Saturday, October 17, 2015

Today I walked with giants

Being the learning junkie that I am, this year I have spent a considerable number of hours at conferences and other education related events. Today however, I was invited to be part of the Teach for All Global Conference (Twitter stream at #TFALLGC2015) (see footnote about Teacher or All in New Zealand). And what an experience it was! I walked away from today, feeling honoured that this community included me, and fortunate to have been able to learn from the people who in my opinion, are making the world a better place, in the toughest possible places.

I was honoured to be part of a discussion panel about amplifying teacher voices with Javier the CEO of Empieza por Educar (Teach First NZ's Ecuador equivalent), as well Evan and Sydney, the founders of Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) from the United States. Evan and Sydney have an inspirational story. Whilst working in a school, Evan and Sydney increasingly identified what so many teachers across the world know; we know our students and what they need. We know when policies do not serve our communities. Educators are constantly feeling like change is something that is done to them, or for them, but not with them. However, they set out to do something about it. E4E, the organisation they founded, works closely with teachers to develop them as leaders. They empower them to take on leadership roles in their communities, schools and unions to drive towards change. Their organisations now has approximately 17 000 members. I encourage you to find out more about this truly inspirational organisation and get involved if you can.

I also had the opportunity to hear from Deray Mckesson, an educator turned social activist. Deray shared his story of how he uses social media as a form of activism. Deray has been drawing attention to racism that is still ingrained in many places across the United States. What makes Deray's story so inspirational to me is that much like Evan and Sydney who are helping teachers make the changes that they know their students need, Deray saw in injustice in the world, and is doing something about it. His story reminded me of some key things that I wish every educator takes to heart;

  • "In the end we are all equal stakeholders in the community" - It is our communities, it is our cities and our countries, so we should stand up and fight for the changes we want to see in them.
  • "The true story of resistance is important, one person can change things" - You can affect change, get stuck in. At the very least, you should support those people, however you can, that are working towards making the changes you wish to see.
  • "Decisions in democracy are made by the people who show up" - When you choose not to engage with politics and politicians, when you choose to bow out when things get hard, when you choose not to give your support to those who are fighting for your cause, or when you choose not to challenge those in your school who are not serving the best interests of your students, what are you really choosing? 

I was blown away too by Kaya Henderson, too the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. A district that has managed to turn its story around, with graduating rates and rolls increasing for the first time in many many years. Kaya's enthusiasm is infectious, and almost unexpected in a politician, but what is more incredible is her commitment to the community. Kaya spoke about how they actually collaborate with their community, showing the sessions they run with the community where everyone is sitting at tables and actually working on solutions together. Kaya's story has a common ingredient with those of Sydney, Evan and Deray's - collaboration. The power of people working together, getting into the nitty, gritty discussion, solving problems together.

Of course, there were local speakers too, including New Zealand's very own Pita Sharples sharing his journey, fighting for the place of Māori in New Zealand. Francis Valentine and Claire Amos were present too, sharing their vision too.

I am overwhelmed (in a good way), by the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the Teach for All organisation.  Interestingly, the CEOs and other members of the this network who were in attendance today, were all remarkably young, and the organisation and its members hugely diverse. The conference rooms were buzzing with individuals who were not accepting the status quo, not accepting inequality, not accepting poverty. I don't know that I have ever sat in a room surrounded by so many people who feel empowered to make a change in the world for the better, and are doing so.

Reflecting on this incredible experience, I am left wondering today about what I can do to help drive towards system wide change that will not only help the disadvantaged, but help us think about the huge changes happening in the world and what they mean for education. I am incredibly excited about the #edchatNZ MOOC, a project with a rather ambitious mission statement; 'increase the capacity of participants to discuss education futures more frequently, in deeper, more sophisticated ways, whilst taking on a more active, informed role in experimenting with change.' I am currently working on how we might make the critical ideas around Education Futures more accessible and relevant, bringing together academic research and expert practice. Again, I am incredibly fortunate that I get to work on this project alongside Jane Gilbert, and her network of incredible educators and thinkers.

Three years ago today, I started #edchatNZ because I wanted to learn. Again, I realised that thanks to the incredible educators around the world and here at home, every expectation I had has been surpassed. I only hope, that I can give back, that I can empower others as much as others have done for me.

*Teach for All is the network that sits behind Teach First NZ, a programme that was met with considerable resistance here in New Zealand, with comments such as "disadvantaged students deserved experienced and qualified teachers, and should not be treated like guinea pigs" surfacing in the media from prominent education bodies. In fact, you can read about the tensions in the New Zealand Herald article today. Teach First NZ teachers receive 6 week high intensity training before being deployed into a schools with low socio-economic status, disadvantaged children. Yet, there is increasing evidence that this programme is working.