It’s been a funny year. I turned 50, was furloughed from the tutor job I love, then made redundant. I didn’t see most of my friends or family for months. I’ve taught antenatal classes on Zoom, and Pregnancy Yoga on Zoom. Mum and Baby yoga on Zoom too. Singing The Hokey Cokey with a doll to a computer is one of the oddest things I’ve ever done. I’ve had Zoom singing lessons, Zoom choir rehearsals, Zoom get togethers with friends and colleagues.
I’ve done a lot of Zoom-ing. And a lot of waiting…
Those who know me well know that patience has never been my strongest attribute. I’d rather walk than wait for a bus, I hate waiting for exam or assignment results, and don’t get me started on waiting for food in restaurants.
Yet…the last few months have forced me to be patient, to wait. I’ve had no choice, the current pandemic has altered our lives like nothing that has happened before. Simple things like buying groceries involved queueing to get into the store, then queuing to pay to get out.
For some things though, the waiting is over and things are changing. Being made redundant a couple of weeks ago hurt. A lot. I’ve gone beyond SARA, to grief cycles and the bottom of the Fisher’s Transition Curve (see image). Luckily I have managed to get some contract work as Senior Learning Designer with Aula Education and I’m hoping it will lead to bigger and brighter things.
Leaving NCT as a tutor hasn’t stopped me believing in NCT Educators and the depth of knowledge they have. With many tutors taking redundancy (a mix of voluntary or compulsory) there is a real chance that this knowledge base will be lost. It makes the Open Publishing side of this project even more important.
I’m aiming to publish at least one article a month from fellow educators starting with Suzy Bromwich-Alexandra writing about her transition from teacher to student.
I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. First because I was head down writing my end of module assignment for my MA, and then recovering from writing it. And COVID19 began to have increasingly more impact on daily life, and for a while I wasn’t coping very well.
Those of you who know me, or have read this blog post will know that I suffer from performance anxiety, and I have battled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life. The last few years I have felt well, both mentally and physically, but a couple of weeks ago I began suffer anxiety at a crippling level again. I couldn’t think. I wanted to crawl under a duvet and sleep for a month which was ironic as I couldn’t actually sleep. I cried, a lot.
It was a reaction to and a reflection of the massive levels of anxiety in the world. Lots of people I know felt it too. Are still feeling it now. Berne Browne talks about ‘collective vulnerability’ and the self protection and fear that accompanies it (see quote below). For some people that’s buying all the toilet paper and pasta in Tesco and Asda, for some people it’s curling up in a ball for a while.
This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection.
Then last Monday, and it feels like a lifetime ago rather than 11 days, following that days announcements all my face to face work with parents and students stopped. It was a weird thing, one minute I was getting ready to go out and teach, the next I was unpacking the car. NCT have been amazing in their support for practitioners and parents. Within hours of face to face teaching stopping we were conducting antenatal and breastfeeding sessions online using Zoom, to create an interactive course and experience for parents as close to a regular antenatal class as we could manage. I facilitated my first sessions last week, and although there were some rabbit in the headlights moments, it was okay, I was okay.
And I was. The anxiety had subsided as I had something I could do. I couldn’t change the empty supermarket shelves or stop people meeting in groups, but I could support parents. I’ve moved my Pregnancy yoga and Mum and Baby yoga classes online too. Many of these women are extremely anxious in these increasingly challenging times, I cannot begin to imagine how it must feel to be pregnant or have a young baby right now. Relaxation, breathing and some normality has been, they tell me, very helpful. It’s been helpful to me as well!
My MA in Online and Distance Education studies have been put into practice in ways I hadn’t imagined they would be! Nothing like a bit of real world pressure to make you up your game!
My fellow practitioners have been amazing, we’ve been working as a real community of practice sharing resources and ideas, online of course. We’ve been celebrating successes, working through new challenges and sharing laughter. The title of this blog comes from the amazing Pauline Erye, a fellow antenatal practitioner who is a stand up comic in real life, who has kept us all laughing with regular parody songs (see below for an example).
I still have anxious moments but I have coping mechanisms back in place. It would be strange not to feel anxious in this mixed up world. But really, I’m doing fine…. I work online.
P.S. I’m still singing. The amazing Ashley Mellor has organised a variety of online choirs, where he gets the energy from I have no idea! This also helps!
Otherwise known as “The Unexpected Cat Ambush”, for reasons that will become clear.
Last week I presented at the H818 – The Networked Practitioner Online Conference. Those of you who have read earlier blog post will know that I suffer from performance anxiety especially when presenting or singing (see Feeling the Fear). I was very nervous, but I’d followed my own advice and prepared as much as I could. I’d followed my tutors’ advice and reduced distractions. I had a script to follow, I knew my stuff, it would be fine. At least that’s what I told myself.
I was about an hour in, so I listened to the others as my nerves started to kick in. I feel I should apologise to Jo Jones who was presenting before me, I have no idea what she said. I was lost in my head!
Once my time came I was actually okay. The nerves went and it flowed well. There was however something I hadn’t prepared for. In the advice given by the tutors they hadn’t mentioned anything about cats. How I should have made sure before I started that the door to the office should be shut. And midway through the presentation I found myself with a large white cat on my lap partially obscuring my notes (see above picture). It at least sorted the last of my nerves! There is evidence that cats increase oxytocin levels in humans and can reduce anxiety.
If you are interested you can listen to the presentation here.
During the presentation attendees could ask questions in the chat window. Some of them were answered on the day, but I’ll give some fuller answers to the questions and comments below.
– Love the brains! Yes so do I! They are however a temporary image. They are part of an organ donation campaign by Ahmad Nady. A friend who is a graphic designer will create a more permanent, but still in the same spirit, image.
– good strategy – being an example of good PLN practice is likely to be more convincing to help them consider adopting similar approaches. – Modelling good practice is so effective. This taps into the theories of modelling and social learning, like those of Bandura, familiar to NCT educators. My aim is to build the self-efficay of colleagues through example. I would invite them to have a go, and see what happens, much as I have done.
– By risk – do you means threats to confidentiality for your clients? No, as I explained during my presentation, this was about risk to NCT Tutors ‘putting themselves out there’. I mentioned that some of this was a fear of online abuse, but in reflection (and after being gently reminded by a colleague) it’s also about moving out of our safe NCT space. NCT works hard at being a safe space for parents and practitioners. We use Roger’s Core conditions and Mortiboys Emotional Intelligence as the foundations for our practice. Intrinsically we know that within NCT we can trust each other, our shared philosophy of practice and common values (Kelly, 2020), enable this trust. Increasing our digital presence feels more scary and unsafe as a result. One of the themes in my project (and beyond) is mitigating this feeling of risk.
– an open publishing space is this within the blog or a different tool? This is on the same website. Some of the site is this blog, but there will also be a website for articles on education. I wanted everything in the same place for ease of access. It’s still very much a work in progress.
– is there a difference in online multimedia workshops in gaining trust, in comparison to face to face workshops (which may not be practical for distance reasons? This is something that has been debated at length. The notion that trust and support are better in face to face settings. In my MA studies all of the learning is online. I haven’t met any of the other students I am studying with but there is still interaction and support between peers and tutors.
– pre-workshops and quick zoom calls really help build confidence/trust! If this were a new group that I was working with I would use pre-workshop activities and some video calls, to break the ice and gain confidence. With the multi-media workshop I am proposing for my colleagues, as we all know each other and it’s a small organisation so I have the luxury of somewhat of a pre-formed group!
– you could use webinars for online workshops and forums to build a community? Building a strong community of profession and practice is very important to me. I’d like to be the pioneer in a growing community of NCT Academics that regularly publishes and discusses our practice openly. By integrating a webinar into the workshop format (Phase 3), I’ll be able explore more potential challenges and continue to build confidence.
– what about the using VR in workshop? I had not even considered this as I know very little about VR and how it would work with the kind of multi-media workshop I am developing or what the cost complications could be. I will do some research. Thank-you.
– You’re a good example and leader, Helen! Thank-you!
If you have any other questions about my presentation or project, please ask them in the comments box below.
I’m often asked what I do. And my answer is often vague. I’ll mention that I work with parents to explore birth and early parenting, then I might say I also teach yoga for pregnant women, and also for postnatal women with their babies. I will mention I work for NCT, and then have to explain that it used to be called National Childbirth Trust. It is the UK’s largest parenting charity, and makes a difference to thousands of parents every year. It’s campaigned over the years on issues such as Dads’ being allowed in labour rooms to support their partners , women being able to feed their babies in public and, most recently, perinatal mental health with the Hidden Half campaign.
Hold on! I hear you say. I thought you worked for a university, how does that fit in with Birth and Parenting education?
Ah yes, I’m an Associate Lecturer with University of Worcester. I work with an amazing group of women to train NCT Practitioners to work with parents before and after they have their babies. It’s a foundation degree course and taught across the UK. In order to become a NCT tutor I had to study adult education in some depth over several years, as well as being an experienced NCT practitioner in my own right. It led to a second degree (see graduation photo above) and a Postgraduate Degree in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.
I’m not surprised if you haven’t heard about how NCT trains it’s practitioners. We are, as an educational organisation, not great at telling the world what we do. Perhaps NCT Education suffers a little from impostorism at an organisational level. NCT tutors are educators and academics. We have decades of experience in adult learning, group theory and facilitation theory. We are reflective practitioners at every level, grounded in evidence led educational practice. But we don’t share this with the world. A few of my colleagues have published articles and papers about our work, but they are the exception. When we look for evidence about adult learning we look outside our own organisation. Yet we know how adults learn. We see it in our own practice all the time. We underrate our experiences and knowledge.
This weekend I was at our annual Education and Practice Weekend and I had the opportunity to speak to my colleagues about my current studies. I had been inspired by thinking around open pedagogy and digital scholarship. I mapped Bronwen Hegarty’s attributes of Open Pedagogy (2015) against NCT educational practice and showed my colleagues the many parallels to how we work. I then asked them to consider how they could work more openly? What might be the benefits and risks? How they could share their knowledge and experience with a wider academic audience? To my surprise they were enthusiastic and open to the ideas I proposed and I look forward to reading and sharing their contributions to adult learning and education theory.
In future, I hope that when I’m asked what I do, no one is surprised by NCT’s academic side. That we become known, not just by our contributions to birth and parenting but for our depth and breadth of knowledge about how adults learn.