Monday, 24 October 2016

"We do not learn from experience... We learn from reflecting on experience."

Whether this quote is actually from John Dewey or not, it sums up well my recent Ulearn16 experience.

Leading up to the conference I thought very hard about where I need and want to focus my professional learning energy and funds (for example see here my post on Passion Learning for Teachers). There was also a Twitter conversation whether the Ulearn concept was still relevant and still offering value for money for those teachers attending (admittedly the cost is considerable even as presenter). To not keep you in the suspense, I felt it was absolutely worth every minute and every single cent both my school and I personally invested in my attending.

To make such a judgement, it is important to consider what I would want to attend Ulearn - or any other PLD event for that matter. What is it that I hope to gain from attending?
Some teachers consider Ulearn as the event to learn about how to use devices in their practice. Others will (thankfully) put the 'why' and 'how' before the use of devices. While it saddens me that there are still some people that don't know to put the pedagogy before the tool, I realise that teachers still need support with how to use devices, and Ulearn is a great place for this. But this is not what I went for.

I attended Ulearn to have a look at the bigger picture of the ideas and policies that influence learning and teaching in New Zealand. I deliberately chose breakouts that made me think harder and deeper about how learning happens in our classrooms in NZ, and how we could improve on this. While I had read about Larry Rosenstock and High Tech High, and about Michael Fullan and his work on educational reform, it was inspiring to hear from them both in person about their work. Especially Michael Fullan's ideas really resonated with me, probably only now am I ready to have a look at his work in more depth than previously and seriously consider what impact it can have on my own practice and on the practice of others.

Some of the sessions provided much food for thought, e.g. Mary-Anne Mills' session on what future-focussed curriculum really is, and Derek Wenmoth's session on 4D learning. Derek really made me think a lot harder about the way technology underpins and enables what we try to achieved with our future focused curriculum (I'm meshing both sessions into one it appears lol). I also really enjoyed the session by Rosemary Hipkins and Cathie Johnson looking in depth at how the PAT test is set up and what information we can learn from the student results - I am already looking forward to using this tool again, because now I'm in a much better position to make use of it.

I was surprise to hear so much talk about CoLs; while our school is part of the beginning stages of a CoL, I must have had my head in the sand about it. While on the one hand I am all for collaborating, for working together for the best of the students of a community, on the other hand I am concerned that by schools feeling forced into such communities they might lose sight of the opportunity that this collaboration could provide. For many years I have dreamed of a time where all education providers in a community would sit down together, examine what their strengths were, which niche they might occupy, and then together find the best way forward for all students in their community. Sadly the reality can look quite different with schools competing for students from the same community, and when certain academic expectations are to be met, schools could be choosy about whom they might enrol.

One of my biggest takeaways was thinking about vision: What is your vision? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What is your school's vision? Do your team, your students and whānau / community share this vision?

The social aspect of meeting tweeps, friends, ex-colleagues etc. from all around the country and beyond was a great bonus to coming to Ulearn. There are a number of educators I call my friends though we have only met in person a handful of times if at all, thanks to social media we have gotten to know each other so well that long periods of no f2f contact make no difference to this friendship - you know who you are!

Back at home I did not want to lose this momentum, so I asked on Twitter:

I decided to set myself goals 3-2-1 style:

So far I am happy to report I have NOW left my hermit cave more often, I have participated in a few twitter chats and I have (finally) finished my blog posts about Ulearn.
It was interesting to investigate my first SOON - connecting other teachers online. I realise I had dropped off social media for professional purposes for most of this year, so it is not really surprising that I did not know where educational online conversations nowadays happen. I have noted that the VLN has gone very quiet, the POND does not seem to be a very bustling place, and while there are lots of members in FB Groups, I have seen few deep discussions amongst many rather shallow ones. G+ does not appear to be frequented as much as previously, but there are a number of busy Twitter chats. So where does everyone go who is not into Twitter? Where is all the rich discussion gone we used to have in the admittedly a bit clunky interface of the VLN? This is one of my current ponderings brought upon by reflecting on Ulearn.

The hustle and bustle of everyday had me in its grips far too soon after Ulearn, so it has taken me two weeks to come back to my blog posts (the threat that I won't be able to storify tweets was probably the biggest motivator!). However, it has been great to go back and read back through notes to remind me what it was that I found important, to refresh why and how I see education in New Zealand. This is where John Dewey (or not) quote comes in - reflecting on experience. What will you do with what you have learnt from Ulearn or other PLD events you have attended?

#Ulearn16 Day 2

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Reflections #nzla16 and some navel gazing

Enlightening and thought-provoking - that's my summary on the 3 1/2 days at #nzla16. I am incredibly thankful to my school for giving me the opportunity to attend, and the TTLA Committee for selecting my proposal as one of the presentations. With my children being teenagers, they did not really care whether mum was home during the day or not (as long as the internet was working lol), so attending such events, especially when it's local, just down the road at Waitangi, is quite easy  for me nowadays.

Presentations and keynotes resonated with me on different levels:
  • Learning and teaching literacy
  • Learning and teaching in general
  • Personal
In my day-to-day life teaching in a y2/3 ILE, the first is probably top priority. As our school uses Sheena Cameron's approach to writing, and I also use her approach for reading, we had recently purchased an early copy of the Oral Language book which I had already borrowed and madly scribbled notes about (guess what, I now bought my own copy - highly recommend it!). Louise and Sheena's resources are very practical and user friendly, and their presentations added to what I had already learnt from the resources.
Another session that resonated with me a lot was by Andrea O'Hagan, called Seeing Spells Success. I had a particular child in our ILE in mind when I registered for the session, and I believe her NLP approach could be very helpful for this child as well as the other students. I will definitely follow this up further.

Most of the keynotes were extremely inspiring for teaching in general as well as on a personal level. +Karen Spencer spoke eloquently, as always, about navigating digital spaces safely, steering away from the icebergs as well as the scaremongering so common in popular media. I had heard Nathan Mikaere Wallis speak previously (at least twice), and I used to follow information from The Brainwave Trust, but more in an ECE context. It was great to hear him speak about brain development, learning, risk and resilience factors, looking at it from a primary school perspective. Having grown up in a country where schooling does not start before the age of at least 6, his explanation of how the brain develops, when the brain is ready for literacy etc. was especially interesting. None of us would deny that high expectations are great, but are our expectations, at least partly stipulated by NS, developmentally appropriate? I also had heard Marcus Akuhata Brown speak several years ago, and it was very thought provoking to hear him speak again about breaking through and shattering glass lids of low expectations.

Marcus Akuhata Brown's keynote also resonated with me on a very personal level. Internationally the common stereotype of Germans are a bit like elbows out, striving for the top, highly efficient, not being shy of blowing your own trumpet. Yet after 19 1/2y in Aotearoa New Zealand, I would find this very arrogant, and I really struggle to see myself as even 'good enough', leave alone talk about it out loud. What glass lid have I put on myself? How did it get there? Is the fact that I have changed jobs so regularly over the years, usually when I had started feeling comfortable in that particular role, a mechanism to keep a self-made glass lid over me? [An interesting side note is that in the legal sense I am actually no longer German at all as I only have a Kiwi passport nowadays, yet, anyone who hears me speak clearly recognises I was not born in Aotearoa New Zealand]. 
Another very important point he made was about the connection to a place we call home, a tūrangawaewae. While in his case, as with many other Māori, his home is where his family comes from, after a year in Australia our family has clearly decided that our 'home', our 'tūrangawaewae', is the Far North district, especially the mid north around Kerikeri and Kaikohe. I have previously thought and written about some of the limitations living in a rural, economically challenge region brings with it, yet we chose to return 'home' to all of this. It is where we feel we belong, and it is where we plan for our children to complete their education and spread their wings from. The Far North is the area where I want to make a difference and for what I want to make a difference - despite my accent :)

In preparation for #Ulearn16 I just skim read through some of my past Ulearn reflections, especially this from #Ulearn13. With the demands of my day-to-day teaching job I have retreated somewhat back into the hermit cave, but I can't wait to get out more, because if we truly want to make a difference to the learners we are working with, wherever that 'home' we are operating from might be, we need to connect and we need to learn with and from others.