A school without walls

The #edblognz challenge for March is to imagine my ideal school.  The challenge asks me to consider the following:

  • What would it look like,
  • How would it function?
  • What would be its purpose?
  • What would its vision be?

I am going to start with Purpose because I think everything else follows on from that. Alfie Kohn suggests that a school’s purpose is to:

purpose of education 2

 

I am not so sure about number 4 especially the bit about corporate profits, but the reality is that we need to prepare students for life and work is part of life, and we need money to buy the things to sustain us, so wealth has to be created and someone has to do it. I would just hope in my ideal world – getting beyond myself now, that that wealth could be shared a little more equitably than it is now.

Anyway, if the purpose of school is to do all of those things, then the vision for my school is going to be something like:  “Dream Big, Aim High but Keep it Real and don’t forget your Mum”.  Okay then, a bit tongue in cheek but I would encourage my students to try their best, aim to be the best that they can be, recognise their talents and those of others, be humble but be proud, care for each other, their family and friends and the wider community, be empathetic, courageous and always remember where they have come from as they strive for what they wish for.  I would encourage them to learn widely, not limit themselves to a narrow experience of subjects, be curious about nature, the world, science, arts, languages, make connections with the past and create pathways to the future, build relationships, laugh, sing, run, jump, make time for themselves to be quiet, to reflect and to talk to as many different people as they can.

I would encourage all members of the school community to make connections with the land in which they live, both the physical geography and also the people who have shaped it, the conflicts they have endured and the relationships they have forged.  I would  help students understand that the hub of all cultural locatedness is the ‘marae’ or the spiritual centre of a place.  Depending on the country and its cultures this could be a church, a mosque, a ring of stones.  As citizens we have a  responsibility to find out and use correctly the names of local landmarks such as mountains, rivers or lakes and buildings.  We also should gain a basic understanding of the different protocols and language that enable us to interact in culturally sensitive ways. 

My school would not have any walls.  The world is my school.  Learning is everywhere.

I haven’t really thought about how it will actually function yet – this is an ideal, a dream isn’t it? So I have made a ThingLink to illustrate how learning can happen. (It is still under construction, but thought I’d share anyway).  Hope it works!!

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/768004410952384515

 

What will it mean to be educated in 2050?

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 16.34.22.png

Today I was lucky enough to be at the first of 2016’s Core Breakfasts in Hamilton. Derek Wenmouth challenged the thinking of a group of Hamiltonian educators and inspired them to question their practice.

By way of recording the conversations I created this Storify. (Edit – Storify no longer exists but fortunately I exported my stories and have imported them into Wakelet)

Teachers as Learners First

Sheryl Nussbaum talks about schools being “Future Ready” and there are four elements to being future ready 

  1. learning is student centred
  2. the technical infrastructure will easily support the learning,
  3. distributed, collaborative leadership which happens when many people share leadership functions. 
  4. remembering always that teachers are learners first

The final element of “teachers as learners” has been an important part of my last few weeks. They have been a whirl of learning.  In my new role as a Connected Learning Advisor I have been in a team running Professional Learning days for leaders.  First we headed to Whangarei, then Hamilton and finally, yesterday we were connected with educators in Christchurch.  Principals and eLeaders travelled from the far north and the deep south to engage in rich conversations, challenging thinking and robust questioning over the three days.

The sessions dealt with strategic planning, shifting teachers’ thinking and managing change through professional learning, and exploring how social media can build connections between schools and the wider community.

But the focus was on collaboration and connectedness and teachers as learners. Providing time to have conversations, share stories and good practice, plan and make connections was a key element of the days and it seems that it was appreciated by those who attended.

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 I know that I have learned as much as the teachers I have been working with. There is such power in conversations and I have been inspired by so many people and the work they are doing in schools, grappling with overwhelming change with commitment, positivity and open minds.  Thank you.

After each event we “Storified” the days and published posts on the VLN to encourage the participants and those who couldn’t make it to continue or join in the conversations.

The links to the Storifies are below.

Whangarei

Hamilton

Christchurch

Learning #edblognz #cenz15

#EdBlogNZ Challenge WK 1 
Think about your teaching practice. How has it evolved over time? What are you currently working on developing in your practice? What tools have you used during this inquiry time? Blog about it!
This is a big question!  How long have you got?
Of course my teaching practice has evolved over time, but I think that I always tend towards my preferences and my natural style. That means that over the last 30 years I have responded to new trends, learned from my peers, reflected on my practice and picked and chosen what fits with my basic philosophy about learning.  I don’t think I’ve always been honest about the things I’ve found challenging and faced up to them.  Have I improved my practice, have I transformed my practice? Have I helped my peers and my students?  I hope so.
writing on a whiteboard table in a meeting
I love learning when I am passionate about something.  When I first started teaching I was so passionate about languages that I found it difficult to understand why 25 of the 30 kids in front of me really couldn’t care less about learning French. They were there because they had to be and some showed a glimmer of interest especially when they could get me to digress and tell stories of when I lived in France rather than learning grammar, and some were blatantly bored.  It started to wear me down after a while and I was forced to think outside the box to find ways to motivate, to inspire and to .. yes, make my life easier and more pleasant. After all how many hours a week could I spend in front of bored, resentful, reluctant faces and not get ground down?
I used to hate grammar when I was at school but I found myself teaching the way that I had been taught at secondary school and the way that I had been taught to teach at Uni. It didn’t really work except for the 5 in the class who were as passionate as me.
So, I dug deep and thought about where my passion first came from.  Way back as a nine year old my school was part of a pilot scheme for teaching French to Primary School children.  The scheme was ahead of its time.  No writing, no reading. Speaking and listening, practice and role play, total immersion and a very passionate, very new and very trendy teacher!  Miss Francis (now Larraine Biscombe) has clearly continued to hone her teaching expertise but it was her passion that got me hooked all those years ago.
Active, problem-solving, task-based learning. I had to fit it in with the expectations of a relatively restrictive National Curriculum and by no means did I suddenly have 30 passionate francophiles in front of me but some of those reluctant learners started to show interest, engage and I started to enjoy teaching again.
Fast forward to NZ 2011 and suddenly I find myself teaching Spanish not French. Not a fluent Spanish speaker, no longer the master of my domain and task-based learning took on a whole new perspective.  When you don’t know everything you have to make a decision;
  • Fake it until you make it
  • Man up and learn alongside your students

I went for the 2nd option.  It had worked with my challenging groups of low ability boys when we explored using computers, video cameras and digital recorders to liven up French lessons in the early 2000s.  Plus I am no good at lying and a classroom full of curious, demanding teenagers will soon find you out so honesty is the best policy.  We learned together, exploring, finding out, researching, teaching each other. The fact that I was taking a risk to speak in a language in which I was not proficient meant that they were mostly prepared to as well.

So, how does this link to where I am today?  At the same time as learning Spanish I was supporting teachers in my school to integrate digital technologies into their teaching programmes.  Using technology in the classroom scares a lot of teachers. They are afraid that they don’t know enough and will appear foolish in front of their students. Encouraging them to accept that they don’t have to be experts about everything, that they can admit that they don’t know and be willing to explore alongside their students is huge.  As we strove to transform practice and were discussing it over morning tea one day one of my colleagues said of how she felt,

“I feel quite liberated now, much more liberated as a teacher than I did before.  That I could walk into a class and I didn’t know everything and the learning still worked, in fact it worked better, being inspired by those experiences, that’s what’s changed the way I teach completely”.

So that’s where I am now.  Honing my craft.  Listening, speaking, connecting, communicating, failing, risking, challenging myself, improving my practice, aiming for transformation. Learning.

Making Imagination Reality

I wrote this post on the last day of my trip to Spain at the beginning of July and have just found it in the notebook I wrote it in which was in a paper bag inside a tote bag I bought in El Museo del Prado… don’t ask! I have been busy and haven’t had time to sort out the bits and pieces I brought back. Anyway, as a reflection of my thoughts at the time I think it is worth posting even if the dates now don’t fit, so please ignore the references to time.

Ultimo dia en Espana!  A little strange to be starting a blog on the last day of my trip but I just bought a notebook  and pencil at the Museo del Prado with a quote by Picasso on the cover;

notebook with quote from Picasso in Spanish that translates as "All that you can imagine is real"“Todo lo que puedes imaginar es real”

Having seen and studied some of the paintings by Picasso and Dali over the last couple of weeks, I am unsure that my imagination even approaches either of theirs! Weird and wonderful! But I do believe that if you work at what you want you can make it real.

Yesterday was my last official day of working as a teacher in a school, at least for the next two and a half years. After 30 years teaching children and adults in schools and colleges; mainly French, German, Spanish & Phys Ed, but also Health, Drama, Food & Nutrition, PSHE and ICT (phew!) I am taking a scary but exciting step into a new world.

Not too big a step though… I will still be working in Education supporting schools and teachers integrate digital technology into their schools and curricula. I have been working towards this over the last few years in my role at school as an “eLearning Mentor” supporting my colleagues as they cope with the huge changes that technology has brought to their already busy worlds within and without their classrooms.

Change is scary. It is stressful. Technology can be overwhelming and make people question their worth, their competency and knock their confidence. goldfish jumping from small bowl to large one and the words

I saw a Facebook post earlier that said “Making a big life change is pretty scary. But know what’s even scarier? Regret.”

Decisions I (we) have made, big ones, like moving the family to the other side of the world, over the last decade have maybe been made on that basis. How would we feel 15 years on? Would we always say to ourselv
es “What if…?” But maybe, in today’s text speak, there is also a little bit of FOMO there too?

I have a dear colleague in the UK who asked me to promise when I left that I would learn to say “No”. I get excited about new things, new directions. My imagination starts to run riot (not quite like Picasso or Dali) when I see the possibilities and I often do take on too much. But that’s just who I am. Is it FOMO, is it fear of REGRET or is it PASSION or IMAGINATION and the BELIEF that I can make my imaginings real?  I don’t know. Sorry, Sue. I have not learned how to say “NO” but my world is getting bigger and I am excited (and a little bit scared) about my next big step.

Bring on the reality of my imagination!

Post Script

Five weeks into my job and I am loving it.I  am being challenged in all sorts of ways but realising that I know more than I thought I knew.

EducampBOP – a challenge to secondary school teachers!

winter landscape with rainbow.Well, today was my first “Educamp“. I have thought about going to several over the years but have never quite made one. Mainly because they are on Saturdays and my boys have always had some sort of sports fixture. But also because there are very few, if any, secondary school teachers at them. They are not aimed solely at primary and intermediate schools but IMHO they tend to be the teachers who are most inclined to share. It is a shame because there are so many secondary teachers out there who do such great things in the classroom that are worth sharing. The “unconference” style means that everyone has a voice, everyone’s ideas are valued, there are no “experts” there are just learners and colleagues (and, of course, friends). However, today, I was there to learn and to meet people.  In my new role as Connected Learning Advisor I am keen to meet as many teachers as possible from all sectors and BOP and Waikato are the regions for which I am responsible.

I would love to see if we could gain some traction for a similar sort of event for secondary teachers. I am unsure if it is because secondary school teachers are too locked into their subject specialties or because there is too much competition with regard to exam results to want to share too much?  I know that each subject area has their own “conference”; languages have “Langsems” all over the country when teachers share what they have been doing, but these cost a significant amount of money and not all teachers go because of confernece costs and the relief costs on top of that.  What if secondary teachers just got together and shared their pedagogy, how they integrate technology, the tools they use?  So many approaches can be used and adapted across subject areas and as junior programmes are re-organised to be more open, task-based, cross-curricular and student-centred, there is a need to share practice and learn from each other.

Tweeting is normal at such events and the power of the “tweet” is being realised by more and more teachers.  Powerful learning not just for adults but for students too.  I wonder what the breakdown of users is between primary/intermediate and secondary teachers in NZ? My bet is that primary beat us hands down!