Nurturing a garden of knowledge

I recently revisited my Gallup Strengths Finder results to focus a magnified lens on my strengths.

One of my strengths is that of ‘Input’. I am described as follows:

‘You are inquisitive. You collect things… Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity’ (Rath 2007).

As a child, I collected fossils. We all did. Hours were spent smashing a pile of rocks between Sandsend and Whitby. I can still recall the joy of discovering an imprint, a tail, an unknown living thing stopped in time and saved forever. The collections continued differently in adulthood as I collected notes of gratitude from my students and colleagues into a scrapbook that brings great joy. I now collect joyful footsteps, on familiar or brand new terrain. I feel the need to collect more of them. ‘Reacquainting myself with walking more recently tells me there’s more to it as time slows down, I notice the stillness around me and my mind quiets.’

Now, I find myself also collecting knowledge, some of it consulted immediately, some of it saved for an upcoming project, much of it saved for that one day when it might be needed. At home, I am a declutterer, saving only that which seems immediately useful or joyful and not much saved for later. One thing I do make the room for is knowledge and these are collections I’m consciously growing, whether that’s my library: A-Z authored fiction, then alphabetised by genre; or in my office beginning with lever arch files and labelled plastic wallets, advancing to colour-coded handwritten notes to consult; and resulting in more recently, Google Keep, inspired by Bukky Yusuf.

I was introduced to Google Keep years ago, by someone of the view that I was an earlier adopter than I am in reality. Initially I thought it was fun and kept the odd note on it as an experiment but I never used it consistently. I had some link collections on Pearltrees, I had lots of resources off-line, and if it couldn’t become a single source of knowledge, I didn’t want it at all. You see, life assaults you with knowledge through social media, databases, blogs, articles, news, research papers and books and I was beginning to crave some order, a way of navigating and organising knowledge as it arrived or was sought out, a way of moving through knowledge that felt less frantic and far more nourishing.

After being reintroduced to Google Keep by Bukky, it has now become my single tool for storing knowledge. So how did I begin to cultivate this particular garden of knowledge?

I began by adding pictures of my previously handwritten notes. When I search Google Keep for these, they emerge just as any typed note does. My illegible handwriting can, it seems, sometimes be read by a computer. I placed all of these notes in ‘labels’ or categories: online learning, online communities, professional development, leadership etc. and, of course, the notes were colour coded.

Searching Google Keep for 'CPD' and results returning both handwritten and typed notes.
Searching Google Keep for ‘CPD’ and results returning both handwritten and typed notes.

I then began transferring in useful links I’d gathered in other places, labelling them, and adding notes, quotes and images in as I read each one.

An image of a Google Keep note with title, image, reference, quotes and notes in one place.

I can colour items when they’re read, watched, or engaged with and I can leave them white when they’re still waiting to be read. I add in a reference once I’ve read an item so when I need to use it later, I’ve also got the reference ready to go.

In each ‘label’ or category, I can pin the most useful items to the top of each label – research summaries, key policies, most influential pieces to my thinking.

Pined items under the ‘Accessibility’ label

Whilst I can search through a label when I’m looking for a quote, a thought, or an item to link to, I can also use the search bar to find things when I recall a sentiment or an essence of an idea but not where I read it; this search function seems to be powerful as I can search through the notes I’ve made as well as images I’ve added that contain the words.

These collections need regular maintenance and pruning. I’ll spend some time in a particular label and remove that which is no longer of interest to me, trusting that the universe will throw it back my way when it’s needed again.

‘Input without output leads to stagnation’ (Gallup 2007). That’s why writing or blogging is one habit I must maintain alongside these collections. When I don’t write, I begin to feel sluggish as the knowledge just sits, untended to. Equally, scheduling time to read is important so that the gardens don’t become overgrown in neglect.

‘Tsundoko’ or ‘buying more books than you read’ is interpreted as a negative habit that must be overcome but I love the idea that we can instead see it positively, as the accumulation of knowledge. A form of ‘antilibrary‘ filled not with knowledge I am already familiar with but instead all that awaits me.

‘The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore’ (Le Cunff 2020).

My Google Keep library and my physical library are both gradually becoming beautiful gardens where I can spend my time.

References

Le Cunff A-L (2020) Building an antilibrary: the power of unread books. Available at: https://nesslabs.com/antilibrary

Rath T (2007) Strengths Finder 2.0. Gallup Press: New York.

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About

Hannah Tyreman is Head of Online Learning and Community at the Chartered College of Teaching, the professional body for teachers in the UK. Hannah has been an English teacher and Learning & Development Manager in Further Education settings in England. Her work now focuses on maximising the potential of online learning