers regularly come together to work for the collective benefit of students (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Using a collaborative approach this project has become more common-place as both a top-down and bottom-up initiative to allow greater understanding of experience. As a recognized key strategy for improving practice (Fullan, 1993), CoP and the resultant collaborative practices have been implemented as a part of school improvement initiatives. These initiatives have been seen as a means of improving outcomes through shared learning and individual and collective development of the community members (Fullan, 1993). Making these stories known establishes a sense of collaboration and community. This action serves to perpetuate and further develop the established pedagogy and look to improve practice. A community practice seeks to locate the learning in the process of co-participation (building social capital) and not just within individuals (Hanks, 1991). It allows females to come together to share experience and discuss ways forward.


Bullough, Jr., R. V. and Pinnegar, S. (2001). Guidelines for quality in autobiographical forms of self-study research. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 13–21.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cochran-Smith. M. (2003). Learning and unlearning: The education of teacher educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19, 5-28.

Dall’Alba, G. (2009). Learning professional ways of being: Ambiguities of becoming. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41(1), 34-45.

Fullan, M. (1993). Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform. London: Falmer Press.

Handal, G. (2008). Identities of academic developers: Critical friends in the academy? In R. Barnett & R. Di Napoli (Eds.), Changing Identities in Higher Education: Voicing Perspectives (pp. 55-68). Abingdon: Routledge.

Hanks, W. F. (1991). Foreword. In J. Lave, & E. Wenger (Eds.), Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation (pp. 13-24). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Korthagen, F. A. J., Loughran, J., & Lunenberg, M. (2005). Teaching teachers: Studies into the expertise of teacher educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 107-115.

Land, R. (2008). Academic Development: Identity and Paradox. In R. Barnett & R. Di Napoli (Eds.), Changing Identities in Higher Education: Voicing Perspectives (pp. 134–144). Abingdon: Routledge.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991): Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Loughran, J. (2007). Researching teacher education practices: Responding to the challenges, demands, and expectations of self-study. Journal of Teacher Education, 58(1), 12-20.

Mason, J. (2002). Researching your own Practice: The discipline of noticing, London & New York: Routledge and Falmer.

Novinger, S., & O’Brien, J. (2003). Beyond “boring, meaningless, shit” in the academy: Early childhood teacher educators under the regulatory gaze. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 4(1), 3-31.

Riessman, C.K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Sameras, A., & Freese, A. (2006). Self-study of teaching practices. New York: Peter Lang.

Schwab, J.J. (1969). College curriculum and student protest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schwab, J. J. (1970). The practical: A language for curriculum. Washington, DC: National Education Association, Center for the Study of Instruction.

Schwab, J.J. (1978). Science, curriculum, and liberal education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 377–396.

Wilson, J., & Clarke, D. (2004). Towards the modelling of mathematical metacognition. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 16(2), 25-48.