For me, being connected is one of the most important parts of being a teacher. And in this case, I do mean connected to more that just my colleagues in my school. Connections enforce or challenge us, provide means of learning more, trialling more and improving our own learning journey.
When an aspiration of the New Zealand Curriculum is to foster young people who are “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners” (NZC, 2007) it seems like a natural assumption to have that as the vision for all New Zealanders. Likewise, educators feel the need to develop this capacity in our students and therefore we must know what this looks like in an ever changing world.
Being a connected educator is more than just attending a PD course for which a flyer turned up in your pigeonhole. It is more that just reading emails that have been sent to you by professional associations. Being connected involves something more active. It is through participation in a range of learning. The range is the key.
My longest connection has probably been through my subject association, the New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers. When I first started teaching the support is received through the association was phenomenal. Not only I was encouraged to attend term by term meetings where I could listen to some of auckland’s most experienced and innovative Classics teachers, gleaning as much as I could about content, pedagogical content knowledge, and assessment practices, I could also attend a well-organised, professional and slick conference to improve my content knowledge and meet some more people. Initially, I was passive – and in awe of the ‘big names’ in classics – but over time I grew in confidence. I realised that I had some ideas to share and that some of what I was up to in my classroom was useful to others. So I began to share and I haven’t stopped since. Initially this was through presenting workshops at conferences (locally, nationally, and internationally), then I was part of the NZACT Exec as the Vice-President of the association, then I was part of planning and running two conferences in Auckland, now… I have been the president of the association and am involved in leading (with the exec.) us through some big changes ahead as we drag ourselves more firmly into the 21st century. The connections aren’t just about being on planning committees and steering a council, instead they are about sharing. I share widely within my association. I post links, ideas, comments and concerns using social media, I have put some of my teaching units on google drive (a work in progress) and openly share those with another who wants them, I use my blog as an ongoing place to share my thoughts on teaching classical studies and any resources that may be useful. Also, I try to help people. I know that I am not always so fast to respond to emails. But some of this is through helping others to network, to make connections. Sometimes, this is through providing resources or finding a means to an end. And sometimes, it is just about being someone to bounce ideas off. I don’t think that I have all of the answers, I never could profess to such a lofty ambition, but to connect deeply to the pedagogy of classics teaching is massive for me.
Another connection that is invaluable to me is in national assessment through working for NZQA as a contractor. Not only am I connected to other professionals but I am up-to-date with changes and developments in pedagogy and practices of assessment. A part of my contract work that I really love is leading Best Practice Workshops for Classical Studies teachers around the country. The workshops provide the opportunities to facilitate conversations, to challenge teachers’ assumptions about what NCEA does and does not allow them to do, to support others to make professional connections and to share in a love of our subject.
Connections and networks are key and social media provides more and more support around those. I have been using Twitter for just over a year now and I love to interact with various people in various networks. Some of these connections are education based. I follow and interact with New Zealand and international educators. Because I am passionate about classical studies, drama and social science as learning areas and subjects, I love that social media allows me to interact with people involved in a range of areas. From tweeting with internationally renown classicist Mary Beard, to keeping abreast of the educational shifts in The Arts in the uncertain educational setting in the United Kingdom at the moment and how this is affecting drama teaching, to reading blogs by leading educationalists such as Grant Wiggins and Dylan Wiliam, to sharing my own resources, thoughts and ideas through international networks using various hashtags (#soloTaxonomy, #Aug2K and #edchatnz are some of my faves at the moment) means that I have up-to-date and relevant PD coming to me via my phone, iPad or computer all the time.
Facebook, Pinterest and blogs provide other ways to connect to ideas. Not only do I use these sites for my personal life but I have also use them to connect with others using Facebook groups or collaborative Pinterest boards, to follow interesting and engaging people (I use my Pinterest to organise links and ideas – education and non-education alike – and have just started reblogging as well). I attended by first google hangout about using badges in google (I may be a slow starter on the opportunities google presents) and was so impressed by the experience that I am going to host my first hangout in the next two weeks. I have been working my way through the courses that google offers for teachers to up skill as well. I am connecting with ideas, technologies and pedagogy to improve my practice. I love being involved and learning and the ease with which the internet allows for this means that there is no excuse to not be in the know.
This month looks like it is going to be connections month! I kicked things off yesterday with the annual meeting of the NZACT exec. Next weekend is the inaugural #edchatNZ conference held at Hobsonville Point Secondary School where I am presenting some thinking that I have been doing based around making NCEA more manageable. My little contribution is a drop in the bucket compared to what is on offer but I am super keen to learn from others there on a variety of things. The following weekend, I am fortunate enough to be flying out to the United Kingdom to attend the Commemorating Augustus conference held at the University of Leeds to enhance my own professional expertise and learning. Then, in the following weekend, I am off to Christchurch to run the last Classical Studies Best Practice Workshop for the year. Phewww! What a month. There is another conference I would love to attend in early September but a month of jetting around will have taken its toll on me by then.
For me, connections are not just about the things we attend and the things we do. It is the events we give time to and the thinking that we do. For me, this is about attending the theatre, movies and reading widely. As a drama teacher I see this as a massive part of my professional learning. I am off to a play on Tuesday night and then, hopefully, several when I am away in the UK. As a teacher, I cannot count the number of times I have left a play or film and turned to my husband and said “I am going to teach that/ use part of that for teaching” because I can’t turn my teaching brain off. I am going to watch Hercules at the movies. Not because I think it will be any good, but because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was so passionate about bringing the story of the Greek hero to the big screen that it became a 10 year passion project for him. There is a classics connection in this but also as a Learning Team Leader at HPSS, one of the jobs my team has is leading in ways to explore passion based learning in secondary schools. What an exemplar to use!
I read. Voraciously. I have a personal reading challenge for the year (Whitcoulls Top 100 as well as at least 52 books) I read books on education, leadership, teaching content and novels for enjoyment. I do try to read “what the kids are reading” so this year I have also read “Divergent” and The Fault of Our Stars”. I read articles and blogs – my focus at the moment is on exploring SOLO taxonomy and assessment in greater depth to think more critically about how it can be used in different and more innovative ways.
A criticism that I often get is that I work too hard. To be honest, sometimes I do and like everyone else, I get run down, despondent and (in a recent development) a little teary. However, the reality of being a “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learner” is that a lot of the connections am involved in I don’t see as part of my “work”. It is hard to try to live up to the aspiration of the NZC without it eating into the time away from the school building. A balance for me is always travel and holidays. Yet even then, I feel that I am still “connected” to the world around me.