Thinking Conditionally

In this blogpost I seek to bring together my key learnings from participating in Lifehack’s Flourishing Fellowship 2017. I’d like to acknowledge my employers’ support (CORE Education) in attending this programme.

I’m not really sure why I applied to go on the Flourishing Fellowship. I saw it advertised on Twitter and actually thought it would be more relevant to a friend of mine, so I sent her the link. But it kept coming across my radar, so I sent myself the details and let it hang out in my inbox for a while. When the idea wouldn’t go away, I decided to apply even though I had no idea what it really was, nor how it might fit with me. I don’t have anything to do with youth wellbeing. But they mentioned design thinking, which is my jam. And learning about Te Ao Māori, which is something I’m seeking to grow in. So, why not?

I had a grand chat during my interview, and promptly got off the video call to realise that not once had I even mentioned ‘wellbeing’ which seemed to be the main thrust of the Fellowship. Ooops. Interviewing 101 fail. Somehow or other though, I got picked. So, three residential hui later, what have I learned?

Obviously I learned a heck of a lot more about what ‘wellbeing’ is. I would totally confess to having had a very one dimensional understanding of what this is: health. Okay, mental health and physical health, but health nonetheless. You can call it hauora if you like, but it’s solely in the realms of the Heath and PE Curriculum. Right? Even being exposed to the Five Ways to Wellbeing and Te Whare Tapa Whā didn’t especially shift my thinking.

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Image source: Egmason, CC BY-SA 4.0

What is wellbeing? I came to realise that the clue was in the name of the Fellowship: flourishing. Thriving. For me, the key question of the three hui is this:

What conditions do we need to grow for young people to thrive?

And now I could see myself in this mahi.

An area of particular interest for me now is systems thinking, and it hinges on that word conditions. What are all the things that need to be in place: environmental, physical, cultural, societal (etc.) for young people in thrive, and in my context, thrive in schools?

This question has taken me to two places – and they are intertwined. The first is a question of how do we know what our system is doing?

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In the second hui Penny Hagen introduced us to a prototype of a framework which looks at mapping and mobilising conditions for youth wellbeing. The key questions are:

  • How are young people involved?
  • How do we learn and work together to offer best responses?
  • Do our environments show young people are valued and important?

I got very excited by the possibilities of this tool. For me, in the context of education, it is asking about the conditions for learner-centredness. For agency. And these must be crucial for youth wellbeing.

The second place the overarching question of the conditions we need to grow in order for young people to thrive is the knotty question of what we tend to call in schools “student voice”. What do young people tell us about their experiences of school and education? How do we ask them? What do we do in response to what they say?

One of my fellow Fellows offered this phrase: ‘Nothing about us without us’, which reminds me very strongly of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12: ‘Children have the right to have a say in matters that affect them’. And yet, do we really do this in schools? One of my colleagues pointed me to this article by Rachel Bolstad of NZCER: “From ‘student voice’ to ‘youth-adult partnership” in Set, 2011(1), pp. 31-33. In this article, she argues for a shift away from “student voice” towards “youth-adult partnership” which has the potential to be more transformative: to actively “[enlist] young people to help shift the ways schooling is done” (p. 31). For me, one way to do this is to move from designing for to designing with, which I’ve mentioned before here and here. I could go really big here and mention important things like equity and power-sharing, but I think you catch my drift.

And I can’t help but wonder if the New Zealand Curriculum (2007) doesn’t call for us to do this anyway. The same colleague who brought the Bolstad article to my attention has also left me pondering this: the vision of the NZC is a statement of wellbeing. So how might we create the conditions in which young people thrive and become confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners?

Co-design for Wellbeing

The seeds for this idea have come from many nurseries. One in particular I would like to acknowledge is my place on the Flourishing Fellowship, offered by Lifehack HQ.

Thanks to NetSafe, I have started to think about digital citizenship in the context of wellbeing. In case this isn’t a logical connection for you (because it wasn’t for me), let me offer these thoughts. Digital citizenship is more than cybersafety, although that is an important aspect. Feeling safe and knowing how to keep yourself safe online is crucial. Being online and being a digital citizen means being connected to a community or communities. It entails being respected and respectful. Sharing and contributing. Giving of yourself. These resonate with my understanding of wellbeing, and I can see connections to these concepts and the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing:

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In schools, as a gross generalisation, I think we have a tendency to do ‘to’ our students rather than ‘with’. And I think the area of digital citizenship is no different. You may recall that I’ve been thinking about how we seek technical solutions to people problems. And that I frequently urge people to sit deeply with ‘buzzwords’ to think about the vast implications these have for our practice. And that I’ve had a bit of a shift in my design thinking methodology to incorporate co-design.

So.

What if co-design was not just a process to create learner-centred initiatives, but also an empowering methodology by which youth wellbeing was fostered?

The excellent NetSafe Digital Citizenship Capability Review Tool holds student-led digital citizenship initiatives as the ideal for schools. It suggests practices such as: “Our students are active partners when we plan, develop and review digital citizenship and wellbeing” and “Our students drive initiatives that promote the relationship between the positive use of digital technology and wellbeing“.

So.

I would like to develop (or be part of a team which develops) a resource to support schools and their learners to co-create student-led digital citizenship initiatives.

My hunch is that this will have greater impact than other digital citizenship programmes. That co-designed initiatives will be more sustainable. That these initiatives will lead to a more embedded approach to digital citizenship. That co-design develops the key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. And that co-design fosters learner agency.

My secret desire is that learning to co-design might lead schools to reflect on their ‘learner-centred’ practices and explore ways in which working with young people shift power structures and genuinely foster agency.

My wonderings are encapsulated in this image, which I gleaned from our second Flourishing Fellowship hui:

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and how I might tap into these aspects of expertise, especially mātauranga. What does digital citizenship look like in kura? I need to test my assumptions about learner-centredness, because they are entirely based on my observations of and experiences in English-medium schools. I don’t want to add chocolate sprinkles on the top, I want mātauranga to be a fundamental ingredient to this digital citizenship cake – without which it will not rise.

So, here’s the invitation. How can you help me? What do you know? Who do you know? What can you suggest? What are your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions? Please let me know by commenting below or tweeting me: @AKeenReader.

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.

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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?

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? 
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? 
It is people! It is people! It is people!

 Reflecting on my ULearn14 experience, for me the overarching theme of this year’s conference was relationships. Everyone is a learner – teacher and student alike – and all learners should be at the heart of what we do. I could see this message coming through from every speaker I heard:

  • Yoram Harpaz’s keynote argued for three ‘meta-ideologies’ in education. I align myself mostly with ‘individuation’ – the fostering of autonomy and honouring the authenticity of the child.
  • Mark Osbourne’s breakout highlighted to me the learning that teachers can experience in a MLE (Modern Learning Environment) is as powerful as the learning the students can experience.
  • Tom Barrett’s breakout on design thinking: curiosity is the start of everything; it’s about questioning the world
  • Adam Lefstein’s keynote on teacher professional discourse and learning: the kinds of conversations we have as professionals can help or hinder our practice
  • Katie Novak’s UDL keynote: when we host a dinner party, we serve the food we love to eat. In what way do we address others’ dietary needs? We certainly don’t try to fix the diners’ problems; we cater accordingly. This is what UDL asks us to do for our learners.
  • Derek Wenmoth’s breakout: MLP (Modern Learning Practice) requires rethinking content, learners, teaching, learning – we need to be adaptable and flexible
  • Jo Wilson’s breakout: Professional Learning programmes should allow staff to grow into the roles they seek, allow them to be great leaders.
  • Steve Mouldey’s breakout: creativity enables you to create change in the world around you.
  • Quinn Norton’s keynote asked: What’s the MacGuffin of our generation? We probably won’t know until we’re scrambling to catch up, so learning to build relationships is an important future-proofing skill.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to present at ULearn on the staff professional learning I co-lead in my school. Although it was a small (but perfectly formed!) group, it was a satisfying experience. Tuning into myself as we were speaking, I realised how much staff had moved in their skills and that there is a growing appreciation and awareness for the need to embrace future-focused pedagogy. (Presentation here)

Oh, and I got named as a CORE eFellow for 2015. What an amazing, humbling and gratifying moment. I only hope I can do the opportunity justice. I so look forward to the learning to come, and the relationships to be forged with the other eFellows.

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TeachMeetNZ

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Click on the badge to see my TeachMeetNZ page.

Ever grateful for the opportunities that come my way, this weekend I shared a presentation through TeachMeetNZ to the CLESOL conference.

I really enjoyed presenting in this way: the combination of speaking to your slides seemed to suit my delivery style well. I learnt a few more ‘techy’ tools along the way, such as how to embed my presentations, set them to auto-advance, and how to share my screen during a Google Hangout. I really enjoyed working more with the wonderful Sonya van Schaijik, who also works on the #edchatNZ steering committee with me. Getting to know a few more connected educators, my co-presenters, was also a bonus. It was fascinating to hear all the different topics people spoke to, but also some of the common themes of really knowing your learners well in order to best meet them and their needs with empathy, understanding and support.

I also want to reflect a little on my topic in particular, as putting together my three minute wonder gave me good time to reflect on my Year 8 inquiry into flipping lessons. Here is my presentation:

I’ve been ‘flipping’ my language lessons for six months now – it’s roughly about one lesson every two to three weeks. I  find using TED-Ed straightforward, and although I can sometimes spend a while to find exactly the ‘right’ video to choose, making the lessons themselves in this way, is fairly quick and easy. The students seem to enjoy completing their TED-Ed homework, and I remain convinced that the three minute videos I choose will always be more fun and engaging than drill and practise out of a workbook.

One of the aspects I really like about flipping my language lessons is that it gives me a much better understanding of the students’ individual strengths and weaknesses. One example in particular is one of my very bright, articulate students, who did poorly with a lesson on verbs. Without the data provided from TED-Ed, and flipping this activity, I would have assumed her to be confident with this material.

It is this ability to personalise learning more that I see as an important benefit to flipping lessons. And, conversely, it’s also where I can see I need to do some more work. Because the questions I tend to set for the students to complete are largely multi-choice, the spread of data I get is really insufficient to separate my class into more than two groups in an informed fashion. Thus, the flipped lessons I have prepared these holidays are less reliant on multi-choice, and I’m hoping this in turn generates a greater spread of students. I would like to be able to put them into at least three groups, each with their own tasks to complete in the classroom, so that I can target their needs to a greater extent.

I’ve also just taken my first baby steps to making my own videos! I had a play with the ‘Educreations‘ app on my iPad and I’ve made a revision lesson on apostrophes. It was surprisingly quick and easy to do. However, I really want a tool that means I can upload my videos (gulp) to YouTube so that I can incorporate them into TED-Ed. I think the ‘Show Me‘ app will allow me to do this, but I’m open to other suggestions if you have them!

I think this has become a bit rambly, so by way of summing up:

  • Being a connected educator means great opportunities come your way – these are to be embraced.
  • I recommend presenting through TeachMeetNZ or its equivalent to you – supporting the professional learning of others is a neat experience.
  • Reflecting on my ongoing inquiry has shown me that flipping lessons has much potential – but I can do more, and I have already taken some steps towards doing so.
  • A common denominator between the subject of my presentation and being involved with TeachMeetNZ: rewindable learning! Technology really does have the power to boost our learning experiences.

 

Students as Learners

Maybe this is me, the traditionalist teacher, kicking back against all the wonderful reading, researching and thinking I’ve been doing about future learning and e-learning that re-inspires my passion for teaching, but something that’s playing on my mind is all the emphasis on the need for teachers to shift.

There is a recurring theme which gets phrased in a multitude of ways about teachers having to shift to being ‘facilitators’, or ‘designers’ or  ‘learning coaches’ … the need to move from being the ‘sage on the stage to the guide on the side’.  Now, I’m seriously not disagreeing with this.  One of e-learning’s greatest potentials, I believe, is the self-directed and personalised learning that can be unlocked.  And this does require a fundamental change in teachers’ pedagogy and practice.  However, it strikes me that just as teachers need a mind shift, so do students.

This little nugget of an idea, which refuses to leave me, was sparked by a comment by Terry Heick: “Students hopefully learn, but the word ‘student’ connotes compliance …. As a teacher I wanted a class full of learners, but the grading process was giving me a lot of students who were learning to play the game.”

In other words, not just teachers need to move and adjust, but students need to move and adjust to become learners.

There is an automatic tension here, particularly for secondary school students who are trained by assessment practices to credit-count and prioritise activities that ‘count’, rather than value learning as its own, never-ending goal.

Similarly, this blog post from Katrina Schwartz seems to me to really honour the skills that successful teachers have, regardless of their embracing of technology or not: “No matter what kind of technology is being used, classrooms are full of rambunctious kids who need a teacher with strong classroom management skills and the ability to set a positive classroom culture.”

Perhaps a useful concept which might serve the purpose of embracing these two shifts, and one that is pertinent to a New Zealand context is ako: which can mean both to teach and to learn, and thus can equally encompass the teacher and the student simultaneously.  We need to foster mutual, reciprocal relationships whereby ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ can learn with and from one another.