Member of the Month: Mike Bottery


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Author: Nicola Mellor 

We’re thrilled to introduce May’s Member of the Month; author, Professor of Education, Director of Research and #BELMAS2019 Keynote Speaker, Mike Bottery.


Hi Mike! Can you tell us about your background? How did you start out in education? 

I was very fortunate. I left University not knowing what I might do, and stumbled into teaching in primary education, which I found I loved doing. My move into university work, 13 years later, was a natural evolution from the working out of practice into a deeper theorising about its values and purposes.

How has your time as Professor of Education at the University of Hull impacted on your understanding of the field and its future? 

Throughout most of my career, the University was very supportive of my working not only at Hull, but overseas as well. The opportunity to be exposed to different views and ideas, and to test my own with such people, has provided me with a much wider perspective than I would have gained otherwise. And being Professor, as well as Head of Department, Director of Research Degrees, and Director of Research at one time or another, has provided useful insights into some of the realities of leadership.

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What, in your opinion, has been the best thing about your role? 

The opportunity to be paid for doing what I would probably have done for free! Seriously, probably two things. First, to be given the chance to engage with others on educational values, strategies and teaching approaches. Second, to be able help those moving into and through the field – has been enormously enjoyable, and I hope useful to others. I don’t think adults are that different from primary school children in their concerns about their understanding and performance. 

What are your research interests? 

They’ve always been a mixture of exploring the challenges of the individual situation, of the values and practices and impacts of organisational functioning, and the larger macro-forces impinging on the first two.My research has also been a mixture of the theoretical and the empirical, and a piece of research in one has almost invariably led to research in the other, which usually meant that for much of the time, I’ve never been entirely sure where my research would be a couple of years down the line.   

You’ve written several books on educational leadership, values and sustainability. Your latest, Writing a Watertight Thesis, has just been released. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

Whilst I have loved the research part of the job, I have equally enjoyed teaching and supervising at doctoral level, and over the years have built up a set of ideas of what really troubles students, and how I can help them. Perhaps the thing that poses the greatest problem for many students is that of the structuring of the thesis, and this book, written by myself and my colleague, Nigel Wright, is something of a distillation of the methods we have used over the last thirty years of supervising – and hopefully written in an entertaining manner.

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Do you plan on writing more books? 

Well, I hadn’t intended to, but I should have recognised that it’s very difficult to write your final thoughts in any area, because new questions and problems appear all the time. So the keynote I’m giving at Belmas in July may have initially been intended as a summation of my thinking on education and sustainability, but has become a further step in that exploration – and it does seem to me that there is a further substantial book. The book on structuring doctoral theses led to many discussions on the nature of ‘doctorateness’, which couldn’t be accommodated in such a practical book, and there may then be another book there as well.

Not only are you a regular attendee (and quiz master!) at the BELMAS conference, but this year, as you mentioned, you’ll be attending as one of our keynote speakers. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your presentation? 

Much of my work involves literature and research beyond education, and this one is no different. I’m going to examine a number of processes which are under-recognised in both education and society generally, and the key focus of the paper will be on their impact on social change, on the linkages back into education, and the implications for leadership.

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What keeps you coming back to the BELMAS conference? 

Many things. Seeing friends again. Hearing and meeting new people in the field. Hearing the ‘big guns’ who I may have read but have not heard live. And importantly the serendipity of a new idea in a lecture, a chance remark over coffee, or reference to an article or book which takes my mind down new avenues, to new ways of looking at the field. There are many things for which I come back.

You’ve been a BELMAS member for a number of years. Has it had any influence on your professional career and development? If so, how? 

I can’t remember the precise year I joined, but I think it was in the early 1990s, and for someone who never classified their reading and thinking as mainstream educational leadership, to find I was talking to people who were willing to listen to my ideas, and be critical of them in a positive and helpful way was a surprise and a support which continues to this day. It’s an organisation which I find tends to be both diverse and tolerant, and these are values I strongly appreciate.

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Can you tell us something about yourself, completely unrelated to education, that not a lot of people would know? 

I work to music most of the time, from Albinoni to the Rolling Stones. My favourite piece of music, however, which I discovered when I was fifteen, is still Beethoven’s Third Symphony, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. It’s not a particularly highly rated performance, but for me it is definitive, and I have four hard copies of it, just in case I tread on one, scratch a second, and spill coffee on a third, and then find it has been deleted from the catalogue. You’ll see from this that I don’t altogether trust digital recordings either.

As mentioned, Mike will be attending the Annual Conference in July as one of our keynote speakers. In regards to this, he adds:

I’ve said a little already about the nature of the keynote I will be giving in July, and how that thinking has evolved to its present state. I’m still working on it, and ideas about the nature of connectivity are an increasing source of ideas relating it. I’m excited by the idea of reading and writing in an area which is very new to me, and I‘m hoping that comments during and after the presentation will develop these ideas even further.


To ensure you don’t miss out on Mike's keynote presentation, you can register your place at the conference here

For more on Mike’s publications and where to buy them, click here

A huge thank you to Mike for being May’s Member of the Month. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you and we look forward to seeing you in July for #BELMAS2019!

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