Giving and TAKING credit where credit’s due

A few years back, a colleague and I were asked by our director to write material for a potential teacher-training course. It was going to take a lot of our time and energy, but we were excited about what we could come up with. At one point I mentioned we should credit it, “created and developed by Josette and (insert colleague’s name).” He winced and said something along the lines that he wasn’t in it for the recognition.

I get it. The ego is a strange beast. But at what point are you standing up for your voice, — for your good work — and at what point are you stroking your ego’s pride? What I heard my colleague say is that there is a link between putting our names on our work and being egotistical; I heard that playing big and celebrating my voice is something to wince at; I also heard that it’s more acceptable to make myself small, or better yet, invisible.

Two questions came out of this: don’t we risk giving away our confidence, power, and self-trust by making ourselves small? And, why is recognition a bad thing anyway?

Making myself small

This has always been a challenging topic for me because there are so many mixed messages about what’s considered positive behavior around putting ourselves out there. It’s more acceptable for me to be modest, but if I’m too modest how am I going to stand out? It’s less egotistical to let someone else praise my work because if I talk about myself then I’m full of myself. So what if no one ever talks about my work? Am I just going to wait in the shade until that happens?

When I gave the first draft of my chapter to our editor (and prolific writer in her field), she sent it back saying I was giving too much credit to one of my references. She told me to rewrite a whole section by owning the work I had done with his work and by taking him out of that part of the equation. He wasn’t the one in my classroom experimenting with his ideas: I was. At that point, his work had become mine.

I was confused about how much credit I could take because I believed it wasn’t acceptable to shine. I thought it wasn’t my work to celebrate. The line between his work and mine was so blurred I couldn’t even see myself. It took longer than it probably should have because my confidence was put to the test, but I finally balanced out that equation.

Recognition vs. celebration

I understand why people cringe at the idea of recognition. I think it has to do with the intention behind it. Do I want to be recognized because I want to take a step up the ladder, not caring about what others think? Or would I like recognition (acknowledgment, appreciation) because I value connection and learning with others, especially in relation to my soul’s work?

One way I make sense of this idea of giving and taking credit is by putting myself in the position of the person who created the technique/activity/research I’m using. I imagine the hours they experimented, observed, and assessed their area of interest. I ask myself, “how would they feel if they read my work, saw themselves in it, but didn’t see any reference to themselves?” I imagine they would feel hurt and disappointed.

Maybe I’m influenced by Byongchan‘s work. When I see him labouring emotionally, creatively, and physically over his art so he can come up with a signature piece, I imagine the joy he might feel when it’s seen and celebrated for its beauty. I can’t speak for him, but I know I feel quite happy when others acknowledge his work.

You can substitute his work as an artist with any other creative endeavor, which I clearly connect to teaching. The joy of my craft comes from the process of creating what I feel called to and then sharing that creation. And while my sharing doesn’t guarantee it will be acknowledged — and I don’t do only to be acknowledged — there is a sense of encouragement that comes when my work is celebrated. It gives me the courage and energy to keep doing the work. Looking at it this way, it’s helpful to substitute recognition with celebration.

I understood my colleague’s intentions on that day. And maybe my ego was more in control than my gentle inner artist/teacher. Maybe that’s what he sensed. But as I look back on this moment, I now understand I’m not interested in lowering my voice or the voice of others for fear of being seen as egotistical. I want to celebrate the good work I do, as well as the good work I see around me. This is part of the way the world keeps evolving in a positive forward motion. As long as I’m in the business of creating and collaborating, I plan to give credit to the voices of my community. I’ll gladly take that credit as well.

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Owning My Element

My Creative Process

Sometimes a simple question spurs on an overflow of creative thinking.  My dear friend and colleague, Tana Ebaugh, often asks me these kinds of questions. Recently she asked why I blog. This in itself was a gem that prompted curious contemplation. However, then she added to the power of this question by showing me this revolutionary video.

After watching this video, I knew I had to read more about Ken Robinson. I had already watched his previous two TED talks (one that you can find in my previous post and one you can find by clicking here), and knew I had to go deeper into his ideas. The next morning I downloaded his audiobook The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Having listened to it for three hours, I can now answer Tana’s question of why I blog.

* Above is an example of how my creative process relies on human connection and multimedia. Ken Robinson discusses how the creative process is unique to everyone, and extremely valuable to cultivate. It is this process that leads one to living out their element.

My Element

In his book, Ken Robinson talks about what it means to be in your element. You are in your element when you do what you love doing. This is only a basic definition though. It goes much deeper than that. You are in your element when time seems to stand still while you are doing the thing you’ve discovered defines your core self. When you do what you were meant to do, you are in your element. Everyone has this element, and I am grateful to have found mine. Although I knew I loved teaching teachers, it is only after having listened to his audiobook that I am able to tell you why I do, and why I think this is my element.

My desire to connect and to be heard makes me love teacher training. In this zone, I am in my element because I know that what I am saying is being absorbed and processed by my audience. If I feel that I am not understood, or that there is no desire to hear what I have to say, I immediately switch off. Whether at a party, or in a classroom, if I don’t think I’m making a clear connection with someone, I shut down. Knowing this, I am constantly looking for better ways to be heard and understood. Sometimes this means simplifying my message, or following the flow of my trainees’ needs. If they don’t need to hear what I have to say, there is no need for me to say it. I discover this need by gauging their reactions to my intellectual poking and prodding. They often tease me by saying that I am “slowly squeezing their brains”, or that “I poke them” gently through the learning process. If they are curious about the way I “squeeze” them, then I continue. If I see their eyes glazing over, it’s time for me to change my tune.

Being among a group of people who share my love of teaching also fuels my element. With my trainees, we are on a similar level. Even though we teach in different contexts and are from different backgrounds, ultimately we are in the business of sharing and guiding individuals through the process of learning. This common plain creates a willingness for reciprocal listening: I want to listen to them as much as they want to listen to me. In a sense, we feed off each others’ experiences. Without this kind of shared community, be it with my trainees, or my colleagues/friends, my light doesn’t shine so brightly. It is through their light that I can see my own.

This is why I blog. I blog because teachers who share my passion will read what I have to say. It is the perfect blend of community and communication. My blog is a multimedia reflection of my element.

A quote from The Element: In the 19th century, William James became one of the founding thinkers of modern psychology. By then it was becoming more widely understood that our ideas and ways of thinking could imprison or liberate us. James put it this way,  ‘The greatest discovery of my generation is that humans being can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. If you change your mind, you can change your life.’ This is the real power of creativity and the true promise of being in your element. – Ken Robinson

Thank you for the light :)

Let Creativity Flow

“When teachers’ knowledge of themselves, their students and their professional skills do not align with the contexts in which they work there is little energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning. Both teacher and students are then deprived of creative exchange and connection between themselves, subject matter and context. (Carol R. Rodgers* and Miriam Raider-Roth)”

My dear friend and colleague Kevin Giddens posted this quote to his Facebook status a few weeks ago. It resonated with me on many levels. When my beliefs are not supported by the system I teach in, then I feel blocked; I feel frustrated. On this level of emotion I recognize that my needs for freedom and creativity are stunted because I do not feel heard by my educational community. If I am not heard, if my teaching beliefs are not valued or seen, then my creative energy cannot flow. When creativity does not flow, both teaching and learning are in jeopardy.

As a teacher trainer in Korea, I hear a version of this sentiment on a regular basis: “We don’t have the time to be creative and make new material because we have so much to do beyond teaching our classes. Not only do we have to teach, but we also have to take care of after school study classes, as well as tonnes of bureaucratic paperwork. Sometimes we’re at school until 11pm! How can we be expected to be creative?”

These teachers crave creativity.  They want to connect. They want to help their students learn. They want to be passionate teachers, but where does the “energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning” come into play in such a reality?

The energy and space comes from knowing that they are not alone in their quest for creativity and connection. It comes from knowing that there are teachers out there who have the same aspirations. As teachers, “we are our best resources”, but this does not have to be a solitary affair. “We” includes our community. This is a community of like-minded colleagues. It is a community in search of a better way. You can create this community.

We find these community members by speaking out, and sharing our fears and desires. These members may be at your schools, at training courses, and in professional organizations such as KOTESOL or TESOL. Once you speak out, you can be heard. You have taken the risk, and you realize that you are not alone. You invent your own personal peer support network. This is where creativity is possible. When your aspirations align with those of others, creativity can flow.

Creativity = Change

You make that change happen.

The Writing Teacher’s Dance

I dance to balance.

I dance between teaching and letting go.

I dance between my advice and peer feedback.

I dance between homework and in-class writing.

I dance between reading and writing.

I dance between correction and silence.

I dance to balance.