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'EJOLTS Tenth Anniversary 2018

‘How can I (do I) contribute to the creation and enhancement of the educational influences of a community of learners, supporting each other and their own development?’

This question is the cornerstone of my PHD research, as I inquire using a Living Theory methodology. The concept of this Wiki page engaging with the reader as a dual perspective of both author and reader is intriguing and adds a new dimension to my idea of learning communities. My offering to this tenth anniversary edition will be in two parts. The first will be to share the creation of a Living Theory Master's program through my own work and that of others with a similar focus and energy.

My second interest is to offer this community space to explore my meaning and interpretation of a 'learning community', not through a lexical definition, but rather through the course of inquiry as I am engaging with others in community, I am refining my meaning and understanding of a learning community.

Learning Communities I have been slow to take up the offer of contributing to this space, unsure as to the path I wanted to follow and the format it should take. I have just read Ben's Wiki contribution and feel so inspired by his work and embodied values he demonstrates, I can clearly see my understandings of community being refined. I have written below, an open letter to Ben:

Dear Ben,

My name is Joy Mounter and I also have a Wikki space in EJOLTs, although I have yet to write in it. I am a higher education lecturer-researcher, previously a primary school teacher- researcher and then Head teacher-researcher over many years. I am currently researching my PHD.

I read your post last night. Then I went back to the beginning and read it again much more closely, as I feel a strong resonance of your values as the author permeating the page which really connects to what is important in my research, although in such different fields.

I hope my writing below makes some sense, but my thoughts at the moment are jumping around like a box of frogs!

You have written so simply at the way you approach your role within prisons, one which I think I would struggle to approach with the same values. Your writing clearly communicates the positive, unconditional love and acceptance you offer each prisoner regardless of why they are in prison. Jack Whitehead (2010) talks about Living Theory adding to the flourishing of humanity and for the first time I can see that truly reflected in the values you offer in your professional role.

You don’t mention the words unconditional and acceptance, but I wonder whether that is also inherent in your work?

Regardless of the prisoners experiences which may underlie the response they give to your values, I wonder if that sense of unconditional love and acceptance for who they are is the powerful connection you need to make a difference. Make a Difference or M.A.D is also at the core of my work with the children and adults. My research for my PHD is around looking at communities of learners, looking at my influences and the influences of others in nurturing and developing these communities.

‘How can I (do I) contribute to the creation and enhancement of the educational influences of a community of learners, supporting each other and their own development?’

This is where I see a strong, although you may not, overlap in our research. Marie asked me yesterday to define what I meant by community and I couldn’t find an answer, but here I see it clearly reflected in your writing.

I am very aware with anyone I work with of making a connection immediately and offering an open space, a connection. In my master’s dissertation (2012) I talk about nurturing responsiveness that tries to define my way of being in community. That is whether a large group or just two of us. That way of opening and offering the space in a way that isn’t intimidating or threatening in any way, but lovingly offered and open to all possibilities. I also look at the person as a whole, not just an academic paper or piece of work we are focusing on, but offering a piece of themselves.

Desmond Tutu gave an interview in 2012 and this is an extract I really like; “I need you, in order for me to be me; I need you to be you to the fullest.”

This also ties in nicely with Eze’s (2010) understanding of community through the South African concept of Unbuntu, which Tutu is talking about above. This quote about Ubuntu by Desmond Tutu (2012) resonates fully with my understanding of community. Each is distinct, unique within the meaning of interdependence. It also seems to link to your values and the unconditional love and acceptance you offer.

When working with younger children who challenged my right and ability to write about learning without them, they did have a point, my meaning of community became slightly different. I knew I had a limited time with these children and they had clearly articulated how all teachers didn’t work in the same way I did and that was difficult for them to hold onto the qualities and values they had developed over the year with me. This was a considerable challenge. However by the end of the year, when the time to move on to another year group and teacher came the perspective was a little different and this is where I wonder if my research again, may resonate with you and your work. The children had spent a year learning with me, but they had also spent a year getting to know and understand themselves as a person and as a learner and the educational and learning system around them. They had developed the ability to internally reflect, to get the most out of a situation and to still hold the values and space within themselves when the system around them was challenging those beliefs. They talked eloquently about a space within themselves, a strength of who I am and how I am. I wonder if this connects with your unconditional love and acceptance and the outcome you want professionally? I may be way off base here, as my knowledge of your work is limited to the words on your Wikki and the values and energy I feel underlying what is written and offered.

This may be a ramble of thoughts which you do not feel connects with your research, or I have interpreted your writing in a different way than you meant. I feel at the moment that I am lost with my own research, but I felt a strong reaction to your writing and it has offered a flicker of light in the darkness!

Thank you, Joy.