Critical friendship as everyday #RUOK

Here in Australia, it is #RUOK Day today.

It is the 10th anniversary of the start of #RUOK. The aim of the organisation that coordinates the day and the year-round events that make RUOK an everyday activity is “to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life”.

For the past five years, I have had the immense good fortune to be a critical friend to coaches, teachers and educational technologists. Throughout that time, I have been guided by John MacBeath’s observation:

The critical friend is a powerful idea, perhaps because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a high degree of unconditional positive regard. They are forgiving and tolerant of your failings. They sometimes even love you for your faults. Critics are, at first sight at least, conditional, negative and intolerant of failure. Perhaps the critical friend comes closest to what might be regarded as the ‘true friendship’ – a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique. (1998: 118)

My critical friend conversations with coaches explored the very public nature of their work and the implications of their roles for their families, their friends … and themselves. The five years of conversations enabled us to go to some very private places that challenged and celebrated their lived experience.

My conversations with educational technologists took place at a time of organisational change and uncertainty about the institution’s direction. Our conversations discussed the physiological and psychological impacts of uncertainty.

All these conversations were held in confidence. I did receive funding to do this but I was clear that there would be no reporting of individual cases only of generic conversations.

On #RUOK Day I am sharing parts of one of my reports that arose out of critical friend conversations with educational technologist and shared with the institution’s leaders. It considered how we might value each other rather than engage in rhetoric about caring.


Introduction

This paper addresses being valued in an organisation that learns. It is a commitment to equitable and respectful treatment of all members …

In writing this, I am mindful of Miller Mair’s observation:

Words are substantial, like paint or clay. They are not transparent and secondary. They tell their own tales. They muscle in wherever they are used to influence everything around them with the stories they wish to tell. They bring with them baggage from other places and other times. They lead off in directions that speak of their relationships with other words and other things. Words, and the choice of words in relationship, create realities of their own and do not point to things we suppose are separate and of superior importance.

I am mindful too that I am writing this specifically for two colleagues who have trusted me to produce this narrative.

The higher education institution is adopting a raft of business intelligence tools that monitor and report on staff and student performance. In organisations that have a mechanistic approach to performance these tools prioritise surveillance over care, and treat individuals as objects of study rather than subjects of appreciative inquiry. I believe that the institution is in danger of becoming such a mechanistic environment. I am hopeful that the University’s conversations about strategic direction is able to reduce this danger as might genuine consideration of staff performance review processes.

My view is that the institution can let go of aspirations to be “national leaders” or to be highly ranked in a variety of global indicators. The rhetoric of external recognition could be enabled by respectful, deep listening in our lived experience at the institution. Process would deliver outcome in an institution that avows to “walk-the-talk”.

This requires the University to value our staff. Recently, Brenda Leibowitz (2017) proposed:

… given that so many academics are intrinsically motivated to teach well, they should not be viewed as mere instruments of policy and strategic exigencies. Instead, they must be treated as academic partners whose role as professionals should be respected. Their importance must be acknowledged and they must be seen as accountable, responsible, thinking and feeling beings – not workhorses chasing global rankings for the benefit of their institutions’ reputations. (My emphasis)

The institution has promoted a narrative of engagement and retention for its student cohorts. I think this is vital for our staff too.

In the last year, I have become extremely concerned for the mental and physical well-being of some colleagues. I have a sense that unless significant changes are made in how we value each other we will continue to live in a threatening rather than enabling organisation that could learn to be different.

We can gain ground (and lose it) and this requires an agility in leadership that trusts and values colleagues whose role it is to engage and retain. There can be space for bottom-up renewal as well as top-down imposition.

I believe each of us has a responsibility to exert our agency to be valued and to value others.


My aim in writing the paper was to give voice to concerns that remain unspoken in fearful employee-employer relationships.

It was nourished by the idea that RUOK conversations are an everyday, formative commitment.

When I have my critical friend conversations, I have in mind conversations I had with Gavin Larkin many years ago.

Today is a very special day to remember him and his journey to support us all in the adventure of caring and being cared for.

Photo Credit

RUOK Mate?

Portals and portkeys

I sat in on a presentation yesterday.

My colleague Scott Nichols , Director of Student Connect at the University of Canberra, shared progress on a new student portal that aims to provide a single point of entry that supports choice of course, enrollment, studying, graduation and on-going alumna/alumnus connection.

The portal will respond dynamically to each student log in and provides an exciting approach to supporting personal learning journeys. I hope this access can be available for the lifetime of the learner.

Scott’s presentation was shared in confidence so I am unable to provide the detail of a platform that will be launched in 2019.

I was fascinated by Scott’s talk and I focused on the personal potential of the platform. It will provide a data rich environment, that with students’ informed consent, could lead to a profoundly ethical resource to support personal learning journeys and personal learning environments.

I believe that the impact of such a portal could be amplified if we are able to appreciate the success of the national Vocational Education Training’s Unique Student Identifier (USI) registration scheme.

At present, six million students who are taking or have taken nationally recognised training opportunities have a USI. This is a reference number that:

  • creates a secure online record of recognised training and qualifications gained in Australia, from all training providers
  • gives access to training records and transcripts
  • is accessed online, anytime and anywhere
  • is free and easy to create
  • stays with you for life

These ten numbers become a portkey in my vision for innovations at the University of Canberra. The USI transcript service that became available in May 2017 underscores this portkey potential.

With the appropriate checks and balances in place, the USI connects school, tertiary and lifelong learning in a wonderfully transparent way.

The announcement of the USI transcript service included these observations:

  • Training participants and graduates can view, download or print their USI Transcript and share it electronically with future training providers if they wish.
  • It will help training participants and graduates when enrolling in further training or applying for jobs as well as support Australian businesses to get a better understanding of their employees’ level of training.
  • The service will enable the Federal Government and policy makers to get a clearer picture of the skills pathways that Australians pursue, and importantly, the ones that work.

In this context, the University of Canberra portal becomes part of a nationwide and global learning network. It has portkey potential (“an enchanted object that when touched will transport the one or ones who touch it to anywhere on the globe decided on by the enchanter).

A Ron Smith guest post: On The Bench

Introduction

I have invited Ron Smith to write a post about the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) decision to “use of electronic and communication equipment in the technical area”.

Ron has been involved in football for fifty years and has integrated technology into his coaching from his early days use of film loops to share technical and tactical insights with players and coaches.

On The Bench

Simon Austin noted earlier this month:

IFAB, which decides the rules of the game, has announced that “small, hand-held electronic or communication devices will be allowed in the technical area “if used for coaching/ tactics or player welfare. This can include items as large as laptops.

It took years before approval was given for GPS systems to be worn during matches, so the introduction of devices for tactical and coaching information to be received on the bench, in whatever format, is not surprising.

The terms of reference are broad enough for anything to be relayed to the coaching staff so the relevant information will be determined by what the coach wants to know or see during the game.

Physical data could be useful if the weather conditions are different to what the players normally experience, but I would expect the coaches and physiologists to know each players’ physiological capacities and limitations.

Pre-World Cup warm up games could be used to simulate expected adverse weather conditions and identify players, if any, who may have problems.

With regards to the technical /tactical information a coach might want to receive on the bench during the game, I suggest the most useful would be of a quantitative nature rather than qualitative.

The coaches will be watching the game from the touchline and will know what is going on but the benefit of observations made by a colleague watching from an elevated position can be an advantage.

The qualitative information I would like to receive on the bench would relate to how well the team is carrying out our game plans in attack and defence, and if it is not happening to my satisfaction I would like the observations of a trusted colleague who has an aerial view. I would also have the opinion of other coaches on the bench to cross reference these observations.

It is difficult to make adjustments to the team performance during the game so whatever information I receive ought to confirm no change in the chosen strategy or lead to a change in strategy. A change would lead to implementation of Plan B or Plan C, which the players would have had to practice and be able to apply. This approach to adjusting tactics and / or team shape, or a player’s role would come from what I call ‘What If’ training based on game scenarios during the long-term preparation of the team. This is difficult but not impossible to achieve within the infrequent gatherings and constantly changing environment of international football.

I think quantitative data during the game would be limited to precise performance indicators such as attempts to play behind from specific areas of the pitch, which research has shown to have a profound effect on scoring opportunities.

I do not envisage a Head Coach watching replays of events on the bench while the game is in progress but selected passages might be viewed during stoppages in play.  The use of selected clips at half time would enable the coach to communicate visually with the players what he wants them to focus on in the second half, which he cannot do during the game.

Many sports have regulations about ‘time outs’. The availability of augmented information raises some important questions about how the IFAB decision might affect the flow of games. In women’s tennis, the WTA has permitted coaches:

to enter the court to provide tactical advice and support … armed with analytical evidence of what is unfolding on court, delivered via mobile applications supplied by the tour’s software analytics partner.

In IPL cricket,  there are four strategic time outs, each of two and a half minutes: the bowling side can ask for a break between overs 6 and 9 while the batting team can opt for the same anytime between 13 and 16 overs

I wonder if some form of time out will be the next initiative IFAB discusses.

The 2018 World Cup gives us a great opportunity to see how the availability of touch line technology works.

Photo Credit

Chertsey Town v Banstean Athletic (Chris Turner, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Substitutions (Ronnie MacDonald, CC BY 2.0)