Expansions and contractions in Ramallah

So I’ve been in Ramallah this week. It’s been brilliant, hectic fun in which rehearsed flexibility has been key. I’ve been here with the British Council, on the first visit of a programme which seeks to develop and embed entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial thinking into the practice of Palestinian universities, such that the graduates of these universities could then operate with entre/ intrapreneurial mindsets and capabilities. It’s a really interesting programme and has stemmed from my visit to Bethlehem and Ramallah in May last year – I blogged about it here.

What was an initial visit to present a paper I co-authored with Helen Marshall, our Vice Chancellor has, by means of a couple of workshops and many conversations with the British Council, turned into a genuinely exciting programme of work, in which projects aligned to the endeavour of developing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial teaching and learning are being shaped by an inter-institutional team from the UK. This last point in itself is exciting – its great to be collaborating with colleagues from other universities – its particularly rewarding since we’re all from the same mission group (University Alliance); the development of resilient graduates through distinctive real world learning is, I think, part of the special character of our mission group – its certainly there in bundles at Salford.

Anyhow, on this visit we’ve been working with colleagues from seven Palestinian universities to kick off their projects and position our full programme as a large piece of action-research in itself – watch this space for further details on that front…

However, whilst the formal content of the three full days we’ve been here has been fun at full tilt in itself, I actually want to pull out a brief moment outside those workshoppy spaces and places; it came after the first day of workshops, on the evening of our second day here…

It’s the first time I’ve worked with Dr Joan Lockyer from Coventry University, and Dr Gillian Jack (or amusingly, and pleasingly briefly, Dr Jack Gillian, as the first version of her airline ticket read – cue 15 minutes of being exceptionally nice to lovely BA staff at stupid o clock in the morning) from the University of South Wales. We’ve all reflected on how well and how quickly we have meshed as a team – in early instances of team teaching I have found it a rarity to be comfortable enough with material and unfamiliar colleagues to be able to happily ditch well-laid plans and the rosy cosy comfort blanket of rehearsed text, and play, improvise and shift things around as the need arises. However, we’ve done just this, and the outcome has been all the more robust for doing so.

Anyway, at the end of the first day of workshops, there was a palpable and shared sense of ‘that went pretty well – we’re onto something here – I think its going to be a good outcome’ between us. A slightly tentative breath out, but not all the way, not just yet. Given that we’d been indoors all day, and were riding on the kind of high one has when walking into sunshine after a concentrated indoor task, we decided to take a walk up the road from the hotel and into the winding Ramallah streets and the Souk.

It was an ambling walk during a hazy dusk, wandering where the pathways took us, round countless street vendors selling corn, and spices and sandals and strawberries – mountains of strawberries, and sneakers and hot tea and coffee and strange vegetables stacked house high on carts and boxes and all of this visual and olfactory feast was cloaked in a cacophony of car horns, and shouted wares and unfamiliar music and chatter and in the background, the droning song-speak of mosques as the call to prayer floated out chants and guiding hands called a hundred thousand times over; incantations which grounded the whole scene in a tradition which blended with the thump from stereo speakers in the street.

Here’s a little video which captures some of it…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/samgrogan/shares/9u457P

You can see a full slide show of the trundle here.

Afterwards, we had dinner in our hotel and then put the world to rights over a glass of wine (that last bit implies the singular, rather than the plural – I’d be sandpapering actual truths into a more respectable form if I let that stand; there was wine and it was definitely in more than one glass.)

The conversation between Gill, Joan and myself was broad, deep and thoroughly enjoyable, seamlessly flowing (like said beverages) across subjects as diverse as Kantian thinking, hermeneutics, phenomenology, to politics, to genetics and inter generational genetic memory, to solipsism, deterministic thinking, to embodied knowing and consciousness, to play theory and social constructivism, to soft networks and organisational structures. Sadly, we didn’t manage to get to the X-factor, but there’s a limit, y’know? We did, over several scribbled napkins, also capture the essence of an idea about a potential shared venture of a book – even managing to arrive, after some time, at a working structure and tasks forward.

It was very good wine.

My reflection on all of this – the intense day, the seemingly aimless wandering (which was just as much about being mentally led by the sights and sounds of the souk, as the physical activity of the pootle) and the highly enjoyable and, as it turns out, productive conversation over dinner, is that, I don’t think the remarkable dinner conversation could have happened with out the contraction of the day, and then the release of the walk – both episodes contributed to the final chapter of the day and were foundational in its architecture. Again, similarly to my post last week, it’s partially about a subjective experience of time – contractions and expansions giving rise to different body-mind states, each of which offers opportunity. Another reminder to myself to recognise, search out and nurture the gifts which are always, always there.

Finally, this blog entry actually has multiple purposes – firstly, it’s a piece of personal reflective writing on experience which is to be shared with our Palestinian colleagues – to those readers – I hope its useful. And secondly, this is my documentation of my day for the 365 days of experience being captured at the University of Salford as part of the story of our 50th year. It’s not been a bad day at all…

See you next week.

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Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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