Being a professionally “connected” educator

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.

Focusing on the ‘why’ we do

It has been yet another super busy week and strangely enough, a fairly busy long weekend. As we plod on with planning our fantastic new school, I am continually reminded that we need to focus on the ‘why’. Whether it is a decision about resourcing the new learning areas in our school, a task which I have not yet finished for the budget I am leading, or deeply considering the ways in which we will communicate learning with whanau, the why needs to be at the centre.

For us at Hobsonville Point Secondary, the why is our vision – personalised learning, deep challenge and inquiry, engage through powerful partnerships. I talked about these before. It has been a privilege to observe our new staff as they are grappling with the why as well. The snippets of overheard conversations remind me that the vision is truly in very safe hands. This week involved most of the new people sharing their stories, their learning, who they are and what sparks their interests. I love all of this stuff – partly because I am a people person (read: nosy) but more importantly, this allows us to really get to know each other. I had a conversation with Ros on Friday where she said, catching up on recordings of the shared stories, that she felt like she knew more about the HPSS people than people she worked with previously for nine years. I feel exactly the same. I know that some of my full-time teaching friends have mocked the pace which I am currently working but I do believe that the vision we have for our learners is exactly the same for our staff. We need to personalise learning, therefore we need to personalise the individual. Therefore, the time taken to bond as a team, to create a sense of trust in the work place and to model the powerful partnerships we will be striving for is time well spent.

Towards the end of the week, the LTL team and Lea had the chance to present what we have devised for our dispositional curriculum so far to the HPPS staff. Presenting work as we were working on it, rather than at the end, and getting feedback is key. Within the HPSS staff, the habits based curriculum is beginning to be understood and imbedded so it was timely to get a critical perspective from outside our bubble. I loved the challenging questions laid out by Daniel, Lisa and the others, posing questions which we had to defend or expand on our process. Lea, Sally, Yasmin and I dealt with these challenges and the feedback about the model of learning as generally positive. By the end of the meeting, I was stewing over our where to next – I think that some work is needed to clarify the model, it definitely needs a better name and I think we have a way to go with the goal setting and planning of learning. I have given myself/been given the ‘portfolio’ of feedback and goal setting – which makes sense as I have been up to my eyeballs in it for so long – and I know that we need to come back to how to use these tools for deep challenge, personalisation and partnerships.

In the weekend, I donned a different hat and spent Sunday as the President of the New Zealand association of classical Teachers. What this actually meant in practice was working with the lovely Claire to plan out a national professional development workshop for teachers around course design and assessment. Again, even though we were both feeling quite under the weather, we came back to the why. Why? You have to be clear when dealing with any kind of big picture thinking that your thinking is based on what is at the core. For us in this context, it was why we need robust course design, why concepts need to be linked for clarity, why (and how) courses allow for increasing complexity of skills, why teachers need to be supported by their association. Lots of why questions! Thankfully we plodded through and six or so hours later had the makings of some powerful professional development.

When my son was little and was going to through the ‘why’ phase, I must admit I never found it exasperating. His constant need to know more, to be curious, was such a good thing. Thankfully now, as a teenager, he is still curious but tends to rely on Wikipedia more than me for answers. I think setting up a new school involves thinking a little like a four year old. We must constantly ask ‘why’. If we don’t, then we don’t challenge our old practice to ensure that any choices are based on our vision and could run the risk of being a teacher-centred institution. If the response to the ‘why’ is not linked to student outcomes, then we must dig deeper, take another course or simply stop what we are doing to regather our thoughts and plan an alternative way.

Sounds easy, right?

 

Leading, Leadership and Learning

Last week at HPSS was great. Hard, but great. I realised that I forgot to blog last week and I cannot be sure if it is tiredness, laziness or that I haven’t really nailed down my thoughts yet. With all of those in mind, I feel the urge to write now, even if it is just a summary of what we did so I can keep track of my ideas over time.

Our focus last week was leadership and learning.

Monday:

The highlight for me was working with Daniel Birch, the Principal of Hobsonville Point Primary School, where he ran a session about learning. He placed us firmly in the role of the learner to make us thoughtfully consider how it feels to be a learner. Some of the activities were easy for me (such as working in a pair to alternate counting aloud) , some were more difficult (alternating counting, clapping and clicking). Then we moved onto an activity to justify why learners should not be placed in their age group only where we placed ourselves on a continuum in our confidence with Te Reo. While I know some words, I still consider myself a novice in this area. As a staff we spread across the continuum, despite age, which was proof that people do not learn at the same pace. I really liked some of the strategies that Daniel used to explain learning – especially the use of photos to allow people to create their own metaphors. I chose a mosaic (not the one below but I really like the Silchester Mosaic – Classics teacher in me!) to describe the connectedness of learning; each piece by itself does not really create anything or lacks value, but when there are connections made, it is a really powerful collaboration.

Silchester_mosaic

Silchester Mosaic

Tuesday:

Leadership. Management. Those two terms were discussed, dissected and debated. We were asked to divvy up some descriptors under these two headings. For some, they saw management as a bit of a ‘dirty’ word. It had really negative connotations and while I could agree that poor management justifies such extremes, good management is so powerful. I have experienced ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leaders – those who micro-managed, those who planned big but did not not follow through – but am so grateful for those experiences. I was really aware that I had great leadership at Northcote College, leaders who also managed effectively, and will continue to be grateful for the examples set for me to emulate.

We moved onto our ‘Julia Circles’ to focus on leadership using the Leading from the Middle model to link our values, beliefs, principles and practices. It felt as if we really made headway in solidifying our collective thinking, our vision and our agreed practices. I left for home on Tuesday with a sense of achievement.

Educational Leadership Model

Wednesday:

Wednesday was an overview from the three Deputy-Principals (Claire, Lea and Di) on their areas of responsibility in the school as a lead into the LOLs breaking off into our leadership roles.  I loved this. I knew that they were amazing educators, practitioners and leaders but I feel so privileged to be working with such a strong leadership team.  Nuff said.

Claire Amos

Claire Amos

Lea Vellenoweth

Lea Vellenoweth

Di Cavallo

Di Cavallo

Thursday:

LOLs broke up into the teams of LTLs (Learning Team Leaders), SLLs (Specialist Learning Leaders) and LPL (Learning Partnership Leader). Sally, Yasmin (the other LTLs) and I went to work with Lea. I must admit this was the first time we had worked in a small group and it was amazing how quick we were to jump into the practices of the learning communities and learning hubs, without considering the values, beliefs and principles – sheesh, had we learnt nothing!!!

Friday:

We came together in the morning for some shared PD with the HPPS staff – the secondary staff discussed an object which revealed something new about us. I love these getting to know each other activities but am so aware that Lea is running us like a learning hub – great way to experience hubs in an authentic way.  After a celebration for Tally at morning tea, we were back in our leadership teams. The LTLs what we each think we bring to the table in terms of the role, which Lea kindly documented for us and,after yesterday when things jumped to practices, we were able to articulate both the practices we bring as well as the underpinning principles.  I love learning about people. I love knowing more and more about what makes them tick and this was a great way to allow us to consider where to next.

Weekend:

I was lucky enough to have a meeting in the weekend with other amazing Classical Studies teachers for the annual meeting of the New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers executive council – what a mouthful! My role on the council has a leadership aspect and I felt well equipped to lead in that two day meeting – I was armed with my ‘Julia Circles’ and upon reflection, realised how imperative it is to have a mix of leadership and management.  Mark Obsorne’s words from earlier in the month bounced around in my brain a few times over the weekend, ‘vision without implementation is just hallucination‘ (I actually think that this is Thomas Edison’s quote but as Mark said it, I now attribute it to him). I am so thrilled to be working with such amazing visionaries who are also able to implement the plan and I have high hopes for Classics teaching in New Zealand.

Writing slowly

I find myself in the same predicament as many of my students; I put off preparing my conference presentations for the upcoming New Zealand Association of Classics Teachers conference until the last minute. Structure is key and while my main presentation is nearly finished, it is the ignite 5 minute presentation which has me stumped. The nature of an ignite presentation puts a lot of pressure on the presenter – timed wittiness.  I am probably more aware of the intended audience for this than for any other conference I have presented at. It is hard to be responsible for planning and organising a national conference, cheers to the other three zealots, and then to have to present two things as well… Writing all this down has helped my perspective but not my presentation. Back to it!