Monday, 24 October 2016

"We do not learn from experience... We learn from reflecting on experience."

Whether this quote is actually from John Dewey or not, it sums up well my recent Ulearn16 experience.

Leading up to the conference I thought very hard about where I need and want to focus my professional learning energy and funds (for example see here my post on Passion Learning for Teachers). There was also a Twitter conversation whether the Ulearn concept was still relevant and still offering value for money for those teachers attending (admittedly the cost is considerable even as presenter). To not keep you in the suspense, I felt it was absolutely worth every minute and every single cent both my school and I personally invested in my attending.

To make such a judgement, it is important to consider what I would want to attend Ulearn - or any other PLD event for that matter. What is it that I hope to gain from attending?
Some teachers consider Ulearn as the event to learn about how to use devices in their practice. Others will (thankfully) put the 'why' and 'how' before the use of devices. While it saddens me that there are still some people that don't know to put the pedagogy before the tool, I realise that teachers still need support with how to use devices, and Ulearn is a great place for this. But this is not what I went for.

I attended Ulearn to have a look at the bigger picture of the ideas and policies that influence learning and teaching in New Zealand. I deliberately chose breakouts that made me think harder and deeper about how learning happens in our classrooms in NZ, and how we could improve on this. While I had read about Larry Rosenstock and High Tech High, and about Michael Fullan and his work on educational reform, it was inspiring to hear from them both in person about their work. Especially Michael Fullan's ideas really resonated with me, probably only now am I ready to have a look at his work in more depth than previously and seriously consider what impact it can have on my own practice and on the practice of others.

Some of the sessions provided much food for thought, e.g. Mary-Anne Mills' session on what future-focussed curriculum really is, and Derek Wenmoth's session on 4D learning. Derek really made me think a lot harder about the way technology underpins and enables what we try to achieved with our future focused curriculum (I'm meshing both sessions into one it appears lol). I also really enjoyed the session by Rosemary Hipkins and Cathie Johnson looking in depth at how the PAT test is set up and what information we can learn from the student results - I am already looking forward to using this tool again, because now I'm in a much better position to make use of it.

I was surprise to hear so much talk about CoLs; while our school is part of the beginning stages of a CoL, I must have had my head in the sand about it. While on the one hand I am all for collaborating, for working together for the best of the students of a community, on the other hand I am concerned that by schools feeling forced into such communities they might lose sight of the opportunity that this collaboration could provide. For many years I have dreamed of a time where all education providers in a community would sit down together, examine what their strengths were, which niche they might occupy, and then together find the best way forward for all students in their community. Sadly the reality can look quite different with schools competing for students from the same community, and when certain academic expectations are to be met, schools could be choosy about whom they might enrol.

One of my biggest takeaways was thinking about vision: What is your vision? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What is your school's vision? Do your team, your students and whānau / community share this vision?

The social aspect of meeting tweeps, friends, ex-colleagues etc. from all around the country and beyond was a great bonus to coming to Ulearn. There are a number of educators I call my friends though we have only met in person a handful of times if at all, thanks to social media we have gotten to know each other so well that long periods of no f2f contact make no difference to this friendship - you know who you are!

Back at home I did not want to lose this momentum, so I asked on Twitter:

I decided to set myself goals 3-2-1 style:

So far I am happy to report I have NOW left my hermit cave more often, I have participated in a few twitter chats and I have (finally) finished my blog posts about Ulearn.
It was interesting to investigate my first SOON - connecting other teachers online. I realise I had dropped off social media for professional purposes for most of this year, so it is not really surprising that I did not know where educational online conversations nowadays happen. I have noted that the VLN has gone very quiet, the POND does not seem to be a very bustling place, and while there are lots of members in FB Groups, I have seen few deep discussions amongst many rather shallow ones. G+ does not appear to be frequented as much as previously, but there are a number of busy Twitter chats. So where does everyone go who is not into Twitter? Where is all the rich discussion gone we used to have in the admittedly a bit clunky interface of the VLN? This is one of my current ponderings brought upon by reflecting on Ulearn.

The hustle and bustle of everyday had me in its grips far too soon after Ulearn, so it has taken me two weeks to come back to my blog posts (the threat that I won't be able to storify tweets was probably the biggest motivator!). However, it has been great to go back and read back through notes to remind me what it was that I found important, to refresh why and how I see education in New Zealand. This is where John Dewey (or not) quote comes in - reflecting on experience. What will you do with what you have learnt from Ulearn or other PLD events you have attended?

#Ulearn16 Day 2