Reflections on Rye

Written by Claudine Lam

It’s been a week since our wellbeing retreat in Rye and I am still feeling re-energised, replenished, nourished.  The more time we spend together, the more time we want to spend together.  There is never enough time! What we engage with, talk about, aspire to, dream of, share… there isn’t an end-point for us.  The possibilities are infinite and we feel and experience that differently in each other’s presence.  Pondering this, I couldn’t help but reflect on the origin and evolution of MentorMore.  When did it all begin? How did we come together?  What sustains and keeps us so intrinsically connected?  Before we became MentorMore, we were five women with a shared belief in the value and power of education to be transformative, and we had once worked together, in the same program, in the same place.  Before this, we were five women from diverse personal and professional backgrounds and experiences, who knew nothing of each other, randomly drawn together in the same program, in the same place.  Some of us still work in that same program, in that same space.  But it’s different now.  Why?

 

I have recently been re-reading the work of bell hooks, in particular, her book called “Teaching critical thinking: Practical wisdom” (2010).  Flicking through the table of contents, I recalled using specific chapters with students in my teaching, as a way of revisiting the question, “Why do you want to be a teacher?” I wondered if I could apply the same approach to the question “How do we create and sustain respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships?”  I thought about the highlights of our weekend.  What made our time together so meaningful, creative and generative?  As always, we had shared stories. Stories of heartbreak, stories of celebration, stories about our past, stories about our now, stories about us, stories about others… We had laughed (oh so hard) and we had cried (while holding tightly to each other), we had expressed love, in many ways, in all that we were doing.  Our being together in this way was not only about our wellbeing there was a feeling of spirituality to it, where spirituality can be understood as:

 

“…those qualities of the human spirit – such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony – which brings happiness to both self and others” (Dalai Lama cited in hooks, 2010, p.148).

 

Each of these highlights corresponds with a bell hooks chapter, and drawing on these to unpack how our experiences as MentorMore bring together the personal and professional, and have relevance for working in educational contexts and maintaining a community of learners, provides an ideal framework.

 

The importance of relationships is a recurring theme in our discussions, documentation and data collection over the last eighteen months.  In the last FB live session, Shari commented, “It comes back to relationships.  Every. Single. Time!”  This echoed a statement that she’d made in our first FB live session:

 

“What’s crucial to the educational environment and actually, what’s crucial to life, is relationships.  Without those strong relationships, without the intent to get to know each other well, and to understand what each person can bring of value, then is learning and education actually going to occur?”

 

Although these are Shari’s words, they represent a shared sentiment, a collective value and put simply, the heart of who, and what we are as MentorMore.  But what are the critical elements for creating and sustaining respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships? Not only do we believe our shared relationship with each other is fundamental, we also believe that love, joy and passion are critical elements for creating and sustaining respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships; with each other and with the students, children, families, colleagues and broader community.  This is what fuels us.  This is what inspires us to do the work we do, and want to keep doing.

 

Concepts like relationships, love, joy and passion are slippery, ambiguous, open to interpretation and always subject to critique.  Many would claim these concepts are ideals, warm-fuzzies that have no place in ‘real’ education.  However, bell hooks (2010) asserts:

 

“Love in the classroom creates a foundation for learning that embraces and empowers everyone.  I began to think about the relationship between the struggle to end domination and love in an effort to understand the elements that made for successful movements for social justice in the world.  It was clear that the focus on a love ethic was a central factor in the movement’s success.  In All About Love: New Visions I defined love as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.  All these factors work interdependently.  When these basic principles of love form the basis of teacher-student interaction, the mutual pursuit of knowledge creates the conditions for optimal learning” (p.159).

 

This definition of love provided by hooks (2010), in relation to social justice and the pursuit of knowledge, resonates strongly with earlier work MentorMore has done around the importance of building a critical community of learners.  In this work, the team and our community members identified that one of the key tenets of a critical community of learners is having meaningful relationships.  In order to be meaningful, relationships must be underpinned by collaboration, connection, communication, trust and shared understandings.  Accordingly, time must be invested in intentionally planning for building and sustaining relationships.

This involves creating spaces for getting to know each other, having deeper conversations and “listening with a view of having your mind changed” (Rinaldi, cited by Szydlik, 2018).  Our weekend away epitomised the bringing together of these ideals; the personal and the professional merge under our MentorMore umbrella.  Our shared relationship with, and love for, each other is what fuels us.  It’s what inspires us to do the work we do, and want to keep doing.  It’s what makes us a community of learners.

 

Copyright 2018 by Claudine Lam. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.