The Cooperative Development of Julian Edge: A Digest, Notes and Reflections by Alex Dunedin

Finding effective ways to communicate and work with each other is a perennial task.  It is not something which can be found in a one stop shop, or some hothouse leadership programme, or a bunch of invigorating lectures designed to make you inspire others – it comes from the lifelong task of diligently learning and developing as we encounter new ways of being over our whole lives.


Continuing Cooperative Development A Discourse Framework for Individuals as Colleagues by Julian Edge

For me the great potentials are stored amongst the possibilities of collaboration and cooperation.  The mystery is learning ways to better connect with others in meaningful ways.


Doing the Ragged University project and events over the last six years has afforded me the opportunity to encounter lots of different people – all of which are intrinsically motivated.  This means, people have been motivated by the love of their subject and sharing it (intrinsic motivation) rather than doing it for payment or money (extrinsic motivation).  I have learned and discovered a great deal from doing all the work which I have, and the journey has very much provided the means for its own continuation.


One of the significant discoveries I have found in my self development is that of the work of Julian Edge and his work on Cooperative Development.  After Julian did a talk about a way of active listening I bought his book ‘Continuing Cooperative Development; A Discourse Framework for Individuals as Colleagues‘, as the mode of communicating made a great deal of sense.  Most of all, what resonated with me was that he proposed a humane way of interacting with people which was well thought out and had robust reasoning throughout it.


When I say humane, I mean that the genuine way in which he interacted with me (and others) moved me more powerfully to listen and digest what he was communicating. Indeed, he took time to lead me through a reflective way of listening which was more participatory than I had previously been conscious of.  I got to hear more about the thinking behind this when I interviewed him.


This article is a digest of some of the concepts he introduces at the beginning of the book.  It is not representative of the depths of the book but I hope that it provides an indicator of them.  I am including some of my notes so that you as a reader can get a sense of how I am extrapolating from his text, and drawing what has grabbed me into my contexts.


Thus this article is somewhere between a digest and notes of reflection of the ideas introduced in his book.  I have structured this article so that in each section I take an excerpt from the his book and follow it with some thoughts which it stimulated. I think his non judgemental discourse methods have many applications in many areas – personal, social, professional and educational – so I would invite you to get his book and read through the whole thing for yourself or visit his website by following the link below.



Continuing Process


Continuing Cooperative Development emphasizes:

  • the fact that the type of professional development that the book seeks to enable will always remain an ongoing proposition
  • developments in the style of non-judgmental discourse that the book introduces are currently continuing in various countries and contexts
  • the book continues my own professional development, drawing as it does on the earlier book, Cooperative Development (1992)


Notes: From the very beginning, it is obvious that Julian has not separated himself from the subject and interaction with the reader.  This often happens, and this process of abstraction can often create a feeling of there being an inside and an outside on which people are positioned in terms of knowing.  My friend Mandy has said that ‘people are often expected to hide their souls in their socks when they go to work’.  I think this is very true, and part of why I want to highlight Julian’s work is because it is obvious to me that he is everpresent.


This presence and involvement in the text feels like a dialogue.  It occurs to me that it is a dialogue between the reader, himself and the world which is a living process that fosters greater awareness.  It strikes me that greater awareness is the foundation of learning and teaching, and for me, learning and teaching runs throughout life – especially in the informal spaces we inhabit.  For me, we are all both teachers and learners.




The idea of teachers responsively and responsibly investigating their professional contexts in order to develop personal understandings and shared theorizations of their work has become much more accessible and mainstream than it was. I have found that my earlier ideas have transcended their initial teacher-to-teacher, pairwork mode and have opened up a style of group development that can both support individual development and have a powerfully positive effect on the level of collegiality in the workplace.


This group strength can, in turn, be used to invite in visitors to share at least an outsider’s experience of what such collegiality can mean in terms of potential for individual and institutional development.  I believe that we can see here the bases of yet more beginnings.  I have written this book for people who teach.  Whether you teach young children or doctoral students, somewhere in-between or somewhere else altogether, is not for me the issue.


Notes: I like that he has brought this idea into play.  Collegiality is the cooperative relationship of colleagues. Colleagues are those united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. To me, this speaks volumes in a world which suffers from individualism as well as structures which can often subsume people’s identity and ideas.  Putting this at the centre of a text is helpful in orienting our efforts so that they connect rather than collide.


In Ragged University, one of the biggest learning curves was one where I had to move away from the very mechanical ideas of working together and of project management.  Early doors I discovered the difference between management and managerialism – frankly through it being obvious that instituting orders diminished collegiality whilst collectively discovering routes towards goals in settings which were permeated with the social propagated it.


Initially I had the notion that Ragged as an organisation was to be run by bureaucratised processes, division of labour and popular behaviourism; how destructive it was to the relationships which were the basis of all the successes.  On discovering the destructive nature of this kind of approach, I abandoned it for the clear messages which were spelled out by the Glasgow team that amounted to good working relationships based in the informal (Thanks Carrie, David, David and co)…


You are all individuals

Repeat After Me, You Are All Individuals

I expect that you are probably not a committed disciple of a specific “one-method-fits-all” approach to teaching, because you have noticed, both from your experience and from your reading that learners develop their abilities in different ways.


You recognize that these differences are influenced by a host of features, including age, prior knowledge, national and educational culture, social context, various forms of motivation and aspiration, individual styles of perception and evaluation beyond conscious control, as well as the conscious deployment of natural aptitudes and learned strategies.


You have probably also made the connection between these frequently noted facts about the individuality of learners and the less frequently made point that teachers are also individuals-in-context.  Just as it makes no sense to expect all learners to be at their best when following an imposed set of prearranged steps, it is equally unconvincing to suggest that teachers will each be at their best if they all follow the same routines.


It would be inconsistent to the point of incoherence to insist on respect for the contextualized, individual processes of the learner if one were not prepared to show equal respect for the contextualized, individual processes of the teacher. The best learner that I can be will behave in some ways similarly to and in some ways differently from the best teacher that you can be.  I would like to say that it is the space between our common humanity and our individual, contextualized differences that constitutes the territory of our potential development as teachers.  It is exactly this space that I want to explore.


Notes: Stepping away from the compulsion of finding a machine to do human processes is very hard.  It is almost instinctual to attempt to create a formula that can be referred to when one or another needs to check what they are doing.  The reality of human processes is very different – we need people to do some tasks as no processes or machines can deal with the infinitely diverse configurations we find in human life.  Julian uses his many years working in teacher education to illustrate some of the many factors which nuance each interaction which occurs in the learning/teaching juncture.
He also makes inroads here to erode the narrow dichotomies that formal roles often set up by relating the roles to each other.


By setting up roles and hierarchies we set up differentials, and when differentials are removed from humanised terms all sorts of problems arise.  Whether the roles/labels are that of teacher and learner, or director and coordinator, the differentials that spring up need to be grounded in our commonality if they are to lead to constructive ends.  I read into what he has said the need to counterbalance the depersonalising influence of percieved roles by the process of relating each position to the other.


Work life cohesion

The Personal Embodies The Professional

If you agree with me that the discourse of individualisation that we hear is often rather one-sided, then we may also agree on a parallel between this and the frequently voiced requirement that teachers be engaged in continuing professional development. That is to say, you will have noticed, with some sense of irony, the contradictions between this demand and others.


The way, for example, in which society insists that teachers should all be using the “best methods”; the way in which everyone has an opinion about what these best methods are; the way in which employers like to pay teachers only for hours spent teaching; and the way in which politicians are much more sympathic towards teachers’ needs when they are in opposition than when they are in power.


If you can become more aware of your own aptitudes, preferences, and strengths and use them in your teaching, you might not only develop your own best style of teaching you might also develop as the type of person that you want to be. You may feel a little nervous about that last proposition, but your mind is not closed to it.


You would probably want to agree that teaching has a basis in certain values (again with a potential to differ in different circumstances) and that teachers who embody these values in the way they teach, like anyone else who embodies their values in the way they treat other people, have a kind of coherence about their lives that is admirable as well as effective.


Notes: What he says here is of recurrs as a point of interest to me as I become more aware of our tendency to derivatise other people through the abstraction process of adopting roles. Being aware of how people in job roles can be overlooked as complete and whole individuals trying to get things done helps us counteract the possibility of reducing the interpersonal to a series of demands.


The kind of insistences that get directed at people in roles are often open ended statements which have no tangible operational meaning – for example, doctors and medics may be forced to carefully manage expectations of patients who demand that they magically ‘know’ the best course of action when a process of diagnosis needs to be traversed prior to arriving at an action plan.


Integrating a set of values which are cogent across your working life and personal life is something I see as vital to achieving deeper understandings so that we can address more profound challenges.  Dissonant values set up competition within our psychology and the divides manifest in our work and play.

Equality of relationship

Egality and Peer Relations

Was it more or less a waste of time, battling with ungrateful people who never realized how hard you worked? Or was it a pretty interesting way to spend a working life, leaving you with the feeling that you had made some kind of a contribution? The difference can be decisive in a person’s life, and the clearest single indicator of which outcome is more likely is the extent to which teachers, after initial training and with competence achieved through experience, continue to develop their teaching in small-scale ways that respond to features of their own context.


Please note here: the approach taken in this book depends on equal-to-equal, peer relationships.  It does not offer an approach to teacher training or education, any more more than it offers an approach to TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) methodology.


Is this book relevant to researchers ?  It is if you are interested in the processes and the facilitation of teacher development or in the relationship between thought and language or in the analysis of genuine discourse data that makes claims about how we can influence both our thinking and the collegiality of our relationships via the conscious choices we make in our use of language.


Notes: Education is not something which is neat and final, for me it is living. There is always something more to learn, discover and become more acquainted with.  I think that the point he makes of continuing development is critical to achievement and happiness.  It makes me think of the work of Carol Dweck on the differences we can find between growth mindsets and fixed mindsets:


“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” []


It is refreshing to be able to read about equal-to-equal, peer relationships in context with learning. In my experience there is no better way of connecting with other people than sharing the same capabilities and means. In the context of Ragged University, the informal, familial spaces we have were the most attractive places to set up learning events because of the dynamics they hold. When there is equality in a relationship fewer things are omitted because people might feel intimidated by the situation.


You Dont Want To Do It Like That

You Dont Want To Do It Like That

Although you can certainly comprehend what is in this book by reading it, you cannot properly understand what I have to tell you without involving yourself in at least some aspect of the experience that the book frames for you.  Second, and as the other side of the same coin, this work is of particular use to action researchers.  So much of what I have said so far turns around the idea that no single way of being a teacher can be right for everyone.  That same stricture must apply to my work and to this book.


…we have suffered quite a lot in TESOL from the stream of new directions that have been punted out to us over the years as general themes.  I offer a personal selection since 1969:


  • There’s no point in teaching about language
  • Teach the sentence patterns; never mind about vocabulary in the early stages
  • Don’t let people make mistakes
  • Never use L1
  • Language form is sterile; teach through situations
  • Situations are not transferable; teach functions
  • Functions are not systematic enough; use tasks
  • Teachers should talk less
  • Only natural acquisition counts in communication
  • Teacher talk is useful input
  • Making mistakes is necessary and helpful
  • Correction serves no purpose
  • Teach discourse organizers
  • Encourage Self- and peer-correction
  • Use of L1 and translation can be positive
  • Teach lots of vocabulary; never mind about grammar in the early stages
  • Introduce longer lexical chunks
  • Focus on form
  • Raise learners’ awareness about language


What these items have in common is that they all started not from an appreciation but from a rejection of what and how we actually were teaching – as we were, where we were, at any given time.  These external models of how we should behave have not only frequently been mutually contradictory but have also invariably appeared to indicate that good teaching was somewhere else and that we needed to move toward it from whatever we were doing at that moment.


I question this attitude. Of course we want to hear about new ideas and practices, so let them keep coming, but we also need a way to proceed that is based on a recognition of where we are.  We cannot sensibly set off in any direction without an awareness of where we are; even if we agree on common goals, the nature of individual next steps toward these goals must depend on our current positions.


So my counterbalancing perspective on good teaching is that it is not somewhere else at all.  It is right here and right there.  I would say to every reader of this book that the best way for you to teach is exactly the way that you do teach, provided only that you are committed to the development of your teaching in ways that you believe to be sensitive to the needs of your students and yourself.


I realise that this is not a universally held position.  The eminent teacher-educators Zeichner and Tabachnich, for example, write: We do not accept the implication that exists throughout much of the literature, that teachers’ actions are necessarily better just because they are more deliberate or intentional.


Notes: This point is relevant in many contexts. The regular churning of the zeitgeist ‘what-is-right-and-what-is-wrong’ in terms of approach is dizzying. The problem comes when everyone is expected to settle on a single choice at the expense of all the others.  This kind of boom and bust culture results in people having to constantly reframe their work and projects in the new language of the day, abandoning the nuances of the previous framing and spending energy in new set up costs which take away from the long term legacies.


I see this kind of pathology in the context of the third sector where funders latch onto a new buzz word or phrase and expect everyone to follow suit.  Projects and initiatives are folded up and packed away as no longer relevant, and new ones are created that fit the current conversations which feel so zesty.  In financial markets churning refers to excessive buying and selling of securities by a broker in a client’s account largely to generate commissions (which are sunk costs) and is an illegal practice.


In other areas of life the sunk costs of moving too whimsically from one plan to the next are less appreciated.  It is refreshing to hear a reinforcing of the individual techniques and communities of practice that are working in their context.  So often the people at the coal face are the last ones to be consulted as to what works in a given context. It takes time and consistency to fruit an apple tree…


Gestalt person

Understanding People In Whole Ways

As well as an external model approach to the continuing professional development of teachers, we need an internal growth approach. This approach extends trust and respect to those fellow professionals who are working on their own development as educators, in context-sensitive directions that they judge to be appropriate, whether or not these directions mirror the fluctuating fashions of orthodoxy.


A complementary perception of mine in this area is that we have learned a lot through “whole-person” approaches, in which we regard our students not simply as classroom-bound learners but as whole people. A similar concern for teachers as whole people has not always been so apparent, but it promises to be equally fruitful and possibly quite refreshing.


A teacher is a person who helps others to learn. But we should also pay attention to the stress and burnout that we see around us and insist that another major criterion for judging success in the provision of teaching is the continuing human growth of those committed to the profession.  I want to teach in ways that are coherent with the ways that I believe I should deal with people in general, allowing for the specific extra responsibilities that I have as a teacher to provide structure and evaluation.  I want that sense of coherence to grow.  I want to go out bigger and better than I came in.


Teachers are not just bundles of teaching functions to be employed in classrooms, to be assessed as more or less efficient according to politically or financially motivated criteria, and to be developed – in passive voice – as technical delivery units. I do not mean this as a naive attack on employers or governments.  I do believe that people who teach understand very well the financial and political agendas that necessarily cut across our best pedagogic efforts.


My request, I suppose, is for a little more respect.  My purpose is to help formulate a way of working that demands that respect and, in the worst case, enables people who teach to construct and promote their own self-respect, even in the absence of what we think of as our due from others. I am further motivated by the idea of building collegiality on this basis, both for its own sake and because individual self-development is itself a social phenomenon.


Notes: Here Julian speaks of lessons which I learned much later in life than I would have wanted.  In particular, doing the community based work over the last six years has made it necessary for me to develop a greater sense of Theory of Mind – that is I have developed a more profound understanding that other people have valuable thoughts, desires, and intentions – which may be different to, or resemble, my own.  Ragged University has evolved me as a person as nothing would have been possible without coming to practical terms with the fact that other people may be busy, unawares, tired, or lacking of the agency to do something.


It has made me think about how I did not fare well in formal education, and at times forgot that there were real and genuine people attempting to do very complicated and involved things for a great number of people – usually with a long list of constraints.  Understanding that people are functioning within a series of constraints I think is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn in our time, and that rather than seeing the label (teacher, social worker, police-person, etc) it is more constructive and valuable to look for the individual who is trying to do something of public value.


Evolving Institutions

Influencing Institutions To Become Learning Entities

Beyond immediate group collegiality, I have a vision of influencing the institutions in which we work to become more engaged in the processes of open, continuing development – to become learning institutions in the sense of institutions that learn, not only institutions where learning takes place.  And I have a vision of creating an environment of openness, collaboration, and growth that will influence everyone who comes into contact with it – students, parents, politicians and society at large.


I have regularly been humbled by the space for development found by colleagues in contexts that I had thought to be intimidatingly repressive.  I have, equally, been saddened occasionally by the refusal of colleagues to extend their sphere of responsibility into areas that had more or less been cleared for them.


But the issue for me now is less one of how far we can get and more one of the direction in which we want to be moving.  If we know our context and we are working to embody the values that we find worthwhile, then we will be making our contribution toward the developments that we would like to see.


Notes: This idea of learning institutions is powerful, particularly in the light of the common perception of institutions being ossified, rigid structures which do not adapt as they are needed. Institutional settings can have the effect of institutionalising behaviours of individuals working within them unless the kind of awarenesses and mindfulness which Julian is discussing are brought to humanise the environment. I see one of our major tasks to ensure that each environment we live and work in is humanised. By humanised, it is shorthand for the reflective, empathic and ethical considerations which we like to associate with the word human.


Carrying with us, and offering up respect – not as a tid bit or reward for someone doing something which we want of others, but as a pre-condition of our encounters with others is important in generating the rapport we need to work shoulder to shoulder with others. It is by harbouring this kind of quality as a pre-condition, along with reflective, empathic and considerate behaviours that I believe we can influence the institutions which are a part of our lives. I believe that it is through these qualities we are enabled to see the realities we need to before we can intelligently choose a direction of travel to invest our efforts in.


In terms of learning organisations, it is worth mentioning the work of Michael Fullan, who is well known for his work ‘Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform‘.  Here is an excerpt from page 4: “Society for some time now, but increasingly moreso as we head to toe twenty-first century expects its citizens to be capable of proactively dealing with change throughout life both individually as well as collaboratively in a context of dynamic, multicultural global transformation. Of all the institutions in society, education is the only one that potentially has the promise of fundamentally contributing to this goal.”


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Self Responsibility

Owning The Responsibility To Learn

As an individual, my development is in my own hands.  In at least some important aspects of my teaching, only I can really understand what I am trying to achieve, how my efforts work out, and what I learn from them.  If I follow up this opportunity for insight, I can find a sense of personal satisfaction in my work that goes beyond the occasional feeling of having had a really good lesson.


Any lesson can be a part of finding out more about teaching, about learning, and about myself.  And in just the same way that I say to students that their learning depends at least as much on what they do between lessons as on what we do in them, what I learn from my professional experience depends centrally on the quality of my thinking about that experience and my planning for subsequent experience.


Everyone has experience.  Not everyone learns very much from it.  I want to take on the responsibility of doing so.


Notes: This kind of ownership of self determination is manna !  ‘My development is in my own hands‘ how very true, yet sometimes it is not clear in a culture which increasingly maneuvers people towards a message of learning which emphasizes that learning only takes place in formal spaces and when ‘an official certificate’ has been issued.  This kind of message hobbles society under a teleology which serves something rather specious considering the multifaceted thing that education is.  Knowledge and learning happen throughout our lives in all different spaces we make time for it.


The journey I have been on has been in a great part taking on the responsibility of developing myself through engaging with others. It has been a pleasure encountering Julian’s long considered contribution to cooperative development, and I shall continue to read his work trying to apply it over time to what I am doing. The more I adopt this, the richer I become through discovering that I am a part of something bigger and endlessly rich.  Ragged University is a vehicle which helps me set up the opportunities that introduce me to more experiences which challenge me to “go out bigger and better than I came in”…