Monday, September 15, 2014

Aftermath: Connection. Innovation. Reality.

Hard at work with some exceptional
people at Startup Weekend. 
August was a very busy month. It kicked off of course with the #edchatNZ conference. It has taken me a good month to process my thoughts and feelings around organising an event for 300+ teachers from across the country. Also in August, I attended TEDx Auckland. Of course, this took some time to process too. TED talks have a knack for pushing your mental boundaries and helping you re-examine the perspectives that we hold. Of course, the fun doesn't end there. I also went to Startup Weekend in Wellington - a hugely intense weekend competition where you go from pitching an idea for a company to creating the company, in one weekend. 

As you might imagine, I feel like my mind has been twisted and
Facilitator, deputy principal,  teacher,
student, and politician.  We are all
partners in our education future. 
reshaped, contorted, exhausted and ignited. After much processing however, I think I may finally be able to summarise my key lessons from August in three words. Connection. Innovation. Reality.

Lesson 1: Connection 

The #edchatNZ conference highlighted for me the huge power of connection. The momentum, the energy and the change that we can make for the better when a community is connected and empowered. But also, that those connections extend beyond the obvious, to politicians, to parents and to others in the community. 
I love Twitter. I love Twitter because I am judged not for my age, my years of experience or my title, but rather, I am judged for the quality of my ideas and my contributions. And this goes for everyone else on Twitter too. The quality of your interactions, contributions and even what you curate ultimately defines the success of your connections. And these connections are so hugely powerful. It gives anyone a voice, an audience and a community within which to learn. I am sure that any educator on Twitter would agree. It means that I am connected in a far more powerful way than if my conversations were limited to my staffroom. For example, I tweeted Nikki Kay, the associate minister of education whilst at Startup Weekend. Not only did she tweet back, she called me, on a Sunday afternoon to answer my questions about our project. And then emailed me some additional resources to support our project. What if all politicians were this connected? What if all teachers were this connected? How powerful would the teaching profession be? Or the relationships with our students? Or our communities? And how powerful would it be if educators, communities and politicians were actively connecting in this way all the time? What would this mean for the future of New Zealand? 

Lesson 2: Innovation 

Is innovation just a buzz word in education? Is it a skill? Is it essential? Is it useful? Should schools be innovative? Should teachers be innovative? Innovation comes with risk, should schools be taking risks? And what about teacher training programmes, should they teach future teachers to facilitate innovation? Is it even reasonable to think that teacher training programmes should address the idea of innovation in education? Or for them to examine innovative practices. To some extent, one can even question what innovation is in an education context.  
I am currently reading Grant Lichtman's new book where he tells the story of schools that have worked on being innovative or encouraging students to be innovative. One of these stories explains innovation as "Thinking of stuff is not innovation. Tinkering with stuff is not innovation. Even inventing stuff is not innovation. Innovation instead, when it’s done right, makes us go “wow, of course, why didn’t I think of that?” It creates complete experiences that we want to engage in. It eliminates inconveniences and hassles and improves our overall experiences. At its most dramatic, it creates entire categories of offerings, so new that we find it hard to name them at first." The reality is, as a science graduate with a one year teacher diploma and a few post grad papers, how can I even begin to prepare students for a future with big data, climate change, food security issues, markets and market demands that don't yet exist? To some extent, I also worry about education in this context. I get paid fortnightly, like clock work. I can have sick days. I can pay bills. I get 12 weeks of holiday every year. I don't have to work weekends if I'm very organised during the week. I am protected by unions, contracts and a system. However, for many people in society already, they work nights and weekends. They struggle to make ends meet working shifts, but also starting a business, paying the wages, rent and so forth for their businesses. People are already working in new fields that didn't exist ten years ago. As I type this email, there are 284 social media related jobs on With educators working in a protected bubble where we are not exposed to the rate of change in the industry, or even how different sectors are working, how can we hope to prepare students for the future, or even hope to understand the urgency with which schools need to change?  
Startup Weekend involved working side by side in a high intensity environment with people who are not necessarily working in education. I got to spend the weekend working with designers, programmers, marketing and finance types (as well as two fabulous educators, Gerard McManus and Tony Cairns). The experience reaffirmed for me the intense need that educators and students need to get outside the classroom, to ensure that we are learning and living in the real world, contributing in the real world, creating the future that we want. The risk of a classroom that is too teacher centred rather than community or student centred is that we may find in a few years time, as students leave our schools, that our students are not prepared for the reality of the world. 
Lesson 3: Reality  
HPSS students on a tour of Q Theatre 
The reality of a teacher is still that of marking, NCEA examinations or national standards, floods of emails, parents, behaviour management, department and professional development budgets. Increasingly over the past two years, I have wondered about why we see our systems as barriers rather than enabling constraints or even better, challenges to overcome? More importantly, if we really examine the systems that we have created, the systems that we enforce in our schools, do they really support our students to make progress in their learning? And did we base these systems our judgement or personal opinion? Or did we base it on research? If we examine the reality, rather than paradigms and perspectives that we have constructed, are our practices and systems really preparing students for an unknown future? And, do I really examine my systems and my practices and genuinely redesigning these for student needs? Have I examined my beliefs, my perceptions compared to research? Compared to the experiences and events of those working outside of education? The anecdotes we hear and share although they contribute to the reality, are not the whole reality, and it is important that we critically examine what shapes our perceptions, and that we challenge these constantly by stepping outside our echo chambers, both in and outside education.

There are many more lessons that I have learnt over the past months that addresses the nitty gritty, the teaching tools and techniques and new questions to ask. Lessons that unpack connection, innovation and reality in more detail. I am fortunate to work at Hobsonville Point Secondary school where powerful partnerships are part of our school principles. A powerful principle that I feel that I urgently need to explore in more detail. Partnering with the community, industry and families will hopefully mean that my students and I constantly challenge what we think reality might be. We might grow with the world, change it to be the place we want, rather than arriving in the world upon graduation from school.

My wish for you however, is that you step outside your classroom, your department you school or whatever other organisation you are involved with, and examine your perceptions and what kind of future they will lead to.

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