old painting of an otter

Reflections Week Five: How do I look?

The end of my week 5 in lockdown (and I know that is not the same as my country’s lockdown period but right now I am grateful for my organisation who decided we should all work from home earlier than required).

My twitter timeline blew up this week over a couple of articles, one in the LA Times and one in Inside Higher Ed. I am not linking to either btw.

The Inside Higher Ed one: “Instructors, Please Wash Your Hair

In these trying times, the last thing that students need to see is their “professional, highly educated professor falling apart at the seams,” argues Kristie Kiser.

If we allow students to turn in assignments that do not meet our normal expectations, we are directly responsible for any future beliefs that college coursework is no longer the robust, challenging and enriching platform for citizen development that it once was. If we tell them that they only need an excuse in order to perform at a lower standard, challenge themselves less and miss deadlines, how can we expect them to be citizens of integrity?”

If you know me, met me, worked with me in running an event or a workshop – you know I have an expectation, a standard, not just in terms of content, but also in what we look like. And again if you know me you will know I have a mild tendency to like people to be on time and keep to time. I’m ex military, get over it. Ten years of understanding uniform codes and watch-keeping at the most formative time of your life will do that. I also want to point out that this is a feminist issue. Whenever I am at a conference almost always women at that event whether speaking or not, are dressed more smartly than the majority of the men. Dress code is a feminist issue – whatever the truth, women have had to dress to be taken seriously, but white middle aged men can rock up in jeans and t-shirt and do the keynote and no one would blink. Next time you’re at a conference take a look around, there is a good chance that the majority of the women will have dressed smarter than the men. When I present or run workshops, I dress to respect the people in the room, it’s a military thing, and I do not take my privilege lightly that I could wear jeans and t-shirt and still be taken seriously.

But when we went into lockdown, as those of you that have seen me online will know, I shaved my head and stopped shaving my face. Kind comments have said I look fuzzy. Others have been less kind.

Long stints at sea, under the sea, elicited the same response from myself and my shipmates. It is a form of isolation and our response was to go into “pirate rig”. It didn’t mean we weren’t professional, unprofessionalism on a submarine will get you and your friends killed.

And this is what this article, and the LA Times one is really about. “What is professional?” and “What should professionals be doing during the pandemic?”

What does teaching (and just engaging with students) look like during a pandemic lockdown. What does learning look like during a lockdown?

I have been in regular contact with senior managers in learning and teaching and many staff who are teaching. Some have “dressed up” not for the meeting, but probably as something to do, to make it feel like there is a difference between working and not working when you are in the same space. Some of them have taken my approach and look fuzzier than normal. And some of them have deliberately stayed “voice only”. Next week myself and our R&D team at Jisc, working with Donna Lanclos, will be talking to people who are still teaching during the crisis. I do not care what they are dressed in, I care that they are safe and well.

The article finishes

“We must endeavor to not be the generation that allowed its integrity to crumble as we caved to laziness, disorganization and unprofessionalism.

We can start small. Please wash your hair.”

If I don’t wash my hair, but care effectively for students, for my work, for my colleagues, how am I not “professional”? The article in Inside Higher Ed, and the LA Times, were tone deaf, or didn’t read the room, or something. Right now we are focused on doing the best we can. We don’t need or require performances, unless it is because individuals want to make themselves feel good about themselves.

My reflections for this week – stop requiring performances of professionalism based on your own skewed standards and biases, and also ask yourself do you have expectations of some of your colleagues that are different to what you expect from white men; and can the media who are commissioning this BS just stop. We are stressed and we don’t need your clickbait.

Stay safe everyone.

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