New Year; New Start


January 4, 2013 by Peter Cantillon

What is it about the advent of the new year that makes us want to change everything?The Roman calendar is after all a human construction; an imposition of order on the infinite expanse of time. Yet it is unarguable that there are clearly defined rhythms to our days, the seasons, the position of the sun in the sky at midday are at sunset.  Such rhythms tempt us to reify and apply some comprehensible structure.  Traditionally  we don’t think of the passing of each day or month as a major threshold, but the passing of a year and the advent of another is regarded as a time for reflection, change and the setting of new goals.

This blog is about teacher development in the health professions. In the interregnum between the departure of 2012 in a series of late December storms and the advent of 2013 I decided to activate this blog and to commit to a series of recurring posts.the purpose of the bloggers to communicate what I am learning about how teachers in the health professions become the teachers that they are.  It is also about how professional educators become unwitting transmitters of professional culture norms and values. I also hope that the blog will attract attention to my research on the development of teachers in the health professions and in particular to the theoretical perspectives that emerge from this research.  I hope the potential collaborators, critics and other folk interested in developing new and better approaches to faculty development will take the opportunity to post on this site and to communicate with me.

As an early January gift I would like to share a link to an extraordinary poem by Marcia Brown, ( that was reproduced in the November edition of Academic Medicine. The poem has several layers of meaning, however the meaning that is perhaps of most interest to educators is its reference to how the author carries the awful story of a patient, metaphorically, in the pocket of dressing gown as she goes about the business of getting up and greeting a new day.  It reminds me of how we carry the many narratives of patients, of students, role models and of events with us as we ramble on through life’s complex undergrowth.  These narratives taken on different meanings as we change and develop, but they remain an important part of the fabric of our identity; the narrative of ourselves.given my current theoretical bias I see these narratives as socially constructed and individually interpreted. In other words it is quite possible that a story can be experienced and held in the collective yet it’s reality is somewhat different in each individual. As you read the poem you will form your own impressions and interpretations. in the reading there is a relationship between you and the author as the was between her, her social contexts in the subject matter.  By reading the poem you are in effect entering and experiencing her social world, yet the interpretation has a lot of you in it.  It is interesting to think about whether such a poem would be influential or interpretable by medical students.  Is it something that you would show to junior doctors?  Is it cool to share poetry or is it a sign of being daft and affected?  Is sharing an interest in the power of the condensed language of poetry to communicate a useful form of teaching? on the one hand one of the greatest gifts that we can offer learners is our enthusiasm and insight, yet on the other a perceived inability to interpret a poem “correctly” this could be seen as a form of weakness in a profession that values certainty and precision. Do I dare to eat a peach?  Do I dare to share  interests that might be perceived as less than cool?  These are questions that might cross the mind of a more reflective clinical educator.  I hope that you enjoy the poem.


2 thoughts on “New Year; New Start

  1. Martina says:

    Peter, a fascinating post. I am really interested in the manner in which all educators become as you say “unwitting transmitters of professional culture norms and values”, and how reflection can help us to unpack those norms and values. In my own work with educators in the past (non-medical), I found the creation of teaching philosophies, and the discussion of critical incidents in teaching, helpful tools. Looking forward to your workshop at INMED

    • Hi Martina
      thank you for your comment. I agree, deliberate exercises like writing a teaching / learning philosophy or discussing significant events are excellent approaches to making teachers’ tacit beliefs and values more explicit and as such available for reflective development. However, such interventions can represent external (and sometimes decontextualised) influences. I am interested in ways in which we can help clinical educators to be more mindful of the nature and effects of the learning environments that they unconsciously create; to become more aware of themselves as role models; to tune into where learners are at and so on. I am looking at how clinical teachers develop in the absence of formal faculty development and what happens to them in terms of identity formation and the development of teaching proficiency. From this I hope to develop a suite of organisational and social approaches that create an environment for enlightened “on the job” teacher development based on mindfulness, reflection, active experimentation, peer review etc that lead to movement from teaching proficiency based on commonsense to that based on a deep appreciation of learning, the learner and the powerful effect of environment.

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