Last Wednesday, October 1, 2014 was the official start date for my PhD. Of course it wasn’t the date I started doing research. I have been preparing for this all my life. Actually as I was thinking of a title to head up this latest blog I was catapulted back into Year 6, 1976. I don’t mind revealing my age, you see I’m ecstatic to have reached my 50th year because it marked a milestone and not only because it happened to be the big five o, but because it meant that I made it past 49 which is the age my mother was when she lost her life to bowel cancer. It seems apt that I be starting this PhD in her honour really as she didn’t get the same opportunities I’ve had and that this has become another ‘thing’ I’m going to do for me first, but also for her. This journey is personal.
But back to the Year 6 thing. One of my most vivid memories in Grade 6 was losing a point on a spelling test because I misspelt the word beginning – double g instead of double n – I can still see the paper in front of me. I remember this because it was attached to an emotion – one of feeling helpless but not because I didn’t get full marks but because I had cut my leg quite badly a few days before and had stitches which meant I was unable to get around as well. I never, ever misspelt the word again. I believe that some of the best learning happens when we become emotionally or personally related to what it is we are learning. It has to be relatable or nothing happens – well something does happen actually – we remember long enough to regurgitate for an exam and then it’s gone.
This research is relatable – in fact it relates to a very important part of my memory and attitude to teaching and learning. I do this because I will never forget what it felt like to not understand what other people were talking about. I do it because when I was little I could not communicate with others – well actually no that’s not true. I could communicate but only in Italian. I still don’t understand why that nurse in the hospital did not ‘get’ that I was cold and wanted another blanket. I was five, I spoke italian BUT I also made hand gestures, I had goosebumps – I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just give me another blanket. As a first generation Australian born to migrant parents, I was made to feel stupid simply because I didn’t speak or understand English. I couldn’t read it either but that’s another story.
I am very committed, due to my own experiences, in ensuring all students have every opportunity to learn and that it is our moral obligation to find out how they learn and then facilitate the learning using strategies that support these preferences. Once students have experienced success then it is our duty to extend and challenge them to use a variety of strategies in order to further develop their learning repertoire.
Last year I completed a Post Grad in Educational Research – in preparation for this PhD. This was a really positive experience and helped cement the idea that I could take this on. I had already made the decision to quit from my full-time teaching and leadership position the year before to take up consultancy full time and so I was definitely up for the challenge. There were 10 of us in that unit with 2 lecturers over seeing the project. I learnt a lot during those sessions over the first six months and then went into the actual research side of things during the second half of the year. My paper that explored the nature of the relationship between teachers and teacher aides (Education Support Staff) focussed on a case study of one very large Catholic co-educational college.
I thoroughly enjoyed the process and spent many hours transcribing and analysing the data I’d collected through one-on-one interviews and focus groups. I’m actually now in the middle of preparing an article with the assistance of my supervisor, in the hope that I can get it published. I kind of meandered onto my blog, I think, as a way of taking a break from the academic side of things and just doing another of the things I really enjoy (besides cooking and scribbling & drawing into my diary) and that which gives me time to think – reflecting on this journey.
My PhD is an extension of the small scale research I described above. My intention is to conduct a much larger study extending it into other Catholic secondary schools across the four Victorian diocese. I also intend to add student voice to this study by conducting interviews with students who have special needs as well as their teachers and education support staff. So if you are reading this and teach in a Catholic secondary school in Victoria yours might be one of the schools I target!
I’m very much looking forward to getting out into the field and meeting with participants, although that realistically won’t be for some time yet – what with all the hoops we have to jump through first including ethics approval from the university, permission from CECV, all four Catholic Education Offices and the principals of the schools we decide to include. But, I’m still really excited about the prospect. This will be another learning experience for me and I hope that I can contribute something back to the education community that will ultimately enhance the learning journey of all our students. And so it begins…
Thanks for reading 🙂