Reflections on a year as a Core Education #efellow; Part 1

When-it-all-beganIn October 2013 I was awarded a Core Education eFellowship.

“What is an eFellowship?” you might ask.

On the Core Education website it describes eFellows thus; “CORE’s eFellows are deeply passionate, skilled, and inquiring New Zealand educators from early childhood to senior secondary. They push the boundaries of e-learning by embarking on a year-long fellowship explore innovative, effective, and equitable teaching and learning. The purpose of the eFellowship is to inspire transformational practice through inquiry.”  I was one of seven eFellows from around the country this year and I have certainly had an inspiring year in which my thinking was challenged and extended. I met many people who are experts in the field of education, and they have encouraged me to believe in myself, to question what is happening around me, to challenge the status quo and to look at learning from different perspectives.

Our journey started back at Ulearn13 when we were presented on stage before the keynote presentation by Mark Pesce. I remember little of his talk because my phone was buzzing with congratulatory tweets and my head was buzzing with the excitement, how could I possibly concentrate?

Actually my journey had begun a few months earlier when I had been encouraged to apply. I wasn’t sure, I wanted to but didn’t really believe I was good enough. I am glad that I let myself be persuaded because it has been a fantastic experience. Then a week before Ulearn13 when I was in the middle of moderating Spanish NCEA portfolios with a colleague I received a phone call… It was John Fenaughty from CoreEd calling to tell me I had been successful in my application. His enthusiasm was infectious – I would have been excited anyway – but I was doubly so and could hardly contain myself. My heart was racing, I wanted to sing, I could hardly breathe and I think I just kept saying “Thank you, thank you”. And then the hardest part was when he said that I had to keep it a secret until it was announced at Ulearn! I mean, how can you keep such a big thing a secret? I was bursting with excitement and I couldn’t tell anyone! I daren’t go on Twitter just in case my fingers typed all on their own what I desperately wanted to shout from the roof tops! Luckily it was the holidays and I didn’t have to see anyone! I confess that I did tell my husband – never keep a secret from your dearest!

After Ulearn things went quiet for a while; in the hustle and bustle of exams, the end of the year, Christmas, New Year and the summer holidays I might have almost thought it had all been a dream or a not very funny joke!  Howefeever, in January the emails started arriving from John and Shannon. We were to have three Master Classes of three days each in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington and then a week at Ulearn14 in Rotorua when we would present our research. Our flights were all booked and the eFellowship started to seem like it was real!  I guess it didn’t really feel like we were properly on our journey until we met for the first time in Auckland in March.  That was the start of a true fellowship of friendship, shared experiences, and shared memories.  Rowan Taigel, Marnel van der Spuy, Tim Gander, Bec Power, Ben Britton, Vicky Hagenaars –  we will be “#efellows14 4 life”! 

to be continued….

More musings on Appraisal

I have just had my first meeting with my Learning Buddy.  As part of the Appraisal Team we have been talking about the whole system for more than a year now, but it has somehow been a sort of abstract concept which seemed to have lots of merits even if it did look like it would be a lot of extra work.  Now that I have actually started the process it has prompted me to reflect a little more on what we have been talking about for so long!   We have been looking at refining/modifying/improving the whole process of Appraisal and Attestation.  The two words (Appraisal and Attestation) need defining and nobody seems to have a really clear idea of the difference between the two.  As a group we have tried to make a distinction between the process of Attestation which is necessary for teachers in New Zealand to renew their practising certificate and is, in effect, a tick box exercise to prove that we are capable teachers,  and Appraisal, which we feel is more how we develop our skills to improve our teaching and our students’ learning.  We think that this should be a robust process but its aim should not be to “tell” somebody else how to do something, it should not be hierarchical and it should not be threatening. We work with our peers, someone we have chosen because we either feel comfortable with them, or because they have skills which we feel can be useful to us in our quest to improve ourselves.  We can share ideas, hold up a mirror for them to reflect on their practice and the can do the same for us.  We can observe and describe their practice in the classroom but encourage them to come up with answers to their own questions.  This is not easy, we are trying to come to terms with the idea of Learning Conversations – for too long we have been used to asking someone for advice on how to do something, waiting for someone to tell us the “best” way to do it – listening, describing and reflecting are not necessarily things we are comfortable doing.  Yet, that is what we are asking our students to do – the new curriculum requires us to encourage our students to be independent learners, learners who reflect on their mistakes, on their work, and who find their own solutions to problems with us on hand to guide them but not necessarily to tell them.  If we can’t reflect on our own learning, how can we expect our students to do it?  We have decided that Reflective Practice is a more appropriate title for what we are doing, we could also call it a Learning Journey, because that is exactly what we are doing – reflecting on our practice, going on a journey of learning.  It also separates it in our minds from the word Appraisal that is used by the Ministry of Education for the Attestation process.  Maybe going through this process ourselves might actually be the key to learning how to getting our students to be independent learners!