Two publications – minimum

You have to have two publications, minimum, to get a job in academia. It’s just how it is.

The above came at the end of a graduate workshop I attended on writing and publishing research in the philosophy of education. The statement took me back, not just for the gusto with which the speaker oriented herself alongside problematic measures for student performance but that this was spoken, without irony, to an audience of emerging educational philosophers.

That education and indeed higher education has become ever more centred around measures of student attainment, performance and standards, is known to many of us writing in this field. That philosophers of education spend increasing amounts of time voicing our concerns over that same performative culture is also noticeable. How disheartening, then, to hear that a regrettable consequence of engaging in precisely this kind of educational research is to spend increasing amounts of time trying to meet these kinds of arbitary targets.

Please don’t think me naive here. I am not advocating for the right of the researcher to remain in her ivory tower, her mad scribbles read by no one except her supervisors, nearest and dearest. Even without the pressure of impact – ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’ – it is incredibly important that my work has purchase amongst the community that it is aimed towards. It needs to be heard and as such, publishing in a peer-review journal or turning my thesis into a monograph might well be one way in which I make my ‘impact’.

Indeed, having a certain number of publications under our belt isn’t the only box-ticking exercise academics face. There are many of us that find ourselves, through necessity, agreeing to fulfil certain professional criteria. Perhaps by undertaking an uninspiring research project that shows interdisciplinary working, sitting on a time-suck committee or taking up a teaching module we’re not crazy about. All in order to carry on doing the work we deem most important to us. Admitting that the fulfilment of these tasks makes room for us to be able to reflect on the purpose of education, so as to challenge the culture of over-doing and over-measuring, is itself an exercise in professional integrity . We must remain careful to strike a balance between pursuing goods for ourselves and supporting others in their pursuit.

MacIntyre argues that it is through the process of thinking for oneself, questioning the dominant paradigms, that one learns to act for the common good. My concern is that the relatively new focus, that is being placed on emerging researchers, to publish early and frequently leaves no room for this kind of reflection. Instead we have an unhelpful surplus of thinking – to write, to research, to publish, to produce more, that inhibits criticality and holds us captive to accepted social orders.

By all means, ease us into the expected norms of academic life. Instruct us in the importance of obtaining our degrees and publishing our research. I’m all for it. However, as philosophers of education, for goodness sake, encourage us to think beyond only ourselves. To let our ‘outputs’ be based on more than a fixation with productivity. Instead, teach us to ask, as MacIntyre does: what good would I have achieved, if I achieved this?



My Story

Quite a while ago, I was asked by the marketing team at LTU if I would like to contribute to their blog series featuring graduate successes. I would, of course, be talking about my journey from the MA in Education to securing a funded PhD.

Well, after being interviewed by a very nice man called Brett (hi Brett!), this is the (belated) result. I have copied in the text of the interview, as to how I edited it, but you can also find it with all the bells and whistles, here.

Can you tell us a little more about your route into teaching?
Growing up, I loved school and have very fond memories of my time at Wirral Grammar School.  I was fortunate to have excellent teachers and at the age of sixteen, I was really enthusiastic about becoming one myself, but my teachers told me it was a difficult profession and I should try something else.

After studying English at York University, I actually began a career in the restaurant trade.  However, at 24 I was at a crossroads, weighing up whether to pursue this path or return to education. To help me decide, I sought out voluntary experience at Tadcaster Primary School. Being told that I had the potential to be really good was a huge confidence boost. I was successful in my application for a PGCE at York St John University and my first teaching position came at Seacroft Grange Primary School in Leeds. I worked there from 2006 to 2014, becoming a Leading Teacher for Education Leeds and progressing from Classroom Teacher to Assertive Mentoring Policy Leader for the Senior Leadership Team.

What made you choose Leeds Trinity?
In 2009, I found a Leeds Trinity University leaflet advertising the MA in Education in the staff room. At that point, I had started thinking about my professional development – did I want to continue as Leading Teacher, start my leadership training, or was there a different path I could take? I came to the Open Day and liked the sound of the modules, particularly the ones on coaching and mentoring and behaviour management. I found that I could tailor the MA to my classroom needs and interests. I found that Leeds Trinity’s MA best represented how I could become an outstanding educator and that was by dedicating my professional and personal time to academic research.

The personalisation offered by Leeds Trinity was different to other MAs available since it meant I could focus my research on areas of teaching and learning specific to my situation. It was an easy choice for me and definitely the right one.  Essentially, the MA in Education was a route to become the teacher I really wanted to be.
What have been the highlights of your Leeds Trinity experience so far?
I really enjoyed Graduation in 2014. It was a special day as I had just found out I’d been awarded the PhD studentship. so I was moving from one milestone to the next.

I’d also have to remark on how friendly and approachable the academic staff are. They understand that teachers are busy people and, as such, are willing to schedule tutorials and seminars that are convenient for us. I’ve had to spend a long time in the library and the staff are always ready to help you find the right book or journal article.

Another highlight of my time here has been the chance to meet other teachers at various stages in their careers, sharing experiences, best practice and working together on group presentations. I’ve appreciated the chance to become part of a great community and getting to know the academic interests of the lecturers in education. They’ve been invaluable in my ability to utilise the expert knowledge I’ve received here. MA in Education students also have the opportunity to present their research at Leeds Trinity staff research days.

At the moment, I’m involved with the Critical Thinking Skills Programme. This involves presentations to Level 4 undergraduate students about ethical issues and debates as well as hosting seminars on the behavioural policy of students in education.

How would you summarise your experience at Leeds Trinity?
If I had to summarise my Leeds Trinity experience, it would be life-changing, supportive and inspiring.

During the MA, I became quite ill over the 2010-11 academic year and underwent two operations.  As my MA centred on empirical research in the classroom, this became increasingly difficult to undertake. I seriously considered abandoning my studies. However, the MA programme manager, Dr Amanda Fulford, helped me to see that I could change the focus of my MA by tailoring it towards a philosophical project.  Without her intervention and continued support, I would have found this very difficult.  Funnily enough, my PhD is now in the Philosophy in Education and Dr Fulford is my supervisor, so the way everything changed, truly was life-changing.

I studied the MA in order to become a better teacher and I’m still here doing a PhD because that goal never really finishes. I’m grateful that Leeds Trinity has given me a place to explore how I can make a lasting difference in education.

What advice would you give to Newly Qualified Teachers about to embark on their teaching careers?
My first advice would be to think about doing the MA, even if not straight away.  The skills and educational experience you will learn and take away from this course will enable you to become a better you, not just a better teacher.

And finally, what would be your dream role?
Both teaching and research are just different faces of the same coin. I’d love to continue my work in a post-doctoral research position and by continuing to work with educators in initial teacher or post-graduate education studies.


Community of Restorative Researchers



You can now read an abstract of my PhD research ‘Restorative Introductions’. Brought to you by the Community of Restorative Researchers (CoRR) for International Restorative Justice Week 2015, Restorative Introductions is a collection of short biographies, commentaries and posters which summarise the research, practice, policymaking, activism and other pursuits of some of the many individuals and organisations working in the field of restorative practice. Thanks to Ian Marder, Leeds University, for taking my submission and to the European Forum for agreeing to host it on their website!

Please read, share and otherwise do with it what you will!


Standard Issue Magazine

via Praise Be…? – Standard Issue.


(Photo by Christian Gallagher)

Woah, where did the last two weeks go? Well let me tell you. After writing about how we praise children, I was asked to write a piece on what praise might mean for women in the workplace for Standard Issue Magazine.

This is a wonderful site written by women for women and the person doing the asking was a good friend (and the editor) so I didn’t hesitate to say yes. So please go and have a read of this and more importantly of everything else on the site because if there’s somewhere on the internet that deserves to have financial backing then it’s this space. And we all know how important page views are for that.

As for me, this doesn’t mark a change of heart into journalism, however, it’s nice to know that I can write in different ways for different audiences, i.e. not too academic!

On Praise


via BBC News – Lavish praise from teachers ‘does not help pupils’.

I heard an outline of this piece of research by the Sutton Trust on Radio 4 this morning whilst pulling up my socks. The paper ‘What makes great teaching?‘ which you can read in full here, sets out to address the nature of good pedagogy and the types of frameworks and tools that can be used to deliver it. However the majority of press articles has focused on what the researchers deem ineffective practice, such as the overuse of praise:

Praise for students may be seen as affirming and positive, but a number of studies suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can be very harmful to learning. For example, Dweck (1999), Hattie & Timperley (2007).
Stipek (2010) argues that praise that is meant to be encouraging and protective of low attaining students actually conveys a message of the teacher’s low expectations.

Children whose failure was responded to with sympathy were more likely to attribute their failure to lack of ability than those who were presented with anger.

Now, most classroom issues that unexpectedly find their way onto breakfast news usually invoke that sinking feeling, condensed as they are into soundbites that appeal to the most reactionary part of our brains. This time there was less ‘oof!‘ than ‘hmm..‘ as I remembered a discussion that took place in my office earlier this year.

As the school’s data manager, it was my dubious pleasure to scrutinise half term test reports and identify under achieving pupils in each age group*.  Alongside the special needs coordinator, I would proceed to hold termly meetings with class teachers (the grownup’s equivalent of writing ‘see me’ at the bottom of the page) to discuss strategies for improving teaching and learning.

At one such meeting, the class teacher and I were discussing the progress of Alec. Alec’s disruptive and dangerous behaviours were the result of emotional and physical trauma from a troubled family background. In the past, Alec would almost always refuse work, absconding from the classroom to kick against a wall and abuse other pupils to the point were fights were an inevitable conclusion. This year, he was working closely with a 1-1 support worker and this attention combined with the outstanding teaching capabilities of my colleague had led to a point where she could actually begin to address the gaps in his education. There were, however, certain challenges with this:

“At the beginning, I was just so proud of the fact that he would listen to me and do what I asked that I heaped praise on him all the time. Well done….that’s brilliant, I’d say even if he had just produced a few lines. I then started to notice that he wouldn’t really try after that, he’d just sort of kick back. He’s quite sharp, he knew his work wasn’t as good as it could be but why try when I’m telling him he’s wonderful . So then instead of praising what he’d done, I just acknowledged it instead. Like, okay Alec…I see you’ve started to try but I’m really looking for this. Can you do that for me? And it seems to work, he tries much harder now that I save the praise for when I really feel his effort is reflected in his learning.”

Which seems to agree with the research, right?

Let’s assume that the sort of praise the researchers see as inadequate is the response given to academic achievement (and not the framing of positive discipline, prevalent in the behaviour management policies of most schools – well done for sitting quietly Asha, that’s the sort of behaviour I’m looking for in everyone). More than smiley faces or sticky golden stars, the act of praise is the most motivational and thus powerful tool at a teacher’s command, for praise is the verbal manifestation of the pride a teacher feels in her pupils’ achievement. It is this pride along with attributes such as honesty, safety and trust which are the cornerstones of the teacher-pupil relationship. The ability of Alec’s teacher to establish such a relationship with her pupil allow him to take these qualities and embed them into a vision of his own educable self, call it his self-esteem if you will. The result being a space where both teacher and pupil can see that ‘praise as encouragement’ is unnecessary, the existence of the relationship fulfills that need, and so can be replaced with ‘praise as joyful celebration’. I would question that without the teacher’s skilful negotiation of the nuances and boundaries of a relationship that originates from the praise/pride agreement, whether simply replacing the praise with criticism or anger would have the same effect.

So go ahead teachers, take away the lavish praise. But you’d better have all the rest in place first.



*Under achieving pupils are those who are academically achieving less than standard age related expectations in reading, writing and maths.

Networking (by candlelight)

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The references and opportunities for social networking in our culture are simply too great to miss. Whether through facebook, twitter or tumblr, we share what we think and do not just with the people who populate our everyday lives but our virtual ones as well. And with good cause, if you have a niche interest (let’s take philosophy of education, for example), then the likelihood of someone physically close to you with the same interest is greatly reduced. Now that the internet has expanded our networking to an exponential degree, the very fact of creating this blog rather than diarising my thoughts privately, means that I expect, some day, that others will read and respond to my voice.

Before online social networks, however, there was the conference. In times gone by, isolated philosophy academics, shunned by their more empirically minded counterparts would meet yearly to present papers, catch up on business and plan their next peer to peer collaboration. In my last post, I noted that my supervisor expects that networking *In Real Life* will constitute on of the reasons why it’s so important to attend education conferences. So much so, that when I recently applied for heavily discounted tickets to the PESGB 50th anniversary Oxford conference, I made sure I leaned heavily on the aspect of networking; stating a direct correlation between relationship building and successful pedagogical practice which forms the bedrock of my research. As such, placing a priority on forming relations, networks and contacts with other researchers, both in real space and online, brings about an opportunity to coherently frame my interests that I would never experience were I to spend the next three years simply taking notes.

I guess what my supervisor is urging me towards is less a vision of reading and writing, alone (and possibly by candlelight) and more towards a direct and dynamic engagement – let’s call it discussion – with another.

Birthday plans…sort of

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Well this is exciting.

It looks like I’ll be attending ECER’s 2015 education conference in Budapest next year, (my supervisor’s handed me the leaflet, it’s official). My goal here is not to present my own paper, but to network at the emerging researcher days (7th-8th September) held just before the main event. Is it ridiculous that I’m excited that my first international conference also falls on my birthday?