Reflections on the PESGB Conference

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REFLECTIONS ON THE PESGB CONFERENCE

TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP WINNER 2018 - Nick Heal

Nick HealSeven reasons why teachers should attend the PESGB annual conference

I am a school teacher, aspiring philosopher and hopelessly idealistic millennial. Although well over a decade of working in schools has made me more aware of the difficulties educators face, I still passionately believe that education has the power to transform people’s lives’ and make the world a more just place. This blog shares seven reasons why school teachers should apply for the teacher scholarship:

1. You will have philosophical discussions in a secure and supportive environment

The conference begins with a poster conference where postgraduates discuss their research in a relaxed and informal environment. It’s a brilliant way of initiating newcomers, such as myself, into the buzz of the conference. All contributors were generous with their ideas and it was a pleasure to be part of philosophical discussions with people who clearly enjoy steering into complexity.

2. You will meet inspirational school leaders

On Saturday I had the pleasure of having lunch with Malcom Richards, another teacher scholar and successful Deputy Head. His relentless positivity and belief in young people reminded me that social institutions are guided by the people that make them and how we behave towards each other is always our choice. I have appropriated his ideas and empowered the young people in my school to carry out their own ethnographic work and record all the positive interaction they have during their school day. Using observations, they have identified the teachers who co-create the most empowering and effective learning environments and they have begun to identify a model of good practice, which they will present to our senior leadership team during our next staff meeting.

3. You will gain valuable career advice

For a long time, I have flirted with the idea of doing a PhD so I was keen to attend the pre-conference workshop ‘Beyond the PhD – what next?’ Emma Williams’ retelling of her experiences on her journey to academic success. It was invaluable for me to continue to develop a realistic view of the varied possibilities for a career in higher education.

4. You will be (re)inspired to find time for the arts

Many of the contributions to the conference are imbibed with a deep appreciation and respect for the importance of the arts. I had a conversation with a PhD candidate whose work explores the philosophical interrelations between culture, dance and music within different tribes in Kenya. This dialogue reminded me of the transformative value that dance and music can have and motivated me to finally cave into my pupils’ demands and turn their dance for International Day of Happiness into a music video

5. You will be (re)inspired to find more time to plan playful, fun and engaging lessons

Sharon Jessop’s piece on the ‘Crises in education’ reflected much of my day to day experience of the dominant audit culture in current education, but she has a convincing remedy: be open to playfulness, the sacramental, and enchanted. During this seminar I sat next to Ruth Heilbronn who encouraged me to keep in solidarity with teachers and our students and look for the freedom that we have by seeking out those “leaky spaces” in the curriculum. Similarly, Carrie Winstanley and Graeme Tiffany’s workshop on philosophy and community learning provided me with a sobering thought: What would happen if the walls of your classroom fell down? Would the kids still want to stay and learn? I held onto these thoughts and with a little careful planning, found time for my Year 8 group to begin learning about ethics through pop-culture. After four lessons they are now freely applying the categorical imperative, utilitarianism, natural law and virtue theory to Spiderman, Wonder Women and Black Panther. I’ve never seen them so engaged.

6. You will have the opportunity to fundamentally reconsider your values

Thanks to the discussion in the PESGB’s Race and Ethnicity Committee meeting, I attended the launch at IOE for the special issue of ‘Ethics and Education: Critical Philosophy of Race and Education’ edited by Judith Suissa and Darren Chetty. Darren Chetty’s article on P4C consciousness raising has made me fundamentally reconsider how P4C is used in my school. I have also used Jack Bicker’s article on codeswitching in a staff reading group I run, in order to encourage a deeper and more critical dialogue about the efforts of my school to instruct children from disadvantaged and minority groups to speak ‘properly’. The articles in this special edition should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind about the pervasive and entrenched nature of racism within current educational practices.

7. You will be supported through professional set backs

Finally, on a more personal note, during the conference I discovered that I had not been awarded a fellowship. This was my first application for funding and I was extremely disappointed. I had convinced myself that it was a really valuable and worthwhile project – so couldn’t fail. I was wrong. I wasn’t successful and even after asking for feedback I’m still none the wiser. Fortuitously, that afternoon I attended the workshop where Andrew Stable’s explained that he had been turned down for funding by PESGB. To hear such a successful academic share his frustration and confusion over the illogical reasons why he might have been turned down, and for PESGB to give this discussion a platform, gave me great reassurance and hope for future applications.

I would like to say a huge thank you to all the members of PESGB for allowing me to attend on the Scholarship. I am an expectant father and covering the fees made a big difference to my family. The conference has also given me the inspiration and drive I need to finish the part-time two-year masters that I started four-years ago. Hopefully before the baby comes! Everyone I met at the conference was so kind and welcoming. A huge thank you to Janet Orchard, for organising everything for the Teacher Scholarship and for making me feel so totally at ease when I met her on the first day. For anyone thinking about attending the conference and applying for the Teacher Scholarship, I cannot recommend it enough, go for it, and add your own seven reasons (or more) next year.

TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP ATTENDEE 2018 - George Duoblys

George DuoblysMy first PESGB conference came at the end of a long winter term. I was knackered. March can be a fraught month in schools and any sense of a long-term vision is lost amidst the panic of interventions and exam practice. It's the perfect time then to step outside of the day to day, to think more broadly about education and how your own teaching lives up to the engagement. This year’s conference provided countless opportunities for such reflection, and I'm very grateful to everyone at the PESGB for welcoming me so warmly into the fold.

Highlights included: a talk on transformation by Douglas Yacek, who captivated a Red Room late on Friday evening with his wit and various thought experiments. The following day, Judith Suissa and Drew Chambers delivered impressive back to back talks on republican notions of freedom and the directiveness of Freire’s pedagogy respectively. On Sunday morning, Michael Hand stood up to a barrage of questions on his new book on Moral Education, in the manner of Alistair Cook facing down the Australian attack (fortunately there was no ball tampering on this occasion). This was followed by the third excellent keynote session of the weekend, on inclusion and exclusion in education around the world.

As always with events like these, the conversations outside of the programmed talks were often as enlightening as the talks themselves. Special mention goes to Ed, Ursula, Mehdi and Magdalena, whose discussion (and dancing) enhanced my weekend enormously. Thanks to Jan and Kate with whom I put the world to rights on Friday night and to Dan who told me about his fascinating doctoral thesis over lunch on Sunday. Thanks also to New College for their marvellous hospitality; to Mary for organising an excellent run (which one delegate was so excited about he turned up to in his boxer shorts); and to Janet, Steph and Jo who welcomed me to the conference like an old friend.

Travelling back from Oxford on the Sunday afternoon, I pondered what I’d learned over the weekend. My primary feeling was one of clarity. It had been refreshing to spend a weekend amongst others who see education as more than ‘what works’ teaching strategies, but who are not content to waft around half-baked ideas they mistakenly think will change the world. Morten Korsgaard’s point during the final session - that education isn’t about changing the world - cleared the day to day fog and reminded me of what the engagement is really all about. I’d recommend that any teachers prone to intervention-induced irritation apply for the teacher scholarship next year; I certainly hope I’ll find myself in Oxford again next March.

TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP ATTENDEE 2018 - Malcolm Richards

Malcolm RichardsFull disclosure. I have never studied “philosophy”. I have some knowledge of Plato, Locke and Bourdieu. I’ve heard of Arendt, Nietzsche and others. However, any formal “grounding” in Socratic thinking is that built into the structures of modern, Western European education institutions, societal structures and their intertwined, impermeable relationships.

My academic interest is that of utilising, or creating, spaces within education that enable reasoning, and which result in exploration and action. Wikipedia tells me that across the (Western-European) canon of philosophy, since Locke, Bacon and Hobbes, have long used a variety of words to describe the act, or action of reason, referencing human reason, rationality, or synonyms such as ratiocination. I had hoped by attending #PESGB18, I would have the opportunity to reason directly with philosophers and academics working across education. And that it did. Memorable interactions are too many to list here, but highlights include reasoning with Graeme Tiffany, who brought alive the possibilities of the traditions of Community Philosophy. I discovered Buber’s Ich-Du, through a workshop presentation by Clare Skea. Through Clare’s explanation, I understood Buber’s stress on relationships, or “mutual, holistic existence of two beings” in their authentic existence, with no qualification or objectification of one another. I found correlations between reasoning within from my colonial [African] British Caribbean starting place, and recent understanding of Rasta.

My (conscious) practice of reasoning has primarily come from intangible cultural practices of my elders, who are from the African Caribbean communities who settled in the United Kingdom in the mid-1960s. Prominent amongst them was the largest majority-minority from Jamaica, whose community had been spiritually and philosophically awoken by the development of Rasta, heralded by philosophy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and others, and the coronation of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie and Her Imperial Majesty Empress Menen Asfaw. The impact of Rasta on cultural heritage, reimagining of the dominant imperial relationships was significant, and spread quickly across the Caribbean and eventually the globe. For Rasta, to reason is the pursuit of the highest truth. (Ras Mandingo Jahson, 2003) Yet, it is often highlighted that the spiritual or philosophical role of Rasta has direct correlations between the black [African] aesthetic, cultural expression, identity and political agency (Garrison, 1978). I wonder if there is also an (unconscious) spiritual and philosophical correlation between the lived experiences of Rasta, and those of both African diaspora philosophical oral traditions and Western European philosophical canon?

I wonder if Buber was influenced by, or did he influence a central Rasta concept (and practical linguistic gesture of I-an-I?) Here, substitution of the pronoun I-an-I for other pronouns, usually the first person. I as used in the example refers to “Jah or Yahweh, or God”; therefore, I-an-I includes the presence of the divine within the individual. However, I-an-I can also refer to us, them or even you. Thus, it can be used as a practical linguistic separation of the individual, from the wider (Rasta) community, and Jah. (Richards, 2016) Is I-an-I an extension of Buber’s I-Thou, offering a mutual, holistic existence of a community, or even diaspora, while similetaniously holding Jah in the same space, time and moment?

I want to find out.

So, what next? Reason. Blessed to all who supported and inspired me throughout this small journey of exploration, including Darren, Ruth, Graeme, Clare, Neil, Oliver, Judith and so many others who made me feel welcome at #PESGB18. Exploration. I decided upon starting by reading Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed AND Pedagogy of Freedom. Then? Action. How can we introduce the possibilities of reasoning to the widest education audience?

TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP ATTENDEE 2018 - Anne Marie Roche

Anne Marie RocheFor me, attending the PESGB Conference felt a lot like going to a music festival. It’s a sort of idylic space, far removed from the day to day small stresses of life. There is a sense of childlike exploration and curiosity amongst kindred spirits; a place where the trees are not allowed to obscure your view of the beautiful wood. There were the Keynote Speakers who attracted all attendees, and the parallel sessions where you had to choose wisely for fear of missing out on an act (in this case workshop) where a friend would later tell you they had witnessed something quite special. There was the communal sharing of good food and drink, and the late night deep and meaningful discussions on the big issues.

It is a resolutely creative event, made up of the generous sharing and discussion of ideas and good thinking. The format of the workshops allowed for a 10 to 15 minute synopsis by the author of the argument, and the rest of the time was devoted to sharing questions and dialogue. It was clear that the goal of these discussions was always to get to the best place of thinking, egos did not get in the way of furthering ideas. There were thought-provoking questions like “Should school students be encouraged to do their best”, and themes such as the multicultural classroom, matters of inclusion and exclusion, citizenship education, the tolerance of intolerance and weighing harms.

The highlight of my conference was the final Keynote Paper by Morten Timmermann Korsgaard and Stig Skov Mortensen, called “Redirecting our gaze: Inclusion for the future or inclusion as a pedagogical experience in the present moment”. It alluded to the school being tasked with fixing the problems of society through a multitude of programmes and initiatives, always with an eye to the future and aiming for an inclusion where no child would be left behind. It talked about a true sense of inclusion happening instead when “a resonance between the children, the teacher and the material at hand in the encounter occurred and was allowed the control of the lesson”….

“Drawing children into the activity, making them attentive towards the subject matter and offering them the possibility of becoming interested describes the pedagogical experience of being included in what schooling is about. This experience cannot be reconfigured or recalibrated into outcome or output but is an everyday experience open to all children and teachers, albeit at times exceedingly hard to achieve. The question is whether the increasing pressure on teachers and researcher to have their gaze fixed on the future is rendering these experiences even harder to achieve”.

For me this resonated with my real life experience in the classroom, of those all too rare pure educational moments which are too often superseded by the planning templates, the numerous learning outcomes of an overcrowded and overwhelming curriculum, of boxes to be ticked and authority figures to be kept happy. All too often I think, teachers like me are afraid to hold true to the pure goal of education.

The authors finished their paper by spiritedly advising that “the political gaze should turn towards fixing the present political, environmental and societal concerns, of which there are plenty, allowing in turn the pedagogical gaze to return its focus towards the present moment and towards the task of creating possibilities for experiences of attention and interest in something common.”

It was a privilege to attend the conference, and a timely reminder for me as an educator to strive to stay true to the philosophical purpose of education, and to think for myself before being swayed or distracted by encroaching policies and practices dictated by changing political agendas. Thank you all for that.

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