The depth of relationships

Relationships are defined as ‘the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected’. It is a phrase we hear on a daily basis in a personal, professional, social, spiritual, metaphysical and environmental context, amongst others. We use this term loosely to describe an entire multitude of situations, contexts and scenarios.

Today I had the good fortune of spending the entire day in the company of Dr Thomas Jackson. Now, here is an individual who has devoted his life to this very cause on a deeply profound level. He can often be quoted using the term ‘connectedness’, a deep seated connectedness which allows him to reach out to a vast array of people and build strong purposeful relationships. It is on this solid foundation that intellectual safety and P4C find the rich and stimulating nutrients to grow and flourish. It has become abundantly clear today that the immense and explicit importance placed on relationships by the academy is one of the, if not the, largest contributory factors to their success. I am of the opinion that too often people skate over the concept of building relationships in the deepest sense of the words. It can often be assumed that it has already been addressed because it is in its ideology a basic component of what it means to be human. It is basic. However, I would like to intercept this narrative with a thought provoking caveat…

Building relationships with our pupils is key as educators and practitioners and we are duty bound to fulfil this criteria to a lesser or greater degree, dependent upon the individual. This is a privileged position we are entrusted with, to connect to another human life and influence it through the art of teaching. It has been observed that an increasing number of pupils receive wraparound care, attending breakfast and after school clubs. The reasoning behind this is completely understandable as many parents feel the increasing economic and financial pressures. However these pupils, including very young children, are spending a decreasing amount of time with parents. As educational and out of school care providers we can create the most loving, nurturing, warm environments for these pupils however, we are restricted  by protocol and safeguarding to comfort or support them for instance in a way a parent might (this is not to say I am opposed to the safeguarding of children and young people in any way, it is paramount that this continues to be a firm focus). This lack of  physiological and emotional interaction at a young age made me reflect on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and pose some interesting questions: are we as a society neglecting the bedrock of essential human development? how will this impact on their capacity to form and sustain relationships in the future? what impact will it have on mental health? what are we as a society consciously doing to address this issue? is the allure of self actualisation inadvertently making us neglect the foundational blocks of safety, love and belonging? if we continue to persist with this trend what will the future hold for the human race as we know it?

Now this brings me back to the work of the Uehiro Academy of Philosophy and Ethics in Education and this is precisely why they are in my opinion at the forefront of leading P4C. Their mantra of not being in a rush sounds simplistic and it is. However, how many of us can honestly and truly say that we embody this sentiment and actively display it in our own personal lives, in our homes, in our classrooms and in our relationships? It seems to me that time is one of those precious commodities that we all seem to have less and less of. We seem to spend the best part of our lives being in a rush: a rush to finish school, a rush to find a job, a rush to accumulate enough money to feed out materialistic wants and desires, a rush to find the right person, a rush to be married, a rush to have children, a rush for our children to grow up … and so it continues. I can’t help but wonder what is the ultimate price we pay for this frenzied state of mind? What are the subtleties and minutia details that we miss on a daily basis? what impact do these have over time?

Imagine then the oasis provided by a place that allows you to do precisely that. Convene, think together and slowly but surely to be able to drill down through the layers of emotions, experiences, hopes, dreams and primal wonders. To have the time to find them, reconnect with them and share them genuinely and sincerely with a community of co-enquirers. This is the sacred experiential place provided by P4C Hawai’i, a joy to behold and an absolute pleasure and privilege to be a part of. I am truly humbled and forever grateful to have had this experience, it is an experience that every child has the right to  access and I have every intention of ensuring that I share this treasured necessity with as many educators as possible in order to make it a reality.

Licensed to be critical

‘Critical thinking’ – now here’s a phrase that is widely used in job adverts, school portfolios, reports and academic literature to name but a few. It is especially used within the wider spectrum of ‘thinking skills’. Critical thinking is highly valued in the generic sense of the word and rightly so, it is an integral component of our ability to think effectively. However, I feel it should be used with care, genuine sincerity and above all appropriately. Adopting critical thinking comes with a responsibility that should not be disregarded or taken lightly. SAPERE’s conceptual framework for a community of enquiry consists of the 4 c’s, these are categorised as: caring, collaborative, critical and creative modes of thinking. Within this framework the critical lens is only one of four that can be applied to aid the development of the enquiry. This was bought to the forefront of my mind this week as I witnessed Dr Ben Lukey use the philosophers toolkit with a range of classes at Waimanalo Elementary and intermediate School (WEIS).  Although I had seen the toolkit in action on my previous visit, there were noticeable differences in the way it was being accessed in the classroom. Dr Ben Lukey started each session by presenting the initials for each tool and the pupils would recap what each initial represented and how it could be used in an enquiry to improve the breadth and depth of enquiry:

R – What are the reasons for…?

T – Is it always/sometimes or never true?

A – Can I assume that…?

W – What do you mean by…?

E – What are some examples of…?

C – Are there any counter examples to the idea or claim that…?

I – Can I infer that…?

The explicit methodology deployed to teach young children how to use these tools encouraged them to apply collaborative, caring, critical and creative modes of thinking in a highly sophisticated manner. Although the specific vocabulary itself differs there is a shared understanding of the importance of all these facets of thinking because it is only then that we can create rich, stimulating and safe school environments for these students to truly flourish. This practice reaffirmed my staunch belief that through programs such as P4C we can mediate change on a whole school level and beyond by focusing on the culture of a school. If critical thinking was the only type of thinking we applied it would have a catastrophic impact on human society and civilisation as we know it. So yes, critical thinking is important but we must teach our students to use it with caution and responsibility.

Later on in the week Dr Ben Lukey and I were discussing the wider issues associated to critical thinking specifically in the domain of system leadership and accountability. It bought up many questions about the association between critical thinking and school improvement: do advisors and specialists feel they have to be critical in order to help the school move forward? Is this the same as genuine comments for improvement or does it frame the need to be critical in order to be effective? does an over emphasis on critical thinking lead some individuals to seek out problems/issues in schools? does this lead to fair and honest judgment or is it seen to be a prerequisite for working effectively in school improvement in any capacity: inspection, advisory or consultancy?

The Tyranny of Now

581 days, 22hours, 41 minutes and 43 seconds later I am sat here once again to archive my inner dialogue and to somehow articulate the privileged experience of working with the Uehiro Academy of Philosophy and Ethics in Education here in Hawaii. Having spent the past week in the company of Dr. Ben Lukey has not only been a refreshing trip down memory lane but has allowed me to observe the strides of progress the academy has made since my previous visit (i’ll save the details of that for a later blog post). As we sat there discussing the rationale for the second phase of this project, I explained my interest in exploring the synergy present in using P4C in conjunction with other pedagogies to further enhance learning and endorse active pupil engagement. I have been sharing Carol Dweck’s Mindset Theory with the academy to present my findings on integrating the two approaches.

This led to an in-depth discussion about the immense pressure faced by both teachers and pupils. At times insurmountable pressure to succumb to SMART targets, league tables, school ratings and the list goes on. I’d like to make it very clear at this point that i’m of the opinion that there should be school accountability, it is absolutely essential in order to monitor, evaluate and develop schools. However, too often I have come across individuals and whole school communities who seem to be in a constant state of perplexed anxiety fuelled by a constant stream of pressure, to the extent of practice becoming detrimental for the very pupils whom we aim to support, nurture and develop. Part of the struggle lies on the exaggerated emphasis on outcomes. In some instances, this goal orientated mindset cajoles a fixed mindset and doesn’t give pupils the essential opportunities to reflect, persevere and become not only resilient learners but resilient individuals. We owe it to the pupils in our care to provide them with ample opportunities to experience ‘failing’ in a safe environment. Their first experience of failure can not and should not be at the age of 16, 18 or 21. As educators we bear a responsibility to equip our children and youth with the vital life skills they are going to need in order to thrive and contribute to an active social community in a local, regional, national and international capacity. This is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about the importance of ‘not being in a rush’. We live in a world which is becoming increasingly ‘instant’ in multiple ways. In an academic context it can be perceived as an intellectual or social weakness if new ideas, thoughts or concepts are not understood straight away and all too often we are constrained by the tyranny of now.

In my opinion P4C and mindsets theory are some of the ways in which we can combat these issues at school level and beyond!

A meeting of minds

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Well here we are once again embarking on another philosophical adventure. This time nestled in the western beauty of Austria, Bregenz overlooking the scenic Bodensee, the German word for lake. This outstanding spot of natural beauty is also commonly known as Lake Constance. It is here that we lovers of philosophy have congregated to spend a weekend with like-minded individuals. The magic of P4C never ceases to amaze me and has this time introduced me to two wonderful human beings Kornelia and Maria.

Amidst copious amounts of coffee, cake and good food we sat around absorbed in the richness of discussions centred around two central themes philosophy and education. I experienced a sense of déjà vu creeping in and found myself completely at home with virtual strangers and it was then that Dr J’s familiar saying resonated so profoundly ‘p4c magic’ … this was it in action. Over time I have come to the realisation that a singular central chord of passion and genuine interest can ignite a bond which is so strong in essence that it is almost unshakable. Could it be this commonality that binds me so closely to other facilitators and enthusiasts of p4c? Perhaps, or perhaps it is something much deeper, much more profound. Dr J likes the idea of it being connected to the notion of past lives and the possibility of connecting spiritually soul to soul with a distant but vibrant familiarisation. I like to think of it as being an intensely innate human condition which we all have the potential to tap into but only some have the fortunate inclination to do so. Perhaps deeply suppressed in the subconscious layers of our thinking it is what our mind is ‘hard wired’ to do, what it yearns to do and why it gives us such an unconditional sense of joy and to some extent enlightenment. Engaging in philosophical enquiry even in an informal setting such as this makes me feel alive in the most dynamic sense of the word. I feel as if I am undergoing a transformative change which strips away the layers of sedimentary assumptions and perceptions. It challenges me to question myself and my own thinking in a refreshingly critical manner as if I am viewing the world from a different vantage point for the very first time.

Ben and I often discussed this topic and shared thoughts about the power of p4c in relation to its appeal. Does p4c attract a certain type of person or can it be adopted and embraced by anyone? Do you have to possess a particular type of mind set to fully appreciate its benefits? Is it innate or can it be taught and if so how effectively? Is it a measurable phenomena? It is my firm belief that unlocking the answers to these complexly riddled questions even partially would allow us to further the vision of p4c as an approach to teaching and learning and not just the mere celebration of it as a subject in isolation, an island in the vast expanse of curriculum, content and political agendas. It has a contagious capacity to infiltrate an individual’s disposition to teaching from its very core. Meeting all these wonderful people over the course of this weekend has reaffirmed my belief that p4c has a habit of ‘getting under your skin’ and becoming an essential lifeline for each of us. One which binds us more closely as philosophers, humanitarians, citizens and friends. We all come together to form a central community … a sacred place where the meeting of minds takes place. I know that somewhere in the profundity of this questioning lies an insatiably appealing research question for me to explore …



The Last Hurrah

As I sit here on the plane getting ready to depart from Hawai’i, I think of just how incredible and life changing this experience has been on every level. I spent the entire evening with Dr J and Ben talking P4C and life in general. Even after spending five whole weeks immersed in the privileged company of these amazing people, I found myself hanging onto every word and praying that the battery would not die so that I could continue to record these treasured conversations (it had been recording for several hours already). And even after we were politely asked to leave the restaurant well after it had closed, we spent hours talking into the early hours of the morning.

On the one hand my blog reflects just how much I have learnt and grown yet here I was in these final moments feeling like I had only just begun. I could feel a sense of wild excitement flicker in my eyes, the same look that I have seen in the eyes of young children when they are joyously enthused by the process of meaningful learning. Partly this is attributed to the magic of Dr J who is undoubtedly the most enthusiastic, animated storyteller I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I am completely enchanted by storytelling and it absolutely captivates me. He tells each story as if it were the first time he was sharing these precious gems. They are so much more than just mere stories, during one of our many lengthy conversations he unpacked the philosophy toolkit he has devised. As I listened to his reasoning and the experiences that helped shape his thinking, I was self-compelled to re-evaluate and question my own thinking in a deeply Socratic fashion. He lives and breathes P4C and has dedicated a large portion of his life to his belief in this cause. Each time I have the pleasure of his company I can’t help but feel I am in the presence of somebody truly and utterly unique. Somebody who has bought a genuine richness and sense of purpose to P4C and opened up my mind to new ways of thinking.

I have to be completely honest and say I had my reservations about writing a blog to begin with. It was something I had thought about for a while but I was not entirely convinced of its merit or worth. I was more persuaded by the fact that it was going to be for a relatively short period of time and therefore I could make a commitment to it alongside all the other activities that were taking place. I have been so humbled by the response I have received and the many doors it has already opened up for me. People have been very generous in their feedback to me and I am not sure it is entirely warranted. For me, it is something that has come from the heart. I have tried not to think too long or indeed too hard about the technicalities of what I am saying but to be liberated by the process of ‘putting my thoughts on paper’. I can’t take all the credit for what I have written because I believe it is Ben who has been working behind the scenes. He is the generous person who has planted seeds and helped me to cultivate my thought process. Many if not all my blog posts were inspired by discussions I have had with Ben on our numerous car journeys. He has been a great friend, mentor and inspiration to me and has also acted as my sound board to rehearse ideas which ultimately found their way onto the blog.

I have loved every moment of being here and one of the things that I was profoundly struck by was the unique way in which each member of the team brings something different to the mix, a different flavour, a different perspective and this is one of the many strengths of the academy. Dr J is the visionary who dared to dream the big dream, Toby is the quiet yet incredibly strong practitioner who gave me the blessing of seeing one of the most subtly sophisticated sessions I have ever seen, Chad is the cool ‘celebrity face’ of the academy and has a way of connecting with high school students like no other, Amber is the doer of the team and I love the way she plans, organises and ensures that those elusive thoughts turn into reality and last but not least Ben is the helpful guide who in the ancient tradition of eastern philosophy is like that voice in the back of your head helping you connect the dots without giving you the solutions instantly.

I desperately wish I had more time to expressively dedicate posts to specific remits of the P4C Hawai’i model and share a deeper insight into the philosopher’s toolkit, beginners mind, community ball and numerous other aspects. However, I am realistically aware that as I return to normality I will have a number of balls to juggle simultaneously and will not have the same luxury of being able to dedicate as much time to P4C in isolation. I intend to share the knowledge I have gained with colleagues in my own setting and further afield. This is certainly not the end of the journey for me and one thing I can be resolutely absolute about is my future partnership with the academy. We already have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline and I simply can’t wait to get underway with the next phase of our professional relationship. Watch this space …

Rare Moments of Introspective Reflection

I am acutely aware that I have been uncharacteristically quiet on the blog front of late. For anyone who knows me even remotely on any level, this is virtually unheard of. I am seldom lost for words and on the rare moments this does occur, it is usually followed by a flurry of worried and concerned responses. Fear not, my reasoning is enveloped in a sense of overwhelming awe and wonder. Over the course of the past week or so my journey has taken a rapid incline and made me reflect on a deeply profound level. I am usually very verbal about this thought process, however, this experience has been somewhat different and I have felt the need to introspectively internalise my own thoughts before I share them on a wider platform.

As I embark on the final stages of my journey I can not even begin to articulate what a life changing experience this has been for me. It has made me grow and develop both personally and professionally to such an extent that I would go as far as to say that it has been transformative. As I sit here writing this, I desperately wonder why I had not sought out such an exhilarating experience sooner. The past week has been full of such rich discussion and discourse that it has made me feel as if I am a small child just starting out on this quest of learning. I have embraced this sentiment because it affirms that here I am yet again in the midst of experts and ‘living legends’ such as Dr J. It excites me that a single discussion can spark a multitude of complex thought processes in my mind and make me question some of the fundamental ideologies I had and shake them to their core. This need to analyse and re-evaluate has bought me closer to the vision that this is the exact feeling I wish to recreate in pupils in a manner that is genuine, purposeful and authentic to them. Learning should be a voyage which incorporates elements of acquiring knowledge and information, applying it and most importantly to be a creative medium which feeds the soul. It should be a thrilling experience which challenges one to think critically, creatively, collaboratively and caringly (some of you may recognise these as the essential 4C’s of P4C). It has also made me consider the ‘big questions’ I had alluded to in my initial post and really given me the space and time to contemplate their intentions, values and practices. I know in many ways this could sound so primitive but I am sure many educators would echo this very sentiment. Sometimes, there are simply not enough hours in the day to actively participate in such enquiry. Amongst the rigours of daily life, it can seem that it takes an all-consuming energy to allow your mind to plunge to such depths after a hard day’s work. I suppose it is perhaps the same root cause which deviates certain types of people from doing the same in their personal lives. It can just feel like an overwhelmingly ginormous mountain to climb and let’s face it life can be easier without this type of shuffling. This is the very reason I am enthusiastically embracing this sense of being utterly overwhelmed by this experience. It drives the realisation that I am still learning and there is truly no better place to be than a growth mind-set that is open to new opportunities and potentially endless possibilities.


Through the Philosophical Lens

This experience will never cease to amaze me, just when I think I cannot possibly have another ‘light bulb’ moment it strikes yet again! Today it occurred during a Philosophical Enquiry session at Kailua High School. The first thing I must explain is that this module and the associated curriculum has been constructed from scratch by Dr Makaiau, Dr Miller and a member of staff from the school. It is a dynamic method of teaching pupils social studies through a philosophical enquiry based approach. As you can imagine this has been no mean feat and they are currently in the first academic year of piloting the programme and in the midst of formally getting it recognised as a subject at High School level. I have had the pleasure of attending a number of classes and each time I have attended, I have left feeling awe inspired.

Today was no different and each member of the community was asked to share an example of a life experience, memory or event and link it to the various philosophical lenses: aesthetics, culture, economic, epistemology, ethics, logic, metaphysics, politics, social, interactions between humans and the environment. The experience that I chose to share was my current research visit to Hawai’i.

Starting from the most obvious choice for this beautiful part of the world, I peered through the aesthetic lens and considered the immense beauty of the islands, their people and culture. I thought back to my first moments here and just how genuinely blown away I was by my surroundings. I was equally intrigued by the cultural aspects of my environment and love the general tone and warmth I have received from the people here. My earlier blog posts are a testament to this and I have internally deliberated how much of the effectiveness of the P4C model of Hawai’i is culturally influenced. From my perspective, the cultural values of the island embody the spirit and essence of P4C and it is this unified blend of cohesion that is one of the major contributing factors to the success of the movement. Economically, I have become absorbed in the way organisation of P4C time is distributed through the curriculum and how these decisions are made. The leadership of schools is managed in a comparatively dissimilar fashion to their English counterparts and this has a direct impact on the way in which P4C is cultivated and grown. The role and function of SAPERE in UK is not that different however, the way in which they approach the promotion and subsequent development of P4C does differ. My belief that epistemology lies at the very heart of P4C practice has only been further heightened during this visit. The excitement and underlying tone of eagerness, curiosity and intrigue are sparked by the notion of how do I know what I know and what is knowledge. Relating this to a school context, it is the idea that we are encouraging pupil to push the boundaries of their own and conventional societal knowledge that enthuses me as an educator. This throws up all sorts of big ethical questions and dilemmas that have led me to question what is essentially the right approach for schools to take to educate the future generations? This includes the contemplation of policy, curriculum, content and the desperate need to explicitly link all of these areas to the betterment of the individual pupil and cohorts. Is it time for an educational revolution? And is the education that we currently provide essentially right for the time we are now living in? I cannot claim to have made much headway with regards to possible solutions and outcomes but without a shadow of a doubt, I can certainly proclaim that these fundamental questions and thoughts will influence my future choices and judgments.

Whilst investigating interactions between humans and the environment I could not help but wonder just how much the physical and cultural environment relate to the level of sincerity and friendliness people display. I am sure we have all experienced an increased level of happiness and array of smiles when it is a warm sunny day as opposed to the dull, grey weather we are so often frequented with. There is just something about the extra dosage of Vitamin D that puts an extra spring in one’s step. I classify myself as a deeply logical thinker and I have always found the need to understand why things happen, how they fit together and subsequent consequences and actions. I inherently refuse to take things at face value without having some sort of deeper, underlying understanding. Perhaps this is the reason I find myself so strongly drawn to P4C and all that it represents. Conversing with the P4C team here and developing a detailed insight into how and why they operate the way they do makes absolute logical sense to me. I believe this is one of the primary reasons our working partnership has developed such a strong bond in a relatively short period of time. From a social perspective this has helped me to connect and cement our relationship. Sharing the same ideologies, beliefs, values and thinking has ultimately had a powerful impact on my life. In short the familiarity is like looking at a mirror image.
The political dimensions of this visit have not been overlooked in the slightest. Although this is a personal, professional blog I have had to be mindful and considerate of the comments I make and think carefully about the ramifications they can have and at the same time remain true to myself and the purpose of the visit. Being here and empathetically sharing the bureaucratic pressure teachers have to face has raised the issue of politics, policy and implementation. In essence the nature of teachers is similar to ‘the nature of children’ (refer to earlier blog post). They face the same challenges and pressures and essentially they share the same love, care and passion for making a positive contribution to the lives of their pupils. It is a universal hallmark for good teaching!

Ultimately, I would like to end this reflection from a metaphysical perspective. Aside from waking up and finding myself on this idyllic, paradise like island and pinching myself to have the realisation that I am actually here, I think about the future and wonder if one day this will all seem like a distant dream. I certainly hope not and I intend to strengthen these bonds over the coming years and decades. I get the distinct feeling that it is just the start of a great big adventure …

Grass Roots

grassrootsI wanted to start the post today with this poignant image because it is my shared belief that change is most effective when it is developed at grass roots level. This has always been my personal mantra and philosophy which has permeated to all aspects of my life. In a professional context, I have always endeavoured to cultivate a whole team perspective. My leadership style is reflective of this and I strongly believe that people are more motivated by a shared understanding and ownership of initiatives as opposed to a dictator style top down approach.

In my advisory capacity I have had experiences where I have gone it to consult on various initiatives, be it whole school or working with individuals and I have initially encountered a sense of ‘You are so young, I have more teaching experience than you have of being alive so what can you teach me?’. Admittedly, it was not always easy to combat this attitude but I never took it personally or took offense to it in any way, shape or form. I embraced it as an opportunity to build a new relationship and challenge myself a little further and do you want to know the one common denominator that has always helped me to achieve this? … The fact that I can still relate to the teachers or ‘front line troops’ as I call them. When I start to build the foundations of our working relationship, I stress the fact that I have no intention of bombarding them with theoretical jargon that I have read about in a book or an article. Yes, academic literature is fantastic and really helps us move forward but in my opinion, it is the ability to blend the theory with the practice that helps me earn my stripes and gain their trust and respect. I can advise on these areas because I have real life experience of going through the same trials and tribulations. I can empathise with the very immense pressures they face and most importantly I understand that behind data and statistics you find real faces, real children. So when I sit there and scrutinise data, I am ever mindful of the fact that there is a story behind that peak or trough and I make it my personal mission to further understand why. This is why I am fiercely protective of my time in the classroom and although I have extremely high ambitions and dreams for my professional future, I am adamant that I don’t want to lose sight or experience of where all the real work happens, in the classrooms.

So, it is with this backdrop that I would like you to consider the following thoughts. Since I have been here in Hawai’i I have had extensive conversations centred around the theme of policy being put into practice. It echoes the same themes as many of their counterparts in the United Kingdom. In many different contexts there are very real tensions and pressures experienced by teachers that they do not feel are valued. Teacher moral can be driven considerably low because they feel decision makers and people with influence over educational policy do not fully appreciate and comprehend their role. I am sure there are countless teachers who would like to say ‘walk a mile in my shoes before you expect me to jump through yet another hoop’. My observation is that one of the reasons this divide occurs is because some not all people in these positions of power and influence either have no real experience of classroom practice or are so out of touch that they can no longer relate to the role of the teacher. I am completely and fully aware that there are lots of exceptions to this rule and I myself have had the privilege of working with such individuals. So I certainly don’t want to tarnish everyone with the same brush but just to raise the point that this is a real concern felt on ground zero.  I am also appreciative of the fact that many of these initiatives start out as well intended ideas but somehow through the rigmarole of the ‘process’ they lose their true sentiment and become just another tick box exercise to burden teachers even further.

It was whilst I was contemplating this issue that I realised this is one of the fausxpas the P4C team of Hawai’i have been so successful in combatting. They have not fallen into the trap of becoming a team of academics who preach what teachers should and should not do in a P4C context. They have a robust, well thought out process which includes the role of Philosopher in residence that essentially aligns itself to working with and alongside teachers. I am sure this is one of the main contributing factors to the success they have had in appealing to teachers and reaping a receptive target audience. Through the academy I have already had the pleasure of extending my network and meeting lots of individuals who share the same thoughts and opinions as me. I am sure I have already agreed to participate in a vast number of international research projects just in the small amount of time I have been here. It has inspired me to propose an annual or biannual international conference for P4C practitioners who work at grass roots level to get together and share their thoughts, experiences and proposals. I know this is a very ambitious project but in typical Afsheen style it is yet another adventure I look forward to. So watch this space …

The Spirit of Aloha!

Over the course of the past few weeks I have been privileged enough to experience an immensely warm welcome from the people of Hawai’i. This has not just been limited to the remit of colleagues but it is embraced by most people I have come into contact with: parents, pupils, support staff, receptionists, shop keepers, waiters, virtually everybody I have come into contact with. It certainly took some getting used to in the beginning as I was not accustomed to complete ‘strangers’ instigating a genuinely meaningful conversation with me. I have been pleasantly surprised by how deeply affectionate and caring people are here. It strikes me as a cultural value that is instilled in this society and leads to the creation of a real sense of ‘community’.

I can honestly say I have had less inviting conversations with people I have known for years and years. I have been in the fortuitous position of travelling to a number of countries but never have I experienced anything quite like it. The sense of unity and ‘togetherness’ shines through and encompasses the notion of ‘ohana, the Hawaiian word for ‘family’ that extends the exclusivity of blood relatives. This results in a cultural appreciation of groups of people working together with a common bond. Nowhere is this more prevalent that the P4C family of Hawai’i! In a sense I feel like I have known these people for a lifetime. The topic of P4C has helped us bond on a profound level and in the words of Dr J we are experiencing a sense of ‘kindred spirits’. It is such a unique and life changing experience that I would go as far as to say that it does not feel like ‘work’ at all in the traditional sense of the word. It is an absolute joy to be given the precious time to immerse myself whole heartedly in P4C with a team of uniquely talented people who I connect with.


The more time I spend observing P4C and having discussions about it, the more I come to the realisation that a greater emphasis should be placed on the ‘community’ aspect of philosophical enquiry within my own practice. It is this emphasis that really sets the Hawaiian method apart from other models of P4C. This practice is much more than a rule or code of conduct, it is deeply entwined in the pedagogy of what is taking place here. During one of my treasured conversations with Dr J he said “To me philosophy means community, not the western sense of individuals contemplating and thinking. Yes, we want that aspect but it is the profound sense of children coming together collectively to think together. People that just used to be faces now become real people. The schooling agenda is so much about what adults think children and young people should be learning. If you ask the children what they want they often say it is not about ‘now’ we are always preparing for the next grade”. Which leads me to one of the other fundamental pillars of P4C Hawai’i – of not being ‘in a rush’. Great care and time is taken to ensure that pupils are not rushed through an enquiry or feel pressurised just to get things done. From many formal and informal conversations with the pupils I can verify how much they sincerely appreciate this time in an environment where they are often pressurised. Pressurised to get good grades, pressurised to sit through exams, pressurised by a heavy timetable, pressurised to identify the next steps, pressurised to perform, it is an endless cycle. What a relief it is to then be presented with an intellectually safe environment which is not rushed in any way just to discuss the things that are pertinent and imminent for them. Out of this environment is born a ‘sacred’ place where pupils truly feel safe, secure and confident to share their thoughts without being rushed. Dr J illustrated this point with a story that I found deeply moving. It is the story of a young child (aged five) who witnessed the murder of his father. What a devastating ordeal for anybody to go through let alone at such a tender age. Following this tragedy, the child was taking part in a P4C lesson. The community ball was passed around and the children voiced what they wanted to talk about. This particular child said ‘I want to talk about death’. He was not instructed or influenced in any way, it was what he genuinely wondered about and the idea of what happens after death. The class happened to vote on this particular wondering and he told the group that his Daddy had passed away and he missed him. However, he met him every night when he would fall sound asleep and meet him in the world of dreams. They would play and laugh and talk together but when he awoke, Daddy was not there and he missed that… The session went on and the children continued to talk about the subject but I will leave that particular story there for now. As I heard Dr J retelling me this story I could not help but feel a wave of emotion wash over me and then I placed myself in the position of this child. WOW! What a potentially transformative experience for this child to share something so intensely emotional and private with his peers. Without being probed or prompted to in any way. For me this story conceptualises the power of the community, the value of not being rushed and that connecting notion of ‘ohana. For me, this approach resonates the essence of why I decided to become an educator. To make a meaningful difference to the lives of children and young people.

‘We are born to unite with our fellow men, and to join in community with the human race – Cicero’

Extending Boundaries

Being half way through my journey seemed like a natural time to take stock and reflect on my research aims and objectives. During one of my many endless discussions with Ben, he asked me ‘How has the experience been for you so far? Have you started to cover most of the things you set out to?’ In short, I couldn’t answer this question as easily as I thought I would have been able to. The experience has far surpassed my initial expectations and the best I can do to describe it, is give you the analogy of setting out to find a lake and coming across a vast ocean! I took this opportunity to really think about getting the most out of my research project and utilising the unique P4T sessions to their full potential. Ben gave me free reign to lead a session and generate a supporting enquiry that will help me develop the project further. So it comes as no surprise that I wanted to share my vision of pushing the boundaries of P4C as a subject in isolation and embracing it as an approach to teaching. What I wanted to know from the teachers was, whether they were witnessing a natural crossover approach stemming from their P4C sessions and branching out into other areas of teaching and learning. The response revealed a strong sense of liberation felt by the teachers, propelled by the empowerment students had initially found in P4C sessions “Since doing P4C, I feel the pupils are different. They tell me that it affects their whole life: home, school and social contexts. It is validating for them to be able to talk about what they are interested in. They don’t have to be an A* student or expert to be heard”.  We spent a large proportion of time discussing the learning environment P4C creates and how this promotes and sustains a climate which is conducive to learning. The group inadvertently raised a completely valid point about the possibility of the approach only being appealing to certain types of teachers. This is something I have often wondered about myself. Do I enjoy this style of teaching because I am naturally inclined to philosophical thinking? Or is it something that can be ‘taught’ to others through the use of training days and seminars? We came to the conclusion that in actuality it was probably a combination of both, teachers find tools they are more and less confident with. Both Ben and I shared our experience of working with ‘good’ teachers whose practice was further enhanced by adopting the P4C approach to validate this assumption. As the enquiry progressed what became very apparent was that there was a perceived tension between the use of P4C and teaching syllabus content from the teachers perspective. I have to say, for me as an individual this has always been a ‘false’ tension because P4C sessions are often layered with factual and contextual information. If all we ever did was conduct philosophical enquiries in a P4C circle all day every day the students would become bored and the approach would lose some of its charm. As a teacher, I use my professional judgment to guide my decision to use this approach in a variety of different subjects: Science, Art, Design and Technology and the list goes on. I have personally never dissuaded my students from contributing ‘factual’ information to the discussion because this is often the component that helps the whole community gain a more informed comprehension to push deeper with the enquiry. Sharing this experience with other members of the community seemed to be very beneficial and a number of individuals mentioned how helpful it had been in making them realise that there isn’t a ‘one shoe fits all approach’ to P4C facilitation. Following my earlier blog post on assessment and P4C (A Personal Journey…) it was interesting to note that the group also bought up the issue that exists between P4C and assessment. This was certainly a shared tension amongst the group. There was a lot of talk about the lack of ‘hard’ data evident for P4C as opposed to other subject areas. However, having said this they were full of lots of different ways this could be measured in a more meaningful manner:P4C creates a better classroom atmosphere therefore you could refer to classroom behaviour and associated referral data to measure if the pupils are more engaged, correlation between P4C and other data and for this particular school, the attendance data. The general consensus amongst the group was that there had undoubtedly been an increased level of attendance particularly amid the most vulnerable pupils. They felt this could largely be attributed to the sense of school connectedness which has been born out of a whole school approach to P4C. As a P4C advocate, I was particularly pleased to hear this and it has given me further hope to have courage in my convictions. I left feeling even more determined that P4C as an approach to teaching should extend the role of a subject in isolation and extend the boundaries as a philosophy of education.