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.

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