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 …

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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.

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