So you may have noticed that I am enrolled in the “Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice: Digital and Collaborative Learning” offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec. In Week 3 we completed a survey to identify which of the key competencies we considered our strengths and which of the key competencies we would like to develop further while we attend the course. I felt that my strengths were thinking, using language, symbols, and texts and relating to others and I wanted to develop participating and contributing.
We are now in week 26 and we have been asked to reflect on which two key competencies have developed the most and to discuss two key changes in our practice.
I have to be honest that the reality of finishing the 2015 school year with a massive literature review assignment hanging over my head and starting the 2016 school year while completing the same literature review assignment, as well as planning an inquiry project based on the literature review, is making it incredibly hard to be objective. I feel like I am being taught the truth of the proverb “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body”1… but I will try my best (key competency: managing self2).
The one key competency that has been developing continuously is “thinking”2. Allow me to explain. I have been reading substantial amounts of social media since I joined Twitter in September 2008. Although it has been fascinating to follow trends and rants over the years, I have not been disciplined enough about curating social media with an intentional research focus. I have realised recently that so much of social media is noise, i.e. unsubstantiated opinion that doesn’t relate to my context, and I am actually starved for a well-composed symphony, i.e. peer-reviewed research (and I realise this sentence can be self-incriminating). Although you can prove anything with evidence, peer-review research takes you to new depths in your thinking and it helps you to substantiate common sense. For example, peer-review research has put me on to the book “Catching the Knowledge Wave? The Knowledge Society and the future of education” by Jane Gilbert that has helped me develop a better understanding of the place of digital technology in education (a topic for a future blog post perhaps).
There is not a clear winner for the second key competency. During the first 16 weeks of the course I think “relating to others”2 developed tremendously. It was extremely valuable to get together with a diverse group of educators once a week to discuss ideas and collaborate using digital technology. It was great to hear the successes and struggles of both primary and secondary teachers and school leaders from a wide range of contexts and cultural backgrounds. It helped me develop a tremendous respect for New Zealand’s incredible teachers.
Once the course moved online, things changed dramatically. I really missed the rich, face to face interactions we had before and the online modality forced me to develop “managing self”2, i.e. a competency that “is associated with self-motivation, a ‘can-do’ attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners”. The face to face classes had a level of accountability that, for me, came through personal interaction and it positively encouraged me to engage with the course material. I found online learning to be isolating – and as a trained online teacher I should know. The past few weeks have been hard on me and my family and I am uncomfortable with that. For me the quality of family relationships come before work-related activities. Growth is painful but can this pain be justified?
I think I have become more passionate about developing thinking in my students. I am not satisfied with teaching and learning that keep students busy or only focus on helping a student achieve credits. I agree with Gilbert3 that one aspect of education’s purpose is social justice and I am looking for ways to focus my students’ learning around projects that make a positive contribution to people’s lives. I feel fortunate to teach in the technology learning area since it lends itself to a project-based learning approach. This brings me to the other change that I am detecting in my practice.
I have designed two collaborative projects in this course. Both of them are intentional about “participating in and contributing to” our community. This is an area of my practice that I have neglected over the years and I am excited to see how our school can build even stronger bonds with our community through the digital tools we have at our disposal. Our principal, Murray Burton, recently challenged us as staff to change our focus from what we think we are entitled to, our natural inclination as human beings, to asking how we can serve others.
So my question for 2016 and beyond is, “How can I help Elim Christian College serve our community better?”
1. Ecclesiastes 12:12
2. Key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum
3. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.