I am sorry we have not yet had the chance to meet in person. I am currently on seven months leave without pay, but usually lecture in Outdoor and Environmental Education as part of what is the new School of Education. You began your new position, just as I began my leave. As required under the conditions of my leave, I am writing to inform you of my intentions once my leave is complete.
During my leave I have been travelling around this wide, brown island of ours. As you may imagine, journeying long distances provides one with plenty of thinking time. Being away from the daily business of the university, has afforded me many hours with which to contemplate the second half of my life – metaphorically and physically. My leave was prompted by my partner, who was observing the effect my work was having on me. I am so grateful for her intervention. The time on the road has been cathartic at the very least.
I write to you from one of Australia’s great World Heritage Areas, Cradle Mountain National Park. I am sitting in the type of country I have spent many hundreds of hours, shared with hundreds of wonderful outdoor education students from Fed Uni. I have helped them to connect with the natural world, hoping they might pass that connection on to their students once they are out working. It is this time with students, in and out of the classroom I feel I have the most impact. I found my way to academia by following my desire to have a ‘ripple effect’, hoping to encourage behaviour change in bulk by teaching our future teachers. If I can support one student to engage with the natural world, and they in turn support a handful of keen young people, then the impact can be swift and strong.
The students’ feedback suggests I have done this pretty well.
It is with a heavy heart, and a strong sense of purpose, that I will pack up my office and head off in search of a replacement for universities. A replacement not just for me, but for future learners, thinkers and doers. Seth Godin has recently placed that wish on his list of things to achieve in the future, I am placing it on mine, now. A new way to reflect, question, argue, test, translate and learn.
I have come to the realisation I am a terrible academic. I am just not selfish enough to succeed in such a world. I don’t want my students to learn in such an environment. The selfishness of needing to place myself before my students and colleagues, to ignore pleas for help from students and self-promote at any opportunity. This goes against a great deal of what I work with my students to achieve – to encourage them to work together to build a better world.
Yes, it sounds idealistic. I am sure you and many of my colleagues will suggest lots of solutions to work ‘within the system’ to achieve my goals. I have fought within the system for a number of years and our small team at Fed Uni has accomplished many successes working together, championing a valuable niche area. Increasingly I feel we have been taking one step forward and two steps back as we struggle to create a valuable program in challenging conditions. I feel there is a better way to train the teachers of the future, and I am off to work out what that might be.
I sincerely thank you and the University for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students and staff. Thanks also for providing me with the seven months to consider my future, with the security of a job to return to. It’s time for me to take a leap into the unknown, so I will not be returning on 15 February, 2019.