Dr. duncan cross

Crossing the Atlantic, Pat and Jessica meet up with Duncan Cross, Head of the School of Education at the University of Sunderland (Sunderland, UK). Duncan is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy as well as a National Teaching Fellow. Duncan has held a variety of roles at the University of Bolton, the NHS, and within the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL).


we have a special treat and one of my favorite thought Partners in the UK Dr

Duncan cross is joining Pat and I to talk about narratives of failure and Hope

Duncan is the head of school of education at the University of Sunderland before that he was an

associate teaching professor in the school of education and psychology and the academic lead for education and

program lead for the PG cert teaching and learning in higher and professional education at the University of Bolton he

wore many many hats and learned many things as well as led a series of initiatives that were always student-led

student focused and had a strong social justice trajectory Duncan also teaches

Masters in Education Pathways and supervises doctoral research students he

has a diverse background working in a range of higher education and further education context including in China

teaching English and training teachers in the NHS system Duncan is a highly

decorated educational leader and teacher he is a natural teaching fellow he’s the principal fellow of higher education

Academy a fellow for the society for Education and Training a fellow for the chartered Institute of educational

assessors and a member of the British psychological Society his research is

reflective of his curiosity and deep creativity and it ranges from matching

expectations to learning and teaching in higher education transitions in higher education and Refugee Health Care

Professionals Duncan thank you so much for joining us today and navigating both

geographical and time zone constraints thank you so much for having me it’s a

it’s an honor to join you yay oh I know you very well and have been

able to collaborate with you on so many different kinds of projects but for our listeners could you just tell us and

this is this is probably the hardest question we’re going to ask and it’s unstructured but can you tell us your

story and talk a little bit about your journey to how you got here so it’s really interesting listening to

the introduction because it’s like wow that’s my story but there’s so much messiness about my story

and I think people when they come into Academia they think right I’m going to do my degree I’m going to do my masters I’m going to get my PhD be tenured and

that isn’t the route that I came through um I um I’m first in family

um for University and I’m first in family for doctoral studies and working at University um I started off with a degree in

Psychology with international relations and thought that’s that’s what I was going to do and um

things happened and changed and I left the town that I was studied at University and moved to London and I was

waiting for a job to come up in Psychology and the funding got pulled

and I was in London and I needed to pay my bills so I ended up teaching English as a foreign language and

um I was doing that for about a year and just as the funding for the psychology job came up I was offered a job teaching

in China so I went to China because it’s an adventure what you’re going to do it’s

really interesting can you just stick with the normal did you think oh let’s be brave and just go for it so I just did it and went to China

um where I ended up there for about two years um came back to the UK and taught in the kind of um private education sector for

a couple of years um and then reached a limit and kind of you get comfy

and you you it’s time to change it’s time to stretch yourself so that’s what I did and I I took a sideways step that

um paid the same money but with less responsibility that just gave me more opportunities and then moved into

working for the NHS or the National Health Service in the UK working in medical education and teaching English

initially to Refugee Healthcare professionals so they were already qualified in their own country but they

had to go through a re-qualification or recognition system in the UK and from there I kind of moved into teaching

clinical skills and clinical communication skills and then really start to think about

um taking my career further and and that’s when I ended up doing my PhD on Refugee Healthcare professionals

um I then ended up in on a leadership program actually a clinical leadership program I was one of their first

non-clinical people in the program um and did us a comment in the front

line services which was one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had in my life um regularly starting with you’ve got a

patient that needs to go into surgery but there are no beds find a bed so that was always a stressful part of the day

um and then at that point I’d finished all my corrections so I was doing this to comment and I’d finished my

corrections and got my PhD and I was like I really won’t be back in education it was great to comment it was a great

opportunity it gave me a real understanding of the NHS but it was a short-term thing and then I moved into

into International Education so I really across my roles I’d use my degree but not really thought about how I use my

degree um and I’d done a postgraduate in health at the same time

um as I was doing all of this from there I um worked in international department and

then moved into the education department um as a program leader for RPG sir and teaching and learning at higher and

professional education because I had the background of health and I had the background of Education of bringing all of those kind of things through as well

um and then I kind of progressed in in the role there up um kind of teaching professor and teaching research action

research and then into a more management role which is where I’m at at the moment so it’s been but it’s been all been

quite messy there’s no big clear line of structure it what that was not what I was about I tend to just go with what

happens I have a bit of a plan but but sometimes you know you that doesn’t always work

out does it and Duncan as you as you sort of transition through this story right

there seems to be a lot of like sort of great similar pieces to it as you grew

into more of an educational leader do you think things changed for you from the from the educator perspective to the

leadership perspective yes and I suppose that um that’s a really tricky question because

I think um it depends on where you are and it depends on on the group that you work

with because one of the things I learned on my leadership program which you can lead from anywhere you can leave from the bottom you can

lead from the middle you can lead from the top and um I think you can do that and I think depending on

your personality you don’t have to be forthright or strong you just have to put your head above the parapet sometimes and sometimes you have to take

the hit and sometimes people listen and you go with it but if you don’t voice your opinions or or say things and you

can’t lead so sometimes it is about expressing um your hope your um your despair

um and saying these things because people do listen and sometimes they’re just waiting for someone to say something sometimes they don’t want

anyone to say something you’ve really got to judge the room and sometimes I don’t judge the room right sometimes I say it I think oh too late but you know

that’s one of my feelings sometimes but sometimes it’s got to be said um people sometimes forget that we are

all paid to do a job and sometimes our job is to criticize and to say that’s

not quite right and sometimes it’s not to criticize but to say we just need to think this question through

and if I don’t ask the question I’ve not done my job so I do that a lot I think

awesome so can I ask you a little bit because Pat and I have had some back and forth about how sometimes transformative

leaders or what we understand traditionally as transformative leaders whether that is distributed leadership

or whatever Theory you you sort of um follow

doesn’t always set you up to be a good boss which is upskilling for difficult

and candid conversations Team Management emotional and Intel you know um

intelligence skills of of sort of performance review and assessment and

leading change when often people prefer the status quo

transformative leadership to being a boss some of those skill sets carry over

and some of them maybe have to be learned as you do that that sort of Boss version of leadership can you talk a

little bit about maybe moments of failure or one example of failure where you you realize oh right I have to learn

how to do this in in different ways based on the context I mean this there’s tons of them I

think a lot of examples I think of cultural examples of kind of being in China and learning how the recruitment

process that worked there was very different to the recruitment process that was used to in the UK um and potentially that might have just

been the boss that I worked for and they were very much about they wanted they were all about how healthy the person

looked not how good they were going to be at their job and I was like this is a problem because I don’t think this is

really healthy looking person is going to be able to do the job and they’re like oh no they can and then two weeks later they we got the person

that we really needed but it was a real interesting learning thing and sometimes um you just have to roll with it you

can’t you can’t control everything you can’t manage everything um but at the same time sometimes

um sometimes you have to set up risk and sometimes you have to create up safe risk

and I’ve found this with um teams and I think this is really interesting about the transformative and leading into a

being a boss of managing that when you create a safe

environment for people to experiment and take risks um you have to be prepared to put a

boundary in because sometimes they don’t realize there’s a boundary but there is a boundary sometimes so

there’s a safe risk and we can take these risks and what we’re doing pedagogically and try things but actually

if your students are failing because of what we’ve done we have to fix it and you have to scale back pretty quick so

it’s about being able to have those conversations and those difficult conversations I think can be really

difficult because they’re difficult conversations and one of the things I learned was that I had to plan the

conversation so I couldn’t just go in and say we need to have a chat I had to really learn that I need to sit

down and think about the things I want to put through in these in in these points and make sure that I had them in

my head so that these are the things that you need to learn about and or and also accepting that things go wrong

and understanding that you can’t always blame a person if the system’s not set

up for it you can if we if something goes wrong I’m very much

about let’s fix it let’s not blame let’s fix it um and part of this comes from um

you know working in a national healthcare system or any Healthcare System it’s an awful phrase but the phrase that comes out of my mouth very

often when something goes wrong and people are terrified is has anybody died have you destroyed anybody’s life no

then let’s fix it let’s take a step back let’s look at the process let’s go through and then really going back and

having a look at what went wrong and where it went wrong and and there’s some some of the things that you really have

to reflect on and sometimes you have to take hit on sometimes it was our fault because we created this safe space for

people to thrive um but really we didn’t put the right boundaries or limits in so that they

could grow within a certain frame without um hitting that critical point sometimes

you’ve really brought up a great point there Duncan which which Jessica and I have talked about before around how you

know failure is truly has someone died right and everything else is just growth

on some sort of trajectory of like you know made a few little mistakes here learned from that went along to the next

thing no one’s died so we’re not at the full-on failure side of things but there’s there’s a tremendous amount of

vulnerability that one has to be open to accepting of sort of as a leader as an

educator um to see it like that so I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on on that

I think there’s there’s quite a lot in there I think um we very often see kind of things about about what fail means kind of this idea

of first attempting learning I know um profile race has talked about that and I think there’s lots of means about it all

over the Internet and that kind of thing so there is that thing about using failure as a learning point and

sometimes it’s not failure we think about failing but actually we’re learning something and I think

sometimes we learn more from that than um getting it right all the time

um I I was talking to a colleague about this and talking about resilience

and saying that resilience comes from childhood this is not something that we can necessarily teach at University

because um when you first hear no you can’t have that or your brother or sister says no

you’re not having my toys and you have to deal with those things it starts to build a resilience and I think sometimes

um we are trying to be so safe with everybody and let people grow that we

don’t build in those buffers on natural boundaries for people to develop and

that kind of full range of emotions sorry as I was talking about that in my head I got Harry Potter with uh Hermione

saying you know about the emotional range of a teaspoon um so there’s this this whole thing

about developing that um sorry I’ve lost my thread so Pat I need

to go I need to go back to your question really it was I was just rambling no I got that I got a thread I got the

beautiful Thread about resilience take me take me pick me it’s just it is

so your thread on resilience right on that that learning from an early age what happens when you hit up against

boundaries and knows and failures and different ways of of being in the world

and then understanding you can’t necessarily teach it in higher ed because

they’ve been learning it in some ways both in in positive healthy ways but also in some pretty negative and

detrimental ways in all of our institutions and all of our communities I I think you’re absolutely right then

I’m going to kind of pick up on this this resilience and This Thread about and the safe environment so one of the things that I used to do on the um on

our PG search teaching and learning we have um one of the first things I used to say to

them because they’ve got a year with me on the program is um this is your year to take risks

this is the year to experiment and this is the year to try things and not worry too much because you can blame me

because I’ve told you to so if something goes wrong in your teaching you can go back to your boss and say well don’t control me

so that was always the thing of taking the edge off and people would always come back to me and say did you really mean it and it’s like yes because you’ve

got to learn what works and what doesn’t work with different groups so in in higher education if we don’t take risks

and we always do the same thing we’re always going to get the same results and you know

I mean very metrics driven certainly in the UK we’re looking at lots of different things now you’re always doing the same things and you can’t see what’s

developing with the students well maybe you need to take a risk but there’s the danger that your exam results could drop

but on the plus side if you plan it right you speak to the right people and you really think about it they could go

the other way but I think there’s the other thing about people um really not taking on sometimes that

there’s um small losses or small negatives don’t mean it’s gone

wrong there’s just something in there that we need to tweak and I think um when you learn to tweak those things and

get past that and look at the bigger picture it doesn’t seem quite as anxiety-inducing because I think people

can get overwhelmed with lots of the little things I mean you know I think was it the 90s that don’t sweat the

small stuff the kind of the book the self-help book and all those kind of things they’re right why are we spending the small stuff

and I think one of the things that we um there’s some real interesting um articles kind of before covert that come

through and dilifung um uh was talked about um

teaching excellence and she talked about being good enough and actually sometimes the Excellence is

in our heads so we go in and we do a lecture and the it doesn’t work quite the way that we want so we walk out we

think we’ve done awful awful lecture and it’s like no those students learn everything that they needed to do but

the sound wasn’t as great as you wanted it to be that doesn’t mean it wasn’t excellent it just means that it was good

it was good enough for those students I think there are days when um we all have to recognize that we’re going to have a

bad day life happens um work happens there’s lots of pressures

and sometimes you walk into a classroom and you’re thinking I can’t give this 190 but I can give it 100 it’s good

enough so sometimes it’s about making you know being resilient in those approaches because I know um we all have colleagues

that are perfectionists and want it to be perfect it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect it really really doesn’t and

it’s only as you come through this and you start I think as a leader sometimes you’re having to sit down with colleagues and staff and saying it

doesn’t have to be perfect what you did was amazing was it exactly what you wanted no

did the students get what they needed out of this absolutely so I think there’s a lot about helping

colleagues and building up that resilience as well um and I think that there’s the difference as well between that

leadership and management and trying to be transformative with what we’re doing but linking back into

that management where sometimes um institutional systems really Force us down a way of managing people that’s

inflexible and that’s not how we want to be but sometimes

we have to follow a process to support a colleague because the process is there to make

sure that there’s no blame so it’s making sure that people understand that sometimes we’re doing things not because we want to but we can see there’s a

problem and we’re trying to help you through a process um and I I’ve seen this with colleagues

um kind of with health issues and sitting them down and saying I think you need to go to your doctor and you need

to do this or you need to speak to Occupational Health and sometimes it’s not we I think you need to it’s I’ve

booked you an appointment you’re going to speak to Occupational Health because we have to look after people in

different ways and sometimes it’s it’s not about giving you an option in that management perspective because

um it’s looking at the holistic side of things so if you’re um if you’ve got a member of your team who’s falling apart

um your responsibility is interested to that person it’s the everybody else on the team so I you’re not my sole concern

if you’re impacting negatively on everybody else I have to contain you and get you well before you make other

people ill and that’s a really hard thing to learn um because you might have a lot of

concern for somebody personally because you like them but you have to step back and go you’re hurting everyone around

you and I have to contain you I have to put those um that buffer period or buffer great whatever you want to call

it something in between you so that you can get well and move forward and

sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t and I think one of the hardest things when you work with colleagues and that where it doesn’t

work out you can take that really hard yeah I feel like I feel like the

pandemic if it’s taught us nothing else it’s taught us some of these lessons right it’s taught us the you know 100

percent is good enough now when you’re in fact 75 percent is good enough now

when you’re juggling the crazy world that we see around us and and so I think that that notion of perception but also

the some of the some of the the the language you were using you know you

could substitute that for the public health Playbook right around creating a bubble and CR you know so so there’s all

the same language that hopefully we’ve learned not just the language but the

action as a result of this pandemic so that we make our our teaching and learning spaces in higher ed so much

more human right instead of robotic

I think that I think the pandemic has helped reset a lot of people in their own heads about what they will and won’t

do because I think um we’ve all got on a bit of a treadmill about the system and promotion and

tenure and so we get on this and we just go for it because that’s what’s expected of us and sometimes that’s not what we

want it sometimes we just want to do our job enjoy our job and have a great life we

don’t want all the other stuff that comes with it but because it’s expected of us we end up on this track and you’re

thinking I don’t want to be why am I why am I comparing myself to all these other people they’re doing great stuff but you know

what I’m really happy with what I’m doing it and so it’s and but it’s being there’s a certain level of confidence

and resilience within yourself that you need to have to be able to recognize that I’m not competing against anybody else the only

person I’m competing against is me because I’ve set my own internal barrier barriers or or um posts that

I’ve got to to reach um and I think when you realize that in

your head sometimes that really helped you as in Instagram oh actually I can just stop just a little bit I can take

my foot off the gas um what was a friend used the phrase of you don’t need to drive it like you

stole it sometimes you know the people are doing that with their careers that they’re

they’re driving their careers like they stole it and it’s like you really didn’t calm down you know but we do this to

ourselves Duncan you know we set up systems and structures and then we internalize those values and then we

reproduce them unreflectively and then we we wonder why we’ve burnt out why

we’re stuck in spaces that are deeply unhappy and healthy and unsustainable

and we look around and we’re like well we can’t blame the the monolithic

institution this the system what what does that mean we’re all members of the system we’re all agents of change within

it so I wonder one of the things that I I’ve been listening to and like fundamentally agree

um with all of all of the things you say as as per usual but I want to I want to change the lens slightly on the

resilience because I think that we have asked people to be resilient in increasingly deteriorating conditions

and that once we put that emphasis on the individual that you have to get

gritty you have to bounce back you have to build back better you have to you know do all of this stuff academic

buoyancy is my is my favorite because I imagine holding somebody underwater and

waiting for them how long does it take them to pop up like even the language here is of drowning people

what happens when we when we build systems where people don’t have to be resilient

what would that system look like where you have policies and structures and

governance and working conditions where we don’t have to have another conversation about individual grit that

we only have conversations about human flourishing what needs to be in place for the system to create resilience so

that individuals don’t have to be I think that’s a really interesting question and I’m not sure I know the

answer I know that there’s um I can think of places that I’ve really

enjoyed working that have made me feel like that in some ways and some of it is

about values based um leadership and having values within an organization because you can

um you know what’s happening and you can have your stories around those values you know what direction you’re going in and I think sometimes um

as much as we have some great leaders sometimes we don’t we don’t know who we are as institutions

um and that’s because some of us our young institutions some of us are old institutions in terms of their maturity

and I think that can have a real impact on that feeling of resilience and confidence because

um and we have Quality Systems in the UK um and we have quality regulation which is I know it’s very different in the

States and Canada you’re kind of chuckling at me um um but you see it with

um more mature and older institutions have are less concerned about some of the things around quality

because they know they do it and they’re confident and they just they just yeah we’re fine we’re confident whereas newer

institutions are kind of you know clamoring to or younger institutions are clamorating to make sure that they’re

meeting these thresholds and I think there is something about being confident in here in who you are and what you represent

um and if you’ve got that confidence and you have the right systems in place

and everybody knows where they’re going I think that makes it um a better place to work but I would say again I’m going

to throw some things back to the individual because I think um there’s a level of accountability about

where you work in the if you work in an institution that doesn’t fit with your values

you have to make the decision to leave because

if you don’t you create levels of tension that disrupt everybody

else and it’s not that you’re a bad person but it’s this isn’t the right place and I think

what has happened certainly I think in the past is people kind of stay in institutions because of tenure and other

things but when you look at it sometimes they think why I I’ve come here and I’m not quite sure why or this isn’t the

place I want to be and there’s all this tension that goes on outside of work that brings it into work and you’re not

this competing interests um so I think there’s lots of things that I think

would be an amazing institution what I think there’s a thing about kindness um in there and compassion

um for staff and for students I think um you know there’s been so much in the

Press about um the students and staff within HG during

the pandemic anything just give everybody a break just take take the narrative back let’s take a step back

you know it’s not just the students who are working in cramp conditions with you know Wi-Fi that doesn’t work guess what

there was a lockdown there was a pandemic everyone’s working in those conditions did you really want to hear neighbors dog barking all times of the

day and night no but so there’s those things about compassion and kindness and just taking a step back and and really

reflecting on I’m not the only person affected because I think sometimes um and I think maybe this I don’t know if

this is reflective of society maybe I’m making generalizations but there’s a level of selfishness sometimes well then

it’s all about me and as long as I’m okay it doesn’t matter about anybody else so I think there’s this idea of um

Community kindness compassion um I have a I have a thing about compassionate rigor

um and for me this is about you know I’ve worked with Refuge Healthcare professionals you know these are people

that have been through some horrendous um conditions so I’m going to be compassionate about their their lives

and what’s going on but my job was to get them through their education so

there were days when I’d say okay time to move on and they’ll be like oh no I’m not done

yet yeah you are it’s time to get get through this door because you’re not staying here forever off you go so it

was that kind of sitting behind them and going it’s time to graduate you can’t do any more courses you’re

done go away go get you know go get your life and I think that sometimes um we create these safe spaces

that allow people to become too comfortable and people like that and I think

sometimes people get angsty about when it’s time to leave and it’s okay to leave and it’s okay to

grow and I think it’s um one of the things I think you can have in institutions I don’t know whether you

agree with this is sometimes they become a bit like toxic relationships because you know

you get the whole gaslighting thing with colleagues and with you know about promotions and promises and

um sometimes you just have to leave it’s not a bad thing it’s just you’ve

grown you don’t grown plastic um you know these things happen did that answer your question Jessica

you know what it did and I have this this note that says quitting does not equal failure and quitting is in fact

something that helps human flourishing and not just at um the institutional level of the

department level or the team level but also at the individual level and I think going back to

um some insights that you had before about how if somebody is acting badly to create a buffer around them and to say

you are you’re not just not flourishing yourself but you’re also affecting the team is a kind of recognition of

something I I read in a tweet a couple weeks ago that said your your

institution your workplace is not a family a sports team is not a family becoming a

member of a university is not a family because a family has to give you unconditional love or depending on what

family from toxic guilt um but but you’re not a family and to to

to frame it that way is to be disingenuous you have loving respectful

clear boundary driven relationships about

individual and team flourishing and to to make it so deeply personal or attach

it to a different kind of unit like a family is to actually do people a great disservice because then they feel like

if I leave everything will fall apart or if I leave you know I’m I’m irreplaceable in an institution

doesn’t love you back an institution actually doesn’t have is not an animate being

um an organization is not an animate being and the organization’s interest is just to maintain and sustain its

operations so it actually doesn’t at all notice even if you’re like I am the

heart of this organization you’re you’re not and so that for me I think that was one of the big light bulb

moments I had about I want to say a decade ago but it’s a lesson I keep learning is you’re

replaceable always that doesn’t mean you’re not valued but an institution

itself cannot nor should you expect it to love you back because that will

actually hurt your resilience and it’ll it can hurt the team and different kinds of systems

I think that um you talked about quitting is not failure I think that’s really important because that kind of goes into where I think we’re all really

good at reflection um and sometimes it’s not reflection it’s over analysis and can’t get out of

your head well I think there’s um there’s something about reflection and how we reflect and um you ask people so

what model do you use and they go well I just reflect and I just think about it like well okay so tell me more about it and people don’t always understand what

they’re doing when they’re reflecting they don’t and sometimes they don’t understand that they’re doing it all the time people are cooking and tasting food

and reflecting on what you’ve done and you’re making small changes and you know it’s this inaction on action and Sean

but then you’ve got things when people reflect um and one of the really interesting things that I do is I I kind

of flip back to Gibbs and say well so how did you feel when that happened no I don’t talk about my feelings

um let’s go back to that because I think you need to talk about your feelings because I think sometimes people get

really um angry with themselves about quitting and

they’re not quitting they’re reflected on a situation gone this is not working this is not the right course of action

just because you’re quitting does not mean that it’s failure or you’ve reflected and gone this is not right

this is about making the right decisions for you and I think and you sometimes see this with students where they’re

completely on the wrong program but they’ve been Guided by other people because that’s the program that they

want to do anything in okay you’re not quitting you’re resetting

so there’s a whole thing about that reflection and thinking about that but ignoring our feelings is really

difficult I think going back to kind of this idea of safe space and I was talking about before and taking risks

you have to think about the feelings in there about how did I feel when I taught this group or when I did this thing was

I excited was I thrilled was I terrified um did it make me really anxious because it makes me really anxious you probably

shouldn’t be doing it until it makes you feel excited to do it so it’s it’s it’s thinking about those things of when

you’re teaching and you’re working with colleagues how do you feel um and we talk about this about when

you’ve got students that might be aggressive and and they talk about how they were really aggressive or something happens

I’m like so how did you feel I’m like well I don’t know well let’s think about how you feel because that

will have dictated your action in a moment if you were really angry you might have responded back in the same

way which isn’t necessarily helpful but it’s about learning to notice these small things and reflecting

appropriately to make the right decisions for you because I think

um we can talk about resilience and people being resilient but actually and all of those kind of things like we say it’s not about

people being resilient if an institution is overworking the person you can put them on as many resilience courses as

you want they’re still going to be overworked and they’re still going to be stressed and actually going back to that feeling is how do you feel I feel

stressed I feel angry I feel anxious I can’t do the best that I’m doing digging down into all these kind of things all

of a sudden opens up a narrative and a story about what what more is going on and I think sometimes that’s a real

trick of leadership of knowing when to do that because sometimes you have to think I can’t do this today because this

is going to happen or these students need to be dealt with let’s do it after here because if I if I ask that question

sometimes you can you know with some colleagues you don’t ask them how they are today you just know you don’t

because you know if you do the floodgates are going to open and they’re about to go teaching so you wait until

they’ve done their teaching and then they you know they come out and you’ve got a cup of coffee and goes how are you today and that’s you know it’s about

appropriate timing sometimes and letting people work through and deal with things on their own time as well but giving them

that power to do that and saying actually I know sometimes you don’t want to talk but you know where I am and sometimes that’s what people need they

don’t want to tell you everything that’s going on in their life but here’s a coffee do you want to go and talk about something else

and sometimes that’s more important because they just want some normalization of what’s going on or normal conversation so sometimes you

know there is this thing about resilience sometimes it’s quite annoying you know we’ve seen a lot of it when

they’re saying oh let’s put yoga classes on yeah you can do but I won’t be there because I’m too busy marking

because you know I’ve got all these students so it’s great that you know institutions are trying to help with health and well-being but actually are

they really helping with health and well-being it’s just something else that I feel

like I’ve got to do because you’ve got to tell me you’ve spent all this money on it and wasted it because I didn’t turn up something else that you couldn’t

attend absolutely so so Duncan this is uh this is a sort

of perfect segue this is a this is how does Duncan feel about um you know in relation to teaching and

learning and higher ed what is it that gets you out of bed in the morning or what is it that it keeps you up at night

that is like the primary concern that you just can’t shake um maybe these are the same thing

um who knows for me it uh what gets me up is my

colleagues it it’s absolutely supports my colleagues and supporting the students and making sure that they’re you know they’re doing their best to me

and helping them to do their best um what keeps me up at night is that we’re

not doing it enough or there’s somebody that slipped through the cracks um I I think that they’re the things

that sometimes keep keep you up um but I think within that I I mean I’ve

learned a lot a long time ago is there’s only so much you can do

um and I think there’s an increasing thing in higher ed and there was something I can’t remember the lady’s name that did it she did a chart that

showed all the things that a lecturer and academic does and this wheel just keeps getting bigger and bigger and the

types of roles that we do if you think about what it was to be electric 20 30 years ago and what it is now with the

social responsibility and care and pastoral care and counseling and we’re

moving into multiple roles within a job and I think that keeps me up how my staff are going to cope and my

team are going to cope I mean we have students with increasing mental health issues we have staff with increasing mental

health issues because they don’t know how to deal with the students with increasing mental health issues and I think there’s not enough recognition of

what do we do to support our staff um I think you know in some professions

um certainly in psychology and counseling certainly in the UK you would have um a supervision session where you

could offload all these kind of issues about how have I dealt with these right so you would have that support our

lecturers don’t get that all extras are dealing with students that are talking about suicide about

abuse um about so many different things their worries you know what’s keeping their

students at the time and then our lecturers go and they turn it around in their head

and what and our institutions don’t support them in that they talk about them being more resilient and you think yeah you go and deal with those things

yeah when all they have is possibly all they have is oh I I remember there’s a phone number to refer students to about

that if I hear about it but no yeah no support structure no and if I get

another Wellness Wednesday email or another email about hot chocolate in the

quad as the world is burning I’m gonna scream and I’m gonna I’m gonna scream

into the abyss because it is so tone deaf right now that institutions like

we’ve got this hilarious thing at our institution where there’s a wellness day it’s for staff not for faculty

um but they give everybody the day off and then force them this was before kova to hang out with one another and like go

golfing or go do yoga and I’m like you know what they could really use a day not hanging out with you all say good

day just staring into the middle distance and letting their eyes go

blurry and just trying to figure out what has just happened to us and I just think you know there is there is a such

an interest for our institutions and for many of our leaders to rush back to

normal because Normal in their in their formulation will mean that it doesn’t hurt as much that will get to erase that

hurt we’ll get to a race the grief and despair and yet one of the healthiest ways this is how I understand critical

hope is to sit in that Despair and to give space for grief and to process what

I think we have which is unprocessed grief over the last two years but I think it extends before before covid

into the ways in which we navigate inhospitable systems structures that are

not designed to be welcoming inclusive diverse and just so I wonder and Duncan you are one of

the most hopeful gritty creative bounce back humans but could you talk to us a

little bit about the despair or the grief like what happens when inevitably all of your critical

reflection and all of your compassionate rigor and all of the skills that you have when it still hurts and you want to howl

into the abyss how do you how do you do that what does it look like

and how do you how do you move into future facing spaces

yeah it’s really tricky because we all have experiences of different things and and kind of systems that get us through

um I tend to give myself a time limit and treat it you know like okay I’ve got a day I could be angry for a day I can

agree or I can have a really bad day but I’ve got to pick it up and crack on and

this is very much my this is my grandmother that I still remember her in my head lesser and it was

very much about yeah right time to move on you’ve got to kind of at some point you

have to move on because if you don’t you’ll just sit there and can’t move on and become incapacitated about it

um I um so when I was at University I had a car

crash a water band drove into the back of my little theater plunder which is this tiny little box thing and squashed

the inside of my car and I had terrible back pain and I ended up um getting involved in something called Reiki

which is um a spiritual system in some respects and

others they talk about this idea of Hands On Healing and all of those kind of things but they have this Mantra and it’s really

really positive because there’s five principles and it’s all about just for today

just for today don’t get angry just for today don’t worry

just for today do you work honestly just for today be grateful or have gratitude and just for today be kind to all living

things and I tend to include that have including that including yourself you have to be kind to yourself but very

often it’s compartmentalizing it it’s just today because if you can’t

get beyond that then it becomes a week or a month or a year and then you don’t

know how to get out of it and I think there’s a um there is a thing about

um we live every day and we have to take each day at a time

sometimes we just have to move through that day as it is and not worry about some of the other stuff

because I can’t do anything about some of the other stuff so you just have to take what you can

and go okay so this is what I can deal with I mean there’s some horrible things going on in the world right now and a friend of mine was trying to um have a

conversation with me about it and I was like I can’t I can’t engage with it right now and it’s not that I don’t want

to but I have too much other stuff speak to me at six o’clock

because right now this is what I’m dealing with I’m dealing with the students and their issues and that’s

taking all the bandwidth in my head to deal with and to make sure that they’re safe so I think sometimes it’s about

learning what your limits are and saying this is what I can do right now

what’s the important stuff what’s not important and how can I move forward and

um sometimes I’m really good at that and sometimes I’m terrible and that’s all

right we have really good days and bad days and I think we’ve all sat there we’ve got lists and you look through anything I’ve done none of those things

today that’s fine have I killed anybody have I is the world going to burn or fall apart

no I can do it tomorrow and sometimes we we one of the things I think sometimes

with the academy in higher education is we do get filled with us own self-importance sometimes and it’s like

yeah it really doesn’t matter if I do that right now it’s going to make no difference whatsoever that report that’s

got to be in that no one’s going to read for another month hey come on let’s you know be sensible

about this and really think about what pressure am I putting myself under to get these things done because the

pressure is very often coming from us you know yes there is external pressures of this as a deadline but I’m the one single yes I want to do that and yes I

want to do that and oh that’s shiny can I do that too so I think there is something in there

as well did that answer the question sorry Jessica

go ahead Jessica yeah no I love that and I think that that you know what can I do today and

what is what is my bandwidth especially when you’re managing emotional labor

which is oftentimes invisible we don’t make talking you know back to that how

are you feeling we don’t we don’t align our emotional spiritual

cognitive and physical selves we don’t bring our whole selves to the academy because the the academy doesn’t invite

our whole selves in and as I imagine hope University Building resilient systems so

individuals don’t have to be I imagine what does that look like in an everyday what does that look like to make that

emotional labor visible and valued and maybe you don’t get those reports or those to-do lists checked off but if you

made somebody feel better more whole listen to heard support it or joyful

that for me is is the is the value and that’s why we came that’s why we got called to this space and that is I think

something we don’t we don’t make visible or valued very well in our institutions yeah we don’t but effectively we’re all

working in higher education for the better society and if we’re teaching track as well as and very much teaching

track you know for the students you have to make their world better you’re there to make Society better

because you’re teaching your students that is why you’re there um and sometimes it’s very easy to lose

sight of that what are we there for we’re there to make the world a better place in in various ways

um but what we sometimes need to remember is that Humanity of making it a better place we don’t need to be mean

to make it a better world we don’t need to be Savage because I think sometimes people think they’re being really witty

and clever and actually you’re just being Savage you’ve just crossed a line there’s no need for that let’s let’s just take it back let’s think about this

is nice and human um and I think you know there’s um you can talk about talks and positivity and

toxic cultures because I think sometimes people think oh it’s banter and sometimes it no it’s not that’s not Banta that’s just pure messages and

making yourself feel better and feeding your own ego there was no need to do that um and I think um one of the things that

I think people forget about and we kind of I’ve been thinking about this in terms of threshold Concepts

um of when you go to conferences um there is an assumption that everyone

has walked through the same portal the same threshold concept and that’s not true

we’ve all come in it from different lenses we’ve come in from different cultures from different training so whilst everyone in the room might have a

PhD or a certain level of training that’s something we’re all looking at it the same way and sometimes people in the room forget that

so if you don’t have the same view or the same opinion they can really go on the attack and you think that’s not the

way no this isn’t about this and I think I probably I’ve probably done this myself when I’ve gone through a

conference and I think we probably all done and we’ve sat and everything and gone why are you talking about this this was being talked about 10 years ago and then

you sit back and you go hmm you’ve come from a different place this is relevant to you right now I’m really interested

to see where you go but it’s getting that reflection in your head and not thinking I’m wasting my time it’s

thinking oh I thought this 10 years ago are they going to go down the same path I thought oh I’d love to have a chat

with them about those kind of things rather than going on the attack on those things as well so it’s it’s

it’s interesting I think and that’s critically important I think we walk that that fence line between

um entitlement and insecurity right and and it’s sometimes it’s very difficult to tell which side are they on are they

tearing this down because they feel like they’re entitled to do that or because they’re insecure about

um what’s being talked about yeah well brene Brown I’ve been listening to her podcasts and painting and she talks

about the um scarcity model so when you’re in an institution where you never

have enough blank so I we never have enough people we never have enough students we never have enough programs

we never have enough money we never have enough staff we never have right you start to say

um I we never have enough I’m not enough and when you start to internalize I am

not enough in a scarcity model you bake shame into the walls and shame does not

stay in the walls James seeps out and as you say Duncan it seeps out by people

being Savage thinking they’re being funny inside jokes witticisms being

precocious entitled but that is because shame is baked into

the walls let’s stop blaming the salmon and let’s start blaming the dam that’s a

very very Canadian metaphor but you know we’re we’re we’re creating the

conditions for people to act badly and furthermore we are not skilled enough to

have those difficult conversations to pull those boundaries in to reset those social norms and to establish basic

respectful Communications and and team building and so I’m I’m pretty

empathetic about humans who are as as Pat said actually really lacking confidence and

then unreflectively reproducing bad behaviors because of the systems in

place that have baked shame into the walls to begin with I think it’s really interesting that

baking show because this goes back to this what I was saying before about institutions being confident about quality and younger institutions not

been because I think there’s the same thing about the the quality and everything that they do um you can get graduates from

really good universities that have gone in with really good qualifications come out with really good

qualifications but where’s the added value in there sometimes there’s no added value they’ve

just gone through the process and then you get institutions that have taken people that are you know will be classed

as failures I mean I I didn’t particularly do well in my kind of um might what we would call our a levels or

18 leaving exam um but I’ve certainly done well after that and I think it’s

people forget that people change people aren’t always ready for schools I mean I work in um what we were classes widening

participation universities that where there might be first generation coming to University so they haven’t had the

support or the educational support that would help them into higher education but you know what I love teaching them I

absolutely love teaching them because they’re the ones you see you see the light bulbs um going off in the head about what’s

changed and how they’re going to change the world um whereas sometimes um I’ve worked in other universities

that are classed as more Elite and some of the students you think wow you have no idea what’s going on in the world or

what’s going on or or why people feel like that where because you you have no

other worldview you’ve not seen things where you’ve not experienced things um and that’s just a real

perception of where people are we don’t all have to go to university when we’re 18.

but that’s a path that’s been set for so many to get themselves into a tremendous amount of debt in some places

I mean actually go work for a couple of years figure yourself out figure out what you really want to do it doesn’t

have to be that way um but again that

that I think expects a level of bravery

um because sometimes that doesn’t agree with what other people want around you so I think sometimes you do have to be

um Brave and go out and find out um where you want to be and who you want to be in the world which is not an easy

thing to do and uh um it’s just not easy there’s so many

barriers out there um and I think it’s got harder and covid hasn’t helped I think

you know it’s set people back a couple of years everybody back but you know I think it’s set all of us back as adults

as well as you know children and young adults um so I think there’s there’s that whole

thing about the idea of what does Hope look like it’s about that for me it’s that kindness and compassion compassionate

kind of action or just being respectful of people I think is a really interesting point we can disagree but we

can disagree respectfully um we don’t have to be kind of out for each other with knives in the

back you know because you see that and it’s just like do we need the politics is it necessary

so I suppose I hope University would be um not devoid of politics but reduced

somewhat I love that yeah there’s always going to

be candid conversations and contested spaces with deep disagreement

and if we take that as a as a failure or as a flaw of the system then we set ourselves up for contestation that is

conflict and then creates entrenched polarized perspectives and you never

gonna meet in the middle much less transcend that together into a higher plane of of being and and learning so

you know I think that that’s a beautiful way to end this conversation and to take

us into future facing spaces as we imagine hope University it is not without conflict but it is upskilling

with the compassionate rigor and the critical reflection and the the sort of

resilience both of systems and of humans to to imagine better and more Humane and

more human-centered organizations and I think that you’ve just given us a beautiful road map for that Duncan and

and the road map back to your your metaphor of like let’s not drive this

car like we stole it let’s use this road map to think intentionally about where

we want to go and how we want to take people along with us so so thank you so much for joining us tonight your your

time zone and giving us some really amazing insights to to take into our own

contexts thank you so much for having me and uh assessing these questions often making me think about these things as well it’s

it’s a really great opportunity so thank you thanks Duncan it was a pleasure

fantastic thank you


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