From the outset I have felt held and at home as an EdD student at the University of Sheffield
Child psychoanalyst and paediatrician Donald Woods Winnicott (1896-1971) coined the term “the holding environment” (1965) to describe the safe and secure environmental provision that allows a child to play, to grow, to understand experiences and to venture forth from the familiar territory of the supportive family environ. As adults the need for that holding continues, particularly when we embark on new journeys into unknown territory, into domains of our personal development and/or if we experience existential struggles that threaten to thwart our equilibrium.
I would consider embarking on a doctoral level of study is to set off on a journey into the unknown, into territories of challenge, growth, and personal development; the hitherto known teacher-self is being called to wake up to new possibilities. Exciting, anxiety-inducing, transformative and beautiful in equal measure, the habitus of the doctoral student changes from localised, personal knowledge and expertise to an unfamiliar world of new possibilities, pedagogic theories, knowledge, concepts, and processes. Without strong systemic holding, in the form of guidance, care, support and an understanding of the challenges experienced, in other words a safe and secure environmental provision, the journey might well threaten to overwhelm those who undertake it.
From the outset I have felt held and at home as an EdD student at the University of Sheffield primarily due to the lived and caring ethos of the staff in the education department. I say lived ethos as the staff embody an ethic of care, a passion for their work and a love of teaching that cannot fail but inspire students on their research journeys. This secure environmental provision created by the tutors, course lead and administrative staff is replete with a heartfelt sense of community and has resulted in that very same heartfelt community being authentically modelled by the cohort of students. The journey has occasionally overwhelmed and disoriented me, and it is the support of fellow students and tutors that has provided me with anchoring, reorientation, and a facilitating environment (Winnicott, 1965).
We teach to change the world. The hope that undergirds our efforts to help students learn is that doing this will help them act towards each other, and toward their environment, with compassion, understanding and fairness.
(Brookfield, 1995, p.1)
The tutors have a genuine desire to foster collegiate relationships with their students, to impart their knowledge and expertise and to provide advice, authentic feedback, and guidance. I feel held, the very dynamic I believe we should as teachers strive to provide our current and impending students, which will help them navigate their own learning journeys, and our modelling might foster compassion and understanding and change the world in some way. On a final note, when I started this EdD journey a friend bought me a cup with “You’ve got this” imprinted on it, together with a card stating, “I’ve got you”. The implicit ethos of the EdD programme is “We’ve got you”, which provides me with a great deal of hope that my growth, and that of my impending research, will be held on its journey.
Brookfield, S.D. (1995) Being a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Winnicott, D.W. (1965) The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. London: Karnac.
Suzanne Schultz, EdD Part I
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