New for 2018/19, this will be the space where PD North members and some special guest Bloggers will share ideas and experiences. Watch this space and, if you would like to write a Blog for us, on the topic of further / adult community education and skills, please contact Chloë at chloeh@pdnorth.org.uk

Writer Guidelines:

WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.

STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.

REFERENCES: If you choose to mention other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.

The Colour of Courage

By Annie Pendrey. Member of PDNorth’s online practitioner action research exchange.

Courage – This has been a word I have examined over the past few weeks and continue to explore on both a personal and professional level in the face of adversity. I have reflected upon how the world of education will look once we all return to some kind of ‘normality’, when we return to a routine (remember that?) and return to the ordinary things that in the past we have possibly taken for granted.

I am not afraid to say that the past few weeks have been dark and it is in those moments I have tried to find ‘colour’  in my personal and professional life and at times I have struggled not to desaturate colour from my own life, my family and my colleagues and friends. Moreover, in the moments of the darkness, I began to wonder if courage was a colour what colour would it be?  This led me to examine closely the flurry of rainbows popping up in peoples windows and in turn inspired me to utilise my previous floristry skills and adore the front of my house with ribbons in the ‘Roy G Biv’ style. It was during this creative moment that I recalled a book introduced to me by Lou Mycroft, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and a word I have taken from it. The word is ‘chromophobia’, this is best described as the aversion to colours. For those of you who know me well will know  I have no aversion to colour and I possess an inner Magpie which loves glitter and sparkle but more than ever I needed to discover how my inner courage was related to colour in my life and my work.

So, this has led me to question how can we as educators not be fearful of colour, how can we inject colour back into our working lives or possibly our personal lives and into the lives of our learners? How can we move forward and not be fearful of making a different colourful choice in our approaches to teaching and learning? Relating these questions back to my house of rainbows which sits in a small row, the only house which is not brown brick with white windows but has ribbons flying in the wind, bows attached to topiaries glistening in the April sunshine, it demonstrates I am not chromophobic and I continue to display the courage through colour, more so now that I feel I have ever done in my life.

For some of us educators and learners, colour may be missing from your lives right now and so making connections with one another is more powerful now than ever in order to not separate colours or your feelings, to support each other with our emotions or the moods we feel each day. In conclusion, how can we use colour and courage to reflect light and hope, to reenergise ourselves, our education system and our learners? May be the answers are somewhere over the Rainbow?

Dedicated to my Brother #Covid19

Organising the CPD Exchange: Week #7

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about all the events we have in FE – more than we ever used to, or I lived under a rock at Northern College (possible). Since Twitter, they have become a lot more transparent. I love following the hashtag when I can’t physically attend and I get frustrated now if an event doesn’t have a hashtag! Breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of closed events allows for diversity and in particular the voices of those who can’t afford/can’t get free of work/are not empowered to be there.

So as we begin to close on the workshop presentations for #PDNorth2020 I’ve been thinking about two things:

  1. How do we open the workshops up even more effectively to amplify voices in our sector who go unheard? More than ever, with uncertainty ahead, behind and under our feet, it feels important to let new thinking in.

And, given the steep learning curve of the past weeks,

  1. How can we support workshop presenters to create inter-active workshops in a digital space? 

I’ve been dropping into various events and I’ve seen some great practice (and some terrible practice too). I don’t think it’s just me who is finding that screen time is exacerbating my short attention span. Like other ADHDers, when I find flow and focus I can be in it for hours, but there’s something about Zoom which makes that harder to hold onto. When there’s something for me to contribute – a mentimeter, perhaps, or responding to a question in chat, I can pull myself back into the conversation. It needn’t be anything fancy. This is about relationship building, to hear new thinking and ideas. 

I’ll report back progress in a fortnight and I’ll tweet those questions out too. I’d love to know what you think.

Book here for the CPD exchange: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pd-north-virtual-cpd-exchange-tickets-101550022852

‘It’s an opportunity to lift your head and look around.’

A collaborative blog for PD North from the online Practitioner Action Research Group

Our PD North Practitioner Action Research Group is an online community of practice, where practitioners from across FE come together to share and discuss practitioner-led research in our sector. 

Over the course of the year, we’ve focused on various aspects of action research. Topics have been wide-ranging, including, for instance: research conceptualisation and design, developing meaningful research questions, ethical considerations, methodological approaches, practical applications of FE-based research and strategies to support writing and dissemination. 

During our meeting today, we explored the following 2 questions:

1. What have we learnt/ are we learning about practitioner-based research in FE that we would like to share with others?

2. How does our engagement with online communities of practice support and develop our own research practice in FE?

Discussions took place at a lively pace, and our thoughts and ideas travelled in interesting directions. Here are some of the things we had to say:

What have we learnt/ are we learning about practitioner-based research in FE that we would like to share with others?

  1. FE-based research is alive and well, but we need to get better at coming together to share and write about our findings. 

‘FE has been like Cinderella at times, it’s nice to see that we are finally coming together to formally share and discuss our ideas.’

‘The word formal is important here, because FE-based research has been happening for a long time.’

‘It has, but a lot of it goes on in silos. One of the challenges is bringing everything together.’

  1. We need to address the lack of confidence and ‘imposter syndrome’ that can at times hold us back from sharing our research findings with the wider world.’

‘I’ve heard some people say ‘I’m not a part of a university’ so I can’t do research. We need to change the narrative here and help build confidence across our sector to engage in research and to share our findings.’

‘It can be a daunting task, but it’s very important that we speak up. For example, as part of our PD North and OTLA work with the Education and Training Foundation, we’ve been involved in research that challenges some of the HE driven, grandiose education theories – we need to share our findings and say to colleagues that these big theories or interventions may not work in your context – don’t take them as gospel, do your own research with your learners into what works best for them. 

‘There can be a risk of FE-based research becoming re-territorialised and placed under the HE banner.’

‘This is why we need to write about our work, to own it. It’s about understanding the merit of what we produce for our sector. Drawing on research from HE is of course important, we can use it to broaden our understanding. But it’s not better quality research just because it’s come from HE. As FE practitioners, we have tacit, contextualised knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work for learners in our settings. 

‘FE has its own language.’

  1. FE-based research often strives towards cultural change, and this begins with critical reflection in relation to our own practice.

Through my research into my practice I usually eventually arrive at the realisation that I am what needs to change.’ 

‘You have to have lived experience to be able to write authentically about FE, and that means continually questioning your practice… be confident in your practice, but question it too. I think the two can work together.’

  1. Action research shifts conventional understandings about teaching and learning.

‘I learn as much as the people that I am teaching.’

‘Participatory research approaches have hugely impacted my own understandings of teaching and learning. For me, I feel that if I really want to improve my practice, I first need to understand the impact of my teaching from my learners’  perspectives. The insight learners have shared with me has been invaluable.’

  1. That researching your own practice can be an emotional experience.

    ‘I never escape from my self-doubts for long.’

‘You have to be very self disciplined to maintain your project against some very demanding things elsewhere’.

‘Having time to step out and look in is very important. You need the headspace to really understand where your research is taking you and what your findings mean.’

  1. That practitioner research can be empowering, supporting wellbeing and encouraging autonomous practice. 

‘There is still a culture of consultant-led, one off approaches to CPD. In our college, we offer practitioner-based research as an alternative approach for staff. Staff have been able to explore areas of teaching and learning that they really want to develop, rather than being directed by us to attend a particular training session.’

‘As practitioners, we can be very in the moment, head down, really busy getting everything done. Action research gives you permission, gives you that opportunity to lift your head and look around. It gives you time and space to ask questions and reflect upon your practice.’

‘You always want to get better. Action research can help.’

‘Engaging in practitioner-led research can be really empowering. It keeps people in the sector at times I think. It gives you a sense of autonomy over your practice.’

How does our engagement with online communities of practice support and develop our own research practice in FE?

  1. That social and other online networks help facilitate relationships with other FE-based research and researchers.

‘Through our group, and more widely, through eduTwitter, I’ve met and shared ideas with people who I would have been unlikely to come across otherwise. FE practitioners from all over the UK, and further afield.’

‘Online spaces can be a really helpful way of facilitating shared interests, whether that’s developing a reading culture, embedding skills for digital literacy, or learner wellbeing… you’ll find others who share your interests and who have useful ideas to share.’

  1. That connection with others through communities of practice can build research resilience and support well-being.

‘Being part of a network is invaluable to help you keep on track and to learn from your peers. In fact the more people you involve the more likely you are to develop the resilience to continue. Tutors in our sector face a lot of challenging issues and it takes determination to see your research through.’

‘Forums such as this one, and other, social media driven forums can be really useful places to talk about your research if it doesn’t go well. You may not always want to highlight what went wrong in your workplace, so it’s good to have places where you can share and learn and ask advice from others.’

‘It’s important to find spaces of trust, to know that people have your back.’

  1. That having a variety of platforms, and sharing across them, brings diverse communities of practice together.

‘Different platforms suit different people. Some love Facebook or Whatsapp, others will prefer to engage on Twitter or a face-to-face meeting like ours on Zoom. Others will really not like a platform like this and will not engage… some will stick by a traditional email to get in touch and make a connection. There is value in multiple platforms because you’ll get different engagement where people feel comfortable.’

‘It’s a great way of blending silos of practice, in essence a snowball effect. For example, people now come along to this PD North Group who run their own forums, and members of the PD North team have been to those events and presented their research, so we’re growing connections with others in our research community all the time.’

‘6th form provision can sometimes be ostracised from other areas of FE. Online forums can help those from across diverse areas of FE contribute to the conversation.’

  1. That engagement in online groups and forums can be active or passive.

‘I see myself a bit on the outside, looking in. I’m a lurker. It can be hard to break in sometimes, and sometimes I find it hard to put a contribution into writing. But I really get interested in what others are saying, so I get something from it. I’d like to become more actively engaged.’

‘I didn’t contribute to an online forum for a long time. I watched and read what others were saying. And then the topic of education for social justice came up on FE Chat, and I thought I really did have things I wanted to say, so that gave me the confidence to get involved.’

  1. That engaging in online communities of practice is often the first step towards meeting and engaging with other FE-based researchers face-to-face.

‘People I’ve met on Twitter or other social media platforms I’ve now met in person too as they’ve come along to events like FE Research Meet or PD North celebration events to share their research.’

‘It’s important to remember that engagement online is not always an end in itself, it’s often the first step towards a face-to-face connection. The online connection helps facilitate face-to-face communities of practice, where people are actively coming together to present their research and share practice.’

  1. Online forums can be a useful place to learn about other FE-based research projects and FE-produced educational theory. It is also a useful place to share your own research.

‘I’ve found online forums and groups such as our PD North group an incredibly useful place to learn about other FE-based research that’s happening.’

‘There can be really helpful discussions about educational theory, and good access to, and recommendations of, literature that can support you with your own research.’

‘They can be good places to share your own writing and research findings, and have some feedback from other FE-based practitioner researchers.’ 

Would you like to contribute to this conversation? Perhaps you have fresh ideas or a different perspective to share? If so, you are warmly welcomed to join our group. Please complete our booking form here: PD North Practitioner Researcher Booking Form.

We also have a Padlet Board, where we have been building and sharing our ideas as a group. To visit our Padlet, please click here: PD North Practitioner Researcher Padlet.