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An original contribution, ~i~we~I~us~ Relationships

                                                    By Joy Mounter                                                            5th  May 2019


           “I need you, in order for me to be me; I need you to be you to the fullest.” (Tutu, 2012)

I have an interest in relationships in research and learning communities. I have been working on i~we~us relationships as part of my PhD research.

Over many years, first as a teacher researcher, then as a Headteacher researcher and now as a lecturer researcher I researched my practice, clarified my ontological and epistemological values and gained a deeper understanding of myself in and of the world. Over the last twenty years as a researcher there have been two major and significant moments in my journey that have profoundly impacted my life, my thinking and my way of being.

1. Finding Living Theory Research methodology (Whitehead, 1989) as a research approach but also as a way of life.

2. The second moment was as a teacher with my class of 6/7/8 year olds. I was telling them we are all learners and about my research for my Master’s when child A asked a simple, but profound question, “How can grown-ups write about learning without us?” This changed my way of researching and writing, from I to we.

The two points I have highlighted above are intrinsically intertwined and have led to the path my research is currently taking. I am also very fortunate to be in a role and working for an organisation that enables me to live my values fully and embody them in my practice. I am the MA and Leadership Course Leader for The Learning Institute, based in Cornwall, although we have centres across the south-west of England. I have recently written and had validated a MA: Values-led Leadership, which sits across faculties (not just within Education or Health) with a core of Living Theory Research methodology running through it. I am very interested in research communities as a form of quality professional development and the relationships developed which I am exploring as i~we~us relationships (and ~i~I~we~us~ relationships). I have also spent time working with children and adults to develop a sense of themselves as a learner and as a person whilst making a difference (M.A.D), not only to themselves but also wider to others and the social formations they are part of. This has developed into ‘Spirals’ and my understanding of ‘nurturing responsiveness’ (Mounter, 2012).

I hope you can already see the connection to your own research, which through developing ‘good-quality conversations’ and the move from ‘I’ as a voice to ‘we’, is reflected in my own thoughts on relationships within a research/ learning community. Below I offer some thoughts on these relationships, the masters and spiral is for another day. i~we~us relationships will form the framing for my thesis and PhD studies.


~i~we~us~ Relationships in Community

Living Theory Research Methodology Framing in Community

Living Theory as a form of Self-study research holds the practitioner, their practice and the educational influences they have in a place of shared mutuality, refining ontological values as life-affirming energy and standards of judgement (Whitehead, 2012). Living Theory research enables the researcher to look at their influences in their own learning, the learning of others and the social formations they are part of (Whitehead, 2010). Combining Auto-ethnography, Action Research and Narrative Enquiry with Living Theory, to create, as Whitehead, (2010) describes as ‘a constellation of theories’ enables the practitioner to include awareness of any external and internal influences and bias as well as narrating and reflecting the cycles of the research journey.

Living-contradictions (Whitehead, 2010) are clarified as the researcher focuses on an aspect of their practice as they create their own living-theory methodology, which combines the academic rigour of exploring and working with theory, whilst questioning your practice and exploring the values that bring ‘meaning and purpose to your life’ (Huxtable, 2016).

Living Theory as a research methodology should engender a sense of community at its heart through the very nature of the research, as you look at your influences in your own learning, the learning of others and the social formations you are part of. This cannot be a one sided perspective as an educational practitioner I want to make a difference to the students in my care. This forms a shared perspective, voice and journey as co-researchers in community. This developed from the first significant moment (1.) I highlighted above.

I am drawn to the work of Thayer-Bacon (2003) on a relational epistemology. Thayer-Bacon defines a relational epistemology as a process of knowing in relation to others, which I develop as ~we~ relationships in community. I also relate closely to Hofer and Pintrich (1997) who discuss ‘educational knowing’, creating theories and a way of knowing, which is different from ‘educational knowledge’. I identify closely with this as through nurturing responsiveness, the way we communicate positively to enable all within the ‘we’ to develop their thinking and that of the other members, we generate the ‘we’ whilst enriching the relational ~i (Huxtable 2012).

Barthes (1976) identifies that most readerly texts are published in a ‘linear and familiar way, following pre-designed formats and style’. He states that meaning is pre-determined and thus the reader is set to receive information. The writerly text however (Barthes, 1977) as cited by Landow (1992) gives control to the reader who has to take an active part in constructing meaning. With no pre-determined format the reader actively engages with the text from a position of subjectivity, drawing meaning, and deciphering the cultural beliefs of the writer. As human beings, the power of any narrative is intrinsically interwoven through all cultures, we need stories to not only survive, but to flourish, to change and to grow. Narratives carry our endeavours, our hopes and our discontent and connect us on so many layers to the world and people around us. My writing will draw on the definition of narrative by Amet and Arneson (1999) as a guide, to be changed and developed by others encouraging active participation through furthering other research and reflexivity (Whitehead, 2014). It is but a transient point in my research exploration that I am sharing. As a Living Theory researcher I construct meaning through reflections of my practice creating my living-theory research methodology, my writing offered as a gift (Huxtable 2012), which I believe, should reflect the journey of my research, challenging the reader to co-construct meaning, questions and wisdom cooperatively with the author.

Winter’s belief that we need to bring in a plural structure to our work, as our lives are not uni-dimensional, he describes as a ‘linear report’ (Winter 1992) strengthens my perspective of my research. I incorporate, in relation to the plural structures, critical engagement with theoretical ideas, as well as reflections from my notes, co-created writings ‘we’, relational writings from ‘I’, as well as extracts from video clips and discussions as part of peer validation groups.

I am also drawn to Winter’s multiple resource (1989) through Eisner’s (1993) belief that we have to move away from a simple text based analysis and incorporate creative arts to communicate fully our research, leading to communities of ‘us’ in i~we~us..  Mcniff (2002) points out “…the deep need to experience truth and beauty in our personal and professional lives,” this resonates with the aesthetics I strive for in my narrative through both internal and external empathetic validity (Dadds 2008). Social validity and rigour is also ensured through Popper’s (1975) view that objectivity is grounded in intersubjective criticism and drawing from Habermas’ (1976) questions to ensure social validation by the researcher and participants who co-create together. Living Theory is synonymous with my sense of an enriching and nurturing research community.


I Offer ~i~we~us~ Relationships in Community

Eze (2010), and Whitehead and Huxtable (2015) explore the concept of self being part of an educational community or collaboration through the African understanding of Ubuntu. Tutu (2012) describes this relational dynamic between self and being part of something bigger as, “I need you, in order for me to be me; I need you to be you to the fullest.” Whitehead and Huxtable (2015) discuss how the ‘I’ in self, is ‘distinct, unique and relational’, which exists in an ‘inclusive, emancipating and egalitarian relationship’. Huxtable (2012) further defines the “trustworthy, respectful, co-creative spaces,” where the world of researchers practice, questions and values touch. This space is then represented as the tilde or ~ between i~we~i.

     “We use ‘i’ and ‘we’ to point to a relationship where individuals and collectives are

       neither subordinated nor dominant but exist in an inclusive, emancipating and

       egalitarian relationship. We use ~ to stand for living-boundaries (Huxtable, 2012):

       trustworthy, respectful, co-creative space, where individuals, collectives and the

      complex worlds of practice, knowledge and socio-historical cultures they inhabit and

      embody, touch” (Huxtable and Whitehead, 2015).


Mellet writes to the second author of their article Gumeda (2019):

2018-09-26 PM to JG: Adapting Jerome's draft text by the addition of footnotes I hope that you can see that I am not trying to ‘take over’ your narrative but am  attempting to add my voice as a sort of counterpoint to yours.” Gumeda and Mellet (2019, Pp. 7)

Here I can see the form of ‘we’ I describe above, the ‘we’ that challenges, questions, clarifies, deepens, offers. You can also see the ‘i’, a relationally dynamic ‘i’ still held open within ‘we’.

Within a research community the flow of life-affirming energy amongst the group is generated through nurturing responsiveness (Mounter, 2012) creating “good-quality conversations” Gumeda and Mellett (2019). Conversations that take many forms including those that are celebrating, challenging, questioning, exploring, clarifying personally through sharing and developing as just a few examples. This sense of developing can be seen through clarifying of ideas, developing personal understanding through others nurturing responsiveness, finding new paths to explore and a greater sense of self- identity and belief. Within the collective ‘we’, we can see the relationally dynamic ‘i’ growing the sense of self. Self as a person, as a practitioner as a researcher, demonstrated as a capital ‘I’, thus ~i~we~I~us~. 



For our research to make a difference (M.A.D) and add to the flourishing of humanity (Whitehead, 2014), we need to be outwardly looking and open to offering our research as a gift (Huxtable, 2012). Schwartz’s (1994) definition of values aligns to my own view:

“ …that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity. Implicit

   in this definition of values as goals is that:

 1. they serve the interests of some social entity”. Humanity as identified by Whitehead     (2014) or I define as ‘us’.

 2. “they can motivate action-giving it direction and emotional intensity,

 3. they function as standards for judging and justifying action, and

 4. they are acquired both through socialization to dominant group values and

     through the  unique learning experiences of individuals.” 

Here I would add ~i~we~.

I understand Schwartz’s (1) social entity as the flourishing of humanity. My living-theory research methodology demonstrates my embodied values (2, 3) and uses them as my standards of judgement. My values are clarified through nurturing responsiveness in community (4).

Living Theory Research (Whitehead, 2010) asks the researcher to make a difference in the world. This is to self, through clarifying ontological and epistemological values, to practice, to others and to the social formations we are part of as well as adding to the flourishing of humanity. This is a concept I have struggled with, the difference I can make as an individual, until I read McNiff (1997):

“While it might be true that you cannot change the world, you can certainly change your bit of it; and if everyone changed a small bit at a time, a lot of change could happen quickly”.

The ‘~us~ relationships’ in ‘~i~we~us’ (Mounter, 2019) is the outward looking aspects of ‘I’ or ‘we’ in community as we offer, adding our living-theory research methodology to the educational knowledge base, adding to the flourishing of humanity.


The Difference Between We and Us, Is It Important?

Looking up the lexical definition of we and us, you find both definitions are very similar. Huxtable (2012) offers the capital ‘I’ as the egotistical ‘I’, but I would offer the capital I, as ‘I am important’ in QUIFF (Question, Understanding, I am Important, Focus, Feelings) created by my students (aged 6,7,8 years old) as we co-created our narrative of our research. This ‘I’ is how we perceive ourselves and is central to our learning and sense of self. This sense of finding self within a community is important and enables the relational ‘i’ to offer nurturing responsiveness within ‘we’.

I understand ‘we’ as the collective of ‘I’, the identity of a whole, ‘we think’, ‘we are’, the shared voice of identity, which at times is relevant, but at others, this sense of ‘we’ is not a collective we, but each of us retaining the identity of ‘I’ within the relational ‘I’.

‘Us’, can also be defined as the informal ‘me’ in a dictionary. For example, ‘Give us a kiss!’   really means give me a kiss, but informally, that sense of me spoken as us, deflecting the personal. Here I am relating all aspects of ~i~we~I~us~ as forms of self – I, whether relational ‘i’, ‘i’ as a collective we but still holding the variants of self ‘I’. ‘I’ the sense of self-identity and us, informal me or I. Offering our self to the world, trying to make a small ripple of positive difference.


Illustrative Community

“I need you, in order for me to be me; I need you to be you to the fullest.” (Tutu, 2012)

                                                                                           Loving Recognition (Huxtable, 2012)

                ~i ~ we ~ I~ us~

                                                                           Nurturing Responsiveness (Mounter, 2012)


My own thinking and sense of self is defined by the relational ‘i’ and by ‘I’, not as an egotistical ‘I’ Huxtable (2012), but more the ‘I’ as in ‘I am important, QUIFF, central to the learning theory the children developed, the importance of a sense of self (Mounter, 2008). I have the confidence in my voice, my sense of self as a contributor to the educational knowledge-base and flourishing of humanity through my living-theory research methodology and a valued voice, offered, ‘us’. The tilde is included to represent the living boundaries (Huxtable, 2102), trustworthy, respectful, co-creative spaces, which later Huxtable and Whitehead (2016) describe as inclusive, egalitarian and emancipating. If as a community we are open and engaging in conversation, peer validation we are outward looking in the form our research takes. This is represented by the tilde, ~, the quality of space shown before and after the i~we~us as ~i~we~us~.

The space of community and the members of that community are represented in the image above as the pale blue oval. The darker edge represents the energy of ‘loving recognition’ (Huxtable, 2012) and ‘nurturing responsiveness (Mounter, 2012) that develops and enables the inclusive, egalitarian and emancipating space to be trustworthy, respectful and engender co-creation (Mounter 2008).

‘I’, identifies the researcher within the community, but as an individual, the intrapersonal ‘I’, the sense of my inner living-archive and the ‘space within the child’ poems (Mounter, 2012).  The inter-personal influences on ‘I’ are developed through the dynamics of the community and my place and voice in it that enables self-confidence/belief and self-identity ‘I’. That sense of me and of worth within the community, leading to ‘I’.

Building on the work of Hofer and Pintrich (1997) and educational knowing rather than educational knowledge:


Intra-personal Knowing and Inter-personal Knowing

Inter-personal knowing – relationships built in community, ‘we’

Intra-personal – inner self knowing, self-awareness, I offered as ‘I’

Living Theory Research communities are not all about answering a question, the end point.  It is a personal and professional journey, on-going development, finding your own path. As you offer as a gift and talk about your living-theory methodology, others respond with nurturing responsiveness, you are defining the research community and become an integral part of it.

Living Theory Research – sense of being- sense of self-identity I - relational i – relationships in community we – offered to M.A.D us


Having an opportunity to be a researcher in a community across my different educational roles has been very important to me personally and for my professional development. Clarifying my values as part of my Living Theory Research has been a joy as well as bringing tension into my life, as I gained a stronger awareness of my epistemological beliefs in a period of tightening government control in education.  This highlighted life-affirming energy and living-contradictions (Whitehead, 2014) in my practice. The energy, inspiration and feeling of being part of something bigger, something working for change and a values-led education system encouraged and renewed my commitment as an educational practitioner. My heart as an educator is drawn to both Frankl (2004, 1972) and Whitehead (2010). Frankl (1972) describes drawing a ‘spark’ from life and Whitehead’s (2010) ‘life-affirming energy contributing to the flourishing of humanity’. As a practitioner I strive to live fully my life-affirming values through my practice, making a difference in the world, creating a sense of idealism as Frankl (1972) talks of. Through creating multiple living-theories, my embodied values have become central to my life and actions, both personally and professionally.

This sense of making a difference and being ‘professionally inspired’ is something I believe is needed more than ever in the current educational climate. Bousted, of the National Education Union, NEU (2019) describes the situation as, “qualified teachers leaving the profession outnumber new recruits” adding that teacher numbers are declining and are currently the lowest since 2013, compared to the number of children in schools rising considerably (Burns, BBC, 2018). https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/neu-comment-school-workforce-stats.

I briefly mentioned in my last letter to you how I have been clarifying my ontological and epistemological values through nurturing responsiveness (Mounter, 2012) in community. I understand nurturing responsiveness to be the energy and value that enables the “good-quality conversation” (Gumeda and Mellett, 2019), Frankl’s (1972) “spark” and Whitehead’s (2010) “flourishing of humanity” in community.  Two questions occur to me reflecting on what I wrote to you in my last letter:

1. How am I clarifying my values through nurturing responsiveness in community?

2. How does this evolve my living-theory methodology?

These two questions I would like to explore further with you in this letter. However first it may be helpful to share my living values. I write living, because they evolve and become more or less in focus at different points on my journey as a Living Theory (Whitehead, 2010) practitioner-researcher. I have identified my values into two groups, alongside the two areas of my life, personal and professional, although my personal values underpin my professional values. My personal values identified below as my ontological values, those that bring meaning to my life and my sense of being. Collins, Collins and Grecic (2014) highlight how our epistemological values underpin and link closely to our practice. They define this as an epistemological chain. Below I identify my epistemological values and I will demonstrate my epistemological chain, through examples from my practice. 

My epistemological values: ~i~we~I~us~ relationships, nurturing responsiveness, educational emancipation and democracy, by epistemological values I mean the values that describe the way of knowing.

My ontological values: hope, equality, M.A.D-make a difference, loving-recognition (Huxtable, 2012).


Clarifying My Values through Nurturing Responsiveness in Community

Nurturing responsiveness is my way of being as an educational practitioner; it is at the heart of my practice and something I have developed over the last 10 years. Learning isn’t easy. Being our self in the world isn’t easy. Offering our self, our thoughts, our ideas, our creativity makes us embrace a place of vulnerability and courage. A place we do not always feel safe, a place that opens us up to others response. Unless we can find that place of uncertainty, we cannot grow and transform, to feel the joy in community, the effort, the loving kindness (Huxtable, 2012) of others. Neither can we connect, share, feel the energy of creation and develop ideas-offer-find a new path-grow-change-transform. Nurturing responsiveness is a way of encouraging vulnerability and courage and holding open a space of uncertainty (Mounter,       ). It is in the body language, the knowing of the other, the voice of encouragement in the face of vulnerability, it is offering, building, form of question to deepen thinking not crush, a critical friend, offering insight and alternatives. It is very difficult to define, I think examples describe clearer what I mean by nurturing responsiveness.

I ran a club after school, M.A.D Club (make a difference). This was always in your own life and learning, in the learning of others and wider in the communities you are part of. The club ran for an hour and a half after school every week without fail. Children came and decided for themselves what they would like to explore and do, what their interests and passions were. One child came each week, did the same activity quietly and alone. This was a child who did not like school in any form and we had many conversations with parents, but he came every week. One week I noticed another child joined him and they quietly worked side by side. After a couple more weeks another child joined them and they began to share ideas. Mum said to me after one session, “I don’t know what he does here, he can’t tell me, but he loves coming and I don’t know why as he doesn’t like school.” I had noticed how if I sat alongside and watched quietly, he would gradually open up and tell me and show me what he was doing. Again I would sit alongside and he became animated telling me what he was doing. My asking if he liked school, just got a flat no and a scowl, but when I asked if he liked MAD Club, he just smiled. After a time, I asked what was it about MAD Club that he liked. He carried on what he was doing for a while and then simply said, “I am me here, I can let me out.” What he meant was that he felt safe to be vulnerable and felt he had the courage to just be himself. To show himself, his great passion, to connect with others who share the same passion. To not be judged against pre-set levels and time scales. To just be himself, to enjoy being himself. My interactions and

Another member of M.A.D Club came each week and would never touch anything messy, although 9 years old. But, she watched others making models, painting, drawing and watched with interest and a longing, but couldn’t. Over a long period we talked, I never pushed, I encouraged, I understood, I broke things down into small steps. One evening she asked me to help her make a life-size chicken wire dog, she wanted to papier-mâché and paint. A dog that was sitting she decided. We worked together making the frame, until it came to the messy part. To start with she wore double layers of rubber gloves and slowly began. For over a year, each week she would prepare the glue, pull on her gloves and work on her model. We would sit together and I would share her joy at the place of uncertainty she found herself and how proud of herself she felt. This joy for her was felt by others and some weeks others would join her and quietly help. Always acknowledging her courage. Gradually she only wore one pair of gloves, then thinner ones until one day she said she was ready to try with none, if I would work with her. That is an evening I will always remember, 11 months into the model.

My role was to work with the children to hold the space open for them, to enable them to be vulnerable and courageous, to be in a place of uncertainty. The photograph below was taken in my class. It shows two children so happy they had achieved something momentous for them.  You can in the foreground see them hugging on the spur of the moment, whilst in the background you can see the joy shared by two of their classmates. Without the environment and encouragement to be vulnerable and to have courage, to persevere, to be uncertain they would not have felt such joy and been comfortable to share it in such a way.

A lexical definition (Mounter and Huxtable, 2013) of nurturing is:

to encourage somebody to grow, to develop, to thrive and be successful, foster, tender care, protection to a young child, to keep a feeling in the mind for a long time, allowing it to grow or deepen”. (Encarta Dictionary, 2011)

I have made bold some of the lexical definition above. Nurturing responsiveness encourages a flow of energy between people in a community, offering reassurance to be vulnerable and to have courage, to be in a place of uncertainty but still offer of yourself. To enable that feeling to grow, to take hold, to deepen, into the confidence of self. To trust, to try, to fail, to be creative, to risk.


Nurturing Responsiveness to Nurturing Connectiveness

I first began thinking about a shift from nurturing responsiveness to nurturing connectiveness in Mounter (2014) but needed time and reflection to clarify my thinking. As the trust grew between myself and the children in M.A.D Club, the way of responding, of encouraging was shared by all. The children also talked about holding that space open inside of them even when not in M.A.D Club or my class. Over time the nurturing responsiveness felt like a flow of energy in the group, even when members changed. A deeper level of nurturing responsiveness changed to nurturing connectiveness. That place when you know you are with someone or in a place where you can be vulnerable and have courage, although it is hard. The connections flowed throughout the group, more than the living boundaries (Huxtable, 2012), flexible, flowing spaces encouraging personal growth and transformation and community growth and transformation. This nurturing connectiveness was a connection to others, but also a connection to self, the inner person. A place to be, to reflect, to learn inside. My class worked hard exploring learning theories and even developed one of their own. Whilst evaluating The TASC Wheel by Belle Wallace (20   ) one child described how it should 3d dimensional and not 2d as in her book. Learning flows and you do not always come back to the start, but flows like a knot. A couple of years later I sat next to him at lunch and he began to tell me how he still thought about my class. He talked about his reflection of the TASC Wheel and how his thinking with his learning had moved on. He now thought the model should be 5 dimensional and include time and space. The nurturing connectiveness he felt continued long after he left my class.

The nurturing responsiveness to nurturing connectiveness enabled me to look at the relationships in learning and research communities over many years. The growth and transformation of self, the influence on others, how that is shared within the group and beyond is summarised as ~i~we~I~us~ relationships in community.

1. How am I clarifying my values through nurturing responsiveness in community?

2. How does this evolve my living-theory methodology?

~i~we~I~us~ relationships are at the heart of M.A.D Club, where i~we relationships are developed through nurturing responsiveness and belief in making a difference. ‘I’ through growth and transformation of self, holding significant reflections about self as a person and as a learner in their living-archive, a reflective storage journal. De Sousa Santos (2014) engages with the idea of ecology of knowledges and equality of opportunity to the different kinds of knowledge, building “another possible world”. I reflect and question my practice within a TerreBlanche and Durrheim (1999) worldview belief. TerreBlanche and Durrheim , identify three dimensions within a research paradigm which I agree are important; ontology, epistemology and methodology, describing the ontological and epistemological dimensions as the world view. Aligning this ‘worldview’ with my understanding of knowledge democracy (de Sousa Santos, 2014) and my belief in ontological, epistemological and methodological democracy cultivating a global knowledge democracy, I find myself looking to Lather’s (1986) belief that we can combine our current understandings and reflections of the past, to strive for the future we believe in.

Hall (2017) acknowledges the importance of knowledge democracy, which calls to the academic in me, the one told to be more ‘traditional’. My heartfelt value of educational emancipation and democracy comes from my understanding of Hall (2017) and De Sousa Santos (2014).

This is where I am going onto trying to clarify:

Reflective wisdom (Mounter, 2014)

Joy x


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