David Whyte – language we need for the times we live in

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.”

The words of David Whyte, from the poem, Sweet Darkness.

David Whyte

If you’ve never heard of David Whyte, then I suggest you make yourself familiar with his work. A good start is to listen to him interviewed by Krista Tippett at the On Being podcast. That’s where I first heard him, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Not long after I listened to this podcast, I was fortunate enough to hear him speak at The Edge in Federation Square. It was a gift to listen to him share his verse and touch many of us with words that spoke to situations we were dealing with, each in our own way. When David recites his poetry, he repeats lines, phrases, and stresses key words. It’s so impactful. You listen even more carefully, craning for insight.

David’s back story is fascinating. He studied marine zoology and found himself in the Galapagos islands observing wildlife. What he also found was that the scientific language he needed to describe their habitat and interactions wasn’t enough to fully appreciate and encompass the experience, and he found those words by returning to poetry. Eventually, he immersed himself fully in his craft. Here’s what he shared in the On Being podcast explaining how he ended up working for companies in corporate America.

And so when I went full-time as a poet, I was only a year into it and I spoke here in Washington, D.C. at a large psychological conference. And at the end of the conference was this line of people, and at the end of the line was a man who, in best American fashion, said, “We have to hire you.” And I said in best Anglo-Irish fashion, “For what?” [laughs] enthusiastically. And he said, “To come into corporate America.” And I said, “For what?” And he said a marvelous thing, actually. He said, “The language we have in that world is not large enough for the territory that we’ve already entered.” “The language we have in — and in your work, I’ve just heard the language that’s large enough for it.”

And of course, he was talking about the territory of human relationship that the workplace was entering, and the movable human relationship, and the movability that the organizations had to have. And the only place that came from was from the individuals who actually worked within the structures. So it was the breaking apart of many of those structures. And I don’t think we quite realize how over-structured our organizations were just 25 years ago or 30 years ago. There are still plenty of dinosaur ones left for us to still go and live in if we want them, but …

These words sang to me. As I’ve stepped into leadership positions over the last few years my understanding of the power of words to bring people with you has only intensified. I’ve appreciated how words can move people, can frame change scenarios in ways that make people want to come with you and not turn the other way. As many of us work within our schools to envision what is necessary for children navigating futures less certain than ours ever were, we need to find the language that will ease our people into a deeper understanding of the role they need to play. An investment in ideas and a willingness to reflect and review will help prepare our children and build our capacity in the process.

At the AIS ICT Leadership conference in May this year I spoke briefly about podcasts and the benefits they can bring  – they’re an investment in yourself and your personal growth if you listen to the right ones. I mentioned On Being and referenced the David Whyte episode. Often, when you’re leading change, you have to have difficult conversations, ones you’d really prefer to avoid given the chance. But if you’re doing your job well, you don’t avoid them, you face them head on, even though it means you’re often doing so with trepidation. It’s a situation many of us have to face, and the words of ‘Start Close In’ capture what I think is necessary if you are going to build resolve and tackle things head on. I read this poem to the audience of mainly men. There seemed a bit of a stunned silence at the end of it – not sure anyone’s read a poem at an ICT Managers conference before, but hey, you never know when words will make an impact, right?


Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

~ David Whyte ~
(River Flow)

I suggest you start close in and take a look at David Whyte’s work. People of wisdom in times that require it are salve for troubled souls.


Commuting? Take a podcast with you for the ride.

My daily commute to work used to be 8 minutes tops. Enough time to tune into a bit of breakfast radio, listen to some banal commentary and maybe a good tune, then turn into the school gate and begin the working day. That was then…

…this is now. Get up at the crack of dawn, get ready, then spend the next hour in the car making my way to work. I started with breakfast radio, switched channels over the course of a few days, then realised that the presenter’s tendency to drag a story out over a laborious 20 minutes really wasn’t how I wanted to spend my waking hours.

Solution. The podcast.

Serial, a podcast from the creators of This American Life and hosted by Sarah Koenig, got me hooked last year. It was a twelve episode podcast recounting the murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior whose body was found in a city park in Maryland. Her ex boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested and found guilty of her murder and has been incarcerated since 1999. Serial reinvestigated the evidence and sparked massive Internet interest in the case. I binge listened to the first five episodes, then waited with baited breath for the weekly updates that would be posted around 10.00pm on a Thursday night in Australia. I’d tune in straight away, ear buds at the ready, waiting to see what new evidence had been located that made Adnan’s incarceration seem questionable. No spoilers here – if you haven’t listened, I suggest you head to the Serial site and tune in.

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So, I’ve been hitting the podcasts pretty hard. When you commute an hour each way, you can power through a lot of content. Here’s what I’ve been listening to and what I’d recommend you give a try.

  1. Invisibilia.

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I LOVED this podcast. Literally couldn’t wait to get into the car to be consumed by the stories being shared. Here’s the description of the podcast from the NPR site:

Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.

They’re right – the hidden gems they unveil do help you make connections to your own life. I’d find myself nodding my head as I drove along, making connections. Cannot wait for the next season to start!

2. TED radio hour.

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Guy Raz has me mesmerised. He has one of those voices that makes him instantly familiar. I’ve listened to nearly every TED radio hour podcast over the last few weeks and the pearls of wisdom shared have me heading home to explore links to find out more. Here’s the description of the podcast;

Based on Talks given by riveting speakers on the world-renowned TED stage, each show is centered on a common theme – such as the source of happiness, crowd-sourcing innovation, power shifts, or inexplicable connections – and injects soundscapes and conversations that bring these ideas to life.


According to ‘my podcasts’, I have only two episodes to listen to until a new one is released. Tragic! And yes, I am subscribed. This is a podcast I can’t miss.

3. On Being

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How did I find ‘On Being’? Why, by listening to the TED radio hour and hanging in there for the last couple of minutes where they recommend other podcasts. And I’m very glad I found it. Here’s what it’s about.

On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.

Krista Tippett’s interview with Brene Brown is well worth a listen, especially if you’ve read any of her books about vulnerability.  On Being will keep me going when the TED radio hour dries up!

4. Limetown

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Now this is interesting. Here’s what it is;

Limetown is a fictional podcast from Two-Up Productions. Limetown follows journalist Lia Haddock as she investigates the infamous disappearance of a doomed research facility.

It’s a seven part podcast, with only the first two currently available. It reminds me of Orson Welle’s ‘War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast from the 1930’s. (interestingly, a recent Telegraph article claimed the mass panic that surrounded this was a myth) The production quality is reminiscent of techniques used in Serial, and listening to it has made me think of how the creation of a podcast like this would make for a wonderful English class project. Scripting, characterisation, learning how to utilise multimedia effectively – doing something like this would tick a lot of boxes, and I’d bet students would love it too!

5. Snap Judgement

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Snap Judgement is storytelling.

My favourite episode thus far – Legendary. The story of the Yellowstone wolf known as O6 is going to stay with me for a long time. Listen, and think of how you might weave this into the fabric of a class you teach. Students need opportunities to hear great storytelling like this.

As Molly Meldrum used to say, ‘Do yourself a favour’ and tune into a podcast. Doing so has enriched my world. It just might do the same for you.


Do yourself a favour – subscribe to a Podcast

I’ve been slow to come to Podcasts. For that matter, I’ve been slow to move to  MP3 players.  I got an iPod classic with 120gig capacity for my birthday a couple of months ago. It’s been sitting there with its pathetic 112 songs on it since then. Finally I’ve had time to explore iTunes and the variety of Podcasts about education and technology that are available. With a bit of help from my Twitter network I’ve subscribed to quite a few.

Part of my initial hesitation was the simple fact that I didn’t really know what I was doing  when it came to downloading from iTunes. To those under the age of 20 that’s probably laughable, but my teenage years were in the  era of vinyl records and cassette tapes! I’m happy to report I have mastered the fine art of downloading and syncing to my iPod and now have hours of listening pleasure at my disposal. And all for free!! 

What I’ve subscribed to:

 (it’s very easy to search the Podcasts field of iTunes for these titles)

Driving Questions in Education

Ed Tech Crew

EdPod – ABC Radio National

EdTech Posse

Moving at the Speed of Creativity

SOS Podcast

Tech Chick Tips

TWIT – This week in technology

Seedlings – Bit by Bit

Wicked Decent Learning

Women of Web 2.0

21st Century Learning – Ed Tech talk

I can hear you asking, ‘When is she going to get time to listen to all that?’

Good question. I have an underused treadmill in my back room. I mentioned in an earlier post that my brain had been active but not much else of me this year! Now I can combine activity with learning and do my body and mind a favour.  


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