From Quagmire to (some) Clarity

The eFellows learning journey continues!

A fortnight ago I was struggling to write the first draft of my abstract for ULearn. I have written abstracts for conference (research) papers before. And it would be fair to say I pretty much hate the practice. In Design Thinking terms, how on earth can I talk about where I’ve got to while I’m still in the immersion stage? And ‘immersion’ would be a very polite term for how I was feeling. Stuck in the mud of seemingly disparate ideas. Floundering to find footing. Lost.

I managed to bang something out (but you know you’re in despair when you start doing word counts on the eFellows14 abstracts to compare to your own) and was actually reasonably happy with it. Then it came time to firm the abstract up for submission. Cue wheels well and truly falling off.

It was time for desperate measures. I took myself off to one of the ‘phone boxes’ in the CORE Education Wellington office. I remained standing and looked hard at the messy ideas I had.

The two ideas that have really stopped me in my tracks during this learning journey have been:

  1. Design Thinking as play, and the role of play-based learning for adults. (Which has lead me onto a tangent as to what constitutes effective professional learning, and exploring the perceived differences between pedagogy and andragogy.)
  2. How the goal of disrupting teachers’ preconceived ideas about their practice conflicts with being respectful. This has lead me to re-evaluate my Design Thinking pedagogy and shift my personal emphasis from ‘bias towards action’ to ’empathy’.

And then – how on earth to mesh all this together with my original inquiry question of: How I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens?

<Insert scream here.>

Luckily, as always, our amazing mentor Louise Taylor, had handed me the key by way of introducing us to the phrase: Disrupt with Humility.

<Insert angels’ choir and clouds parting here.>

Suddenly, on a square of blue note paper, it all fell together. My Design Thinking principles have shifted to put empathy at the centre. This allows me to work in a respectful way aligned with my personal morals and values. I can disrupt, but with humility. And for me, often times, this incorporates the element of play and fun. Design Thinking as a process aligns with this as it’s all about opening up conversations, being human-centred and creative; playing with ideas. When we’re having fun, even if it’s hard fun, we are engaged and motivated. In turn, hopefully, this prompts us to trial new things in our teaching context, and hence take action.

GetAttachment

So, in case you’re interested, my abstract is complete and submitted, and here it is:

Feed the Hungry: Applying Design Thinking Principles to Invigorate Teachers’ Professional Learning

In this presentation I will share some insights into my research as part of my 2015 CORE Education eFellowship where I have wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

Passionate about future-focused education and the role design thinking might play in this, I have moved from being a classroom English teacher and future learning facilitator, to being the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) of the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec.

Using a qualitative approach, I have listened to the stories of teachers currently completing the postgraduate certificate, as well as reflecting deeply on my own practice. I have found myself

wrestling with the idea of ‘disruption’, concluding that before we can disrupt educators’ mindsets we must first engender respect. Thus I will offer those with an interest in design thinking a different context in which to consider its power, and offer those embarking on their own professional learning inquiries, or designing professional learning for others, some food for the journey.

Delegates will:

  • Hear new research around design thinking mindsets and professional learning.
  • Be challenged to consider the centrality of empathy and respectful practice.
  • Be inspired to disrupt with humility.

You’re all cordially invited to attend if you’re at ULearn this year. I can’t promise I’ll stick to this plan as there may well be further disruptions to my learning journey ahead, but, for now, I’ll enjoy a moment of clarity.

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I “do”

Turns out I’m a bit pedantic about letters and words. No surprises there, I guess, given my English teaching background. Today I’d like to level my sights at an insidious little verb: to do.

I hear this a lot. Heck, I’ve used it a lot. I’m thinking about sentences like: ‘We’ll start off with some poetry, then ‘do’ some creative writing tasks, before ‘doing’ the assessment.” I was listening to a really interesting piece on the radio the other day about the importance of oral language rich childhoods. Some of this was qualified by explaining that strong oracy skills gave learners an advantage when it came to ‘doing’ reading and writing later on in school. It becomes a short-hand way of lesson or programme planning: we’ll ‘do’ this content, then ‘do’ this task.

Argh!

So I’ve been thinking about why ‘do’ drives me nuts. And I think I’ve figured it out. It’s because it makes the items become a ‘to do’ list: a tick box mentality. It compartmentalises the ensuing nouns into discrete areas. This all harks back to my other rants about timetables and silos.

When we talk about ‘doing’ learning, it prevents us from so much. It foregrounds content over skills. It implies we impose the learning on our students. It isolates knowledge from its context. It infers little personalisation, authenticity or relevancy.

So I challenge you to listen to yourself when you use the verb ‘do’. I know it’s an easy short-hand, and that you don’t intend to insinuate any of the above concepts. But listen and reflect. Is there another way to phrase your ideas so that you don’t ‘do’ ‘do’?

(And notice I didn’t use the word ‘try’ – that’s a whole ‘nother rant for another time…!)

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What happened to the “e” in “eFellow”?

Ah, CORE Education’s eFellowship. The best professional learning experience you can possibly enjoy. I’m wallowing in the challenge, and am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to work alongside such inspirational educators and mentors. And I’ve been wondering: what happened to the ‘e’ in eFellows?

If you look back over previous eFellowship inquiries, there has been a strong bias towards projects that researched the integration of technology to enhance learning. This year though, not so much. Possibly the best fit with the ‘e’ is Richard Wells who has a wonderful inquiry in process looking at social media and connecting previously unconnected educators. However the rest of the projects are as fabulously diverse as their researchers. Is this lack of ‘e’ a problem?

Obviously I can’t speak for the CORE Education Charitable Trust who, extremely generously, funds the eFellowship programme, but I don’t personally think so. To me, it’s a bit like the argument I put forth here, that the ‘e’ is essentially now redundant. For innovative, future-focused (and yes, I realise the irony of saying that) educators, the ‘e’ is a given. Maybe what I’m saying is actually echoed in the fourth of CORE’s Ten Trends: Digital Convergence: “The concept of digital convergence refers to the merging of previously discrete and separately used technologies, as well as the almost ‘invisible’ integration and use of technologies as a part of our everyday life.”  

Because, for many of us eFellows, we simply wouldn’t be able to carry out as effective a research inquiry without the ‘e’ tools we’re employing. I’m thinking of Vivita’s use of AR in supporting her deaf learners, of Steve’s international research into design thinking – reaching out to Australia and the US. And even me, using tools like Teachmeet, Padlet and Google Forms to gain feedback from my teachers. The technology enhances our research and is intertwined with what we do. The ‘e’ is ubiquitous.

However, I wouldn’t want the ‘e’ to be dropped from the title. I think it is still crucial to keep being ‘e’ focused. It foregrounds the way the eFellows work, both in terms of conducting their own inquiries, and also with our mentors in between hui. It is also an important point of difference to other fellowship programmes. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that it’s a measure of success for the CORE Education eFellowship because now the ‘e’ just is.

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IALT

learn

It’s six months since I wrote this blogpost on my ‘word for the year’. In summary, a previous school principal used to challenge the staff to choose a word for the year as a focus point. I much prefer this to New Year’s Resolutions or even goals because it’s significantly easier to keep one single word in mind. I have a strong preference for verbs as an action point. This year, being in a new job – and my first job outside of the traditional classroom – and being a CORE Education eFellow, it seemed quite natural to settle on the word Learn.

To my surprise and delight this blogpost became popular, with other teachers also choosing their own word to shape their year. When this occurred, I thought we’d better follow this up with a six month review. We often write on classroom walls ‘WALT’s – we are learning to… – so here’s my ‘IALT’s – I am learning to…

Actually, when I reflect over the past six months. And boy, has it ever been a journey, I think what I’m mostly learning about is myself. I expected to learn techy skills (and I am, I made my first playdoh piano with a MaKey MaKey). I expected to learn about content related to The Mind Lab postgrad course (and I am, I’m getting my head around the LEAN canvas, startup jargon, and agile-based approaches). I expected to learn more about the power of design thinking practices (and I am, I had some amazing feedback about this from the current Wellington Mind Lab postgrads), but I didn’t expect to learn so much about myself.

So, here’s a snapshot of the things I’ve come to learn about myself in the last six months:

  • I’ve got to feel as though I’m making a difference.
  • That listening is a profound act of love and respect.
  • That WellyED is a force to reckon with, and is something that brings me great joy and pride.
  • That before we can shift practice (and what a presumptive act that is), we must build empathy.
  • That ‘building a plane while flying it’ (as the educators of Hobsonville Point Secondary School often phrase it) is tough, demanding, and, at times, deeply unpleasant. But with huge rewards as potentialities.
  • That working collaboratively can be exhausting, and, as an introvert, I need time by myself to work on my portion of the project, but overall the project is better for working in this way. (But I’m dubious whether many hands do make light work…)
  • That I like the opportunity to think ‘big picture’.
  • That I have a complicated relationship with the future and with school.
  • That my leadership practices are different to others’, and that’s okay.
  • That we must never stop asking why?
  • That ‘thinking’ is my core educational value.

So fellow bloggers, I challenge you to share your 6 monthly reflection on your word for the year… What has happened? Have you managed to keep your word front and centre, or has it become a four letter derivative? Let’s share and support one another on our learning journeys.

#WellyED

You know, I’ve been meaning to blog for a while. I have several ideas about things I’d like to explore. But this is the blogpost that fell into my head while I was washing dishes…

I’m part of the collective behind #WellyED: a connected educators’ network in Wellington. I’m the human who tweets using the @Welly_ED handle, and the person who posts on the blogsite. While I kind of pitched the idea of starting such a group at an Eduignite evening last year, I’m by no means a lone nut. One of many things that’s so awesome about WellyED is that it’s much bigger than one person, and therefore stronger and more vibrant for it. Just some of the awesome educators I get to work with on this project are: Leanne Stubbing, Rebbecca Sweeney, Nathaniel Louwrens, Stephen Eames, Paula Hay, Diana-Grace Morris, Tony Cairns, Lisa Bengtsson, Matt Ives, Brie Jessen-Vaughan, and more! (The problem with naming individuals is that invariably you leave someone out. Sincerest apologies if this is you – let me know, and I’ll add you!)

Well Ed Logo

And I’m proud, so very very proud of what we have achieved. We aim to connect Wellington educators so that we can share and learn from and support one another. We aim to hold at least one event per term. We launched off with a hugely successful #educampwelly in February (over 100 registrations!), and, since then, have showcased 18 educators on the blog, socialised over a beer, and listened to inspiring speakers at last month’s Edugnite (with over 50 in attendance).

The numbers of local educators we have continued to attract to our events shows to me that there is a groundswell of support for future-focused education in this country. What we’re taking about here is nothing less than grassroots revolution. There is also increasing pride in Wellington as we prove ourselves to be as innovative, imaginative and curious as our colleagues up and down the country. And I get to play a small part in this. Awesome.