4.2 Publications

Conference Paper (Lisbon 2014)

Imagined worlds & classroom realities: mythopoetic provocations for teachers and teacher educators

Publisher: Sense Publishers.

Nine stories, set in fictional classrooms, each with theoretical underpinnings (made explicit in a final chapter) and complex educational dilemmas and issues explored using a mythopoetic methodology . 

Book (Sense Publishers): Degrees of fiction: imagined worlds & classroom realities'

Publisher: Sense Publishers.

Eight stories, set in fictional classrooms, each with theoretical underpinnings (made explicit in a final chapter) and complex educational dilemmas and issues explored using a mythopoetic methodology . 

Five Bells: Report from the conference

The following was published in ACTivATE Vol 4, No 1, January 2013 14-15


Report for AATE Draft 3


At this year’s AATE conference in Sydney, I was on the look-out for sessions that would help me think about what English teaching has become or is becoming in a changing world. One of the exciting things about being involved in a profession for an extended period of time is when we find a writer or a presenter who shakes up our thinking, shows us new possibilities for the work we do.

It was over 40 years ago, when I first experienced this. A colleague lent me a book called The Secret Places by David Holbrook. Here was a writer bringing the world of the unconscious – the worlds made more visible through the writings of Freud, Jung and Winnicott– into the English classroom. Of course it had always been present: poems and novels have always had a powerful relationship with dreams, intuitions, instincts, nightmares and the imagination. But Holbrook put two apparently unlike fields – psychoanalysis and creative writing –  side by side, and the juxtaposition pointed to the powerful possibilities of allowing disaffected students to write more freely, to draw more confidently from their imaginations, to see their spontaneous imagery as being neither fanciful, distracting nor shallow.

There have, of course, been ground-breakers in English teaching since. But for a while, now, it’s been my impression that as a profession we’ve been more concerned with expansion (into the visual and the digital), classification (in attempting to name the proliferating strands of English teaching content) and consolidation (doing better what we’ve been doing before, often in the face of an unsympathetic neoliberal agenda).  There’s nothing wrong with any of this, and indeed one of the best sessions I attended (Wayne Sawyer’s Effective Teaching in Low SES schools) did all three inspiringly well. 

But where, I wondered, wasthe new thinking about English teaching?

There was a hint of it in the opening address on ‘The rhetoric and poetics of English, Media and Drama’ by Professor Andrew Burn. On the surface this was all about expansion, classification and consolidation. It made sense to Andrew (his presentation was so relaxed and informally inviting that it would seem strange to call him ‘Professor Burn’) to think of the ways that traditional English teaching, media and drama might work together to create a more embodied experience of story and culture. He showed some examples of student work created in this area of overlap between the three subjects. Here, in this opening address, there was the suggestion – as there’d been for me with David Holbrook – of what might freshly be seen if we brought together areas that in the past had been seen as separate.

But it was in the final conference keynote given by Professors Bill Green and Jane Mills –called Screen Culture, Literacy and English teaching: a matter of affect – that a more radical and stimulating juxtaposition was explored.  In some ways, their intention was to point out the differences between film and page, and to argue that the discourses (and the use of the word ‘literacy’)  brought to film from the world of literature – of analyzing imagery, finding words to describe meaning, locating themes, identifying techniques – was inappropriate. Film, said Jane Mills, is ‘beyond language’. Cinema, she suggested, is about the love of the moving image, it’s about bodily impression; the point is to experience rather than to understand, to be affected rather than to be enlightened, to re-experience the extraordinary in the ordinary. To appreciate cinema, we must learn to simply touch the visual surface with the eye. Loving the screen with the senses, she added, falls outside the rhetoric of explanation. Experiencing film as it should be experienced, she concluded,  ‘goes well beyond our current ways of thinking about English’.

The effect of all of this on me was not, I’m guessing, quite what the speakers intended. They, I think, wanted us to be looking for alternatives to our text-based language – the language of analysis, coherent narrative and explicit meaning – for our appreciation of film. I left the lecture theatre thinking about the importance of body and affect for English teaching more generally, including the way we study written texts.

What would English teaching look like if we were freed from the shackles of our curriculum’s emphasis on analysis and identification of techniques? What would the English classroom be like if, instead of studying Romeo and Juliet in order to help us ‘understand and interpret’, or ‘respect the varieties of English’, or be able to name the ways in which it has ‘the power to evoke’, or to ‘develop an informed appreciation of literature’, we instead studied it in the way that Professor Mills was urging us to experience film: to experience rather than to understand, to be affected rather than to be enlightened, to re-experience the extraordinary in the ordinary, to touch the surface with the senses in a way that falls outside the rhetoric of explanation?

David Holbrook’s insights didn’t come out of nowhere; they came out of his time’s intellectual engagement with the scholarship of psychoanalysis. Similarly, the insights of Green and Mills come out of current scholarly preoccupations to do with the body, affect and the senses.  David Abram wants to remind us about ‘the spell of the sensuous’.  John Armstrong writes about the ‘secret power of beauty’.  Giles Deleuze inspired a school of thought exploring the ways in which our bodies were ‘desiring machines’ affecting and being affected by other bodies. Margaret Somerville asks us to take notice of the ways in which paying attention to affect and bodies leads to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the world. These are just a few of the scholars simultaneously drawing on and tapping into a 21st century zeitgeist which requires us to reimagine culture, individualism and the nature of knowing.

Perhaps Bill Green and Jane Mills are a part of this movement, suggesting that there’s a more radical imagining of English teaching that might bring it more in line with what our age requires of us?



Breathing life into professional development

The following report from the Brisbane English Teacher' Conference (AATE) will be appearing in the ACT English teachers' journal (ACTivATE Vol 25, No 2)




Breathing life into professional development: thoughts from the AATE conference in Brisbane


Some time ago, I received an email from a former student, describing to me his experience as a first year teacher attending two days of compulsory professional development.

I have felt all sorts of frustration. We keep being told stuff I actually already know!

Yes, I know teaching is a noble progression.

Yes, I suppose bad teaching will break and ruin the children and crush our society into a fiery ball of failure.

Yes, I agree that I must engage the kids and capture their interest in schooling.

Yes, believe it or not I have actually read the Hattie statistics.

Yes I accept the fact that it involves time and effort.

Of course I think that the fundamental point of my life as a teacher is to get the best for my students.

You are preaching to the converted here. Hours of my life wasted, never to be returned to me. And, during the final session today,  this gem has just been delivered - did you know that "everyone has a responsibility to teach numeracy and literacy"?? Gosh!

And there’s more.

We are, we’ve been told several times,  teaching the leaders of tomorrow; if our students are bored they will switch off; technology is the key to engagement; encourage our children to be responsible for their own learning; assessment for learning and as learning is key - tests should not be about failure.

I know.

I knew these things before being told them again today.

Please, those in charge of professional development, give me something I can use.


I was reminded of this email by an excellent keynote from Terry Locke. It was called Developing writing teachers: Implications for teacher professional identity,  and my former student would have been on the seats cheering had he been present.

Terry drew from his extensive professional life (as an English teacher, a poet, a researcher and teacher educator) to suggest that we could be doing a much better job with PD. We could, without too much trouble, move beyond the current top-down practice, which sees too many PD sessions offered and attended more for the sake of ticking boxes for mandated professional standards than for genuine and useful teaching and learning). Furthermore,

Teachers are positioned primarily as users and not producers of knowledge, and dependent on the expertise of knowledgeable others to improve what they do as teachers. (Kerkham & Hutchison, 2004, p. 89)

Instead, Terry suggested, why not move towards what he called ‘the democratisation of professional development’.

What, specifically, did he mean by this?

The picture he painted was very different from the model which has someone out the front telling teachers stuff they already know, frustrating teachers like my student.

 Instead, Terry asked us to visualise a professional development program that was based around teachers being actively engaged in action research on problems and issues of vital concern to them. As I listened to him, I imagined a professional development leader – a good listener, someone able to get teachers talking about what most concerned them – skillfully guiding teachers in individual and small group projects. The participants would be helped to draw on relevant research as they tried to make sense of their experience. They would formulate plans of action, and then carry them out, as part of the professional development.

I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen the enthusiasm it generates. I wish there were more of it.

Central to Terry’s vision was a notion of teachers as writers: writing to help make sense of what they were experiencing on the ground, writing to grapple with the research they were reading, and then writing to produce useful and grounded articles and reports.

I described Terry earlier as an English teacher, a poet, a researcher and teacher educator. It seemed part of his vision – and an exciting part, I thought – that this is how he saw all of us as well. Certainly when professional development engages all of these different aspects of ourselves, it becomes a thing worth doing.

When I got back to Canberra, I told my former student about Terry’s session. He then sent me a poem he’d written after sitting through yet another top-down professional development session:


With apologies to Milton


When I consider that my time is spent

At workplace training feeling dull and tired

I long to feel alive and thus inspired

But end up in frustration and torment.

It isn't that I don't respect the time

Or effort that has gone into this course

But I object with vigour and with force

To policy and buzzwords intertwined.

I think it is unfair to just assume,

That none of us are competent or care, 

That we ignore responsibility

You can instead, I think, perhaps presume

That what we'd really like is time to share

And apply new ideas most properly.



Kerkham, L., & Hutchison, K. (2004). Teacher researchers – sustaining professional learning. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 3(2), 88-98.



'A+' Journal: Mythopoetics and scholarship (2014)

Date: Late 2014 (Accepted April 10th, 2014)

Title: A mythopoetic methodology: storytelling as an act of scholarship

Journal: Asia Pacifical Journal of Teacher Education

Impact factor

2010 Impact Factor: 0.644 
Ranking: 92/177 (Education & Educational Research)
© Thomson Reuters, Journal Citation Reports 2011


A pre-service teacher clashes with his mentor and the practicum ends badly. There’s distress and a sense of failure all round. Questions get asked. Was the pre-service teacher simply unsuited to this demanding profession? Was the teacher education inadequate? Was the mentor a good fit? Were there the right kinds of support in place? Was the school culture intolerant of new ideas, new energies?

Given concerns about an ageing workforce, beginning teacher attrition rates and healthy work environments, questions such as these require thoughtful investigation. But the issues are complex. Complexity is not an easy thing to research.

The past hundred years has seen a number of significant attempts to understand personal and social complexity, from the grand structural narratives of the psychoanalytic movement through to post-structural accounts that pay increasing attention to the apparently chaotic interplay of intersecting life trajectories, shifting identities and ordinary affects.

What methodologies nudge us deeper into perceived and experienced complexities? What ways of communicating the insights afforded by such methodologies are likely to have impact, to create affects?

In this paper, I suggest that a mythopoetic methodology (the writing of a story) plays a part in the scholarly attempt to see complexity more fully. I suggest, too, that a mythopoetic form (the telling of a story) has the potential to create useful affects.

The paper is performative rather than exclusively analytical.


Date: Article finished but not yet submitted

Title: Talk

Journal: Unpublished

Impact factor

Abstract: Lani and Thomas knew each other in their undergraduate English course, but are now in different cities beginning some postgraduate studies in teacher education. This is the (fictional) story of their renewed contact as they recount their varied (and often upsetting) experiences on the course and on their pracs. 


School Portrait (1987)

School Portrait (1987) McPhee Gribble, Melbourne

Impact: Trove reports copies in 39 libraries

From reviews:

"Steve Shann's School Portrait is one of the most interesting and at times moving books on teaching practice that I have read in some time ...[It] is an engrossing narrative as Steve recounts, warts and all, the progress the children made as they battled to overcome their different problems.No magic solutions or sure-fire formulae are offered. The great strength of the book is, for me, its honesty ... The moments in the book I delighted in most were those where Steve stands back from his story to reflect. His theoretical base is evident int eh narrative, but on these reflective occasions he is lucid in stating his teaching beliefs .. As I read Steve's book it occurred to me that he is the sort of teacher Jimmy Britton must have had in mind when he proclaimed the 80s the decade fo the classroom teacher ... the committed and caring practitioner, honestly analysing his own practice ... I wish it were a portrait of more schools"

Barney Devlin, Australian Association of English Teachers, Guide to English Books, 1987.


"What comes through vividly in his writing ... is that Shann, apart from being very comfroratble with children, is deely concerned aout their social as well as intellectual development and about fostering their confidence and independence ... Shann is a gifted story-teller in that he makes his readers really care about the success [of the students]. The book cannot fail to stimuate thinking about children's capacity to play a responsible, creative and, to a large extent, a controlling role in their own learning. As long as such thinking is going on, education is in no danger of becoming a dead issue."

Veronica Sen, The Canberra Times, Saturday May 2nd, 1987


"He does not write in the esoteric language of so many educationists whose words mean so little to so many ordinary parents. He offers some clearly written ideas and examples of how children learn ... He succeeds because ... the excitement, the sensitivity and the courage of his characters and his writing make a good story."

Keith Scott, The Canberra Times, 31 March 1987


"I've never understood why universities and colleges and educators didn't draw on case studies, such as you provide in detail, to help them to a cleaer conclusion on how to help these youngsters to develop ... The compassion and imagination you showed, and the need for the pupils to deal with solvable concrete problems rather than vague generalisations, released unsuspected abilities and energies. I've seen it happen. It was a major educational achievement."

R.F. Mackenzie, author of State School (Penguin), in a letter to the author

Their Other Lives (1992)

Their other lives: student perspectives on their schools, learning and aspirations … and a teacher’s perspective  Australian Association for the Teachers of English (AATE), Research Series No 6

The background

In the early 1990s, Stirling College in Weston Creek (since amalgamated with Woden College to form Canberra College) decided to do a major curriculum review. They wanted to involve their students in the process, but knew that the student voice was often repressed in formal meetings with staff. How then, senior staff wanted to know, might the authentic voices of their students be a part of the curriculum renewal process?

I was approached to interview a handful of students, to ask them to talk about their experiences of college and their attitudes towards what they were learning. The interviews were written up, and when senior staff saw the material, they asked me to increase the number from 3 to 10, and to include as well in-depth interviews with parents and teachers of the selected students.

I then presented these ten case studies to first of all senior staff, and then to the whole staff.

The book

The ACT representative on the Australian Association for the Teachers of English (AATE), Barney Devlin, was a member of the Stirling staff, and he discussed with me the possibility of the material being worked into a book. AATE agreed to the proposal.

The two boxes of mystery: on the nature and function of storytelling in psychotherapy

Date: Submitted June 2013


Date: Submitted 27 March 2013

Title:The two boxes of mystery: on the nature and function of storytelling in psychotherapy

Journal: Unpublished

Impact factor:


For twenty years, both as a primary and a secondary English teacher, I knew that stories mattered. But this was unarticulated, intuitive knowledge. It wasn’t until I took time out from teaching, trained as a psychotherapist, and began working therapeutically with clients’ stories, that I was forced to think more rigorously about the nature and function of stories. Here I tell the story of how this came about and what I discovered. The client – Joseph – is a fiction, though the story he told me is, word for word, a story that one of my clients told me. The conversations are also partly fictions, though they’re based on real conversations I had with my supervisor, Giles Clark, as I struggled to make sense of the story that Joseph had told me. Stories, I discovered, do particular kinds of work in the world. They affect and have an effect. Stories induct; they initiate into the circle of community.  They engage and connect. They allow the unspoken worlds of the mysterious, the unconscious and the instinctual to have a voice in the ways we think and talk about the worlds to which we belong. :


© Steve Shann, all rights reserved