Monday, December 29, 2014

How might we... build a nest?


During the final #edchatNZ chat of the year, one of the questions were "What has been the best/most critical question you encountered this year?" Some of the responses included "Why does the education system need to change?" or "Why do I need to change my practice if my students are getting good NCEA results?". It seemed that many of the questions that the crowd shared, were why questions. Yet in my office (possibly thanks to Steve and his question quest), and thanks to Maurie our principal at HPSS, it seems that the best and most critical questions I battled with this year were how might we questions. "How might we organise a conference that is more accessible than the existing conferences?" or "How might I teach in a timetable where I see a group of students only once a week?".  

So, if one uses the types of question being asked as an indicator of sorts, what might the questions we struggle with say about us? Within education, but also in other industries, a common question is "I went to school, got a degree, picked up a skill, gained expertise in my field, I established myself over the years. Why should  I have to change what I do?". (Question modified from A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger). What does such a question say about a person's attitude to learning? Or the obstacles they are currently facing? Or the tensions within their work and personal environment We can get more education specific too, "How do we measure innovation?" or "My students are engaged, but are they truly empowered" (thanks to Stephen Eames and Kimberly Baars for these questions during the last #edchatNZ of 2014). What do these questions say about their professional journeys, what they value or what they think is worth spending time on?

Perhaps the questions we wrestle with at any given time are also indicative of the phases or processes of life that we are going through. Two and a bit years ago I was struggling with how I might go about starting a Twitter chat. Now, I am wrestling with how I might empower a professional community of educators across the country. Of course, I have also wondered why this Twitter chat and community, #edchatNZ, has been so successful? Each of these questions reflect a different stage in my journey. The why questions have helped me to make sense of events or problems, whilst the how questions have helped to remove obstacles and focus my actions.

This all brings us to the next big question I am wrestling with. A question most definitely indicative of what I value, what I consider worth spending time one. A question that is near and dear to my heart, because I feel that the possible answers to this question will move #edchatNZ beyond the limits of my own capacity. How might we build a nest? The nest, being the team that will run the organisation that is #edchatNZ, the little hashtag that could. 

My nest question reflects so much about what I am wrestling with as a I do my summer reading. How do I ensure that all those generous and passionate people that have agreed to be part of the #edchatNZ nest feel valued? How do we go about things in such a way that we don't waste busy educator's time? What value can I add for those teachers who have contributed their time? How do we build a team that is spread across a country and might never actually all meet in person? How do we structure or organise this team so that we set no limits about what we can achieve? How do we empower these volunteers to take on challenges that matter to them and will contribute to the overall vision of #edchatNZ?

My nest question also reflects my hopes and dreams. I hope, that by building a nest, that there will be leadership and learning opportunities for those people who are willing to step up. I hope that by including more people behind the scenes, that we will be able to expand the reach and capacity of #edchatNZ to empower even more educators in 2015. I hope that by building a nest, that #edchatNZ will challenge and grow the education community in new and innovative ways. Over the two years of #edchatNZ, we have grown immensely. From a small fortnightly chat hosted by an overly eager provisionally registered teacher (yes, I was a PRT when I started #edchatNZ), we have now had a sold out conference with over 300 people. We have hosted an international author, we have combined chats creating a first international combo chat, we have spawned subject specific chats, we have hosted national education heroes as moderators and participated in connected educator events. We have trended again and again on Twitter New Zealand and we have made it into multiple publications including a mention in the New Zealand Herald. Quite the two years that we have had! I hope that by building a nest, that we might continue to defy what people believe is possible in education.


I have spent the last week reading Creativity Inc. a great book by Ed Catmull, the director of Pixar and Disney Animation. The book talks about leading in an organisation whose success is directly related to creativity. Every fortnight I see the creativity from great educators shared on #edchatNZ. If I hope to continue growing #edchatNZ, then I too need to find a way to channel this immense creativity. So if the creativity is there, how do we channel this? Of particular importance to me is an idea from the book that "in a fear based, failure averse culture, people will avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that's been good enough in the past." How do we take risks with #edchatNZ that will allow us to move forward and innovate? How do we go about finding solutions rather than focussing on problems, that there are no barriers, only obstacles. And that we outwit obstacles together. (You can see more of my notes from the book here)

As 2014 really wraps up, I am immensely grateful to all those who have contributed, supported, questioned, mentored and gotten involved with the #edchatNZ vision already. There are phenomenal educators in New Zealand who made my dreams a reality. Thank you for being as excited about education as I am. Thank you to the #edchatNZ conference organisation team, Matt, Alyx, Heather, Sonya, Mel and Philippa. Thank you to Maurie the HPSS principal who didn't even hesitate for a second when I asked him whether our school could host a conference. Thank you to the teachers at HPSS who let visiting teachers join their classes, teachers who agreed to expose their teaching to 300+ visiting teachers. Thank you to the #edchatNZ community who turn up every fortnight to discuss education, who turn up to be challenged and to set new goals. Thank you to Mark Osbourne, Karen Melhuish Spencer, Chris Sullivan and Rachel Bolstad for being the edu-celebrity friends of #edchatNZ and giving their time and support. Thank you to the 60+ presenters at #edchatNZ. Thank you to the people in my office, who sung Iggy Azalea's  Fancy with me when I was excited about all the conference swag turning up, but who were excited and supportive every step along the way.

Building a community might happen organically in some scenarios, but I for one, do not feel like leaving this one to chance. I am sure that I will keep wrestling with my nest question for some time. However, armed with gratitude, my next holiday read (A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger), and my big question, I think I just might be ready for 2015. Bring it on.