Time to think

20160505_212235-1.jpgI’ve been doing quite a lot of walking/running recently and it provides me not only with a well-needed brain break from the computer, leg-stretch from a chair and eye break from a screen but also time for my brain to slow down and stop thinking. Well, maybe not stop thinking but it helps me to filter my thoughts, get them in some sort of order through disordering them, breaking them up and somehow putting them back together again. I don’t necessarily gain any answers but they get “un-piled”!

Data has been top of mind in my work in the last few weeks. What is data? Despite myself, but also because I am a competitive soul, I can’t go for a walk or a run anywhere without trying to do it faster than the time before. I find myself calculating how many minutes it takes me to walk a kilometre, how many kilometres I can walk in an hour, was it faster than last time, slower, was the terrain similar, how much should I take off for stopping to take a photo, should I take anything off? If I hadn’t had to wait 45 minutes in the gully while everyone went through the hole in the rock, and then another 20 minutes for people to cross the river and climb the 3m rope climb how long would I really have taken to walk/run 23km and how would that equate to a half marathon…? But it is clear that those calculations are not just based on pure numbers, on data, they are based on human action, on nature, on the terrain, on feelings, on emotions, on abilities and competencies and relationships. Relationships between people and the environment, on rational and irrational fears, on prior experience and knowledge and understanding.

Take this weekend, for example. As part of the event I participated in we had to squeeze through a hole in a rock wall to get out of a gully. ‘Squeeze’ is an interesting concept – it was clearly not that small a hole as plenty of large-ish men got through with relative ease. My prior knowledge and experience of caves and caving meant that I was unafraid, eager, in fact to face the “challenge”. People around me who didn’t have that knowledge were fearful, anxious, uncomfortable. Feelings that were made more acute by the wait and the conversations and the “chinese whispers” passed back – the “fishermen’s tales” – “the hole is tiny!!” with hand gestures that indicated the smallest of gaps. But with support from those of us who did know, with encouragement, explanations and modelling of how to do it, with patience and with care everyone got through.

If this had been a test for which we were being assessed, I would have got top marks. My prior knowledge meant that the test was easy, my experience and my preparation meant that I had no problems slipping through. I may have also gained extra credit for being a “leader”. For others it was not the case, they may have been ‘judged’ not to have got top marks because they hesitated, or didn’t slide so gracefully through, or took too much time.

Personally, I think their achievement was all the greater. The obstacles they overcame to get through; emotional, physical, rational, irrational made their achievement more meaningful. Give me a situation where I have no prior knowledge, no confidence, no experience, irrational fear and I wonder how I would have fared.

So, how do you measure that sort of data when you assess people in academic tests? How do you compute immeasurable data such as emotions, human nature, social background, with knowledge and experience to make meaning, build connections and create pathways for learning?

This evening, I was talking with some friends. Both teachers and ex-colleagues. One of them is a drama teacher and some of her students do extremely well. Students who don’t do so well in other subjects. Students whose motivation for coming to school sometimes is simply because they have drama that day. Part of her inquiry this year is looking at why those students are motivated and engage in drama but not in other subjects. She said that one of the things she does is talk to her students about who they are, about their families, what they like doing, what their parents do, how many siblings they have, where they are in the family, what they do when they aren’t at school, where the family comes from, who they live with, who they spend the most time with; she finds out what makes them tick. She builds a relationship with them, trust, respect, interest, she cares. That’s what makes those kids come to school. That’s what makes those kids do well in drama.

So, in schools we need to look at our students, not just as they are in front of us, but who they are in their family, their community, their social groups, what they do in the classroom, of course, but what they do on the sports field, in the arts, in the community. Build on their experience and use all of that information, that data to gain insights, and generate meaningful action to personalise learning for them, give them and their whanau a voice, a stake in their decision-making and the pathways they choose.  That is the rich data. It’s not all about test scores. It’s about who we are, it’s about building relationships, making connections, trust, respect, humanity.

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!!

 

What will it mean to be educated in 2050?

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 have created this Storify.

What will it mean to be educated in 2050?

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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

We also used Todaysmeet to “chat” and record the conversations. Here is the transcript from some of the discussion in the sessions on Professional Learning.

Follow the dotted line….

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Boundaries.”

woman taking photo in direction mirror in hospital corridor at corner showing red dotted lines…or the yellow brick road.  Why? Where are we going? To find a heart, to find a friend, to find a soul, to find the truth, to find ourselves, to follow the crowd, to do what is expected, to fall in line.

How often do we keep to one side of the imaginary boundary that we set ourselves or that is set for us? Why do we do it? Why don’t we step outside the boundary? Dare to be different? Dare to find another way?

What if we could just step across that imaginary line even just to look around the corner and see where we are going, or where we have been?  How would life turn out? How much do you limit yourself by sticking to a path mapped out for you by others and even by yourself?

Two people this week have prompted me to think about this. One is a young person about to sell up and head off on her adventures. Taking a new path, taking a risk, about to live a dream. Not following the line that is expected of a successful and talented teacher just yet. The other is not much older than me, worked as a teacher all her life, passionate, followed the dotted line, just married and looking to happy times ahead. She is very ill in the hospital in which I took this photo.  Reflecting on what could have been, should have been and what still could be if she gets the chance.  Would she have made different decisions? Stepped over the line? Who knows?

You only live once.  You’ll never know if you never cross the boundary.

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.

100km and still walking ….just!

Four female walkers at the start of the Oxfam Trailwalk event.  It is dark as it is early in the morning.
Counting down to the start – a hurried photo!

I did it!  WE did it! The much blogged about Oxfamtrailwalk NZ 2015 is done and dusted bar the sore feet and blisters. It was not uneventful – nervousness, excitement, pain, tears, frustration, disappointment, disaster, elation, adrenalin, determination – just to name but a few of the emotions we felt as we journeyed from Whangamata Road Landing strip to Taupo Domain.

Our first tears and frustration came when we got lost on the way to the event!  Then the adrenalin rush as the countdown was on and we were still in the loo; 7 we ran out, 6 still re-arranging our knickers, 5 held hands and 4, 3, 2 wove through the throng  and 1, we were officially off.  We picked our way in the half light of a chilly March morning over the uneven ground, passing teams on our way, “Skirts coming through!” “Mad women, on their way!” shrieking and laughing in near hysteria that we had actually made it!  As we reached the mountain bike track and the path narrowed, going was a little slower but the passing protocol was cheerfully adhered to.  “Passing on your right!”  “You go girls”, “Good luck”, “Have a great day” “Love your skirts, so cute!” (from the chicks) “Nice skirts, girls” (from the guys – with a look and a tone that went with it!) “What’s your team name?” “Cool, nice one. Catch you later!”

As the field thinned out we found ourselves amongst teams going a similar speed to us and started playing team tag.  We were feeling great.  My quads were screaming as we pretty much ran the first leg but it trended downhill and we knew that we wanted to get a good start and make the most of the Grade 2 legs early on to have some time in the bag for the harder legs to come.

The sun had come up and it was going to be a beautiful day;  the promised rain didn’t come until the next day and boy, were we thankful for that!  Then, CRASH!  Jo went down like the proverbial! She was behind me as we ran and picked our way over the roots on the baked sandy path and tripped and fell headlong.  It didn’t look good; she was twisted on her back holding her neck.  But, no, all good, she turned over, dusted herself down gave herself a shake and took off. Adrenalin was clearly pumping as we could hardly keep up!

We met our support team at Kinloch, 22km in.  A quick massage, some blister care for Debbie, take on some food – peanut butter and honey sarnies for me – some electrolytes and we were on our way again.  The 16km on the mountain bike track over to Whakaipo Bay winds its way over the headland and down again in the bush.  We ran and walked in equal measure staying cool in the trees despite the sun getting ever hotter.  Glimpses of a glassy Lake Taupo’s deep blue waters at high points reminded us that there was a world outside our challenge!  Our support crew were a welcome sight in Whakaipo Bay but just a quick refuel and then we were off again.

4 female walkers at the highest point of the Oxfam Trailwalk. Clouds in a sunny sky.
At the trig point Leg 4

Over the hills and far away.  Less running now, uneven ground, across fields, uphill to the trig point, downhill on the Scoria Road, through the quarry and into Taupo.  It was more of a battle but we had passed some milestones; a quarter of the way, a third of the way and now the halfway point had been reached.  Jo was really starting to struggle though.  She hadn’t mentioned it at the time but admitted during Leg 4 that she had been very woozy during Leg 3 following her fall.  Her knees were sore and she took to her walking poles for Leg 5 (so did I as my quads were complaining!).  Leg 5 took us along the river to Huka Falls and a checkpoint with no support crew.  Jo was finding it hard going, her knee was hardly bending and every downhill stretch was painful for her. We were worried. Camaraderie from other teams kept us going.  The support out there was fantastic.

4 female walkers walking along a gravel road. cloudy sky
Half way point on Scoria Road

As we ventured into the pine forest that would lead us to the Wairake Resort and Checkpoint 6 there was an eerie silence.  The ground of dead pine needles was soft underfoot and our feet made no sound as we marched across it.  The trees towered tall and sombre above and around us as the sky between grew dark.  No birds sang and we could neither see nor hear any other teams.  The path took us up and down, looping through and back on ourselves and seemed to go on for ever.  We grew weary of the silence, of the darkness and we were increasingly worried about Jo. Eventually she stopped.  Nauseous, sleepy, in pain but still determined to keep going.  Frustrated, disappointed.  We had to make a call.

We waited as night fell in forest.  Jo wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets, drifting in an out of half consciousness as I kept her talking, Debbie and the other Jo directing teams around our friend as they caught us up and went past.  We were getting cold too and still rescue didn’t come.  Conflicting emotions; on the one hand real worry about our friend and the time it was taking to get help to her, on the other frustration at the time we were losing.  It isn’t easy to face up to those selfish thoughts but we had worked so hard and we had done so well so far and were easily on time for our sub 18 hour target.

An hour later, after several phone calls with Oxfam Support, Civil Defence and our support crew and still no sign of rescue, Jo’s husband arrived.  We left them in sombre mood, cold, damp and hungry, picked ourselves up and jogged in the darkness to Checkpoint 6.  Hot food, more fluids and a bit of a pep talk to get our heads back into a good space.  Up until now we had sung our way into every checkpoint.  Our skirts and our song were becoming a feature!  Not this time, we were just too flat.  Fleeting thoughts of packing it all in came and went.  Jo would have been mad as hell if we didn’t continue.  So we forgot the 69km we had already done.  This was a 30km walk.  We’d done plenty of those in training.  Get up and get out there!

The 18km of Leg 7 was interminable.  Darkness and not actually knowing where the hell we were made the kilometres pass by very slowly.  We prayed that we had missed a km marker or two and that the next one would say we were a couple of kms further on.  But no.  We felt like we were making a good pace and we were passing the teams that had passed us in the forest but those kms didn’t seem to be going down and we seemed to be going round in circles.  And don’t mention the swede fields!

We sang our way into Checkpoint 7, loud and heartily.

“We are the Pat and Posties Team.

We are strong and we are mean.

Walking the trail in our little skirts.

‘Cos we know the hundy hurts!”

(US Army marching style, me leading the others repeating!)

Nearly there.  I, for one, was tearful.  We had had to dig deep for that leg.  Last refuelling – my boys had made me a hot cup of coffee – never has a coffee tasted so good!

Final leg. 12.3km.  Grade: Easy.  There is nothing easy about a final leg of a 100km walk!  Once again we were directed across fields, stumbling in the dark on uneven, wet grass searching for the glowsticks that were like candles in tin cans that marked the way.  It was heartening to have other teams to walk with at times and we provided mutual support in the darkness of the night. The lake front was a welcome sight – 4km to go – and there was Jo in the car with Doug!  So happy that she was ok.  What an adrenaline rush – come on, we can do it girls!  Our support crew had organised a staged re-entry for us! Paul and Aonghas along the lake front (and the runaway campervan!) spurred us on to go up a gear,  Lachlan met us as we rounded the corner for the last set of steps (cruel, cruel trick!) and the rest of the team were reassembled as we came into the finishing chute.  “We are the Pat and Posties team…..”  Once more as loud as we could!

A bitter sweet ending.  So glad that we finished.  So sad that we didn’t all make it all together.

Thank you “Pat and the Posties”; Postmaster General; Debbie, Courrier Post; Jo M, Fast Post; Jo P, Digi Post; Anne

And thank you to our support crew – we couldn’t have done it without you!  Paul, Rob, Doug, Lachlan and Aonghas.

#28daysofwriting Day 2 Hats

Just going to squeeze this one in barring distractions!  Why is it that despite all the preparation and planning that I do in the holidays, the first week at school is complete  chaos?  The last week has been manic.  I know that I have also been training for the Oxfam Trailwalk so this weekend more than 7 hours were spent pounding the concrete,  the gravel,  the sand and the grass.  But even so,  I feel like I’m lurching from one thing to the next.  I do have several metaphorical hats to wear at school which adds to the mix but this year I have escaped having a form class.  Truth be told,  I’m actually quite missing that contact with the students first thing in the morning but ssshh!  I’m sure I’ll get used to the extra time it frees up!
a stall selling hats of all different typesOne of my hats is a digital one; I am the “eMentor” for our staff and support them using tech in the classroom for teaching and learning. The beginning of term is always busy helping new staff get to grips with new systems and supporting others as they make the shift from beach brain to teacher brain and they grapple anew with all the techy challenges they were sure they had mastered last year!
I said in my last post that I needed to redress my work life balance. Strangely, I do have balance in my job.  My next hat is that of Outdoor Education Coordinator.  Three weeks of the year I get to leave technology and the four walls of my classroom behind and enjoy time with our students and staff on school camps.  I really don’t think you can overestimate how much benefit kids get from learning outside the classroom when they are challenging themselves and putting themselves outside they comfort zones.
Finally,  but actually most importantly is my sombrero; my last hat.  I am a teacher first and foremost and I love teaching.  I have had to reinvent myself as, sadly, the importance of learning languages is simply not recognised in New Zealand and learner numbers are falling rapidly across the country.  My first second language is French but I now teach Spanish and am learning alongside my students.  It has been a steep learning curve but a welcome challenge and I am enjoying how it has made me think about my teaching methodology.  I can’t be lazy any more,  I don’t have the language at my finger tips like French and I don’t have a store of lessons in my head for the days when I really need to “wing it”!  Fortunately,  I have a dear colleague in a nearby school who has helped me immensely.  It has made me reflect that we cannot be islands.  We have to build bridges and causeways to connect with others and share good practice.
Oh,  my 28 minutes are up!  Time to stop.  Feels odd.

Image: http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs21/f/2007/233/1/1/hats_by_GreenInkling.jpg

#28daysofwriting Day 1

So 28 minutes to write.  What about? I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this but yesterday when I was out walking the idea just came to me!  Amazing how being out in the fresh air, away from technology, the classroom, the housework and everything else that serves to distract me, helps me to formulate my thoughts.

Why was I out walking? Well, first of all because I love the outdoors and try to get out as often as I can (which is not as often as I would like) but secondly, and possibly more importantly, I have, mad thing that I am, committed myself to walking 100km to raise money for Oxfam with thee other equally mad women.  Actually, I say equally mad but I think two of them are madder because they have walked it before and know how gruelling it is!

So there I was, trotting behind my team mates who are much fitter and faster than me thinking, “Oh my goodness, what have  let myself in for?!”  They are seasoned long distance runners and multisport participants and little old me has never run further than 15km before.  I have done lots of mountain walking, and caving and kayaking and climbing.  I am an adventurous sort.  But I have never undertaken anything as long as this that requires training.  Training! What is that? Five days a week averaging 15km a day at the ridiculously fast (for me) pace of around 7km an hour!  That’s what training is.  And, of course, I have come in late to the programme.  The Oxfam website has a recommended training schedule (we’re aiming to do it fast = 18 -24 hrs) which runs for 16 weeks.  We have 7 weeks to go before the big day.  28th March – check it out! So the training programme starts for us at week 10. Yes, straight in to just about the peak time and starting right from scratch for me! That’s why all I see as we walk is three bottoms!women walking through a forest.

So, I hear you asking, “Why?”.  Good question, and one that I was pondering as I struggled to keep up yesterday.  Why?  It seemed like a good idea when my friend suggested it in the staffroom one day.  I felt I needed a challenge in my 6th decade of life. It is a strange thing, isn’t it, age?  I don’t feel old at 52 years and 11 months old.  But, what does prey on my mind is that my Mum died at the age of 53 years and 1 day.  And I am frighteningly close now to not knowing what life holds for me past that point.  I have no point of reference.  I see my Mum when I look in the mirror, but I don’t know what the future me will look like because Mum’s face stops at 53 years and 1 day.  So, before I get maudlin and start to cry, I guess I’m doing this for my Mum.  To prove that life goes on, as well as because it is a huge challenge and we all need challenges to test ourselves and I haven’t had a real physical challenge for a while.  It will keep me away from work and help to redress some of my work life balance which has swung heavily to the side of work over the last few years, it will help my fitness (as long as my body doesn’t break from the training!), and I am doing something to help others.

So my #28daysofwriting may well be a chronicle of the next 4 weeks of training as I build up to the big day.  What has that to do with learning?  Oh, everything!