Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Task ten: Where I am, where I'm going

I'll start at the end. I've signed on at Unitec to complete a Masters in Applied Practice, and am currently waiting to hear back about a Study Support Grant for 2016. I have a few ideas in mind at this time about a thesis, but I'm considering how to examine the effectiveness of my school's personalised learning program. I've spoken to the program head at Unitec about further study at the conclusion of a Masters as well. After years of thinking about it, Mindlab has opened the door to further study for me and has given me the confidence to pursue my own learning. It's helped me explore where my real interests lie within education, and think about where my career is going. 

This has been the result of 32 weeks where I've had to reflect on my values, practice, pedagogy and ambitions. It's been a struggle at times to step back and honestly critique myself within the wider teaching context, and more than once I've found myself complaining at change with the poisonous phrase "But this is how we've always done it!" Overcoming that internalised resistance to change and trying radically new ways of teaching, e.g. the flipped learning that made up the core of my DCL assessments, has opened me up to new opportunities.

My DCL assessments allowed me to develop in criteria 6 and 8, and critically evaluate the challenged and rewards that come with flipped learning. 

"Miss, I've been able to take photos!"
Whilst I felt that employing flipped learning wholesale in my teaching was too difficult, I have continued to use the model in some areas of teaching and have found it to be a powerful tool in my teaching arsenal.

My LDC assessments gave me the opportunity to consider my own role as a changemaker within the school and whanau community, and has encouraged me to step up into leading learning contexts. I am on the inquiry framework working group, overhauling our school's system for next year, and the Mindlab course has given me lots of ideas and tools for how to move this process forward. Design thinking in particular has been of great help in this work, which relates to criteria 1, 4, 5, 7, and 12. 

My coursework hit a rough spot just after the conclusion of the Mindlab-based learning, where I had an accident that prevented me from writing anything and badly affected my grades. I considered asking for a deferment on my R&C assessments and the lit review in particular caused me some sleepless nights! Finding the reserves within myself to complete all my assessments within the extended timeframe and to have received such a good grade for my lit review was a validation that I can overcome personal adversity and not lose momentum in my studies. It was also the development of my ideas for this course that sealed my decision to continue and complete my Masters, something I had been considering for years but had lacked a clear idea about where to go with is. 
KDEC students taking part in a practical assessment. Mindlab has helped me restructure assessments to include everyone, without needing to create a different assessment as has been the school's expectation.

APC was a great opportunity to reflect on my professional values, practice and commitment to the wellbeing of my students and other teachers (Criteria 2, 3, 9, 10). When considering the questions around biculturalism it was reassuring to see how my values and praxis work to uphold the tenets of the Treaty and that I am on the right path of supporting and raising the achievement of my Maori, Pasifika, students of colour and disabled learners. 

I finish my Mindlab course a better teacher, a better learner, and ready to move my career forwards to better the experience of my students. It's been a privilege to do this course.  

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Task Nine: Bicultural Literacy

Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi
With your basket and my basket the people will live
I arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand in January 2009 with a vague understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, a smattering of poorly-pronounced te reo Maori and a job offer at a school in Manurewa. I made a lot of mistakes, had to unlearn a lot and I am forever grateful for the incredibly patient people who taught me the difference between the multicultural environment I had come from and the bicultural/multicultural environment I had entered. In the first few years, I struggled with questions like:

  • Why is te reo Maori given precedence when the majority of our students are Samoan? 
  • Why are Indian Fijian students excluded from certain opportunities and offers open to Maori and other Pasifika students?
  • How does biculturalism relate to multiculturalism?
Keen to unpack my own prejudices and learn more about Maori education, I joined the school's Kahui Kaiako Maori (KKM) group, working towards improving Maori education within the school. I helped create resources for fellow immigrant teachers grappling with teaching in a Maori context, presented at meetings with overseas teachers and officials, and began a process of decolonising my pedagogy to be more responsive to the needs of my learners. I started to understand the importance of indigenous rights, something that I had not had to consider in the UK, and that the kaupapa of Maori education could be applied for the benefit of all my students in a way the principles of colonial education did not. 
Looking out over Manukau Harbour

I began to critique the language and cultural norms I used in class, and adopt ones that were more inclusive. I asked students to share their cultures and languages within the class, and made a point of standing aside and giving the platform to non-white voices where possible. I discussed the concept of white privilege with older students, which led to some fascinating conversations and ideas from learners about how they viewed their place in the world. 

Once, after such a conversation, my Y10 class were completing a careers survey. A couple of students called me over and pointed out that all the photos on the site had white people doing the jobs, with a few exceptions of Maori carrying out traditional crafts. The class discussed how to approach this, and with help from their English teacher, wrote to Careers NZ. They responded very positively and a representative came to the school to discuss their concerns and they took some photos of our very diverse students to add to their photo bank for future use. Giving them the vocabulary and confidence to challenge what they saw as an a lack of representation was very powerful, and gave them agency to make positive change.
Year 8 at Ihumatao

Currently, my Year 8 have just finished looking at materials science, within the context of buildings and the local construction of the new Ormiston Town Centre. Seeing an opportunity to develop this, we investigated the Special Housing Area proposal for Ihumatao, and the group of local rangatahi who oppose the build. The students learned about the confiscation of the land in the 19th Century, the importance of the site as a waahi tapu, and the arguments for and against new housing. This led to the students learning relevant words in te reo and some understanding about Maori culture that they had not come across before. This mahi culminated in both classes visiting the Otuataua stonefields and being given a tour by park rangers. It made their work in class much more relevant and real, and they came away with greater understanding of the Maori's struggles to have their claims and rights recognised than if it had been taught out of this context.

I've come a long way since my arrival, and I still have a long way to go, but it's been an incredibly rewarding journey. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Task Eight: Teacher Ethics

Terri and Social Media: I recognise this scenario as a keen personal user of social media, as a way of keeping in touch with family abroad and also as a way of discussing political and social issues. I have a busy online life and am open about being a teacher. The ethics of maintaining this online presence as an education professional are something I consider a great deal, and I am careful to maintain a distance between my online and professional lives.

In this scenario, Terri has put her colleagues in a very difficult position. She is entitled to a life outside the classroom, but that should be kept at a remove from her students and colleagues, for her own protection as much as anything else. The Education Council's first commitment to learners is: 

"develop and maintain professional relationships with learners based upon the best interests of those learners"

This commitment extends to online relationships as well, and I don't see how a professional relationship can be maintained with people who are currently students of  teacher if they are friends on personal social media accounts. Personally, I have a couple of former students who I have stayed in touch with through social media but only after they had left my care in loco parentis. Professional relationships in education are extremely important for the safety and wellbeing of young people, and seeing a teacher they respect and admire engaging in risky, illegal behaviour compromises their safety and wellbeing. 

The final part of the Education Council's Code of Ethics states that teachers should:

"speak out if the behaviour of a colleague is seriously in breach of this Code."

Despite it being a difficult thing to have to do, Terri's colleagues should talk to Terri about her online actions in the first instance, if they feel safe and comfortable to do so. If they do not, then the issue should be taken to a line manager or HR officer who will have the resources to help Terri. 

The second scenario is also familiar, if more complicated than the issue I've occasionally faced. Changing social and familial setups, and schools opening longer hours, have made the school commute more challenging and I recognise the student in this scenario as I have several in similar situations. There are two issues at play here. One is that the teacher is being imposed on by a parent to drive her child to school, the other is the appropriateness of a male teacher being alone with a female student in a car. 

The teacher is obviously uncomfortable with the request being made of him. Whilst it might seem to the mother to be convenient to have him pick up her child, this is a long-term commitment and does not allow the teacher to deviate from his schedule in the mornings. It demands too much from the teacher and he has every right to say no, just from this point of view. 

The other issue is more serious. If the teacher did agree to this, he is making himself very vulnerable to the suggestion he is not acting appropriately towards his student. Whilst in New Zealand the situation is not as bad as in the UK, teachers should be mindful not to put themselves into situations where their motives could be questioned. 

The teacher in this scenario should refuse to meet the parent's request. The parent should work with the school to find a way of getting her child there in time, or work with her employer to find a way of ensuring that her child's learning is not being compromised.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Task Seven: Confessions of a reformed tweeter

I have a complex, involved relationship with social media. I've been active on message boards, Facebook and Twitter for over a decade now. I met my husband many years ago at various nights out and events organised by a Brixton-based website and political message board and as an immigrant social media is the best way I've found to stay in touch with family and friends on four continents. I tweet every day (though I closed my old, large account and have started again on a smaller scale), check facebook all the time, and ran a moderately successful blog about politics and education. (links may contain NSFW language)

Professionally though, I have shied away from social media. For a start, my school has blocked Facebook and Twitter for both staff and students, and most blogging sites are unavailable to students through our system. We have a moodle available for staff, students and parents to access and Google classroom is being trialled for possible rollout in 2016, but social media use is not encouraged at present.

I have attended uLearn conferences and know many teachers on Twitter and Facebook, but struggled with the #sciedchat and similar discussions. I touched on this in a previous post about reflective practice, but I found that the teacher discussions on social media can quite confronting. 

The issue for me is that of the danger of over-investment. As teachers, we are expected to give so much of ourselves to this job. We are constantly working. Even when we're doing other things, we never stop being a teacher. Whilst I talk about education on social media, sitting down at 8:30 at night to frantically bat ideas around with other teachers felt like I was actively allowing into my downtime the very reason I needed that downtime in the first place. Furthermore, the teachers who are on Twitter at at bedtime to discuss teaching are, by definition, the teachers who are striving to improve, to be more, to do more. An echo-chamber of teachers all discussing how much more they could do to be better was exhausting and emotionally fraught. 
Racing towards burnout?

As part of this task, I dropped in on #edchatnz, where the questions were all about workload and managing yourself, your family, and your job. It was almost distressing to see the number of teachers, at 9pm on a Thursday, talking about the evenings spent working, the family events missed, the feeling of never being able to say no. As I said on the night, it makes us poor role models to our students if we show them that virtue lies in a poor work-life balance.

Social media that is not so immediate and allows time for consideration and longer posts, seems to me to be more suitable for professional development. Unitec's google group, for example, has been a great way to discuss the course and offer support to others without the immediacy of Twitter. With our school continuing the rollout of Google Classroom I can see increased use of the platform to share ideas and connect students and will be using this next term.

The advantages of Google Classroom over Twitter with students is, as with other teachers, that of being able to remove the barriers to communication whilst not having the demand or expectation of immediate response. Students understanding that teachers are available to help or communicate with them, but that they also have a life outside of their profession, is important. Being able to set times that I'll check the page and answer questions helps me manage my workload, sets parameters for student expectations and also helps students manage their own workloads. It's bad enough that adults are expected to be constantly connected to their work and be available 24/7 without putting that expectation on children as well.

Despite these challenges, I do firmly believe that social media has a place in the classroom. For example, I have had Y7 students use social media to contact and then conduct Skype chats with Geonet scientists, and hope that our school's policies on these platforms will evolve to allow us greater access to this resource.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Task Six: Issues in Education

Inequality and food literacy
We live in the 21st century, and we are starting to move our teaching practice and learning communities towards the 21st century too. However, the march of progress seen in our classrooms sometimes feels like a march away from the nearly 20% of New Zealanders living in poverty. 
Source: Statistics New Zealand
In "Some inconvenient truths about education in Aotearoa-New Zealand", Martin Thrupp argues that there is a section of children from low-income families who are "locked out" of the educational opportunities available to those who are better-off. Decile ratings are used a blunt instrument by parents and some sections of the media as a measure of a school's quality. There is no centralised program for feeding the poorest children in society as in other countries, so charities and NGOs are left to fill the gap. It is estimated that 180,000 kids in Aotearoa New Zealand go without the essentials. The effect of hunger and deprivation on classroom performance has been a point of political debate but most teachers would agree that without adequate nourishment, resources and family support, students struggle in school. 

Y7 students showing off their carrots, grown in our school garden
My learning community is in an area that is seen as being quite affluent. However, the issues of malnutrition and poverty are still found in every classroom. Our whanau has responded with strategies to help those students most in need. To meet the immediate needs of hungry students, we started buying noodles, muesli bars and protein shakes to keep in case students turned up hungry. This program has evolved so that we are now offering fresh sandwiches to students who need it. It doesn't seem like much but for those students it's helped them focus in class, helped them feel supported and has improved attendance. 

We also support students in financial hardship by paying for trips and events that they might not otherwise be able to access. I have paid for Science roadshow entries for students who could not afford it, and as a whanau we have found funds to send some students on school camp and OPC out of our budget. 

 In the longer term, I have taken over the school garden which has been rather neglected in the last few years. Yesterday students carried out a litter pick and in the process discovered that carrots planted some time ago were ready for harvest. The students were incredibly excited about eating produce grown in their own "back garden" and from next term I hope to plant vegetables so that we can offer fresh, nutritious food to our students. This also ties in with my commitment to the environment, sustainability, and giving students authentic, relevant outcomes for learning.

Making students more food aware addresses another issue, that of food literacy and nutrition. 

"What's the green bit for miss?"
With over half of our young people failing to eat enough vegetables, and the number of children who classify as obese in New Zealand rising, there is a real need to investigate how we can help young people and their families access better-quality food, in particular fruit and vegetables. 

There are lots of NGOs working in this field across New Zealand Aotearoa and abroad, but within our own learning community being able to show learners how food is grown, and giving them a space where they can grow their own food, is invaluable. 

Watching my students pull carrots out of the ground, wash them and then tentatively take a bite before triumphantly proclaiming that they "taste just like carrots!" reinforces that we need to show children the value of getting their hands dirty and seeing where food comes from and how it can be made. By providing education, space to practice, and time to experiment, we can help reconnect our communities with the whenua and their food.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Task Five: Professional Connections

Science as a subject touches the lives of every single person in ways both subtle and overt. Neil Degrasse Tyson has described scientific illiteracy as a "tragedy of our times" and the need to instil a level of understanding about the scientific process and the issues facing us as a species is an ongoing challenge. Science is a subject that therefore links into most other subjects found within the school curriculum, a large number of employment sectors, and other areas such as community and politics. The diagram below shows the connections made between my own practice as a science teacher and other communities. 
Full diagram here

As I've discussed in earlier entries, I am lucky that my school's vision for education makes finding connections between subjects a core part of our planning and teaching. Looking at the left hand side of the diagram, I have already taught extensively with teachers in every subject specialism listed. Within social studies and maths especially, there has been a lot of cross-curricular inquiry carried out that has linked to authentic, relevant contexts. These links to other subjects within the school are very positive and satisfying as they allow teachers to develop their skills in new areas and to deepen their understanding of the relevance of their subject to a wider context. 

Staying on the left, there are links to be further developed between my practice as a junior college teacher and how the subject is taught to other age levels. There is a primary school on the same site as my college, and a senior college a few minutes' walk away, but at present there is little opportunity for planning and curriculum development between these schools. There has been some crossover, for example the conservation day below, but we have very little knowledge of what Science is being taught in the primary school, or what the senior college is focusing on that we could support at the junior level. There's a lot of potential to create contexts that span several year groups and schools, but there is a need to make professional development time available for teachers to meet and plan before this can happen.

Waicare Day with Y5 students, 2013

On the right side are the employment sectors that science teaching links to. Aside from STEM, the links to media, communications, health, politics and conservation are emerging as being increasingly relevant to all our learners no matter where they are headed in their professional lives. The links that I am developing with environmental, conservation and political communities are particularly interesting. As part of our joint English/Science work on sustainability and the Outlook for Someday competition, a group asked if they could interview the environmental campaigner Michael Tavares on tree conservation. He agreed to come in and give a seminar to the whole year group on the importance of activism, being informed about local and wider issues, and what can be achieved through campaigning and raising awareness.
Michael Tavares discusses the need to be an informed citizen
The response students have had to links like this has been explored in my previous post but these connections have helped to reinforce the message that they have power and influence within and outside the classroom, and the difference that can be made through positive actions. It's important to build on the current links being made within the school, and develop links outside it, so that the students can see the relevance of their learning outside of the classroom.