What The Mountains Can Teach Us About Life: Unleashing independence and confidence through outdoor living and learning.

Image credit: Cormac Lynch – Fia Mountaineering


In this podcast episode (link above), I chat with Cormac Lynch, a Mountain Leader who has been hiking, rock climbing and mountaineering for over 25 years.  He is a highly skilled member of the Dublin & Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team and owner of Fia Mountaineering.

We discuss his experiences growing up in Wicklow Town with a sense of adventure through reading and exploring his childhood playground that consisted of the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea.  We talk about the book he is writing around his personal odyssey ’32 Summits with 32 Friends’ about his experiences climbing the highest mountain in every county in Ireland, each one with a different friend.  He tells us that early on in the project, while standing in a 4,000 year old passage grave listening to whispers of history echoing down through time, he came to realise that this project wasn’t about him, but about commemorating those who have gone before us, relationships with those in our lives today, and connections with the landscape in which we live and how we engage with one another.

He talks about bringing your ‘A’ game… and how the quality of informal learning is just as important as the quality of formal learning and translating informal learning experiences into valuable life skills is vital.  He reminds us that when people give you well-meaning advice, you need to remember that it isn’t instruction and you can’t necessarily take the advice of strangers at face value. He also explains that a teacher just being good at their subject is not enough, they have to be good at teaching as well, and why curriculum and instruction is so important, because you have an incredible responsibility to NOT get it wrong.

We discuss how variety, and pursuing something with a little more bite in your professional worklife is not a bad thing at all. He attests from his own experience that valuable lifelong learning is gained through what he calls a ‘module’ career and how important volunteering is in not only a personal capacity but in a professional one as well.  I encourage you to listen and learn.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

You can find out more about Fia Mountaineering here:



The Lonely PhD Epidemic: Exposing the symptoms of isolation and exploring the cure through practices of inclusion.

Image credit: Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash


Are  you a PhD student?  Do you support one, work with one, love one? Do you know someone who has finished a PhD or is thinking about starting one?  This podcast episode is for you! (link above).

They say that the PhD journey can feel very isolating and lonely.  It often feels like you’re battling a contagious illness all alone.  Don’t fear!  You’re not alone, and the cure is found through the process of making the invisible visible.  My conversation with Maeve O’Regan, occupational psychologist and part-time PhD herself, covers everything from symptoms to cure for today’s PhD candidate.  Through her research on the lived experience of surviving the PhD, we unpack:  

The symptoms…

  • Feeling like the Invisible learner
  • Fumbling in the darkness
  • Fighting a Disconnected Culture
  • Suffering with Unconscious Incompetence
  • Keeping your PhD a secret
  • Battling Imposter syndrome

The cure…

  • Practice Personal Agency
  • Visualize Resilience
  • Gather Support
  • Embrace Human Centrered Design
  • Adopt Dynamic Interaction
  • Promote Linking in and Listening
  • Find your network
  • Encouraged by Shared Experiences

We talk about how Covid has leveled the playing field and laid bare the ‘gap’ in supports for PhD candidates that must be addressed and how we can bridge that gap between what she calls ‘zoom and room’.

We discuss the importance of space and place, as a physical connection that provides a sense of belonging for a PhD who’s world is really quite isolated, and if you can’t find an ‘in’ within a physical space as a part-time PhD, you can become very lost – missing that ‘in’ to navigate the Phd journey. We explore the biggest barrier that many part-time PhD’s face –  those important informal connections within the institutions through face to face contact.  Just by the nature of being there, full-time PhDs benefit more highly from informal community and ‘coffee culture’. 

Maeve shares so many nuggets of wisdom and implications for policy, practice and support.  Including the difference between cultures where PhDs are valued, not just in the ‘academic community’ but in the business community and wider society.  Everyone has a responsibility, to support our learners, and promote the ethos of continued learning by creating a feeling of belonging for part-time and full-time PhDs alike.

Ancora Imparo

They say that a PhD is a ‘terminal degree’ and often academics who have achieved this status believe that their raison d’être is to impart their knowledge and expertise with little room in their heads (or heart) for continued learning. They become as musty and dusty as the paper their thesis was printed on. Collecting dust on a shelf somewhere… Please don’t get me wrong! Achieving a PhD is an incredibly long and arduous process. Often like a prolonged labour and painful birth. It is good to take a breath and look at the beautiful creation you’ve brought forth into the world. But, birth is a beginning, not the end and what is the point of reaching a milestone or destination only to exclaim, ‘I have arrived’ and then not explore?

‘I am Still Learning’

Image credit: Shelli Ann Garland, author

At the age of 87, Michelangelo is attributed with inscribing the words “ancora imparo” translated as ‘I am still learning’ on a sketch he was working on while at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Image credit: history.com

As a non-traditional ‘mature’ student who started my formal higher education later in life, I have often pondered the significance of that small but incredibly impactful statement recorded almost 500 years ago.  What inspired Michelangelo to long for learning and understanding and to want to share that knowledge with others?  It seems most fitting that Michelangelo, and many others who have had similar sentiments were meaning “look at everyday as something new, learn something new, do something new.” 

Ancora imparo… Even after he was well established and highly respected in his career as an artist, sculptor, and architect, Michelangelo still knew how important it was to continue to learn. Imparting a more unspoken lesson that we should never allow ourselves to believe (or let others believe) that they’ve reached some sort of pinnacle, and don’t need to learn anymore. We should never stop learning and that lifelong learning should be actively encouraged and pursued from cradle to casket.

Of course, there have been many other very influential and highly intelligent people who’ve also promoted the importance of lifelong learning.  For instance, Albert Einstein famously stated ‘Once you stop learning, you start dying’ and Gandhi said ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever’.

Image credit. Pinterest.com and twitter.com/iamfearlesssoul

I have had a burning for learning in my soul, as far back as I can remember. As my final parting words of my PhD thesis, I wrote ‘Learning is lifelong… Never stop’, and then I quoted Michelangelo as if I believed this with my whole heart.  I did… and I still do.  They say that a PhD is a ‘terminal degree’ and often academics who have achieved this status believe that their raison d’être is to impart their knowledge and expertise with little room in their heads (or heart) for continued learning. They become as musty and dusty as the paper their thesis was printed on. Collecting dust on a shelf somewhere… Please don’t get me wrong! Achieving a PhD is an incredibly long and arduous process. Often like a prolonged labour and painful birth. It is good to take a breath and look at the beautiful creation you’ve brought forth into the world. But, birth is a beginning, not the end and what is the point of reaching a milestone or destination only to exclaim, ‘I have arrived’ and then not explore?

In 2019 there was a trending ‘tweet, re-tweet’ occurrence on an education and postgraduate Twitter social media platform that invited conversation about ‘what I wanted to be when I grew up’ – in primary school – high school – undergrad – and postgrad.  I am sure that it was a question to encourage reflection about growth and maturity as we live and learn.  I participated… how could I resist?  I reminisced briefly about what I wanted to be at those varying age levels (keeping in mind that there was a 30 year gap between my high school and undergrad education). I dashed off my reply and clicked ‘+tweet’.  I didn’t contemplate my tweet very much at that time, but while I was completing the reflection section in the final chapter of my PhD thesis, my 6 year old me – 15 year old me – 40 year old me – and 47 year old me were calling out to me once again.  I revisited that tweet and I was blown away by the desire for learning and the sense of purpose I had always had within me. This was my tweet:

Image credit: Shelli Ann Garland

‘I want to be a teacher so I can teach the world’

What did I want to be when I grew up?  In primary school I wanted to be a teacher.  I remember frequently playing ‘school’ with my siblings and cousins, as a child, and I always wanted to be the teacher.  I recognized that there was power in passing on wisdom and passion for learning to others.  I wrote ‘I want to be a teacher –  so I can teach the world’.

‘I want to be a flight attendant so I can see the world’

In high school (secondary school), I initially wanted to be a flight attendant because as a Sagittarius I was a dreamer, I had a restless spirit, and I was fascinated by the cultures of the world around me.  I believed that becoming a flight attendant and travelling the world would take me places that only my dreams and imagination had taken me at this point. I wrote ‘I want to be a flight attendant – so I can see the world’. Of course, my parents were not in a financial position to be able to send me to the flight attendant school that I desperately wanted to attend in Florida, so I joined the United States Navy instead.  I didn’t see much of the world because I promptly became a mother, married and settled into my role as primarily a ‘stay at home’ mom.  

‘I want to be a Sociologist so I can study people in our world’

It wasn’t until after my boys were fairly independent young men, that I embarked on my ‘further’ educational journey.  That burning fire for learning was still very much there, buried deep in my heart.  My passion for education and learning was just as strong in my 40s as it was when I was just a young girl.  Throughout my undergraduate degree and even into my master’s degree, I was passionate about sociology and understanding people and the way that people function in societies all around the world.  My favorite courses were classes that centered around cultural awareness and global consciousness. I wrote ‘I want to be a Sociologist so I can study people in our world’.  

‘I want to be someone who makes a difference in our world’

As a middle-aged woman with many experiences and life events behind me, I desired to understand more about the world in which I lived.  To study people, places and events that I had knowledge of… And many more people, places and events that I did not.  I did become a Sociologist, and yet I was so hungry for more learning.  As a postgraduate – finishing my master’s degree and working in a job as a higher education administrator (that was less than satisfying for me), I set my sights once again on my passion to become an educator.  I wrote ‘I want to be someone who makes a difference in our world’. I then commenced my journey to PhD without a single glance behind me. One of my research participants said during our interview ‘don’t look back, you’re not going there’. This is a very Irish saying, and I really love it! It reminds me that life is a journey – FORWARD. Reminiscing and memories are lovely, but the journey is still always forward.

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@timmossholder

After posting that missive on Twitter, confined in the very limited word count, I sat back to think about my educational journey and all that I have learned throughout my life and indeed through my PhD study.  I realized that my personal and educational aspirations, my own beliefs, attitudes and values, have been deeply influenced by what I have learned from others – formally and informally.  My social interactions, connections, and relationships with others over the years, have shaped my identity and my personal aspirations, as well.  Today, I have come to realize that tweet, glibly tweeted in haste on a very early Sunday morning in June, represented my conscious recognition of my identity, my learning, and my life journey.  This educational journey is all part of my innate desire to make a difference in our world. At the end of my ‘terminal degree’ I realised that my raison d’être is to inspire a love for learning that is LIFELONG, in others.  

I, (like Albert Einstein), believe that once you stop learning, you start dying… I, like Mahatma Gandhi, aspire to live as if I were to die tomorrow, and to learn as if I were to live forever.  Who we are as social beings, are strongly impacted by the relationships, social interactions and learning moments that are enacted throughout our lifetime. I equally believe that active and continued (personal, academic, and professional) reflection as an adult learner is key to transformation and develops learning that endures.  I, like Michelangelo, am still learning. Learning is lifelong… Never stop. 

Why I Teach…

Dr. Behler taught me that although the world is suffering, it is also full of the ability to overcome it and to never stop learning because life never stops teaching.

As part of a recent Professional Master’s in Education student orientation induction process at Hibernia College, I was asked to create a video about why I teach. Any quality professional master’s in education programme should strive to instil within the student a personal connection between the theories of education, their practice in the classroom, and most importantly a connection to their own professional teacher identity. This is just a quick story about why I was inspired to teach. The experiences and more specifically, the teachers, during my education that impacted me greatly and grounded my teacher identity. Personal and professional reflection is key to connect with and continually engage with your own teaching identity. I encourage you to think about why you teach, or… if you are thinking of becoming a teacher, why you want to teach. It is an important practice to Engage – Inspire – Transform. 

What follows is the narrative of my video, ‘Why I Teach’.   You can view the video at the end of this narrative. 

Why I Teach

John Dewey is known as the father of Experiential learning and is often seen as the proponent of learning by doing – rather than learning by passively receiving. He believed that each child was active, inquisitive and wanted to explore. Dewey referred to his philosophy as instrumentalism, rather than pragmatism, though the two are related. Instrumentalism sees the value of an idea or tool being its use as an instrument for getting results. Bearing this in mind, learning should be relevant and rewarding – rather than only theoretical. https://www.thepositiveencourager.global/john-deweys-approach-to-doing-positive-work/ Image credit: Amy Stott https://www.pinterest.ie

Maribeth Whitehouse, a special education teacher from the Bronx, New York, wrote a piece about why she loves teaching, that first appeared on the Learning Matters blog called Why I Teach in May 2012.  Her piece was entitled “I Teach Because” and talked about the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher to children with special needs.

This got me thinking about my own educational journey, the teachers who inspired me over the years, and why I wanted to become a teacher of teachers. Maribeth Whitehouse has her story.  This one is mine:

If you are a Generation X… or anywhere near my age, you would remember the typical school lunch similar to what it depicted in this image. Image credit: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk

I teach because… 

Mrs. Rosen, my 1st grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School, would bring a group of students’ home to her house for a special lunch during our given birthday month for sandwiches, sparkling juice, and a dessert of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream.  She made each student feel important and taught us that relationships matter.

The Muppet Show – an iconic television series from the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s. Puppets like Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, and many more, entertained families on a weekly basis. There was always a special ‘human’ guest on the show – typically a famous Hollywood star who would serve as master of ceremonies and appear in various puppet skits. Image credit: Jim Henson Productions https://www.henson.com/

I teach because…

In middle school, I was very small for my age, I was awkward, and desperate to fit in with the cool kids.  Mr. Wallace, my music teacher, wrote a musical play based on the television program “The Muppet Show” which was all the rage back in those days.  He believed that I had musical talent and gave me the role of ‘Trixie LaBomba’ the guest star host.  In doing so, Mr. Wallace taught me to believe in myself.

Image depicts a teacher writing french words on a white board with blue ‘dry erase’ marker. Image credit: https://www.freeimages.com

I teach because…

In high school, I wasn’t the most academically sound student, because I was often more concerned with my social life and social standing than my academic standing.  Miss Griffith, my French teacher, made learning about French language and culture fun.  In a country where very few Americans ever travel outside of the continent of North America their entire lives, Miss Griffith sparked my interest in a more global worldview.  

Image depicts Dr Thomas Behler, Professor of Sociology (retired) working at his desk with a screen reader and braille printer at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan, USA. Image credit: https://www.fsutorch.com

I teach because…

The day I walked into my first sociology class at Uni, I was introduced to a white-haired man, with the most positive, jolly disposition, who had been born completely blind.  This man was Dr Tom Behler, Senior Professor of Sociology.  Dr. Behler challenged every bias and pre-conceived notion that I had about society, about disability, and about access to education.  This man, despite all odds, and despite his lack of sight, was an incredibly well-educated and successful.  A community member, teacher, husband, father and grandfather.  Dr. Behler taught me that although the world is suffering, it is also full of the ability to overcome it and to never stop learning because life never stops teaching.

Image depicts white blocks that spell out the word TEACH on a wood-grained table with stacks of books blurred in the background. Image credit: https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-euykl

I teach because…

I care.

I teach because…

Because it is what I am meant to do.

I teach because…

You (the learner) are important to me.

Image depicts a childe writing a quote in white chalk on a green chalkboard: Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world – Nelson Mandela. Image credit: https://www.wordsonimages.com

I teach because…

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

You can find this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUodKLf4rRw

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