Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Self doubt and juggling plates

As I got home tonight, I couldn't pull myself away from watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It's the show I watch when I'm feeling mentally paralysed by exhaustion and stress. And yes, I know it's only day three of term. I know the show so well that I can watch it with my eyes closed, hence why it's the perfect show for this kind of mood. It's a combination of stress relief, denial, comic relief, great movie and music references, and more.

What had me so stressed you might wonder? It might have something to do with the fact that I am a mega edu-busybody. Right now I am juggling my full time job as e-SCT and Learning Community Leader at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, my masters project and finding participants to interview and time to read and write literature reviews, and the upcoming #edchatNZ conference, and our #edchatNZ chat nights, and some involvement with the Education Startup Weekend happening in Auckland in November. Ridiculous right? No wonder I am feeling stressed!

This year's #edchatNZ conference is only a few weeks away. Like most people, I have a thousand swirling questions, doubts and fears in my head. What if nobody turns up? What if we disappoint people? It's already a zero profit conference (on purpose) so negative money comes out of my bank account... What if the Waikato doesn't care enough to actually get themselves to the conference? What if? What if? What if? What if it's a failure?

Yes, despite a previous successful conference, many a successful #edchatNZ nights, a MOOC, podcasts and more, this does not mean that I don't feel the fear and the self doubt. Yes indeed, I, like probably the rest of you, am completely and utterly human and doubt both myself and my ideas.

Sometimes however, we have to take action despite the fear and self doubt, and do things simply because it is the right thing to do. Moral courage and all that. You see, I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our schools are no longer adequate (despite the best efforts of many teachers and school leaders). This might seem harsh, but bare with me. I think that as long as I believe in the egalitarian purpose of school (believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities), I cannot accept that there are large groups of students for whom our schools just do not work. There are students who are unhappy, students who feel undervalued, and students who are ultimately set up from primary school to think of themselves as failures or below the standard because they don't fit into the moulds of our standardised system dating from the 1800s. Then I haven't even started to talk about the implicit and explicit messages we send around competition over collaboration, getting back to work (and not learning), you should study and work harder because... (insert doom and gloom message laden with threats about not getting a job).

Hence, if I believe that things need to change, I need to actually do something about that change. Even if we sometimes are juggling bundles of self doubt alongside our hopes and dreams.

Cue the 2016 #edchatNZ conference... A future focussed education conference.

To start with, I believe that future focussed means sustainability. If we are truly future focussed, then we should be thinking really hard about the genuine reality of environmental degradation and climate change, and the impact this will have on the lives of the learners in our schools and their communities. Hence, this year's #edchatNZ conference is as eco-friendly as we can possible make it. We are aiming to reduce waste, no paper flyers, no disposable coffee cups. The caters were asked to serve meals using biodegradable materials and that meat and eggs should be free range. There is certainly a lot more that we could do to make this conference even more eco-friendly, but we have to start somewhere.

I also believe that future focussed means diversity. Diversity in people, places and more. It seems thats Auckland dominates the spotlight in many conversations these days. Property, grammar zones, traffic, etc. But, what about the many other great places and spaces, towns and communities in New Zealand? I am happy that this year's conference has moved out of Auckland in order to celebrate a different part of New Zealand and give a different group of people easier access to the learning. I am excited that Hamilton will be stealing the spotlight! Additionally, on my very first visit to Rototuna Junior High School in Hamilton, this year's conference venue, Deputy Principal Mel Moore talked about the huge cultural significance of the land on which the school was built. Even though it seems that it is MUCH tougher getting people, particularly Aucklanders, to Hamilton, I feel that it is important that I make the effort to celebrate this great place, and the great people in it. I believe that truly valuing diversity in place and space is one of the keys to helping unlock many of the sticky wicked problems that New Zealand and the world is facing. After all, it's divergent, not convergent thinking that leads to creativity...

I also believe in equity and accessibility. So this year's conference is again, dirt cheap. For only $30, delegates get to experience an incredible two days learning from some incredible people! As you can imagine, it takes some hard, creative and time consuming thinking and work to make this a reality. But again, if I really believe that equity and accessibility is important, my actions and the things I can control must reflect this. Great learning to empower the passionate educators across our country should never be hard to come by if we want the best for our learners.

Finally, I also believe in the power of people. The #edchatNZ conference, and all of it's other projects and events is entirely organised by volunteers. I do not have the words to express the gratitude that I have for the people who have made me feel that a future so bright that we can hardly imagine it, is truly within our reach. Philippa Antipas, Mel Moore, Jane Gilbert, Megan Peterson, Steve Mouldey, Bryce Clapham, Claire Amos, Maurie Abraham, Pete Hall and a whole bunch of other people not only help me believe, but they help me keep faith in myself and help me to juggle the many plates I am spinning. They also show me everyday, that it is not by doing everything myself that great things happen, it is when we draw on the diverse strengths of each of us that we truly make a difference. And on top of this, I am grateful to the #edchatNZ crowd who have been turning up for nearly four years now to learn and think together, because they genuinely care about their students, as well as their students' futures and communities. We are also lucky to have huge support in an assortment of education companies including Core Education, Evaluation Associates, N4L and more.

I am sure that in the weeks leading up to the conference I will have more self doubt, nightmares that nobody will turn up, or feelings that I forgot to do something important. I will feel like I just don't know how to do something and that I don't know how to solve a problem. The moral of the story is to feel the fear and do it anyways if you know that it is the right thing to do. And that when you put your heart on the line, and you genuinely embrace the diverse skills and expertise of those around you, both physically and in vision, that great things can be done. So please, take a moment to write some personal emails to a few of your contacts, inviting and encouraging them to become part of this incredible community. It will be great for them I promise, but also it would really help me sleep at night!

The other moral is that the first week of term is a bad time to quit eating so much sugar. I worked out that actually it's the absence of sugar that is leading to my levels of exhaustion and agitation. I believe they call it withdrawals...

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