Ribbons, Writing and Re-connecting

Yesterday we had our Organisation Studies cluster ‘Away Day’. One of the aims of the day was to re-connect with each other and find links between our work so that we could start new conversations and enthuse ourselves about our future – anyone currently working in Academia/ Higher Education will know this year has been a particularly challenging one!

Together, we have created this and I think it looks great!

With my ever-supportive Associate Head of Department, Dr Carol Jarvis, I suggested making a visual, creative, fun, interconnected sort of mind-map! Each colleague was asked to bring 3 photographs/ images that ‘spoke to their passions’ regarding research, teaching and/ or knowledge exchange/ executive education work (KE/ExEd). Each was also asked to contribute up to 3 key words, relevant to their current research interests, papers or other passions – this list of words was then used to create a ‘Wordle’ (www.wordle.net).

We talked about our pictures and then spent much of the morning creating our ‘Connecting Conversations’ mind-map. Colleagues glued their images onto a large sheet of fabric/ paper (we used white Vlieseline and a large durable paper tablecloth with backing – this helped the whole thing to be malleable, flexible and foldable in order we might use it as a point of reference in various internal meetings in the future – and hang it in our corridor!). The ‘Wordle’ of key words was placed in the centre of the piece.

Colleagues where then encouraged to use 3 coloured ribbons: red for research, blue for teaching, green for KE/ExEd work and then pin lengths of ribbon from their own images or key words, to others’ images and key words. Black buttons, added after the making process, ‘join the dots’ as it were and show who and what has ‘connected’. This created a complex, intriguing and rather attractive mind-map showing where we might find common ground, where we might like to start a conversation about something and where we might already be working together. What I found fascinating was that a number of colleagues plaited the ribbon together in order to demonstrate how interlinked their research, teaching and KE/ExEd work actually is. I also liked the fact that there didn’t seem to be a dominant colour used – there was a sense of balance between our passions for research, teaching and KE/ExEd work – which is great, and certainly reflects how I experience our cluster of colleagues!

As part of this reflective process, afterwards we talked about what this creative ‘connecting’ had done for us as a group…which is good because it covers the ‘so what…?!’ of all this! Some of what came out: We will be using this mind-map as a starting point to inform our conversations about the ‘Centre of Excellence’ we will be creating at the Business School; this creative process has helped us identify 5 areas where will be setting up small discussion groups within the cluster (including ‘the identity group’, ‘the psychoanalysis group’ and ‘the liminality group’!), so we might support each other, our writing and future research work better; this process has also helped us work out what we don’t talk about…as well as what we do talk about – there were more areas of overlap than we had first thought. Our ‘Connecting Conversations’ mind-map has created, certainly for me, a better sense of our collective identity and has re-connected us as a group.

It will be hung in our corridor and will be used as a reference document, an ongoing reminder of what we do and what we love…and hopefully, be source of inspiration!

P.S….and as an aside!…it struck me that perhaps this is another example of being creative in a period of liminality, a period of transition (rather like the stuff on my PhD Quilt below…). As a cluster, we are ‘in-between’ – we are out of the challenging academic year we have just had but not yet part of the next, and we are at a stage where we are re-establishing our identity. To help cope with this, perhaps this creative process has been a useful way of managing some anxieties, reflecting on our selves and making the intangible, tangible…?

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Creativity in Coaching and Mentoring

ImageIn my recent work on Coaching and Mentoring I have begun to use creative/ visual methods in order to explore the feelings and emotions that arise from the mentoring experience. Here, I made a piece of textile art to depict a particularly emotional mentoring session with one of my mentees. She is usually a rather closed book or someone who appears in control, someone who is happy and listens to others. In our first session there was an outpouring of emotion. I made a pocket  from felted fabric to symbolise how, in our session, we drew out emotions from an otherwise ‘closed’ space. I attached ribbons and threads with found objects attached to the ends to symbolise the complex mix of tangled threads of thoughts that overflowed and hit us both: issues to do with her passion for teaching (acorn) but how this passion can become all consuming (red bead)…time pressures (clock and bell)…how work can interfere with those closest to us (white heart)…being busy all the time (bee)…and how this can leave us feeling trapped (heart inside a cage). In making this it helped me to reflect on what key issues we had talked about and what specific areas of my mentees life we might work on together in the future.

My mentee has also used visual methods to reflect on her patterns of behaviour and to help her pinpoint areas for exploration. She has taken photographs of spaces and places that are meaningful to her and where she wishes to spend more time. She has used online mind mapping tools to help visually represent her thought process and make sense of her development.She has used visual metaphors in her reflections, taking photographs of trees and filing cabinets to make sense of her frustrations.

This emergent, creative way of working together has made me think more about the role creativity plays in the mentoring (and perhaps coaching) relationship. It seems to be able to help make the intangible thing like emotions and observations more tangible, more visible and thus, certainly in this case, more accessible in terms of further exploration and sense-making.

Australia in fabric

ImageThis is my Aussie piece of textile art…work in progress! I’m using my seven travel journals I wrote during our trip around Australia to help create a ‘fabric text’ of the places, memories and moments that were most meaningful. So far, I have started at the ‘red centre’ or Uluru/ Ayers Rock and The Olgas. I’ve made this by stitching together a number of my Clarin’s powder compact pouches (shows how much make-up I’ve got through over the past few years?!)…and have joined these to the backing fabric with a variety of red, stone, and desert coloured buttons. I’m going to use some thick white paint to create Aboriginal-style dot paintings around the base of the ‘rock’, like those found at Uluru…

PhD Quilt

ImageThis is my PhD Quilt. I made this using scraps of material and found objects, during a period of transition between submitting my completed thesis and my viva voce examination. The act of sourcing objects, cutting and sewing material and representing my PhD in physical symbols acted as a sort of ‘coping mechanism’ during a somewhat transitory period of time. The decision to make a quilt that told a story of my PhD emerged from my anxieties around wanting to stay connected to the conceptual content of my thesis, post submission, whilst simultaneously ‘recovering’ from writing and my desire to engage in a creative activity that was simply enjoyable and removed from text-centric material. I was inspired to make this by Dr Ann Rippin (Bristol University) – she is a fabulous ‘Academic Quilter’ …and also inspired me to share my creative work and research on WordPress: www.annjrippin.wordpress.com thanks Ann!

I’m presenting a paper on my PhD Qulit, called ‘Creative practices during periods of transition…or ‘stitching myself back together and sewing together my thesis’ at the SCOS 2012 Barcelona conference in July…and am looking forward to seeing some of my fellow ‘Scossers’ there!

http://www.scos.org/2012/