Portfolio Artefacts, Key Learnings & Why I'm doing a PhD in Educational Studies
In this section, I'll outline why and how I came to be in the Nova Scotia Inter-University PhD Program in Educational Studies, and why I've chosen the Artefacts I have to demonstrate various competencies for this Portfolio.
I love learning. That is the simplest reason for why I am doing this PhD in Educational Studies. I have a Masters of Adult Education specializing in Community Development from St. Francis Xavier University, and I work as a 'Community Developer.' I am putting 'quotes' around that title because while it is the most common term for what I do, the title that has been making more sense to me lately is Community Learning Facilitator.
I mention this because with the reflection on my practice as a 'Community Developer' during this program, I've been realizing I don't actually 'do' community development. It is the community members themselves that I work with that do that. When I'm involved, really I'm acting as a support. This is one realization I've had during the last couple of years.
Another is that I really enjoy working in community, but in the past I've usually thought of myself as needing to be very 'removed' in the way I get involved. It's not for me to have an opinion on anything the various community groups I work with are doing. I'm teaching governance, planning, how to find money and how to work as a team to help them accomplish their goals.
But, another key learning as I've been on this PhD journey though is I don't want to be 'removed,' and there is no such thing as 'not being involved.' I have a lot of life experience. I'm not what I would call 'young.' I've lived with a mental illness since I was 15 (though not diagnosed until my early 30's), and I was on disability benefits for about 10 years before I went back to school for my Masters.
I know what it is to be marginalized and excluded from the mainstream economy, but I also recognize my white privilege and the range of supports I've been able to access has made my journey in this regard much easier than for many. I have been lucky.
As I get older, and reflect more on what I want the rest of my life to be about, I have realized I want to do more to create change in community that helps people like me to be included. So, I am an 'activist.' I am involved, and I have a perspective and opinions on things. I am not 'objective' or removed from the communities and people I work with, and I don't want to be. I want to be honest, and transparent. I think that is the best I can do; as a practitioner, as an educator, as a researcher, as a student and as a scholar.
It is strange though to say that word 'activist,' and own it. My undergrad was in journalism and the key message when I was in 'training' as a journalist was that we must be objective. I was also 'trained' in the ideas and culture of 'western civilization' in both my high school and university education. I think that's partly where this sense of not engaging too much came from; the importance of maintaining distance to be 'objective,' trusting numbers over stories and emotion, and trusting science over anything we don't yet understand.
I also think this very 'rational' and euro-centric way of being and thinking needs to be challenged, now more than ever. The more I learn about indigenous, african and eastern ways of looking at the world, the more I feel I have to learn myself but also the more I feel we all need to embrace more diversity in our lives.
Educator Jack Mezirow, who I studied during my Masters, wrote a lot about how we learn, and he and another theorist I was very interested in, Laurence Daloz, both said it is the exposure to 'the other' that helps us learn by creating 'schisms' in our own understanding of the world. The more new something is, the bigger the 'schism.' This is a challenge but it's also a tremendous opportunity; to learn something new, to make new connections, for our brains to actually grow.
Yet, I am fascinated by how we create change in communities, in our society. I know I want to learn more about community development as an area of 'practice' and theory, and social movement learning as well. I also want to understand better how theory can help inform the practice of both. I also want to understand more about other ways of being and knowing beyond 'western' ways.
I find the words of community development practitioner and theorist, Margaret Ledwith, very powerful to think about which is the 'political nature’ of the work of community development; that it is “either perpetuating the status quo or creating the context to question.”
The words of educator Dr. Ashwani Kumar about the potential for meditative inquiry as an approach to community development also feels very important to me as “the art of understanding oneself [but also] one’s relationship to people and the world… [and as] an existential process through which each one of us discovers our own truths [by] living wakefully, meditatively and creatively… with people… and the world around us.”
In this regard, I'm very grateful for the opportunities to learn recently both with and through some indigenous classmates and others in community who identify as black, indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC). This includes youth I've worked with recently, and a great friend and mentor who is the founder of a black-led organization called iMOVe (In My Own Voice) Arts Association, Sobaz Benjamin. I've also recently learned much from other friends who work with women and girls who have been, or are, at risk of incarceration and/or trafficking, and an opportunity to learn more about autistic people / people on the autism spectrum working with Autism Nova Scotia.
I'm also grateful for all the professors I've had classes with, especially Dr. Ashwani Kumar who introduced me to more 'eastern' ways of thinking including the work of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Dr. Kumar's own work around meditative inquiry. If interested, you can learn more about this approach to curriculum on Dr. Kumar's website. For my PhD research project, I'm hoping to look at how Dr. Kumar's work around meditative inquiry could be used to enhance learning in community and social movement learning. As far as we know this has not yet been done.
So, the Artefacts I've chosen for this Portfolio assignment are meant to demonstrate the competencies I need to for the PhD Educational Studies program, but also to give some sense of the work I've done in my daily work in community and how my ideas related to that work are changing as a result of the PhD program. I do feel I've been growing significantly in both my skills and confidence as an educator, researcher and scholar.
When I did my Masters, I needed the degree (or I felt I did) to get back into the 'paid workforce' and I felt a lot of stress and pressure associated with it because of that. I was on disability benefits for about 10 years. While I did a lot of 'volunteer' work in my home community of Musquodoboit Harbour and learned a lot about how to create change in community during that time, I was desperate to re-engage with the 'mainstream economy' and be 'normal.'
This PhD is more for me. I want to enjoy it. I never thought I would be able to get into a PhD program because for my Masters I only did an oral exam, not a thesis (though I did do a research project). I was just too stressed out when I was trying to finish the Masters, and my very kind supervisor finally recommended that I do the oral exam option to just get it done.
The fates seemed to feel that I should do a PhD though. While I was teaching in the Nonprofit Leadership Program in the Fall of 2019 at Mount Saint Vincent University, I connected with a professor in this program and he suggested I apply anyway. He said my write up of my Masters research project should be enough to apply with. So I gave it a go, and got in. Thanks very much to my current supervisor for deciding to give me a chance. I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe it.
So, here I am. I got through all the courses I needed to do for this program (did better academically than I ever have), and learned so much about a much wider range of theory and new ways of thinking about the world. I would say I'm still a bit of a 'Goldilocks' trying to find my place in everything, but I'm definitely enjoying the ride and I think it is making me a better 'community developer and educator.' I use air quotes around those terms now because I'm actually starting to think of myself as more of a 'community learning facilitator' instead.
One of the buttons below goes to a chart that outlines what the required sections of this Portfolio assignment are, and then how the 15 Artefacts I've chosen demonstrate particular competencies. More detail on that on this website. The other button links to a google doc with just the text of the narrative for the portfolio for those who might not want to go through the various sections on the website to access a complete version of it.