Faculty Benefit from Playing and Letting Go of Certainty

By Anastasia P. Samaras and Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan

The authors wrote the article “Nourishing Wholehearted Faculty Professional Living Through Co-creative Play” in KDP’s current Educational Forum. You can find the article online for free during the month of July.

Anastasia P.  Samaras is a Professor of Education in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, Virginia, USA. She is a teacher educator, pedagogical scholar, and self-study research methodologist. Anastasia’s research centers on designing, co-facilitating, and researching neo-Vygotskian-based applications in curriculum and in faculty transdisciplinary polyvocal self-study professional learning communities with a focus on collective creative activity.

Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan is a Professor in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her scholarship is in professional learning, with a specific focus on better understanding and supporting teachers and other professionals as self-directed and self-developing learners. Using creative and transdisciplinary approaches, she has collaborated across contexts and continents to study methodological inventiveness in professional learning research.

We are two teacher educators and self-study research methodologists who have been playing with methods and data collectively since 2012. Living an ocean apart in our respective home countries of the United States of America (USA) and South Africa, we have been enriched professionally by our collective creativity and particularly by what we have come to recognize as playfulness in self-study research.

During a recent conference presentation, we were asked if our work became easier over time. We replied, “No, we wouldn’t want it to. It grew more uncertain and yet exciting because of our willingness to take risks in our creative and collaborative endeavors.”

We have found that our playful collaborative work in higher education has returned us to places and spaces to progress and grow professionally and collaboratively. Similar to what Parten (1932) identified as collaborative play, an advanced stage of play for young children, collaborative play as academics makes us fuller because of each other. We have experienced what John-Steiner (2000), a Vygotskian scholar (1978), calls “complementarity” (p. 7), whereby we support and trust each other’s disposition to take risks by moving beyond our comfort zones – which is fundamental to creativity. When we share the risk, we are encouraged to take more risks, and we enter into a developmental space of mutual support and challenge.

We are drawn towards the work of Brené Brown (2010) and her guideposts for wholehearted living. We see vital points of connections between those guideposts and what we each have come to understand and practice through collaborating with others. In particular, we see resonances between what has emerged from our repeated explorations of polyvocal self-study and Brown’s emphasis on Cultivating Creativity, Cultivating Play, and Letting Go of the Need for Certainty.

We look at the impact of what happens when we get out of our familiar element. We examine what it can do for others, for students, and colleagues. It’s because we know that going into those spaces gives us the freedom to think in ways that we don’t think of in our usual pencil and paper performance.


Opening to uncertainty

Vulnerability and not knowing

No one is in charge


Creating a new composition

Pushing against the status quo

Changing what’s normal

What has that playing with research ideas entailed for us, and why might it matter for others? We invite you to read about our pluralist methodological route and analysis results in design elements for professional learning captured through rich pictures, poetry, and dialogue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s