Vanilla

So I recently saw the film Arrival. I really enjoyed it. In case you’re not familiar with its basic premise: a bunch of weird huge pod-like structures have descended from a planet unknown in cities around the world and there’s a rush to figure out who these aliens are and what they want. Our heroine, a linguistics professor, works conscientiously to learn the aliens’ language in order to best understand their intentions. It’s a story of language, culture and time.

For me, it’s a ‘first contact’ metaphor and a reminder that language, worldview and culture are inextricably intertwined. That we cannot understand another people without knowing their language. And that language is not neutral. It conveys our values, beliefs and understandings about the way the world works. In the film, without giving away spoilers, the crucial understanding is about time. The film deliberately plays with the white, Western, belief that time is linear, to clever effects.

But it less about time that I’m thinking about here, and more the concept of how language imbues culture.

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B. Navez CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ve been privileged recently to be on a writing team. The task has been to use plain English words to capture ideas that will help schools identify their strengths and weaknesses in a particular area. On this team has been two exceptional Māori educators, and they have, in a respectful yet insistent way, challenged me to consider my use of inclusive language.

You see, I intentionally used the word ‘school’ in the previous paragraph. Ordinarily, with the sincere desire to be inclusive, I would write ‘school/kura’ so that Māori medium learning environments would be captured. But ‘kura’ is not a synonym for ‘school’. A kura has its own way of being, its own processes and educational aspirations for its learners – its ākonga. And for me, this is the real challenge of living in a bicultural country that privileges Pākehā over Māori. With the very best of intentions, I adopt (co-opt?) Māori words and phrases into my lexicon, but without the understanding of the cultural concepts these kupu contain.

As we were working as a writing team, trying desperately to express abstract ideas in practical, functional English language, every now and then one of the Māori educators would say: “Vanilla!” as a reminder that we were using exclusive language that conveyed the assumption that how English medium schools operate are the way all educational environments work, and this is simply not the case. It’s been a real wake-up call for me.

Returning to my regular work, I was reviewing another piece of writing I was working on. Again, something intended for use by schools/kura. I had been very happy with how the work was progressing. As I looked at it again with fresh eyes, I heard my colleague in my head: “Vanilla!” I could see that what I had written was totally Pākehā-centric and that kura would not be able to ‘see’ themselves in it. I was excited by my self-realisation, but equally frustrated that I did not know how to un-vanilla my writing.

For now, though, I am pleased to have this new perspective and this reminder as a call to personal action. I have been wanting to increasing my knowledge of te reo Māori, but now I know I must. I cannot understand the Māori worldview without doing so. This is my own arrival.

Find your Tribe

Whew. In the insane flurry of last-minute jobs, stresses, emails, worries it’s been hard to find time to relish in the upcoming #edchatNZ conference. But then, an invitation to speak at the conference by our amazing founder Danielle Myburgh prompted me to remember what I’m so passionate about with the #edchatNZ community. And, really, it’s best summed up in this sketchnote by the artistic Sylvia Duckworth:

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CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For me, the sound of the first #edchatNZ conference was a squeal of delight – delight in finally meeting the educators you had been connecting with for months, years even, on Twitter. The delight (and frankly, relief) of finding out that you’re not the only one with the crazy ideas that education should be different – and how you might go about invoking this transformation. The delight of meeting fellow edu-nerds and edu-heroes.

At that conference, the running metaphor was one of the ‘lone nut’ and the ‘first follower’. You’ll possibly recognise the phrases from this great TED talk. This time, we have a tribal theme. I get that there are connotations with the word “tribe” and that some aren’t necessarily comfortable with its choice. We have deliberately chosen this because of the sense of connection and community that #edchatNZ gives us.

And, of course, because we’re #edchatNZ, we want more than this. At the conference all attendees have been grouped diversely into “learning tribes”. We want to grow the sense of community into a force to be reckoned with. A grassroots (chalkface?!) community who is empowered and inspired and supported to start change now – not waiting for the government, politicians, policies and the stars to come into the exact right alignment.

Our learning tribes will be facilitated by trained mentors (thanks to the uChoose programme from CORE Education) who will respectfully prompt, probe and promote deep thinking and learning. Behind them sits a Tribal Council (no extinguishing of flames here) to support and coach the mentors. It’s all been purposefully crafted and shaped to maximise personal connections and collaborative learning.

So, fingers crossed! It turns out there’s a lot to relish about the next few days.

Reflecting on the edchatNZ MOOC

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This is the reflection I wrote in Week 8 of the edchatNZ MOOC (Massive Open Online Course):

What I have been particularly struck by during this course is the idea of digger deeper before moving forward. The idea of unpacking the assumptions that we base our thinking on has been very interesting to me. In order to really understand our own ideas, and even the ideas of others, we must first understand the basis or the foundation of these ideas. Tentacle-like (without associated sinister undertones) these assumptions permeate all the other ideas that link to them. For example, if I believe that education is about empowering young people to take their place in the economy, then this will inform the kind of knowledge I believe is important, the kind of curriculum I think schools should offer, and a worry that automation will ‘steal’ jobs from humans. My belief in a strong economy filters through all of these other ideas too. Thinking about this has been an unexpectedly interesting thing from this MOOC. (Thanks Danielle!) Note: the thanks to Danielle, is Danielle Myburgh, founder of edchatNZ, and all-round eduhero of mine.

And yet, interestingly after 10 weeks of study, I haven’t really moved from where I started in terms of own belief about the purpose of education, or my vision about what a “future school” might be like. In the first week of the course, I said: “An education, to me, is about a whole person, and ultimately about empowering citizens.” And I couldn’t honestly say that I’ve changed this opinion one iota. Nor, as I mentioned, have I changed my vision of a “school” as a community learning hub – a vision strongly influenced by my reading of Keri Facer.

Does this mean I haven’t engaged deeply enough with the MOOC that I haven’t unpacked or challenges these assumptions of mine? Is this a reflection that I had already done some thinking in this space? Or…?

After spending a fair bit of time last year, while working at The Mind Lab by Unitec, thinking about technology and its oft-hailed “disruptive” qualities, I have become again more attuned to ideas of technology and its ability to affect us. For me, this takes the shape of a call to embracing the need for ethics, values, critical thinking, imagination – the stuff of a future curriculum?

I really enjoyed the work of Kieran Egan and thinking about why talking about education is so difficult. This gave me a framework I would like to explore further to think about the overlapping and conflicting ideas we hold about and expect from our schools. I would like to develop the ability to tune into the language people use and the conversations we become involved in to wonder from which model(s) people are operating.

‘Education’ and ‘school’ provoke an emotional reaction in us, one based on previous experiences – which is why we’re all “experts” in education. This MOOC has helped me to see that this is a function of how we have been socialised. I wonder if complexity theory can offer us a way to think outside of these systems even when we are a part of them? I also wonder how I might turn complexity theory “on myself” to explore and test my own thinking?

Studying with this MOOC, I have become even more obsessed with language and its connotations – how it can include and exclude; how it reveal underlying assumptions, values and beliefs – even with something as potentially as innocuous sounding as verbs like “work” and “learn”. And to beware the seductive follies of reductive thinking: those pesky false dichotomies, for example ‘knowledge’ versus ‘skills’. I much prefer an expansive model, one that says: ‘yes, and…’

In this same way, the MOOC has confirmed my belief (again, gleaned from Keri Facer) about the future as a narrative that we are active characters/participants/agents within. To me, this presents a vision of the future that is powerful and optimistic: our current choices have the capacity to shape our future.

And finally, I think we need to embrace the luxury of time:

  • To sit with ideas
  • To identify, unpack, challenge assumptions
  • To understand deeply
  • Slow down to hurry up
  • Not rushing to solutions
  • Gather data, research, hear multiple perspectives

My next steps are to reveal in learning more about complexity theory – prompted by this MOOC. I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston’s Simple Habits for Complex Times (2015). So, again, thank you Danielle.

Re-focusing my UDL Lenses

Lately, I’ve been challenged to think more about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I’ve been exposed to the framework previously, even using it to inform a professional learning session when I was the Future Learning Leader at Marsden. I thoroughly enjoyed Katie Novak’s presentation at ULearn in 2014. I was so impressed by the way she modelled UDL even given the constraints of a conference keynote speech. Lucky enough to be a CORE Education eFellow last year, Chrissie Butler, our local UDL guru, led us through a session on UDL which prompted me to think more about the kind of language we use to talk about individuals and groups within our schools, e.g. the “special needs” kids and their “teacher aides”.

So I believed I understood the ‘big picture’ behind UDL – that it’s about providing universal supports that work for everyone, the way automatic opening and closing doors do in the supermarket or shopping mall regardless of someone’s mobility.

Underpinning this idea are values that I am comfortable with: the notion of equity for one. That we are not all equal, but with the same right to access information and knowledge and learning. Therefore as teachers, we should provide ‘on ramps’ so that everyone can have access to the learning.

With my design thinking hat on, I easily get on board with the idea of knowing your learner as this is what being empathetic requires.

And when it came to the role of technology with UDL, it was clear to me that it was mostly about assistive technologies like text to speech functions, altering font size and colour. If I pushed the boat out a bit further I could see that digital technologies also had a role to play in offering choice: offering more ways to access information and more ways to demonstrate understanding of knowledge.

Yep. This UDL thing. I’ve got it down.

But then it was pointed out to me the underlying purpose of UDL.

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  • Engagement: purposeful, motivated learners
  • Representation: resourceful, knowledgeable learners
  • Action and expression: strategic, goal-directed learners

Suddenly these reminded me of future-focused pedagogy goals. Self-managing learners. Curious, motivated, life-long learners. Oh.

And then I started to connect this to the OECD 7 Principles of Learning. Recognise these ideas?

  • Learner at the centre: “Learners are the central players in the environment and therefore activities centre on their cognition and growth.” “The environment aims to develop ‘self-regulated learners’” (p. 6)
  • Recognising individual differences: “The learning environment is acutely sensitive to the individual differences among the learners in it…” (p. 7)

With these new UDL lenses on, the role of digital technologies becomes greatly expanded. Much more than a learning support and a means to offer choice, but instead to ensure learning is:

  • Engaging
  • Motivating
  • Personalised
  • Collaborative
  • Connected to students’ passions
  • Matched to students’ needs and interests

And that learning is about:

  • Bringing who you are to the learning
  • Being responsible for your own learning
  • Becoming a more independent, self-managing learner: knowing what is being taught and why

Ah!

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve still got a lot more thinking to do about this, but suddenly UDL makes a lot more sense to me. As always, there is a lot more behind a concept than a surface glance can give.

Adopting future-focused pedagogies means being learner-centred. In turn this means knowing your learners deeply. And UDL is a way to achieve this. It is not a separate framework, but a lens through which to view curriculum design and the role of digital technologies for learning. It isn’t a ‘bolt on’ addition, but a crucial ‘yes, and’.

This re-focusing also reinforces my belief in the power of language. If you choose to adopt a ‘buzz word’, or, as in this case, a buzz phrase like ‘learner-centred’, be prepared to really sit with it and unpack it deeply. There’s always a lot more than meets the eye.

‘Weighing a pig doesn’t make it grow faster’

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As a classroom teacher, and an English teacher at that, numbers are not my friends. Therefore I didn’t ever have a great attitude towards data or data-driven practices. My feeling about ‘data’ (which strictly equated to quantitative assessment scores in my mind) was that data entry was a bureaucratic process strongly associated with compliance and accountability.

Being good with ‘paperwork’ and a bit of a girly swot, I would dutifully enter assessment data as directed – usually around report writing time. If I accessed data, I would use it to group students (particularly for reading and spelling purposes). As a Head of Department, I would use data to reflect on which Achievement Standards to focus our teaching efforts on for the following year. And that was about my sum total of interaction with, and thinking about, data.

So it follows quite logically that I had a limited understanding of the school’s SMS (Student Management System). I could plug in assessment results and access behaviour and attendance records as needed. I rarely linked these three concepts: assessment, wellbeing, pastoral needs, in my head, let alone to consider how an SMS might help me to do this. So the SMS was rarely used in any meaningful way by me.

Fast-forward a year or so, and in my new role as an advisor for the Connected Learning Advisory I was asked to contribute to a Ministry of Education SMS initiative which ultimately saw us develop an online resource and deliver workshops for school leaders throughout New Zealand. This project was definitely going to challenge my personal knowledge and, frankly, my attitude towards using an SMS, but I’m always up for a challenge – especially when I get to collaborate with my brainy fellow CLA colleagues!

During the course of my reading and research, I discovered this quote by Timperley:

“…evidence related to students is something that informs teaching and learning, rather than being seen as a reflection of the capability of individual students that is most useful for sorting, labelling and credentialing.” Timperley (2010), p.2

Cue lightbulb moment.

You can use data to reflect on your own practice! Data not only shows me what my students have learned (or not) but how I have taught!

Oh. I had seriously missed the boat for about 15 years as a classroom teacher.

You approach data with an inquiry mindset. You seek to put a ‘face on the data’ (Sharratt and Fullan, 2012): to use data holistically to help tell the story of the learner who sits behind the numbers. These are ideas I can connect with: building empathy; immersing yourself in quantitative and qualitative data to understand the classroom context more. After all, these are design thinking attributes.

And this works strategically too – broader than the classroom, this data inquiry mindset can be used at a whole-school or even Community of Learning level. If we see data as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ we can recognise strengths and weaknesses which inform future initiatives and how to resource them (including professional learning). Data-driven practices are learner-focused for improved outcomes. Now that’s an equation I can get on board with!

So, no, weighing a pig won’t make it grow faster, but it might suggest how the farmer can improve their techniques to make fatter, happier pigs.

 

Advice for a New Teacher

Congratulations! You have scored your first teaching job. Awesomeness awaits you. I remember vividly the excitement of getting keys to my classroom, my teacher code, my pigeon-hole. I felt I had finally made it: I was a bona fide teacher! It was with as much anticipation as nervousness that I set about decorating my classroom, and I wondered what the year had in store for me. So here’s some advice that I wish I had received, or actually taken on board when it was given.

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  • Pace yourself: it’s a marathon, not a sprint

This is one I cottoned onto embarrassingly late – even for someone as organised as me! I use the school’s planner to get a sense of the scope and shape of the whole school year: when reports are due, when parent-teacher interviews are, what school events will disrupt learning time, when meetings are. I then break this down into a personal term planner. To this I add my marking load and personal extra-curricular commitments. Then I can see where I have busy weeks and quieter weeks. I can then use this to plan things I have control over, e.g. what junior marking I have, what units I’d like to plan in advance, when homework might be due. Sure, extra things will pop up, but this method really helps me to feel organised and more in control of the workload.

  • Balance yourself: you’re allowed to say no

Often as a new teacher, you’ll get asked to pitch in with loads of different co-curricular and extra-curricular events. Helping out with sports, art, drama, culture is amazing and an excellent way to get to know your learners in other contexts. I highly recommend it. But choose wisely. Pick a summer and a winter commitment and that’s absolutely your fair share. If you’re not good at saying no when put on the spot, thank the person asking for thinking of you, but say you need to check your diary. Then wait 24 hours, politely email and say thank you, but maybe you can help out next year.

As a teacher, your job is never done. There is always something more you could be doing. A parent to email, some marking to do, some professional reading to engage with, some planning to consider. At the end of the school day, rather than think about everything that’s still to do, instead list what you have done. And be content. You simply can’t be a good teacher if you work all hours of the day and night, get frazzled, and are short with your learners and/or colleagues the following day.

Take time to do what replenishes you.

  • Choose a focus: you can’t be all things to all people

News flash: not all lessons can be all singing and all dancing all of the time. This is okay, and indeed perfectly acceptable. If each class gets a stellar lesson once a week, that’s amazing. I’m certainly not encouraging you to aim for mediocrity, but rather to choose one particular focus – and my suggestion is building relationships – and do your best with this all year. This way, when you’re wondering what to prioritise, the choices narrow. Do what will build relationships – or your chosen priority – first.

  • The first lesson

As a pre-service teacher, you’ve more than likely never taken the first lesson with a class at the beginning of the school year. So here’s what I typically do (keeping in mind my English teaching background): I introduce myself, giving some personal detail to make myself sound human. I state my three firm classroom rules, which are: no swinging on chairs, no swearing, respectful listening – I’ll listen to you actively, and I’d like the class to do the same for me. I then start a group activity. This is often something reasonably trivial, but requires debate and a group decision. This allows me to observe group and personality dynamics, and to rotate around the groups so that I can begin to learn names. I place an extreme amount of importance on learning names as quickly as I’m humanly able.

  • Ask: there’s no such thing as a stupid question

This is a bit of a personal mantra for me. I’d so much rather make a pain of myself asking questions, than to do something wrong. I encourage others to adopt the same position. Don’t know where the toilets are? Ask. Can’t remember how to do the roll? Ask. Got a challenging learner/colleague/parent? Ask. Need help with unit planning? Ask.

Ask for help before it becomes an issue. And ask face-to-face where possible, rather than email. I carry a notebook to jot answers down so I have something to refer back to – I would prefer not to ask the same question multiple times, but I will if I need to! Seek to build professional relationships and a professional network to help with answering your questions. Outside of your own staffroom, check out #edchatNZ, FB, Pond, #WellyED.

Have fun. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. We’re all pretty much making it up as we go along.

Wero

My star sign is Libra. The scales. Justice, fairness, equality. These values are dear to my heart. So I have been enjoying wrestling with the challenge presented to me via amazing educators Ann Milne, principal of Kia Aroha College, and Deanne Thomas, of CORE Education, to think more about social justice and equity with regards to The Treaty of Waitangi and the success our Maori learners experience in New Zealand schools.

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The Ministry of Education strategy for increasing Maori achievement in schools is called Ka Hikitia and is now supported by the professional learning development of Kia Eke Panuku. These documents refer to Maori enjoying success “as Maori“. But what does this mean?

The highlight for me at ULearn15 was Ann Milne’s presentation entitled: “Leadership and achievement through culturally responsive, critical, social justice pedagogies”. This was exactly the kind of confronting, crunchy learning I love from ULearn. While I can’t say yet I fully understand all of Ann’s talk, nor can I say I necessarily agree with some of the specifics of her message, I can say, totally in line with my word for the year, that the learning was powerful.

In her presentation, Ann unpacked the concept of “as Maori”. She was superbly supported by the action research of her “warrior scholars” who have dived into this morass. Some of the ideas she raised really had an impact on me and resonated with me. I was particularly struck by the idea that learners shouldn’t have to leave their identity at the door – that Maori (and, I would argue, all learners) have the right to an education that affirms who you are. I wonder what I have done as a teacher to support Maori learners in their identity as Maori, and whether I have positioned Maori identity as an asset and as a key to success. I frankly acknowledge that I have a lot to learn about tikanga Maori and te ao Maori, but this is learning I am excited to engage with.

Ann spoke of Kia Aroha College’s “pedagogy of whanau“, which has been fully unpacked to tangibly define it in all, and I mean all, aspects of school life. The question of ‘where’s the whanau in that?’ is a great tool to keep focused on this central vision. It is powerful in its simplicity and complexity.

I can see connections here to the learning I have been doing this year around relationships, where I have come to (re)discover how crucial manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are to me both professionally and personally. And I wonder, building on the session Deanne Thomas facilitated for us 2015 CORE eFellows, how digital technologies/eLearning/future-focused learning might support and enhance tikanga Maori.

Certainly the ideas of shifting the locus of control away from the teacher, allowing greater equity of access to knowledge (but in Te Reo?), and thus learning moving towards being student-centred and personalised, must allow space for relationships to be fostered and nurtured. How else might schools enable Maori learners’ success as Maori? Where’s the whanau in our mainstream schools at present?

Feed the Hungry: Applying design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning

This blogpost is a written version of the ULearn presentation I gave on 8 October 2015, as the culmination of my CORE eFellowship research. 

 

Here I will seek to share some insights into my research as part of my CORE Education eFellowship where I wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

By way of an ultra-brief introduction to design thinking, it is a process or methodology of problem finding and creative problem solving that seeks to keep users at its centre. There are various iterations of the process, but the d.School in Stanford, and the NoTosh representations have been most influential in my thinking.

For the purposes of this research, I have focused on the design thinking mindsets, and these have particularly informed my professional learning facilitation in my current capacity as the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) at The Mind Lab by Unitec.

In this role I facilitate a 32 week programme, the first 16 weeks comprise weekly four hour, face-t0-face sessions, ultimately working towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning). I joined The Mind Lab because I was hugely inspired by its founder, Frances Valintine, and her vision of having 10,000 teachers complete the course in the next five years. To me, this represents a real tipping point, a disruption to the New Zealand education system.

Hence, when it came to choose a particular focus from the design thinking mindsets for my research, I gravitated towards ‘bias towards action’ – it wouldn’t be enough for me to contribute towards this disruptive vision with ideas, something tangible and concrete would need to come from the teachers who complete their DCL. I was going to change the world one classroom at a time.

I figured that, if that was my aim, then I had better learn about what makes for effective professional learning. I started with the Timperley et al (2007) Best Evidence Synthesis. And immediately came to a crashing halt. I felt there was a certain arrogance in my role as facilitator – was I assuming I knew better than the teachers who willingly give their precious time to this professional learning opportunity? Were we being upfront with teachers about our assumption/expectation that a shift in their practice is needed? Other facilitators seemed to be provocative, to play the role of devil’s advocate, but I felt I didn’t have the stories or the experience to do that. And isn’t that a bit rude anyway? Who was I as a facilitator?

After thrashing around in the dark for a fair bit, I decided I needed to come back to first principles – those of the design thinking mindsets. What I realised/remembered was that empathy is key to design thinking – it’s actually what separates design thinking from other inquiry or problem-based learning models. Design thinking is user-centred design; it is a deeply human process. I felt much more comfortable with this, but still harboured a secret desire to disrupt…while disliking the word itself…

Then, the amazing Louise Taylor, one of our CORE Education research mentors, handed me the phrase that set me back on the path: “disrupt with humility”. It suddenly all made sense to me. Focus on respectful practice. This aligned perfectly with both my personal and professional values.

So the arc of my research process went like this: reflecting on my own practice and blogging about it; a ‘goldilocks’ survey to find out what the teachers thought I should do more of/less of/was doing just right; listen to teachers to hear their stories, and from this conduct interviews to hear some particular stories in more depth. I unpacked these interviews to tease out ways in which we might disrupt with humility.

Disrupt with Play

I don’t think we value play nearly enough as a powerful learning experience for adults. Every session at The Mind Lab includes a ‘play’ element, and design thinking itself, I have come to see thanks to Keryn Davis, is playing with ideas. In a dedicated design thinking session, one of the teachers on the course, Imogen Warren, was so struck by the process that the following week she instigated a challenge with her class: ‘How might we make Room 9 even better?’ One conclusion the class reached was to have an Imagination Club. The design thinking session sparked a creative force in the class whereby learners are now actively encouraged to explore their creativity and individuality – and thus Imogen reports that it “changed the culture of the class in an afternoon.”

Similarly, another teacher reported that by experiencing a live, hands-on demonstration of a Twitter chat facilitated by me and Tim Gander, Education Director of The Mind Lab in Gisborne one Wednesday evening, this sparked the realisation that Twitter can be a powerful source of professional learning. So much so, that he returned to his own school to spread the word amongst his colleagues.

Disrupt with Dialogue

There is immense power in conversation, humour, asking questions, following tangents. One teacher spoke of how being with a colleague on the course, and car-pooling with this person drove her back onto the path of being interested in leadership. The opportunity for critical reflection and to develop critical friendships was seminal. In fact, the time to converse with fellow teachers, to network across the educator sector, to build a community of practice, was a key theme emerging from the goldilocks survey. Teachers want to connect, to converse, to share their stories, and this is what is most valuable to their learning.

Disrupt with Time

Thus the connector between the themes in my research became obvious to me: time. It takes time to play, to think, to talk, to discuss, to reflect. While the individual stories the teachers generously shared with me were all very different, the concept of having the time to embark on a learning journey came through loud and clear. Because it takes time to learn. We have this myth of a sudden ‘eureka’ moment, but we know this flash of insight or inspiration rarely comes like this. Instead ideas develop iteratively, as a ‘slow hunch‘, combining, building, colliding, from which deep learning occurs.

And these teachers’ stories disrupted my thinking. What were the implications of espousing respectful practice? I began to examine my own assumptions, starting with the very title of this research: ‘Feed the Hungry’ which comes from the phrase ‘feed the hungry; don’t water the stones’. I also referred in my research outlines to ‘willing and curious’ teachers. Who was I to call some teachers ‘stones’? Who was I to judge some teachers as ‘willing’ and thus position others as ‘unwilling’? Where was the respect, the empathy, in that? I began to wonder about the language we use to refer to the so-called ‘resistant teachers’.

Maurie Abraham, principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School, gave me a new analogy. What if we ‘invited teachers on the bus?’ He spoke of inviting teachers on a learning journey, on a bus. They could wait at the bus stop if they so chose, but the bus was on a public transport loop and would come around again. At which point, they would be invited on the bus. This warm but demanding metaphor fits much more comfortably with my need for respectful, empathetic practice.

So what have I learned about design thinking as a tool to invigorate teachers’ professional learning? I have come to realise that learning is a deeply emotional experience – it sits right at the heart of who we are as people. Design thinking takes empathy as its core tenet – it has a human-centred focus – and this is why the two fit together so beautifully.

Really, I have come back to where I started: how might we invite teachers on the bus?

List

Acknowledgments

Manaakitanga

This one’s for you, Dad.

One of the really important things my Dad has taught me is that you should treat everyone the same. For him, he sees no difference between the farmers, the scientists, and the academics he works with. Everyone has their own story and their own experience and thus are due respect.

I think this kind of appreciation for the individual is part of what makes up manaakitanga. During our most recent eFellows hui in Wellington, Deanne Thomas presented us with several challenges, one of which was around what manaakitanga and whanaungatanga looks like in schools, and looks like in a digital environment.

A seed of an idea has been slowly growing in my mind since then, and it wasn’t until last week that it finally sprouted a bit.

On Friday I had the great privilege of visiting Paraparaumu College and meeting its inspirational principal, Gregor Fountain. He was able to clearly articulate for me his vision for the College. This vision, to me, captures in a coherent and compelling way the connection between e-learning, culturally responsive practices, and nurturing positive relationships: relational pedagogy.

And these weren’t just edu-babble buzz words, either. The commitment to this path, and the care and respect for each individual in the school was immediately obvious to me. Gregor knew the name of each student we came across on our tour of the school, and asked each one something particular to them which showed me he knew them. The same thoughtful and respectful nature was extended to me, as a visitor, and to his staff. This genuine interest was sincere and natural.

It reminded me of my Dad. It made me think about manaakitanga. And it made me reflect on my own learning journey this year.

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e-Learning is not about technology, it is, among other things, about access to information. Teachers are no longer required as content experts. Their job is to work alongside learners to help them navigate knowledge for themselves. Some teachers might find this threatening or confronting. That is understable. But instead of viewing ourselves as redundant, we should view ourselves as more important than ever, because what is left when we take information out of the teacher-student equation? Relationships.

In a similar kind of way, my exploration of design thinking this year as part of my eFellowship inquiry has led me to the same conclusion. I started with a hiss and a roar, wanting to inspire teachers to take arms against the education system and to transform it, one classroom at a time. I wanted a bias towards action. How to spark this revolution though, was at odds with who I am as a practitioner, and as my father’s daughter. It is rude to assume I know better than others. Disrupting with humility and respect was much more authentic to me. The emphasis shifted to where it should have been all along: empathy. Design thinking is first and foremost a human-centred approach.

And this is what my Dad has been teaching me, and this is what I witnessed at Paraparaumu College last week. As I have previously stated, to me big picture is really small picture. Systems must keep the individual firmly at their centre, otherwise they become bureaucracies only interested in sustaining themselves. In order to do this, a system must be flexible, adaptable, responsive. It must put the emphasis on relationships, on manaakitanga, on whanaungatanga.

He aha te mea nui?

He tangata

He tangata

He tangata

A chance to explore my own growth mindset

A flurry of tweets (and exceptionally efficient blogging from Steve Mouldey!) from educators at the Auckland ‘Teaching for Intelligent Mindsets‘ event yesterday got me thinking. The seminar featured important thinkers Carol Dweck and Guy Claxton. (Read Steve’s posts about the two talks here and here.)

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I read Claxton’s What’s the Point of School (2008) in the summer and at the time, I was particularly struck by his ideas of intelligence and I reflected on how pervasive the idea that intelligence is innate or fixed really is in our schools. Heck, I’ll own it, in my own mind.

I can intellectually agree that intelligence isn’t fixed and can be exercised, explored and expanded. In schools, as Claxton says, “intelligence becomes defined as the kind of mind that responds most readily to the peculiar demands of school.” (p. 58) And yet the language of innate intelligence peppers my inner thoughts and conversations. I make jokes about blagging my way into jobs that I actually don’t think I have the ability to do. In the privacy of a staffroom, I’ve considered students to be ‘not the sharpest knife in the drawer’. I have filled out nomination forms for students to enter GATE (gifted and talented) programmes. I have used lazy, short-cut labelling for students: ‘capable but lazy’, ‘not working to their potential’, ‘nice student but not that bright’. All of these thoughts and comments point to a closed mindset and a belief that intelligence is fixed. That have a certain amount of ‘brains’ and that this cannot be increased.

It is a goal of mine to catch myself out of this way of thinking, to focus on developing a growth mindset. Handily, this fits with my word for the year: LEARN.

Starting a new, non-school-based job, is proving excellent training ground for stretching my growth mindset muscles. I am a methodical, organised, focused person. I like to be able to create to do lists that link to my big picture understanding of what needs to be accomplished, and then to set about checking these items off. In schools, I create big termly to do lists, broken down into weekly chunks.

You cannot do this in the agile, start-up environment that working at The Mind Lab is. I both love and struggle with the flexibility. Collaborating with colleagues to co-construct materials is amazing. And challenging. I am constantly having to catch myself: I can’t very well complain about things being different when I said I wanted to work in a different way. Argh!

It is exhilarating and exhausting. It is fabulous and frightening. But, as I learned in Christchurch, out of crisis comes creativity, and that just might transform education.