Thursday, August 31, 2017

Do You Have the Courage to Change? To Explore? To Share?

Our current education system seems so often to celebrate glacial change and sabotage anything that is different. I’ve said before it requires courage to do something off the usual beaten path in anything, and I think particularly in education. And now I would add it takes absolute fortitude to stay off that beaten path and not return to it when the doubters and the saboteurs, the confused and the misled all raise their head.

Our new school has been in operation for 25 weeks. That’s less than 130 days. I want to celebrate our staff and students who I believe are showing huge courage, at times in the face of a degree of adversity and challenge.

When you’ve been building something for just over 100 days you won’t have it all perfect. Infact if you think you’re ever going to have it perfect you’ve probably forgotten you are dealing with people, and people can’t be managed in the same way a system for inanimate objects can.

If you have a real commitment to interrogate everything you implement in your new school ( because when else would you ever have the opportunity to do this) and ensure that it meets a need for learners and their now and their  futures then you are committed to not just easily implementing things that have worked somewhere in the past for some learners.  And you have to accept this is going to take time as you figure out the difference between an old best practice and the next practice our current learners need.

You have to accept that to do some new things you have to give people permission to stop doing some of the old things.

A new school is under every spotlight possible- and often with a negativity from people who don’t understand some of the above.

I’ve been away from school very ill for a few weeks. As I returned to school full-time over the last fortnight   I just feel so proud to be a small part of Haeata. I guess it’s easy to see movement and change when you haven’t been totally immersed in something for a few weeks. You go back in with different eyes

I’ve seen so much that is amazing- amazing learning, but even more importantly amazing relationships and amazing connections both in and out of the school.

We know it’s not perfect. We still have disengaged and disaffected young people who persist in behaviours that contribute to a possible negative image of our school. We know that those behaviours haven’t just been created this year and are the result- sometimes of years of contributed responsibility from a range of different systems. We also know some of those behaviours are currently being attributed to us. We need to have courage not to get caught up in the negative publicity this ever decreasing group of  students bring with them and not allow the pressure of that to alter our course.

And this is where our staff have my widest respect and admiration. Because rather than hiding away because there are some behaviors that are not what we want to promote and advertise, our staff and students continue to put themselves out there.

Our Year 9-10 league team played in a final yesterday. They were farewelled from the school through a line up of 5-8 year olds doing a haka, serenading them, celebrating them, admiring them.  It wasn’t completely polished, but it was absolutely heartfelt and amazingly touching. I’ve been in schools where only the polished performers would be put out doing that. Our staff have the courage to let everyone participate regardless of where their development is.



We’ve had groups out of school performing in the community as a service. These are not always our oldest or our most proficient students. Our staff are having the courage to get our students- of all ages and abilities- out into the community and help them see the importance of contributing to the community. Be interesting to debate how important it is to develop in our young people an understanding of the importance of them contributing to the community versus their ability to be at or above a National standard. Where do we need to prioritise our efforts?

One of our hapori had an exhibition of work they had been doing over the last four weeks today. There were students who didn’t have anything to show. There were a few students who probably embarrassed teachers with their lack of engagement and their lack of respect to others learning. These teachers could have been worried they would be judged by those few students. But there were a large number of students who were proud of their work, and had lots to show and talk about and got huge value out of the opportunity. Rather than waiting until all those students were ready, or hiding away those that weren't those teachers had the courage to open themselves and their students up to the world- warts and all.  And many of those students rose to the occasion. By being exposed to that rather than hidden away from it, some of those who didn’t engage will be more ready to next time.



For those from the outside that took the time to visit, they know it’s not all perfect, that it’s a work in progress. It’s not about image and portraying a perfect image to the world. It’s about saying we are doing really important work here, we are working on developing learning that will be meaningful for our learners, and it’s a work in progress. And we will be courageous and share that every step of the way, rather than waiting until we have something that looks more ‘perfect.’ What we do have is the courage of our school philosophies and practices, which have been  researched and thought about and discussed and debated. Which continue to evolve as we develop understandings and relationships with our students and their whānau.

A group of our oldest students travel to Auckland this weekend to compete in a national band competition. Yesterday afternoon they were playing from the staff room balcony, creating a vibe right across the school. We know there’s still some issues to sort with having 5 year olds through to 18 year olds share a campus. But we have also always been committed that we won’t separate those young people from each other. Because when you have the courage to allow that mixing you get this absolute magic of relationships- natural relationships that happen outside school being a normal part of school too. It frustrates me endlessly that there are still schools out there battling a perception that you cannot have more than 1 year of young people together and have effective learning happening. So many valuable real life learning opportunities being lost.


Today we had a significant group of secondary educators visit school as part of an ongoing professional learning group that operates city wide. Some of our leaders and teachers ran panels where they talked about their thinking and programmes around NCEA (Year 11-13) and their approach to planning through an integrated collaborative approach (Year 7-10). The feedback was very clear in that the attendees commented largely on the courageousness of our panel leaders to be frank and tell their stories so far with absolute honesty about the challenges as well as the successes.  We are not pretending everything is perfect yet, or that it ever will be. But we will continue to be brave and try things to meet the needs of every young person, and we will be courageous in continuing to share our stories.




Last week a group of architects and educators toured the school one evening. Some of our older students came along- completely voluntarily- to lead tours from 6-8pm that evening. How courageous did I think the 17 year old was who said to a pile of adults- “I know people out there say bad stuff about our school. You know I reckon hardly anyone who says that stuff has been in here, because if they came in here and saw what kind of learning many of us are doing, and how our teachers are working with us to actually make that learning happen they would soon change their story?”

It continues to be hard for some people to understand and accept the changes but we want to share our story- challenges and all.

There is some amazing stuff happening at Haeata. And much of this is about helping young people develop to be in a position where they can best take charge of their own future, in what are sure uncertain times, as well as be positive, successful contributing members of society.

How refreshing it is to be surrounded by such courageous people, who are doing such courageous work every day.  

How inspiring it is to see those you work with every day have such courage and openness in their work.

We will be sharing our story for years. We will make mistakes and we will share those. But we will also have great success. And we will share those too. Because we hope by sharing our stories, we will inspire others to be courageous, to take those bold moves out into a new future.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Love Your Work....but.....Embrace Your Life

  • I have a rash. it’s nasty and red, and sore and most of all it’s itchy. All the time. I’ve been ignoring it for over a week.
  • It’s March 19 today. I’ve just had a haircut. I postponed it on January 20 and it’s taken me that long to go back.
  • I washed my sheets and hung them outside for the first time in six weeks today. (Please no-one show my mother this blog.)
  • Yesterday I went to watch a group of young people from school perform at 10am. By 12 noon I was home in bed. Apart from a couple of 20 minute interludes on Facebook or on my emails I basically slept for 8 hours, then got up for an hour and then went back to bed and slept the night through.

When I did wake up for an hour yesterday evening I read this posting from Lesley Murrihy.  Because I know Lesley well, and one of her AP’s very well- the general topic of the blog wasn’t news to me, and I’ve always loved reading what Lesley writes.  But this time there were some very strong messages that really hit home to me.

One paragraph in particular I’ve re-read over and over again.
As a baby boomer and part of the second wave feminist movement, I grew up understanding “sacrifice”; and I have worked increasingly hard in support of equitable outcomes for all students - not sacrificing my family for the cause, but sacrificing my own needs and desires and my health and wellbeing. There have been many, many others like me. 

I am part of a team that opened a new school six weeks ago. We were hoping there might be 500-600 students. There are over 900. Our staff are working harder and in more challenging ways with more complex students than any of us ever imagined. 

My time is stretched between supporting staff, and building relationships with students and their whānau- supporting them all as they adapt to new environs, pedagogies and people.

There’s always a lot of things waiting on the wunderlist (my on-line to do list) to be checked off, many of them urgent. Those that aren’t urgent are very often even more important than the ones on the urgent list.

A number of people have gently suggested I look exhausted over the last couple of weeks. I’ve kind of blown them off… said “yep, I’m a bit tired…”….. and kept going. But after a week of a nasty rash that I have 99.5% eliminated being anything but stress, and realising I had to spend an extra 8 hours of a day on the weekend just sleeping I need to acknowledge Lesley’s words.  I am sacrificing my own need and desires and my health and wellbeing. And as  a senior leader that is not something I want to do- either for my own health and wellbeing, or as an example for other staff of what we might expect them to be or do.

I’m in the fortunate position of having been here before- as far as stating up a new school. I know we’re in it for the long haul and that the energy required na the complexities we will need to work through are going to be like this for a couple of years- It’s not going to magically sort itself in another 4 weeks or even in another term. 
And I swore to myself two months ago I would not do this to myself again this time around, yet here we are six weeks in and I’m already doing it.

Sacrificing ourselves for others is somehow somewhere seen as noble by many woman of my generation. Others may call it martyrdom. I need to remember this. I am not being noble. I am closer to martyrdom and that is not going to help anyone. 

I need tor remember my oneword goal for the year-embrace.  An act of accepting something willingly or enthusiastically.  And that was all about embracing life, embracing opportunities. But i’ve buried myself so deep in the day to day work that I wouldn’t at the moment recognise opportunities if they did come along. Not an example I want to set, or a way I want to live.

I want to still be there front and centre in two years time, in three years time- supporting and helping, challenging and growing- both myself and others. I don’t want to have burnt out, or be tired and bitter. I don’t want to spend two years covered in an itchy rash or sleeping the entire weekend just to get through another week. I want to support others, and actually I want to inspire others, and thats not going to be achieved through sacrificing myself. Its going to be achieved by looking after myself. And I need to make sure thats the message others I work alongside are getting too.

And while I am working hard to support our staff, our students and our whānau in the amazing concept that will be Haeata, I also want to work nationally and internationally with people like Lesley to explore the sustainability of our teaching workforce. The sustainability of developing personalised learning that meets the needs of every learner, without buying out the life and soul of every educator. Like Lesley I am totally committed to meeting the personalised needs of each learner we work wiht. But I completely agree with her that we need to find some different ways of resourcing this than the traditional ways we have resourced schools if we are to be sustainably successful. Our younger generations will not, neither should they, embrace the notions of sacrifice some of us have spent much of our lives basing our actions around.

For the record I’ve spent the afternoon embracing life.
  • I’ve bought a nice roast to cook-something I don't often do living alone. And some ingredients to make a tasty salad. With the increased bonus that I can sue this to make lunches for the next couple of days. I’ve prepared breakfasts to take wth me so I am providing my body with healthy nutrients rather than pretending to myself I don’t have time to bother with eating.
  • I’ve been for a walk on the beach I live 200 metres from and haven’t seen in a fortnight.
  • I’ve sat and practised mindfulness quietly for 15 minutes and then put on some music and tidied up the house so it feels nicer to come home to.

I’ll still be at work at 6am tomorrow, but I’ll be there more refreshed. And ultimately of more use to people. And if some things that I wanted done are not done- is that really going to be a big deal in a months time? in a years time? (to be a bit cliche.) 

I’ll have to reassess the urgent and the important priorities for tomorrow, but thats something to embrace. And I will need to figure out ways of reminding myself to do this continually without the prompting of a nasty rash, or 8 hours extra sleep, or people telling me I look horribly exhausted. 

I love my job, even through the exhaustion I absolutely love what we are doing and what we are working towards. I have no regrets. But while I love my work I am embracing my life.

What Should Schools Really Teach?

Over the last two weeks there has been a huge amount of comment and articles in the media about the concept of consent and in general about sexuality and relationship education and whether it is the job of schools or parents to teach this. In a school we often hear both sides of this argument. We hear from one group of people that they want us to leave all of this to parents and concentrate on “the curriculum.” And we hear from the group of people who think schools should teach everything and anything that goes wrong with teenagers in society is because schools haven’t done their job well enough.

I’m not sure it’s that simple. Parents are absolutely our children’s first teachers, and should continue to be this for their children even after they enter the schooling system. But the school system, by it’s very nature a social institution, can perhaps harness a part of social education more difficult for some parents to access and if the school system and the family system worked together on this- imagine what could be achieved.  In fact many of us in schools would say that teaching a dispositional curriculum- in partnership with whānau whoever possible- is the most important thing we do to prepare todays young peoples for their futures.

A leader at Haeata sent me this blogpost this morning. It’s all about relational aggression. We are seeing a lot of this at school at the moment. 

In teenage boys it tends to manifest itself in physical aggression, and a bit of a pack mentality- you offended my friend so now we are going to gather support and get you.  Normally this can be dealt with. It takes a lot of time, and preparedness to address things and move on for all parties. Restorative practice by it’s very nature is not quick or one-off but over time will pay huge dividends.

In girls the relational aggression is often more insidious. Sometimes it is physical threats and intimidation but often its more covert than this. Exclusion of people, silent treatment, “taking away” friends etc. I re-watched the movie Mean Girls last weekend. It’s not complete fiction. I see those scenes playing out in front of my eyes every day. These forms of aggression are not as easy to deal with as the physical aggression, especially when its often followed with “I was just kidding,” or other such phrases quoted in this article. To restore a relationship you need to be prepared to accept you ahem done something to damage it in the first place. You need to have some empathy for the person you ahem damaged. Sometimes this is a lot easier with physical aggression than it is with more insidious forms of relational aggression.

There are some great suggestions for helping- both parents and teacher in this article
I love the suggestions of actively teaching our young people to be upstanders, distracters and supporters. If we are being reposbive to our students current needs then teaching some of these skill will become our next ‘curriculum,” because fi they develop those skills then they will be better ready to access other parts of the curriculum.

We all have a responsibility to help our teenagers work through their issues and find better, more healthy ways of working through this aggression than the strategies they may currently have. That is the only way they will break this cycle as adults. And that is the responsibility of an entire society- school absolutely, whānau absolutely, but we also need help and support for some young people- more help than is sometimes available at schools or in homes.

I think the most important statement in the article is:
Never say, “That’s just girls”, or “boys will be boys” for that matter. We can be better than that. Or at least we can try.


Let’s work together and aim to help all our young people grow up to be the very best people they can be- not just learners, not just family members, but the very best people they can be. That's our true curriculum.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unlearning What Schooling Can Mean

"This school isn't strict enough," was the lament of the 14 year old girl I followed as she was leaving the learning space for the fourth time during the morning and I was remonstrating with her to return to her allocated group and space within the flexible learning environment 280 11-15 year olds and their 12 teachers were thrust 10 days earlier.

"Tell me about that," I requested. "Every time you have left I've followed you and requested politely that you return. What do you mean by strict?"

Her answer saddened me. It also angered me, and challenged me.

According to this beautiful young lady- who so obviously has much talent and potential, but also has been very challenged by her past schooling and in turn has been and is immensely challenging of schooling and authority in any form, I was informed that strict meant shutting you in a room where you couldn't leave and making you do a worksheet silently.

So the conversation went on with me explaining that I didn't really think a random worksheet would help her learning. The response: "this isn't about learning, it's about being a proper school. "

My heart sunk. Here I was observing a group of teachers working harder than they ever had, who were pushing themselves way outside their comfort zones and their past specialist teaching areas, creating and  delivering high interest, practical, hands on learning activities requiring discussion and debate and thinking, and here they were facing a group of pre- teens and teenagers who have an understanding after 6-10 years in our education system that proper learning, or at least proper schooling, consists of sitting in a room silently or quietly doing worksheets. Or at least being told what to do and what to learn and how to learn it and complying.

Since when did learning have no place in schooling in some of our young people's minds and lives and hearts? What are we going to do about that? Are we going to continue to perpetuate the myth that "well-controlled" classrooms where everyone is silent or at least quiet and appears to be actively following instructions and doing the task adds up to effective learning? Or at least effective schooling?

Are we going to continue to explicitly and implicitly give young people the message that learning (or at least schooling) is something that an adult has to do to you in order for it to be proper or real?

We spent three months together as a foundation staff working on unschooling ourselves from our notion of what learning in the school system has been in the past and what it possibly could be in the future. We knew we would be working alongside some young people who have been completely disenfranchised with the schooling system they have worked in and we were determined that we will re- engage these young people. The ones who couldn't conform to the old system, the ones already jaded by a system that so clearly doesn't meet their needs.

We knew we would have to work hard to induct young people who have achieved and had a traditional sense of school success validated by their past experiences. We are having to work even harder to induct young people who have been failed by their past experiences of schooling into an understanding that schooling can equal learning and that this learning can be meaningful to them in deeply personal ways. We need to accept that just because they have been failed by one system they are not just going to magically accept and become part of a new system.

We worked solidly, and without the normal interruptions of a school, for 7 hours a day on this for three months as a staff in our build up to opening. And we just broke the surface. We need to very careful we don't judge ourselves, or allow others to judge us, because some of our young people haven't immediately fallen into line with a completely different way of schooling- even if they were failed by previous systems. We need to have patience, and tolerance and belief in what we are doing. We need strong support systems around us to prevent disenchantment in what we are doing and to prevent temptations to fall back to the past when it gets hard. We need to reflect back on all the talking and learning we have done about implementation dips and learning pits.

And we need to keep going. To keep changing and transforming what being at school is and means.  How learning and schooling could be. One day at a time. Sometimes even one hour or one minute at a time. Definitely one young person at a time.

To all our kaiako and kaiārahi and kaiawhina working so hard every day delivering and every night preparing I want to publicly say- you are awesome. You have a vision and a commitment to developing individual young people to be both learners and the best people they can be that is admirable. You are showing resilience and compassion, passion and commitment and it is an honour to stand amongst you.

It will take time, And that is okay. Change, real change, has to if its to be effective and sustainable.

I look forward to the day I can have a conversation with the young lady quoted above and she can equate her schooling with real life learning that is meaningful for her and where she is in her life right now.

And I have every faith that with the support of our Haeata staff that time will come. Every faith and a total belief.






Thursday, October 20, 2016

Conscious Thought

Over the last two weeks we have been running an induction programme for 32 of our new staff-an induction programme that will continue for the majority of this term and for two weeks in January before our ākonga begin.

Every activity we've run has been very intentional and had conscious thought put into the purpose and outcome of the activity. It would have been very easy to just create a set of activities that would be enjoyable and fun and/or a set of activities that would "tell" our new staff all about the curriculum framework we have developed and the way we want to work at Haeata but that's not what we wanted to do.

We created a set of four guiding purposes for our induction programme and we have used our curriculum framework learning principles- which have a direct link to our school values to design the learning we have been doing together. Relationships are at the heart of our learning principles- but also important is authenticity, connectedness, culturally intelligent, inclusive, social, open and personalised learning.

Induction Purposes:
Build excitement in who we are and what we do
Getting to know the rest of the team- personally and professionally
Understanding Haeata-tanga- the way we will do things at Haeata, our identity at Haeata- individually, as a collective and as a Haeata team
Make connections- individually and as a team- within the team, and out in the community- whānau, local community, Christchurch

The term began with a mihi whakatau followed by kai and mihimihi so that connections and introductions were formed. Day 1 saw a myriad of icebreakers designed to help people get to know each other on a superficial level quickly and as a whole team. 

This was followed by our SLT presenting their digital korowai for ten minutes each. Staff were asked to sign up to a timetable to present their own digital korowai over the next fortnight. We know we will be a school that makes continual and regular use of technologies, but we didn't want to put technology training as such into the programme but rather consciously require people to build their technology skills by using technology to complete certain induction tasks. We've been blown away by peoples presentations- staff have been sincere, and honest and shared more of themselves than we had any expectation of- given we've only known each other a few days. We've laughed and cried with people as they have shared their journeys- both professional and personal.



Day 2 saw a workshop conducted by the EBOT on the well established values for the school. In the afternoon our kaiārahi (leaders) ran a passion unconference. Again this was a conscious decision to introduce staff who were not aware of the concept of an unconference, and of the language and expectations that come with an unconference- smackdowns, making choices on the spot, not doing how many people will attend a session etc. We expect to be working in a future focussed area of education and unconference is a big part of the PLD scene in future focused education currently, so we wanted to expose all staff to this early on.



Day 3 saw more icebreakers introduced- but this time rather than in the large groups- splitting into our hapori (learning teams), so that we could begin building deeper relationships with those other kaiako they were going to be working the closest with. The SLT ran a workshop titled unschooling and led some thinking about the importance of using the privilege of the time we have this term to de stress, to revive, and to read and reflect- to revisit our assumptions about learning and schooling and to build new beliefs together.
This afternoon saw staff introduced to their own Managing My Learning google site, so that they could begin reflecting and gathering evidence of their learning from the start. A practice we expect to be ongoing and continual for all staff and ākonga.

Day 4 saw our hapori leaders run their own session- a combination of icebreakers and some general chatting about excitements and fears, and some question gathering. Everyone was also led through a workshop around the learning principles we will use at Haeata for designing learning.

Day 5 was an Amazing Race. We began with a shared breakfast- 35 people who didn't know each other 5 days before all working together in a very small space in a very small kitchen to prepare and eat kai together. And it worked.



Again, conscious thought was put into creating Amazing Race teams to bring people together across the entire staff again, as the last two days had been spent a lot in hapori groups getting to know those people better. We are very consciously building opportunities to build relationships across the school as well as within hapori. We know that people might need to move hapori at short notice in February- when enrolments are more clear. We also know we have 10 more staff starting over the next four weeks, and another six who will begin in January. We need to very consciously build relationships now, but ensure those relationships are able to bend and sway and welcome new members to their teams easily as the term goes on.

Teams were given instructions and set off on their race while the SLT prepared and cooked a BBQ lunch. In the afternoon teams created a digital presentation of their race and the weekend with the presentations being shared over refreshments and some prizes being awarded as we all reminisced on the first week together.

We have used the frameworks our kaiārahi and kaiako will use with ākonga- learning principles as a design tool, breaking our time up into Kauapapa Ako ( the large group all learning together based on some of our big kauapapa, Puna Ako ( smaller groups working together to consolidate and extend some of the concepts from kauapapa Ako, and some MAI time (for people to follow their own lines of learning and wellbeing). We have integrated wellbeing activities throughout the weeks, just like we expect kaiārahi and kaiako to do with ākonga.


SLT modelled karakia, waiata mihi and tuku mihi all week and now hapori have taken on responsibility for that a week each over the remainder of the term.

Feedback from staff was overwhelmingly positive. They have relaxed, they have got to know each other in multiple ways. They have connected. Developing cultural intelligence has been a constant theme. Things have been social and open- everyone has shared honestly with each other. We have given some space for personalised learning. Staff have begun to be exposed to some of the backbone of the Haeata curriculum framework in a really authentic and inclusive way. And relationships have consciously and intentionally been at the heart of everything we have done.

"Conscious, reflective, intentional action is the bridge between theory and practice. " Jan Robertson

A video summary of Week 1:

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Power of Connections


Am sitting at the airport waiting for the first of two flights to fly home after three day in Rotorua at ULearn.

Sounded like a great idea in March when we decided as a leadership team to put in submissions to present at this years conference.  Heading off to Rotorua this week we were very aware that our staff begin next Monday and that time pressures were well and truly hitting in and I think beginning to wonder if this was a good use of our time.

I think we would all now say that it definitely was.

We've been in the fortunate and privileged position of having the last 9 months to think and read, and visit and reflect and cogitate. To form the basis of a curriculum and to think deeply about all the "That's The Way We've Always Done It," rhetoric in schools and to interrogate this and ask why a lot until we had a direction for which we would like learning to evolve at Haeata.

So I guess many of the sessions we attended were more affirming of the learning that we've been privileged to do than new stuff for us. But we would also all say that the process of considering and creating presentations about some of our work is hugely clarifying for our own beliefs and practices.

And the absolute real power in the last thee days was the opportunity to connect. To connect with people we only know or recognise form the online educational community. To connect kanohi te kanohi with old connections and create new connections. To talk and to challenge with old friends and with new connections.

Years ago I read Will Richardsons book where the subtitle is Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education.




I think that is a big part of the power of the ULearn conference. Where else do you get nigh on 2000 educators together in one space? (And with a significant more joining the back channels of live streaming and following the twitter threads.)


For me, personally, I reconnected with educators I worked with as long ago as 20 years ago. Amazing conversations , amazing stories to share and reconnections to form.

For us as a school we've been able to share a little part of the journey of Haeata so far and our passion and excitement for what is to come. 


Transforming education, and particularly transforming schooling is happening in little pocket all over Aotearoa. 
The power of connections is moving us steadily towards the tipping point where the changes so deeply needed in ours choosing system will become the whole clothing rather than just the pocket. 

The power of the understanding of the need for change when 2000 educators connect at an event like ULearn is palpable. Continuing to connect with each other- post conference is how we will work together in order to push that change over the timing point.

Thanks to all those old friends and colleagues Ive reconnected with in the last three days. What an awesome opportunity to do so. 

And welcome to all this new connections to my personal and professional learning network. Long may the conversations continue.








Sunday, October 2, 2016

Looking Ahead to and Reflecting Back On ULearn

Preparing to head off to ULearn in a couple of days has made me reflect on past ULearn conferences.

I’ve been attending ULearn since its navcon days. I was motivated by hearing inspirational speakers like Julia Atkins, Joan Dalton and Cheryl Doig speak at the very first navcon I attended back in the early 2000's. In fact I would say my entire teaching landscape changed after that first conference. Having been involved in curriculum integration practice and reference groups for years, inquiry learn gin was the missing linkI’d been searching for and hearing Cheryl speak about the power of inquiry learning drove an immediate change in my practice. Hearing Julia speak about the history of education and the need for schooling to change gave me some of the language to be able to articulate what I'd been working towards in a classroom for some years. Hearing Joan present about the power of the language we use gave me much cause for consideration and reflection. I've continued to read and watch so much written and said by these women over the years. I am indeed fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with them all through the years, and particularly privileged to have had the opportunity to work with them all this year on such a close level. They were indeed some of my first edu heroes- well before I ever knew if that term.

Changes in my teaching practice to include inquiry learning and in my leadership to really consider language used, combined with a new motivation and the ability to better articulate why schooling needed to change drove the next few years after that initial conference. By 2003 the benefits of Collaborative teaching and collaborative Practice followed. 

Within a couple of years I was back at ULearn, as it was known by 2004, with my co- teacher and we were presenting ourselves; on teaching through inquiry, on running self regulated programmes and on using technology to support these practices.

Through the years I’ve been to ULearn just about every year, missing 2012 and 2015 only. In 2009 my entire leadership team attended and it consolidated a lot of things for us as a team leading a school through some significant changes in practice. In 2011, as Principal of a different school I was fortunate enough to be able to take my entire teaching staff of 20 to the ULearn conference. A fantastic learning and social experience for all.

As I work on my presentations for this year I am feeling nervous. Although they are on topics I am passionate about, and I think have a fair experience in the old imposter syndrome hits in. (See previous post written in January 2015.) Adding to the nerves is the fact that I see a number of people I know signed up for one or more of my workshops. It’s always nerve wracking to present in front of people that really know you-warts and all! As a presenter you are always very aware that people have paid a lot of money to attend this conference, and you don’t want to be wasting their time or investment.

It is often said you get out of this conference as much as you put into it. As a fairly shy introvert I can remember the first few conferences and sticking like glue to the people I was attending with. I would flinch when the presenter said “turn and talk to someone,” thinking no-one would want to talk with me. Now I really get that phrase. To get as much out of the investment of going you need to talk, and think and reflect and you need to share that with other people to get the most out of your reflections. Social media has helped. Talking to people online has made it that much easier to find a commonality when you meet them in person- in fact its now fun to meet those people you get to know so well in online forums.

As I flick through all that is on offer this year I am really hopeful for the future of education and of schooling. While there are the technology ‘how=-to” theres also many many workshops on the bigger picture- on people who are transforming practice in their classrooms on a daily basis and why and how they are doing this. I look at workshops we were running back in this mid 2000’s about self regulated learning, about removing silo-subjects from the teaching landscape, about  collaborative teaching and they were more the exception. Now these kind of workshops are much more the norm. Maybe we really are getting near some kind of tipping point in New Zealand schools?

So, as I sit here on a Sunday preparing workshops instead of enjoying the beach on a warm and sunny holiday afternoon some people might ask why? Why not just go and enjoy the conference?

The conviction that things need to change. Still. The power of understanding the transformation needed to change practice. The chance to network and to build those understandings in wider and wider groups. The oporutntity to be part of the tipping point, that I hope we are on a pathway towards reaching in New Zealand schooling.


I look forward to seeing many people at ULearn- old colleagues, old friends, networks of people I know online but not face to face and I look forward to connecting with others using the #notatulearn hashtag.

And I hope that the people attending ULearn 2016 get just even a little bit of that inspiration I got from Julia, Joan and Cheryl all those years ago.