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Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

The road to BERA 2023

Philippa Isom, Lecturer at Massey University

The sun was setting on the final days of summer in Aotearoa New Zealand as the UK was looking forward to spring. My academic friends and I, separated by time, space and seasons, dreamed of when we might come together in person, what it would feel like to be in the same room, in the same time zone, to eat together, breathe together, laugh together. For three years we had worked online, a positive outcome of the global pandemic when we made good use of technology to combat our scholarly isolation. As a PhD candidate using posthuman philosophy and writing original short stories to invite previously unimagined ways to engage with enduring narratives of education in Aotearoa New Zealand, my research is quite niche. Finding like-minded people online has been invaluable to my development as a researcher even though we are together–apart (Barad, 2014).

As a collective, we decided to submit an abstract for the BERA Conference 2023. If accepted, I would be ‘Zoomed’ in as I had for other events. Then Sharon suggested that I apply for the International Collaboration Bursary that would contribute towards international travel and pay for my conference attendance and accommodation.

‘Why would they give me an International Collaboration Bursary?’ I asked.

‘Because you are an international collaborator. And why wouldn’t they?’

‘I’m just a PhD candidate,’ I countered.

‘You are a lecturer of Initial Teacher Education AND a PhD candidate,’ was the response.

And then all my academic friends were in the chat with variations on, ‘just do it,’ ‘don’t ask don’t get,’ ‘you’ve nothing to lose,’ ‘IMAGINE if you got it?’

They helped me to imagine, and I applied.

You already know the outcome of this story. I was awarded the bursary which made travel to the UK possible. With the support of my employer, Massey University, I was able to extend my visit to three weeks to take full advantage of the twenty-four-hour flight time. In the two weeks preceding the conference I travelled from London to the Scottish Highlands to visit my academic friends in situ. I experienced little pieces of their lives. I was welcomed into their families, hugged, shared breath, ate together, and was thoroughly loved. We went beyond what might be considered traditional academic research work to embrace and enact posthuman feminist praxis of being together and making kin (Haraway, 2016). We imagined through storying and art, discussed accessibility, and dreamed of our part in (re)imagining education as a wholly humanising experience. My ever-present notebook is stuffed with research ideas and bits of narratives that will inevitably make it into the short story anthology of my doctoral project.

‘We went beyond what might be considered traditional academic research work to embrace and enact posthuman feminist praxis of being together and making kin’

In addition to my PhD candidacy, I also wear the cloak of an initial teacher education lecturer. My work centres around preparing kaiako (teachers) to navigate their way from a colonised New Zealand to a bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand while interrogating the taken-for-granted norms of educational practices (Isom, 2023). It is work centred on identity, both of oneself and of our country. The school system was envisioned to be egalitarian (Beeby, 1992). However, inequalities persist for Māori where the mechanisms of colonisation have marginalised and devalued mātauranga Māori (Māori ways of knowing) in addition to the attempted extinction of te reo Māori (Māori language) and the dispossession of land. There is a Māori whakatauki that says,

Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua

I walk backwards into the future with my eyes on the past (Rameka, 2016)

This whakatauki guides my practice in an attempt to articulate the stories of the past to break the cycles of perpetuation in the future and enact the intention of our founding document, te tiriti o Waitangi.

Ending my trip with the BERA Conference brought together thinking I have engaged in with my UK academic friends and colleagues in Aotearoa to affirm the need to resist the purely technicist training of teachers (). I remain unapologetically committed to supporting new teachers to consider how they might practise philosophically, questioning taken-for-granted assumptions of education within a capitalist neoliberal society. How might our research support each other to enact education in the humanising way we envision?

I returned to Aotearoa New Zealand with profound gratefulness to BERA for this opportunity and a renewed passion to an expansive enactment of education that is inclusive and generative of a future (re)imagined through sympoiesis (Haraway, 2016) – something totally new that we make together.


Barad, K. (2014, 2014/07/03). Diffracting diffraction: Cutting together-apart. Parallax, 20(3), 168–187.  

Beeby, C. E. (1992). The biography of an idea: Beeby on education. New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Isom, P. (2023). He whakakapinga: The use of narrative and metaphor to consider a philosophy of education. In P. T. Maro & R. Averill (Eds.), Ki te Hoe! Education for Aotearoa. NZCER Press.

Lofthouse, R., Beck, A., Davis, A. J., Hagan, M., & Jain, P. (2023, 12-14 September). Challenging the status quo from inside teacher education: a chain reaction conversation offering new perspectives from across the UK. BERA Conference 2023, Birmingham.

Rameka, L. (2016). Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua: ‘I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past’. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 17(4), 387–398.